John Flavel (1628-1691) was a Puritan pastor, who laboured for almost the whole of his ministry in the busy seaport of Dartmouth in Devon, England, and knew much opposition and persecution because of his faithful preaching of the gospel. His writings have been much loved by Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, Robert Murray M'Cheyne and Andrew Bonar.
He says in his introduction:
The heart of man is his worst part before it is regenerated, and the best afterward; it is the seat of principles, and the foundation of actions. The eye of God is, and the eye of the Christian ought to be, principally fixed upon it. The greatest difficulty in conversion is to win the heart to God; and the greatest difficulty after conversion, is to keep the heart with God.It is this insight, drawn from Solomon's words, that leads him to say: "The keeping and right managing of the heart in every condition, is one great business of a Christian's life." It is the duty of every Christian to be engaged in the hard, constant and important work of keeping the heart, by the grace of God, from sin and for communion with God.
This is what Flavel urges upon his readers as he shows: first, what it means to keep the heart; secondly, why we should take this work seriously; thirdly, particular occasions which "require our utmost dilligence" in doing this; and finally, pressing this home to his hearers.
I have recently finished reading 'Keeping the Heart' for a second time, this time with pencil in hand, and I have hardly left a page without underlining something.
What makes this such a great book? The following are just some of the reasons to read:
It is saturated with Scripture: Flavel's thinking and writing is very evidently shaped and moulded by Scripture, he is clearly someone who delights in the word of God and has immersed himself in Scripture, letting it shape and affect his life, therefore 'Keeping the Heart' oozes with Scriptural wisdom.
It is evidently written by someone who knows what it is to work at keeping their heart: as you read it becomes evident that we are sitting under a very godly older brother, who is deeply experienced, and who draws on his experience of living the Christian life.
It is practical: throughout the book Flavel is constantly concerned with pressing the lessons home to his readers, he does not want them to go away unaffected after reading, but wants them to bring glory to God by the diligent keeping of their hearts. He is constantly preaching to the heart.
It is clear and easy to follow: although the language is quite old (it was written in the 17th century) and at first some phrases may sound strange to our ears, Flavel is very readable, his points are clearly signalled and his arguments easy to grasp.
Finally, it is well illustrated: illustrations and pithy quotes abound throughout, drawn from church history and the world around us. These open windows and shed light, and drive home his teaching.
As with the Puritans as a whole, Flavel is well worth being discovered by a new generation of Christians, 'Keeping the Heart' is a great place to start. Well worth reading and re-reading and being challenged to "Keep your heart with all vigilance".