Reviewed by: Arthur J. Fox
Date posted: 03/12/2006
Instructions about Heartwork, by Richard Alleine. Published by Soli Deo Gloria, 2003. Hardback, 412 pages, list price $29.95. Reviewed by OP pastor Arthur Fox.
This is an easy book to read in the sense that the language is not at all difficult. Someone as young as twelve could read it. Yet in other respects it is not so easy to read: the author takes a long time to cover his subject, and the subject has to do with the condition of the human heart.
Richard Alleine (1611-1691) was a Puritan minister and the brother of Joseph Alleine (who wrote Alarm for the Unconverted). His basic concern in this book is for the reader to be converted and then sanctified. To that end, the first nine of the twenty-six chapters are devoted to moving the reader to examine his heart for signs of true conversion. The tenth chapter is designed to teach one who is converted how to keep a clean conscience, and it serves as a transition to the heart of the book (no pun intended!).
The heart of the book focuses on "Keeping the Heart," that is, keeping the heart pure. The heart is unruly, Alleine tells us, and shows its true nature in its thoughts, passions, and idolatry. So it is necessary to "keep" it by watching one's thoughts. Chapters 11-22 basically lay out in detail the way in which the heart is governed. This writer found strong counsel to learn to love only what should be loved - and as much as, and no more than, we should love it - to be an important and challenging help. We are told to desire only God absolutely and all else subordinately and in the right order, starting with our salvation, and to keep close to God and Christ. Alleine emphasizes the need to distrust the flesh and to repent of specific sins.
Chapters 23-26 are given to teach the believer how to guard the heart. The author warns against the heart's natural inclinations (for example, willful sinning and the tendency to defend sinful behavior). He closes by giving five principles for guarding the heart: set a constant watch upon it, keep all your powers up in arms, keep close by your Captain and Physician, keep your heart where your enemy can't reach it, and commit the keeping of your heart to the keeper of Israel.
This is a practical book, yet much deeper and richer in thought and theology than many practical books one might find in the average Christian bookstore. It begins by teaching us that we cannot trust ourselves and ends by telling us to trust in Christ. That is good counsel for Christians living in our self-centered and self-trusting age.