by Rev. G.B.F. Hallock, D.D. ca. 1905
“Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.”
— Proverbs 4:23
We have heard of people declining to become professing Christians, giving as an excuse that the religion of Christ is so strict. By this they mean that the church is opposed to dancing, card playing, theatre-going, etc. But the fact is that the religion of Christ is far more strict than such people think. Their conception relates it largely to outward conduct. But Christianity goes deeper than that, and seeks to regulate even the thought. “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.”
I. We learn, then, first, that sin may reside in thought as well as in action. Speaking of man’s character, in another of his proverbs, Solomon says: “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Christ taught the same truth when He said to be angry with a brother without cause is of the nature of murder. Murder may be committed in the heart, although the deed itself be not done. And so it is of all sins.
II. Conversion to Christ involves a change in our thoughts as well as our conduct. In Isaiah we are exhorted: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts,: and in 2 Cor. 10:5, it is made plainly our duty, that of “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of God.” Since your professed conversion your daily life may have been changed, but how is it about your thoughts? Have they been changed also?
III. Thoughts precede action. Ordinarily we do neither a good nor a bad act without previous thinking about it.
Years ago a teller of the Manhattan Bank, New York, fled to Canada with $160,000 of the bank’s money. But did he become such a thief suddenly? Not at all. For months he had thought about the deed. Many a time he had stolen the money in thought before he stole it in act. Long before he became a thief in the eyes of the law of New York he was a thief in the eyes of God. One does not become a sinner in action until he has first been a sinner in thought. Some things we have no right to even think about.
IV. It follows most certainly then, that there are unlawful pleasures of thought as well as of action. In other words thought may become sin long before it develops into action. But, it may be claimed, there is no one who does not have bad thoughts flitting through the mind. That is a matter no one can prevent. Are such thoughts sinful? or when, at what point, do they become sinful? We answer that they become sinful at the point of delectation—just as soon as such thoughts are entertained. No suspicion need attach to you when a well known criminal knocks at the door of your house if you do not ask him in and invite him to make himself at home with you. It is when evil thoughts are entertained, that is, made welcome, that they become sin. If sent away as soon as recognized they do not become sin. We cannot prevent the birds from flying over our heads, but we can prevent them from building nests in our hair.
V. The sin of not keeping the heart is one that may be committed daily by persons who may have every appearance of being respectable. The sin may be a very hidden one. One’s outward life may be beyond criticism and yet the thoughts be as vile as Sodom. The church, one’s own family, the fear of losing social position, the dread of exposure may restrain one from committing the outward sinful act, while in thought he is an adulterer every day.
Two things we will do if we are wise. First, we will learn to avoid all that calls forth evil thoughts. The impure novel, the unchaste picture, the suggestive play at the theatre, the tainted song, the evil companion—all such things we will guard carefully against, simply because their tendency is to keep us thinking bad thoughts.
A second, and still better thing the wise Christian will do, is to keep out bad thoughts by the strategy of keeping in good thoughts. Bible reading, religious papers, good pictures, church attendance, Christian companions, constant prayer, etc., all help to give us thoughts such as we need not be ashamed of. It is possible so to “keep the heart with such diligence” that pure thoughts will become the habit of the mind.
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