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The Duty of keeping the Heart; and the Importance of
it illustrated, from the Dependance of our religious Conduct, in Faith and Practice, on the inward Frame and Disposition of the Mind.
PROVERBS iv. 23.
Keep thy heart with all diligence ; for out of it are the issues of
A MONG the many wise and admirable precepts given us by
king Solomon, there is none more worthy of our observation than this which I have here recited. We are exhorted, in holy Scripture, to “ keep our tongues” from evil, and our eyes from wandering after insnaring objects; to“ keep our feet” from going astray, to take heed to our ways, and to ponder our paths : but the shortest and the surest rule is to “ keep our hearts ;" to set a diligent watch there, where all our works and ways begin, and from whence they all derive their moral quality.
“ A good “man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that “ which is good ; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his “ heart bringeth forth that which is evila :" which is the same in effect with what is observed in the text, that " out of the heart " are the issues of life." From thence proceeds all that is blameable or praiseworthy in us: and according as we are more or less careful in keeping or regulating the heart, so will our lives and conversations be better or worse.
By the heart we are to understand the frame, disposition, and
a Luke vi. 45.
temper of the soul, or mind. As the head is sometimes used to signify the seat of reason and thought; so the heart very oft denotes the seat of the affections, passions, and desires. The philosophy of this way of speaking is what we need not concern ourselves with. It is sufficient to observe, that this is frequently or generally the Scripture notion of the word heart. The instances are so many, and so easily occur, that it would be only misspending time, and trespassing on the audience, to produce any. Not to trouble ourselves therefore with the different senses of interpreters upon the text, the most obvious and natural ineaning of it appears to be this ; that we ought, with the utmost care and application, to attend to, and regulate the inward frame, temper, and disposition of our minds; for this very good reason, because the whole course and tenor of our lives and conversations, and consequently our happiness and misery, depend upon it. Keep thy heart with all diligence ; " for out of it are the issues of life.”
The reason or foundation of the precept is put last in the text: but in treating of it, it will be convenient to invert the order, and to consider it first. The precept, being a practical inference, may most naturally follow after, as the conclusion follow the premises : and we shall the more easily apprehend what is implied or contained in the precept, after we have seen what foundation it has in the nature and reason of things. I shall therefore endeavour to shew,
I. How the “ issues of life,” in a religious respect, depend upon the heart. And,
II. What is implied or contained in the precept of the text : “Keep thy heart with all diligence."
I. I shall endeavour to shew how the “ issues of life,” in a religious respect, depend upon the heart.
All things relating to our religious conduct are reducible either to some matter of belief or practice : something to be believed or done. We are therefore to consider how far either our belief or practice is subject to be influenced by the heart; that is, by the affections and inclinations, the drift and bent of our minds.
1. To begin with belief. How much that depends upon the temper and disposition of the heart is very easily seen from Scripture, and history, and from daily experience. Our blessed Lord hath told us, that “ if any man will do his will, he shall “ know of the doctrine, whether it be of God b;" intimating that the belief of Gospel truths depends much on the disposition which men are in to receive them. If the heart be well affected towards them, they will find easy admittance: but if the heart be disaffected, or has entertained any aversion to them, it will be the hardest thing in the world to prevail for their reception. It was with a view to this, that our blessed Saviour said in another place, “Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of “ God as a little child, he shall not enter therein," insinuating, that simplicity of mind and heart, free from prejudice and prepossession, is highly requisite for the receiving of the truth. How readily did Nathanael believe in Christ ! The reason was, that he was a man without guile : he had an honest and upright heart, no sinister or secular ends to serve, no evil affections to mislead him ; therefore was he fitly disposed both to believe and embrace the Gospel. But the Scribes and Pharisees were men of corrupt hearts and secular aims; full of ambition, avarice, and pride, and other vile affections. This rendered them utterly averse to the Gospel of Jesus Christ: and accordingly miracle upon miracle, and all the other ways and means which an allwise God saw proper to make use of for their conviction, proved ineffectual. They loved darkness rather than light, because “ their deeds were evil.” The same, or the like account, may be given of the Gentiles, those that rejected the offers of life and happiness by the Gospel. They wanted not sufficient means of conviction ; but they would not believe what lay so cross to the inclinations and passions of their corrupt hearts. The case of many who reject Christianity in general, or reformed Christianity in particular, is resolvable also into some evil affection or inclination of the heart. Why do the Jews, Pagans, or Mahometans persist in their errors, respectively, but because education, authority, prepossession, and prejudice have inclined them to think in such a way; and inclination has grown up into a standing and unalterable persuasion? Why do the Romanists adhere to their erroneous tenets, so contradictory, many of them, to Scripture and antiquity, and even to common sense, but that their hearts and affections are tied and bowed down to them by the weight of education, custom, reputation, interest, or other the like prejudices and secular inducements? As to partib John vii. 17.
cular men, it would be endless to observe how their affections and passions have often had the greatest hand in their opinions. Ambition and vainglory, malice and revenge, lust and avarice, have, in all ages, produced pernicious and monstrous tenets. There is hardly any thing so absurd, but some or other may be brought to believe it, provided their affections and passions lean towards it, and become parties in it. Were it not for this, our understandings, weak as they are, would very seldom deceive us. Ignorance is not the principal cause of error, but a forwardness of judging before we see reason for it; which is chiefly owing to the corruption of the heart, intercepting the due use and exercise of our rational faculties, and driving us on into precipitate judgments. But I proceed to consider what I principally intended,
2. Our practice : how that, as well as our belief, is subject to be influenced by the reigning passion or inclination of the heart. This may appear, in some measure, from what hath been already observed. For if the belief or judgment often takes its tincture from the heart, this may happen in points of morality, as well as in any other : and then there can be no question but the practice will be suitable and conformable to the persuasion. If inclination and judgment, heart and head, both conspire ; nothing can be wanting to determine the choice, and to influence the outward practice.
But it remains to be considered, how far the practice is apt to be governed by the inclination of the heart, without the concurrence of the judgment, or even in opposition to it. I am not supposing either an impossible.or an uncommon case. Experience, history, and observation may too sadly convince us all, that it is neither. Men not only may be, but generally are, more swayed by their affections and passions than by their principles : and principles are of very little force or efficacy, except when they fall in with inclination, or grow up into it. We may observe Jews and Pagans, Mahometans and Christians, Papists and Protestants, Dissenters and Churchmen; men of different principles; but the same inclinations, affections, and passions prevail amongst all: and he that knows human nature well, may pass a truer judgment of any of them, than one who considers barely their respective principles or persuasions. Were we to form a judgment of Christians in particular, from the Bible only, rather than from the temper and disposition of mankind in general, we should be widely mistaken. There is the same pride and ambition, the same treachery and deceit, the same luxury and lewdness, the same envy and hatred, the same rancour and bitterness; in a word, the same follies and vices, reigning among Christians, as we shall meet with in other men. It is not their principles, but the disposition and temper, common to them and others, which for the most part actuate and govern them. For can we think that they do not believe the religion they profess? Are they so many hypocrites and dissemblers, pretended Christians, but real Deists, Pagans, or Atheists ? No certainly, but very far from it. They do believe, and that sincerely too, the Christian religion: they have not any doubt or scruple of it: they abhor those who have : they value and esteem it much : would, very probably, rather than renounce it utterly, even die for it: and they hope at length to be saved by it: and yet notwithstanding live not up to it. The number of Atheists or Deists, in our own or other Christian countries, is certainly very small and inconsiderable. There are not so many infidels as would be thought so, or perhaps wish to be such. Inclination and impure affection will do much with some men: but yet they cannot always believe or disbelieve just what they please. Besides, there is not temptation enough to infidelity, a very difficult thing to attain to in any Christian country. Men can elude their principles with much more ease than they can renounce them; and therefore need not take sanctuary in atheism or infidelity
Shall we say then, that Christians, believing their religion in the gross, yet understand not its particular doctrines ? That they do not know, for instance, that pride or luxury, avarice or intemperance, treachery or fraud, malice or revenge, is as opposite to their religion, as darkness is to light? No. This cannot be pretended. They know these things perfectly, well : they condemn those vices in others, nay, even in themselves. Besides, it must be owned further, that many may have learning and abilities as great as any casuist ; may be particularly versed in Scripture and morality; may make religion, and even practical religion, their familiar study and business ; may be weekly or daily employed in instructing and reforming the world; and yet be ambitious and covetous, proud or luxurious, secular in their views, and hypocritical in their pretences. Knowledge is one thing, and grace another : orthodoxy is not probity: a