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THE DUTY OF TRUSTING IN GOD
Jeremiah 17:5-8. Thus saith the Lord; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord. For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited. Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out, her roots by the river and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green: and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.
EVERY created being derives its existence and support from God: yet man is prone to depend on the creature rather than on him. Though constantly disappointed, he still leans on an arm of flesh; but such conduct is justly reprobated in the strongest terms.
We shall consider,
The characters that are contrasted—
Every man by nature “trusts in man, makes flesh his arm, and his heart departs from the Lord.” We need not go to heathens or infidels to find persons of this description. We need only search the records of our own conscience.
[In temporal things, we never think of looking above the creature: if they be prosperous, we trust in uncertain riches, and take the glory to ourselves; if adverse, we lean to our own understanding and exertions, or rely for succour on our friends. In spiritual things, we seek to establish a righteousness of our own; we expect to repent and serve God by our own strength.]
The true Christian “trusts in the Lord, and makes the Lord his hope”—
[He trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ as the God of providence: he commits his affairs to him, expecting his promised aid. He trusts also in Jesus as the God of grace: he renounces all hope in his own goodness or resolutions: he cordially adopts the language of the Church of old [Note: Isaiah 45:24.]—]
These marks afford a sure line of distinction between the nominal and the real Christian—
[Both may be moral, charitable, and attentive to religious duties; but the regenerate alone trust simply in the Lord. Not that all the regenerate are alike delivered from self-dependence; nor do the same persons always exercise their graces in the same degree. There are remains of self-righteousness &c. in the best of men; but the unregenerate allow these things which are abhorred by the regenerate.]
Nor is this difference between them of trifling import.
Their respective conditions—
Men’s eternal state will be fixed with perfect equity. The conditions of the characters before us are strongly contrasted:
Simply; “blessed,” &c. “cursed,” &c.
[What can be more important than these declarations? They are not the dictates of enthusiasm, but the voice of God; “Thus saith the Lord.” And may we not adopt Balak’s words in reference to God [Note: Numbers 22:6.]?—And what can be more reasonable? God has given his Son to be our Saviours; but while some confide in him, others, by not trusting in him, reject him: how reasonable then is it that a curse should attach to these, and a blessing to those! Such a difference in their conditions seems the necessary result of their own conduct. Spiritual life or death are dependent on our trust in the Lord, just as the life of the body is on our receiving or rejecting of animal food. Let every one then inquire, which of these conditions he has reason to expect?]
To mark the contrast more clearly, it is further observed, that both the blessing and the curse shall be
[The unbeliever “shall be like the heath in the desert;” he shall be left in a state of extreme barrenness and wretchedness: and this too amidst all his boasted fulness [Note: Job 20:22.]. The believer “shall be as a tree planted by the waters,” &c.; he shall be made flourishing and happy by rich supplies of grace [Note: Philippians 4:19.].]
[The unbeliever “shall not see when good cometh:” he receives none of the heavenly dew that falls around him. The believer “shall not see when heat cometh, but his leaf shall be green, nor shall he be careful in the year of drought:” he may experience “heat” and “drought,” i. e. heavy afflictions; he shall, however, not be injured, but benefited by them [Note: His afflictions lose not their nature, but effect: tribulation, which fills others with vexation, works patience in him; the furnace, which consumes others, purges away his dross. Hebrews 12:11.]: free from all anxiety, he will say as the Church of old [Note: Hosea 6:1.]—]
[The unbeliever “shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land, and not inhabited:” he shall be an outcast from God in the regions of misery. The believer “shall not cease from yielding fruit:” his present enjoyments are the pledge and earnest of eternal happiness.]
How glorious a person must Christ be!
[If he were a mere creature, it would be ruinous in the extreme to trust in him; but we are expressly commanded to trust in him [Note: John 14:1.]. He must then be “God over all, blessed for ever.” And this renders him worthy of our fullest affiance: on him must “hang all the glory of his Father’s house [Note: Isaiah 22:23-24.].”]
How are we all concerned to trust in Christ!
[God regards, not merely our outward conduct, but the frame of our hearts: on this our present and everlasting happiness depends [Note: Conceive Christ as making this declaration in the day of judgment. Compare Matthew 25:34; Matthew 25:41.]. Let us then trust in him for all temporal and spiritual aid; so shall we receive his blessing, and escape his curse.]
NECESSITY OF KNOWING OURSELVES
Jeremiah 17:9. The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
A MORE important subject than that before us cannot occupy the human mind. The knowledge of ourselves is fundamental to all true knowledge of religion. Religion is no longer to us what it was to man in his primeval state, the natural expression of all the feelings of his soul: it is a remedy, devised for the restoration of his soul to the favour, and to the image, of his God: and we must see in what manner, and to what extent, we are fallen, before we can understand aright the provision made for our recovery: we must know our disorder before we can appreciate the remedy. Behold then what the Scripture speaks concerning us! The expressions in our text are not an eastern metaphor, that must be softened down; or a complaint uttered against one particular individual, whose impieties far exceeded the common standard of mankind: they are a plain exposition of the state to which the heart of man is reduced by the fall of Adam: and, however we may wish, for the credit of human nature, to put a lenient construction on the terms, we cannot by any fair means explain them away: they are absolutely inflexible; and we must bow before them, as containing the infallible testimony of God concerning us. But it is not without a considerable measure of fear and diffidence that we enter upon the investigation of a subject so deep, so vast, so occult. When God himself says, “Who can know it?” we seem presumptuous in undertaking to explain it. But we hope that the acknowledged necessity of every man’s attaining some knowledge of it will plead our excuse for any attempt which we may make to throw light upon it; and that you will supply our defects by lifting up your hearts to God in prayer, and entreating him to give you that self-knowledge, which, even a heathen saw, must descend from heaven.
The subjects then for our present consideration are, the deceitfulness, and wickedness, of the human heart:
There is perhaps no stronger proof of the deceitfulness of the heart than the power it possesses to hide its deceits from us. But, that we may present somewhat of its deceitfulness to your view, we will distinctly mark it in the three following particulars:
It misrepresents the nature of all things;
It keeps out of view their tendency; And
It deceives, not others only, but itself also.
Of course, when we say, “It misrepresents the nature of all things,” we must be understood as speaking only of the things which concern the soul. To advert to other things, and to consider how far the powers of the human mind are enfeebled in relation to matters of mere science, would be altogether beside our purpose.
But where shall we begin our illustration of this point? If we look up to God, there is not a perfection of his nature which the unenlightened mind views aright; and as for those perfections which he exercises as the moral Governor of the universe, they are even held in abhorrence by the carnal mind: his absolute sovereignty is denied, as though the exercise of it were an injustice to man: his holiness and justice are supposed capable of winking at the commission of sin; and his veracity is impeached, to make way for the salvation of those who rebel against him. Some are so foolish and infatuated, as to “say, There is no God:” and, of those who acknowledge his existence, there is not one, unless he have been previously converted by Divine grace, who entertains worthy conceptions of him in his heart.
If we turn our thoughts to the world around us; what is there, that the heart of man views in its proper light? Its pleasures? its riches? its honours? All these, instead of being regarded as snares and worthless vanities, are perfectly idolized, and are sought after as constituting the chief happiness of man.
Look we to morals? How erroneous are our conceptions even of the plainest duties! Pride, anger, revenge, are held forth as noble and honourable; whilst the virtues of humility, meekness, forbearance, and forgiveness, are despised, as indications of a weak and cowardly disposition. As formerly neither the Greeks nor Romans had a word in their language whereby to express the true notion of humility, so now the very idea of humility, as enjoined in the Christian code, never enters into the mind of an unconverted man, unless it be to load it with ridicule and contempt.
Go we, further, to religion? That is considered as consisting in little more than a profession of certain tenets, and an observance of certain forms. The entire devotion of the soul to God is deemed a foolish and culpable excess, the effect of needless timidity or of enthusiastic ardour: and, to countenance these ideas, harsh and offensive names are used to characterize all true piety; whilst every thing contrary to the Divine commands, is palliated with soft names and plausible excuses.
In a word, the Scripture itself describes the heart of man in this precise view, as “calling evil good, and good evil; as putting darkness for light, and light for darkness; as putting bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter [Note: Isaiah 5:20.].”
Proceed we then, next, to observe, that the heart keeps out of view the tendency of things. Let us instance this in relation to sin. Who, on his first entrance on a sinful course, imagines whither his vicious propensities will lead him? He thinks of a present gratification, but does not consider that sin is “like the letting out of water;” and that the smallest breach in a bank opens the way for the most extensive inundation. It a thought of our final account occur to the mind, the heart suggests, that the sin may be repented of with ease, and that there is no just reason to be afraid of its consequences; notwithstanding its uniform tendency is, to harden the heart, to sear the conscience, to grieve and quench the Holy Spirit of God, and to rivet upon our souls the chains which have been forged by the great destroyer of mankind. Ask any man who feels the burthen and the bitterness of sin, whether, when committing it, he had any idea of its tendency to distress the soul, and to create, as it were, a very hell within him? He will tell you, that, in following his lusts, he dreamed of nothing but pleasure; and that whilst he was tempted with the bait, the hook was only faintly suspected, or kept entirely out of view. Whatever be the sin to which we are tempted, the heart suggests, that there is no great evil in it; that God is too merciful to punish us eternally for such a trifle; that it is not possible for us to perish, since all around us are in the same state with ourselves; or that, at all events, a dying hour will be quite time enough for the indulging of any melancholy reflections; and that a few prayers, then offered, will answer every end that we can wish. Thus the delusions of sin, and the wiles of Satan, are all countenanced by our own evil hearts; and the awful consequences of transgression are kept out of sight, till it is too late to avert them. Against this propensity of the heart we are warned in the Holy Scriptures: If, says God, a man hearing the curses denounced against him in my word, “bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of my heart, then I will not spare him; but the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven [Note: Deuteronomy 29:19-20.].”
The third mark which we mentioned as shewing the unparalleled deceitfulness of the heart, is this, that it deceives, not others only, but itself also. It is said in our text to be “deceitful above all things.” Riches and other things are said to be deceitful; but they are so called, only because the heart makes them occasions of deceiving us: they are themselves altogether passive in the matter. Of active agents, Satan is beyond all comparison the greatest deceiver, except the heart: but he, when he is deceiving, is conscious that he is deceiving: he does not for a moment imagine that he is speaking truth: but the heart persuades itself that it is not guilty of any imposition: it is as confident of its own integrity, as if it were really upright; and as fully convinced of the truth of its representations, as if they were really true. This is the case universally amongst those who are yet in a carnal and unconverted state. Those who imagine that religion consists in the observance of certain forms, are often as free from doubts as any people upon earth; and if it be insinuated that they are blind, they ask with surprise and indignation, “Are we blind also?” In like manner a ferocious bloody-thirsty persecutor will actually think, that, whilst he is killing the Lord’s people, “he is doing God service:” just as the persecuting Saul “verily thought with himself that he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus.” But further, even the Atheist, who reduces God to a level with man, persuades himself that he is right; “Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself [Note: Psalms 50:21.].” Indeed the same propensity of heart shews itself even after that we are converted: the Apostles themselves, when they would have called fire from heaven to consume a Samaritan village, thought, undoubtedly, that their proposal was at least an acceptable expression of their zeal: but our Lord told them, that “they knew not what spirit they were of:” and Peter, when dissuading his Master from entertaining any thoughts about sufferings and death, supposed that he displayed most unexceptionably the tenderness of his love; whilst in reality he was, as our Lord himself told him, no other than an agent of the devil.
Of this power of the heart to deceive itself, all men are conscious, in relation to others; but all overlook it in relation to themselves. Nothing is easier than for a spectator to form a tolerably correct judgment of the motives and principles of others, and to see the obliquity of them, whilst the actors themselves imagine themselves actuated by the purest feelings. Justly therefore is it said by Him who cannot err, that “the heart is deceitful above all things,” not excepting even Satan himself, the great deceiver of mankind.
We are now to consider,
The wickedness of the heart—
But how shall we state it, so as in any measure to correspond with the description in our text? We are almost afraid that we shall be regarded as libelling human nature: yet we must declare the truth, “whether men will hear, or whether they will forbear.” Know then, that the heart by nature is universally wicked, unsearchably wicked, and incurably wicked.
It is universally wicked, both in all its powers, and in every exercise of each. We do not say, that there may not be a considerable portion of comparative good in men, so that they may be more amiable, and more worthy members of society than others; (for doubtless there is by nature a great difference in men, as well in their moral dispositions as in their intellectual powers;) but there is nothing positively good in them, in the strict acceptation of the word: for in the Book of Job it is said, “How can he be clean that is born of a woman?” “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean [Note: Job 14:4; Job 25:4.]?” And our Lord says, “There is none good but one; that is, God.” The understanding of man is darkened by sin; the will is rendered perverse and obstinate; the affections are sensualized: the conscience is made partial and insensible; and the whole man is altogether become abominable; his heart being the seat of every lust, the womb from whence every sin proceeds [Note: Mar 7:21-23]. It must be remembered, moreover, that man sins by defect, as well as by a direct and wilful opposition to his duty; so that even if we should suppose human nature to be possessed of all the excellencies which its most sanguine advocates can imagine, still we must all adopt for ourselves the confession of St. Paul, “In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing.” We are aware that this may appear to go beyond the truth: but, if any be disposed to entertain such an opinion, we would ask, What is the meaning of that declaration, “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually [Note: Genesis 6:5; Genesis 8:21.]?” This testimony, though spoken of men before the flood, was renewed in reference to men after the flood: and what can be conceived more decisive of the point than this? Not only the thoughts of men, but the imaginations of their thoughts, yea, and every imagination of their thoughts, was evil, and only evil, and only evil continually. This was the testimony of Him “who searcheth the heart, and trieth the reins:” we may be well assured, therefore, that this record is true.
Again—The heart is also unsearchably wicked. Not only are we unable to discover all the evil that is in the hearts of others; we cannot even in our own. Suppose a man to have discovered ever so much of his own depravity, there will yet be depths within him unfathomable and unexplored. As Ezekiel, in the chambers of imagery, saw on every successive search more and greater abominations than before, so will a man to his dying hour find in his heart many and great evils which he had not so clearly seen before. Times and occasions will call them forth; so that a man will often wonder how such evils could remain within him, or, if within him, how they should have continued so long undiscovered. The truth is, a man could not bear a full sight of his own heart at once; it would drive him to utter despair: nor is any man capable of seeing it all at once: its deceits are so subtle, its corruptions so various, and its abominations so inconceivably great, that none but an infinite capacity can grasp such immeasurable heights and depths. Well therefore has God said, “Who, except the heart-searching God, can know it?”
But once more;—It is incurably evil. Whether or not, as some have thought, this is the precise import of the word, it is plain that the idea is strongly conveyed in our translation, as it stands. Verily our case, as to any human remedies at least, is desperate. We call not any case desperate in relation to the Gospel; because there is no sin from which the blood of Christ cannot cleanse us, nor any corruption, which the Spirit of Christ is not able to subdue. But to human means the wickedness of our hearts bids defiance: they can no more overcome it, than Elisha’s staff in Gehazi’s hand could raise the Shunamite’s child to life. No resolutions of ours, no exertions, can banish it from the soul. We may on many occasions restrain its actings; for even the presence of a fellow-creature will often impose a more effectual restraint than the presence of our God: but we cannot subdue it, we cannot mortify it, we cannot purge it away: it is like the leprosy in the house, that could not be in any way removed, but by pulling down the house altogether. This, it must be confessed, is a melancholy picture: but it is the very truth of God, and is known, and felt, to be so, by all who are taught of God.
Now from this view of our subject we may clearly see—
The true ground of the doctrine of the new birth—
It is surprising how often the Scripture speaks respecting the being “born again,” the being “begotten of God,” and “born of God:” which terms must of necessity import, not merely an outward change of state or profession in baptism, but an inward change of heart, a passing “from darkness to light,” “from death to life.” It is to be “born, not of water only, but of the Spirit also.” When that takes place, we die to sin, and begin to live unto righteousness: we become “new creatures in Christ Jesus: old things pass away; and all things become new [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:17.].” Baptism is the sign and seal of it, but not the thing itself. What the circumcision of the heart was, as compared with the circumcision of the flesh, that the new birth is, as compared with baptism: it is the real radical change, of which the external rite was a type or shadow [Note: The benefits arising from baptism are great, even as those, were which arose from circumcision. See Romans 9:4-5. But we must not confound a change of state with a change of nature. The neglecting to make this distinction is the foundation of all the errors which have arisen on this subject. See Romans 2:28-29.]. Now this change is absolutely and indispensably necessary to the salvation of the soul: “Verily, verily I say unto you,” says our Lord, “except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” But why so? why must every child of man undergo such a change as this? For this plain reason; He is so radically corrupt in every faculty and power of his soul by nature, as to be absolutely incapable of enjoying heaven, even if he were there: having no love to a holy God, nor any delight in holy employments here, he would be destitute of them there; being filthy here, he would be “filthy still.” This, we apprehend, is the exact meaning of those words of our Lord, “That which is born of the flesh, is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit, is spirit.” Nicodemus not understanding the nature, or the reasons, of the doctrine which our Lord had insisted on, our Lord told him, that the new birth was founded on our unfitness by nature for the kingdom of heaven; since that which was born of the flesh, being only fleshly, was altogether incapable of spiritual enjoyments; whereas that which was born of the Spirit being spiritual, it was necessary to fit us for the exercises and employments of a spiritual kingdom. Let us not then deceive ourselves with vain disputations about words, but let us attend to things which admit of no doubt. Our hearts are by nature “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked;” and they must be changed by the operation of the Spirit of God: we must have “the heart of stone taken away, and a heart of flesh given to us:” we must be “renewed after the image of our God in righteousness and true holiness;” and therefore we should not rest one hour in a carnal and unconverted state; but should cry mightily to our God for his effectual grace, saying with David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me!” The Lord grant that this prayer may ascend up before him from every one of us, till we have obtained an answer to it in the renovation of our souls!
In the next place, We may see from hence,
Our utter need of an interest in Christ—
With such hearts as ours, how can we ever dream of meriting any thing at the hands of God? To shew the vanity of any such idea, let us not rest in a general notion of man’s goodness, but descend to particulars, and try to find some one action that can stand the test of God’s word, some one in which God himself shall not be able to find a flaw. Let a man search through the whole records of his life for one such action; and if he find one, we will be content that he shall stand upon that as the foundation of his hopes, and claim heaven on the ground of his own merits. But if not one such action can be found by the best person upon earth, how much less can a whole series of such actions, from the beginning to the end of life, be found! yet nothing less than that could warrant a claim to heaven on the ground of our own obedience: one single transgression, however small, is a violation of the law; and not only makes void all its promises of life, but renders us obnoxious to its curses, even to everlasting misery and death [Note: Galatians 3:10.]. Let us then discard so vain, so fatal a delusion: let us be contented to stand on the same foundation as St. Paul: let us “desire to win Christ, and to be found in him, not having our own righteousness, which is of the law, but the righteousness which is of God by faith in Christ.” We call the Lord Jesus Christ, “Saviour:” let us rely upon him as our Saviour: let us trust in his blood and righteousness as the only meritorious ground of our hope: and let us glory in him, as “all our salvation, and all our desire.”
Lastly, Let us see from hence,
The importance of self-diffidence and self-distrust—
There is an astonishing degree of confidence in men of every class and every description. The ungodly man, who gratifies all his inclinations, and lives altogether without God in the world, has no fear that he shall perish: ‘his sins are no other than venial frailties, and God neither notices nor regards them.’ The man who is a mere formalist, whose religion consists in a “form of godliness without the power of it,” is equally persuaded, that no harm shall ever happen to him: he performs his duty, and has no doubt of his final acceptance with God. The man whose heart is divided between God and the world, and who will follow religion only so far as agrees with his interests and humour, is quite certain that God is pleased with him, and will accept at his hand his reluctant and mutilated offerings. The zealous talkative religionist, who disgraces his profession by his conceit, his censoriousness, his neglect of his own roper duties and calling, by his disorderly conduct both in Church and State, yea, by all manner of evil tempers and sinful practices, even he also has no doubt but that his name is written in heaven. And, if we attempt to expostulate with any of these on their unscriptural presumption, they are quite offended at the liberty we take, and are surprised that we dare to question the certainty of their salvation [Note: To this effect is that humiliating observation of Solomon, “All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the Lord weigheth the spirits,” And again, “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” Proverbs 16:2; Proverbs 16:25.]. Thus does Satan blind them all, and “lead them captive at his will.” But let me entreat all to relax somewhat of their confidence, and to bring their expectations to the test of Scripture. It is certain that many do believe a lie; and are given over to it by God, as the punishment of their presumption. What the Apostle says respecting this, is so awful, that I almost tremble to repeat his words: yet as they are the words of God himself, I trust you will hear them, not only without offence, but with the reverence that is due to God: “For this cause,” (that is, “because men receive not the love of the truth, that they may be saved,”) “God shall send them strong delusion, that they may believe a lie, that they all might be damned, who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness [Note: 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12.].” What a fearful judgment is this! and how should we dread the provoking of God to inflict it upon us! If then we would not be given up to judicial blindness, “let us search and try our ways, and turn unto the Lord our God.” Let us be satisfied with nothing but the clear express testimony of Scripture: for God has said, “He that trusteth his own heart, is a fool [Note: Proverbs 28:26.].” If we find that we have really been born again of the Spirit, and been washed from our sins in the Redeemer’s blood; if there be no sin which we knowingly indulge, nor any command of God which we do not endeavour to fulfil; if we can call God to witness, that the continued labour of our lives is to “walk as Christ walked;” then God forbid that I should attempt to destroy the confidence of such persons: they have a right to be confident; and instead of distressing their minds with needless fears, I would exhort them to “hold fast their confidence, and the rejoicing of their hope firm unto the end.” But nevertheless I would entreat them to deal faithfully with their own souls; and not only to search them with all diligence themselves, but to cry mightily unto God in the words of David; “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me; and lead me in the way everlasting!” Yea more, to their dying hour I would urge them to be diffident of themselves, even when they are most confident in God. For even St. Paul felt this to be necessary: “Though I know nothing by myself,” says he, “yet am I not hereby justified; but he that judgeth me is the Lord.” There may be self-deceit in us, even when we are least aware of it: and therefore with all our might we should guard against it, lest we find out our delusions, when it is too late to apply a remedy. Of one thing we are sure, that God will not fix our state according to our fancied attainments, but according to our real character in his sight. We say therefore to all, and with those words we shall close our discourse, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap: he that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; and he that soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”
GOD’S RULE OF JUDGMENT
Jeremiah 17:10. I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.
THE evil of the human heart is far greater than can be fully conceived either by men or angels. None but God himself can explore the depths of iniquity that are within it [Note: ver. 9.]. But He will judge the world in righteousness at the last day; and consequently must have access to the inmost recesses of the soul, and must be able to bring forth to judgment all its hidden abominations. Accordingly, God himself informs us, that he is actually so occupied, noticing every thing, and recording every thing, in order that he may reward every man according to his deeds: “I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give to every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.”
We may here see,
The preparation which God is making for the future judgment—
“The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good [Note: Proverbs 15:3.].” Nor is he an unconcerned spectator of what is done upon earth: on the contrary, he inspects every thing with the greatest accuracy; and therefore inspects it, that he may bring it forth to judgment, and pass sentence upon it.
He continually marks the ways of men—
[All their actions he observes, not merely according to their outward aspect, but according to the principles from whence they proceed, and the ends for which they are done. However good a thing may be in itself, it is not really good in God’s sight, unless it proceed from love to him, and be done with a view to his glory. Our most common actions ought to be so done: “whether we eat, or drink, or whatever we do, we should do all to the glory of God [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:31.].” Our words also, and our very thoughts, are scrutinized by him, to ascertain how much there is of good or evil in them; and to record the same, as grounds of our condemnation or acquittal at the bar of judgment Hence it is said by David, “His eyes behold, and his eyelids try, the children of men [Note: Psalms 11:4.];” that is, as a man desiring to inspect a thing with more than usual accuracy, almost closes his eyes, in order to exclude every other object, and to fix his attention more intensely on the object before him; so does God examine with the utmost possible care the ways of every human being. This is declared yet more strongly by Solomon, who says, that God “weigheth the spirits [Note: Proverbs 16:2.].” Now, in the spirits of men there is a great mixture of motives and principles, which need to be analyzed and distinguished. There is, even in good men, a mixture of faith and of unbelief, of love to God and self-love, of sincerity and hypocrisy. Hezekiah evinced this, in his treatment of the Babylonish Ambassadors [Note: 2 Chronicles 32:31.]; as did James and John also, when, from zeal for their Master’s honour, they would have called fire from heaven to consume a Samaritan village [Note: Luke 9:54.]. In fact, there is imperfection in every thing that proceeds from man. Our very humiliations have a mixture of pride, and our exultations, of self-complacency. But “God tries the reins,” as a philosopher assays gold; and will assuredly declare, at the last day, how much there was of alloy in the very best action of our lives, and how much of the purer metal. Moreover,]
He records every thing in the book of his remembrance—
[The thoughts as well as the words of men are recorded in this book [Note: Malachi 3:16.]; and out of these books shall they be judged [Note: Revelation 20:12-13.]. Indeed, they are all “sealed up, as it were, in a bag,” in order to be then brought forth as grounds of God’s decision, and as evidences of his equity [Note: Job 14:17.]. Nothing will escape his observation. If there be only “some good thing in any person,” he will discern it, and bring it forth to light, with such tokens of his approbation as the occasion may require [Note: 1 Kings 14:13.]. The sigh, the groan, the tear, are put to the account of those who love him; whilst every advantage that has been abused, and every opportunity that has been lost, will be adduced as swelling the aggregate of his enemies’ guilt.]
But this brings me more particularly to notice,
The rule by which that judgment shall be determined—
The sentence which will be passed on every man will be in accordance with his works.
This, however, needs to be explained—
[We are not to suppose that our good works are put in one scale, and our evil works in another; and that, according to the scale which preponderates, our fate shall be. Nor are we to imagine that, when we have done a certain number of good works, the merits of Christ shall be cast, as it were, into the scale, in order to procure acceptance for them. The way of salvation is widely different from either of these. We all, without exception, are sinners, deserving of God’s wrath and indignation. But he has given his only-begotten Son to die for us; and will accept to mercy all who come to him in his Son’s name. Those who have believed in Christ will in that day be approved as having embraced the proffered salvation: and those who have rejected the Saviour, will be rejected of their God. But still there will be a great difference as to the measure of misery or of happiness which these different parties will inherit. Amongst the righteous, “one star will differ from another star in glory;” and amongst the wicked, some will be “beaten with many stripes, and others with few,” according as circumstances have occurred to extenuate or aggravate their guilt.]
Rightly understood, this strongly declares the equity of God’s future judgments—
[If salvation had been, not by faith, but by works; not a gift of grace, but a debt discharged; it would have been accorded to men precisely on terms corresponding with the rule which is here established. We are told, that “whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap: he that sows to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; and he that soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting [Note: Galatians 6:7-8.]. We are further assured, that, “if we have sowed sparingly, we shall reap sparingly; and if we have sowed bountifully, we shall reap also bountifully [Note: 2 Corinthians 9:6.].” Due respect, indeed, will be paid to men’s abilities and opportunities; the widow’s mite being as acceptable as the largest gifts of the opulent; and “a cup of cold water, given” from a right principle, as valuable as the richest hospitality. In a word, every thing that can affect the quality of an action will be taken into the account, either for the increase of our punishment or the augmentation of our bliss.]
What an awful prospect is here opened to the ungodly!
[There is not a day or an hour in which an ungodly man is not providing misery for himself, and “treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath.” Now, if we congratulate a person that is amassing wealth, how should we pity a man that is amassing misery for himself, even though that misery were but for a few years! But when we see men “drawing out iniquity” to an indefinite extent, by adding fresh materials to it, as they do to a cord or cable [Note: This is the proper meaning of Isaiah 5:18.], methinks we should weep over them. To such an one, even the word preached to him for his salvation “becomes to him a savour of death unto death [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:16.].” Do but reflect on this, my beloved brethren; and beg of God that you may henceforth improve every hour of your lives for the furtherance of that great work which God has given you to accomplish; that so, whenever you are called hence, you may “give up to him your account with joy, and not with grief.”]
What encouragement is here afforded to the righteous!
[Not a day or an hour passes without adding to your happiness in the eternal world. The least thing which you do for God shall be rewarded; and every trial that you sustain for him, be recompensed. Moses “looked to the recompence of the reward;” and the same may you do also. How would this thought lighten all your crosses, if it were duly contemplated and firmly believed! Does St. Paul say, “Our light affliction, which endureth but for a moment, worketh out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:17.]?” Whom will you fear? or rather, What sufferings will you not welcome for Christ’s sake? Go on then, my brethren, labouring to “keep a conscience void of offence” towards both God and man: and let it be your care so to approve yourselves to the heart-searching God, that, when he shall judge the world, he may say to you, “Thou hast been faithful over a few things, be thou ruler over many things.” “Enter now into the joy of thy Lord, thou good and faithful servant;” and “inherit the kingdom prepared for thee from the foundation of the world.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Jeremiah 17". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany