Keeping the Heart
An Admonition for the New Year
Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.—Proverbs 4:23
By John T. Read
In casing about for a scripture suitable to the new year, one that could easily be kept in mind and be of constant benefit to us, this admonition from the sayings of Solomon was chosen from among the many that could have been used, as being particularly appropriate. It is taken from a chapter dealing especially with the course of wisdom and was the inspired utterance of one who had been divinely endowed with wisdom and understanding.
Shortly after Solomon ascended the throne of the Lord in the place of his father David, God appeared unto him in a dream and asked what he should give him. Solomon, sensible of his youth and lack of experience, and awed by the responsibility of judging the myriads of God’s chosen people, requested that he might be given an understanding heart to know judgment and to discern between good and evil. This request so pleased the Lord that he said to him:
“Because thou has asked his thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life, neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine enemies; but hast asked for thyself understanding to discern judgment; behold I have done according to thy words; lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee. And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches and honor; so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee all thy days. And if thou wilt walk in my ways, and keep my statutes and commandments as thy father David did walk, then I will [also] lengthen thy days.”—1 Kings 3:5-14
In all probability the foundation for Solomon’s wisdom had been laid in the guidance of the Lord during his youth; and a large part of the honor and riches which he inherited as king, had been built up by the providence and foreknowledge of God before he came into office. But long life was made dependant upon his faithfulness in walking in the Lord’s ways, which constitutes the course of wisdom.
Solomon soon had opportunity to demonstrate his understanding heart. This he did by manifesting much astuteness in deciding the contention of two women over the motherhood of a child to which each laid claim. His unique method of demonstrating which one was the mother of the child gained the approval of Israel and has come down in the records of scripture as a testimony to his understanding of human nature.
But the best testimony to the greatness of his understanding has been in the wisdom of the proverbs that he set forth. According to the statement in 1 Kings 4:32, Solomon uttered 3000 proverbs and 1005 songs or psalms, which means that we have only a portion of them in scripture.
The Purpose of Proverbs
The first seven chapters of Proverbs are addressed to sons and since “whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning” (Rom. 15:4), they are particularly applicable to all who have become the “sons of God,” and, grouped together with chapters eight and nine, they voice the praise of wisdom.
The purpose for which the book of Proverbs was written is given in the first five verses of chapter one: “For gaining sagacity and intelligence, for a grasp of wise teachings, for training in right conduct, in duty, goodness, and integrity, for imparting insight to the ignorant, knowledge and sense to the young, for understanding maxims and proverbs, the sentences of sages and their aphorisms” (Moffatt). And then he further adds: “Let the sage, too, listen and learn, let the intelligent know how to handle life.” Rotherham translates this last verse: “A wise man will hear and increase learning, and a discreet man, wise counsels will acquire.” In other words, a man may be wise and discreet even though he be young; for wisdom does not consist in knowing everything there is to be known, but in the right application of that which we do have and know.
Solomon’s Reign Typical
Many things concerning Solomon and his reign were typical of the thousand-year reign of Christ. Solomon was chosen of God and endowed with wisdom from on high—so is Christ—he was declared to be without equal in wisdom and understanding, either before or after his time—the same is true of Christ but on a much grander scale. He was exalted above all kings, and all paid him homage and brought presents—the same again is true of Christs for all kings shall bow before him. As a result of his wisdom and righteous judgments, Solomon’s reign was a time of peace and prosperity, for “Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon” (1 Kings 4:25).
Again in “A Song of Solomon” (Psa. 72), it is said of the reign of Christ: “In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth. He shall have dominion also from sea to sea [antitypical of Solomon’s dominion, 1 Kings 4:21], and from the river unto the ends of the earth. . . . The kings of Tarshish and the isles shall bring presents; the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. [1 Kings 10:1-10,] Yea, all kings shall fall down before him; all nations shall serve him.”
Besides wisdom, God gave him riches, glory, and honor. His fame spread throughout all the world. Then too, in the beginning of his reign, he built a house for the habitation of God, a place where God did hear and answer prayer (1 Kings 8:28; 9:3). The stones of that temple were prepared during the reign of David but the erecting of the temple took place under Solomon in the glory age. Likewise the living stones of the great antitypical temple are taken from the quarry of this world and are prepared under the direction of the Lord during this age of the Church’s warfare, suffering, and death; but the erecting of the temple will be the first work of the Glory Age, after Christ takes unto himself his great power and awakens these living stones, that he may assemble them unto himself as head stone to form “the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (Heb. 12:23; Rev. 3:12). It is our opinion, based upon the evidence of events foretold, that the last of these living stones are now receiving their final tests and polishings necessary to prepare them for their eternal resting place. And so it behooves us to give heed to the words of wisdom of which our text is part.
The Heart—What It Signifies
The admonition of our text is “Keep thy heart with all diligence.” Why is the heart singled out in this admonition? Why not doctrines or the mind or the tongue? The wise man has not left us in doubt as to the reason: “For out of it are the issues of life.” But just what does the heart signify? Why do the issues of life depend upon its condition?
The literal heart is the most vital organ of the human body; through its operation and control of the blood stream, it supplies oxygen and nourishment to all the other parts and carries away the waste products that they may be eliminated through the various means by which this process is accomplished. The operations of all the many organs and functions of the body depends upon the heart. If it becomes affected by weakness or disease, then all the bodily operations suffer impairment. We think and feel because the blood stream supplies life and vitality to the brain. It is because of the vital part that the heart plays in our ability to function as human beings that it is employed to represent the motivating elements of character that determine what we become.
In scripture the heart is used to picture the emotional rather than the purely intellectual part of our thinking. Our desires and affections are represented as coming from the heart, and so constitute an outward indication of its true condition. The study and grasp of truth that calls forth no sentiment in connection therewith will have no beneficial effect upon the life; but if such study includes an appreciation and a desire to order our lives in accordance therewith, then the emotional part of our thinking, the heart, has been called into action and there will be a proportionate result in our lives; for “with the heart the man believeth unto righteousness.” The unemotional perception of truth will not lead unto righteousness; but the heart perception, that which calls into play the emotions, will do so, and will become evident in the outward life; for “with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:10).
Much of our thinking concerns only the reasoning ability of our minds. Some men have studied the Bible just as they would study a book on mathematics, and whereas this may have its effect upon their store of knowledge and increase their reasoning powers, yet it will not transform the moral course of their lives., Therefore we are not told that “as a man thinketh so is he,” but “as a man thinketh in his heart so is he.” It is the thinking that includes the emotional operation of the mind that determines what we become in character.
In his first letter to the Corinthian church, chapter eight, verse one, Paul states that “knowledge puffeth up but love builds up.” Love, in this instance, would be synonomous with wisdom, for wisdom causes one to act so as to make the best use of his knowledge. In the connection in which this scripture occurs, the best use of knowledge would be to refrain from eating meat that had been offered to idols, lest there be a danger, in partaking of such meat, of causing a weaker brother to violate his conscience by doing the same. To take advantage of the knowledge that an idol means nothing, under such circumstances, would only tend to puff up; whereas, to be self-controlled, in order that a brother be not harmed, would result in becoming more God-like.
The Keeping of the Heart
Though the emotional part of one’s thinking is largely the determining factor in what he becomes at heart, nevertheless this emotional (heart) thinking must be controlled through the will, and the will in turn, must be subject to guidance through the operation of the purely reasoning faculty of the mind in its apprehension of the principles of God set forth in his word.
The kind of love thus begotten does not originate in human sentiment or in the natural likes and dislikes but is the result of desires and emotions based upon the principles that activate God. The exercise of God’s love is not dependent upon being pleased with its object. It was while we were enemies and strangers that the love of God operated to provide our redemption through the gift of his only begotten Son to die for us. And so godly love is not merely sentiment—that is, a mental attitude, thought, or judgment permeated or prompted by feeling—but is kindly, charitable thoughts, words, and acts motivated by principle.
The keeping of the heart consists largely in keeping the desires and affections centered upon things above. “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead [to all earthly life, hopes, and prospects], and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3).
The doing of this is not an easy task but, as our text indicates, will require the utmost diligence and persevering application. The natural tendencies of the flesh and the allurements of the world all tend to draw us away from the narrow path that leads unto the life. Satan leaves no stone unturned in his endeavor to deflect our desires into other channels. He turned Eve’s desires toward the forbidden fruit. The desires of Solomon, whose words of wisdom our exampled in our text, were turned aside to the seeking and pleasing of many wives. Unsanctified desire is the cause of all our downfalls.
James says, “A man [Christian] is drawn away [from the straight and narrow path] by his own lust [desire that has become inordinate]” (James 1:14). The same Greek and Hebrew words have been translated both as “desire” and “lust,” depending evidently upon the character of the desire. Peter says: “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Then Paul says, “Walk in the spirit and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).
Inordinate desire, in so far as the saints are concerned, is not restricted to things that would be looked upon as evil, but includes anything that would draw us away from our covenant of sacrifice and full submission to the will of God. As Paul explains (1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23), “All things [not sinful] are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient [margin, profitable]; all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.” “I will not be brought under the power of any.”
Some let their desires for art, music, literature, science, philosophy, business, or sports occupy all their time and attention. Any one engaged in any of these pursuits is almost compelled to give his full time and attention if he would become a success in the eyes of the world. So the faithful follower of Jesus, who may have to earn his daily bread in some such manner, is at a disadvantage, humanly speaking, but not so actually; for he finds that time and effort, redeemed from such pursuits in the service of the Lord and the study of his word, is not only well repaid, but is vitally essential to spiritual welfare.
Then, too, some have a consuming desire for glory and honor of men. They covet office and power, the direction of large enterprises, and the supervision of successful activities in a social or religious way. The sects and organizations of Christendom have given much opportunity to those who have an inordinate desire for leadership and control over God’s people. So it behooves each one of us, in the year now beginning, to examine carefully our motives and desires, that our hearts may be pure in our Father’s sight.
The keeping of the heart, therefore, will have to do with the control of the desires and affections that they may reflect the glory of the divine character. This will have to be the object of our daily striving if we hope to make our calling and election sure for the conditions of the heart will determine the conditions (outcome) of life. Most of those chosen of the Lord have appeared insignificant in the sight of men; but as God said to Samuel when he sent him to anoint David: “Man looketh upon the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” He judges our works by what he sees in our hearts. He is able to know the intent and the motive that activates us and to judge by the loyalty and obedience manifested just what our lives would be if we had perfect organisms through which to operate.
Just what this year may bring forth none of us know; but praise God, we do know that nothing can pluck us out of his hand or separate us from his love if we continue to trust him