The Heart (1)
The heart is the important thing in Christianity. Other religions emphasise the mind, or the body, or the works, but with followers of Christ, it is the heart that must have the pre–eminence.
The head is not the principal thing. You may know much about the Bible, and hold that it is the truth. You may be clear, correct and sound in doctrine. And yet, all the time you may be walking in the broad way that leads to destruction!
Your behaviour amongst men is not the main thing. Your outward life may be decent and morally respectable in the eyes of men. Your friends and neighbours may see nothing wrong in your conduct. And yet, all this time you may be hanging on the brink of everlasting ruin!
Wishes and desires are not enough to make a Christian. You may have many good feelings about your soul. You may, like Balaam, long to “die the death of the righteous” (Num. 23: 10). You may sometimes tremble at the thought of judgement to come, or be melted to tears by the tidings of Christ’s love. And yet, all the time you are slipping downwards towards hell!
Friend, it is the heart which is the important thing! Is your heart right in the sight of God? That, above everything else, is what matters. Are these merely my own opinions? By no means. They are the arguments of Holy Scripture––and remember, if we are not prepared to submit our thoughts to that infallible umpire, then it is pointless pretending we have any real link with the Lord at all.
The immense importance of the heart in the things of Christ.
The Bible teaches that the heart is that part of us on which the state of our soul depends: “Keep thy heart more than anything that is guarded; for out of it are the issues of life” (Prov. 4: 23). The reason, the understanding, and the conscience are all second in importance to the heart. The heart is the man. It is the seat of all spiritual life, health, strength, and growth. It is the hinge and turning–point in the condition of man’s soul. If the heart is alive to God, then the man is a living Christian. If the heart is dead, then the man is dead before God. The heart is the man! Do not tell me merely what a man says and professes, and where he goes on Sunday. Tell me rather what his heart is, and I will tell you what he is. “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23: 7 AV).
For another thing, the Bible teaches that the heart is that part of us at which God especially looks: “for man looketh upon the outward appearance, but Jehovah looketh upon the heart” (1 Sam. 16: 7). Again, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes; but Jehovah weigheth the hearts” (Prov. 21: 2). Man is naturally content with the outward part of religion––outward morality, outward correctness, and outward worship. The eyes of the Lord look much further: “I Jehovah search the heart, I try the reins” (Jer. 17: 10).
The Bible also teaches that the heart is the first and foremost thing which God asks man to give Him: “My son, give me thy heart” (Prov. 23: 26). We may give God a bowed head and a serious face, our bodily presence in the gatherings of His people, and a loud amen, but until we give God our hearts, we give Him nothing of any value. “This people draw near with their mouth, and honour me with their lips, but their heart is removed far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught of men” (Is. 29: 13). The zeal of Jehu against idolatry was very great, but there was one great blot on his character which spoiled all: he “took no heed to walk in the law of Jehovah the God of Israel with all his heart” (2 Kings 10: 31). The heart is what the husband seeks in his wife, the mother in her child, the master in his servant––and what God seeks in you and I.
What is the heart to a man’s body? It is the principal and most important organ in the whole frame. A man may live many years in spite of disease, wounds and loss of limbs, but a man cannot live if you injure his heart. So it is with the heart in Christianity.
What is the mainspring to the watch? It is the cause of all its movements, and the secret of all its usefulness. The case may be costly and beautiful, the face and figures may be skilfully made––but if there is anything wrong with the mainspring, the works will not go. So it is with the heart in Christianity.
What is the fire to the steam engine? It is the cause of all its motion and power. The machinery may be properly made, and every screw, valve, joint, crank and rod may be in its right place, but if the furnace is cold and the water is not turned into steam, the engine will do nothing. So it is with the heart in Christianity.
Do you know the reason why multitudes around you take no interest in God or the Bible, in heaven or hell, in judgement or eternity? Why they care for nothing but what they shall eat and what they should wear, what money they can get and what pleasure they can have? Why are they destitute of any taste or inclination for spiritual things? It is their hearts that are at fault. They need new hearts.
Do you know why so many hear the Gospel year after year and remain unmoved by it? Cart–loads of sound instruction are delivered to them without producing any good effect. Their reason is convinced, their minds assent to the truth, their consciences are sometimes pricked, and their feelings are sometimes roused. Why then do they stick fast? Why do they hold back? Some secret idol chains them down to earth, and keeps them tied hand and foot so that they cannot move. They need a new heart! Their picture is drawn faithfully by the prophet: “And they come unto thee as a people cometh, and they sit before thee [as] my people, and they hear thy words, but they do them not; for with their mouth they shew much love, [but] their heart goeth after their dishonest gain” (Ez. 33: 31).
Do you know the reason why thousands of so–called Christians will be lost? They will not be able to say that God did not offer salvation to them. Oh no! They will be obliged to confess that all things were ready for them except their own hearts. Their hearts will prove to have been the cause of their ruin. The life–boat was alongside the wreck, but they would not enter it. Christ “would” have gathered them, but they “would not” be gathered (Matt. 23: 37). They loved darkness more than light––their hearts were at fault.
So what sort of heart is wrong in the sight of God?
There are only two sorts of heart––a right one and a wrong one. What then is a wrong heart like?
The wrong heart is the natural heart with which we are all born. There are no hearts which are right by nature. There are no such things as naturally “good hearts”, even though some people may talk about “having a good heart at bottom”. Ever since Adam fell, and sin entered the world, men and women have been born with an inclination to evil. Every natural heart is wrong. If your heart has never been changed by the Holy Spirit, then your heart is wrong.
What does the Bible say about the natural heart? It says that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and incurable” (Jer. 17: 9). It says of man that “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart only evil continually” (Gen. 6: 5). It says that “the heart of the children of men is full of evil” (Eccles. 9: 3). It says “For from within, out of the heart of men, go forth evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickednesses, deceit, licentiousness, a wicked eye, injurious language, haughtiness, folly” (Mark 7: 21, 22). Truly this is a humbling picture! Yes, and the seeds of these things are in the heart of every one born into this world.
Yet is there one common mark of the wrong heart which is to be seen in all whom God has not changed? There is, and I would now call your attention to that mark. In Ezekiel 11: 19 the Holy Spirit uses a most striking and instructive figure of speech to describe the natural heart. He calls it a “stony heart”. I know of no emblem in the Bible so full of instruction and so apt and fitting as this one. So what are the characteristics of a stony heart?
A stone is hard. It is unyielding, and unbending. The proverb is world–wide: “as hard as stone”. Look at the granite rocks which line the coast of Cornwall. For thousands of years the waves of the Atlantic Ocean have dashed against them in vain. There they stand in their old hardness, unbroken and unmoved. It is the same with the natural heart. Afflictions, mercies, losses, crosses, sermons, counsels, books, tracts, speaking, writing––all are unable to soften it. Not a spark of affection God–ward will you find in such a heart. Until the day that God comes down to change it, it remains unmoved.
A stone is cold. There is a chilly, icy feeling about it, which you know the moment you touch it. The proverb is in everyone’s mouth, “as cold as stone”. The statues in many a cathedral have heard the substance of thousands of sermons, yet they never show any feeling. Not a muscle of their faces ever shrinks or moves. It is just the same with the natural heart––it is utterly destitute of spiritual feeling. It cares less for the story of Christ’s death on the Cross than it does for the latest magazine or newspaper. Until God sends fire from heaven to warm it, the natural heart has no feeling for the things that matter.
A stone is barren. You will reap no harvest off rocks of any description. You will never fill your barns with wheat from the top of Mount Snowdon or Ben Nevis. It is just the same with the natural heart. It is utterly barren of anything for God. Until God breaks it up, and puts a new principle in it, it bears no fruit to God’s praise.
A stone is dead. It neither sees, nor hears, nor moves, nor grows. Show it the glories of heaven, and it would be utterly unaffected. Tell it of the fires of hell, and it would not be alarmed. The Bass Rock in Scotland is just the same as it was four thousand years ago. It has seen kingdoms rise and fall, but it remains unchanged. It is neither higher nor broader than when Noah left the ark. It is just the same with the natural heart. It has not a spark of spiritual life about it. Until God works by the Holy Spirit in the heart, it is dead and motionless about true Christianity.
What sort of heart is right in the sight of God?
The right heart in the sight of God is a “new heart” (Ezek. 36: 26). It is not the heart with which a man is born, but another heart put within him by the Holy Spirit. It is a heart which has new tastes, new joys, new sorrows, new desires, and new hopes. It has new views about the soul and sin, God and Christ, salvation and the Bible, prayer and Sunday, the world and holiness. It is like a business under completely new management.
The right heart is “a broken and a contrite heart” (Ps. 51: 17). Its former high thoughts of self are cracked, shattered and smashed to atoms. It thinks itself guilty, unworthy and corrupt. It no longer thinks lightly of offending God. It is tender, sensitive and jealously fearful of falling into sin. It is humble, lowly and self–abased, and sees in itself no good thing.
A right heart is a heart which believes on Christ for salvation: “For with [the] heart is believed to righteousness” (Rom. 10: 10). It rests all its hopes of pardon and eternal life on Him and on His work. It turns to the Lord as the sunflower looks to the Sun. It is a heart that is sprinkled “from a wicked conscience” (Heb. 10: 22), and a heart in which Christ dwells “through faith” (Eph. 3: 17).
A right heart is a “purified…by faith” (Acts 15: 9). It loves holiness and hates sin. It delights to purify itself “from every pollution of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in God’s fear” (2 Cor. 7: 1). It abhors that which is evil, and cleaves to that which is good.
What sort of heart have you?
Is your heart the right kind of heart? If it is not, how can you think heaven to be your end? What would a man do in heaven if he got there with his heart unchanged? What pleasure could he take in God’s holy presence? Miserable delusion! Your tastes must be tuned and brought in harmony with Christ before you can ever think to be in His company. If your heart is the heart you were born with, you are not on the road to heaven at all.
You may think that there is no need for such questions as these, no need to make so much ado about the heart. After all, you go to the chapel or meeting regularly. You have been baptised and you ‘break bread’. You lead a respectable life. Friend, you may go to the best church on earth, but if your heart is not right in the sight of God, then you are on the road to destruction! I ask you again, in all earnestness, Is your heart right or wrong?
The thing can be known––oh yes! It is not a question ever of “hoping for the best”. Deal honestly and fairly with yourself. Set up an assize on the state of your heart. Summon a jury. Let the Bible preside as your judge. Bring up the witnesses. Inquire what your tastes are, where your affections are placed, what you love and what you hate, what pleases you and what grieves you. Inquire into all those points impartially, and mark what the answers are. Then listen to the Scriptures of Truth: “For where thy treasure is, there will be also thy heart” (Matt. 6: 21). As a tree is known by its fruit, so a true Christian may be discovered by his habits, tastes, and affections. In a day of so much outward show, hypocrisy and unreality, these are vital matters. Look steadily at the question before you: Is your heart right or wrong?
The Heart (2)
The heart is the real test of a man’s character. His character cannot always be known from what he says or what he does. He may say and do things that are right, from false and unworthy motives, while his heart is altogether wrong. The heart is the man. “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23: 7 AV).
The heart is the most revealing test of a man’s religion. It is not enough to hold a correct creed of doctrine, and maintain an outward form of godliness. What is the heart––that is the grand question. This is what God looks at. “Man looketh upon the outward appearance, but Jehovah looketh upon the heart” (1 Sam. 16: 7). This is what the apostle laid down distinctly as the standard measure of the person: “he [is] a Jew [who is so] inwardly; and circumcision, of the heart” (Rom. 2: 29). Was this not written for Christians as well as for Jews? He is a Christian, the apostle would have us know, who is one inwardly––that is in his heart.
The heart is the place where saving religion must begin. It is naturally ungodly and must be renewed by the Holy Spirit. “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh” (Ez. 36: 26). It is naturally hard, and must be made tender and broken. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51: 17). It is naturally shut against God, and must be opened. The Lord “opened” the heart of Lydia (Acts 16: 14).
The heart is the seat of true saving faith. “With [the] heart is believed to righteousness” (Rom. 10: 10). A man may believe that Jesus is the Christ, as the demons do, and yet remain in his sins. He may believe that he is a sinner, and that Christ is the only Saviour, and feel occasional lazy wishes that he was a better man, but he will never lay hold on Christ, and receive pardon and peace, until he believes with his heart. It is faith from the heart that justifies.
The heart is the spring of true holiness and steady continuance in well–doing. True Christians are holy because their hearts are inclined in that direction. They obey from the heart. They do the will of God from the heart. Feeble, and imperfect as all their works are, they please God, because they are done from a loving heart. He who commended the widow’s mite more than all the offerings of the wealthy Jews, regards quality far more than quantity. What He likes to see is a thing done from “an honest and good heart” (Luke 8: 15). There is no real holiness without a right heart.
The things I am saying may sound strange. Perhaps you have thought that if a man’s religion is correct outwardly, God must be well–pleased with him. You are completely mistaken. You are rejecting the whole tenor of Bible teaching. Outward correctness without a right heart is nothing but Pharisaism. The outward things of Christianity––baptism, the Lord’s supper, almsgiving and the like––will never take anyone’s soul to heaven. There must be inward things as well as outward––and it is on the inward things that God’s eyes are chiefly fixed.
Paul teaches us about this matter in three striking texts: "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision has any force, nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love" (Gal. 5: 6); “For [in Christ Jesus] neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision; but new creation” (Gal. 6: 15); “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing; but keeping God’s commandments” (1 Cor. 7: 19). Did the apostle only mean in these texts, that circumcision was no longer needed under the Gospel? No indeed! I believe he meant much more. He meant that true Christianity did not consist of forms, and that its essence was something far greater than being circumcised or not circumcised. He meant that under Christ Jesus, everything depended on being born again, on having true saving faith, on being holy in life and conduct. He meant that these are the things we ought to look for rather than outward forms. “Am I a new creature? Do I really believe on Christ? Am I a holy man?” These are the grand questions that we must seek to answer.
When the heart is wrong all is wrong in God’s eyes. Many right things may be done. The forms and ordinances which God Himself has appointed may seem to be honoured. Yet so long as the heart is at fault God is not pleased. He will have man’s heart or nothing.
The ark was the most sacred thing in the Jewish tabernacle. On it was the mercy–seat and within it were the tables of the law. The High priest alone was allowed to go into the place where it was kept, and that only once a year. The presence of the ark with the camp was thought to bring a special blessing. Yet when Israel trusted to it like an idol, with their hearts full of wickedness, the ark could do them no more good than any common box. In 1 Sam. 4 the Israelites responded to defeat by saying, “Let us fetch ourselves the ark … that it may come among us, and save us out of the hand of our enemies”. When it came among them they showed it all reverence and honour. They “shouted with a great shout, so that the earth shook”. Yet it was all in vain. They were smitten before the Philistines, and the ark itself was taken. So why was this? It was because their religion was a mere form. They honoured the ark but did not give the God of the ark their hearts.
There were some kings of Judah and Israel who did many things that were right in God’s sight, and yet they were never written in the list of godly and righteous men. Rehoboam began well, and for three years Israel “walked in the way of David and Solomon” (2 Chron. 11: 17), but afterwards “he did evil, for he applied not his heart to seek Jehovah” (2 Chron. 12: 14). Abijah said many things that were right, and fought successfully against Jeroboam. Nevertheless the general verdict is against him. We read that “his heart was not perfect with Jehovah his God” (1 Kings 15: 3). Amaziah, we are expressly told, “did what was right in the sight of Jehovah, yet not with a perfect heart” (2 Chron. 25: 2). Jehu, King of Israel, was raised up by God to put down idolatry. He was a man of special zeal in doing God’s work, but it is written of him that he “took no heed to walk in the law of Jehovah the God of Israel with all his heart; he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam, who made Israel to sin” (2 Kings 10: 31). In short, one general remark applies to all these kings. They were all wrong inwardly. They were rotten at heart.
There are places where men worship in this world where all the outward things of religion are done to perfection. The building is beautiful. The service is beautiful. The singing is beautiful. There is everything to gratify the senses. Eye, and ear, and natural sentimentality are all pleased. Yet God is not pleased. One thing is lacking, and the want of that one thing spoils all. What is that one thing? It is heart! God sees under all this fair outward show the form of piety put in the place of the substance, and when He sees that, He is displeased. He sees nothing with an eye of favour in the service, the singing or the people, if He does not see converted, renewed, broken, penitent hearts. Bowed heads, bended knees and loud amens are nothing in God’s sight without right hearts.
When the heart is right God can bear with many things that are defective. There may be faults in judgment, and infirmities in practice. There may be deviations from the exact course in the outward things of Christianity. Yet if the heart is sound; God will not withhold His blessing. He is merciful and gracious, and will pardon much that is imperfect, when He sees a true heart.
Jehoshaphat and Asa were kings of Judah, who were defective in many things. Jehoshaphat was a timid, irresolute man, who did not know how to say “No”, and joined himself to Ahab, the wickedest king that ever reigned over Israel. Asa was an unstable man, who at one time trusted in the king of Syria more than in God, and at another time was angry with God’s prophet for rebuking him (see 2 Chron. 16: 10). Yet both of them had one great redeeming point in their characters. With all their faults they had right hearts.
The passover kept by Hezekiah was one at which there were many irregularities. Many ate the passover “otherwise than it was written”. Yet they did it with true and honest hearts and so Hezekiah prayed for them, saying “Jehovah, who is good, forgive every one that has directed his heart to seek God … although not according to the purification of the sanctuary. And Jehovah hearkened to Hezekiah, and healed the people” (2 Chron. 30: 18–20).
The passover kept by Josiah must have been far smaller and worse attended than scores of passovers in the days of David and Solomon, or even in the reigns of Jehoshaphat and Hezekiah. How then can we account for the strong language used in Scripture about it? “There was no passover like to that holden in Israel from the days of Samuel the prophet; neither did all the kings of Israel hold such a passover as Josiah held, and the priests, and the Levites, and all Judah and Israel that were present” (2 Chron. 35: 18). There is only one explanation. There never was a passover at which the hearts of the worshippers were so truly in the feast. The glory of Josiah’s passover was the state of people’s hearts.
There are many assemblies of Christian worshippers on earth today in which there is literally nothing to attract the natural man. They meet in miserable chapels, or in wretched upper–rooms and cellars. They sing unmusically. They hear feeble prayers and even more feeble sermons––yet the Holy Spirit delights to be with them. Sinners are converted too and God’s dispensation furthered far more than in any Roman Catholic cathedral, or many gorgeous Protestant churches. How is this? How can it be explained? The cause is simply this, that in these humble assemblies heart–religion is taught and held, heart–work is aimed at, and heart–work is honoured, with the consequence that God is pleased and grants His blessing.
Let us thoroughly consider this great principle. Three centuries have passed since a mighty Puritan divine said “Formality, formality, formality is the great sin of England at this day, under which the land groans––There is more light than there was, but less life; more shadow but less substance; more profession, but less sanctification” What would he have said if he had lived today?