By Richard Alleine (1611-1691)
[That which is] opposed to a fixed heart is a loose one. There is a double looseness.
First, there is such as is the opposite of fixedness, which is the same as lightness and vanity of heart, a whistling in and out, an unstable soul, a slippery heart, that we never know where to have it.
Second, there is such a looseness as is the opposite of strictness; that is the same as licentiousness, and to this I am now to speak. A licentious heart is a distempered heart. The contrary to this distemper is the compliance or closing of the heart with the rule, and keeping to it. The new heart is made after the pattern of Christ, its new Lord. There is the same spirit in a Christian which was in Christ. "As He was, so are we in this world" (1 John 4:17). His very spirit and image is formed upon our hearts. It is conformed to the new law or rule which Christ has proscribed to it, and it stands determined for strictness and exactness of walking, according to this rule whereof the apostle speaks in Galatians 6:16: "As many as walk according to this rule, peace be unto them." That is a strict heart which is determined and disposed to live by rule.
Licentiousness of the heart is the heartís allowing and indulging its liberty and latitude in its course. It takes up Christianity in general, but it will not be held within the limits of it. The strait gate and the narrow way are too strait and too narrow for it. It pretends to have chosen that way, but will break over the hedge as the inclinations and interests of the flesh lead it. In some things it is a Christian, in others things a libertine.
Oh, how much of this licentiousness of heart is to be found among Christians! Among all the Christians among us, how few exact and strict Christians there are whose hearts determine for exactness and strictness of life, who impose and charge upon themselves the whole rule and the diligent observing of every point and tittle of it! Such exactness in point of practice we cannot, in this imperfect state, reach unto. "In many things we offend all" (James 3:2). Our feet slip and our steps turn aside every day: but it is the indulging ourselves a liberty for this tuning aside, or the heartís not charging strictness upon it, that is this licentiousness of heart.
There is a gradual licentiousness of heart, and there is a total licentiousness. A total licentiousness is seen in those who utterly reject the yoke of Christ and will not come under his government, but rather resign themselves up to lust and carnal inclinations to be commander-in-chief over them. They are like those in Ephesians 2:3 who walked "In the lusts of their flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh, and of the mind". Such licentious ones are not Christians; if they have the name, yet the heart of a Christian is not found in them.
Gradual licentiousness is when the heart, though it has put itself under the yoke of Christ, and resigned itself to be governed by him in opposition to the lusts of the flesh and of the world, yet often falls lusting after that liberty from the exactness and severity of Christianity, which in general it has professed to consent and yield its self unto. And though the decree of the soul, for following Christ in everything, is not made void and utterly broken, yet it is so remiss and weak that it will not hold it closely in. Rather, there is a frequent breaking loose from the rule, and the heart too often indulges itself that liberty. How far forth a Christian may break loose from the rule, and how far forth he may indulge and allow himself at times, and yet be a Christian still, is not easy to determine; but this is certain: every degree of this heart looseness is a pernicious distemper that must be watched against, especially if it rises so high that there is a dislike of strictness, and such a groaning under the severities of religion as makes it seem a bondage to be tied up so short. The more of this, the higher the disease is, and the more to be doubted whether such menís Christianity is sound. The strictest Christian is the most healthful Christian, and the most evidently a Christian indeed; and the greater latitude the heart indulges itself in, the more sickly the soul is Ė if it is not quite dead, and no Christian at all.
Friends, you who are Christians indeed (if you know what you have done), you have vowed the greatest strictness possible, that is, to press on towards it, and to reach out after it. You did not covenant to follow Christ to such a degree and no higher; to advance in religion to such a pitch and no more; you did not covenant for this much obedience, this much duty, this much diligence, this much zeal, and no more. If you are a Christian indeed, you have covenanted to follow the Lord fully, to watch to every duty, to watch against every sin, to press on to the highest pitch of holiness, to do the utmost to please the Lord. If there was any reserve in your vow to Christ, of any liberty to the flesh, of any limit of your zeal and care; if there were any such reserve, you are false in your covenant, and are but false Christians.
O friends, have you vowed the greatest strictness? Then watch against the least degrees of looseness. Get a settled judgement of the excellency and necessity of strictness; get a hearty love and good liking of it; let your souls be bent upon it; let it be your desire, your aim, your hope, and your labour to hold close to Christ. And if you would not have licentious practices abound in your life, let no licentious principles, no licentious affections nest themselves in your hearts. See that there is no lust after any other liberty than what Christ has allowed you. Get to be heartily well-pleased with all the laws of Christ, with his narrowest ways.
Yea, and you will find it your greatest liberty; the more holiness, the more enlargement of your hearts to all the holy ways of God Psalm 119:44-45: "I will keep thy law continually . . . and I will walk at liberty". The more we can hold in and inure ourselves to be punctual in our religion, the more freedom we shall find, and with the more ease and delight shall we run the way of Godís commands.
And know this, that by how much the more loose you are from the ways of God, by so much the more loose you are from God; and what will you have to comfort you, what will you have to sweeten religion to you, while God is at a distance from you? Hold fast to Him, and you shall live more under His reviving and refreshing influences. Religion has its troubles and its harshness, and you will have little else than the harshness of it no longer than you keep close to the Lord. A smile from his face Ė this is the sweetness, this is the blessedness. Keep close to God and you shall keep the passage clear between heaven and your hearts.
Loose religion will keep you still in the dark, and in a weary and uncomfortable state. There is no such way to make Christís ways pleasant as by keeping constantly in them; no such way to make Christís yoke easy as by holding it close to your necks; it never so galls and wrings but when it hangs loosely. Resolve upon strictness, and you shall taste the sweetness. Hold in from running after the pleasures of the flesh, and the face of God will be a pleasure to you, which the distemper of a loose and carnal heart will certainly deprive you of, and hinder you from the relish, or finding delight therein.
Listlessness is a dull, untoward, sluggish, unactive, lifeless temper, where the edge of our spirits is blunted insomuch that whatever opportunities we have, or whatever calls we have to be doing for God or our souls, we have no desire to do them, but through the waywardness and untowardness of our hearts, we let them slip, and either do nothing, or nothing to purpose. This is a wretched and pernicious temper.
It is an ungrateful and unpleasing work to us; our hearts are so contrary to it that we would rather be anywhere than with God; we would rather be about any work than the work of our souls. We can be brisk and sprightly about our carnal and earthly employments; but for anything of religion, there we drag and go heavy on. We are all soul and life in what we have to do for our flesh, but are hearts hang backward, and come heavily and untowardly on to do anything for God. This is from the little interest that God has in our souls, and the little affection we bear to Him.
It is an ill sign. What ill sign is it? ĎTis a sign of lack of grace; it is a sign that either we have no grace at all, or at least are but very low in the grace of God; that our day is yet but a day of small things. Where is our faith in Christ when we are so backward in the work of grace? Where is our love for Christ when our work for Christ goes so slowly on? The love of Christ will quicken us; the love of Christ will put life into us. We would find our tongues, find our hands, and find time to be more abundant in service if we could feel more of the love of Christ in us. You make nothing of it, you who are such dull, untoward, unactive souls; but is it nothing to lack faith? Is it nothing to lack love for Christ? Is it nothing to be without grace in your hearts? Or, if you have any, to have so very little that you cannot tell whether there is any or not? It is an ill sign that your soul is in a very doubtful case; it is at least to be doubted whether you have any grace in you, where you are ordinarily so untoward and listless to the matters of God and the business of religion.
This is a sign that our case is bad, and it is a hindrance from our growing better. It is a vivacious, active, stirring soul that is likely to be a thriving soul. Sluggards and sleepers are never likely to come to anything. We may preach to you until our hearts ache; we may instruct you, and tell you what is your duty while we will, and you may hear us while you will; but in vain shall we preach, and in vain will you hear, till we can fire you out of this deadness, and whet and set an edge upon those blunted souls. What will it be to be told of your duty, while you remain to have so little heart for it? What becomes of all the sermons you hear, of all the teaching you receive about what you should do and how you should live? What becomes of all the convincing, awakening, quickening words that are in your ears from day to day?
Sinners, is it nothing to you that the enlivening Word should leave you still among the dead? Christians, is it nothing to you that the nourishing and quickening Word should leave you but babes and infants? Can you continue at this pace and not be troubled by it? Oh, what a comfort it is to be a thriving, lively Christian! I think, when you see any such before your eyes, you should at least sigh out such a wish, "Oh, that it were so with me," and breath out such a groan, "Woe is me that it is not so." I think it should be a heaviness of heart to you to feel your own soul in clogs when you see others upon the wing. Oh, that I could make you sensible of your diseases, that I could preach your hearts sick, that I could but make your hearts ache under your distempers, so that you might no longer be able to go up and down without trouble in this unthriving case. Surely, friends, you whose case is this, need to be troubled; and it would be well for you if your souls were in pain, and refused to be comforted till you were cured.
To make you yet more sensible of the perniciousness of this untoward, dull, and listless temper, look a little more upon the excellence of the contrary: a cheerful, lively temper. It is called in 2 Corinthians 8:17 a "forward mind." 1 Peter 5:2 calls it a "ready mind," that needs not to be spurred and whipped, but goes cheerfully and freely on its way. What is a sprightly horse to a dull and worn out nag? What is a blunt and rusty knife to one that is bright and keen? What is a consumptive, languishing body to one that is lively and healthy? What is a dark and lowering day to a sunshiny one? What is winter to summer? Yea, what are the living to the dead? What a pitiful thing is that dead and spiritless heart of yours when you look on them in whom is the life of God!
Hear, O you sleepy and listless souls; awaken, stir up yourselves; shake off this sloth and sleep; work out this untoward spirit. What, do you mean to hang thus between being alive and dead? Will you hold yourself on this course until you come to your graves? Is this all the care and the pains you ever mean to bestow on God and your souls? Why do you have reason and understanding then? Why do you have the Scriptures before you? What are Sabbaths, ordinances, and ministers for? Must we come here only to sing you to sleep or to rock you in your cradles? Where is that grace that is in you? Where is your faith? Where is your love for Christ? Where is your hope? What, must all these precious talents be eaten up with rust or laid in a napkin? Remember the slothful servantís doom (Matthew 25:30). What are your immortal souls? What is the Holy God? What is Jesus Christ? What are the glorious treasures of eternity? Are all these worth no more of your care and industry? Will none of these things move you? Hear them all calling upon you.
God calls to you, "O my children, if you have any respect for Me, come along; come up faster after Me."
Christ calls, "O My disciples, if you have any love for Me; if all that I have done for you, if all that I will do for you, will move you, arise and mend your pace."
Heaven calls to you, "If ever you mean to come here, gird up your loins and come on."
Yea, hell calls, "Look down here at what a place is here prepared for sleepers and loiterers."
Your poor souls call out to you, "Do you have any pity for me? Must I perish and die for your pleasing this lazy flesh?"
Your poor families call, your poor children call, your poor neighbours call (which all need the utmost you can do for them), "Where are your mercies toward us? For our sakes, awaken! For our sakes, arise and be doing. We will die if you will not give us a better example. If you sleep on, who will awaken and save us?"
The whole interest of God in the world calls upon you; for His nameís sake, for the Gospelís sake, for the Churchís sake, for Religionís sake, which sinks, which decays; for the sake of all these, recover your souls and your life.
O friends, what shall all these loud cries do to you? Shall all leave you such lumps and loiterers? And what if after all this, you should go away just as you came here? Though the bellows have been blowing, yet your ashes are not purged away; though the fire has been kindled, yet it will not burn. Do what you can, friends, every one of you, to help in your own recovery, to get up to this lively active frame; and if you can obtain it, then look to your hearts as long as you live, so that, if it is possible, this wretched distemper of a leaden, unuseful, lifeless, listless, inactive heart may never return upon you.
A chapter taken from Instructions about Heartwork slightly edited.