A Puritan work written in the last half of the 17th Century, John Flavel opens with the following:
“The heart of man is his worst part before it is regenerated, and the best afterward; it is the seat of principles, and the foundation of actions. The eye of God is, and the eye of the Christian ought to be, principally fixed upon it.”
For the next 118 pages the author discusses the nature of man’s heart and the importance for the Christian to discern his own heart before Christ and to discipline this self-examination to avoid the
hypocrisy that has become so evident in the Church today. Though written over 350 years ago, the state
of the Church remarkably – to its shame – is much the same.
The proposition is laid out succinctly with a wonderful backdrop of Scripture.
“The keeping and right managing of the heart in every condition, is one great business of a Christian life”
The manner in which we perform our “duty” rests solely on the state of our heart before God. Do we
attend with all our being to glorify God or do we do it outwardly without conviction. The author
discusses how the Christian deals with sin and temptation. These things coming about because we have
not been diligent in guarding our hearts from where the seed is planted.
As I write this review, I find myself wanting to quote more and more of the gems that the author puts
forth but that would deprive the reader of the joy of discovering them for himself. As the argument
proceeds from supposition, to reasons, to proofs, the greatest section of the book details what the
author calls “Special Seasons in the Life of a Christian which Require our Utmost Diligence in Keeping the Heart”. Beginning with the season of prosperity we are shown how the heart is affected and why we need to be constantly examining ourselves (keeping our heart). He numbers seven seasons (the seventh being
when we receive injuries and abuses from men). He apparently loses count for he then discusses “The
next season” then the ninth season followed by “The time of doubting and of spiritual darkness”,
“another season..” and “The last season” “where we are warned by sickness that our dissolution is at
hand”. I could not think of a “season” that was missed in the twelve, but it was amazing how common
these seasons appear today.
Example: How often have thoughts – unbidden – invaded your prayer time or devotions? You find a
moment when you have been elsewhere. The author gives ten practical insights into this in:
“The season of duty. Our hearts must be closely watched and kept when we draw nigh to God in public,
private, or secret duties; for the vanity of the heart seldom discovers itself more than at such times…how
may the heart be kept from distractions by vain thoughts in time of duty?” – I’m not telling …
This, for me, was a “can’t put down” book. Though written 350 years ago I hear these nuggets preached
weekly and am thankful for it. An important work which I believe should be in every Christian’s library.
How important is it? As the author states in his conclusion:
“Now, reader, consider well these special benefits of keeping the heart which I have mentioned. Examine
their importance. Are they small matters? Is it a small matter to have your understanding assisted? Your
endangered soul rendered safe? Your sincerity proved? Your communion with God sweetened? Your heart filled with matter for prayer? Is it a small thing to have the power of godliness? All fatal scandals removed? An instrumental fitness to serve Christ obtained? The communion of saints restored to its primitive glory? And the influence of ordinances abiding in the souls of saints? If these are no common blessings, no ordinary benefits, then surely it is a great and indispensable duty to keep the heart with all diligence.”