words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart
. . .
Biblical words are more frequently mis-defined and misunderstood
in the modern church than the word heart. It is usually
understood as emotion. When evangelical ministers
declare, “We believe in heart-felt religion at this church,”
what they really are saying is that they affirm and practice an
emotional religion. This understanding is often to opposed
“head religion,” as in, “We believe in heart
religion, not head religion.”
The fact is,
however, the Bible will not permit such a narrow definition. The
Biblical term “heart” does indeed include emotion,
and we are not true to the Biblical teaching if we neglect this
important facet (Pr. 27:11; Neh. 2:2). “Heart,” nonetheless,
means much more than emotion. It clearly includes the mind, or
reason. For instance, the Bible declares that, “For as he
[man] thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Pr. 23:7). Gordon
Clark is surely correct when he suggests that “heart”
is essentially synonymous with the English word self1
. In its Biblical denotation, the heart is really the core of
man’s being. It is the part of man that constitutes him
most clearly as a being made in God’s image — spirit,
consciousness, mind, volition, emotion, and so on. It does not
specifically denote man’s corporeal nature, though it does
not specifically exclude it. The heart is the depth of man’s
being. We might say, in a generic sense, the heart is man’s
terms are not often used in a technical, theological sense. God
in the Bible employs, for the most part, common, everyday language
to transmit His revelation. This is why we can read that man’s
first duty is to love God with all of his heart, soul, strength,
might, and mind (Mk. 12:30; Lk. 10:27). The meaning here is not
so much to separate out each of these facets, as though each were
a separate aspect of man by which he is to love God.
Rather, this terminology is a shorthand expression for “man
in the totality of his being.” In fact, the term heart
can, in large part, encompass each of these facets. To love God
with our heart, soul, strength, might, and mind, is simply to
love God with all of our heart, in the fullness of our
Monopolizes the Heart
psychology, the heart, the self, the core of man, his ontology,
is the object of God’s dealings. This is quite evident in
the Old Testament doctrine of regeneration. God told Israel that
circumcision of the flesh, while essential, was not the fundamental
mark of true religion — it may have been the fundamental
external mark, but the fundamental mark of true religion
was said to be circumcision of the heart (Dt. 10:16 and
30:6). The same is true of regeneration in the New Testament era
(2 Cor. 3:3).
When God regenerates
a man’s heart, He regenerates the man’s being. This
is to be understood ethically, not metaphysically. In other words,
God doesn’t, for example, give man a new brain or new hands
or a new liver or a new personality. He dramatically reorients
the “self,” originally made in God’s image,
but fallen and born into sin. This affects man in every aspect
of his being: his mind, emotions, will, subconscious, body, and
so forth. Regeneration doesn’t render a man sinlessly perfect;
it does, however, renovate man definitively and set in
process the forces that one day, in man’s bodily resurrection,
results in the complete experiential sanctification.
Men draw near
to God because of God’s prevenient, sovereign work in their
hearts (Dt. 29:4). Likewise, when men draw away from God, they
depart first within and by means of their heart (Dt.
30:15-19). If one of the greatest theological errors of the modern
church is its identification of the word heart merely
with emotion, one of its greatest applicational errors is to identify
the source of apostasy as something other than the heart.
First Ontological, Not Confessional
and Presbyterians are committed to strict, doctrinal identity
and the creedal and confessional standards such identity requires.
We are right to do this; and if we ever grow soft on the issue
of doctrinal fidelity, we will be well on our way to apostasy.
But — and note this well — when the church arrives
at that point, it will have already taken the first few steps.
The source of the history of apostasy in almost all Protestant
denominations in the late nineteenth and the twentieth centuries
is not the abandonment of the Westminster Confession of Faith
or the Augsburg Confession or the Book of Concord or the London
Baptist Confession of 1689. The source of the defection is a defective
heart. No man who loves God with all of his heart
ever abandoned the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. No man whose
heart burned with devotion to God ever defied God’s
authority in the Bible. No man whose heart was right
in the sight of God ever questioned the virgin birth, sacrificial
atonement, bodily resurrection, or future Second Coming of Christ.
As a neophyte Christian, he may not have properly understood these
doctrines, but he would never deny them. This is to say that theological
orthodoxy is a necessary, but not sufficient, criterion of Biblical
Christianity. More is needed. That “more” is
a godly heart.
Antidote to Apostasy
and enforcing submission to the ecumenical creeds and Reformation
confessions will never clean up liberalism and other theological
perversions in the major denominations. Why? Because liberalism
and other theological perversions did not begin with an abandonment
of creeds and confessions. They began with apostasy in the heart.
Sound, Biblical, God-honoring doctrinal symbols are the effect
of a white-hot devotion to the sovereign, Triune God that fuels
the intellect to such an extent that it demands nothing less than
an accurate, systematic understanding of the Bible. The heart
fuels the intellect — just as it fuels the emotions, the
will, the affections, and even the body. When the heart is persistent
in its pursuit of God and His will, that pursuit can never be
limited to a single facet of man’s being. It is a totalistic
principle that pushes relentlessly for dominion of man in totality.
This is why pietism is such a crippling and unnatural religious
disease. It suggests that the effects of devotion to God can be
exhausted in only one or two facets of man’s being: private
prayer and Bible-reading, for example. This is to deny the fullness
of man as being created in God’s image. As Abraham Kuyper
noted, our devotion to God cannot be divided and limited to only
certain aspects of our being2. To love God with
all of our heart is to love Him in mind, affection, emotion, will,
body, subconscious, activity, and so on.
impending reformation depends, from a human standpoint, on a revival
of holistic heart religion. Many of the Puritans often
preached extensively on what they termed the “affections.”
Even some Calvinists belittle this emphasis, noting (often correctly)
that the Puritan forebears became obsessed with private spirituality.
We should not fail to recognize, however, that emphasis on the
“affections” is a Biblical emphasis (Pr. 23:26;
Mt. 12:35; Ac. 11:23). Why is this? When man’s affections,
his heart, are properly aligned, he will, if soundly instructed,
relentlessly press those affections outward to every aspect of
his thought and life. On the other hand, a man whose affections
are cold can work toward reforming the church, education, science,
the arts, and so on, but he will enjoy only marginal, if any,
success. Why? Because his ontology is not fueled to undertake
One of the
supreme responsibilities of Christian fathers, ministers, and
other teachers is to foster and instill godly affections. They
must excite their hearers, listeners, and parishioners with a
profound, comprehensive love for God and the Sacred Scriptures,
for the Faith, for the people of God, and for the kingdom of God
and its advancement.
heart goes, there goes man.
Clark, Religion, Reason and Revelation (Jefferson, MD, 1986),
Kuyper, Near to God (Grand Rapids, 1961), 45-46.
Andrew Sandlin, an ordained minister, is president of
for Cultural Leadership, a Christian educational
foundation dedicated to reclaiming contemporary culture
for Jesus Christ. An interdisciplinary scholar, he holds
academic degrees or concentrations in English, English
literature, history, and political science. He has written
several monographs and books, including The Full Gospel:
A Biblical Vocabulary of Salvation and Totalism, and
hundreds of essays and articles, both scholarly and
popular. Andrew and his wife Sharon have five children.