Our Hearts

“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” —Proverbs 4:23

THE WORD ‘HEART’ appears in the Bible about eight hundred times. While in a few instances the reference is to the literal heart, in most cases it is used figuratively to denote our innermost thoughts, sentiments, and motives, whether good or evil. The first time the word heart is used is in Genesis 6:5, which reads, “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

In Revelation 18:7 the word heart appears for the last time. This text reads, in part: “She saith in her heart, I sit a queen and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow.” Here the reference is to the harlot woman, “Babylon.” In this prophecy Babylon is depicted as being destroyed, but even while being destroyed she continues to boast in her heart.

In describing the various heart conditions which are possible, the Bible uses such expressions as integrity of the heart; a faint heart; a heart that faileth; a heart that is hardened; a willing heart; a stirred up heart; wisdom and hatred of heart; a discouraged heart; an obstinate heart; all thine heart; speaking in the heart; a heart that is not deceived; a heart that is grieved, and a heart that is lifted up.

There can also be blindness of heart, astonishment of heart, and hearts that are melted. There are glad hearts, merry hearts, rejoicing hearts, trembling hearts, understanding hearts, perfect hearts, soft hearts, singing hearts, and sorrow of heart.

The Bible also speaks of clean hearts, fixed hearts, and hearts that are strengthened. There are enlarged hearts, lonely hearts, burning hearts and believing hearts. There are broken and contrite hearts. There is also singleness of heart. These are some of the heart conditions mentioned in the Bible as it describes the characteristics of the people whose lives it records, and admonishes us to keep our own heart with all diligence.

The Bible uses the heart as a symbol of what we really are—our motives, desires, and emotions, in contrast with what we may appear to be. The Apostle Peter, for example, contrasts the outward apparel one might wear with the adornment of the “hidden man of the heart,” the adornment of this hidden man being “a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God, of great price.”—I Pet. 3:4

The expression, “hidden man of the heart,” aptly describes what the symbolic heart really is. We know one another only from the standpoint of what we see and hear. Our inner thoughts, emotions, and motives are hidden from each other. It is these that we are admonished to keep. As members of a fallen and dying race, it is not possible to keep our words and deeds as fully in line with the will of God as we desire to do, but we can and must keep our hearts to the best of our ability if we are to enjoy the favor and blessing of the Lord.

When Samuel selected one of the sons of Jesse to be anointed as king of Israel, he chose the one who seemed to possess the best physical qualifications. Then he was informed that the Lord does not look upon the outward appearance, but upon the heart. Samuel learned that David was, for that very reason, the Lord’s choice.

The Scriptures reveal that while David was imperfect, his heart was right. The Lord said concerning David that he was “a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfill all my will.” (Acts 13:22) Despite David’s fleshly imperfections, his real, innermost desire and determination was to serve Jehovah faithfully, to do ‘all his will’.

Proverbs 23:6,7 reads, “Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats: for as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee.” Here is a clear illustration of what the Scriptures mean by the heart. The person with an evil eye or selfish designs feigns friendship by inviting another to eat and drink with him. But the real intention of the man is not to be a friend, but to exploit, or otherwise to injure. It is this real intention that is symbolically described as thinking in the heart.

The lesson here is obvious, and vital. It is possible that sometimes what we say to others, and what we do that can be seen of men may not reflect our inner thoughts, desires, or motives. It is these inner thoughts of the heart which determine what we really are, and these are concealed from all but the Lord; sometimes we even fool ourselves.

But a consistent walk of life over a period of years is more often than not a good guide to the thoughts of the heart, but even in this, occasionally, we could misjudge another. Of course, when the outward professions of others are good, we should never doubt their sincerity. Even when imperfections are apparent, it is best to assume that the heart is pure. This is the course prescribed by our Master, and the one which will contribute the most to our own peace of heart.

Jesus said to the religious leaders of his day, “O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” (Matt. 12:34) Those in this class were indeed hypocrites. They preached the Word of God—“good things”—in the Temple, but yet in their hearts they conspired together to kill Jesus. They had witnessed a good work (vs. 24), but their hearts were filled with hatred against Jesus.

Making a further application of the principle, Jesus said, “A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.” (vs. 35) How forcefully this emphasizes the importance of keeping our hearts, making sure that what we treasure in them is that which is good, pure, and wholesome! If we allow our hearts to become filled with bitterness, hatred, jealousy, and other unholy desires, these qualities will, sooner or later, manifest themselves in what we say and do.

But what a wonderful privilege we have of filling our hearts with good treasures. We accomplish this by meditating upon good things; by studying the Word; by fellowshiping with the brethren; by noting the good qualities of others, especially the brethren, and seeking to emulate them. The good treasure of our hearts consists of peace, joy, tenderness, courage, humility, faith, hope, and love. If these treasures fill our hearts in abundance, then we will speak forth those things which are ‘unctuous and blessed to all’.

In Colossians 3:22, the Apostle Paul admonishes servants to be obedient to their masters, not “with eye-service, as men-pleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God.” The Greek word here translated singleness includes the thought of sincerity. The servants in the Early Church were not merely to be outwardly obedient to their masters, but genuinely and sincerely so, realizing that their service was “unto the Lord.”

This emphasizes that the only kind of devotion and service which the Lord will accept is that which is whole-hearted, undivided, and sincere. Our loyalty to the Lord must be from the heart, not merely an outward profession. Outward professions, or lip service, might impress those with whom we are associated, but the Lord looketh on the heart, and only singleness of heart will meet with his approval.

Fixed Hearts

Psalm 57:7 reads, “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise.” The Marginal reading is, “My heart is prepared.” In verse 6, David wrote, “They have prepared a net for my steps; my soul is bowed down.” In Psalm 112:5 we read, “A good man showeth favor, and lendeth: he will guide his affairs with discretion. Surely he shall not be moved forever: … he shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord.”—vss. 5-7

How important it is that our hearts be fixed, or prepared, or determined, to meet the trying emergencies which come upon us in a manner well-pleasing to the Lord, and also to withstand the almost continuous efforts of the world, the flesh, and the Devil to discourage and defeat us as New Creatures in Christ Jesus. If, at the beginning of our consecrated life, we had properly taken into consideration the fact that we would be confronted with many difficulties, our hearts would be prepared to meet these as they come, always having the assurance that the Lord would be our ever-present helper.

Nor should we expect that our enemies will always be spectacular in their attacks. In some respects it might require less fixity of purpose to stand up against a wall and be shot than it does to endure the little vexing trials of a seemingly humdrum and monotonous life. Physical infirmities which are common to all might discourage us if our hearts are not properly prepared to meet whatever experiences may come to us. In keeping our hearts with all diligence let us make sure to keep them fixed.

Believing Hearts

It is essential also to have believing hearts. In Romans 10:10 we read, “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Heart belief is more, much more, than a mental assent to the fact that God and Jesus exist. It is a belief that is so deep-rooted and complete that the whole soul is engrossed by it, leaving no alternative but to devote oneself fully to God and to the doing of his will. Such a belief, through Christ, results in righteousness, or justification.

The abundance of the heart that thus believes, of necessity consists of those precious verities concerning God and his loving plan of salvation which are centered in Christ, and out of this abundance the mouth speaketh. If the love of God, which is reflected in his plan of salvation and in all the exceeding great and precious promises of his Word, is filling our hearts, out of that abundance there will inevitably be an overflow which will be refreshing to others, and redound to the glory of God.

Hearts of Unbelief

It is also possible to have an unbelieving heart. The majority of the ancient Israelites had unbelieving hearts. There were a few in each generation who, like Abraham, had genuine heart belief in God and in his promises. These individually, through faith and obedience, qualified to be among the ‘princes’ in the earth during the reign of Christ. But the vast majority had unbelieving hearts. Holding these up as an example to us, Paul exhorts, “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called Today lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end.”—Heb. 3:12-15

Here, again, the distinction between nominal believers and heart believers is pointed out—those who outwardly profess, and those who inwardly believe and perform. Only the heart believers will be able to hold the beginning of their confidence steadfast unto the end. Only these are actually and permanently made partakers of Christ.

In a similar vein Paul further wrote, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised).” (Heb. 10:22,23) Here a true heart is associated with full assurance of faith, a true heart being one that is ‘sprinkled from an evil conscience’.

To have our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience simply means that we have permitted the Word of God, which acts as a cleanser, to help us get rid of those unholy thoughts and desires which are contrary to the will of God, and contrary to what we want to be. John wrote, “Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.” (I John 3:21) If we have confidence toward God, then we have full assurance of faith.

If we do not have confidence toward God because we have not purified our hearts, then we will know that all the divine assurances of grace and strength to help in every time of need will not be fulfilled on our behalf. Knowing our own weaknesses, and how much we depend upon the Lord for help, we cannot have full assurance of faith if we have not complied with the conditions upon which divine help will be vouchsafed to us.

II Chronicles 16:9 reads, “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong on the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.” How truly important it is that we keep our hearts pure, perfect! This can be done only by a sincere effort to bring every thought into captivity to the will of God as it is expressed through Christ Jesus and through the Word of truth. Paul wrote, “The Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart”—Heb. 4:12

With the Lord’s help we are able to read our own hearts, especially in the light of God’s Word which can be focused upon them—the Word which is sharp and powerful. John gives us an example of this. He wrote, “Let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.”—I John 3:18,19

What, we may ask, is the difference between loving in word and loving in deed? John answers, “Whoso hath this world’s goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (vs. 17) This is not complex or difficult to understand. It is simply the difference between saying nice things about our brethren and actually sacrificing time and strength and means to serve them in whatever way opportunity might offer.

While the Scriptures place the greatest emphasis on the spiritual needs of the brethren, it is also clear from the Word that the Lord expects us to be aware of their physical needs, and be willing to share that which, in his providence, has come into our hands. The principle thus revealed is simply that of being willing to sacrifice, not a little, but actually to lay down our lives for the brethren.

If we find that we are willing to do this, and that we take pleasure in doing it, then our hearts will be assured insofar as this particular aspect of the Lord’s will is concerned. Yes, we can, with confidence, ask the Lord, before whom all things are naked and open, to look into our hearts with his discerning eyes, knowing that he will see the purity of intention which is there, and will show himself strong on our behalf—that he will give us strength which will enable us to run in the narrow way and not be weary, to walk in the footsteps of our Master and not faint.

Deceived Hearts

James wrote, “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.” (James 1:26) He also wrote, “The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell [Greek: ‘Gehenna’].”—James 3:6.

Jesus explained that it is not that which goes into the mouth that defiles a man, but that which comes out. (Matt. 15:11) He expressed surprise that Peter failed to grasp the significance of this statement, and then he amplified it, saying, “Do not ye understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: these are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.”—Matt. 15:17-20.

No wonder James wrote that the tongue is a “world of iniquity,” which sets on fire the course of man’s fallen nature, and which, in turn, is set on fire of Gehenna, or death. (James 3:6) How this emphasizes the importance of keeping our hearts with all diligence. We read that “a sound heart is the life of the flesh.” (Prov. 14:30) Just as the physical heart pumps the blood, with its life-giving oxygen, to every part of the body to keep it healthy and alive, so will be the ‘issues’ of the figurative heart which is sound and pure.

By the same token, if the physical heart is diseased, the blood is poisoned, and sooner or later this leads to the death of the body. The bloodstream of the figurative heart is our words. If our hearts are defiled, our words will be defiled. Since, as Jesus explained, it is by our words that we are justified, and by our words that we are condemned, if the words which flow from the abundance of our hearts are unclean, envious, and bitter, they will lead eventually to death.

Primarily, this overflow of a deceived and defiled heart leads to the death of the one who has failed to purify his heart, and to keep it perfect before the Lord. Moreover, those words often cause much injury to others. But if the heart is pure, so that the words which flow there from are wholesome and up building, this pure bloodstream will lead to glory and honor and immortality for the owner of that heart, while his words will have been a rich blessing to those with whom he came in contact.

The LORD’s Help

It is only by the Lord’s help that we are able to purify our hearts. Because we are fallen creatures, our hearts are sinful—“deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9) Because of this, how appropriate is David’s prayer: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” The Marginal Translation reads, “a constant spirit.”—Ps. 51:10.

In praying to the Lord to create in us a clean heart, it is essential to cooperate with him in answering our prayer. It is largely in giving heed to the instructions of his Word that our hearts are purified. It is essential not only to study the Word, but humbly to yield in full obedience to its precepts in order for our hearts to be made right, and kept right, before the Lord.

David expressed it beautifully when he wrote:

“The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear [reverence] of the Lord is clean, enduring forever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.

“Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward. Who can understand his errors? Cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression. Let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my Redeemer.”—Ps. 19:7-14

Dawn Bible Students Association
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