A Fixed Heart

"My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed. I will sing and give praise."—Psalm lvii. 7.

It is easy to say such things when life goes smoothly. But this Psalmist said and meant them, when things were dark with him. He sang himself into confidence and good cheer. In the dark he believed in the dawn. Like flowers that give their perfume after sunset, and are sweetest when the night-dews are falling, this singer's religion grew more fragrant and stronger in the night of sorrow. The repetition of the phrase, " My heart is fixed," with its direct address to God, adds emphasis and leads up to the unalterable determination, " I will sing and give praise," in spite of everything that might cause sobs and tears to choke the song.

Of course, the word heart as used in Scripture covers more ground than with us. It includes "thoughts and intents " as well as affections, and is the very centre of personal life. A fixed heart, then, is not merely a steadfast love, but the .settling of the whole self in unalterable decisiveness on God. But the Psalmist not only speaks for the present, but mortgages the future, and vows that the temper of consecration, communion, and fixed resolve to cleave to God is to be habitual. If our religion is worth anything, it must be a force acting continuously and not merely an intermittent impulse. A child's unsteady and untrained hand draws lines in its copybook which are only too good a symbol of the "crooked wandering ways in which we live," so far as our religion is concerned. But the line should be firm and straight, the same in breadth and unvarying in direction like a sunbeam, homogeneous and equally tenacious throughout like an iron rod. Unless it is thus equable and uniform, it will scarcely sustain the weights that it must bear, or resist the blows that it must encounter.

For fixed hearts we must have fixed determination, not fluctuating and soon broken intentions. We must have steadfast affections, and not fluttering love that, like a butterfly, lights now on this, now on that blossom, but which flies straight as a carrier pigeon to its cote, and bears us direct to God. We must also have continuous realisation of our dependence on God, and of God's sweet sufficiency, going with us through all the day. Fixed determination, steadfast love, constant thought—these, at least, are elements making up the fixed heart of the Psalmist.

Is our average Christianity conformed to such a standard? Our times of such love, desire, and thought are too often separated by long dreary wastes of torpor. This Psalmist, living in the twilight of revelation and weighed upon with sore distress, shames us who are walking in the noonday blaze. The points of brightness in our experiences are far apart; they should be contiguous and confluent.

No doubt such continuity is hard to attain. All emotion tends to wear out, and to become feeble by its very exercise. Moments of elevation are often followed by moments of depression. The higher the crest of the wave, the deeper the trough. Some degree of fluctuation there will always be. Varying conditions of health and other externals will affect the clear-sightedness and vivacity of the spiritual life. Only a barometer that is out of order will always stand at set fair. The vane which never points but to south is rusty and means nothing.

But while there cannot be absolute uniformity, there might and should be a far nearer approach to an equable temperature of a much higher range than the readings of most professingChristians'experiences give. There is, indeed, a dismally uniform arctic temperature in many of them. Their hearts are fixed, truly, but fixed on earth. Their frost is broken by no thaw, their tepid formalism interrupted by no disturbing enthusiasm. We do not now speak of these, but of those who have moments of illumination, of communion, of submission of will, which fade all too soon. To such we would earnestly say that these moments may be prolonged and made more continuous. We need not be at the mercy of our own unregulated feelings. We can control our hearts, and keep them fixed, even if they should wish to wander. If we would possess the blessing of an approximately uniform religious life, we must assert the control of ourselves and use both bridle and spur. A great many religious people seem to think that "good times" come and go, and that they can do nothing to bring or keep or banish them. But that is not so. If the fire is burning low, there is such a thing on the hearth as a poker, and coals are at hand. If we feel our faith falling asleep, are we powerless to rouse it? Cannot we say: I will trust? Let us learn that the variations in our religious emotions are largely subject to our own control, and may, if we will govern ourselves, be brought far nearer to uniformity than they ordinarily are.

The distracting influences of daily duties also tell in the same direction. It is not easy to keep a corner of our hearts clear for the sense of God's presence, when our work calls for the exercise of all our powers. It is difficult; but it is possible. Distractions are made distractions by our own folly and weakness. There is nothing that it is our duty to do, which an honest attempt to do from the right motive could not convert into a positive nelp to getting nearer God. It is for us to determine whether the tasks of life, and this intrusive external and material world, shall veil Him from us, or shall reveal Him to us. It is for us to determine whether we shall make our secular avocation, and its trials, little and great, a means to draw nearer to God, or a means to shut Him out from us, and us from Him. There is nothing but sin incompatible with the fixed heart, the resolved will, the continual communion— nothing incompatible, though there may be much that makes it difficult to realise and preserve these.

Trials and sorrows also strike at this resolve, and when our hearts are bleeding, or aching and empty, it is difficult to say with truth that they are "fixed." Sorrow may shake the heart from its steadfast trust, or in it we may hear "a great voice saying, Come up hither." Rightly taken, it is the best ladder to God; and there is no such praise as comes from the lips that, if they did not praise, must sob, and which praise because we are beginning to learn that evil, as the world calls it, is the stepping-stone to the highest good. "My heart is fixed. I will sing and give praise" may be the voice of the mourner as well as of the prosperous and happy.

In another Psalm this same phrase is employed with a very important and illuminating addition: "His heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord." That is the secret of a fixed heart—continuous faith rooted and grounded in Him. This fluttering, changeful, unreliable, emotional nature will be made calm and steadfast by faith; and duties done in the faith of God will bind us to Him; and sorrows borne and joys accepted in the faith of God will be links in the chain that knits Him to us.

But there will be no such uniformity of religious experience throughout our lives, unless there are frequent times in them in which we go into our chambers and shut our doors about us, and hold communion with our Father in secret. Everything noble and great in the Christian life is fed by solitude, and everything poor and mean and hypocritical and low-toned is nourished by continual absence from the secret place of the Most High. There must be moments of solitary communion, if there are to be hours of strenuous service and a life of continual consecration.

We should not trouble ourselves with the question whether the ideal of the Psalmist can ever be completely realised. We are a long way on this side of such a realisation, and need not be inquisitive as to the final stages which may be or not be possible, until we have advanced at least a few stages further. The pupil beginning his drawing lessons has something better to think about than the question whether he will ever draw as well as Raffaele. Let us pray the prayer, "Unite my heart to fear Thy name," make the resolve, "My heart is fixed, I will sing and give praise," and listen obediently to the command, "He exhorted them all that with purpose of heart they should cleave unto the Lord."