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John Flavel’s ‘Keeping the Heart’
Proverbs 4:23, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”
John Flavel was an English Presbyterian preacher who died on 26th June 1691. He was a minister at Dartmouth on the Devon coast. While visiting to preach in Exeter he suddenly died there in his 64th year. He was an effective preacher and a “voluminous and popular author.” In his life time he published over twenty books, and his works are still available in six large volumes.
One of his books was on the text, Proverbs 4:23. Once a man went into a booksellers in London to try to obtain worldly literature. The seller was a Christian and he encouraged the gentleman to purchase Flavel’s latest treatise, “Keeping the Heart.” Inspecting the book, he was not much impressed and said, “What damnable fanatic was he who made this book?” He was promised however, that his money would be returned if he disliked it after a first reading. To this the man agreed. He did read it and was changed! About a month later he returned to the bookshop, not to bring the book back but to order a further one hundred copies for distribution. To the bookseller he said, “I most heartily thank you for putting this book into my hands; I bless God that moved you to do it, it hath saved my soul; blessed be God that ever I came into your shop.”
“Heart-work is hard work indeed. To shuffle over religious duties with a loose and heedless spirit, will cost no great pains; but to set thyself before the Lord, and tie up thy loose and vain thoughts to a constant and serious attendance upon him; this will cost thee something. To attain a facility and dexterity of language in prayer, and put thy meaning into apt and decent expressions, is easy; but to get thy heart broken for sin, while thou art confessing it; melted with free grace while thou art blessing God for it; to be really ashamed and humbled though the apprehensions of God’s infinite holiness, and to keep thy heart in this frame, not only in, but after duty, will surely cost thee some groans and pains of soul. To repress the outward acts of sin, and compose the external part of thy life in a laudable manner, is no great matter; even carnal persons, by the force of common principles, can do this: but to kill the root of corruption within, to set and keep up an holy government over thy thought, to have all things lie straight and orderly in the heart, this is not easy” (John Flavel 1627-1691).
“The keeping of the heart is a work that is never done till life is ended. There is no time or condition in the life of a Christian which will suffer an intermission of this work. It is in keeping watch over our hearts, as it was in keeping up Moses' hands while Israel and Amalek were fighting. No sooner do the hands of Moses grow heavy and sink down, than Amalek prevails. Intermitting the watch over their own hearts for but a few minutes, cost David and Peter many a sad day and night” (John Flavel 1627-1691).
The Mirror of the Word
James 1:23 “For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass”
Approaching the Word of God is like coming to a mirror. Most often we use a mirror to check that we are clean and fit to present ourselves in public. To wash ones self it is no good to look at a picture of another and flatter ourselves that we must be cleaner. To put a picture up of one who has played in the mud and say “I am not like that” is of no use for our own cleansing. One does not see self stain by looking at someone else. We must have a clear sharply defining mirror and we must come to it to look only at ourselves. God’s Word is like that. It is the spiritual high definition mirror to look into and to see ourself.
God’s Word is also a clear reflecting fountain of water wherein not only do we see ourselves but we can also wash ourselves. God’s mirror is for personal washing. We tend to put mirrors above wash basins. God’s Word is above the fountain of blood that Christ has provided for the washing of sinners. The mirror of God’s gracious Word shows us our sinfulness but, bless God, it also points us to the cleansing remedy.
Adore that grace that gives you such a mirror and provides such a fountain for your cleansing.
I will praise Him! I will praise Him!
Praise the Lamb for sinners slain;
Give Him glory, all ye people,
For His blood can wash away each stain.
Increase of Faith
Luke 17:5 “And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.”
If the Apostles needed so to pray then it is certain we do as well.
It is because our faith is so small, that our hearts become cold, that we fall into declensions, that we benefit so little from the Word, that we find prayer difficult, that we become so easily discouraged, that we become fretful, impatient and fearful. All our weaknesses in the Christian life arise because of the smallness of our faith.
This then is the prayer God’s people can never cease to pray, “Lord, increase our faith.”
“By the key of faith, we fetch daily new grace out of Christ's treasury to sanctify us more and more” (Edmund Calamy 1600-1666).
“Would you have more faith? Then seek to become more acquainted with Jesus Christ. Study your blessed Saviour more and more, and strive to know more of the length and breadth and height of His love. Study Him in all His offices, as the Priest, the Physician, the Redeemer, the Advocate, the Friend, the Teacher, the Shepherd of His believing people. Study Him as one who not only died for you, but is also living for you at the right hand of God; as one who not only shed His blood for you, but daily intercedes for you at the right hand of God; as one who is soon coming again for you, and will stand once more on this earth.
The miner who is fully persuaded that the rope which draws him up from the pit will not break, is drawn up without anxiety and alarm. The believer who is thoroughly acquainted with the fullness of Jesus Christ is the believer who travels from grace to glory with the greatest comfort and peace. Then let your daily prayers always contain these words, “Lord, increase my faith.” (Bishop Ryle).
Matthew 8:26, “And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.”
It is to be observed that the Lord did not say, “no faith” but “little faith.” They had faith, true faith in Christ for little faith is true faith. Little faith is precious still though not as great as strong faith. Little faith often means great fears but it still saves for it still looks to Christ.
“If it never proves great, yet weak faith shall save; for it interests us in Christ, and makes Him and all His benefits ours. For it is not the strength of our faith that saves, but the truth of our faith—not the weakness of our faith that condemns, but the want of faith; for the least faith layeth hold on Christ, and so will save us. Neither are we saved by the worth or quantity of our faith, but by Christ, who is laid hold on by a weak faith as well as a strong. Just as a weak hand that can put meat into the mouth shall feed and nourish the body as well as if it were a strong hand; seeing the body is not nourished by the strength of the hand, but by the goodness of the meat.” (John Rodgers 1570-1636).
Matthew Henry Committed to God
2 Timothy 1:12, “For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.”
The famous commentator upon the Bible, Matthew Henry, born in 1662, died 22nd June 1714. Every New Year’s Day he would reflect, meditate and rededicate and commit himself afresh to God. On one such occasion he wrote.
“Jan. 1, 1701. Being more and more confirmed in my belief of the being and attributes of God, of the mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ between God and man, and of the reality and weight of invisible things; and being more and more satisfied that this is the true grace of God wherein I stand; I do solemnly resign and give up my whole self to God in Jesus Christ. I commit my soul and all the concerns of my spiritual state to the grace of God, and to the word of his grace, subjecting myself to the conduct and government of the blessed Spirit, and to his influences and operations, which I earnestly desire and depend upon for the mortifying of my corruptions, the strengthening of my graces, the furnishing me for every good word and work, and the ripening of me for heaven. I commit my body and all the concerns of my outward condition to the providence of God, to be ordered and disposed by the wisdom and will of my Heavenly Father. Not knowing the things which may befall me this year, I refer myself to God. Whether it shall be my dying year or no, I know not; but it is my earnest expectation and hope that the Lord Jesus Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or death, by health or sickness, by plenty or poverty, by liberty or restraint, by preaching or silence, by comfort or sorrow. Welcome, welcome, the will of God, whatever it be."
Christians are the Lord’s Jewels
Malachi 3:17 "And they shall be mine, saith the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him."
Christians don’t always feel like they are jewels, but that is how the Lord views them. Precious, rare, bright, everyone so different, yet everyone to be polished by Divine grace and glory. Certainly not one lost.
"Christians are jewels — and Heaven is the golden cabinet where they shall be locked up safe!" (Thomas Watson 1620-1686).
1 Peter 2:7 "Unto you therefore which believe he is precious."
Peter likes to use the word 'precious' in his epistles. What was most precious to him as he sojourned through life? Firstly, CHRIST Himself. Secondly, Christ's BLOOD that redeems us, 1Pe.1:19. Thirdly, the Divine PROMISES that encourage us, 2Pe.1:4. Lastly, precious FAITH that takes hold of all these things, 2Pe.1:1.
"Christ is not truly prized at all — unless He is prized above all" (Nathaniel Vincent 1639-1697).
Herein is Love
1 John 4:10, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
God manifests His love in many ways, but the highest manifestations of it are in Christ. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. To give Him as a teacher was wonderful. To give Him as a healer of men was wonderful. To give Him as an example was wonderful. But to give Him as a sacrifice for our sins is the most wonderful thing of all. Indeed, “Herein is love ... that he ... sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
Bishop Ryle said:-
“Would I know the length and breadth of God the Father's love towards a sinful world? Where shall I see it most displayed? Shall I look at His glorious sun, shining down daily on the unthankful and evil? Shall I look at the seed time and harvest, returning in regular yearly succession? Oh, no! I can find a stronger proof of love than anything of this sort. I look at the cross of Christ: I see in it not the cause of the Father's love, but the effect. There I see that God so loved this wicked world, that He gave His only begotten Son,-gave Him to suffer and die-that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
John Brown of Haddington
Psalms 37:37, “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.”
Such a man was John Brown of Haddington. He died this day (19th June) 1787. He was ordained to the Gospel ministry in Haddington, Scotland, when he was 29 years of age. Haddington was a very poor community but he lived there until the day he died. Even though opportunities for larger congregations arose, including an opening in New York, he remained, faithfully instructing his flock with earnestness for 36 years. An able preacher, it was said that the philosopher David Hume heard him preaching once in North Berwick. He said that Brown preached "as if he were conscious that Christ was at his elbow."
He is the famous author of the Self-Interpreting Bible and many other useful and edifying volumes.
When “the end of that man” came, it was a lingering deathbed of several weeks. His soul was in perfect peace and he glorified God by many Christ exalting and edifying sayings. Many of these sayings were carefully recorded by family.
On his death bed, he was asked how he was; he answered, “I lie here in the everlasting arms of a gracious God.”
“Are you not afraid, to appear at the tribunal of God?” He replied, “Were I looking to give the account in my own person, considering my sins, indeed I might be terrified; but then I view Christ the judge as my advocate, and I know that I do not owe more debt than He has paid.”
“Christ hath been a kind master to me. Many a visit He hath given to me already, and I expect to be with Him in heaven by and by.”
On on occasion he was asked the strange question, “does it not strike you with fear, when you think of being confined in a grave?” To this he replied, “No; such is my esteem of Christ, that I think I am easy, though they should bury me in a dunghill, if my soul were but with Him.”
“There is none so glorious as Christ! He is altogether lovely. If you could put all the gold and silver into one heap, the glory of Christ would far exceed all. I say this, having, I think, seen Jesus; but as yet, I have only seen Him through a glass darkly. After this I hope to see Him face to face.”
The last day, 19th June, he spoke frequently throughout the commencement of it, but he was difficult to understand. However, his final words were clear and distinct; “MY CHRIST!”
“Christ is the best master I ever served” (John Brown 1722-1787).
John Knox Asking in Faith
James 1:6, “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.”
To “ask in faith” is, among other things, to ask in accordance with the Word of God. To ask in faith is to request nothing that is contrary to the commands, or promises or revealed ways of the Lord.
Queen Mary of Scotland when she travelled into west Scotland on state business had Mass in various towns and stately homes contrary to the laws of the realm. John Knox of course was kept informed of news of her journey west. After meals Knox was in the habit of giving thanksgiving and prayer. During the queens journey he began to add to this thanksgiving the petition, "Deliver us, O Lord, from the bondage of idolatry; preserve and keep us from the tyranny of strangers; continue quietness and concord among us, if it be thy good pleasure, for a season." Those of his company were struck why he should request peace only for a season. Knox answered, he could not pray but in faith and in accordance with the Word of God. He went on to say that God's Word taught that quietness could not continue in that country, where idolatry, after it was suppressed, was suffered to be erected again. Knox knew that sin and quietness in a realm could not long coexist.