Hiding God's Word in Our Hearts
Thomas Manton, 1620–1677
"I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you!" Psalm 119:11
IN this verse you have:
the aim and end of his practice.
The first thing is the David's practice, I have hidden your word in my heart.
In the first, his practice, observe these circumstances—
1. The object or matter, the word.
2. The act of duty, I have hid.
3. The subject, the heart.
I shall open these circumstances.
1. The object,the word. The revelation of God's mind to his people is called his law, his testimonies, his ways, his precepts, his statutes, his commandments, his judgments, and now his word; whereby is meant God's expounding his mind as if he himself did speak to us. The expression is general, and comprises promises, threatenings, doctrines, counsels, precepts. All these must be hidden in the heart.
2. The act of duty, I have hid. A thing may be hidden two ways, either to conceal it, or else to cherish and keep it.
[1.] To conceal it; hidden so as the unprofitable servant did hide his talent in a napkin, Matthew 25. So David, typifying Christ, says, 'I have not hidden your righteousness within my heart; I have declared your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your loving-kindness and truth from the great congregation.'
[2.] To be kept as things of value, as jewels and treasures are hidden in chests and secret places, that they may not be embezzled or purloined. And herein there may be an allusion to the law, which was kept in a chest or ark, Exodus 25:21. Thus the word is hidden, not in order to concealment, but safety. As to the conceit of hiding our knowledge, that we may not lose it by vainglory, which some mention on the place, it is a conceit so foreign, that it need not to be mentioned. What we value most preciously we save most carefully.
3.The subject or place where the word is hidden, in the heart. Not the brain, or mind and memory only—but the heart, the seat of affections. To hide the word in our hearts is to understand and remember it, and to be affected to it and with it. Christ says, John 14:21, 'He who has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me.' First we must have them, and then keep them. First we know them, then assent to them, and then approve them, because of the authority of the lawgiver, and the excellency of the thing commanded; and then respect them as a treasure that we are watchful of; and having them still in our eye, do thereby regulate our practice and conversation.
In short, by holding it in our hearts is meant not only a knowledge of the word, but an assent to it; not only an assent to it, but a serious and sound digestion of it by meditation; not only a digestion, but a constant respect to it, that we may not transgress it as it is a rule, nor lose it as it is a treasure, but may have it ready and forthcoming upon all occasions.
The points are these:
Doctrine 1. That one necessary duty and practice of God's children is to hide the word in their hearts. See it confirmed by a scripture or two: Joshua 1:8, 'This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate therein day and night.' Job 22:22, 'Receive, I pray you, the law from his mouth, and lay up his words in your heart.' By the law is meant the whole word of God. 'Lay up his words,' as we would do choice things, that they may not be lost or stolen; and lay them up as treasure to be used upon all occasions.
'In the heart;' let them not swim in the brain or memory only, but let the heart be affected with it. Colossians 3:16, 'Let the word of God dwell in you richly;' be so diligent in the study of the scripture, that it may become familiar with us, by frequent hearing, reading, meditating, and conferring about it. As a stranger, let it not stand at the door, but receive it into an inner room; be as familiar as those that dwell with you.
God complains of his people: Hosea 8:12, 'I have written to them the great things of my law, but they were counted as a strange thing!' To be strangers to the word of God, and little conversant in it, is a great evil.
What is it to hide the word in our hearts?
(1.) To understand it, to get a competent knowledge of it. We take in things into the soul by the understanding: Proverbs 2:10, 'When wisdom enters into your heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto your soul.' There is first an entrance by knowledge.
(2.) When it is assented unto by faith. The word is settled in the heart by faith, otherwise it soon vanishes. Hebrews 4:2, 'The word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.'
(3.) When it is kindly entertained. John 8:37, Christ complains, 'You seek to kill me, because my word has no place in you.' Men are so possessed with lust and prejudice, that there is no room for Christ's word. Though it breaks in upon the heart with evidence and power, yet it is not entertained there, but cast out again as an unwelcome guest.
(4.) When it is deeply rooted. Many men have emotions for a time; their affections may be much aloft, and they may have great fits and elevations of joy and delight, but no sound grace. John 5:35, 'You rejoiced in his light for a season.' But now the word must be settled into a standing affection, if we would have comfort and profit by it. We read of 'the engrafted word,' James 1:21. There is a word bearing fruit, and a word engrafted. Until the root of the matter is in us, in vain do we expect fruit.
The REASONS why this is one duty and practice of the saints, to hide the word in their hearts, are two:
Reason 1.First, that we may have it ready for our use. We lay up principles, that we may lay them out upon all occasions. When it is hidden in the heart, it will be ready to break out in the tongue and practice, and be forthcoming to direct us in every duty and exigency. To be ever running to the market for every penny item, is a poor method. In the same way, to be to seek of comforts when we should use them, or to run to a book, is not so comfortable as to hide it in the heart.
As Christ says, 'A good scribe who is instructed unto the kingdom of Heaven, brings forth out of his treasure things new and old,' Matthew 13:52. He has not only this year's growth, but the last year's gathering (for so is the allusion made); he has not only from hand to mouth, but a good supply by him. So should a Christian have not only knowledge from hand to mouth, but a good supply and treasure in his heart, which is a very great advantage in these seven things:
1.Hiding the word in our hearts, will prevent vain thoughts. What is the reason evil is so ready and present with us? Because our stock of knowledge is so small. A man that has a pocket fuller of brass farthings than pieces of silver, will more readily draw out farthings than shillings; his stock is greater. So vain thoughts will be more ready with us, unless the word dwells richly in our hearts. Matthew 12:35, 'A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things; and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.' The workings of our spirits are as our treasure and stock. The mind works upon what it finds in itself, as a mill grinds whatever is put into it, chaff or grain. Therefore, if we would prevent wicked thoughts, and musings of vanity all the day long, we must hide the word in our heart.
2.When you are alone and without outward helps, your hearts will furnish you with matter of counsel, or comfort, or reproof. Psalm 16:7, 'My thoughts instruct me in the night season.' When we are alone, and there is a veil of darkness drawn upon the world, and we have not the benefit of a bible, a minister, or Christian friends, our thoughts will instruct us; we may draw out of our heart that which will be for our comfort and refreshing. A Christian is to be a walking bible, to have a good supply and treasure in himself.
3.Hiding the word in our hearts, will supply us in prayer. Barrenness and leanness of soul is a very great defect, which God's children often complain of. One great reason is, because the word of God does not dwell plenteously in them, so that in every prayer we are to seek. If the heart were often exercised in the word, the promises would hold up our hearts in prayer, enlarge our affections, and we would be better able to pour out our spirits before him. Psalm 45:1, 'My heart is inditing a good matter.' What then? 'My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.' When the heart is full, the tongue will be loosed and speak freely.
What is the reason we are so dumb and tongue-tied in prayer? Because our heart is so barren. When the spring is dry, there will be little water in the stream. Ephesians 6:17, 'Take the sword of the Spirit, that is the word of God;' then presently, 'praying with all manner of supplication.' When we have a good store of the word of God it will burst out in prayer.
4.Hiding the word in our hearts, will be a great help to us in all businesses and affairs. Proverbs 6:21, 22, speaking of the precepts of God, 'Bind them upon your heart forever; fasten them around your neck. When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you.'
Upon all occasions the word will be ready to cast in seasonable thoughts. When we awake, our most early thoughts in the morning will begin with God, to season the heart all the day; and as we are about our business, the word will hold our hearts in the fear of God. When we sleep, it will guard you from vain dreams and light imaginations.
In a wicked man, sin engrosses all the thoughts; it employs him all the day, plays in his imagination all the night; it solicits him first in the morning, because he is a stranger to the word of God.
But a man that is a bible to himself, the word will be ever upon him, urging him to duty, restraining him from sin, directing him in his ways, seasoning his work and employment. Therefore we should hide the word in our hearts.
5.It is a great relief against temptations to have the word hidden in our hearts . The word is called 'The sword of the Spirit,' Ephesians 6:17. In spiritual conflicts there is no weapon compared to that. Those that ride abroad in time of danger, will not be without a sword. We are in danger, and had need handle the sword of the Spirit. The more ready the scripture is with us, the greater advantage in our conflicts and temptations.
When the devil came to assault Christ, he had scripture ready for him, whereby he overcame the tempter. The door is barred upon Satan, and he cannot find such easy entrance, when the word is hidden in our hearts, and made use of pertinently! 1 John 2:14, 'I write to you, young men, because you are strong.' Where lies their strength? 'And the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one.'
Oh, it is a great advantage when we have the word not only by us, but in us, engrafted in the heart! When it is present with us, we are more able to resist the assaults of Satan.
Either a man forgets the word or has lost his affection to it, before he can be drawn to sin. The word of God, when it has gotten into the heart, it will furnish us with seasonable thoughts.
6.Hiding the word in our hearts, is a great relief in troubles and afflictions. Our faintings come from ignorance, or our forgetfulness. Hebrews 12:5, 'You have forgotten the consolation which speaks unto you as unto children, My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when you are rebuked of him.' If we had a herb growing in our gardens that would ease our pain, what are we the better if we know it not? There is no malady but what has its remedy in the word. To have a comfort ready is a great relief.
7.Hiding the word in our hearts, makes our conversation with others more gracious. Matthew 12:34, 'Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.' When we have a great deal of hidden treasure in the soul, it will get out at the tongue; for there is a quick fellowship between the heart and the tongue. The tap runs according to the liquor with which the vessel is filled.
Come to men of an unsavory spirit, pierce them, broach them, give them occasion again and again for discourse —and you get nothing but frothy communication from them and vain talk.
But a man that has stored his heart with the word is ever and anon interposing for God. Like a bottle filled with wine, he must have vent.
As the spouse's lips are said to 'drop as honeycombs,' they are ever putting forth savory expressions in their converse with others. Colossians 3:16, 'Let the word of God dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.' It will burst out presently if the word of God dwells in your hearts.
Before I go to the second reason, let me answer an OBJECTION: "But is not this to take from the Spirit, and to give it to the word? and that to the word, not as written in God's book, but as it is in our hearts? Will not this be to ascribe all to created grace?"
1. Doubtless it is the office of the Spirit to bring things to our remembrance, and the great help of the Spirit of God is by suggesting such passages as may be of most seasonable relief to the soul in temptations, in prayer, and in business, John 14:16. But what is given to the scriptures and grace, is not to the wrong of the Spirit, for the scripture is of his writing, and grace is of his working. Yes, we still reserve the chief honor to the Holy Spirit, for he not only works grace, but works by grace. He not only writes the scripture, but works by it; it is he who quickens prayer; and therefore it is ill trusting to our own understanding and memory, for it is the Spirit who is the great remembrancer, and impresses upon the mind savory and seasonable thoughts.
2. I grant further, the children of God are subject to much forgetfulness of the truth that is impressed upon their hearts. Partly through the present cloud and mist which the temptation raises. The Psalmist had truths enough to support him, Psalm 73:17; yet he says, 'Until I went into the sanctuary of God, I was foolish and ignorant; I was as a beast before you.' There is so much dullness upon the children of God that they cannot remember seasonable thoughts; as Hagar had a fountain by her, yet she did not see it until God opened her eyes, Genesis 21. So under the temptation all are benighted, and the light that is in the understanding is obscured. And partly through the little sense they have for the present of the need of the comforts which the word propounds; few are so wise as to lay up the word for the future. And partly through sloth and negligence, being taken up with other things. It is possible sometimes that we may be guided by the Spirit, and act right, merely by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, without any interposing and concurrence of our own understandings; as John 12:13, compared with verse 16, 'They took branches of palm-trees, and went forth to meet him; and cried, Hosanna, blessed is the King of Israel who comes in the name of the Lord.' 'These things his disciples understood not at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him.' Mark, they were guided by the Spirit to do that they knew not for the present; they had only a back-look, not a foresight; they were ignorant of what they were doing until afterward; thoughts came not in their mind but only in the review. John 2:22, 'When he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them.' They did not take up the meaning of them, yet they were guided aright. They did not carp against Christ, as the Jews did. They were guided by the Spirit in a case they were wholly ignorant of.
3. The Holy Spirit makes use of a sanctified memory, bringing scriptures to our remembrance as we have need. It is made their act, because the Holy Spirit made use of their memories. 'They remembered that it was written, Zeal for your house has consumed me,' John 2:17. Those who neglect to search and hide the word in their hearts, they have not such seasonable refreshment; for God works more strongly with the strongest graces. Where there is the greater receptivity, there is the greater influence; those who are ignorant cannot expect such help as those that have the word dwell richly in their hearts.
Reason 2.The second reason we should hide the word in our hearts, is because God does so in the work of conversion. Hebrews 8:10, 'I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts.' The mind is compared to tables of stone, and the heart to the ark; and so this is required of us to 'write them upon the table of our heart,' Proverbs 7:3; and here, 'I have hidden your word in my heart.'
How does this follow: that because God puts his word in our hearts in conversion, that therefore it is our duty to hide his word in our hearts?
(1.) God requires what he works, to show the creature's duty, as well as the power of his own grace. God is to convert and turn; yet you must turn, circumcise your heart, and I will circumcise; mortify your members, etc.; and yet, 'If you through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live.' He gives and requires —to engage the subserviency of our endeavors, and to make us sensible of our duty and obligation.
(2.) This follows because this work must be gone over again and again that it may be more explicit. We must revive the work, and put a fresh copy of the law into our heart, to keep the old work a-foot.
Use 1.To persuade you to study the Scripture, that you may get understanding and hide the word in your hearts for gracious purposes. This is the Book of books: let it not lie idle. The world can as well be without the sun as the Bible. Psalm 19 speaks first of the sun, then of the Law of God, which is to the Christian as the sun is to the outward world.
Consider the great use of the Word for informing the understanding and reforming the will. The Word of God is able "to make the man of God perfect, and thoroughly furnished for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:17).
"How shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to Your Word" (Psalm 119:9). A young man that is so heedless and head-strong, and in the very heat of his lusts —yet there is enough in the Word to cleanse, tame, and subdue him to God. O therefore let us get it into our hearts. To this end:
Meditate often on it. "Mary kept all these sayings" (Luke 2:19). How did she keep them? She "pondered them in her heart." Musing makes the fire to burn, and deep and constant thoughts are operative. The hen which wanders from her nest when she sits a-brooding produces nothing; it is a constant incubation which hatches the young. So when we have only a few wandering thoughts, and do not brood upon the Truth; when we have flashes only, like a little glance of a sunbeam upon a wall, it does nothing; but serious thoughts, through the Lord's blessing, will do the work. Urge the heart again and again. Ask, Is this a Truth?—then what will become of me if I disregard it? Is this the Word of God, and does it find no more entertainment in my heart?
Receive it in the love of it. The Apostle makes this to be the ground of apostasy: "because they received not the love of the truth" (2 Thessalonians 2:10). O let the word soak into the affections. If it lies only in the tongue or in the mind, only to make it a matter of talk and speculation, it will be soon gone. The seed which lies upon the surface —the birds of the air will pick it up. Therefore hide it deeply; let it soak further and further.
First men have a bare apprehension of truth,
then it gets into the conscience,
then it lies in the heart,
then it is laid up.
When it is dearer than our dearest lust, then it will stick by us. When the word breaks in upon the heart with evidence and power, you cannot keep both.
Use 2.To direct you what to do in reading. The word is a notable preservative against sin, and an antidote against the infection of the world: "The Law of God is in his heart, none of his steps shall slide" (Psalm 37:31). As long as truth is kept lively and active, and in view of conscience, we shall not slide, or not so often slide. We have many temptations to divert us from obedience; but we are in safety when the Law of God is in our heart.
See how it was in Joseph's heart: "How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?"—against God, that is of such sovereign majesty; of such infinite goodness and mighty power, so able to save and to destroy! Every time you read the Scripture you should lay up something. The best way to destroy ill weeds is by planting the ground with right seed.
Then for promises. What have you hidden in your heart for comfort against desertions and afflictions? In a time of trial you will find that one promise gives more comfort and support than all the arguments that can be produced by reason. "This is my comfort in my affliction: Your Word has quickened me" (Psalm 119:50). He had a word to support him. Therefore let us treasure up the promises.
In the same way, for threatenings, especially against the sins we are most inclined to: "Who among you will give ear, and hear for the time to come?" (Isaiah 42:23).
It is well with you for the present, but matters to come are put off, little cared for: Amos 6:3. You should think of and provide against what will come afterward.
So in hearing. Do not hear lightly, but hide the Word in your heart, that it be not embezzled by your own negligence, forgetfulness, running into carnal distractions; that it be not purloined by Satan, that he may not snatch away the good seed out of your soul.
When the Word is preached, there is more company present than is visible; there are angels and demons in the assembly. Whenever the sons of God meet together, Satan is there too. The Devil is present to divert the mind by wandering thoughts, by raising prejudices that we may cast out the Word—or by excuses, delays, evasions, or putting it off to others when we begin to have some sense of our sin and danger. The Devil is loath to let us go too far, lest Christ get a subject into His kingdom.
O therefore let us labor to get something into the heart by every sermon: some fresh consideration is given out to set you a-work in the spiritual life. A conscientious waiting upon God will find something every time. It is sad to consider how many have heard much, and laid up little or nothing at all; it may be they have laid it up in their notebooks, but not laid up the Word in their hearts.
For meditation. Meditate upon the Word. Do not study it in a cursory manner, or content yourselves with a slight taste, or a little passing affection; but ponder it seriously, that it may enter into your very heart. Hasty and superficial thoughts achieve nothing. Meat must be well chewed and digested, if you would have it turn into good blood and energy.
You must follow the word closely until it settles into our affections.
So much then for David's practice: "Your Word have I hidden in my heart."
II. The second thing, is the aim and end of hiding God's word in our heart, "that I might not sin against You."
In hiding the word in our hearts there must be a right end; our knowledge of it and delight in it must be directed to practice.
1. We must not study the word merely out of curiosity, that we may know what is said there, as men will pry into civil matters. So the Athenians flocked about Paul, Acts 17:18-21. So for novelty's sake men may have an affection and a delight in the word. John 5:35, 'You rejoiced in his light for a season.' There are certain affections we have to the word when it is new and fresh, but when it grows stale we loathe it. This affection to the word is soon spent.
2. We must not hide the word in our heart merely that we may be able to teach others, that we may make a gainful trade of it. Alas! a man may teach others and be himself a reprobate! Look, as in coining of money, an iron stamp may impress the character and print upon a piece of gold and silver, so God may use the gifts and knowledge of some men to beget faith in others, and perish themselves! Matthew 7:21, 'We have prophesied in your name.' Yet 'Depart from me; I know you not.'
3. This must not be our end neither, not merely for delight. Largeness of knowledge brings a contentment with it, as it is an addition to our perfection. Truth is the object of our understanding, and may please an unsanctified mind. Not merely out of subserviency to some base and inferior ends, that we may get esteem in the world, or the reputation of being learned persons, but as it is an elevation of the understanding. Every delight in truth, is not a delight in God.
There is a natural delight we have in the contemplation of any sublime truth; this is merely a delight in the work of our own faculties, when the affections are terminated in bare knowledge; as it is a high and mysterious truth, as it is a delectation to the understanding.
4. We are not merely to study the word for the comfortableness of it, and the suitableness to the conscience. As man is a reasonable creature, he will delight in knowledge; and as he has a conscience warning of death and judgment to come, he may delight in the comfort of it.
Many search out promises, who do not like precepts. The stony ground seemed to have a joy. In the same way, they may delight in the comfortable part of religion; but this joy comes to nothing. This gladsome reception is no sure prognostication of a plentiful harvest. Then do we receive the word aright, when we look to the holy part, and mortify our natural desires and affections. Many deal with the word as great men do with fleshly companions—they are willing to entertain them at their tables to hear their discourse, because of the pleasantness of their mirth; but to pay their debts, or better their fortunes —that they will not do. In the same way, many will give Christ and the word, and the comfortable part of it, entertainment; but they are loath to take the duties of the gospel upon themselves.
Therefore, it is not enough to study the word merely that we may cherish our own persons with the comfortable part of it; but we must also study the holy part of it, and that which does require our duty.
Let us labor to hide the word in our hearts, as David did: 'I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you!'