The NECESSITY of keeping the SOUL.


By GILBERT TENNENT, A. M. Minister of the Gospel at Philadelphia.

[...] xix. 16.

He that keepeth the Command­ [...] keepeth his own Soul; but he that des­ [...] his Ways shall die.

[...] 23.

Keep thy Heart with all Dili­ [...] For out of it are the Issues of Life.

[...] Printed by WILLIAM [...] Sign of the Bible in Second-Street.


Only take heed to thy Self, and keep thy Soul diligently, least thou forget the Things which thine Eyes have seen, and least they depart from thy Heart, all the Days of thy Life.

MY Brethren, seeing the Soul is the great Seat of Principles and Source of Action, it follows necessarily from thence, that the chief Points of Practical Religion are these two, namely, First, to use all proper Means to get it right set or fixed upon suitable Objects, and then to keep it so against all Temptations to the contrary. Attempts to regulate the Speech and Life, are like to be but of little Service, while in the mean Time the Thoughts and Tendencies of the Soul are neglected, and suffered to run at random without Notice and controul, like a Vessel a-drift without a Compass or Helm, wandering wherever the Winds or Waves carry her: For when the Soul is neglected, the bad Temper here­by contracted, must needs have a corrupt [Page 4] Influence upon the whole Behaviour, of which it is the Parent.

As we cannot be truly religious at all un­til our Souls be thoroughly renewed by di­vine Influence; so we cannot make Pro­gress in Religion unless we keep a strict Guard over their Temper and Motions.

All outward Services before the Heart is changed, is like a Building without a Foun­dation, (especially when depended on,) and all care and pains to regulate the Speech and Practice afterwards, while the Heart is ne­glected, are like endeavours to regulate a Watch, by observing or trying to alter the Motions of the Wheels, while the Main-Spring is not touched, in which the chief Fault lies.

Moses therefore with great Reason ex­horts the People of Israel to this Duty, in the Words of our Text, and enforces his Entreaty by a weighty Argument; only take heed to thy self, and keep thy Soul diligently: i. e. particularly, especially and above all, be careful and diligent in the use of all proper Means to keep thy Soul from Sin; the Soul being the principal and most noble Part of Man, may be justly called himself; and he [Page 5] that keeps it takes heed to himself to pur­pose, and only he. Here it may be ob­served, That this Duty is recommended in our Text in the singular Number, that so every Person may be the rather induced to apply it to himself, as if it were directed to him particularly by name; and hence we may infer, That the more close and distinct pub­blick Discourses are, they better they are like to answer their Design, for generals do not strike.

Now the Argument that inspired Moses offers to press the preceeding Duty is this, viz. That unless the People of Israel per­formed it, they would forget the Mercies and Judgments of God, and loose the Impressi­ons of them; least thou forget the Things which thine Eyes have seen, and least they depart from thy Heart. Moses here refers to the manifold Appearances of divine Pow­er and Mercy, which the People of Israel had beheld in their Deliverances from Egyp­tian Oppressors, and all the other Enemies which laboured to obstruct their Passage in­to the promised Canaan, as well as the Dis­plays of divine Glory and Goodness at Horeb; and likewise the Judgments of God inflicted [Page 6] on impenitent Transgressors among them­selves. Now the Remembrance and Sense of these Things, tended to encrease their Love to God and fear of him and incite Obedience to his Laws; which were but just returns of Gratitude for the invaluable Benefits they had received, and of the last Necessity to secure their highest Honour and their dearest Interests, both in this Life and that to come. But the contrary thereof, viz. Forgetfulness and Stupidity, served to prepare the Way for their Sin and Ruin!

By the Word Soul in our Text, is intend­ed that spiritual and immortal Substance endowed with Understanding and Will; which it has pleased the great Creator to confer upon Man, by which he is distin­guished from, and advanced above the Brute-Creation. This is frequently called the Heart in Scripture, * to signify that it is the chief and most noble Part of Man, the Source of Life and spring of Action. The Terms Soul and Heart are doubtless synony­mous (or of the same import) in our Text, as appears by comparing both Parts thereof together.

[Page 7]In Discoursing upon this Subject I shall endeavour to shew what is supposed by, and imply'd in keeping the Soul diligently, and then proceed to the Improvement.

And, First: Keeping the Soul, supposes the good State and Frame of it, for what is not good cannot be kept so.

The Soul of Man indeed at his first Crea­tion, was adorn'd with the divine Image, which consisted in Knowledge, Righteous­ness and Holiness, with Dominion over the Creatures. The Mind was furnish'd with divine Light, and the Will and Affections with pious Propensities: Neither was their any vicious Taint in any of the Faculties to mar their religious Tendencies.

But when our first Parents violated the Covenant of Works, their primitive Integri­ty was entirely lost; a universal Disorder seiz'd the human Soul, and corrupted all its Powers; Darkness possess'd the Mind, and a complicated Depravity the Will and Af­fections: So that their natural and general Byass is towards Sin and Vanity!

And hence a Renovation of them, or Re­storation to some Degree of that moral Image [Page 8] of God, which they have lost becomes ne­cessary in order to communion with God here, and the enjoyment of him hereafter. The native Darkness of the Mind must be banished and the Light of Day introduced. The Obstinacy of the Will broken, and 't made plyant to the Will of God; the Disorder of the Affections removed, and they fix'd in their free, general and supreme Bent, upon God and divine Objects. Before this Change passes upon the Soul, it can't be kept in a holy Frame; and therefore this shou'd be first sought after with the utmost Vehemence: And indeed, 'till this be ob­tained, the Foundation of vital Piety is not laid. Hence our Lord enjoins us, First, to make the Tree good and then the Fruit will be good.

Secondly: The Command of keeping the Soul supposes, the liableness even of the renewed Person to neglect his Soul, and wander from God like a lost Sheep, because of remaining Corruption. Altho' the govern­ing Power of Sin be broke in the Regenerate, yet there is in them Flesh as well as Spirit, the old as well as the new Man; a Law in their Members waring against the Law of [Page 9] from their Minds: This corrupt Principle lusts against the Spirit, tempts them to backslide from God, and sometimes leads them captive. * The numerous Falls of the Saints of God recorded in Scripture, are incontestible Evi­dences of this awful Truth. The best of Men are in Danger of the worst of Sins while on this Stage of Temptation; and especially at such Seasons, when they neglect their own Hearts, and rest upon Grace receiv'd.

It is true, neglecting and overlooking the Heart generally, because it is hidden from the World, and taking care to regulate the Life chiefly for the sake of Applause or any other selfish End; is doubtless the Character of Hypocrites: And hence our Lord reprov­ed the Pharisees for cleansing the out side of the Cup and Plater, while the inside was ne­glected.

On the Contrary, gracious Persons no doubt (for the general) are chiefly careful of their Hearts: Yet in times of spiritual Desertions and Decays, when with the Churches of Ephesus and Sardis, they for­get [Page 10] their first Love and fall from their first Works, and the Things that remain are ready to die, they may for a Time under the Power of Temptation, sadly neglect their own Hearts!

Thirdly, This Command of keeping the Soul, supposes the evil Nature and dange­rous Consequences of neglecting it. As this is a manifest Violation of God's Authority and Contempt of his Love; so it is hurtful in its Fruits to our selves and others; this robs us of our Peace and Comfort, this weakens our Hope and mars our Joy, as well as hinders our usefulness. When the Soul is neglected, the gust or relish of divine Things gradually abates, and we grow cold and insipid in our religious Performances; the World greatens in our Eyes, and thro' want of a proper Guard, we are the more easily ensnared by its Temp­tations, and being ensnared our Minds are perplex'd with guilt, and our Evidences for Heaven, blotted and eclipsed: Now do not Deadness and slavish Fear indispose us to speak and act for God, as well as make us very uncomfortable in our selves?

But this is not all, while Persons neglect their own Hearts, the View of their own [Page 11] Iniquities being hid from them, they are in danger of being lifted up with Pride, and inclin'd to a censorious Severity, concerning the Conduct of others; who are, perhaps, more advanced in Knowledge and Goodness than themselves; which Iniquity is as pre­judicial to the Peace and Benefit of Society, as it is contrary to the Word of God, which enjoyns us to be merciful as he is merciful, and assures us, that he shall have Judgment without Mercy, who hath shewed no Mercy.

I might add, that thro' Neglect of the Heart some are suddenly involv'd into those crimson Impieties, which bring Re­proach upon the Name, Ways and Peo­ple of God, as well as harden the Hearts of the Wicked; and thus they do grea­ter Injury in a little Time to Religion, then they have done Good in the past Space of their Lives. O lamentable! should not therefore the Psalmist's Petition respecting this be often in our Hearts and Mouths? Let none that seek thee he ashamed for my sake Lord God of Hosts! *

[Page 12]Surely Brethren the Disorders of the Tongue and of the Life, do generally flow from the Neglect of the Heart. But to proceed,

Fourthly, This command of keeping the Soul diligently, supposes the Difficulty of it, which arises partly from the Deceitfulness, and desperate Wickedness that is in it, and partly from the innumerable Tempta­tions to Sin, which are injected into it by the Devil and the World, all which it is very Difficult to oppose. Moreover tho' the Souls Affections are sometimes warmly engag'd to­wards God and Religion by the Spirits In­fluence, yet so soon as that is withdrawn, they return to their Native Coldness by Degrees, as warm Water taken from the Fire, or the Earth when the Sun withdraws his beamy Warmth far from the Horizon: now it is exceeding difficult to withstand Deadness, when it comes upon us like an arm'd Man.

And that which renders this Work the more Difficult, is the Constancy of it, it must be continu'd in to our dying Breath; if we intermit but a few Moments we [Page 13] run a dreadful Risque of incurring the Consequences before mentioned. To keep the outside tolerably regular, and to per­form Duties with a careless Frame of Heart, is no great Matter, and does not require great Labour.

But to withstand all Temptations to Sin, and labour for the Crucifixtion of it; with Groans that cannot be uttered! To strive in the faithful Use of all proper Means, to preserve good Impressions, and to stir up our selves to take hold on God in every Duty, and that not only when he is present with us, but absent from us. O this is exceeding Difficult! and is therefore justly compar'd by our Lord to a strait Gate and narrow Way. Such as do mind their own Hearts, will find Work enough there, without being busie Bodies in other Mens Matters.—

In the mean Time let me observe my Brethren, that tho' the keeping of our Souls is exceeding Difficult, yet thro' Mercy it is not an impossible and hopeless Task. Allbeit considered in ourselves we are not equal to it, yet he who enjoyns it, is able [Page 14] to assist us in the Performance of it: Thro' Christ we can do all Things, but without his Assistance and Influence we can do no­thing to Purpose in Religion. ††

I proceed to shew what is imply'd in keeping the Soul, and here I may observe. That it implies in General, the earnest and constant Use of all appointed Means to keep the Soul from Sin, and preserve its Sense of divine Things: And hence we are bid to keep our selves in the Love of God. But particularly,

First, It implies, our Jealousie and Watch­fullness over the Thoughts, Affections, and Designs of our Souls. We should be jealous over them with a godly Jealousie, least a deceived Heart turn us aside, and we feed upon Ashes and die with a Lye in our Right Hand. The Heart by Nature is a grand Cheat. And even after Conversion so much of that Falacy remains as should put us constantly upon our Guard. ‡‡ Surely as Solomon observes, There is a Way which seems right to a Man, the End whereof is Death. * And elsewhere he informs us, That [Page 15] every Way of Man is Right in his own Eyes, but the Lord ponders the Hearts. It is therefore no wonder that he declares him to be a Fool, that trusteth in his Heart, and on the Contrary pronounces a blessing on the Man that feareth always. * And as we should beware of believing rashly, and confidently the Notions of our Hearts without a strict Tryal of them by the Law and the Testimony, to which, except we attend and abide by, the Prophet declares that there is no Light in us. So we should keep a constant Watch over the Thoughts of our Souls that the Disorders thereof may be seasonably suppressed, at their first rise, before they come to a Head. And hence our Lord has frequently recommended the Duty of Watchfulness. That which I say unto you all, I say Watch. Without this we are in a very perilous Situation, seeing we are in an Enemy's Country, and have a Traitor within the Walls. ‡‡

Secondly, Keeping our Souls, implies our faithful opposing the first Risings of Corrup­tion in them, and a careful avoiding of those [Page 16] Things that tend to inflame them. We are bid to resist the Devil, and inform'd, that he will fly from us, †† i. e. in the Way of Duty we may expect a Conquest over him, but not otherwise: We must therefore wrestle with Principalities and Powers, and spiritual Wickednesses in high Places, Sin is most easily suppressed, and Temptati­ons thereto repell'd in their Beginnings; but by our Delays they gain Strength, and then like a formidable Torrent, resistless bear down all before them.

And seeing our Corruptions are apt to be inflamed by the Presence of some Objects, it is therefore necessary to keep at a Distance from them, and thereby avoid the Appear­ances of Evil. If we pray as we are di­rected, that we be not led into Temptation, and yet run unnecessarily into it, do we not contradict our Prayers by our Practice, as well as betray our Insincerity, and tempt the righteous God to forsake us, and suffer our Enemies to ensnare and triumph over us? We cannot sincerely and consistently labour to keep our Souls from error in prin­ciple [Page 17] and Evils in Practice, without a con­scientious avoiding those Things that tend to seduce and corrupt us.

Thirdly, Keeping the Soul, implys a fre­quent Examination of its Thoughts and Ten­dencies, together with a bitter bewailing over the Evils that we discern in them. How can we be suitably affected with the Case of our Souls, unless we know it: And can this be reasonably expected without Enquiry? No surely! It is therefore highly necessary, attentively to observe the Dispositions of our Souls; and impartially, as well as fre­quently, to examine them by the Touch­stone of God's Word. * This is the Way to know the plague-sore of our own Hearts, which is necessary to excite our just Sorrows for it, and the Way in which we can only on a scriptural Foundation, expect the Ac­ceptance of our Supplications. Our Lord pronounces a Blessing upon those that mourn▪ and assures us that they shall be comforted. And the Prophet Zachariah informs us, that when a Spirit of Prayer is poured out, ac­cording to the Promise of the New Cove­nant, [Page 18] and Persons are enabled by Faith to behold a pierced Redeemer, they weep bitterly, as one for the Loss of a first born. And certainly the Sins of the Soul, which are the fatal Sources of those that taint the Life, require our sadest Sorrows! The Psal­mist lamented his being conceived in sin; ** And Hezekiah humbled himself for the Pride of his Heart, together with the Inhabitants of Jerusalem, and the Wrath of God was turned from them all his Days ††.

Fourthly, Keeping the Soul implys, frequent and humble Supplications to God, for the enlightning and sanctifying Influences of his Holy Spirit, without which we cannot be preserved; as well as a realizing of his Om­nipresence. And hence the Psalmist prayed, that God would unite his Heart to fear his Name; * and signifies how much he was affected with the Thoughts of God's being every where present, and observing every Thought of his Mind, as well as every In­stance of his outward Behaviour. ‡‡ It is indeed Needful to be continually sensible of our Ignorance and Weakness to perform [Page 19] Duty aright; and under a humble Impression thereof, to attempt it, in the mean Time earnestly imploring divine Assistance, and believingly relying on the Mediator for it. Indeed, without frequent lifting up of the Heart to God by ejaculatory Prayer, as the various Occasions of Life require, the savour of Piety will gradually languish in our Souls. The Improvement of this Subject yet remains.

Methinks, Sirs, what has been said, of­fers Matter of Reproof to those who wholly neglect their Souls, and depend on outward Acts of Worship: Surely that God who is a Spirit, will not accept of bodily Worship without the Spirit. Those who habitually neglect their Souls and rely on externals, are Hypocrites in Religion, like the Phari­sees of old; their sacred Service is abhorred by God! and their Persons will be finally rejected of him, if they continue in this Case. For except our Righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, the Mouth of Truth has told us, we can in no case enter into the Kingdom of God. *

[...]d such are likewise to be reproved, [Page 20] who, tho' they have the root of the Matter in them, slumber and sleep with the foolish Virgins; and for a Time in some Degree neglect their Souls, which causes leaness in them, and an unsavirousness, if not some­thing worse, in their Speech, as well as Barenness and Disorders in Life.

The Neglect of the Soul, my Brethren, soon manifests it self in the Practice: What but this, is the Cause of Debates, Envyings, Wraths, Strifes, Backbitings, Whisperings, Swellings, Tumults? which are so disho­nourable and detrimental to Religion!

Surely all such as neglect their own Souls, are guilty of rebellion against God's Autho­rity, and ingratitude against his Love. For which of all God's Kindnesses do they thus requite him? O that such would con­sider the Evil of their Negligence, as well as the Injury they thereby do to themselves, and the Way they prepare to do mischief to others! For when Persons neglect their own Souls, then are they disposed to be most severe and critical upon others Con­duct, and that in such a Way as has no Tendency to reform it. But

[Page 21]I proceed to exhort those that are uncon­verted, to use all proper Means to get new Hearts, without which change, the Heart cannot be kept holy. O! plow up the fal­low Ground of your Hearts and sow not among Thorns! Cleanse your Hands ye Sinners, and purify your Hearts ye double Minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep, and let your Laughter be turned into mourn­ing, and your Joy into Heaviness. *

I likewise exhort, in the Name of the LORD JESUS CHRIST, those that are con­verted, to keep their Souls in the Manner before represented.

Without this, my dear Brethren! you will forget the Mercies which your Eyes have seen, and loose the thankful Impression of them, which is as ungrateful to God as it is pre­judicial to your Progress in Piety.

Again, Sirs, you should keep the Soul! because it is the Fountain of Action; from hence sayeth Solomon are the Issues of Life. All vital Actions flow from the Heart, and therefore keeping it is like casting Salt into the Spring to heal it. In the Heart is the Treasury of good and evil, which appears in [Page 22] the Practice, as our Lord observes. It is from the Heart that the Tongue speaks and the Hand acts; and therefore Heart-Disor­ders are like Errors of the first Concoction, which cannot be rectified afterwards; and hence it is so necessary to keep our Hearts with all keeping; we should keep our Eyes, our Tongues, but above all our Hearts, only take heed to thy self and keep thy Soul diligently.

By this, God will be glorified, not only by your Obedience to this particular Precept, but by a holy Conversation issuing from it; which is one of the most beautiful Orna­ments and strongest Attractives to invite others to sincere Religion.

By this, my Brethren, your Love to Jehovah-Jesus will be encreased, which disposes to speak of him, and to him, with seriousness and savour; for surely, as Solomon observes, the Mouth of the Righteous speaketh wisdom, * and love will likewise constrain you to bring forth much fruit, whereby, our Lord informs us, his Father is glorified.

By this, Sirs, your Humility will be en­larged, by a farther Discovery of that Depth of Abominations which is in your Hearts; [Page 23] this will sweetly incline you to Meekness and Mercy, to candor and Charity, which hopes all things, which suffers long and is kind.—And what can be more amiable in it self, and useful to us and others than Humility? Seeing the High and lofty One who inhabits Eternity, dwells with such; tho' he resists the Proud, yet he gives Grace to the humble. O! what Charms are there in Humility, to allure the respectful Atten­tion of Mankind to our Speeches and Acti­ons. But to proceed,

By this, (I mean by keeping your Souls) our Peace of Mind will be preserv'd, and our joy encreas'd. The Lord has graciously promis'd, to keep him in perfect Peace whose Mind is stayed on him. Tho' God gives di­vine Joy freely, yet usually in such a Way as encourages the Diligence of his Creatures in Religion.

By this, our Evidences for Heaven will be confirm'd, which is an inestimable and soul-supporting Privilege; and hence we are com­manded to give all Diligence to make our Calling and Election sure: Intimating that this is the only Way in which we can expect the Assurance of Salvation. In the Way of Sloth and Negligence, (whatever seemingly [Page 24] spiritual Apoligies are made for it, notwith­standing) we are more like to meet with the Devil's Delusions, than with the holy Spirit's comforting and sealing Influences. *

By this, in a Word, all our Graces are like to be strengthned, for to him that hath shall be given, i. e. to him who believingly labours to improve what he hath, more shall be given.

Keeping the Soul as it tends to prevent Guilt, Distance from God, and Deadness in Duty, so it of consequence lays the Person open as it were, to divine Influence, which drops like the Dew of Hermon on the Moun­tains of Zion. Without this we cannot grow in Goodness, but by it we are fed and nou­rished as with Marrow and Fatness.

We are commanded, my Brethren! to grow in Grace; which, doubtless, implys our earnest use of means for that end, among which, that of keeping the Soul is a principal One; in this Way we may humbly hope, that Christ will dwell in our Hearts by Faith, and that we shall be rooted and grounded in Love, and so be prepar'd for the various Tryals which await us in this present World of change, labour and misery, and be at last receiv'd into the Mansions of Blessedness: Which may God grant for Christ's sake.


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