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Online Text Sermon - The Heart and its Issues, Proverbs ch.4 v.23

PreacherRev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness
Sermon TitleThe Heart and its Issues
TextProverbs ch.4 v.23
Sermon ID884

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"Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23).


In a moment I shall look at three things that are to be found in my text. Before I do that I shall give a little introduction to the Book of Proverbs as a whole. I want you to know the three main considerations we need to have in connection with these words of my text.

The first thing we shall look at is the heart: "Keep thy heart...".

The second thing we are to look is how we are to treat our own heart; what we are to do with our own heart: we are to keep it "with all diligence".

The third thing is the reason why we are to do this; the Bible, after all, is a reasonable Book and it gives us the reasons why we are to do things. Here is the reason at the end of the text: because, or for this reason, that "out of it are the issues of life".

Those are the three things which I'm going to look at - the heart, how we are to treat it, and why we are to treat it in this way.


Before I do that, let me say something about this Book of Proverbs as a whole. Most of it was written by King Solomon, and the theme of Proverbs is that of wisdom. You will understand that wisdom is not the same as education. It is possible to have a great deal of education but not much wisdom. It is not the same as cleverness or intellectual ability. It is possible to be clever and yet to be foolish. So what do we mean when we talk about wisdom here? It is this: holy living and holy dying. That is what we mean here by the wisdom of the Bible. It is the practice of piety, the practice of true religion. There is a difference of course between theory and practice - everybody understands that difference. You can have your head stuffed with knowledge but that is not to say that you always walk in a way consistently and appropriately in the light of what you know. So, wisdom is living our lives in the light of what God has said. Godliness, if you like, is the summary of this book - practical godliness; the Christian life worked out as it should be worked out, in the light of what God is, in the light of what our life in this world really is all about. That is the wisdom which we refer to here in this book - practical Christianity.

In connection with my text, it talks about 'keeping the heart': 'Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life' (text). To keep the heart, or to keep the soul, is the theme and it is only in the Bible that we receive teaching of this kind. You do not get it anywhere else. Nobody else is interested in this subject apart from those who read and study the Bible. Everybody else is simply interested in the outward forms of life: getting money, building houses, buying cars, running races, all of which are part of life, certainly, but they are not the main part of life. What the Bible is teaching here deals with what is fundamental to our highest interests, for this life and the life which is to come, because out of the heart are the issues of life. That is to say the consequences of how we keep our heart will affect everything else. They will affect our private lives, our married life if we are married; they will affect our approach to riches, to life, to death, to religion, to everything else on earth - the way we treat the things of God, the way we treat one another - everything. All of these are the issues of life; the way people conduct their lives, the way they live their lives, these are the issues that flow from the keeping of our heart, or the failure to keep our heart.

So, my beloved friends, we could not possibly be looking at anything more relevant. There is not a subject under the sun more important to us all than this subject. Here is the subject of all subjects: my heart and how to handle it; my heart and how to deal with it; my heart and what I should be thinking about it. Here is the most central subject of all. Other things may be all right in their place but this subject is most central, the most relevant of all. Every one of us ought to learn this text as we are talking about it. 'Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.' That is what Solomon here - inspired as he was by God's Spirit - tells us, each one of us, to do. It is true for you, here, today - every one of you - as it is equally true for me.

Three things then: first of all the heart; second, what we are to do with our heart; thirdly, the reason why we are to do this.


What do we mean by 'the heart'? We have got to understand that, haven't we, otherwise the whole thing makes no sense. In the Bible the word 'heart' means the spiritual part of us, as distinct from the material part of us. We are made up of two parts, as men and women - all men and women are made up in this way - they have two parts: they have a body and they have a soul. Another word for the word 'soul' is 'spirit' or 'heart'. It is the same thing. The body we can see but the soul or the heart or the spirit we cannot see. There are these two parts to man, and so we say that man is bipartite. Some people have thought that man is tripartite; some have thought that man has three parts - body, soul and spirit. That is, I believe, a mistake. Soul and spirit, I believe, are one and the same. I am not going to spend time arguing that right now. I have reasons for thinking that and believing that, but I am not here necessarily for that particular point. But here is the main thing in my text: that the spiritual part is what we are talking about - the inner part.

The Bible refers to the outward man and the inward man. The outward man is simply another word for the body, the physical part of us, which is very important indeed but not the most important thing about us. I might perhaps be forgiven for using an illustration. Supposing you had a very precious brooch made of gold - ladies do sometimes, and sometimes they have a precious jewel in them - a ruby let us say, or a diamond brooch of gold or platinum. But usually when you buy something like that you get a nice box with the brooch and you keep the brooch in its box. Wouldn't you think a person very stupid if they thought more of the box than of the jewel, or the brooch? If they took it out every so often just to admire the box and never lifted the lid to see the beautiful brooch inside you would think that person was most unusual. Why? Because they were admiring what was of very small importance. The beautiful thing was what was in the box, not the box itself.

So it is with the body and the soul, or the body and the spirit, or the body and the heart (and I'm using the words interchangeably just now). The body, in many cases, can be very beautiful and some people are exceedingly beautiful or handsome - but that is just the box. What is more important is the value that God gives to things: the soul that dwells in the body - that's the real man, the real 'you'. The real you is not just the body. We can live without parts of our body, can't we? Somebody may unfortunately have a car smash where they damage their legs so badly they have to be amputated; sometimes you have to live without your legs or arms. Sometimes organs of the body go wrong, some of them you can live without - not all of them, certainly, but some of them you can live without and it's the same 'you', the same person. So our bodies, really, are not the real 'us', the real 'we', if you like. What is the real you inside the body? It's your heart, it's your soul, and it's your spirit. So much is this the case that when we die the body, like a box that is broken, will be put in the grave. The box contains the soul, but the soul will never die - that's why it's so important and so precious. The body is just a cardboard box, if you like, and it will be thrown into the ground and it will moulder there in the grave, but the soul will immediately go into eternity, either into heaven or into hell - at once and forever. Whereas the body, you see, we can live without. Those who have died some time in the past, they are still alive somewhere else: their soul is alive. Their body is dead but their soul lives on. That is what happens to us.

I say these things to show that the soul is the most important thing of all. There is nothing you will ever possess remotely as important as the soul. Supposing you could own the whole earth; and then supposing you were so rich you could buy the moon - it's ridiculous of course but I'm just imagining for the sake of the point I am making. Supposing your riches were so great you could buy the sun and half the solar system, or the whole of the solar system. In the sight and value of God, all of that would be nothing in value compared with your own soul. 'For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?' (Matthew 16, 26). It is above gold and silver and rubies and platinum; it's more important than all the crown jewels upon earth. What God has given you, living in your human body, like a brooch as it were within a box, is this precious thing called your heart, or your soul, or your human spirit. I say these things because it shows us what a lot of stupidity there is in this world.

I was relaxing, listening to a little music on the radio the other day when an advertisement came on. It was an advertisement for a certain form of gambling and they were trying to get people to buy the tickets for the gamble. They were saying there were so many million pounds this week for this particular lottery. You only need to buy one ticket and that only cost you a pound, so they were saying that you have as good a chance as anybody else and 'you must give your dreams a chance'. That was the thing that struck my mind: 'You must give your dreams a chance'. The idea is, you see, that if you go out and buy a ticket, you get all these millions of pounds and all your dreams will come true. You can buy the things you've always wanted and could never afford. What they didn't tell you was this: thousands and thousands of people through addiction to gambling ruin their lives every year. They didn't tell you that! What they were saying was: what really matters is the glitter and the world, and what doesn't matter is your soul - that's what they were saying. It was a bit more subtle than I've put it, but that was the effect of the message. What matters is the world! The soul matters nothing. It's the very opposite of what the Word of God here teaches. The soul is so precious - look after it.

I'm going to talk about five faculties of the soul, five things belonging to the soul. I am not sure whether there are only five or whether you think there should be four or six - I'm not going to reason or argue about that on this occasion, I'm going to confine myself to five, and I'm going to show you how important they are. The first one is the mind. The mind is the thinking part, the rational part which God has given to every one of us, and it is the first in importance - the mind. It's more important to use the mind than to use your feelings. Here again we have something to learn from the Bible. When you have a decision to make, beloved friends, you and I - and I'm speaking as much to myself as to you - we must try to make our decisions through the mind, reason and careful thought. Don't make your decisions in life through your affections or your emotions or your feelings, which is another of these faculties - the feelings - but it's the mind that comes first. The mind is like the locomotive that pulls all the trucks or the carriages behind it, or the wagons. The locomotive comes first and the wagons come behind it. So the mind goes first.

Let me use an illustration that the young people should understand. Supposing you wanted to buy a brand new motor car. We go into the showroom and are shown beautiful gleaming cars; beautiful colours, chromium plated and beautifully finished. We cannot afford it. It costs every bit of ?15,000 and we just can't afford it. You can borrow the money and pay in instalments - you will pay a lot of interest on it. We have a decision to make; what do we do? If we consult our emotions and make our decision through our emotions, we will say: 'It would be so nice to be travelling round the town and people looking at our beautiful car, so let's get it, in spite of the fact that we can't afford it and we'll have to pay a fortune in paying back the finances on it.' That's the way the heart would speak, you see? But the mind must then interrupt the heart and say, 'Oh heart! Oh affections! Oh feelings! Let me put you right. What I must say to you is this: "You must reason the matter; you can't afford it, therefore, be content with the little old car you've got." Continue with the one you've got until you can afford it. Otherwise you'll be endlessly in debt.' Of course this country is endlessly in debt. We are being told that this country owes itself about a trillion pounds. I'm not sure that I know what a trillion is - I think it's a million multiplied by a million - but people are so much in debt because their affections and their feelings are leading their lives. They are not using their minds. They are not saying to themselves, 'I must think about my decisions in life.' So the mind, I say, comes first. That's the first faculty.

The second faculty is the will. That is the decision making part of man, that part of us which says 'I will' or 'I will not'. We call it 'the will' for a very good reason.

The third thing I mention is the affections, the feelings.

The fourth one I will mention is the conscience. That's the thing that tells you that you shouldn't have said that, you shouldn't have done that. We don't like conscience but it's one of our best friends. Conscience is that voice that God has placed within us that comments on our whole life, whether we want it or not. Whether we like it or not, we have to face conscience after we have spoken and after we have acted, and conscience will say, 'You were a fool. You had no right to say that or to do that.' That's the fourth one.

The fifth one I mention is the memory.

I want to say a little more about these. But now, my dear friends, this is what we are talking about, the inward things of our minds, of our hearts, of our wills, of our souls, of our affections - all these inward things that belong to us all. We are to learn here what to do with them. So that's my first point. I've tried to say what we are referring to - the heart.


Secondly, we are being told here how we are to treat our own heart, what we are to do with it. The answer is: we are to keep it, which means we are to guard it, we are to watch over it, we are to think much about it, we are to keep our eyes on it and we are to protect it. This is only very logical and very obvious. I mean, if you have a very expensive watch you are very careful where you go when you are wearing it. I heard on the radio that some young footballer had his watch stolen and it was worth, I think, ?45,000. They chased the man and got it back from him. No wonder! Not many people have a watch quite that expensive. You see, if you have a very expensive anything, of course you protect it, you look after it, you guard it, and you keep it. Your motor car goes in the garage and you lock your house at night if you've got valuables upstairs. You'd be a fool to do otherwise. How much more a fool if you don't watch your heart, your soul, which is the most precious of all the things that God can give you or has ever given you. So that's what we're told to do: to keep it, to look very carefully to it.

We do do this, don't we, in connection with our bodies? Our bodies also obviously have to be cared for and kept. We have to wash our bodies, we have to clothe them, we have to comb our hair, tend to our face and some of us have to shave, and all of that. Millions of pounds are spent in this country by people looking after their faces and putting ointments and what-not on them. These things are important in their place; even the body has to be kept and washed. Much more, says the Bible, the soul - the soul and the heart - have to be kept and be tended to. But how? What is the manner, what is the way in which we are to keep and look after our soul?

That's my subject. That's what I want to explain to you and I want to look at these five different faculties.

i) The mind

The mind, as I have said already, is extremely important because the mind we could call the 'Intelligence Officer' of a person's life. The mind is what does the reasoning, working things out, deciding what is good and what is bad, and choosing the way in life. The Bible tells you this: 'As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he' (Proverbs 23, 7). You can't judge a person's character by what they say because they may say sweet things when they are not really thinking sweet things. They may say flattering things when in their minds they despise you. So you can't go by a person's words as to the best test of their character. But you can go by their thoughts. 'As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.' 'The carnal mind is enmity against God' (Romans 8, 7). 'To be spiritually minded is life and peace' (Romans 8, 6).

What are we to do, then, with the mind? We are to treat it as something of great importance and we are to cultivate the mind by teaching ourselves to think right thoughts, to apply the Ten Commandments to our minds, to love our neighbour as ourselves, to do nothing to others that we would not have them do to us, and to do to them what we would wish them to do to us. That's the first one.

ii) The will

If the mind is the Intelligence Officer of the person's life, the will is the Doorkeeper of the soul. It lets things in or else shuts them out. You understand what I mean - it's really very obvious. If you've got a shiny car here and you say to yourself, 'Can I afford it or can I not?' - your affections say, 'Yes of course you can! It's worth it at any price!' But then you think again; you have second thoughts and your mind begins to take over from your affections and it says to you, 'You'd be a fool; you'd spend the rest of your life paying for this car. You won't be able to afford the necessities of life. So, put it out of your thoughts.' And then the will comes down like a portcullis, like one of these great doors that slams, and you say, 'That's it! Goodbye. I'm away. Back to the old car; it'll have to do for another two years. I'll patch it up until it wears out. It's a pity, but I can't afford it so my mind tells me that this is the wise way to go.' And the will takes the action.

I remember some years ago I was preaching in England in a certain rather remote country place, and I lost my way back to the manse. I was looking round the countryside and lost my way. I came to an RAF base which was nearby the manse, so I jumped out of the car and foolishly, thoughtlessly, I rushed towards the entrance of this RAF base to find somebody who could tell me the way back to the church manse. When I ran towards the entrance of the RAF base, what did I discover but that a soldier was there. When he saw me running he immediately cocked his rifle and stood akimbo, ready to receive me. I realised - of course - foolish that I was, I had caused suspicion. He didn't know I was asking an innocent question; he thought I was possibly a member of the IRA ready to throw something at him. I apologised for my foolishness and my thoughtlessness.

You see, this is an illustration of the will. At the door and gate of every man's life there should be a sentry with a rifle so that when temptation comes the rifle comes out and you shoot this temptation dead! Get out of my sight, Satan! 'Thou shalt not', says God. Thou shalt not! Temptation, flee from me! Out comes the rifle and shoots dead these fearful things that have come into the mind - and they do come into our mind. That's the will - the sentry on duty.

iii) The affections

Then there's a third thing, the affections - what we allow ourselves to love, and what we allow ourselves to hate. This is our character; our character is shown and proved by what we love and what we hate.

You would have thought that Judas Iscariot loved Christ. He was one of the disciples, but secretly he hated Christ, and this is something that became apparent. When Judas Iscariot was given the opportunity to steal from the bag of money he did so and showed where his real heart was. His real heart was not with Christ but with covetousness. The character of a person is proved by their affections. No wonder the great Jonathan Edwards wrote a famous book on the religious affections, on the feelings. If you want to know whether you are a Christian or not, search your heart for your feelings and ask yourself, 'What do I really love?' - you will soon discover whether you are a Christian or not. What do you love most? Is it the Bible, the worship of God, the glory of God, the service of God? Or is it myself, my pleasure, my friends, my family, my money, my house, my garden, my pastime, my sport? What a person loves and hates is the true index of their character.

iv) The conscience

The conscience is the Policeman of the soul. Every soul has a policeman in it. God has put him there, whether you like it or not. He has a whistle. He blows the whistle and he warns us when we do what is wrong, and he tells us, 'You should not do this, you must not do that.'

When we 'keep our heart' it means that we endeavour at all costs to keep a good conscience. Oh, in the course of doing that you will have many enemies and people will speak against you and you will suffer many things. But, my dear friends, to have a good conscience is the duty of every one of us. To do what is right, regardless of consequences, is our duty always before God. This is what the Apostle Paul said: 'I endeavour always to live with a conscience devoid of offence towards God and towards man,' my fellow man. And that is the essence of what is meant here by keeping our soul, our conscience, that part and faculty of the soul, with all diligence.

v) Memory

The fifth one is memory. Memory is the Librarian of the soul. Memory keeps all the books in the back of our fort, dealing with the things we have experienced in the past. It keeps a record of things in the past. We are to keep our memory well stored with Bible knowledge. You couldn't do your soul a better service than by memorising large and small passages of the Bible. It's a wonderful practice because the more Bible there is in the memory, the more the memory can use that knowledge for reminding us of things.

Let me put you a case. Supposing we want to go on a Continental holiday to Spain, or France, or somewhere. We ring up the travel agency to find out the cost of the planes. 'Well,' he says to us, 'if you travel on a Monday, sir, it's ?300. If you travel on a Sunday, sir, it's half - ?150.' 'Oh well, we say, let's take a Sunday travel!' Then you say, 'But wait a minute, hasn't God said something about keeping the Sabbath Day? Oh but God must understand because, you see, it costs half as much to go on a Sunday so... Sunday is what we want! Let's travel regardless of what the Bible says.' Well, that's not keeping the soul.

The memory then, if it's well stored with Bible knowledge, will remind the soul, 'Soul! Never mind the price! Remember God!' That's what the memory does when it has knowledge of the Bible. That's why we can't do a better thing than read, read and read again, the Bible and the best books, and hear the best preaching, to get our souls filled with knowledge of God so that when decisions have to be taken the memory can come into play and it can take down those books from the shelf and tell the soul, 'This is what you must remember, this is what you must do. Nothing could be more important. "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life" (text).

And that brings me, briefly, to my third heading.


Why should we do it? Is it because we want to practise being hermits or monks or nuns, or eremites or cave dwellers, and dwell apart from the rest of mankind to become peculiar and strange? No! There is a rationality, a reason - a good reason - why we keep our souls, and the Bible gives it to us in verse 23: 'For out of it are the issues of life.' Putting it another way, it means the way you will end up in life will be absolutely determined by the way you keep, or fail to keep, your soul. It's the way you end up in life that matters, isn't it? Some people end up on their feet in the end of their lives, and all goes well. Some people end up on their back, and they lose everything.

I remember reading about a famous man who was a multimillionaire and had a name in many newspapers. He owned many businesses, but in the end of his life, poor man, he was pulled out of the sea. It seemed as though he had committed suicide - he drowned himself - and that's how he ended up. In spite of all his money and fame and businesses, he ended up being dragged out of the sea - dead. What a way to end your life. 'The issues of life' - the way you end up.

Take a thought, my dear friend, take a thought: how is your life going to end up? 'Well,' you say, 'I don't know.' I know you don't, but I can guarantee you this: if you keep your heart with all diligence your life will end up well. I can guarantee it from the Word of God. Everyone who keeps his soul will end up well; and those who don't, won't. That's the golden rule: 'Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you' (Matthew 6, 33). Fail to seek the kingdom of God first, and all these other things will pass you by and you will lose them.

Let me be a bit more detailed before I close. Does it matter to you whether you are going to live a happy life or a miserable life? Does it matter to you? Of course it does! It matters to everyone. We all want to live a happy life. It's natural for man to want to live a happy life. We were made to be happy by God in the first place, not to be made miserable. But how can we be sure that our life will end up happily in the end? Well, here it is in my text: 'Keep your heart with all diligence.' Every day you live, bring your soul into the presence of God in prayer and search your heart for sin, and confess it to God, and plead for his grace and for his forgiveness.

Let me use the illustration of a garden. You know, if you want to have a bad garden, it's very easy. If you want to have a garden that looks rotten and run down, it's the easiest thing in the world to get that: just neglect it. Just leave it to itself and in next to no time the weeds will take over everywhere - thistles, dandelions and daisies - and you will have a wonderfully rotten garden, if that's what you're wanting. But only a fool or a maniac really rejoices in a rotten garden! What we want is a nice looking garden, a decent one. Well, to get that you have to put work into it. You have to rake out the weeds and pull them out, and then you have to tidy up the grass and cut it, and you have to feed it, feed the lawn and rake it and you have to do other things - fence it probably, to keep the sheep out if that's a danger, or the rabbits if that's a danger. You have to cultivate it, plant the flowers and trees, and then you have a beautiful garden - but not without work. Nothing good appears in this rotten world without work.

So it is with the soul. If you want happiness, real happiness in the end, you've got to work now, making sure your soul is right with God, and that you keep it right, with all the strength and energy within you. More than happiness is blessedness. Do you want to be blessed of God? 'Well,' you say, 'of course I do!' I know you do! So do I! Well, beloved friend, the way to be blessed of God is right here: "Keep thy heart with all diligence" (text).

Do you want to be serviceable to God in this world? Of course you do!

What does the Shorter Catechism say at the beginning? Wonderful words! 'What is the chief end of man?' That is to say, what is the most important thing of all in life? The answer, as you know, is this: 'Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.' We glorify Him and enjoy Him, and how does that come about? Well, not by accident, not without labour, not without striving. Not without the grace of God, not without the forgiveness of sins, not without Christ's blood. We are therefore to keep our soul for ever looking to God, pleading for grace, much in prayer, reading his Word, in the fellowship of his people, in the company of those who worship in his house. It will not only affect our life here in this world, but the issues of life take us into eternity. The issues of life include not only happiness and blessedness here, but happiness and blessedness hereafter. I think it was McCheyne who said this: 'Every sin a Christian commits after his conversion takes away something from his eternal reward.' There is a profound thought.

How then can we endeavour to keep this sin out of our lives? Well, of course, it can't be done one hundred percent. Nobody can do it one hundred percent; but we can strive to keep it out as far as possible. As somebody has said, 'You can't stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can stop them from nesting in your hair.' Keep batting them away - the temptations of life, the sins of life, the loathsome thoughts that come - keep on batting them away. Keep your heart with all diligence, bring your heart daily to Christ for cleansing, and oh, the reward he will give you! Oh, the reward! 'Herein is my father glorified,' says Christ to us, 'that ye bear much fruit' (John 15, 8). The 'much fruit' involves keeping our heart.

You know, there's an awful lot of talk today about outreach, and that's a good thing - outreach. It means going out there and telling people about Christ. That's a very good thing - I haven't a word against it. However, there's also a balancing word in the Bible - 'in-reach'. Outreach to others, but let's not forget the in-reach to our own soul. Never be so busy with the out-reach that you forget the in-reach. The two must be held in balance together. The in-reach is right here in my text: "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life" (text).

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