RELIGION OF THE HEART
The basic content of a sermon preached
August 9, 1998,
in memory of Charlotte Vater (February 19, 1943 - July 21, 1998)
In Genesis 17:1 the Lord spoke to Abraham saying, I am the Almighty God; walk before me and be perfect. The idea is: Walk before me as if I were visible to you, and you were conscious of my Presence. This commandment captures the soul of true piety. It demands what is called religion of the heart, and that is the matter I would like to address, illustrating it in its various aspects with quotations that my wife extracted from her readings, not so that I would use them, but for her own good.
Before going into the subject I would like to clarify two things:
1) I dare to preach this memorial sermon, not because I'm a strong man, but because in our thirty-three years of marriage Charlotte supported the ministry in health or in sickness. I don't think she would be happy if I remain paralized with too much sadness. She cared about these things.
I have been through much sadness and am still in pain. I wrote this sermon with tears in my eyes, but I have tried to think of the pure joy and delight Charlotte has, seeing the glory of Christ Jesus, free from all suffering and fear, enjoying Him forever. Her constant wish was that God would be glorified through her sickness. The day she received the positive results of her bone scan she wrote to her sister telling her she was ready to part from this life if her departure were for the conversion of persons who were not ready to leave. Never did she ask, Why me? She wanted to glorify God and not bring shame to the Gospel, and God granted the wishes of her heart.
2) Another clarification deals with the question of whether it is legitimate to refer to a person in a worship service. We strive to follow only what God ordains. We must not do anything without biblical authorization. We see in Hebrews 12:1 that we are compassed about with a great cloud of witnesses. God has given us the stories of His faithful, including women like Sarah and the mother of Moses, to give us encouragement.
We also remember that Christ Jesus referred to the deed of the woman that anointed Him with perfume and said that wherever the gospel was announced, men would speak of this deed.
If the example of anybody serves to show the glory of Christ, then we should be thankful to God and not be afraid to point to that example.
Proverbs 10:7 - The memory of the just is blessed, but the name of the wicked shall rot.
Charlotte has been a good example in many things. We all know how she was present in all the church services unto the end, even singing with us to the very last Wednesday she was with us.
I think it would help you appreciate my wife's example if you consider the following. She graduated with a major in Bible and theology. She studied biblical Greek for three years after finishing one year of Latin as prerequisite. In Puerto Rico she took part in a Hebrew class. I say that because my wife did not talk about her achievements or knowledge of the Bible or theology or languages. Being the good mother that she was she could not follow up on her studies of Greek and Hebrew, but with the background of her studies, she always read the Scriptures carefully in
English or Spanish, often using Matthew Henry's Commentary, taking notes of many things that would help her retain what she thought was important so she would be the woman of God, and the wife and mother she longed to be.
I emphasize her Bible reading. I would give a false representation if I do not insist on this, because the majority of the notes I have used were taken from the readings she did besides her daily reading of the Bible and those done in family worship. I found quotations from the works of Thomas Brooks and notes taken from a book about how to avoid wandering thoughts during the worship of God. There are quotations from a book on feminine piety and also from Spurgeon, Baxter and others. (The quotations in this sermon are from Brooks unless otherwise noted.) All this reading was done in spite of her many chores. She always tried to make the most of the Lord's Day.
At the beginning I said that in a way the soul of personal piety is to walk in the presence of God.
In reading Charlotte's notes, what impressed me was the support the quotations give to the pressing need to live above all in the presence of God, in the secret duties and in a practical faith. What some call religion of the heart is the core of the majority of the quotes jotted down by her, or changing the figure of speech, it is the glue that holds her notes together. Though I was impressed, it did not surprise me because ever since I knew her she was like that.
I. The need to have religion of the heart. In other words, it is the need to have a new heart as promised in the new covenant -- see Ezekiel 36:26, 27.
Any reader of the Bible must admit that above all things our Creator demands supreme love for Himself, love from the heart; love that is shown in joyful obedience to His commandments, but love that comes from the depths of our being. He also demands that we fear Him and desire Him with all that is in us (Matthew 10:28; Psalm 63:1ff). Proverbs 4:23 says, Keep the heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.
When God became flesh in the glorious person of His Son Jesus Christ, then this need for religion of the heart was made extremely obvious. For example, the Lord Jesus came to establish the new covenant. This covenant guarantees that all who are included in it will have the laws of God put in their minds and written on their hearts (see Hebrews 8:6-13).
This is evident in the teachings of Jesus Christ. In the Sermon on the Mount, He said that the righteousness of His disciples is not a visible or external righteousness, like that of the majority of the Jewish leaders (Matthew 5:20). It consisted of attitudes and thoughts that only God can know and judge so that even anger against a brother is a form of murder, and looking at a woman to lust after her is adultery in the heart (Matthew 5:22,28).
Especially His teaching in Matthew chapter 6 shows us that we have to live our entire life before the God that sees in secret and do everything, not for man's praise, but for the glory of God (Matthew 6:3-6, 17-18). See also Matthew 15:7-20 and 23:25-28. Jesus said, Cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.
This is the Lord that said, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3-5).
According to the gospel given by the Lord to the apostle Paul, God will judge through Christ the secrets of the heart in the last day (Romans 2:16). We could continue heaping verse upon verse, but these should be enough to persuade the conscience of the pressing and absolute need to have a new heart, full of love for God, fearful of God and desirous of God -- a heart that manifests itself in words of grace, righteousness and wisdom, and in love of mankind, especially those of like faith.
Quotations that Charlotte extracted that reflect this great truth:
"The body itself, if you set too high a price upon it, will make a cheap soul; and he is the most unhappy man whose outside is his best side."
"He who has his thoughts best employed when alone, will best use his tongue when in company."
"When great men come into the congregation, then men look; but when the poor, trembling hearer comes in then God looks." Isaiah 66:2
"When the soul is separated from the body the man is dead, and so when the heart is separated from the lip in prayer, the prayer is dead."
"God looks not at the elegancy of your prayers, to see how neat they are; nor yet at the geometry...to see how long they are; ...the arithmetic...how many; ...the music ...the sweetness of your voice; ...the logic ...but at the sincerity of your prayers, how hearty they are."
II. Evidence of religion of the heart.
A. The righteous heart does not neglect secret duties, especially the duty of secret prayer, according to the words of our Lord in Matthew 6:5-13. We can note what she copied here regarding this theme:
"As secret meals make fat bodies, so secret duties make fat souls; and as secret trades bring in great earthly riches, so secret prayers make many rich in spiritual blessings and in heavenly riches."
"Some spend so much time between the comb and the glass, ...that they can find no time for private prayer."
"Certainly such as had rather go sleeping to hell than sweating to heaven will never care much for private prayer."
B. The righteous heart concerns itself with the presence of God and directs its life before God's holy, righteous, merciful and compassionate presence, "not falling into the ditch of desperation on one side, nor in that of presumption on the other." From her notes we have the following:
"Shall the eye of the master keep the servant from idling and trifling? Shall the eye of the father keep the child from wandering and gadding? Shall the eye of the husband, a near neighbor, a bosom friend...keep you from many... vanities... And shall not the strict, the pure, the jealous eye of an all seeing God keep you from sinning in the secret chamber, when all curtains are drawn, doors bolted and everyone in the house abed or abroad but you and your Delilah? Oh, what dreadful atheism is bound up in that man's heart, who is more afraid of the eye of his father, his pastor, his child, his servant, than he is of the eye, the presence of the eternal God?"
C. The righteous heart never trusts for its salvation in any of its duties done in secret or in public. It does not trust in the flesh. It glories in God as the only source of life and salvation. See Ephesians 2:8-10; l Corinthians 1:26-31; Romans 3:19, 20; 4:1-8; etc.
Let us see two more quotations:
"Open wickedness slays her thousands, but a secret resting upon duties slays her ten thousands. Open profaneness is the broad dirty way that leads to hell, but closet duties rested in is a sure way, though a cleaner way to hell."
"It is not your closet but your Christ that must save you. If a man be not interested in Christ, he may perish with an 'Our Father' in his mouth".
Conclusion and applications.
Our sister in the faith and my wife by the grace of God knew these things and lived her life in conformity to them, not in a sinless conformity, but in substantial and sincere conformity. She also noted, "If God for your portion will not content you, all the world willnever content you".
"There is not a headache, not a toothache, not a gripe, not a grief, not a fall, not a wrench, not a plague-sore, but is a divine warning to man to prepare to die".
And now, I ask you, What will become of you in the day in which God shall judge through Christ the secrets of your heart? The good news for everyone that follows the Lord Jesus Christ is that there will be no condemnation, but anyone that only honors God with his lips, but his heart
is far from Him, that person will not escape the wrath of Him who can destroy soul and body in hell. The secrets of the heart will be judged. Although that does not seem to be good news, it is part of the message of the gospel. The gospel is good news for all those that will be saved from condemnation by what Christ has done in the new covenant in His blood.
One of Charlotte's favorite books was written by the Scottish preacher of the 19th century, Horatius Bonar, How Shall I Go To God? In the first chapter it says, "It is with our sins that we go to God, for we have nothing else to go with that we can call our own. This is one of the lessons that we are so slow to learn; yet without learning this we cannot take one right step in that which we call a religious life."
Come with your sins to Christ Jesus that you may be saved from them and their consequences.
Basic content of a message preached in Spanish by Noble Vater in the Berean Baptist Church the 9th of August 1998.
Translated by Carmen Alejandro de Gir?.
Pastor Noble Vater. (Tel. 787/765-7524; email: NVater@compuserve.com)
The booklet How Shall I Go To God can be obtained by writing to:
Chapel Library, 2603 W. Wright St., Pensacola, FL 32505.
Berean (Reformed) Baptist Church
1825 San Alejandro (Urb. San Ignacio)
R? Piedras, PR 00927-6819.
Tel. (787) 753-0718; tel/fax (787) 764-6175.
The Reformed Reader Home Page
Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved