T. Pierce Brown
In Psalm 139:23, 24 the psalmist says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: Try me, and know my thoughts; And see if there be any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.” The word “heart” is used over 800 times in the Bible, translated from more than six different words. Most of the brethren whom I have heard speak on the matter have equated the heart with the intellect. That is not as definitive and exact as it should be. It is more nearly accurate to think of the heart as the sub-conscious mind, the wellspring of all activity. As Proverbs4:23puts it, “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.”
However, that is not my subject today. I will not have time or space to deal with the sixty different kinds of hearts mentioned in the Bible, nor to the dozens of allusions to other kinds. There are hard and soft hearts; pure an impure; wise and foolish, dark and enlightened; single and double; trusting and faithless, fixed and wavering, faint and strong. Since God will search and try our hearts, it behooves us to do some heart searching first and make sure we have the kinds of hearts that please him. Let us view some kinds of hearts for which we should strive.
First there is the grateful or thankful heart. Without this, none of the other kinds God wants will ever be developed. The pitiful story in Luke 17:12-19 of ten men who were healed, and only one returned to give thanks is typical of humanity in general. If we are to develop thankful hearts, what elements constitute it, or make it possible?
To have a thankful heart, there must be a thoughtful heart. Do you realize that gratitude, to make sense, has to be to a person? You may be thankful FOR a thing, but you must be thankful TO a person. Logically, psychologically, philosophically and theologically, one who does not believe in God cannot properly say, “I am thankful” for anything that God provides. One might be glad that he had a phone that would ring, but he could not properly be thankful TO the phone.
Paul said in Philippians 4:6, “In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” He did not say, “FOR everything be thankful,” although it is a wonderful truth that when one learns to be thankful IN all circumstances, he can come nearer being thankful FOR whatever may happen to him in God’s providence. For example, the lepers we mentioned would not have been thankful for the leprosy, nor in their leprous condition. But it is possible that, having been cured by Jesus, if they had been properly thankful for that, they might even have been thankful for the leprosy itself, for through it they met Jesus.
Being thoughtful also should help us to be humble. If one asks you how you came to be in the position you are, physically, spiritually, financially, socially or otherwise, you may profess the reason to be luck or providence, but in reality you probably think, “I was smarter than the other fellow, or I worked harder than he,” or another reason equally true. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:7, “For who maketh thee to differ? And what hast thou that thou didst not receive?” If God had meant for us to pat ourselves on the back, he would have made our joints different. It is simple and natural to bend the knee. So, humility and a thankful heart are intimately related, and one will help create another.
There is another group of words that describe a heart that is pleasing to God. In Psalm 51:17, the psalmist says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” To have a broken and contrite heart, we must first be aware of what sin is, and how bad it is. Then one must be aware of having done that specific wrong. As long as Saul believed Jesus was a liar and an imposter, it was impossible for him to have a broken heart for persecuting him. Often in my private Bible studies, I have had persons tell me, “Everyone knows when he is wrong.” It is not so. Also, one may know he is wrong, but not how badly wrong he is. Jesus said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” They knew they were wrong, but they did not know that they were crucifying the Savior. That does not mean they were excused. It does mean that when they learned how bad their sin was, it was easier for them to have a contrite heart (to be pricked in it) and repent.
So often we have heard persons use the expression, “I’m not that bad” or similar expressions. Often they are not really comparing themselves with anything specific. They simply do not think their particular sin was bad. Surely Adam and Eve felt that way. Yet look at the consequences of their sin! No doubt Ananias and Sapphira felt that way. Just a little lying is not “that bad.” It was bad enough to cost their lives.
When I survey the wondrous cross on which my Savior died, and realize it was “little” sins like mine that placed him there, it breaks my heart. It was envy, covetousness, lack of commitment to God’s way, failure to stand up for what they knew was right, and other similar attitudes that put him there.
In the parable of the soils in Luke 8:5-15, Jesus speaks of the “good and honest heart.” That is the heart that does not offer some lame excuse when it hears what God wants, but simply does what it can to comply with His will. When it hears, “Except ye repent, he shall all likewise perish,” it does not respond, “I am better than Mr. Jones.” It just repents. When it hears, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” it does not respond, “Yes, but he that believeth something and is NOT baptized shall be saved also.” It just leads him to obey. Saul of Tarsus had a good and honest heart. He had lived in all good conscience all his life (Acts 23:1), but when he was told “Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins” (Acts22:16), he did.