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religious duty. There is no danger of the heart's going astray, while the attention is entirely fixt upon those objects which ought to engage it. Men may always keep their hearts from all improper objects, by fixing their aitention steadily upon proper ones. Though it does not always depend upon their choice, what objects shall be presented and what ideas shall be suggested, by causes from without; yet it does always depend upon their choice, what objects or ideas they shall make the subjects of particular attention. And if they only avoid seeing, hearing, and thinking such things as they have no occasion to see, hear, and think, by fixing their whole attention upon those things which lie in the path of duty, they will effectually keep their hearts from all improper objects. This leads me to observe,
2. That men must pursue the same method to keep their hearts from improper affections, as from improper objects. To keep their hearts from improper objects, they must attend to good ones, and to keep their hearts from improper affections, they must exercise good ones. To keep the heart from every wrong feeling is more difficult, as well as more important, than to keep it from wrong objects. The heart of the sons of men is naturally full of evil, and fully set in them to do evil. They are naturally disposed to exercise sinful affections towards all objects, which strike their minds or engage their attention. Let them be where they will; let them be egaged in what business they will; let them attempt what duties they will; their hearts are prone to go astray, and spoil all their exertions and performances. This evil propensity they ought to restrain, at all times and under all circumstances. But how can they perform this duty? The answer is easy. Let them exercise good affections. As proper objects will always exclude improper ones from the mind; so
proper affections will always exclude improper ones from the heart. While men exercise such affections as God requires, they will not be troubled with such as he forbids; and while they keep their hearts in a holy frame, unholy affections cannot intrude, or interrupt their virtuous and benevolent feelings. Love will exclude hatred, as well as hatred exclude love. Faith will exclude unbelief, as well as unbelief faith. Repentance will exclude impenitence, as well as impenitence repentance. Submission will exclude opposition, as well as opposition submission. Humility will exclude pride, as well as pride humility. In a word, any gracious exercise will exclude any sinful one; and it is only by the exercise of holiness, that the heart can be kept from sin. Hence the propriety and importance of that command given to christians: “KEEP YOURSELVES IN THE LOVE OF God.” By observing this divine precept, and living in the continual exercise of grace, they may keep their hearts from every sinful affection, in whatever situation they are placed, or with whatever objects they are surrounded. There is one
, and the same way for all men to keep their hearts from improper affections and improper objects. Let them only attend to proper objects, and exercise right affections, and they will never see, nor hear, nor think, nor speak, nor act wrong, while they are passing through the varying scenes of this present evil world, It is now necessary to show, as proposed,
III. The importance of men's keeping their hearts with the greatest care and constancy. This Solomon forcibly enjoins in the text. “Keep thy heart with all diligence: for out of it are the issues of life.” The heart lies at the bottom of all human actions, and is the primary source of every thing that is worthy of praise or þlame in mankind. All their goodness and all their
badness proceeds from the heart, which entirely forms their moral character. And if they will only consider this inseparable connexion between their hearts and lives, they must feel the great importance of keeping their hearts with all diligence. For,
1. While they neglect to keep their hearts, all their moral exercises will be sinful. There is no medium between their feeling right or wrong; and, of consequence, they must always exercise either holy or unholy affections. The moment they neglect to keep their hearts in the love of God, or in the exercise of grace, some sinful affection will succeed, and continue, until they renew their watch, and revive their holy exercises. Those who totally neglect to keep their hearts, live in the continual exercise of selfish and sinful affections. Whether they love or hate, whether they hope or fear, whether they are vain or serious, the whole train of their affections is evil and only evil continually. The same is true of those who habitually keep their hearts, but occasionally neglect them. While they neglect to keep their hearts, whether the term be shorter or longer, all their moral exercises are selfish, and diametrically opposite to the law of love. Since God looketh on the heart, and not on the outward appearance, and requires truth in the inward parts, it is of great importance, that men should keep their hearts with all diligence, and suppress all internal motions and affections, which are unholy and sinful
2. While men neglect to keep their hearts, all their thoughts will be sinful. "Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts. As a man thinketh in his heart, so is be. The thought of foolishness is sin." All thoughts become sinful, when they are improperly approved or disapproved by the heart. The heart always does have some feeling towards all the thoughts, which pass through the mind, whether they are suggested by the visible world, or by Satan, or by the Spirit of God. Though bare thoughts have no moral good or evil in themselves considered, yet in connexion with the heart they all acquire a good or bad moral quality. If the heart approve bad thoughts, or disapprove good thoughts, it turns them all into sin. No thought is indifferent alter the heart has been exercised about it. This shows the necessity of keeping the heart with all diligence, lest it should pollute the whole train of thoughts, which are rapidly passing through the mind, and render them all vile and odious in the sight of God.
3. While men neglect to keep their hearts, all their words, as well as their thoughts and affections, will be sinful. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” All words are the fruit of the heart. They are first conceived and approved there, before they are uttered. Every idle, impure, false, profane, blasphemous expression comes from within, out of the heart. Men never speak but of choice; so that their hearts are concerned in all their vain or serious conversation: and unless they keep them with all diligence, their whole discourse will be corrupt in the sight of God, however pure, or pleasing, or even edifying it may appear in the view of their fellow creatures. The best as well as the worst language is sinful, when it flows from a corrupt heart. The heart, therefore, must be always kept with the greatest care and attention, lest some sinful word, some injurious expression, some corrupt discourse proceed out of the mouth,
4. While men neglect to keep their hearts, all their intentions, purposes, or designs will be evil. They cannot be said to form any design, until the heart has approved and adopted it. Every cvil design is first formed in the heart of the projector. The design of building Babel was first formed in the heart of some Babylonian. The design of destroying the male children of the Hebrews was first formed in the heart of some Egyptian. The design of cutting off the captive Jews was first formed in the heart of Haman. All the wars and calamities which have been brought upon the world, by ambitious and cruel tyrants, were first conceived, formed, and adopted in their hearts, which were totally selfish And alldesigns, which proceed from this corrupt source, will be sinful, whether they proveinjurious or beneficial to the world. While men neglect to keep their hearts from selfishness, every purpose or design they form will be selfish and sinful. This renders the diligent keeping of the heart a constant and important duty.
5. Let men pursue what employments they will, whether publick or private, high or low, civil or relig. ious, their daily business will become their daily sin, unless they keep their hearts with all diligence. “Out of the heart are the issues of life.” As men's hearts are, so are all their employments. While they neglect their hearts, their ploughing and sowing, and reaping will be sin; their reading, and praying, and almsgiving will be sin; and every business which employs their hands, or heads, or tongues, or pens will be sin. Unless they keep their hearts right with God, and do every thing to his glory, he will condemn them as wicked and unfaithful servants.
6. Men must keep their hearts with all diligence, lest they abuse all the blessings of providence with which they are favoured. They may abuse their health and strength, their intellectual powers and acquired knowledge, their wealth and influence, and all their civil and religious advantages, by placing their supremo!