Over and over again Sacred Scripture affirms that God observes, sees, searches, examines, judges the heart. He knows its secrets, desires, direction, yearnings, its true content, motives, preferences, and designs. The inmost core, centre, the most private chamber of our inner being is discernible, open, transparent, and known thoroughly by him. As hidden as the heart may be from others and even from ourselves, God reads the human heart with total clarity, unclouded vision, and exhaustively to the point that he knows the spring, source, and essence of our true being without limit.
Lent is the season of the examination of the heart, as to whether it is touched, made whole, and matured by Grace - ripened for a fruitful relationship with the Lord. Lent is the wise pastoral provision of the Church to set aside every hindrance and distraction in order to be, as John Owen expresses it, seasoned by grace, to rearrange our spiritual priorities and cultivate with due care our companionship with God.
Our opening Lenten lessons bid us to approach God with the earnestness and totality of our full interior being, not merely our formal and physical presence before him, but in the way that he invites: “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12). Nothing less really counts or matters. “Rend your hearts and not your garments” (v13). Externals are not of the essence of true faith. Outward performance is only validated by sincere inward disposition.
Jesus, observing the inadequacy of mere outward observances of any kind, counsels absolute sincerity and the ultimate secrecy of true oneness with Christ: “Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (see Matthew 6: 16-18). We know the state of our heart by that which it most treasures. This ready awareness is the infallible test of the heart’s preference. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (v21).
John Donne takes us to the heart of the matter concerning grace:
“God did not elect me as a helper, nor create me, nor redeem me, nor convert me, by way of helping me; for he alone did all, and he had no use at all of me. God infuses his first grace, the first way, merely as a Giver; entirely, all himself; but his subsequent graces, as a helper; therefore we call them Auxiliant graces, Helping graces; and we always receive them, when we endevour to make use of his former grace."
Its influence in our hearts begins with a sovereign God and his free determination. Grace in the first instant is a gift, entirely of his giving. Lent humbles us before him in earnest longing and patient waiting. Because we desire him we cling to him, for what we seek is a priceless blessing concerning which we have no desert. Yearning, says Augustine, makes the heart grow deep, and mercy granted satisfies the most thirsty heart.
SEASONED WITH GRACE
"The mighty streams of the evil thoughts of men will admit of no bounds or dams to put a stop unto them. There are but two ways of relief from them, the one respecting their moral evil, the other their natural abundance.
The first is by throwing salt into the spring, as Elisha cured the waters of Jericho - that is, to get the mind and the heart seasoned with grace.
The other is, to turn their streams into new channels, putting new aims and ends upon them, fixing them on new objects: so shall we abound in spiritual thoughts; for abound in thoughts we shall, whether we will or no."