Monday, February 28, 2011

The Essence of True Faith > Keep Your Heart (1)

essence By T. M. Moore per

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.
--Proverbs 4:23


What is the essence of true Christian faith? That is, how can someone know when he is in possession of the kind of faith that issues in salvation, now and forever more? Many answers have been proffered for this question. Some insist that right doctrine is the essence of true faith. Many claim that nothing more than sincerely believing is the fundamental requirement. Others argue that some extraordinary manifestation of the Spirit is the real hallmark of saving faith. Still others want to insist that belonging to the right church or denomination is all that matters. With so many different voices making their case for the essence of true faith, how shall we decide between them?

By turning to Scripture, of course. Solomon advised his son to “keep” his heart “with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” The “springs of life,” all the great issues and concerns of our temporal and eternal existence, are determined within us, in our hearts, in the depths of our souls. Here is where we may discover whether or not we possess true and saving faith. To this the Lord Jesus Christ agrees. He has indicated this in many ways, by commanding us to love God with all our heart (Matt. 22:37); by teaching that the heart determines what we will treasure the most (Matt. 6:21); by noting that whatever is in the heart commands the words of our mouths (Matt. 12:34); and by promising that the blessing of God comes to those who are pure in heart (Matt. 5:8).

The heart, it seems, is the heart of the matter when it comes to every aspect of life, including whether or not we truly believe in Jesus Christ for salvation. We need to understand the heart, and the affections it harbors, and to make sure that our hearts are in line with the teaching of Scripture and that we know how to “keep” or “guard” our hearts with the kind of vigilance necessary to ensure that what “springs” from our lives will be from the living waters of God’s Spirit (Jn. 7:37-39).

To help us in this study we turn to one of the great soul physicians of Church history. In his book, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, published in 1746, the great Puritan preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards leads us on a valuable tour de force of the heart and its role in the life of faith. Edwards insists, “True religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.” By this he means that we may have assurance that the faith we possess is true and saving when our hearts are rightly formed with respect to God and His will, when what we desire and love, and what we find to be our source of greatest satisfaction, delight, and fulfillment is just what God commends in His Word.

Edwards understood the soul as being comprised of two primary faculties. First is what he referred to as “perception.” This encompasses all the activities of what we think of as the mind. As we shall see, the mind is in continuous communication with the heart and has a powerful influence on the kinds of affections – holy or profane – that characterize us. The other faculty is what Edwards called “inclination.” Here he refers to what the Scriptures mean by the term, “heart.” The heart has to do with the ways we are bent in our souls, what we incline to, long for, seek after, desire, and, as a result, serve.

Heart and mind work together to form the shape of the soul – the “conscience” or “will.” In Edwards’ view, the heart is most important in making us the kind of people we are, and in determining the nature of our faith, whether it be true and sincere or shallow, false, and misleading. We’ll definitely want to learn what he has to say concerning how to “keep” our hearts with all vigilance.