O Christians! I fear your zeal and strength have run in the wrong channel; I fear that most of us may take up the Church’s complaint: “They have made me the keeper of the vineyards, but mine own vine-yard have I not kept.” Two things have eaten up the time and strength of the professors of this generation, and sadly diverted them from heart-work.
First: — Fruitless controversies, started by Satan, I doubt not for the very purpose of taking us off from practical godliness, to make us puzzle our heads when we should be inspecting our hearts. How little have we regarded the observation: “It is a good thing that the heart be established with grace, and not with meats,” (that is, with disputes and controversies about meats,) “which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.” How much better it is to see men live exactly, than to hear them dispute with subtlety! These unfruitful questions, how have they rent the churches, wasted time and spirits, and taken Christians off from their main business! ‘What think you, would it not have been better if the questions agitated among the people of God of late had been such as these: — “How shall a man distinguish the special from the common operations of the Spirit? How may a soul discern its first backslidings from God? How may a backsliding Christian recover his first love? How may the heart be preserved from unseasonable thoughts in duty? How may a bosom-sin be discovered and mortified?“ Would not this course have tended more to the honor of religion and the comfort of souls? I am ashamed that the professors of this generation are yet insensible of their folly. O that God would turn their disputes and contentions into practical godliness!
Second: — Worldly cares and incumbrances have greatly increased the neglect of our hearts. The heads and hearts of multitudes have been filled with such a crowd and noise of worldly business that they have lamentably declined in their zeal, their love, their delight in God, and their heavenly, serious, and profitable way of conversing with men. How miserably have we entangled ourselves in this wilderness of trifles! Our discourses, our conferences, nay, our very prayers are tinged with it. We have had so much to do without, that we have been able to do but little within. And how many precious opportunities have we thus lost? How many admonitions of the Spirit have passed over unfruitfully? How often has the Lord called to us, when our worldly thoughts have prevented us from hearing? But there certainly is a way to enjoy God even in our worldly employments. If we lose our views of him when engaged in our temporal affairs, the fault is our own. Alas! that Christians should stand at the door of eternity, having more work upon their hands than their time is sufficient for, and yet be filling their heads and hearts with trifles!
I infer, lastly, for the awakening of all, that if the keeping of the heart be the great work of a Christian, then there are but few real Christians in the world. If every one who has learned the dialect of Christianity, and who can talk like a saint; if every one who has gifts and parts, and who can make shift to preach, pray, or discourse like a Christian: in a word, if all such as associate with the people of God and partake of ordinances may pass for Christians, then indeed the number is great. But alas! how few can he found, if you judge them by this rule, — how few are there who conscientiously keep their hearts, watch their thoughts and look scrupulously to their motives! Indeed there are few closet-men among professors. It is easier for men to be reconciled to any other duties in religion than to these. The profane part of the world will not so much as meddle with the outside of any religious duties, and least of all with these; and as to the hypocrite, though he may be very particular in externals, you can never persuade him to undertake this inward, this difficult work; this work, to which there is no inducement from human applause; this work, which would quickly discover what the hypocrite cares not to know: so that by general consent this heart-work is left to the hands of a few retired ones, and I tremble to think in how few hands it is.
If the keeping of the heart be so important a business; if such great advantages result from it; if so many valuable interests be wrapt up in it, then let me call upon the people of God every where to engage heartily in this work. O study your hearts, watch your hearts, keep your hearts! Away with fruitless controversies and all idle questions; away with empty names and vain shows; away with unprofitable discourse and bold censures of others, and turn in upon yourselves. O that this day, this hour, you would resolve upon doing so!
Reader, methinks I shall prevail with you. All that I beg for is this, that you would step aside oftener to talk with God and your own heart; that you would not suffer every trifle to divert you; that you would keep a more true and faithful account of your thoughts and affections; that you would seriously demand of your own heart at least every evening, ‘O my heart, where hast thou been today, and what has engaged thy thoughts?’