On Keeping the Heart

Guest ColumnistCommunity News

John Flavel lived in tumultuous seventeenth century England.  This Puritan was a preacher and a prolific writer.  One of his works, available in digital form for a dollar and in paperback for under $10, is On Keeping the Heart.  It’s a short read about keeping our hearts receptive toward God and the things of God.  Below are some quotations from Flavel’s book that were used in Reed’s teaching (7/27/14).

The keeping and right managing of the heart in every condition, is the one great business of a Christian’s life.… For though grace has, in a great measure, rectified the soul, and given it an habitual heavenly temper; yet sin often actually discomposes it again; so that even a gracious heart is like a musical instrument, which though it be exactly tuned, a small matter brings it out of tune again; yea, hang it aside but a little, and it will need setting again before another lesson can be played upon it.

Flavel makes several recommendations on how we can keepour hearts receptive toward God.

1.  It includes frequent observation of the frame of the heart.

Flavel quotes David: Psalm 77:6 in the King James Version: I commune with mine own heart. Here Flavel is recommending a healthy spiritual introspection where we examine our own hearts and see that they are right with God.

2.  It includes deep humiliation for heart evils and disorders.

The author quotes 2 Chronicles 32:26 where we read of King Hezekiah who humbled himself because of the pride of his own heart.

3.   It includes earnest supplication and instant prayer for purifying and rectifying grace when sin has defiled and disordered the heart.

Flavel quotes Psalm 19:12, Unite my heart to fear your name, cleanse me from my secret sins, and includes this prayer:

O for a better heart! O for a heart to love God more; to hate sin more; to walk more evenly with God. Lord! deny not to me such a heart; whatever thou deny me: give me a heart to fear thee, to love and delight in thee, if I beg my bread in desolate places.’

4.   It includes the imposing of strong engagement upon ourselves to walk more carefully with God, and avoid the occasions whereby the heart may be induced to sin.

This is a Puritan way of saying, keeping our heart requires discipline and rigor.  Flavel prays,

He that will keep his heart, must have the eyes of the soul awake and open upon all the disorderly and tumultuous stirrings of his affections;

After these and several other recommendations, Flavel concludes by making three more general observations about what we might call heart keeping.

  1. It is the hardest work of the Christian life.
  2. It is a constant work.  The keeping of the heart is a work that is never done till life is ended.
  3. It is the most important business of a Christian’s life.

Without this we are but formalists in religion: all our professions, gifts and duties signify nothing. “My son, give me [your] heart,” is God’s request.