REVIEW: Keeping the Heart by John Flavel
By Roy Mohon
Title: Keeping the Heart
Author: John Flavel
Publisher: Soli Deo Gloria Publications: 2965, Leonard St., NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49525. Date: 1998.
170 pages, Hardback, Priced at $20.
If you were suffering from a disease and your doctor placed in your hands a book of instructions, which if followed would guarantee a cure, you would take the book, read it and apply it. Or should you be depressed and a practitioner recommended a manual with exercises to restore hope, joy and comfort you would give a princely sum to acquire the manual. John Flavel, having trained under Christ the Great Physician, has provided this manual for the care of souls. Flavel’s pastoral heart is evident on every page. His aim is clear from the following quotation: ‘Oh, how much better is it to see men live exactly than to hear them dispute subtleties! These unfruitful questions … called Christians off from their main business, from looking to their own vineyard.’ (p. 116)
Flavel proposes edifying questions such as, ‘How may a soul observe its first declinings from God? How may a backsliding Christian recover his first love? … How may a bosom sin be discovered and mortified?’ (p.116) He who has no interest in the answers to such questions cannot be a spiritual Christian.
The book has a clear structure: (1) What keeping the heart presupposes. (2) Why Christians should make this the great business of their lives. (3) Special seasons in a Christian’s life that require special diligence. (4) The book closes by addressing four uses: information, exhortation, direction and consolation.
The author is direct in dealing with different classes of reader. Thus, ‘Hear me, you self-deluding hypocrite, you who have put off God with heartless duties…’ (p. 114.)
The author has vivid illustrations. ‘Little sins neglected will quickly become great and masterless. The greatest crocodile once lay in an egg…’ (p. 131) ‘Affliction is a pill which, being wrapped up in patience and quiet submission, may be easily swallowed; but discontentedness chews the pill and so embitters the soul.’ (p. 35)
This is not a book to skim read but requires serious application to drink deep of the water of life in it. Readers will benefit from studying the outline provided by Maureen Bradley. She has also provided a study outline at the end. Those who use the book devotionally, a few pages daily, praying over each page will find it a life transforming experience.
This is a book to keep and re-read and to study in the special occasions of prosperity, adversity, persecution, shortage, etc. with which the book deals.