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John Flavel :: II. Use of Exhortation - Motives by Way of Inducement to Keep the Heart

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A Saint Indeed by John Flavel

II. Use of Exhortation - Motives by Way of Inducement to Keep the Heart


If the keeping of the heart be so important a business; if such choice advantages accrue to you thereby; if so many dear and precious interests be wrapt up in it, then let me call upon the people of God every where to fall close to this work.

O study your hearts, watch your hearts, keep your hearts! away with fruitless controversies and all idle questions; away with empty names and vain shews; away with unprofitable discourse and bold censures of others; turn in upon yourselves; get into your closets, and now resolve to dwell there. You have been strangers to this work too long; you have kept others vineyards too long, you have trifled about the borders of religion too long; this world hath detained you from your great work too long; will you now resolve to look better to your hearts? Will you haste and come out of the crowds of business, and clamours of the world, and retire yourselves more than you have done? O that this day you would resolve upon it!

Reader, methinks I should prevail with thee: all that I beg for is but this, that thou wouldst step a little oftener to talk with God, and thine own heart; that thou wouldst not suffer every trifle to divert thee; that thou wouldst keep a more true and faithful account of thy thoughts and affections; that thou wouldst but seriously demand of thine own heart, at least every evening, O my heart, where hast thou been to day? Whither hast thou made a road to day? If all that hath been said by way of inducement be not enough, I have yet more motives to offer you. And the first is this:

1. Motive. The studying, observing, and diligent keeping of your own hearts, will marvellously help your understanding in the deep mysteries of religion.

An honest well experienced heart, is a singular help to a weak head; such a heart will serve you instead of a commentary upon a great part of the scriptures: by this means you shall far better understand the things of God, than the learned rabbis and profound doctors (if graceless and unexperienced) ever did; you shall not only have a more clear, but a more sweet perception and gust of them: a man may discourse orthodoxly and profoundly of the nature and effects of faith, the troubles and comforts of conscience, the sweetness of communion with God, that never felt the efficacy and sweet impressions of these things upon his own spirit: But, O how dark and dry are these notions, compared with his upon whose heart they have been acted! When such a man reads David’s psalms, or Paul’s epistles, there he finds his own objections made and answered. O, said he, these holy men speak my very heart: their doubts were mine, their troubles mine, and their experiences mine. I remember Chrysostom, speaking to his people of Antioch about some choice experiences, used this expression: Sciunt initiati quid dico: those that are initiated, know what I say: experience is the best school-master. O then, study your hearts, keep your hearts!

Motive 2. The study and observation of your own hearts will antidote you against the dangerous and infecting errors of the times and places you live in.

For what think you is the reason that so many professors in England have departed from the faith, giving heed to fables; that so many thousands have been led away by the error of the wicked; that Jesuits and Quakers, who have sown corrupt doctrine, have had such plentiful harvests among us, but because they have met with a company of empty notional professors, that never knew what belongs to practical godliness, and the study of their own hearts.

If professors did but give diligence to study, search and watch their own hearts, they would have that steadfastness of their own, that Peter speaks of, 1 Peter 3:17, and this would ballast and settle them, Hebrews 13:9. Suppose a subtil Papist would talk to such, of the dignity and merit of good works, could he ever work the persuasion of it into that heart, that is conscious to itself of so much darkness, deadness, distraction and unbelief attending its best duties? It is a good rule, Non est disputandum de gustus: there is no disputing against taste. What a man hath felt and tasted, one cannot beat him off from that by argument.

Motive 3. Your care and diligence in keeping your hearts, will prove one of the best evidences of your sincerity.

I know no external act of religion that differences the sound from the unsound professor: it is wonderful to consider, how far hypocrites go in all external duties; how plausibly they can order the outward man, hiding all their indecencies from the observation of the world.

But then, they take no heed to their hearts; they are not in secret what they appear to be in public; and before this trial no hypocrite can stand: it is confessed, they may in a fit, under a pang upon a death-bed, cry out of the wickedness of their hearts; but, alas! there is no heed to be taken to these extorted complaints: in our law, no credit is to be given to the testimony of one upon the rack, because it may be supposed that the extremity of the torture may make him say any thing to be eased. But, if self-jealousy, care, and watchfulness be the daily workings and frames of thy heart, it strongly argues the sincerity of it: for what but the sense of a divine eye, what but the real hatred of sin as sin, could put thee upon those secret duties, which lie out of the observation of all creatures?

If then it be a desirable thing in thine eyes to have a fair testimony of thine integrity, and to know of a truth that thou fearest God: then study thy heart, watch thy heart, keep thy heart.

Motive 4. How fruitful, sweet, and comfortable would all ordinances and duties be to us, if our hearts were better kept?

O what precious communion might you have with God, every time you approach him, if your hearts were but in frame! You might then say, with David, Psalms 104:34, My meditation of him shall be sweet. That which loses all our comforts in ordinances and more secret duties, is the indisposedness of the heart: a Christian whose heart is in a good frame, gets the start of all others that come with him in that duty. They strive hard to get up their hearts to God, now trying this argument upon them, and then that, to quicken and affect them; and sometimes go away as bad as they came. Sometimes the duty is almost ended before their hearts begin to stir or feel any warmth, quickening, or power from it; but all this while the prepared heart is at its work; this is he that ordinarily gets the first sight of Christ in a sermon, the first seal from Christ in a sacrament, the first kiss from Christ in secret prayer. I tell you, and I tell you but what I have felt, that prayers and sermons would appear to you other manner of things than they do, did you but bring better ordered hearts unto them; you would not go away dejected and drooping. O this hath been a lost day, a lost duty to me; if you had not lost your hearts, it had not been so: if then the comfort of ordinances be sweet, look to your hearts, keep your hearts.

Motive 5. Acquaintance with your own hearts would be a fountain of matter to you in prayer.

A man that is diligent in heart-work, and knows the state of his own soul, will have a fountain-fulness of matter to supply him richly in all his addresses to God; his tongue shall not falter, and make pauses for want of matter; Psalms 45:1, My heart is indicting a good matter; Or, as Montanus renders the original, my heart is boiling up good matter like a living spring, that is still bubbling up fresh water; and then my tongue is as the pen of a ready writer: others must pump their memory, rack their inventions, and are often at a loss, when they have done all; but if thou have kept, and faithfully have studied thine own heart, it will be with thee (as Job speaks in another case) like bottles full of new wine that want vent, which are ready to burst: as holy matter flows plentifully, so more feelingly and sweetly from such a heart. When a heart-experienced Christian is mourning before God over some special heart-corruption, wrestling with God for the supply of some special inward want, he speaks not as other men do, that have learned to pray by rote; their confessions and petitions are squeezed out, his drop freely, like pure honey from the comb: it is a happiness then to be with or near such a Christian. I remember Bernard, having given rules to prepare the heart for prayer, concludes them thus, Et cum talis fueris memento mei; and saith he, when thy heart is in this frame, then remember me.

Motive 6. By this the decayed power of religion will be recovered again among professors, which is the most desirable sight in this world.

O that I might live to see that day, when professors shall not walk in a vain shew, when they shall please themselves no more with a name to live, being spiritually dead! when they shall be no more (as many of them now are) a company of frothy, vain, and unserious persons; but the majestic beams of holiness, shining from their heavenly and serious conversations, shall awe the world and command reverence from all that are about them; when they shall warm the hearts of those that come nigh them; so that men shall say, God is in these men of a truth.

Well, such a time may again be expected, according to that promise, Isaiah 60:21. The people shall be all righteous. But till we pursue closer this great work of keeping our hearts, I am out of hopes to see those blessed days; I cannot expect better times, till God gives better hearts. Doth it not grieve you to see what a scorn religion is made in the world? What objects of contempt and scorn the professors of it are made in the world.

Professors, would you recover your credit? Would you again obtain an honourable testimony in the consciences of your very enemies? Then, keep your hearts, watch your hearts: it is the looseness, frothiness, and earthliness of your hearts, that hath made your lives so; and this hath brought you under contempt of the world; you first lost your sights of God, and communion with him, then your heavenly and serious deportment among men, and by that, your interest in their consciences: O then, for the credit of religion, for the honour of your profession, keep your hearts!

Motive 7. By diligence in keeping our hearts, we should prevent, and remove the fatal scandals and stumbling-blocks out of the way of the world.

Woe to the world (saith Christ) because of offences! Matthew 18:7. Doth not shame cover your faces? Do not your hearts bleed within you, to hear of the scandalous miscarriages of many loose professors? Could you not, like Shem and Japhet, go backward with a garment to cover the shame of many professors? How is that worthy name blasphemed? James 2:7; 2 Samuel 12:13-14. The hearts of the righteous saddened? Psalms 25:3; Ezekiel 36:20. By this the world is fearfully prejudiced against Christ and religion; the bonds of death made fast upon their souls; those that have a general love and liking to the ways of God, startled and quite driven back, and thus soul-blood is shed: woe to the world!

Yea, how are the consciences of fallen professors plunged and even overwhelmed in the deeps of trouble? God inwardly excommunicating their souls from all comfortable fellowship with himself, and the joys of his salvation: infinite are the mischiefs that come by the scandalous lives of professors.

And what is the true cause and reason of all this, but the neglecting of their hearts? Were our hearts better kept, all this would be prevented. Had David kept his heart, he had not broken his bones; a negligent and careless heart must of necessity produce a disorderly scandalous life. I thank God for the freedom and faithfulness of a reverend brother in shewing professors their manifold miscarriages; and from my heart do wish, that when their wounds have been thoroughly searched by that probe, God would be pleased to heal them by this plaster. O professors! if ever you will keep religion sweet; if ever you hope to recover the credit of it in the world, keep your hearts; either keep your hearts, or loose your credit; keep your hearts, or loose your comforts; keep your hearts, lest you shed soul-blood. What words can express the deep concernments, the wonderful consequences of this work! Every thing puts a necessity, a solemnity, a beauty upon it.

Motive 8. An heart well kept will fit you for any condition God casts you into, or any service he hath to use you in.

He that hath learnt how to keep his heart lowly, is fit for prosperity; and he that knows how to use and apply to it scripture-promises and supports, is fit to pass through any adversity: he that can deny the pride and selfishness of his heart is fit to be employed in any service for God. Such a man was Paul: he did not only spend his time in preaching to others, in keeping others vineyards, but he looked to himself, kept his own vineyard, 1 Corinthians 9:27, Lest when I have preached to others, I myself should be a cast-away. And what an eminent instrument was he for God? He could turn his hand to any work; he could dexterously manage both in adverse and prosperous condition; I know how to abound, and how to suffer want. Let the people deify him, it moves him not, unless to indignation. Let them stone him, he can bear it: If a man purge himself from these (saith he, 2 Timothy 2:21) he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.

First, the heart must be purged; and then it is prepared for any service of God. When the heart of Isaiah was purified, which was the thing signified by the touching of his lips with a coal from the altar, Isaiah 6:7, then he was fit for God’s work. Here am I, send me, Isaiah 6:8. A man that hath not learned to keep his heart, put him upon any service for God, and if it be attended with honour, it shall swell up and overtop his spirit; if with suffering, it will exanimate and sink him.

Jesus Christ had an instrumental fitness for his Father’s work above all the servants that ever God employed; he was zealous in public work for God, so zealous that he sometimes forgot to eat bread, yea, that his friends thought he had been besides himself: but yet he so carried on his public work, as not to forget his own private communion with God: and therefore you read, Matthew 14:23. that when he had been labouring all day, yet after that, he went up to a mountain apart to pray, and was there alone. O let the keepers of the vineyards look to their own vineyard! We shall never be so instrumental to the good of others, as when we are most diligent about our own souls.

Motive 9. If the people of God would more diligently keep their hearts, how exceedingly would the communion of saints thereby be sweetened.

How goodly then would be thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel; then, as it is prophesied of the Jews, Zechariah 8:23, men would say, We will go with you, for we have heard that God is among you. It is the fellowship your souls have with the Father, and with the Son, that draws out the desires of others after fellowship with you, 1 John 1:3. I tell you, if saints would be persuaded to take more pains, and spend more time about their hearts, there would quickly be such a divine lustre upon the face of their conversations, that men would account it no small privilege to be with, or near them.

It is the pride, passion, and earthliness of our hearts that have spoiled Christian fellowship. Whence is it, that when Christians meet, they are often jarring and contending? but only for their unmortified passions: whence are their uncharitable censures of their brethren? but only from self-ignorance: why are they so rigid and unmerciful towards those that are fallen? but because they consider not themselves, as the apostle speaks, Galatians 6:1. Why is their discourse so frothy and unprofitable when they meet? is not this from the earthliness and vanity of their hearts?

My brethren, these be the things that have spoiled Christian fellowship, and made it become a dry and sapless thing; so that many Christians are even weary of it, and are ready to say, with the prophet, Jeremiah 9:2. O that I had a cottage in the wildernessthat I might leave my people, and go from them! and, with David, Psalms 120:6. My soul hath long dwelt with them that hate peace. This hath made them long for the grave, that they might go from them that are not their own people, to them that are their own people, as the original of that text imports, 2 Corinthians 5:8.

But now if professors would study their own hearts more, watch and keep them better, all this would be prevented; and the beauty and glory of communion again restored: they would divide no more, contend no more, censure rashly no more; when their hearts are in tune, their tongues will not jar; how charitable, pitiful and tender will they be of one another, when every one is daily humbled under the evil of his own heart. Lord, hasten those much desired days, and bless these counsels in order to them.

Motive 10. Lastly, By this the comforts of the Spirit, and precious influences of all ordinances, would be fixed, and much longer preserved in your souls, than now they are.

Ah! what would I give, that my soul might be preserved in that frame I sometimes find it after an ordinance! Aliquando intromittis me Domine in affectum multum inusiatum, intorsus ad quam nescio dulcedinem…Sometimes, O Lord (saith one of the fathers sweetly) thou admittest me into the most inward, unusual and sweet delights, to I know not what sweetness, which, were it perfected in me, I know not what it would be, or rather what it would not be: But, alas! the heart grows careless again, and quickly returns, like water removed from the fire, to its native coldness. Could you but keep those things for ever in your hearts, what Christians would you be, what lives would you live! and how is it that these things remain no longer with us? Doubtless it is because we suffer our hearts to take cold again: we should be as careful after an ordinance or duty to prevent this, as one that comes out of a hot bath, or great sweat, is of going out into the chill air. We have our hot and cold fits by turns; and what is the reason, but our unskillfulness and carelessness in keeping the heart?

It is a thousand pities, that the ordinances of God, as to their quickening and comforting effects, should be like those human ordinances the apostle speaks of, that perish in the using. O then, let me say to you, as Job 15:11. Do the consolations of God seem small to you? Look over these ten special benefits; weigh them in a just balance; are they small matters? Is it a small matter to have thy weak understanding assisted? thy endangered soul antidoted, thy sincerity proved, thy communion with God sweetened, thy sails filled in prayer? Is it a small thing to have the decayed power of godliness again recovered, all fatal scandals removed, an instrumental fitness to serve Christ obtained, the communion of saints restored to its primitive glory, and the influences of ordinances abiding in the souls of saints? If these be no common blessings, no small benefits, then surely it is a great duty to keep the heart with all diligence.

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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