The Heart of Man
There are many people with troubled hearts in the world today. There are many reasons why these hearts are troubled. Whatever the reason, we can be assured that God knows and stands waiting to give peace to every troubled heart who will come to Him in faith. God loves you and wants to live in your heart.
The heart of man as used in this account means the seat of man's affections, or the “real you.” The things that you are doing spring from your heart.
God, the Creator, created man in the very beginning. He intended for man to happily live and serve Him in the beautiful garden of Eden.
Something happened to spoil God's plan. The devil, whom we call Satan, hates God. He caused man to doubt and man chose to disobey God. Because of this, man's heart became evil and sinful. No longer could he have the communion with God that surpassed all other joys. His heart became deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). Man was separated from God.
Because of His great love, God sent His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to die for man's sin. New hope is offered to every person. God wants to dwell in each man's heart and someday take the saved to live with Him in His beautiful dwelling place called Heaven. He has decreed that no sin will ever enter there.
Sin is any thought, attitude, action, or belief that is contrary to God's will. These defile man's heart. God not only looks on man's outside, but sees into his heart. Nothing is hidden from God. He commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). If this command is disregarded, man will be cast into the lake of unquenchable fire called hell (Matthew 25:41).
Our sins must be repented of, confessed, and forgiven. Then God creates a new heart within us that loves and serves Him. His Spirit no longer convicts man from the outside, but moves into his heart to comfort and guide him. And finally, when our lives on earth are completed, God will receive us to Himself.
The Sinner's Heart
This is a heart that is ruled by the prince of this world. He dominates the life of a sinner with his many evil spirits, two of which are the spirits of pride and selfishness. In our illustration you will see Satan at the center of this heart. The peacock, lion, pig, serpent, and other animals represent some of the vain, violent, unclean, and subtle spirits which dwell in the sinner's heart. Even the apparent good that such a heart produces is unacceptable to God because it is motivated by pride and self honor.
In this heart may be sins such as drunkenness, resulting in behavior that brings shame and disgrace. It may be filled with lust and speak evil things (Proverbs 23:29-33). The habit of using tobacco is often found in this heart, disgracing and defiling the body God would desire to have as His temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).
Human or fleshly lusts, immorality, fornication, and adultery dwell here, if not in deed then in thought. Jesus said that even to look on a woman with lust is to commit adultery with her in the heart (Matthew 5:28). It delights in the shameless and sinful lives of people about it. Dance halls, cinemas, theaters, and filthy literature feed the lusts of a sinner's heart. “He that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18).
Excessive eating is equated with drunkenness, and under the Old Testament law it was treated as a very serious sin (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). Marijuana, cocaine, opium, hashish, and many mood-altering drugs may occupy this heart. Some of these destroy not only the mind but the body and soul of man.
Gambling, cheating, stealing, lying, and deceit bear heartbreaking fruits. Many of these sins are justified by excuses such as, “Everybody is doing it.” These deeds are minimized by saying, “This isn't all wrong,” or, “This won't hurt anybody,” or “Everybody else does it.”
Covetousness, which is to desire something that belongs to another, rears its head. It beholds the possessions of others and lusts for them. It endeavors to obtain them, or something similar, through legitimate or illegitimate means. The intent of the ungodly is to accumulate earthly treasures. This sin leads to a condition such as that of the rich man in Luke 16:19-31. This man opened his eyes in hell and pled for a drop of water to cool his burning tongue.
Slothfulness (represented by the turtle), indifference, procrastination, and laziness are temptations or sins in this heart. Too lazy to work and labor honestly with his own hands, he covets the things which others have (Proverbs 21:25-26).
Witchcraft, horoscopes, astrology, and séances are as crafty as a spider and are used to guide the heart that is void of the Holy Spirit. God despises these sources of satanic influence, for they can do nothing for the sinner's heart but further the deceit and corruption already there (Isaiah 47:12-15).
Hatred and cruelty break out, many times in the form of a vile temper. Anger and outrageous behavior are frequent and revenge is sought, often in the name of justice. Psalm 37:8 commands us to put these sins away. Yet the sinner's heart is unable to love unselfishly. It may be able to contain these cruel spirits for a time, yet soon they break out in their fury and destructiveness. The result is sorrow, heartbreak, pain, and even death. Jealousy, envy, and ill will control this heart, bringing misery, unhappiness, and sorrow into the lives of others.
Pride lifts its ugly head in this heart in its vain and conceited ways. Caring little for the feelings and well being of its fellow men, it seeks only its own welfare. It adorns itself in the worldly beauties of self-respect, education, fashions, material possessions, fame, honor, arrogance, highmindedness, selfrighteousness, and its own rights. It is easily offended and hurt and carries grudges. When not well regarded by others, it seeks ways of injuring and disturbing. Pride may seek exaltation in family ties and deeds of its ancestry. It lusts for power and acclaim. It places great emphasis on its good deeds and overlooks the efforts of its fellow men. Pride ignores the plainness and simplicity taught in the Scriptures; it reasons and justifies itself until it hears no rebuke or reproof.
Pride was cast out of Heaven and will never again enter through its gates. God hates even a proud look (Proverbs 6:16-17). Its origin was with Satan, and its destiny is hell. “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). God hates and resists pride in every form, but will give grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5).
The conscience continues to trouble the sinner even though it be trampled on, sinned against, or seared with a hot iron (1 Timothy 4:2). Yet it is there, and in the quietness of some moment it will judge and condemn, producing guilt and fear. This is God's way of declaring to man that judgment awaits everyone, for “the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4).
The sinful heart through deceitful ignorance, slothfulness, and drowsiness, openly resists the love of God. It consoles itself as it beholds the vast multitudes of similar hearts which are traveling to eternal doom. It believes that some future time would be more convenient to face and deal with the sins it enjoys or to which it is in bondage. In unbelief it turns from the Holy Scriptures which bring condemnation and accepts the vain counsel of other sinners. Satan, without mercy, blinds its eyes to truth. He endeavors to mislead the heart when it reaches for the Word of God. He tempts it, as he did mother Eve, to doubt God by asking the question, “Hath God said?” Yet God continues to speak to this heart. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Yes, troubled heart, God is calling. “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37).
Convicted and Repenting
The sinner in this heart begins to respond to the love and judgment of God. The Holy Spirit has been convicting of sin and judgment to come. He has been inviting the sinner to look to Jesus for salvation. Prayers have been ascending to the throne of grace; many times not through lips, but through a cry of despair coming from deep within his soul. Though outwardly there is apparent liberty, within there is bondage to a cruel and tormenting taskmaster. The God of Heaven and earth has noted this condition; He hears and will respond to the cry for help (Exodus 3:7). By grace from God the Creator, the heart is receiving light and understanding—light to see its sins as they are illuminated by the Holy Scriptures, and understanding to receive the Word of God and accept it by faith. Great distress and anxiety prevail in this heart.
This sinful heart recognizes himself as vile before God. He realizes he has nothing with which to appease the wrath of God which awaits him. He realizes that his wounds stink and are corrupt because of his foolish life (Psalm 38:5). He cries out like the jailor in Acts 16:30, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” As he recognizes the depravity of his heart he cries out, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13).
The Word of God offers hope and condemns sin. It comes as a light penetrating the darkened heart. The brightness and presence of God's authoritative Word drives the devil with his proud, vile, and unclean spirits from this heart. As he retreats, the devil, with his evil spirits, resists the mighty power of the Holy Ghost. He tries to hide in the recesses of this heart, endeavoring to cover many sins from the probing eyes of God.
As this heart yields to the gentle embrace of Jesus, its Savior, it suddenly beholds the cross: so shameful in its loneliness, but oh, so radiant in its splendor! He beholds the Son of God hanging, wounded and bleeding. His garments taken from Him, shamed and reviled, He is lifted up for all the world to see. Though sinless and pure, He is hanging between thieves. “He was numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12). The agonizing sinner hears the words from the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
“I find no fault in this man,” cries the repenting heart. “It is my sin, my wretched heart worthy of death and eternal damnation, that deserves this vile and shameful death on the cross. How can it be that He dies for me?”
“But He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5), whispers the comforting voice of the Holy Spirit. “Your sins have been judged by the suffering and death of God's only Son.” “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word” (Isaiah 66:2) is the consolation given to the trembling heart, as it sinks in deep sorrow and remorse at the foot of the cross. Satan's hold has been broken. A new heart is being formed, and peace is being given from Heaven by God the Father.
A New Heart
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). A perfect peace has been given. Redemption from a life of sin to a life of holiness has been effected. Confession has taken place and restitution has been made. The heart has been crucified to the world and its vain ways (Galatians 6:14). Now the indwelling Spirit, prefigured as a dove in our illustration, has come to guide this heart into all truth (John 16:13). This heart desires and feeds on the sincere milk of the Word of God (1 Peter 2:2). The fruit of the Holy Spirit which is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance is becoming evident in this heart (Galatians 5:22-23).
As the sheep are led by the shepherd, the new heart is led beside the still waters (Psalm 23). Discernment from the Holy Spirit enables the new-born Christian to distinguish between obedience and disobedience, both in his life and in the lives of his fellow men. He hears many naming the name of Christ, yet they have not departed from iniquity (2 Timothy 2:19); from such he turns away. He studies the Word of God and is not ashamed to embrace it in all its teachings. A boldness has come with his freedom; he is not ashamed to speak of those things which he has seen and heard and experienced (Acts 4:20).
This new heart sees its need of continued cleansing, praying with the psalmist of old, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me” (Psalm 139:23-24).
The Holy Spirit purges the branches of this heart, removing that which hinders it, that more of the precious fruit may be born (John 15:2). It submits to the cleansing work, knowing that without Christ, it can do nothing.
His crucified and risen Lord is ever before him, high and lifted up. Christ is his chief joy, and he seeks to please Him who has given him a new life.
This heart has confidence in the keeping power of God. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28). As long as he will continue to hear and follow the Shepherd he is safe. Even Satan cannot remove him from God's hand.
He is instructed to watch and pray because Satan will tempt him with his former lusts and desires. Sometimes Satan comes as a roaring lion to try to overpower him; at other times he tries to seduce him as an angel of light. If he accepts Satan's suggestions he will lead him away from the Shepherd. Satan's aim is to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. However, as this heart submits to God and resists the devil, Satan must flee. As this heart listens to the Shepherd's voice and follows Him, he is safe.
The Backslidden Heart and Its End
This heart is one of tragedy. Gradually, through the deceitfulness of Satan, sin, unconcern, and neglect have come back and the gentle graces of the indwelling Spirit have begun to depart. Satan and his wicked spirits, kept out by the presence of God, are coming back in their evil forms and ways. They drive from the heart the gentle graces illustrated by the dove and lamb. This heart is beginning to turn from the Savior, and is leaving the eternal promises of God once claimed for its own.
Faithful obedience and diligent watching would have kept this Christian in his new life. Even now his spiritual brethren are pleading with him through admonitions.
“Awake thou that sleepest” (Ephesians 5:14), is the call given by the Holy Spirit again and again, but the backsliding heart slumbers on.
Satan's hand has grasped the cradle, rocking to sleep this child of God with the intent that he should never awaken. Through the cares of life or the deceitfulness of riches, the lusts and casualness of youth, the neglecting of daily prayer, or ceasing to feed on the Word of God, the tempter has been able to enter with empty and deluding promises.
At first the outward form of Christian life is maintained. The backslider goes to church, comments on the Scriptures, kneels in empty prayer, and leaves a testimony. Gradually and surely the foul sins of pride and neglect are hardening this heart. Worldly friends are preferred and glitter and vanity of entertainments and sensuality cause the head to turn. Foolish and immoral conversation and joking become more prevalent. The conscience, once clear, has been seared and its reproving voice is hardly heard, opening the door for the enjoyment of sin. Bitterness, envy, offence, and unforgiveness again rule the thoughts, giving evidence to the rising of pride as a dominating spirit. The former lusts and carnal living offer themselves and slowly enter this heart, once clean and pure. In this backslidden condition, self-righteousness may have ensnared the imagination of this backslider, causing him to pray thus within himself: “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are” (Luke 18:11). He has returned to the ways of the world and is lost just like the heart which never accepted Christ.
Jesus, the Shepherd, observes this heart with great concern. He is out in the storms of life seeking this sheep. He has counted His sheep at eventide and one has not come home. His love is not to be quieted. He pleads, “Come back, I have shed my blood for thee!”
The cross has become an offence, and self is no longer denied. The ways of the children of God and their fellowship seem narrow minded and of little value. Yet “the Spirit and the Bride say come” (Revelation 22:17). The chastening hand of God is felt in many ways but self-pity has taken the place of a godly sorrow for sin. Self-justification and excuses have replaced justification by faith in Jesus Christ.
False and unconverted shepherds lull this heart into contentment and consolation, and it is not willing to be delivered from those sins it has again come to enjoy.
The unclean spirit which had gone out has come returning to its house. “Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first” (Luke 11:26).
Oh, how wretched and pitiful is this condition! Even the sinful pleasures he once enjoyed no longer bring satisfaction. But the grace of God is still calling to repentance.
Oh, backslider! Say in your heart, “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee” (Luke 15:18). Hasten, for today is the day of salvation; harden not your heart. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). Do not continue to reject the mercy of God manifested in Christ Jesus. Hasten to accept the offer of salvation while the door of mercy is open.
Time moves rapidly. The sinful heart is approaching the day of its death. Its body may be full of pain and the heart full of fear. The accumulated riches, if any, are of no avail. Friends found in times of pleasure are now absent. The vices of sin stand in silent accusation. The Ten Commandments, God's eternal law, speak plainly and clearly in the moment of death. The voice of God speaks once more, “My spirit shall not always strive with man” (Genesis 6:3), and now is heard no more.
The Spirit of God now turns to the living and in final testimony says, “Behold the wages of sin.” It is awful to behold the sinful heart in its dying hour; no hope, no Savior, no light; only darkness and utter despair. Wailing and gnashing of teeth and furnace of fire await him (Matthew 13:42). This doom awaits all sinners, whether they never turned from sin or returned to sin like the backslidden heart. “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
Homecoming of the Overcoming Heart
This heart is victorious. Its intent is to walk worthy of God who has called him unto His kingdom and glory (1 Thessalonians 2:12). Through the transforming power of the new birth this child of God endeavors daily to lay aside the sin and weights that so easily beset it, running the race of life patiently, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of his faith (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Satan remains close at hand with great power, but the Christian has peace and security, for he is kept by the power of God (1 Peter 1:5).
The trials of life present themselves in due time. God's child may suffer great hardship, with persecutions even by loved ones, being despised and rejected by his fellow men. At times the temptation to lay down the cross of Christ and its affliction may almost overwhelm him. The glitter of the broad road with its gaiety and laughter come to the eyes and ears of this pilgrim. The flesh is tempted through its love of ease, asking for a way that would give it greater liberty. Satan wishes this heart to forget its past bondage, urging a backward look to its past indulgences and carnal life. The Holy Spirit warns that, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
The Shepherd has continued to lead this heart, as one of His own sheep, into green pastures and beside the still waters. How many times, when beset with affliction and trials, this faithful heart is led back to the stillness of this place, and here his soul is restored (Psalm 23). The table prepared in the presence of his enemies enables him to love them and pray for them even though despitefully used (Matthew 5:44). There is nothing he would accept in exchange for his soul. His desire is to see Jesus only.
By the wisdom and grace received through the counsel of God's Word, this heart seeks the children of God. When it finds the body of Christ, the church of the Living God, with scriptural water baptism and pure sound doctrines taught and practiced, the longing of this soul is satisfied (1 Corinthians 12, Acts 2:41). To love and proclaim this glorious gospel as an ambassador for Christ gives great joy to the child of God. He is as a tree planted by the water bringing forth much fruit in his season (Psalm 1:1-3). A conscience void of offence gives liberty and graciousness to this life; a perfect love has cast out all fear (1 John 4:18). Earthly language fails to describe the joy and glory of the heart that follows in the footsteps of Jesus.
By faith the Christian can already see that beautiful city whose builder and maker is God, which He has prepared for them that love Him. He hears Jesus say, “Let not your heart be troubled . . . In my Father's house are many mansions . . . I go to prepare a place for you . . . I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:1-3). The Christian joins in saying with the Apostle Paul, “Death is swallowed up in victory, O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55). He is comforted when he remembers that Jesus said, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).
All mortal flesh must die. So also, this overcoming heart must soon face the departure from this earthly life. He may not desire the experience of death itself, but looks forward to the joys of immortal life which await him.
Peace and quietness, familiar to him in life, surround his bedside in the last moments of his earth life. At his departure, the assurance and testimony are there that through his redemption in Christ he will now receive a crown of life.
This faith that has sustained him in life will not fail him in death, for it is anchored in the eternal Son of God. Jesus will send His angels to bear his soul away (Luke 16:22).
The Apostle John, in the vision he received on the Isle of Patmos, saw “a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues . . . clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried . . . Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.” He was told “These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore . . . For the Lamb . . . shall feed them . . . and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Revelation 7:9-17).
Can any more be asked of life than this? Is Heaven beckoning? Are loved ones waiting at the portals of glory? Would you not wish to be in that vast throng that John beheld? Is Jesus even now standing at the door of your heart? “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). Come! Come now lest you hear His voice no more!