According to the Bible, the heart is the centre not only of spiritual activity, but of all the operations of human life. "Heart" and "soul" are often used interchangeably (De 6:5; 26:16; comp. Mt 22:37; Mr 12:30,33), but this is not generally the case.
The heart is the "home of the personal life," and hence a man is designated, according to his heart, wise (1Ki 3:12, etc.), pure (Ps 24:4; Mt 5:8, etc.), upright and righteous (Ge 20:5-6; Ps 11:2; 78:72), pious and good (Lu 8:15), etc. In these and such passages the word "soul" could not be substituted for "heart."
The heart is also the seat of the conscience (Ro 2:15). It is naturally wicked (Ge 8:21), and hence it contaminates the whole life and character (Mt 12:34; 15:18; comp. Ec 8:11; Ps 73:7). Hence the heart must be changed, regenerated (Eze 36:26; 11:19; Ps 51:10-14), before a man can willingly obey God.
The process of salvation begins in the heart by the believing reception of the testimony of God, while the rejection of that testimony hardens the heart (Ps 95:8; Pr 28:14; 2Ch 36:13). "Hardness of heart evidences itself by light views of sin; partial acknowledgment and confession of it; pride and conceit; ingratitude; unconcern about the word and ordinances of God; inattention to divine providences; stifling convictions of conscience; shunning reproof; presumption, and general ignorance of divine things."
Often including the intellect as well as the affections and will; as conversely the "mind" often includes the feeling and will as well as the intellect. Ro 1:21, "their foolish heart was darkened." Eph 1:18, "the eyes of your understanding (the Vaticanus manuscript; but the Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus manuscripts 'heart') being enlightened." Thus, the Scripture implies that the heart and the head act and react on one another; and in men's unbelief it is the will that perverts the intellectual perceptions. Joh 7:17, "if any man be willing to (Greek) do, he shall know." "Willingness to obey" is the key to spiritual knowledge. See Jer 17:9; Ho 7:11, "Ephraim is like a silly dove without heart," i.e. "moral understanding".
1. Instances are not wanting in the OT of the employment of this word in a physiological sense, though they are not numerous. Jacob, for example, seems to have suffered in his old age from weakness of the heart; a sudden failure of its action occurred on receipt of the unexpected but joyful news of Joseph's great prosperity (Ge 45:26). A similar failure proved fatal in the case of Eli, also in extreme old age (1Sa 4:13-18; cf. the case of the exhausted king, 1Sa 28:20). The effect of the rending of the pericardium is referred to by Hosea as well known (1Sa 13:8); and although the proverb 'a sound (Revised Version margin 'tranquil') heart is the life of the flesh' (Pr 14:30) is primarily intended as a psychological truth, the simile is evidently borrowed from a universally recognized physiological fact (cf. Pr 4:23). The aphorism attributed to 'the Preacher' (Ec 10:2) may be interpreted in the same way; the 'right hand' is the symbol of strength and firmness, and the left of weakness and indecision (cf. Ec 2:14). Nor does it appear that OT writers were ignorant of the vital functions which the heart is called on to discharge. This will be seen by their habit of using the word metaphorically as almost a synonym for the entire life (cf. Ps 22:26; 69:32; Isa 1:5, where 'head' and 'heart' cover man's whole being).
2. The preponderating use of the word is, however, psychological; and it is in this way made to cover a large variety of thought. Thus it is employed to denote the centre of man's personal activities, the source whence the principles of his action derive their origin (see Ge 6:5; 8:21, where men's evil deeds are attributed to corruption of the heart). We are, therefore, able to understand the significance of the Psalmist's penitential prayer, 'Create in me a clean heart' (Ps 51:10), and the meaning of the prophet's declaration, 'a new heart also will I give you' (Eze 36:26; cf. Eze 11:19). The heart, moreover, was considered to be the seat of the emotions and passions (De 19:6; 1Ki 8:38; Isa 30:29; cf. Ps 104:15, where the heart is said to be moved to gladness by the use of wine). It was a characteristic, too, of Hebraistic thought which made this organ the seat of the various activities of the intellect, such as understanding (34/10'>Job 34:10,34; 1Ki 4:29), purpose or determination (Ex 14:5; 1Sa 7:3; 1Ki 8:48; Isa 10:7), consciousness (Pr 14:10, where, if English Version be an accurate tr of the original text, the heart is said to be conscious both of sorrow and of joy; cf. 1Sa 2:1), imagination (cf. Lu 1:51; Ge 8:21), memory (Ps 31:12; 1Sa 21:12; cf. Lu 2:19,51; 1:66). The monitions of the conscience are said to proceed from the heart (Job 27:6), and the counterpart of the NT expression 'branded in their own conscience as with a hot iron' (1Ti 4:2 RV) is found in the OT words 'I will harden his heart' (Ex 4:21; cf. De 2:30; Jos 11:20 etc.). Closely connected with the idea of conscience is that of moral character, and so we find 'a new heart' as the great desideratum of a people needing restoration to full and intimate relationship with God (Eze 18:31; cf. De 9:5; 1Ki 11:4). It is, therefore, in those movements which characterize repentance, placed in antithesis to outward manifestations of sorrow for sin, 'Rend your heart and not your garments' (Joe 2:13).
3. Moving along in the direction thus outlined, and not forgetting the influence of the Apocryphal writings on later thought (cf. e.g. Wis 8:19; Wis 17:11, Sir 42:18 etc.), we shall be enabled to grasp the religious ideas enshrined in the teaching of the NT. In the recorded utterances of Jesus, so profoundly influenced by the ancient writings of the Jewish Church, the heart occupies a very central place. The beatific vision is reserved for those whose hearts are 'pure' (Mt 5:8; cf. 2Ti 2:22; 1Pe 1:22 Revised Version margin). The heart is compared to the soil on which seed is sown; it containsmoral potentialities which spring into objective existence in the outward life of the receiver (Lu 8:15; cf., however, Mr 4:15-20, where no mention is made of this organ; see also Mt 13:18, in which the heart is referred to, as in Isa 6:10, as the seat of the spiritual understanding). Hidden within the remote recesses of the heart are those principles and thoughts which will inevitably spring into active life, revealing its purity or its native corruption (Lu 6:45; cf. Mt 12:34 f., Mt 15:18 f.). It is thus that men's characters reveal themselves in naked reality (1Pe 3:4). It is the infallible index of human character, but can be read only by Him who 'searcheth the hearts' (Ro 8:27; cf. 1Sa 16:7; Pr 21:2; Lu 16:15). Human judgment can proceed only according to the unerring evidence tendered by this resultant of inner forces, for 'by their fruits ye shall know them' (Mt 7:20). The more strictly Jewish of the NT writers show the influence of OT thought in their teaching. Where we should employ the word 'conscience' St. John uses 'heart,' whose judgments in the moral sphere are final (1Jo 3:20 f.). Nor is St. Paul free from the influence of this nomenclature. He seems, in fact, to regard conscience as a function of the heart rather than as an independent moral and spiritual organ (Ro 2:15, where both words occur; cf. the quotation Heb 10:16). In spite of the fact that the last-named Apostle frequently employs the terms 'mind,' 'understanding,' 'reason,' 'thinkings,' etc., to express the elements of intellectual activity in man, we find him constantly reverting to the heart as discharging functions closely allied to these (cf. 'the eyes of your heart,' Eph 1:18; see also 2Co 4:6). With St. Paul, too, the heart is the seat of the determination or will (cf. 1Co 7:37, where 'steadfast in heart' is equivalent to will-power). In all these and similar cases, however, it will be noticed that it is man's moral nature that he has in view; and the moral and spiritual life, having its roots struck deep in his being, is appropriately conceived of as springing ultimately from the most essentially vital organ of his personal life.
J. R. Willis.
The heart is often referred to in scripture as the seat of the affections and of the passions, also of wisdom and understanding
HEART. The Hebrews regarded the heart as the source of wit, understanding, love, courage, grief, and pleasure. Hence are derived many modes of expression. "An honest and good heart," Lu 8:15, is a heart studious of holiness, being prepared by the Spirit of God to receive the word with due affections, dispositions, and resolutions. We read of a broken heart, a clean heart, an evil heart, a liberal heart. To "turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers," Mal 4:6, signifies to cause them to be perfectly reconciled, and that they should be of the same mind. To want heart, sometimes denotes to want understanding and prudence: "Ephraim is like a silly dove, without heart," Ho 7:11. "O fools, and slow of heart," Lu 24:25; that is, ignorant, and without understanding. "This people's heart is waxed gross, lest they should understand with their heart," Mt 13:15; their heart is become incapable of understanding spiritual things; they resist the light, and are proof against all impressions of truth. "The prophets prophesy out of their own heart," Eze 13:2; that is, according to their own imagination, without any warrant from God.
The heart is said to be dilated by joy, contracted by sadness, broken by sorrow, to grow fat, and be hardened by prosperity. The heart melts under discouragement, forsakes one under terror, is desolate in affliction, and fluctuating in doubt. To speak to any one's heart is to comfort him, to say pleasing and affecting things to him. The heart expresses also the middle part of any thing: "Tyre is in the heart of the seas," Eze 27:4; in the midst of the seas. "We will not fear though the mountains be carried into the heart (middle) of the sea," Ps 46:2.
The heart of man is naturally depraved and inclined to evil, Jer 17:9. A divine power is requisite for its renovation, Joh 3:1-11. When thus renewed, the effects will be seen in the temper, conversation, and conduct at large. Hardness of heart is that state in which a sinner is inclined to, and actually goes on in, rebellion against God.