Keeping the Heart
by John Flavel
"Keep your heart with all diligence;
for out of it are the issues of life."
, when Satan besets the
Christian's heart, and takes the unwary by surprise. To keep the heart at
such times, is not less a mercy than a duty. Few Christians
are so skillful in detecting the fallacies, and repelling the arguments by
which the adversary incites them to sin, as to come off safe and whole in
these encounters. Many eminent saints have smarted severely for their lack
of watchfulness and diligence at such times. How then may a Christian keep
his heart from yielding to temptation? There are several principal ways in
which the adversary insinuates temptation, and urges compliance:
The next season wherein the greatest diligence and skill are necessary to
keep the heart—is the hour of TEMPTATION
1. Satan suggests that here is pleasure to be
enjoyed—the temptation is presented with a smiling aspect and an enticing
voice! 'What, are you so dull and stolid as not to feel the
powerful charms of pleasure? Who can withhold himself from such delights?'
Reader, you may be rescued from the danger of such temptations by repelling
the first proposal of pleasure. It is urged that the commission of sin will
afford you pleasure. Suppose this were true, will the accusing and
condemning rebukes of conscience and the flames of hell be pleasant too? Is
there pleasure in the scourges of conscience? If so, why died Peter weep so
bitterly? Why did David cry out of broken bones?
You hear what is said of the pleasure of sin, and
have you not read what David said of the effects of it? "Your arrows
stick fast in me, and your hand presses me sore; there is no soundness in my
flesh because of your anger, neither is there any rest in my bones because
of my sin," etc. If you yield to temptation, you must feel such inward
distress on account of it—or the miseries of hell! But why should the
pretended pleasure of sin allure you, when you know that unspeakably more
real pleasure will arise from the mortification of sin—than can arise
from the commission of sin! Will you prefer the gratification of some
unhallowed passion, with the deadly poison which it will leave behind—to
that sacred pleasure which arises from hearing and obeying God, complying
with the dictates of conscience, and maintaining inward peace? Can sin
afford any such delight as he feels who, by resisting temptation, has
manifested the sincerity of his heart, and obtained evidence that he fears
God, loves holiness, and hates sin?
2. The secrecy with which you may commit sin is
made use of, to induce compliance with temptation. The tempter
insinuates that this indulgence will never disgrace you among men, for no
one will know it. But recollect yourself. Does not God behold you? Is
not the divine presence everywhere? What if you might hide your sin from the
eyes of the world, you cannot hide it from God. No darkness can screen you
from his inspection. Besides, have you no respect for yourself? Can you do
that by yourself, which you dare not have others observe? Is not your
conscience as a thousand witnesses? Even a heathen could say, "When you are
tempted to commit sin, fear yourself without any other witness."
3. The prospect of worldly advantage often
enforces temptation. It is suggested, 'Why should you be so
precise and scrupulous? Give yourself a little liberty, and you may better
your condition: now is your time.' This is a dangerous temptation, and must
be promptly resisted. Yielding to such a temptation will do your soul more
injury than any temporal acquisition can possibly do you good. And what
would it profit you, if you should gain the whole world and lose your own
soul? What can be compared with the value of your spiritual interests? Or
what can at all compensate for the smallest injury of them?
4. Perhaps the smallness of the sin is urged as a
reason why you may commit it. "It is but a little sin, a small
matter, a trifle!" But is the Majesty of heaven little too? If you commit
this sin you will offend a great God! Is there any little hell to torment
little sinners in? No! the least sinners in hell are full of misery. There
is great wrath treasured up for those whom the world regard as little
sinners. But the less the sin, the less the inducement to commit it.
Will you provoke God for a trifle? Will you destroy your peace, wound your
conscience, and grieve the Spirit—all for nothing? What madness is this!
5. An argument to enforce temptation is sometimes drawn
from the mercy of God and the hope of pardon. "God
is merciful, he will pass by this as an infirmity, he will not be severe to
mark it." But stop! Where do you find a promise of mercy to presumptuous
sinners? Involuntary falls and lamented infirmities may be pardoned, "but
the soul that does anything presumptuously, the same reproaches the Lord,
and that soul shall be cut off from among his people." If God is a being of
so much mercy—how can you affront him? How can you make so glorious an
attribute as the divine mercy, into an occasion of sin? Will you wrong God
because he is good? Rather let his goodness lead you to repentance, and keep
you from transgression.
6. Sometimes Satan encourages to the commission of sin,
from the examples of holy men. "Thus and thus they sinned, and
were restored; therefore you may commit this sin, and yet be a saint and be
saved." Such suggestions must be instantly repelled. If good men have
committed sins similar to that with which you are beset, did any good man
ever sin upon such ground and from such encouragement as is here presented?
Did God cause their examples to be recorded for your imitation, or
for your warning? Are they not set up as beacons that you may avoid
the rocks upon which they split? Are you willing to feel what they felt for
sin? Dare you follow them in sin, and plunge yourself into such distress and
danger as they incurred?
Reader, in these ways learn to keep your heart in the
hour of temptation.