The True Measure of the Heart

Ignorance: Pray, what count you good thoughts, and a life according to God’s commandments?

Christian: There are good thoughts of divers kinds; some respecting ourselves, some God, some Christ, and some other things.

Ignorance: What be good thoughts respecting ourselves?

Christian: Such as agree with the Word of God.

Ignorance: When do our thoughts of ourselves agree with the Word of God?

Christian: When we pass the same judgment upon ourselves which the Word passes. To explain myself—the Word of God says of persons in a natural condition, “There is none righteous, there is none that doeth good.” It says also, that “every imagination of the heart of man is only evil, and that continually.” And again, “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Now then, when we think thus of ourselves, having sense thereof, then are our thoughts good ones, because according to the Word of God.

Ignorance: I will never believe that my heart is thus bad.

Christian: Therefore you never had one good thought concerning yourself in your life. But let me go on. As the Word passes a judgment upon our heart, so it passes a judgment upon our ways; and when OUR thoughts of our hearts and ways agree with the judgment which the Word giveth of both, then are both good, because agreeing thereto.

Ignorance: Make out your meaning.

Christian: Why, the Word of God says that man’s ways are crooked ways; not good, but perverse. It says they are naturally out of the good way, that they have not known it. Now, when a man thus thinks of his ways—I say, when he does sensibly, and with heart-humiliation, thus think, then has he good thoughts of his own ways, because his thoughts now agree with the judgment of the Word of God.

Christian Instructs Ignorance

It is one thing to have a good heart, and another thing only to think your heart is good. It is one thing to live a good life, and another thing only to think your life is good. So how can you be sure? How do you rightly measure the heart? How do you know what thoughts are good? How can you truly know if your life is in accord with God’s commands?

As Christian instructs Ignorance, he gets to the heart of the difference between a true believer and a false believer. Ignorance (a false believer) sets his own standards. His understanding of what is right is shaped by how he feels about his place in the world, how he desires to live his live, and how much he has prospered or suffered in this life. Ignorance remains true to his heart. If in his heart, he sincerely believes something to be true, then it must be true. But Christian and Hopeful look to a better and surer standard. The true measure of the heart is not our feelings and passions. It is not our hopes and aspirations. Nor is it our experiences or obstacles we have overcome. The true measure of the heart is the Word of God.

If we are to rightly measure the heart, we should not believe what our heart tells us is true. Instead, we must believe what God’s Word tells us is true.

How do you know if your thoughts are good? Ask yourself: Do my thoughts agree with God’s Word? How do you know if your life is good? Ask yourself: What does God’s Word say about my life? Am I passing the same judgment on myself which the Word passes?

The Word tells us that in our natural condition we are not good.

As it is written:
“There is none righteous, no, not one;
There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.”
(Romans 3:10–12)

Apart from Christ our hearts are evil.

Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5).

… Then the Lord said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done” (Genesis 8:21).

Left to ourselves, our ways are crooked and dark.

As for such as turn aside to their crooked ways,
The Lord shall lead them away
With the workers of iniquity.
Peace be upon Israel!
(Psalm 125:5)

To deliver you from the way of evil,
From the man who speaks perverse things,
From those who leave the paths of uprightness
To walk in the ways of darkness;
Who rejoice in doing evil,
And delight in the perversity of the wicked;
Whose ways are crooked,
And who are devious in their paths.
(Proverbs 2:12–15)

Though we may think we are on the way to heaven, if we are navigating this world according to our own standards (and even doing so sincerely) then we do not yet know the way of peace.

And the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
(Romans 3:17–18)

This is what the Bible says is true about us. If left to ourselves, this is our natural condition. This is the true measure of the heart. If this is what we believe about ourselves, then we are thinking good thoughts. Good thoughts are not necessarily thoughts about pleasant things; good thoughts are thoughts that reflect the truth of God’s Word.  If we anchor our judgments in God’s Word, then we will think rightly about our ways. If we acknowledge that what God has said about us in His Word is true, then there is hope that we will be humbled—that we will come to our senses and see our desperate need of a Savior. There is hope that we will stop trusting ourselves, resting in our own righteousness, and look to Christ, who alone gives “light to those who sit in darkness” and guides “our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79).

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2018 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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