With All Your Heart: Orienting Your Mind, Desires and Will toward Christ, by A. Craig Troxel. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020, 220 pages, $13.39, paper.

Every redeemed saint aspires to love God with all his heart—nothing is more precious to him than cultivating a heart for God. But what is the heart? Like so many frequently used words, it can be spoken without much thought. For many, loving from the heart is to have strong feelings for someone else—like a romantic attachment or friendship. At best this is an incomplete understanding and will not satisfy the Christian.

For readers who long for a deeper understanding of the heart, Craig Troxel’s With All Your Heart will prove valuable. With the skill of a mature physician of the soul, he explores what God’s Word reveals about the human heart. This is no small task. Formulating a definition of heart taxes the intellect. After all, the various Old and New Testament words for it appear nearly 1,000 times (17). So, the author surveys biblical vocabulary and usage, and concludes that the heart is

the governing center of the person. When used simply, it reflects the unity of our inner being, and when used comprehensively, it describes the complexity of our inner being—as composed of mind (what we know), desires (what we love), and will (what we choose). (21)

The hero of this book, if I may use that term, is the Lord Jesus Christ as he executes his offices of prophet, priest, and king. The author demonstrates that as a prophet, Jesus teaches and assures sinful minds; as a priest, he redeems and renews iniquitous hearts; and as a king, he subdues and strengthens rebellious wills (22).

Although mind, desires, and will can be distinguished, they can never be separated. They are interrelated aspects of the human heart and together provide the inner direction of a man (47). This threefold “unity of the inner self”’ furnishes the structure of the book:  the heart knowing, the heart loving, and the heart choosing become the headings of the book’s first three sections.

The Heart Knowing

In his treatment of the mind (the heart knowing), the author offers a much-needed corrective to the prevalent misconception that the mind is wholly distinct from the heart, the former distinguished by thinking and the latter by emotion. Frequently, the two are pitted against each other, as when a person says, “I know in my mind that what you’re saying is true, but my heart just doesn’t feel it” (35). With ample biblical support, the author demonstrates that “if [the] heart principally does one thing, it thinks” (25). Jesus’s interaction with the scribes provides an example: “But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts?’” (Matt. 9:4).

As prophet, the Lord Jesus confronts foolish thinking. He transforms us by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2). The eyes of our hearts are enlightened (Eph. 1:17–18). The Lord sets right twisted views of God, his Word, and world. He punctures inflated opinions of self. Reasons to disbelieve or disobey are overcome. To be certain,

We do not know anything perfectly, nor can we see as God sees, perceiving everything fully and clearly. … But we are getting to know Christ and his truth, better and better. And that is more than those in this world can ever claim, offer, or know—unless the Lord of the heart opens their eyes. (63)

The Heart Loving

Next comes the critical matter of desires (the heart loving). Mature believers know that the heart, with its desires and affections, is the great battlefield upon which the struggle for holiness is fiercely fought. Whether born again or not, “what the heart enjoys is what the heart will explore” (47). What sinners need and find in Jesus is the priest who redeems “from sin’s condemning power and corrupting power” and who “now continues to purify [the heart] from sin’s residual power” (96). By his Word and Spirit, Christ enables believers “more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness” (WSC, 35).

Many Christians struggle mightily—as they should—to put to death sinful desires. But mortification is only half the struggle. Ungodly desires must be replaced with godly ones. Love of the world must give way to love of God and his kingdom. Holy virtues must be cultivated with diligence.

The Heart Choosing

Section three, with its study of the will (the heart choosing), completes the author’s exposition. As Sovereign King, the Lord Jesus delivers the proud and defiant heart from its bondage to sin and renews the will. Sinners are enabled to receive Jesus Christ, offered to them in the gospel, and are strengthened in the inner man to follow him in obedience. Terms that many modern Christians buried long ago—submission, self-denial, self-control, and self-discipline—are unearthed and given both their appropriate prominence and urgency. Christ’s renewal of the believer’s will is a foretaste of heaven,

for the day will come when Christ will return and bring us into our Father’s heavenly presence. It is there, in that state of glory, that the will of every Christian will be “made perfectly and immutably free to good alone.” It will be a life of glorious and sinless fellowship with God and one another. (149–50, citing WCF 9.5)

Keeping the Heart

With All Your Heart concludes with an eminently practical section on keeping the heart. Three organs—the eyes, the ears, and the mouth—demand our utmost attention. The author identifies the eyes and ears as the heart’s gatekeepers. Through them pass the impressions of the world around us. With the eyes we can observe what is beautiful, noble, and godly. We can also fix them on what defiles both body and soul. With the ears we can hear the word of God and speech that edifies. They can also be open and welcoming to degrading language.

The author’s comments on media are timely:

Ongoing vigilance is absolutely required. There is no escape from all the media by which the temptations of the world find their way into our hearts. There is also no escape from the ready alliance between the world’s attractions and the sin in our hearts. … What we take to heart will, in large measure, come down to how well our gatekeepers do their job. (178)

The eyes and ears are sentinels. Train them to do their duty!

If the eyes and ears guard the heart, the mouth is “the ambassador of the heart” (179). It broadcasts the heart’s condition, and a believer will monitor it carefully. When words reveal the sinfulness of the heart, an opportunity presents itself to the believer: first, to repent, and then to walk in renewed obedience to the Lord.

I enthusiastically recommend this book. Life presses upon us its urgent concerns, fierce temptations, and harsh setbacks. The succession of trials is never-ending. In the midst of all the tumult, we dare not neglect the heart—which is why the author will not let us forget that “as goes the heart, so goes the man” (20). Failure to tend to the heart leads to ruin. But joys forever belong to those who trust in their Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our prophet, priest, and king.

To a previous generation, J. C. Ryle wrote, “There is nothing in your heart that the Lord Jesus cannot make right” (103). The author shares Ryle’s commendable and biblical confidence. To be sure, there are no quick fixes: no instantaneous paths to triumph that put us beyond the reach of sin and temptation. But the Lord Jesus, who desires our holiness more than we do, will never abandon us or cease his work in us. The good work begun in us now will be brought to completion in the age to come (Phil. 1:6).

If you long to love your Lord with all your heart, then you will treasure this book.

Charles Malcolm Wingard is senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Yazoo City, Mississippi (PCA), and associate professor of pastoral theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. Ordained Servant Online, December 2020.

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Ordained Servant: December 2020

A Faithful Elder

Also in this issue

How a Faithful Elder Can Make a Difference: Reflections on the Life and Death of a Friend

Commentary on the Form of Government of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Chapters 7–11

The Gospel in Dorothy L. Sayers: Selections from Her Novels, Plays, Letters, and Essays, Edited by Carole Vanderhoof

Synopsis of a Purer Theology by Polyander, et al., edited by Antonius Walaeus, translated by Riemer A. Faber, volume 3


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