God's Word in Our Hearts
by Thomas Manton
“Thy Word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee” (Psa. 119:11). The duty of God’s children is to hide His Word in their hearts, and in so doing there must be a right end; their knowledge of it and delight in it is to be directed to practice.
One duty and necessary practice of God’s children is to hide the Word in their hearts. See it confirmed by a Scripture or two: “This book of the Law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night” (Josh. 1:8); “Receive, I pray thee, the law from His mouth, and lay up His words in thy heart” (Job 22:22). Lay up His words as we would do choice things, that they may not be lost; and lay them up as a treasure to be used upon all occasions. In the heart let them not swim in the brain or memory only, but let the affections be moved therewith, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16): be so diligent in the study of the Scripture that it may become familiar with us, by frequent hearing, reading, meditating, conferring about it. As a stranger, let it not stand at the door, but receive it into an inner room; be as familiar as those that dwell with you. God complaineth of His people “I have written to him [Ephraim] the great things of My Law, but they were counted as a strange thing” (Hosea 8:12). To be strangers to the Word of God, and little conversant in it, is a great evil.
What is it to hide the Word in our hearts? (
1) To understand it, to get a competent knowledge of it; we take in things into the soul by the understanding: “When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul” (Prov. 2:10).
(2) When it is assented unto by faith. The Word is settled in the heart by faith, otherwise it soon vanisheth: “The Word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it “ (Heb. 4:2).
(3) When it is kindly entertained. Christ complained “Ye seek to kill Me, because My Word hath no place in you” (John 8:37). Men are so possessed with lust and prejudice, that there is no room for Christ’s Word. Though it break in upon the heart with evidence and power, yet it is not entertained there but cast out again as an unwelcome guest.
(4) When it is deeply rooted. Many men have flashes for a time: their affections may be much aloft, and they may have great elevations of joy, but no sound grace: ”ye rejoiced in his light for a season” (John 5:35). The Word must be settled into a standing affection, if we would have comfort and profit from it. We read of “The engrafted Word” (James 1:21): till there be the root of the matter in us, in vain do we expect fruit.
The reasons why this is one great duty and practice of the saints to hide the Word in their heart are two: first, that we may have it ready for our use. We lay up principles that we may lay them out upon all occasions. When the Word is hidden in the heart, it will be ready to break out in the tongue and practice, and be forthcoming to direct us in every duty and exigency. When persons run to the market for every pennyworth, it doth not become good housekeepers. To be seeking of comforts when we should use them, or to run to a book, is not so blessed as to hide it in the heart. “A good scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of Heaven...bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old” (Matt. 13:52). He hath not only this year’s growth but the last year’s gathering (for so is the allusion): he hath not only from hand to mouth, but a good stock by him. So should it be with the Christian, which is a very great advantage.
First, it will prevent vain thoughts. Why is evil so ready and present with us? Because our stock of spiritual knowledge is so small. A man that hath a pocket with more brass farthings than pieces of silver, will more readily draw out farthings than shillings; his stock is greater. So vain thoughts will be more ready with us, unless the Word dwell richly in our hearts. “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth good things” (Matt. 12:35). The workings of our spirits are as our treasure and stock. The mind works upon what it finds in itself, as a mill grinds whatever is put into it—chaff or corn. Therefore, if we would prevent evil thoughts and musings of vanity all the day long, we must hide the Word in our hearts.
Second, when you are alone and without outward helps, your hearts will furnish you with matters of counsel, or comfort, or reproof: “My reins instruct me in the night season” (Psa. 16:7). When we are alone, and there is a veil of darkness drawn upon the world, and we have not the benefit of a Bible, a minister, or Christian friends, our reins will instruct us; we may draw out of our heart that which will be for our refreshing. A Christian is to be a walking Bible: to have a good stock and treasure in himself.
Third, it will supply us in prayer. Barrenness and leanness of soul is a very great defect, which God’s children often complain of. One great reason is because the Word of God does not dwell plenteously in them. If the heart were often exercised in the Word, the promises would hold up our hearts in prayer, enlarge our affections, and we should be better able to pour out our spirits before Him. “My heart is inditing a good matter” (Psa. 45:1). What follows? “My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.” When the heart is full, the tongue will be loosed and speak freely. What is the reason we are so dumb and tongue-tied in prayer? Because the heart is so barren. When the spring is dry, there will be little water in the stream. “Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God,” then follows “praying with all supplication” (Eph. 6:17, 18). When we have a good store of the Word it will burst out in prayer,
Fourth, it will he a great help to us in all our affairs. Proverbs 6:21, 22, speaking of the precepts of God, “bind them upon thy heart; when thou goest, it shall lead thee; when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee; when thou awakest it shall talk with thee.” Upon all occasions the Word will be ready to cast in seasonable thoughts. When we awake, our first thoughts in the morning will begin with God, to season the heart all the day; and as we are about our business, the Word will hold our hearts in the fear of God; and when we sleep, it will guard us from vain dreams and imaginations. In a wicked man sin engrosses all his thoughts: it employs him all the day, plays in his fancy all the night; it solicits him first in the morning, because he is a stranger to the Word of God. But a man that is a Bible to himself, the Word will ever be upon him, urging him to duty, restraining him from sin, directing him in his ways.
Fifth, it is a great relief against temptations to have the Word ready. The Word is called “The Sword of the Spirit.” In spiritual conflicts there is none like it. Those that ride abroad in time of danger will not be without a sword. We are in danger, and had need handle the Sword of the Spirit. The more ready the Scripture is with us, the greater advantage in our conflicts and temptations. When the Devil came to assault Christ, He had Scripture ready for him, whereby He overcame the tempter. The door is barred upon Satan, and he cannot find such easy entrance, when the Word is hid in our hearts, and made use of pertinently. “I write to you, young men, because ye are strong.” Wherein lies their strength? “And the Word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one” (1 John 2:14). O it is a great advantage when we have the Word not only by us, but in us, engrafted in the heart! When it is present with us, we are more able to resist the attacks of Satan. Either a man forgets the Word or has lost his affections to it, before he can be drawn to sin,
Sixth, it is a great relief in afflictions. Our fainting in trouble come from ignorance or forgetfulness: “Ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him” (Heb. 12:5). If we had a herb growing in our garden that would ease our smart, what, are we the better if we know it not? There is no malady but what has its remedy in the Word. To have a comfort ready is a great relief. Seventh, it makes our conference and conversation with others more gracious. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matt. 12:34). When we have a great deal of hidden treasure in the soul it will get out at the tongue, for there is a quick intercourse between the heart and the tongue. The tap runs according to the liquor wherewith the vessel is filled. Come to men of an unsavory spirit, pierce them, broach them, give them occasion again and again for discourse, and you get nothing but frothy communication from them and vain talk. But now a man that has stored his heart with the Word is ever and anon interposing for God. Like a bottle filled with wine, he must have vent. As the Spouse’s lips are said to “drop as honeycombs,” they are ever putting forth savoury expressions in their converse with others.
Before I go to the second reason, let me anticipate an objection. Is not this to take from the Spirit and give it to the Word? And that to the Word not as written in God’s book, but as it is in our hearts Will not this be to ascribe all to created grace? I answer (1) Without question, it is the office of the Spirit to bring things to our remembrance, and the great help He gives is by suggesting such passages as may be of most seasonable relief to the soul in temptations, in prayer, and in business (John 14:16). But what is ascribed to the Scriptures and grace is not to the robbing of the Spirit, for the Scripture is of His inditing, and grace is of His working; yea, we still reserve the chief honour to the Holy Spirit, for He not only works grace, but works by grace. He not only indites the Scripture, but operates by it; it is He that quickens prayer, and therefore it is ill trusting to our own understanding and memory, for it is the Spirit that is the great Remembrancer, and impresses upon the mind seasonable thoughts.
(2) I grant further, the children of God are subject to much forgetfulness of the Truth that is impressed upon their hearts; partly through the present cloud and mist which the temptation raiseth. The Psalmist had truths enough to support him, yet he said, “Until I went into the sanctuary of God, I was foolish and ignorant; I was as a beast before Thee” (73:17, 22). There is so much dullness upon the children of God that they cannot remember seasonable thoughts; as Hagar had a fountain by her, yet she did not see it till God opened her eyes (Gen. 21). So under temptation all are benighted, and the light that is in the understanding is obscured. And partly through the little sense they have for the present need of the comforts which the Word propounds; few are so wise as to lay up for a bad year. And partly through sloth and negligence, being taken up with other things. It is possible sometimes that we may be guided by the Spirit, and act right merely by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, without any interposing and concurrence of our own understandings as John 12:13 compared with verse 16:—“They took branches of palm trees and went forth to meet Him; and cried, Hosanna, blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord...these things understood not His disciples at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things unto Him.” Mark they were guided by the Spirit to do that they knew not for the present.
(3) The Holy Spirit makes use of a sanctified memory, bringing Scripture to our remembrance as we have need. It is made their act, because the Holy Spirit made use of their memories: they “remembered that it was written, The zeal of Thine house hath eaten Me up” (John 2:17). They that neglect to search and hide the Word in their hearts, have not such seasonable refreshment; for God works more strongly with the strongest graces; there where there is the greater receptivity, there is the greater influence; those that are ignorant cannot expect such help as those having the Word dwelling richly in them.
The second reason is, therefore should we hide the Word in our hearts, because God doth so in the work of conversion: “I will put My laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts” (Heb. 8:10). The mind is compared to tables of stone, and the heart to the ark; and so this is required of us to “write them upon the table of our heart” (Prov. 7:3). How doth this follow? because God does in conversion, therefore it is our duty? I answer (1) God requires what He works to show the creature’s duty, as well as the power of His own grace. God is to convert, yet do you turn; circumcise your heart and I will circumcise; mortify your members, and yet “If ye through the Spirit do mortify. “He gives and requires, to engage the subserviency of our endeavours, and to make us sensible of our obligation. (2) This follows because this work must he gone over and over that it may be more explicit. We must revive the work, and put a fresh copy of the Law into our hearts, to keep the old work a-foot.
Use 1. To persuade you to study the Scripture, that you may get understanding and hide the Word in your hearts for gracious purposes. This is the Book of books: let it not lie idle. The world can as well be without the sun as the Bible—Psalm 19 speaks first of the sun, then of the Law of God, which is to the Christian as the sun is to the outward world. Consider the great use of the Word for informing the understanding and reforming the will. The Word of God is able “to make the man of God perfect, and thoroughly furnished” (2 Tim. 3:17). “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to Thy Word” (Psa. 119:9). A young man that is so heedless and headstrong, and in the very heat of his lusts, yet there is enough in the Word to cleanse, tame, and subdue him to God. Therefore let us get it into our hearts. To this end:
Meditate often on it: “Mary kept all these sayings” (Luke 2:19). How did she keep them? She “pondered them in her heart.” Musing makes the fire to burn, and deep and constant thoughts are operative. The hen which straggles from her nest when she sits a-brooding produces nothing; it is a constant incubation which hatches the young. So when we have only a few straggling thoughts, and do not brood upon the Truth; when we have flashes only, like a little glance of a sunbeam upon a wall, it does nothing; but serious thoughts, through the Lord’s blessing, will do the work. Urge the heart again and again. Ask, is this a Truth?—then what will become of me if I disregard it; is this the Word of God, and does it find no more entertainment in my heart?
Receive it in the love of it. The Apostle makes this to be the ground of apostasy: “because they received not the love of the truth” (2 Thess. 2:10). O let it soak into the affections. If it lie only in the tongue or in the mind, only to make it a matter of talk and speculation, it will he soon gone. The seed which lies upon the surface, the fowls of the air will pick it up. Therefore hide it deeply; let it soak further and further. First men have a naked apprehension of truth, then it gets into the conscience, then it lies in the heart, then it is laid up. When it is dearer than our dearest lust, then it will stick by us. When it breaks in upon the heart with evidence and power, you cannot keep both.
Use 2. To direct you what to do in reading. It is a notable preservative against sin, and an antidote against the infection of the world: “The Law of God is in his heart, none of his steps shall slide” (Psa. 37:31). As long as truth is kept lively and active, and in view of conscience, we shall not slide, or not so often. We have many temptations to divert us from obedience; but we are in safety when the Law of God is in our heart. See how it was in Joseph’s heart: “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”—against God, that is of such sovereign majesty; of such infinite goodness and mighty power, so able to save and to destroy! Every time you read the Scripture you should lay up something. The best way to destroy ill weeds is by planting the ground with right seed. Then for promises: what have you hidden in your heart for comfort against desertions and afflictions? In a time of trial you will find one promise gives more comfort and support than all the arguments that can be produced by reason. “This is my comfort in my affliction: Thy Word hath quickened me” (Psa. 119:50). He had a word to support him: therefore let us treasure up the promises. So for threats, especially against the sins we are most inclined to: “Who among you will give ear, and hear for the time to come?” (Isa. 42:23). It is well with you for the present, but matters to come are put off, little cared for: Amos 6:3. You should think of and provide against what will come afterward.
So in hearing. Do not hear lightly, but hide the Word in your heart, that it be not embezzled by your own negligence, forgetfulness, running into carnal distractions; that it be not purloined by Satan, that he may not snatch away the good Seed out of your soul. When the Word is preached, there is more company present than is visible; there are angels and demons in the assembly. Whenever the sons of God meet together, Satan is there too. The Devil is present to divert the mind by wandering thoughts, by raising prejudices that we may cast out the Word—or by excuses, delays, evasions, putting it off to others when we begin to have some sense of our sin and danger. The Devil is loath to let us go too far, lest Christ get a subject into His kingdom. Therefore let us labour to get something into the heart by every sermon: some fresh consideration is given out to set you a-work in the spiritual life. A conscientious waiting upon God will find something every time. It is sad to consider how many have heard much, and laid up little or nothing at all; it may be they have laid it up in their notebooks, but not laid up the Word in their hearts.
For meditation. Meditate upon the Word: do not study it in a cursory manner, or content yourselves with a slight taste, or a little volatile affection; but ponder it seriously, that it may enter into your very heart. Hasty and perfunctory thoughts work nothing. Meat must be well chewed and digested, if you would have it turn into good blood and energy. You must follow the Word closely till it settle into some affection. So much then for David’s practice: “Thy Word have I hid in my heart.” The second thing is the aim and end of it: “that I might not sin against Thee.”
In hiding the Word in our hearts there must be a right design: our knowledge of it and delight in it are to be directed to practice. First, we must not study the Word merely out of curiosity, that we may know what is said there, as men will pry into civil art and secular subjects. So the Athenians flocked about Paul: Acts 17:18-21; so for novelty’s sake men may have an affection in the Word—“ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light” (John 5:35). There are certain adulterous affections we have to the Word when it is new and fresh, but when it grows familiar we loathe it. This affection to the Word is soon spent.
Second, we must not hide the Word in our heart that we may be able to teach others, that we may make a gainful trade of it. Alas! a man may teach others and be himself a castaway. Look, as in coining of money, an iron stamp may impress the character and print upon a piece of silver or of gold, so God may use the gifts of some men to beget faith in others, and perish themselves. “We have prophesied in Thy name,” yet “depart from Me; I know you not” (Matt. 7:22-23).
Third, this must not be our end either: not merely for delight. Largeness of knowledge brings a content with it, as it is an addition to our equipment. Truth is the object of our understanding, and may please an unsanctified mind. Not merely out of subserviency to some base and inferior ends, that we get esteem in the world or the reputation of knowing persons, but as it is an elevation of the understanding. Every delight in Truth is not a delight in God! There is a natural delight we have in the contemplation of any sublime truth: this is merely a delight in the work of our own faculties, when the affections are terminated in bare knowledge—as it is a high and mysterious truth, or as it is a delectation to the understanding.
Fourth, we are not merely to study the Word for the comfort of it, and the suitableness to the conscience. As man is a reasonable creature, he will delight in knowledge; and as he has a conscience which presages death and judgment to come, he may delight in the comfort of it. Many search out promises, but do not love precepts. The stony ground seem to have a joy; they may delight in the comfortable part of religion, but this joy comes to nothing—this gladsome forward spring is no sure prognostication of a plentiful harvest. Then only do we receive the Word aright when we look to the holy part, and mortify our natural desires and affections. Many deal with the Word as great men do with fleshly companions—willing to entertain them at their tables—to hear their discourse, because of the pleasantness of their mirth; but to enter into bonds for them, and discharge them from debt, or better their fortunes, that they will not do. So many will give Christ and the Word, especially the comfortable part of it, entertainment; but they are loath to take the duty of the Gospel unto themselves. Therefore it is not enough to study the Word merely that we may cherish our own persons with the comforting part of it, but we must also study the holy part and that which does require our duty. Then let us labour to hide the Word in our hearts as David did: that we may not sin against God.
Condensed by Arthur W. Pink. Originally edited by Emmett O'Donnell for Mt. Zion Publications, a ministry of Mt. Zion Bible Church, 2603 West Wright St., Pensacola, FL 32505. www.mountzion.org