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Heart of the Matter

This article was published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue No. 32, October-December 2003.

CENTURIES before it was ever known to those who study science, it was known to those who search the Scriptures that the heart is the vital organ in our bodies. Solomon said, "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life" (Prov.4:23). The heart is responsible for the circulation of lifegiving blood around the whole body and for the health of the whole man. What is true of the physical man is found to be true also of the spiritual man.

Much religion seems to neglect the heart altogether. The worshipper enters the temple of his god, performs his devotions in a purely mechanical way, and returns to the world with his heart unchanged. His life shows no different principle from those who have no religion at all. Whatever 'faith' he has it is not that faith which is rooted in the heart, depends upon grace alone and has hope and charity as its close companions. Such a man is looking to be saved by what he does.

Other religion so emphasises the heart that everything else is excluded. As long as a person is really sincere and truly devoted, then this is the important thing. When this sort of individual goes to worship his god, there is much emotion. He lives by his feelings and would have others behold his sorrow and joy, his ardour and zeal. But ask him of his creed and he will have little definite to say. Whatever 'faith' he has, it is not that faith which is found when the mind is enlightened in the knowledge of the truth. Such a man is looking to be saved by what he is.

What has the true Christian learned which separates him from such error? Through God's gracious dealings with him he has been taught some vital things about the heart. Indeed the first thing which he has understood is that he cannot understand his own heart! "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jer.17:9). Personal sin is the problem. Then there are three further things every believer understands about his heart:

Firstly, we are responsible for the state of our heart. This is very obvious when it comes to our physical heart – as we are constantly reminded by the health experts. Our lifestyle, including what we eat and drink, will have an effect upon our heart for good or ill. The problem with our spiritual heart though is not what goes in but what comes out. "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man" (Matt.15:19,20). Though many would wish to deny it, we are accountable to God for the sinful nature we possess, including our bad heart. It is the realisation of this truth with the corresponding felt sense of guilt which is fundamental in our conversion to Christ.

Secondly, we cannot bring healing to our heart. This is exactly what the man whose religion consists entirely of works is endeavouring to do. He imagines that if his good deeds can outweigh his bad deeds then God will give him credit and judge him whole in His sight. But the believer has given up this vain pursuit. He presents to God, not a sound heart but a broken one which cannot be mended by man.

Finally, we must take our heart to the Great Physician. The Lord Jesus Christ, who He is and what He has done, is our remedy! Apply to Him and He will apply to your poor heart the balm of His own blood to take away the pain of your guilt in justification: He will give to you His Holy Spirit to heal your heart in sanctification. He has never turned a sorrowing sinner away, for "a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise" (Psa.51:17).