The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond.
The deep seated character of sin
I. What is sin? If you ask the Pharisee of old what sin was--“Well,” he said, “it is eating without washing your hands; it is drinking wine without having first of all strained out the gnats, for those insects are unclean, and if you should swallow any of them they will render you defiled.” Many in these days have the same notion, with a variation. We have read of a Spanish bandit, who, when he confessed before his father confessor, complained that one sin hung with peculiar weight upon his soul that was of peculiar atrocity. He had stabbed a man on a Friday, and a few drops of the blood of the wound had fallen on his lips, by which he had broken the precepts of holy Church, in having tasted animal food on a fast day. The murder did not seem to arouse in his conscience any feeling of remorse at all--not one atom--he would have done the same tomorrow; but an accidental violation of the canons of mother Church excited all his fears. Singular, indeed, are the ideas which many men have of transgression. But such is not God’s view of sin. Sin is a want of conformity to the will of God; sin is disobedience to God’s command; sin is a forgetfulness of the obligations of the relation which exists between the creature and the Creator. This is the very essence of sin. Injustice to my fellow creature is truly sin, but its essence lies in the fact that it is sin against God, who constituted the relation which I have violated. It is a great and intolerable wrong that, being created by God, we yet refuse to yield to His will. It is right that He who is so good to us should have our love: it is sin that, living upon God’s goodness, we do not return to Him our heart’s affection. It is right that, being sustained by Divine beneficence from day to day, we should give to Him constant thankfulness; but, being so sustained, we do not thank Him, and herein lies the very soul of sin. Now, in the light of this truth, let me ask the believer to humble himself very greatly on account of sin. That I have not loved my God with all my heart; that I have not trusted Him with all my confidence; that I have not given to Him the glory due unto His name; that I have not acted as a creature should do, much less as a new creature is bound to do; that, receiving priceless mercies, I have made so small a return--let me confess this in dust and ashes, and then bless the name of the Atoner who, by His precious blood, hath put even this away, so that it shall not be mentioned against us any more forever.
II. How is the fixedness of sin which is declared in the text proved? The prophet tells us that man’s sinfulness is as much fixed in him as an inscription carved with an iron pen in granite. How is this fixedness proved? It is proved in two ways in the text, namely, that it is graven upon the table of their heart, and secondly, upon the horns of their altar. It clearly proves how deeply evil is fixed in man, when we reflect that sin is in the very heart of man. When a sin becomes intertwisted with the roots of the affections, you cannot uproot it; when the leprosy eats deep into the heart of humanity, who can expel it? It becomes henceforth a hopeless case, so far as human power is concerned. Since sin reigns and rules in man’s affections, it is deep ingrained indeed. The second proof the prophet gives of the infixedness of human sin is, that it was written on the horns of their altars. These people sinned by setting up idols and departing from Jehovah: we sin in quite another way. When you get the unconverted man to be religious--which is a very easy thing--what form does the religion take? Frequently he prefers that which most gratifies his taste, his ears, or his sight. If your heart is touched, that is the worship of God; if your heart is drawn to God, that is the service of God; but if it is the mere ringing of the words, and the falling of the periods, and the cadence of the voice that you regard, why, you do not worship God, but on the very horns of your altars are your sins. You are bringing a delight of your own sensuous faculties and putting that in the place of true faith and love, and then saying to your soul, “I have pleased God,” whereas you have only pleased yourself. When men become serious in religion, and look somewhat to the inward, they then defile the Lord’s altar by relying upon their own righteousness. Man is much like a silkworm, he is a spinner and weaver by nature. A robe of righteousness is wrought out for him, but he will not have it; he will spin for himself, and like the silkworm, he spins, and spins, and he only spins himself a shroud. All the righteousness that a sinner can make will only be a shroud in which to wrap up his soul, his destroyed soul, for God will cast him away who relies upon the works of the law. In other ways men stain the horns of their altars. Some do it by carelessness. Those lips must be depraved indeed which even in prayer and praise still continue to sin. The horns of our altars are defiled by hypocrisy. You may have seen two fencers practising their art, and noticed how they seem to be seeking each other’s death; how they strike and thrust as though they were earnestly contending for life; but after the show is over, they sit down and shake hands, and are good friends. Often so it is in your prayers and confessions; you will acknowledge your sins, and profess to hate them, and make resolutions against them, but it is all outward show--fencing, not real fighting--and when the fencing bout is over, the soul shakes hands with its old enemy, and returns to its former ways of sin. Oh, this foul hypocrisy is a staining of the horns of the altar with a vengeance!
III. What is the cause of this? First, we must never forget the fall. We are none of us today as God made us. The human judgment is out of balance, it uses false weights and false measures. “It puts darkness for light and light for darkness.” The human will is no longer supple, as it should be, to the Divine will; our neck is naturally as an iron sinew, and will not bow to Jehovah’s golden sceptre. Our affections also are twisted away from their right bent. Whereas we ought to have been seeking after Jesus, and casting out the tendrils of our affections towards Him, we cling to anything but the right, and climb upon anything but the true. “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint.” Human nature is like a magnificent temple all in ruins. In addition, however, to our natural depravity, there come in, in the second place, our habits of sin. Well may sin be deeply engraven in the man who has for twenty, forty, fifty, or perhaps seventy years, continued in his iniquity. Put the wool into the scarlet dye, and if it lie there but a week, the colour will be so ingrained in the fabric that you cannot get it out; but if you keep it there for so many years, how shall you possibly be able to bleach it? You must recollect, in addition to this, that sin is a most clinging and defiling thing. Who does not know that if a man sins once, it is much easier to sin that way the next time, nay, that he is much more inclinable towards that sin? I may add that the prince of the power of the air, the evil spirit, takes care, so far as he can, to add to all this. He chimes in with every suggestion of fallen nature. He will never let the tinder lie idle for want of sparks, nor the ground lie waste for want of the seeds of thorns and thistles.
IV. What is the cure for all this? Sin thus stamped into us, thus ingrained into our nature, can it ever be got out? It must be got out, or we cannot enter heaven, for there shall by no means enter within those pearly gates anything that defileth. We must be cleansed and purified, but how can it be done? It can only be done by supernatural process. Your only help lies in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became the Son of Man that He might lift the sons of men up from their natural degradation and ruin. How does Jesus Christ then take away these deeply-inscribed lines of sin from human nature? I answer, He does it first in this way. If our heart be like granite, and sin be written on it, Christ’s ready method is to take that heart away. “A new heart also will I give you, and a right spirit will I put within you.” Next to that, inasmuch as the guiltiness of sin is as permanent as sin itself, Jesus Christ is able to take our guilt away. His dying upon the Cross is the means by which the blackest sinner out of hell can be made white as the angels of God, and that, too, in a single instant. The Holy Spirit also comes in: the new nature being given and sin being forgiven, the Holy Ghost comes and dwells in us, as a Prince in his palace, as a God in his temple. Do I hear any say, “Then, I would to God that I may experience the Divine process--the new nature given, which is regeneration, the washing away of sin, which constitutes pardon and justification, and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, which insures final perseverance and complete sanctification. Oh, how can I have these precious things?” Thou mayst have them, whoever thou mayst be, by simply believing in Jesus. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The iron pen recording sins
When Bishop Latimer was on trial for his life, a trial which ended in his being burned at the stake, he at first answered without duly considering how much a single unguarded word might cost him. Presently he heard the pen of a secretary, who was seated behind the tapestry, taking down every expression which fell from his lips. It would be well for us all to remember that there is a pen now recording behind the curtain of the skies, our every evil deed and word and thought and that for all these things God will bring us into judgment. The iron pen suggests two thoughts.
1. The record which it makes is deep and indelible. So, also, with the items which are filling up page after page in the book of God’s remembrance. A wealthy English landlord was once guilty of an act of tyrannical injustice to a poor, helpless widow, who rented a small cottage from him. The widow’s son, whose blood boiled with indignation when he witnessed this, grew up to be a distinguished painter, and he portrayed the scene, and placed it where the eye of the cruel landlord must rest upon it. When the hard-hearted oppressor saw it, he turned pale, and trembled, and offered any sum for it, that the terrible picture might be destroyed.
2. The iron pen with its diamond point does not wear out. Be the record of one’s sins as long as it may, that record will assuredly be made. It is a moment of profound interest in the life of an antiquarian, when he drags forth from the sands of Egypt some ancient obelisk, on which the iron pen has engraved, so many ages ago, the portraits of those who, in the shadowy past, acted their part on the crowded theatre of a bustling world. This, however, is as nothing, compared with the disclosures of that day, when, from the stillness and silence of the grave, shall be brought out into the dazzling light of noon, tablets covered with the sculptured history of the soul; a history which no power nor skill can then erase. And thus the prophet would teach us, by the striking figure of the iron pen with its diamond point, that sin is no trifling thing; that one single violation of the Divine law does not pass unnoticed; and that they who die with the guilt of sins unrepented of, and unpardoned, resting on their souls, have nothing to expect but the outpouring of God’s terrible wrath. Vainly do we apologise for our shortcomings, on the ground of our natural bias to sin; or that the power of temptation proved too strong for us to resist. Forewarned, we ought to have been forearmed. Alas! who can contemplate his own sins against light and knowledge, against the strivings of conscience and the earnest pleadings of the Holy Spirit; who can count up his broken vows, and his contradictions of solemn confessions before God, and not tremble at the thought of the black catalogue which the iron pen has been writing down against him! When the great plague raged in London, in 1666, it was common to write over every infected house, “Lord, have mercy upon us!” Should the same inscription now be made over every abode where the plague of sin has entered, which of our habitations would not require to be thus labelled? (J. N. Norton, D. D.)
The inward registrar
Manton says: “If conscience speaketh not, it writeth; for it is not only a witness, but a register, and a book of record: ‘The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and the point of a diamond’ (Jeremiah 17:1). We know not what conscience writeth, being occupied and taken up with carnal vanities, but we shall know hereafter, when the books are opened (Revelation 20:12). Conscience keepeth a diary, and sets down everything. This book, though it be in the sinner’s keeping, cannot be razed and blotted out. Well, then, a sleepy conscience will not always sleep; if we suffer it not to awaken here, it will awaken in hell; for the present it sleepeth in many, in regard of motion, check, or smiting, but not in regard of notice and observation.” Let those who forget their sins take note of this. There is a chiel within you taking notes, and he will publish all where all will hear it. Never say, “nobody will see me,” for you will see yourself, and your conscience will turn king’s evidence against you. What a volume Mr. Recorder Conscience has written already! How many blotted pages he has in store, to be produced upon my trial. O Thou who alone canst erase this dreadful handwriting, look on me in mercy, as I now look on Thee by faith. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The mind of man has been compared to a white sheet of paper. Now it is like a white sheet of paper in this, that whatever we write upon it, whether with distinct purpose or no, nay, every drop of ink we let fall upon it, makes an abiding mark, a mark which we cannot rub out, without much injury to the paper; unless, indeed, the mark has been very slight from the first, and we set about erasing it while it is fresh. In one of the grandest tragedies of our great English poet, there is a scene which, when one reads it, is enough to make one’s blood run cold. A woman, whose husband had made himself King of Scotland by means of several murders, and who had been the prompter and partner of his crimes, is brought in, while in her sleep, and continually rubbing her hands, as though she were washing them, crying ever and anon, “Yet here’s a spot . . . What! will these hands ne’er be clean?. . .here’s the smell of blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.” In these words there is an awful power of truth. We can stain our souls; we can dye them, and double dye them, and triple dye them; we can dye them all the colours of hall’s rainbow; but we cannot wash them white. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten them, all the fountains of the great deep will not wash one little spot out of them. The usurping Queen of Scotland had been guilty of murder; and the stain of blood, it has been very generally believed, cannot be washed out. But it is not the stain of blood alone; every stain soils the soul; and none of them can be washed out. Every little speck of ink eats into the paper; every sin, however small we may deem it, eats into the soul. If we try to write over it, we make a deeper blot; if we try to scratch it out, the next letters which we write on the spot are blurred. Therefore is it of such vast importance that we should be very careful of what we write. In the tragedy which I was quoting just now, the queen says, “What’s done cannot be undone.” This amounts to the same thing as what I have written, in the sense in which I am now calling upon you to consider these words. What’s done cannot be undone. You know that this is true. You know you cannot push back the wheels of time, and make yesterday come again, so as to do over afresh what you did wrongly then. That which you did yesterday, yesterday will keep: you cannot change it; you cannot make it less or greater; if it was crooked, you cannot make it straight. You cannot turn back the leaves in the book of life, and read the lesson you have grabbed over again. That which you have written, you have written: that which you have done, you have done; and you cannot unwrite or undo it. (J. C. Hare.)
Sin leaves its marks
Even pardoned sins must leave a trace in heavy self-reproach. You have heard of the child whose father told him that whenever he did anything wrong a nail should be driven into a post, and when he did what was good he might pull one out. There were a great many nails driven into the post, but the child tried very hard to get the post cleared of the nails by striving to do right. At length he was so successful in his struggles with himself that the last nail was drawn out of the post. The father was just about to praise the child, when, stooping down to kiss him, he was startled to see tears fast rolling down his face. “Why, my boy, why do you cry? Are not all the nails gone from the post? Oh yes! the nails are all gone, but the marks are left.” That is a familiar illustration, but don’t despise it because of that. It illustrates the experience of many a grey old sire, who, looking upon the traces of his old sins, as they yet rankle in his conscience, would give a hundred worlds to live himself back into young manhood, that he might obliterate the searing imprint of its follies. Have you never heard of fossil rain? In the stratum of the old red sandstone there are to be seen the marks of showers of rain which fell centuries and centuries ago, and they are so plain and perfect that they clearly indicate the way the wind was drifting, and in what direction the tempest slanted from the sky. So may the tracks of youthful sins be traced upon the tablet of the life when it has merged into old age,--tracks which it is bitter and sad remorse to look upon, and which call forth many a bootless longing for the days and months which are past. (A. Mursell.)
Cursed be the man that trusteth in man.
The difference between trusting in the creature and the Creator
I. The folly and evil of trusting in man. To “trust in man,” in the sense of our text, is to expect that from creatures which can only come from the Creator: to confide in them, not as mere instruments, but as efficient causes; to look to them so as to look off from God; to cleave to them so as to depart from Him.
1. Idolatrous in its principle.
2. Grovelling in its aim. It looks no higher than present good, and things altogether unworthy of an immortal spirit.
3. Unreasonable in its foundation. It supposes that man can do what God cannot.
4. Destructive in its issue. “He shall be like the heath in the desert,”--worthless, sapless, fruitless; “he shall not see when good cometh,”--shall not enjoy it; “but he shall inhabit the parched places,” etc.
He shall prosper in nothing.
II. The wisdom and benefit of trusting in the Lord. Jehovah is his hope. He seeks and expects his all from Him. To know, love, and enjoy Him,--behold his chief good,--the object of his hopes,--his highest and ultimate end. Now this conduct is the complete contrast of the other.
1. It is pious in its principles.
2. Elevated in its aim.
3. Rational in its foundation.
4. Glorious in its issue.
“Blessed is the man,” etc. “For he shall be like a tree,” etc.
1. It is a great mistake to suppose the rich and gay happy; the poor and pious miserable.
2. An entire renunciation of creature confidence, and an unreserved dependence on God, can alone secure the Divine favour and our own felicity. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
Trust-right and wrong
I. Man, as a ground of trust.
1. In what consists this dependence upon man for the salvation of the soul?
2. See the consequences of trusting in man. “Cursed,” etc. He that does so shall be--
II. Jehovah, as a ground of trust.
1. What is meant by trusting Jehovah? With the light of this dispensation, we may safely say it embraces dependence on the atonement of Christ; and implies--
2. The blessedness of trusting in Jehovah.
The blessing and the curse
Two contrasted types of experience, or laws of life, are brought before us--the one a life of trust in man, and the other a life of trust in God. These two types of experience are contrasted with each other--not primarily, with respect to their outward moral characteristics. The thought that our attention is first of all called to is, that these two lives stand in a contrasted relation to God. The man who lives the first of the two lives that are described here is represented as assuming and maintaining an attitude of independence of God; and the man who leads the second of these two lives is represented as living in a state of consciously recognised dependence upon God. The one finds his resources in self; the other finds his resources in Deity. Now these two lives are not only contrasted with each other, first of all, as to this their essential characteristic, but they are also contrasted as to their result in respect to the personal happiness and enjoyment which belongs to each. The one is represented as a life lived under a curse, and the other as a life lived under a blessing. Either your experience may be described, in the words of Paul, “The life that I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me”; or else you are living a life of which nothing of the kind can be affirmed, and, therefore, a life in which you are practically cut off from all direct communication with your Maker by sin and unbelief. And if the latter be your condition, you are at this moment, in spite of all your privileges, actually under the ban of God’s curse and the frown of His wrath: one or other of these two cases you may be sure is yours. You will observe that in the first sentence of our text the prophet utters a curse on the man that trusteth in man; and he says this before he goes on to speak of the heart departing from the living God. This trust in man renders it impossible for the man who entertains it to trust in the living God; and it is, I am persuaded, just because, before we can really and honestly trust in the Father through the Son, it is absolutely necessary for us to turn our back upon all other forms of confidence, that so many lose the enjoyment of this blissful life of faith, and make proof in their own miserable experience of the blight and desolation of a life of practical unbelief. We are not prepared to strip ourselves of our false supports and of our fatal self-confidence, and thus we are not in a position to trust ourselves to the living Father through the Son. Consider some of these various forms of false confidence which it is absolutely necessary for us to abandon before we can enter upon the enjoyment of this life of faith. First, if I am to live by faith in God, I must make up my mind to have done with living by faith in the world. If I am to trust God at all, my trust in God must be exclusive of all other confidence. Or, again, it is possible that our confidence is reposed upon human systems--perhaps it may even be religious systems--which, practically, are allowed to take the place that belongs to God in the heart. How many a man one meets with who will tell us that he has opinions of his own. That may be, my brother, but the point is whether those opinions of yours coincide with God’s facts; for opinions of our own may be the cause of mortal injury to us, if it should so happen that those opinions of our own are in direct opposition to facts. Or perhaps it is that we base our confidence on the opinions of other people. Some will tell you that they are earnest Church folks, others will state that they are conscientious Nonconformists; some that they are strong Catholics; some that they are decided Evangelicals. God calls upon us to trust to Himself, and to nothing but Himself; and when we substitute for personal trust in the living God confidence in any kind of system, whatever that system may be, or in any mere doctrine, whatever that doctrine may be, we are cut off by that attitude of heart from the possibilities of the life of faith. Perhaps you will ask, “Well, but why should my trust in doctrine, or my trust in ritual, or my trust in churchmanship, preclude me from trusting in God too?” Just because these things are not God; and, as I said a few moments ago, you cannot trust God and not-God at the same time. But we must consider yet another and still more frequent ease. There are a large number of persons who are strangers to the life of faith--not so much because they are wedded to any particular system on which they have based their confidence, as because they are reluctant to renounce their confidence in themselves. Now, we never really begin with God till we come to an end of ourselves. A considerable number of persons trust in their own quiet, even respectability. They really cannot see that they do anything to be distressed or alarmed about. What means all this hue and cry--this red-hot excitement or attempt to get up a red-hot excitement--these frequent services going on hour after hour all day long--these after meetings--these invitations to earnest inquirers? What does it all mean? The explanation of it all lies in the fact that you ask for an explanation. Let a man be dissatisfied with himself, let a man have a low opinion of himself, and then he will be ready to receive good from any kind of instrumentality, and a very commonplace sort of instrumentality will probably be used to bring that man to the attainment of that spiritual benefit which his ease requires. But let a man be sunk in the sleep of self-complacency--let a man be going on leading a calm, quiet, easy, regular life; but, observe, a life which is not a life of conscious, personal faith in God, but, on the contrary, a life of self-reliance, and therefore a life of self-complacency; and he is as much under the power of the great deceiver as it is possible for a man to be. And of all the undertakings which lie before the Divine Spirit, it seems to me that the very hardest undertaking which even God Himself can engage in is that of penetrating this impervious armour of self-complacency, and of bringing such an one to feel his need of salvation, and to seek and to find that salvation on God’s own terms. If these, then, are some of the barriers to our leading a bright and happy life of faith, we shall perhaps, by God’s blessing, be the more disposed to avoid or have done with them as we dwell for a little on the contrast offered between these two forms of life. Let us look at these pictures. “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is; for he shall be like a tree planted by the waterside, that spreadeth out her roots by the river.” Observe, the tree is dependent, not upon a chance shower, but upon a perennial supply. The river is always flowing, and the tree has stretched out its roots beside the river, and so is in a position continuously to draw for itself from the river all the sustenance and all the moisture which it requires. Christian, if thou art a real Christian, here is thy picture. Thy roots are struck down into God. Thou art dependent upon no mere casual visitation of Divine mercy. It may be very advisable, from time to time, that extraordinary efforts should be made to reach the careless and to awaken the unconcerned, but thou, true child of God, art not dependent upon these for thy life and health. Thou hast struck down thy roots into the river, and there thou standest--uninjured by prevalent drought, unscathed by the fiery rays of the sun, thy leaf green, thy fruit never failing. Is this your ease! Are you drawing your life supplies from God? There are two ways in which the Christian grows. He grows in personal holiness of life and conversation, but he only grows in outward conduct, because he also grows in the knowledge mad love of God. Upon the depth and reality of his relation with God, his moral and religious character will depend. As God becomes more and more to him “a living, bright reality,” so his personal life and character become more fully developed, and the beauty of the Lord will be exhibited in his conduct. As the result of the establishment of these relations with God, the supply of all the necessary wants of the soul is insured, and it has nothing to fear from the trials and disappointments of life: the tree planted by the waters shall not see when heat cometh. Observe, the prophet does not say that it shall be exposed to no heat, but that it shall not be injured by it. Let us ask ourselves, Are we growing in the knowledge of God? Are we getting fresh revelations of His character and His ability to meet and satisfy our every spiritual need? Oh, how vast is our spiritual wealth in Him, and how many a fear and misgiving might not be saved, if we would only acquaint ourselves with Him and be at peace. And this leads us on to the second feature mentioned here, “it shall not be careful in the year of drought.” Happy the Christian man who realises his full privileges in this respect, and lives in the enjoyment of them! Happy the man of business on our own Stock Exchange, who, in the midst of all the vicissitudes of a commercial life, can leave himself calmly in the hands of God, and while the year of drought which has so long been affecting our own and other lands fills others with despair, enjoy a blessed immunity from anxiety, because he knows that he is planted by the waterside. Happy the mother who can cast all the cares of her family upon Him who careth for her, and leave them there, not fretting and fuming when things do not go as she would wish them, not cankered by cares or worried by troubles, but trusting Him in whom she finds the true calm of life to draw her ever the nearer to Himself by all its changeful circumstances! But further, the leaf of such a tree is described as being always green. The leaf of the tree shows the nature of the tree, and just so the profession we make should show what our religious character is. Now, it is a grand thing to have a fresh and green profession, so to speak! Once again we read, “Neither shall cease from yielding fruit.” The Christian will always be a fruitful tree, because he is planted by the water. There will be no lack of fruitfulness when living in full communion with God. Some of us, perhaps, have had an opportunity of looking at that wonderful and famous vine at Hampton Court. A more beautiful sight you can scarcely see in all England than that vine when it is covered all over with the rich, luscious clusters of the vintage. Report attributes its extraordinary fertility to the fact that the roots, extending for a very considerable distance, have made their way down to the Thames, from whence it draws continuous moisture and nourishment. Such a sight is presented to the eyes of God by the Christian who lives in God, planted by the riverside. The fruits of good works will manifest themselves, not one here and another there, but in a rich and lifelong vintage that will not fail. God Himself reaps a harvest from such a life which redounds to His own glory, and is productive of blessed consequences to mankind. Such is the one picture; now let us glance at the other. “Cursed is the man that trusteth in man.” We have left the grapes of Eshcol behind us now--we have turned our backs upon the land that flows with milk and honey. We are making our way towards the bare stretch of arid, desert waste. The smile of God’s favour rests no longer upon the miserable being, but the frown of His wrath broods over him; and the thunder of God’s curse is sounding in his ear, “Cursed is the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord.” Departeth from God! Ah, it all lies there! As the satisfaction of the saint arises from the closeness of his relations with God, so the want and wretchedness of the sinner arise from his separation from Him. The wilderness begins where conscious fellowship with God ceases. “He shall be like the heath in the desert.” As you wander over the dreary waste of barren sand, your eye falls upon a poor, miserable-looking, half-withered, half-dead thing, that still struggles to maintain its woe-begone and sickly existence. There it lingers on wretchedly, cut off from all surrounding vegetation, scarcely living and yet not finally dead, but devoid of all the freshness and luxuriance of life, shrivelled and parched and desolate looking in a salt land and not inhabited. Tar away in the distance there you can see the green tree that is planted by the waterside only just in sight; but here there is no kindly river, no kindred forms of vegetation, in solitude and drought it measures out its dreary existence. In this miserable object, man of the world, see a picture of yourself. Solitude and thirst! in those two characteristics of this woeful picture, you have faithfully represented to you the characteristic elements of your own present experience, and the dread foreshadowing of what its end must be. Thirst and solitude, yes, thou knowest something of that even now, for is there not already within thee a desire that nothing earthly can satisfy--a sense of inanity and want? Verily thou dwellest in a parched and salt land. A mighty famine reigns within thy soul, and thou hast begun to be in want. An irrepressible, an urgent desire now goads thee on from one effort to another, if, haply, thou mayest escape from thy own miserable self-consciousness and lose the sense of thy own want amidst the excitements of thy life. But it is there all the time--this inward thirst, and thou canst not escape from it; and remember the salt land which thou now inhabitest is but the way to, and the dread anticipation of, that salt land of doom to which the sinner is to be banished; and the thirst which even now tortures thy agonised heart is but the prelude to the thirst of hell. Thirst and solitude! yes, and thou knowest something of this last also. How solitary and lonesome already is that poor heart of thine. The plain, simple truth is, that in his inner life the man of the world is always alone--the solitude which sin brings with it has already commenced, and already you are shut out from the true enjoyments of social intercourse; you are lonely, even in the very midst of numbers, and desolate even in the very heart of your family. And in that loneliness you have a prelude to the utter loneliness which lies beyond--the desolation, the solitude, the loss of all, when he who has wandered from the love of God is shut out from the world of love, and given over to that dark region where love cannot come; the loneliness of him who leaves the society of heaven behind him, and finds instead only the weeping and the wailing and the gnashing of teeth. (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
The sin of trusting in man
I. When we may be charged with this.
1. When we fortify ourselves in sin, by human refuges and supports (Isaiah 28:15-16; Isaiah 30:1, etc.; Obadiah 1:3-4).
2. When we look for that rest in the creature, which is only to be found in God (Jeremiah 9:23-24).
3. When we seek to please men more than God. Not as Moses, Daniel, Peter.
4. When we use unlawful means to rid ourselves of trouble (Jonah 1:2-3).
5. When we form our religion by the opinions of men instead of God’s Word (Matthew 15:1-9; Galatians 2:11-13).
6. When we lean on ourselves instead of Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:3-7).
II. The wretchedness of such a disposition and conduct.
1. God will take out the enjoyment of what he possesses (Ecclesiastes 6:1-2).
2. The object of his hope shall be removed, or turned against him (Psalms 41:9).
3. God will leave him to his own corruptions and Satan’s temptations (Hosea 4:17).
4. Guilt shall make him a torment to himself. Judas.
5. When blessings come, he shall not perceive them (Luke 19:41-44; Acts 13:38-41).
6. Death shall snatch him from his enjoyments (Luke 12:1, etc.; Acts 12:1, etc.) (H. Foster.)
The danger of trusting in man
1. He that trusts in man is cursed in the weakness on which he relies. “The strong shall be as tow.” In general, God employs weak and inconsiderable ones to break the arm of flesh; thus, the shouts of the Israelites, and the blowing of horns, brought down the walls of Jericho, and reduced it to the dust: the Midianites, and the Amalekites, and the children of the east, lay along the valley of More like grasshoppers for multitude, and yet the sudden display of only three hundred lamps, and the sounding of as many trumpets, put them all to flight: the champion of the Philistines defied the whole army of Israel, yet a shepherd boy overcame him with a sling and stone. So with all earthly strength on which man builds himself up; the moment God speaks the word it melts away.
2. He that maketh flesh his arm is cursed also in the short-lived nature of his ground of confidence. How often does man, in the very noonday of his journey through life, feel his heart sink within him on finding that the distant places, which in the morning of life he had looked forward to as fresh and beautiful, are but as the parched heath or thirsty sand; he thinks of the days of boyhood, when an untried world promised happiness and security, and sighs on learning the hard lesson, that neither is to be had on this side of the grave.
3. Deceitfulness is moreover part of that curse which those may expect to reap, and that abundantly, who trust in man and make flesh their arm. Put God out of the question; let there be no recognition of any other than human obligations, and you have no security in the faithfulness of the nearest or dearest friend.
4. There is a curse also in the bitterness of disappointment. This is what makes the wretched old worldling like the parched heath; friends, or children, or other relatives, have either died or forsaken him, or his riches have slipped out of his hands and flown away; all his worldly plans and schemes have failed; he has no love of God in his heart to bear him up against so many cruel disappointments, and the bitterness of his spirit has therefore increased day by day, till he is completely soured; he feeds on his morose temper, and in turn it preys upon him; the curse eats into his vitals, drying up every little show of better feeling which would have kept his heart still green and salt; he hates and suspects everyone; the world is looked upon by him as one great lie, and of the truth he knows nothing; or the things wherein he foolishly expected to find happiness, have proved incapable of affording it, even while he had them in his possession. (C. O. Pratt, M. A.)
The folly of trusting in any creature
As a traveller overcome by a storm, having sought the shelter of some fair-spread oak, finds relief for some time, till suddenly, the fierce wind tears some strong branch, which, falling, hurts the unsuspecting traveller; so fares it with not a few who run for shelter to the shade of some great man. “Had I served my God,” said poor Wolsey, “as faithfully as I served my king, He would not have forsaken me now.”
He shall be like the heath in the desert.
The heath in the desert
I. Against whom this curse is denounced.
1. Those who do not realise their dependence on God for all true happiness, but think it lies in worldly gain.
2. Those who trust in man and make flesh their arm, and neglect to fix all dependence on Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
3. Those who depend on a form of godliness without the power, and, excepting a little animal sympathy, remain cold as ever.
II. How these resemble the heath in the desert.
1. In barrenness and deformity.
2. In being desolate, forsaken, and unblest.
3. While the holy land is refreshed with dew from heaven, the desert remains parched as before.
4. Showers falling on desert heath only promote the growth of deformed shrubs; and the influence of heaven falling on this class calls forth a more fatal resistance of the Holy Spirit.
5. The heath cannot be made fruitful; and all God’s visitations fall unregarded on many.
6. It is plain that, while many obey the Gospel call, others remain desolate and uncheered by any heavenly influence. (E. Griffin, D. D.)
The heath in the desert and the tree by the river
The prophet puts before us two highly-finished pictures. In the one, the hot desert stretches on all sides. The fierce “sunbeams like swords” slay every green thing. Here and there a stunted, grey, prickly shrub struggles to live, and just manages not to die. But it has no grace of leaf, nor profitableness of fruit; and it only serves to make the desolation mere desolate. The other carries us to some brimming river, where everything lives because water has come. Dipping their boughs in the sparkling current, and driving their roots through the moist soil, the bordering trees lift aloft their pride of foliage and bear fruits in their season. So, says Jeremiah, the two pictures represent two sets of men; the one, he who diverts from their true object his heart capacities of love and trust, and clings to creatures and to men, “making flesh his arm and departing from the living God”; the other, a man who leans the whole weight of his needs and cares and sins and sorrows upon God. We can make the choice which shall be the object of our trust, and according as we choose the one or the other, the experience of these vivid pictures will be ours.
I. The one is in the desert; the other by the river. The poor little dusty shrub in the desert, whose very leaves have been modified into prickles, is fit for the desert, and is as much at home there as the willows by the water courses with their rush vegetation in their moist bed. But if a man makes that fatal choice, of shutting out God from his confidence and his love, and squandering these upon earth and upon creatures, he is as fatally out of harmony with the place which he has chosen, and as much away from his natural soil as a tropical plant amongst the snows of Arctic glaciers, or a water lily in the Sahara. You, I, the poorest and humblest of men, will never be right, never feel in native soil, with appropriate surroundings, until we have laid our hearts and our hands on the breast of God, and rested ourselves on Him. Not more surely do gills and fins proclaim that the creature that has them is meant to roam through the boundless ocean, nor the anatomy and wings of the bird witness more surely to its destination to soar in the open heavens, than the make of your spirits testifies that God, none less or lower, is your portion. As well might bees try to get honey from a vase of wax flowers as we to draw what we need from creatures, from ourselves, from visible and material things. Where else will you get love that will never fail nor change nor die? Where else will you find an object for the intellect that will yield inexhaustible material of contemplation and delight? Where else infallible direction for the will? Where else shall weakness find unfailing strength, or sorrow adequate consolation, or hope certain fulfilment, or fear a safe hiding place?
II. The one can take in no real good; the other can fear no evil. (See R.V., verse 8.) “He cannot see when good comes.” God comes, and I would rather have some more money, or some woman’s love, or a big business. So I might go the whole round. The man that cannot see good when it is there before his nose, because the false direction of his confidence has blinded his eyes, cannot open his heart to it. You are plunged, as it were, in a sea of possible felicity, which will be yours if your heart’s direction is towards God, and the surrounding ocean of blessedness has as little power to fill your heart as the sea to enter some hermetically sealed flask dropped into the middle of the Atlantic. Turn to the other side. “He shall not fear when heat cometh,” which is evil in these Eastern lands, “and shall not be careful in the year of drought.” The tree that sends its roots towards a river that never fails does not suffer when all the land is parched. And the man who has driven his roots into God, and is drawing from that deep source what is needful for his life and fertility, has no occasion to dread any evil, nor to gnaw his heart with anxiety as to what he is to do in parched times. Troubles may come, but they do not go deeper than the surface. It may be all cracked and caked and dry, “a thirsty land where no water is,” and yet deep down there may be moisture and coolness.
III. The one is bare; the other clothed with the beauty of foliage. The word translated “heat” has a close connection with, if it does not literally mean, “naked,” or “bare.” Probably it designates some inconspicuously leaved desert shrub, the particular species not being ascertainable or a matter of any consequence. Leaves, in Scripture, have a recognised symbolical meaning. “Nothing but leaves” in the story of the fig tree meant only beautiful outward appearance, with no corresponding outcome of goodness of heart, in the shape of fruit. So I venture, here, to draw a distinction between leafage and fruit, and say that the one points rather to a man’s character and conduct as being lovely in appearance, and in the other as being morally good and profitable. This is the lesson of these two clauses--Misdirected confidence in creatures strips a man of much beauty of character, and true faith in God adorns soul with a leafy vesture of loveliness. “Whatsoever things are lovely, and of good report” lack their supreme excellence, the diamond on the top of the royal crown, the glittering gold on the summit of the Campanile, unless there be in them a distinct reference to God.
IV. The one is sterile; the other fruitful. The only works of men worth calling “fruit,” if regard be had to their capacities, relations, and obligations, are those done as the outcome and consequence of hearts trusting in the Lord. The rest of the man’s activities may be busy and multiplied, and, from the point of view of a godless morality, many, may be fair and good; but if we think of him as being destined, as his chief end, “to glorify God, and (so) to enjoy Him forever,” what correspondence between such a creature and acts that are done without reference to God can there ever be? At the most they are “wild grapes.” And there comes a time when they will be tested; the axe laid to the root of the trees, and these imperfect deeds will shrivel up and disappear. Trust will certainly be fruitful. There we are upon pure Christian ground which declares that the outcome of faith is conduct in conformity with the will of Him in whom we trust, and that the productive principle of all good in man is confidence in God manifest to us in Jesus Christ. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord.--
The felicity of Divine trustfulness
I. He is blessed with a vital connection with the fountain of life. His soul is rooted in the fountain of life.
1. His intellect is rooted in God’s truths.
2. His sympathy is rooted in God’s character.
3. His activity is rooted in God’s plan.
II. He is blessed with moral freshness at all times. He has permanent beauty. There are two reasons why the most beautiful evergreen tree in nature must fail.
1. Because it is limited in its own essence. No tree has unbounded potentialities; though it live for centuries it will grow itself out, exhaust all its latent force. Not so with the soul. It has unending powers of growth.
2. Because it is limited in its supplies. The river at its roots may dry up; the nutriment in its soil it may exhaust. Not so with the soul; its roots strike into the inexhaustible fountain of life. Its leaf shall be green,--ever green.
III. He is blessed with moral calmness in trying seasons. The position of such a tree is independent; its roots have struck deep into the eternities, and it defies the storms of time.
IV. He is blessed with moral fruitfulness without end (Galatians 5:22). A good man is ever useful, an ever productive tree to the hungry, an ever welling fountain to the parched, an ever burning lamp to the benighted. (Homilist.)
The blessedness of trust
I. Look at man as fitted for trust. He is simply the most dependent creature in the world. In a hundred ways man is more dependent than any other animal that lives. Of all creatures he comes into the world the most utterly helpless, as if his weakness should be impressed upon his earliest being. By far the greater part of all other living things are at once able to take their place and care for themselves. See the child in its mother’s arms unable to do anything for itself, needing continual care and tenderest pity and constant provision. See, too, how in the case of man this dependence is prolonged immensely beyond that of any other being. The child of three or four years is vastly more helpless than any other creature of three or four months, and for many years after that the child needs to be provided for in a thousand ways. It is not too much to say that of the allotted span of human life one-quarter is spent in complete dependence upon others for food and clothing and shelter and teaching. Again, in the case of every other creature this dependence is quickly forgotten. Nature makes haste to sever the tie that binds the parent to the offspring, but in the case of the man it is prolonged until the reason can perceive it and the memory of it is made imperishable. Why this helplessness? Does it not involve a heavy burden upon the busy and toiling? Where, then, is the compensation? It is this, that out of this dependence grows the Divine relationship of father, mother, and child,--that blessed trinity in unity. So out of his littleness is born his nobility; and he is fashioned in helplessness that he may learn the blessed mystery of trust. Look at a further unfolding of this truth. The dependence of which we have spoken does not end with childhood. Strange as it may seem, yet it would be true to say that the man is more dependent than the child. Increased knowledge brings increased care. Greater strength brings greater need. The dependence of the child becomes the dependence of the man upon his brothers. Contrast man for a moment with the other creatures in his need of organisation, combination, cooperation. What thousands of hands must toil for us that our commonest wants may be met. To how many am I debtor for a crust of bread! And here again, let us ask, What is the purpose of this dependence? Is not man often hampered by it? Does it not open the door for arrogance and pride, for cruel bondage and slavery? But do you not see how by this very dependence man is to learn further the mystery and blessedness of trust? And dependence is to develop the further nobleness that binds men into a brotherhood. But the needs of childhood which are met by the parents, and the needs of man which are met by his fellow man, are not all nor even most of all. Besides these are a thousand wants, deep, mysterious, and pressing more heavily than any others. No other creature has a future. Of all else a present want is the only suffering; a present supply is the satisfaction. But to us the future is ever most of all. The past is gone away behind us; the present is ever slipping from us; the future only seems to be ours. For the very food he eats man is compelled ever to be looking forward. What is reason but a clearer sight of our helplessness? The forward-looking creature, looking whither? Who can help him here? Only man has a sense of death. All roads lead to the grave. Here no parent can help the child: no man can help his neighbour. What then can he make his trust? Again, only man has a consciousness of sin. A whole world’s altars and temples and sacrifices are its doleful confession: we have sinned! Now for these greater needs, is there no remedy,--no rest? What is the good of all else if here the man is to be forsaken?
II. And here is God revealed that He may be trusted. “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord.” Does trust need power? Here is the Almighty. Lo, He sitteth upon the throne of the universe and all things serve Him. Does trust demand the unchanging, the everlasting? Does trust need wisdom? Here is all that my want can ever desire. But these attributes, whilst trust demands them all and whilst they make trust blessed, do not win my trust. My heart needs more. And blessed be God, a great deal more is given. Trust needs love. And yet one thing more is needful to perfect trust. Trust is born of fear: and fear is born of sin. How can I who have sinned against God draw near to Him? Till that question is answered God is but a terror to me. Love may pity: love may weep: but true love cannot hush up and hide my sin. Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. My sin is not hidden. It is brought out into the very face of heaven and hell: and there its penalty is met and satisfied. Have you found this blessedness? (M. G. Pearse.)
Trusting in the Lord
I. What it is.
1. The object.
2. The disposition of the heart toward this object. “Trusteth Me,” i.e.--
II. The blessedness, or privileges, of such a man.
1. He shall lay faster hold on God and religion.
2. He shall not feel the weight of trials.
3. He shall hold fast his profession when others drop off.
4. He shall be sustained in old age and death.
5. He shall not cease from yielding fruit--
Trust in God
I. Trust in God is an honour we owe to the supremacy of the Divine nature, and it is a degree of idolatry to place it on any other being.
1. This duty implies positively an entire resignation to the wisdom, a dependence on the power, and a firm assurance of the goodness and veracity of God.
2. Negatively this duty implies that we should withdraw our confidence from all inferior beings; and in order to this we must begin at home, put off all trust in ourselves, our parts, abilities or acquisitions, how great or how many soever they may be.
II. Consider when this trust is grounded as it ought to be, or what conditions are required on our part to assure our confidence in the favour and protection of God. The most important qualification for a successful performance of these duties, is a sincere obedience to the laws of God, an unfeigned devotion of the heart to His service, a steady adherence to the faith, and a purity and holiness of life agreeable to the precepts of our religion.
III. The blessedness of him who can thus trust and hope in the Lord. He relies on a wisdom who sees the utmost consequence of things, on a power which nothing can obstruct, on a goodness of infinite affection to his happiness, and who has bound Himself by promise never to fail these who trust in Him. If this God be with us, who or what can be against us? But if He be angry, all our other dependencies will profit us nothing, our strength will be but weakness, and our wisdom folly; every other support will fail under us when we come to lean upon it, and deceive us in the day when we want it most. (John Rogers, D. D.)
On trust in God
I. What is a just confidence in God? This duty implies an humble dependence on Him for that protection and those blessings which His supreme perfections both enable and incline Him to bestow on His creatures; a full conviction of His goodness and mercy; and a steady hope, that that mercy will, on all occasions, in all our dangers and necessities, be extended to us, in such a manner as to His wisdom appears most conducive, if not to our tranquillity in this life, to our everlasting felicity in the next. This duty can hardly be so far misapprehended as to repress the efforts of industry, or be supposed to supersede the necessity of due care and application to the employment and duties of our respective stations. For we have no grounds to expect that God will provide for our interests, if we are improvident ourselves; or that he will, by a particular interposition, favour the idle and the negligent. Let the duty and business of today be our concern; the event of tomorrow we may trust to God.
II. When our confidence in God is well grounded. Our confidence must rise or fall, according to the progress or defects of our obedience. Conscious of right intentions, and approved by our own heart, we may approach the throne of grace with superior assurance. If our heart in some degree condemn us, we may have our intervals of diffidence and apprehension; but, if, unreclaimed, we go on still in wickedness, and persist in determined disobedience; should we then trust in God, it were, in the most literal and criminal sense, to hope against hope. Till we repent, and return to duty, we can have no expectations of favour, no confidence in our Maker; nor can we lift up our eyes to heaven with any hopes of mercy and forgiveness there.
III. The happiness resulting from a well-grounded dependence on God. He whose conscience speaks consolation, and bids him confide in his God, confides in a wisdom which sees the remotest issues of all events, on a power which ordereth all things, and on a goodness which ever consults the well-being of His creatures. And though this gives him no absolute insurance against evils, no privilege of exemption from calamities and afflictions; yet he feels the weight of them much abated by internal consolations. He acquiesces in all the dispensations of heaven, submits with humble resignation to the severities of providence; assured that God alone can know what is best, what is most expedient in his present circumstances, and what most instrumental to his future felicity. In the darkest night of affliction, some light will spring up, some beam of joy dart upon his mind, from this consideration, that the God whom he serves is able to deliver, and in His own good time will deliver him out of all his troubles, or reward him with joys unspeakable in His own blissful presence. (G. Carr.)
Making God our trust
I. The soul’s right and only trust.
1. We owe it to the supremacy of the Divine nature.
2. Entire resignation to God’s wisdom and will.
3. Entire withdrawal of our trust from all inferior things.
4. Sincere acceptance of Christ as our Saviour.
5. Sincere effort to live a holy and pious life.
II. The blessedness with which godly trust is crowned. This may be seen by contrast with the unbeliever.
1. The objects of the unbeliever’s trust are uncertain and insignificant; the believer’s, certain and glorious.
2. The one inadequate and perishing; the other, all-sufficient and abiding.
3. The one bears a burdened conscience and a character ill at ease; the other enjoys peace and rest.
4. The one regards God as his foe, and resembles the inferior objects of his trust; the other regards God as his friend, enjoys His protection and fellowship and resembles Him.
1. Not to be deluded by inferior things.
2. Seek this blessing by submission to God’s will in a crucified Saviour. (E. Jerman.)
Shall not God be trusted
Manton says, “If a man promise, they reckon much of that; they can tarry upon man’s security, but count God’s Word nothing worth. They can trade with a factor beyond seas, and trust all their estate in a man’s hands whom they have never seen; and yet the Word of the infallible God is of little regard and respect with them, even then when He is willing to give an earnest of the promised good.” It is noteworthy that in ordinary life small matters of business are transacted by sight, and articles valued by pence are paid for over the counter: for larger things we give cheques which are really nothing but pieces of paper made valuable by a man’s name; and in the heaviest transactions of all, millions change from hand to hand without a coin being seen, the whole depending upon the honour and worth of those who sign their hands. What then? shall not the Lord be trusted? Ay, with our whole being and destiny. It ought to be the most natural thing in all the world to trust God; and to those who dwell near Him it is so. Where should we trust but in Him who has all power and truth and love within Himself? We commit ourselves into the hands of our faithful Creator and feel ourselves secure. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green.
Verdure in the midst of desolation
I. The fact itself. Meets us everywhere in the natural world. So also in the kingdom of grace. Spiritual health depends not only or mainly on our circumstances, but on the temper and state of our souls. In cottage, in palace; in want, in affluence; in retirement, on busy Exchange; in youth, in age; in health, in disease and sickness, God’s Enochs have “walked with God.” Look, then, within for source of weakness, decay, low spiritual state.
II. The explanation.
1. He lives in constant believing communion with God.
2. He improves what advantages he possesses.
3. He retains the good he receives.
4. He sedulously improves and turns to account the grace he has. (Islay Burns.)
The continuousness of true progress
True religion takes such a thorough hold upon all the deeply seated principles of our nature--so fastens itself upon the entire soul, that the high probability is, that where it has once commenced it will continue.
I. The principle of inquiry is an influential force in human nature and true religion is suited to maintain a master hold upon that. Does religion proscribe any field of thought? Does it bolt any of the golden gates of science? No; it throws open the whole domain of truth, and spreads it forth, not only in all its amplitude to the mind, but in lights and colours of special fascination and charm. The mere speculative theist “looks through nature up to nature’s God”; but the truly religious thinker feels that God is both philosophically and emotionally nearer to him than nature, and he looks through God down upon nature’s mighty realms, and thus increases the charms of nature a thousandfold. Does not the picture appear in new beauties, after love for the artist has risen in the heart of the spectator? And does not the universe burst into new glories upon the vision of that man in whose heart supreme love for the Creator has been produced? But it may be said, granting that religion lays open all the realms of science, and heightens, incomparably, its charms; may it not be, that in the course of time the intellect may become so conversant with all truth, as to have neither need nor motive for future inquiry, and thereby religion would lose this master hold upon man? We think not. Who shall count the number of God’s works, or describe the vastness of His universe?
II. The principle of love is a mighty power in human nature and true religion is suited to maintain a master hold upon that. Love is the spring and spirit of the universe. And, thank God, it is, notwithstanding our depravity, the strongest force in our nature still. Now, religion calls out this powerful element in our nature in its two most powerful forms, namely, gratitude and admiration. How powerfully does gratitude bind us to our benefactors. The language of the heart to such is, “entreat me not to leave thee, nor to return from following after thee.” Kindness is might of the highest order; by it we can take hold of men’s strength grasp their very souls and bind them to us by indissoluble bonds Nor is love, in the form of admiration, a weaker force. When it is directed to artistic beauty, it is powerful; when it is directed to natural beauty, it is more powerful still; but when it is directed to moral beauty, it is most powerful of all. Beauty carries captive the soul. The fine painting is attractive; the magnificent landscape more attractive still; the true hero, the embodiment of the highest moral qualities, is most attractive of all. So long, therefore, as the supreme love of gratitude and admiration are directed to God, the soul must, from its very nature, be vitally allied to Him. And is not this love, where it has once been awakened, likely to continue?
III. The principle of rightness is a powerful force in human nature and true religion is suited to maintain a master hold upon that. Men under the influence of conscience have voluntarily braved the greatest perils, endured the greatest sufferings, and made the greatest sacrifices. Looking at the power and history of this element of our nature, there is a high probability that those attachments and enterprises will be lasting which secure its entire sympathy and sanction. And are not such preeminently the attachments and enterprises of a truly religious life? Does not conscience, this monarch energy of the soul, not only sanction supreme love to God, and entire consecration to His service, but imperiously demand it?
IV. The principle of hope is a strong force in human nature and true religion is suited to maintain a master hold upon that. The best and choicest blessings are ever in the region of hope--a region all flowers and fruit, and sunshine; across whose beauteous landscapes there never sweeps the withering blight or the furious storm, and whose suns and stars are never dimmed by cloud nor mist. Now, the probability of a man’s continuance in any enterprise, depends greatly upon its connection with hope. Half the working world toil on in their respective lines of action, not for the sake of present results, but for the sake of what hope has promised them in the future What connection has the religious life with this hope? Does the religious enterprise hold out any bright prospect? If in connection with religion there should ever come a time when there was nothing more to expect, religion would lose much of its power over man, and there would be a strong probability of a relapse. But if the prospect widened and brightened as the man advanced, would not the chances of a retrogression decrease with every” successive step? This is just the fact in a religious life; the more actually attained, the more prospectively appears.
V. The principle of habit is a powerful force in human nature and true religion is suited to maintain a master hold upon that. The power of this principle is universally acknowledged, and in some eases is felt invincible. In the history of sin its force is the most striking. All the crimes in the long black narrative of human guilt you may trace, in a great measure, to habit. Every sinful act is another cord woven into that mighty cable of habit, which binds the spirit to the throne of darkness--a fresh momentum added to the falling soul. Now, if habit is so powerful in binding to sin, our position is, that it becomes more powerful in binding to holiness.
1. Because, in the one case, the man’s conscience--the very root of his spiritual nature.
is in favour of his present course, and against change; in the other case, the whole force of his conscience perpetually against the present mode of life, and is demanding reformation.
2. Because, in the one case, Divine influence is ever present to stimulate and to cheer the spirit on; but in the other, the whole tide of this influence rolls in powerful opposition.
3. Because, in the one case, there are no unquestionable instances of change; in the other, instances abound on every hand; every conversion to God is an example. (Homilist.)
The triumph of trust
The laurel, saith King, is never thunderstruck. Sure it is that he who trusteth in God taketh no hurt; his heart is fixed and immovable to endure things almost incredible. True trust will certainly triumph at length. (John Trapp.)
Fruit expected from the Church
A church is like a great tree in the desert which holds out the promise of fruit, and towards which all the spiritually hungry turn. There can be few sadder things in this world than a church, promising by its very name, by its spire pointing to heaven, by its open doors, by its songs and services, by its bells of invitation, to give food to the hungry, refreshment to the weary, comfort to the sorrowing, and then failing to keep its promises to the souls that come expecting. (J. H. Miller.)
The heart is deceitful above all things.
The deceitfulness of the human heart
I. We are to consider what is implied in sinners knowing their own hearts. They know that they have hearts, which are distinct from perception, reason, conscience, and all their intellectual powers and faculties. But this knowledge of their hearts is not that which is intended in the text. For in this sense they may perfectly know their own hearts, while they remain entirely ignorant of them in other important respects.
1. Their knowing their hearts in the sense of the text, implies the knowledge of their selfishness. Saints love those who do not love them; but sinners love those only who do love them; and all the criminality of their hearts consists in their partial, interested affections. They may love all the objects that saints love, and hate all the objects that saints hate; and yet all their affections be different, in their nature, from the affections of saints. Whether they love or hate good or bad objects, still their love and hatred are entirely sinful, because they are altogether selfish. This they are not apt to know, nor believe.
2. The knowledge of their hearts implies the knowledge of their desperate, incurable wickedness. There is no hope of their ever becoming better from any motives that can be set before them, or from any means which can be used with them. And until sinners see their hearts in this light, they are unacquainted with them, and know not the nature and depth of their own depravity.
3. Their knowing their own hearts implies their knowing their extreme deceitfulness.
II. Why it is so extremely difficult for them to gain this knowledge.
1. They are unwilling to know their own hearts. This is true of all sinners. “He that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.”
2. Another thing which renders it still more difficult for them to know their own hearts, is what the Scripture calls the deceitfulness of sin. All sin is selfishness, and all selfishness is deceitful. They love or hate all objects, just as they view them as having a favourable or unfavourable aspect, in respect to themselves. In particular--
1. We learn that there is but one way for men to know their own hearts; and that is, to inquire why they love or hate, rejoice or mourn, hope or fear, or why they exercise submission, patience and confidence.
2. We learn that saints may more easily ascertain their true character, than sinners can theirs. They sincerely desire to know their own hearts; and they are willing to take the only proper way to discover their true character.
3. It appears that all the changes that mankind meet with in the course of life, are trials of the heart. All changes in men’s circumstances, whether great or small, whether from prosperity to adversity, or from adversity to prosperity, try their hearts, and give them opportunity every day to know whether they are in a state of nature, or in a state of grace.
4. It appears from the wickedness and deceitfulness of the human heart, that it is not strange that religious apostasy has prevailed so much in the world.
5. It appears that those are unwise who trust in their own hearts.
6. We learn that sinners are never under genuine convictions until they see the desperate wickedness and deceitfulness of their hearts. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
The deceitfulness of the heart
The ancients supposed the soul to reside in the heart; and when they spake of the heart, they meant the soul which resided there. In the passage before us the prophet means the thoughts, the will, the desires, the affections of the soul of man.
I. The inconstancy of the heart. To a certain extent, the inconstancy of the heart is perhaps natural and unavoidable. Everything around us is shifting, changing. Our judgment, our views, our feelings, our passions seem subject to perpetual vicissitude. A good resolution has been formed; but the fervour has soon abated; and the poor heart, which loves to change, has but too quickly followed its natural inclination. This propensity may be referred, in a measure, to the union of the soul with the body. But the chief reason is to be found in the darkness and uncertainty of the mind as to its real good.
II. The unfaithfulness of the heart. Eagerly do we make promises in the hour of affliction--but we forget them in prosperity! In sickness we have made a thousand resolutions--in health, we have forgotten them all!
III. The self-love which our hearts exhibit. Here a man is full of what he calls zeal for religion, and sees not that his supposed zeal for religion is only zeal for his own party, and that it is only exercised from a wish to gain attention and respect from men. Another is full of zeal for correctness of opinion and sees not that it is the manifestation of unholy passions. But oh, who can say by how many various methods men cover themselves from themselves!
IV. The illusions the heart is capable of practising on itself. It imposes on the understanding: it embellishes the scene around: it arrays every object in deceptive charms. The interest of man sways his understanding, and every object assumes a different shape and colour. And is it not so in religion? (T. F. Denham.)
Deceitfulness of the human heart
I. The extreme deceitfulness of the human heart.
1. Its misrepresentation to us of outward objects. The seductive influence of the world around us is felt by all, and complained of by many; but yet it is to be remembered that this influence is nothing more than the feeling which we entertain in regard to it; it is nothing less, nor more, than our loving these outward things, our delighting in them, as though they were a real good. Now, is such a mew just and right? The influence that is grafted so deep upon us is after all nothing more than a delusion as to the sentiments which we hold in reference to the whole world, its fashions, its pleasures, its joys, and its gains.
2. Its perversion of the truth. How is it that there can be such different sentiments in respect to the Deity of the Messiah; in respect to the reality of free and sovereign grace as the only source and means of salvation; in regard to the truth and reality and necessity of the atonement; of our acceptance before God--the Holy and the Just? Who does not see that there must somewhere lurk some secret wish that the truth should be either as the mind imagines it, or perceives it to be? Who is not aware that there is deception at the bottom?
3. The false estimate which it teaches us to form of ourselves. You need not to be informed how it will magnify our excellences to our own view, and how it will diminish our defects.
4. Its repeatedly enticing us to that which we have so many times condemned and seemed to abhor. The heart may still be in love with that sin from which the conscience recoils. Oh, how sin will undermine the conscience; how sin will dissipate all our holy resolutions and desires!
II. The wickedness of the human heart. Let it be remembered that the deceitfulness of the heart, of which we have before been speaking, is a part of its wickedness. The wickedness of the human heart is here spoken of as being desperate. It is a disease which has gone to the last degree, which has spread itself through all the powers of the mind, through all the vitals of the soul. Its desperateness, then, is extreme, and its hopes of improvement from any human remedy, desperate also. As it grows older it will not necessarily grow better; but, if left to itself, it will rather become worse. Nature seems to have some self-rectifying provision within her, so as to subdue some partial disorders of our constitution; but this is not the case in radical defects and fatal diseases. So it is here. There may be some propensities even in human character which may go to counteract the operation of certain others, yet these do not reach the innate character of the heart, and never will they tend to purify it. We shall not, therefore, be improved merely as we advance in knowledge--as we receive merely the chastisements of Divine providence--as we merely come under the instruction of the Word of God. No affliction would sanctify, no outward means would purify--the grace of God alone is adequate to the work.
III. Let us endeavour to answer the question, “who can know it?” This is merely a strong negative in regard to human knowledge. No human being knows the heart of his fellow man, nor his own heart. He knows not the deep recesses of iniquity which are there. Much has been developed through the history of life, but there remains much more. “None can know it.” We dwell not on this, but we answer according to the intimation of the next verse, God only knows it. God knows it, and He has His eye upon it. All your thoughts have been known to Him, and the effect of all your wilful perversions of the truth, all your attempts to put away from you the power and the effect of the impressions of His Holy Word, all your trifling with the obligations under which you have been laid, the feelings with which you have come to His house, and been listening to His Word; whether there has been a resolution to turn to God, or whether there has still been a wilful continuance in estrangement from Him. He has seen it all; and if He has seen it all, He knows it, and He will deal with it as it deserves. Oh, what an awful consideration, that sinners are in the hands of an Omnipotent Being, who will give to every man according as his work has been! But there is another thought--that is, He can deal with us according to the necessity of the case. He has grace in abundance, and he is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think. (J. Griffin.)
Deceitfulness and wickedness of the heart
I. The heart is deceitful.
1. The heart denotes the inner man, his thoughts, his will, his inclinations, and his affections; or the human soul with its faculties and operations.
2. Many causes may be assigned for it.
II. The heart of man is desperately wicked. To be sensible how men in general are depraved, we need only consult history, and consider the common state of the world. These will give us a hideous representation of human disorders and iniquities, both public and private, national and personal. The desperate wickedness of many is such, that nothing but rigour, nothing but jails and gibbets can keep civil society in tolerable order. Who can number up the sins which men are perpetually committing? and all these proceed from an evil heart, as our Saviour says. To give some check to this inundation of evil, the providence of God hath provided various remedies; as the voice of conscience, the advantages of education, the instructions of the wise, the assistance of human laws, the example of the good, the desire of reputation, the fear of infamy, the light of reason, the profitableness of virtue, the pernicious nature of vice, and, lastly, the revealed Word of God. Yet, notwithstanding these correctives, we see and feel how moral evil abounds, even where the Gospel is professed.
III. The heart of man is inscrutable. Who can know it? says the prophet. That is; No man can know it; or rather, It is no easy matter to know it. There is a general knowledge which we have of the human heart, and a way of judging concerning it, which in the main is tolerably sure. The tree, says our Lord, is known by the fruits; and, in like manner, the heart is known by the actions. When a man’s behaviour is vile, and his conversation profane, we may pronounce his heart to be bad; and we are not obliged to put out our own eyes, and renounce our own senses, and to call evil good, and good evil, rather than to censure such a person, or entertain a bad opinion of him. Yet in judging of others much caution and candour are requisite. But the discernment which each person should have of his own heart is the most important. And here one would think that such skill is easily acquired, and doth in a manner obtrude itself upon us. And yet it is certain that in a religious sense it is often hard to know one’s self. There are two sorts of self-knowledge, the one a knowledge of feeling and perceiving, the other a knowledge of reflection and discernment. As to the first, we all of us have it without question. It informs us only of what we are thinking or doing, but not of the nature, causes, and effects of our thoughts and deeds. As to the second and true kind of self-knowledge, which is the result of consideration and examination, we have it seldom, and we cannot acquire it without attention and care. It is strange how little we know practically either of our body, or of our understanding, or our heart. As to the body, its defects are usually overlooked by us, unless they be very remarkable, or painful. As to our understanding, we flatter ourselves that we have a due share of it, and observe how deficient our neighbours are in that respect; how one is stupid and silly, another ignorant, a third prejudiced, injudicious, and conceited. Thus he who hath a wrong judgment and a heated imagination decides upon every point with more confidence than persons of a far greater capacity. He who is rough, peevish, and intractable, knows nothing of it, whilst others can hardly tell how to bear with him. So true it is that we know not ourselves. A man owns himself guilty of this or that fault, but, however, he says that his heart is good and honest at the bottom. Weak illusion I since it is from the evil which lurks in the heart that these irregular actions proceed. The difficulty of knowing our hearts appears from those repeated commands in Scripture to consider and search our ways. And, indeed, it is no small task to review our knowledge, our opinions, our judgments, and our beliefs; to recollect our past actions, and the use which we have made of God’s blessings, and to compare our practice with our duty. This difficulty also appears from the character which God gives to Himself, that He alone is the searcher of hearts. But observe that God, when He calls Himself the searcher of hearts, means two things; that He alone knows the hearts of all creatures, and that He alone knows them without any mixture of error. We know but little of the heart of other men, and, therefore, should be cautious in judging of them; and as to our own, though we shahs never know it exactly, with all our endeavours, yet as far as we can, we are obliged to acquaint ourselves with it. Inferences--
1. We should entertain a sober diffidence of ourselves.
2. We should not be much surprised or concerned when men use us ill, or disappoint us. We cannot rely upon ourselves, much less upon others.
3. We should take care to give good principles and a good example to those young persons whom Divine or human laws have placed under our guidance and protection.
4. We should be ready to confess our offences to God, and be as strict in censuring our own defects as we often are in condemning those of others.
5. Since the heart of man is deep and close, we should betimes endeavour to get acquainted with our own. But if it be hard to know ourselves, how can we acquire such skill in a tolerable degree? By humility and consideration, by consulting the Holy Scripture, that lamp of God which will give us light in searching into the recesses of the heart; and by imploring the Divine assistance. (J. Jortin, D. D.)
Deceitfulness of the heart
That is properly called deceitful which presents objects in a false light, or leads to a misconception of the nature of things within us and around us. And that is properly called deceitful which conceals its own true character, and assumes the appearance of what it is not.
1. One of the ways in which the deceitfulness of the heart manifests itself is in its tendency to blind the understanding in regard to religious truth. To have the mind darkened with ignorance, or perverted by error, is inconsistent with the exercise of holiness, or the practice of true virtue. Evidence is always on the side of truth; but that evidence may be overlooked, or so distorted, that the truth may not be perceived, and instead of it error may be embraced and defended as truth. The reason why the minds of men reject the truth is, the depravity of the heart. Infidelity, and every species of dangerous error, may be traced to the deceitfulness of the heart. If men possessed good and honest hearts, they would search diligently for the truth, and would be disposed to judge impartially of its evidence; and, as was said, evidence being on the side of truth, and the truth congenial with the moral feelings of the upright mind, it would always be embraced. Atheism itself is a disease rather of the heart than of the head. And idolatry, which darkens with its portentous shadows a large portion of our globe, owes its origin to the deceitfulness and wickedness of the human heart.
2. The exceeding deceitfulness of the heart appears in the delusive promises of pleasure, which it makes, in the indulgence of sinful desires. This is so uniformly the fact, that it is a common remark that men enjoy more pleasure in the pursuit of the objects of the world, than in their possession. This delusion of pleasure in prospect, particularly affects the young. With them experience is wanting, which serves to correct this error of the imagination; but even experience is insufficient to cure the disease. In this matter, the world does not become wiser by growing older. There is another deception of the heart which has relation to the indulgence of natural desires. The person may be apprehensive at first, from former experience, that some evil to soul or body may arise from unlawful indulgence. A pause is produced, and hesitation is felt; but appetite, when strong, pleads for indulgence, and is fruitful in pleas; among which none is more false and deceitful, than that if gratified in this instance, it will never crave indulgence any more. And this false promise often prevails with the vacillating sinner; and he plunges into the gulf, which is open to receive him.
3. Under the influence of an evil heart, everything appears in false colours. Not only does error assume the garb of truth, but piety itself is made to appear odious. Indeed, there is nothing upon earth which the carnal mind hates so truly as holiness. But as that which appears good cannot be hated, one art of the deceitful heart is, to misrepresent the true nature of piety and devotion. The fairest face when caricatured, becomes deformed, and appears ludicrous.
4. The deceitfulness of the heart is also exceedingly manifest in the false pretensions which it makes, and the delusive appearances which it assumes. And this deceitfulness not only imposes upon others, but upon the person himself. Under this delusion, men persuade themselves that they are not wicked, but that their hearts are good. Their virtues, or semblance of virtues, are magnified, when seen through the false medium of self-love; and their vices are so diminished, that they are either not seen, or appear as mere peccadilloes, scarcely deserving notice. Such persons are also deceived as to their own wisdom. But the most dangerous form of this deceit is, when persons, never converted or renewed, are induced to believe that they are saints.
5. The deceitfulness of the heart is manifest in the good which we promise ourselves that we will do in future. But the true test of character is, what we are actually doing at the present time. Do we now, from day to day, do all the good which is in our power? Do we now improve our time and talents to the utmost? If we do not, then does our heart deceive us, as to its own real disposition?
6. Another way in which our hearts deceive us is, by leading, us to judge of ourselves, not by a strict scrutiny into our real motives, but by viewing our character through the medium of public opinion, or through the favourable sentiments of our partial friends.
1. If the heart be so exceedingly deceitful and wicked, we should be deeply humbled before God that we have hearts so evil.
2. If the heart be so deceitful, we should place no confidence in it.
3. If the heart be so deceitful, it should be watched with care.
4. From the state and character of the heart here given, we may infer the necessity of a change of heart; and everyone should be led to cry to God for renewing grace.
5. We should come often to the fountain which is opened for sin and uncleanness
6. If any of us have been made sensible of the deceitfulness and wickedness of our hearts, and have, in some degree, been delivered from this great evil of our nature, this change, we are sure, has not proceeded from ourselves. (A. Alexander, D. D.)
The deceitfulness of the heart
Unless we are affected, permanently and practically, with the corruption of our nature, all other points of Christian doctrine connected with it, supposing we even admit their truth, must be mere speculation, unaffecting in their influence, unprofitable in their results.
I. The unparalleled deceitfulness, and desperate wickedness of the heart. This appears from the following considerations: That it is able to evade the most pointed applications of Divine truth, to resist the most powerful convictions of the Divine Spirit, and to violate the most serious resolutions of the awakened conscience.
1. One might imagine that the unprofitableness and danger of living in a spirit and temper so much below the spirit and temper of real Christians would, when faithfully disclosed, have the effect of awakening solicitude in the minds of those persons whose everlasting condition is so deeply involved. But how often would these expectations be disappointed! Every person makes the application for his neighbour, saying, “Thou art the man”; and with great dexterity evades it himself.
2. When the devotional spirit, the heavenly temper, the holy conduct of the Christian are faithfully described; when his motives and principle, his affections, his objects, and his aims, are disclosed, it is natural to suppose that worldly men, by contrasting all this with their own spirit and temper and conduct, with their own motives and principles and affections, with their own objects and aims so directly the reverse, would be humbled and confounded. But how often are men satisfied with admiring the beauty of holiness, without imitating it; or with pronouncing holiness impracticable, without endeavouring to practise it!
3. In order to give power and efficacy to the Gospel, the Holy Spirit accompanies it to the heart and conscience, and causes men to see its vast importance, and to feel its mighty influence on the soul. Who can think of death, judgment, and eternity; of heaven and hell; of glory, honour, and immortality; and of the worm that dieth not, and the fire that is not quenched; in connection with his own sins; with redemption; with that newness of heart and newness of life which are taught as necessary to prepare him for the inheritance of the saints in light, without either believing that all these are idle speculations, or concluding that religion is no vain thing? Who has not had the conviction so natural, so true, and so awful, that if he is not prepared to come to the table of the Lord, he is not prepared to meet his God? Have you not the conviction that your life is inconsistent with the piety required of communicants? But how deceitful is the heart which is able to resist these convictions, and to allow you from time to time to go on in the same course of negligence, disobedience, and ingratitude!
4. How little the heart is to be trusted in the things that belong to our peace, is evident from the many resolutions to serve God, which almost every heart has violated, that has been influenced by the truth as it is in Jesus. When we are most determined against iniquity, most shocked with the idea of committing it, and most persuaded that we are stedfast, then we are most in danger. “Is thy servant a dog that he should do this thing?” is language which is seldom used without being followed by the commission of the very sin of which we thought ourselves utterly incapable.
II. The necessity of being aware of its deceitfulness and wickedness.
1. It is the most difficult knowledge. There are so many mixtures in the motives of the heart, so many windings, so much duplicity and insincerity, so much false profession and false appearance, that it is impossible thoroughly to comprehend it. Not only can no man trust the heart of another, but no man can trust his own.
2. It is the most disagreeable knowledge. Nothing is so mortifying to our pride. Hence, instead of searching for the deceitfulness and wickedness of our hearts, we feel a strong temptation to let it lie concealed, to shut our eyes against the light, and to avoid the disquietude arising from the discovery of what is so humbling.
3. It is the most desirable knowledge which we can obtain. It is the knowledge of our own deceitful and desperately wicked hearts that renders us careful of our own souls; that humbles us; that leads us to the Saviour; that makes Jesus Christ precious to us; that constrains us to seek the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit; that sends us to our Bible, to the throne of grace, and to the table of the Lord. (M. Jackson.)
The central principle in man
Few men are acquainted with themselves. With the principles of commerce, political economy, scientific investigation, classical criticism, theologic research, ecclesiastical history, they are more familiar than with the secrets of their own nature, and features and motives of their own character. The source of every evil, the secret of all felicity, is not touched until the heart is reached and scrutinised.
I. Unregenerate human nature is entirely untrustworthy. “Deceitful above all things.”
1. It distorts the character of God. “God is merciful”--often a plea for continuance in sin.
2. It misrepresents the means of human felicity. Young persons flatter themselves that they have but to drink fully of the cup of earthly pleasure to be really happy. No greater mistake. Others seek it in the acquisition of wealth, settling it in their mind that he who has most gold has most happiness.
3. It perverts the way of salvation. Rites, penances, frames, and conditions are piled up until the Saviour is either hid or barely seen.
4. It misrepresents the nature and excellence of true religion. Does religion include humbleness of mind? The deceitful heart declares that it is “a silly weakness.” Does religion include meekness of disposition? The deceitful heart stigmatises it as foolish fastidiousness. A spirit of forgiveness is despised as unmanly. Tenderness of conscience is condemned as ridiculous precision. Spirituality of mind is designated canting hypocrisy, and purity of heart and life a thing impossible.
5. It disguises the true character of sin. “Vice is first pleasing, then delightful, then frequent, then habitual, then confirmed; then the sinner is independent, then obstinate, then he resolves never to repent; then he dies, then he is damned.”
6. It deceives itself and endeavours to deceive God (Malachi 1:14).
7. It surpasses in treachery everything else. The mossy swards, the ocean, the desert mirage, the morning bright with sunshine, are all deceitful; but not more so than the human heart. Inconstant as the wind, uncertain as riches, ever betraying and betrayed, who would trust it?
II. Unrenewed human nature is fearfully depraved--“desperately wicked.”
1. Its corruption is desperate. “Wicked to desperation.” Hence the deeds of violence and despair which prevail.
2. Its corruption is unsearchable. “Who can know it?” Think of Pharaoh insolently rejecting the commands of Jehovah, in spite of plagues and pestilence. Think of Manasseh, Saul, and Peter boasting, then denying his Saviour with oaths and curses. Learn--
1. The necessity of regeneration. Nothing but “a new heart” will meet the requirements of the case, Hence David: “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” Hence the promise in Ezekiel: “A new heart will I give unto you.”
2. The necessity for self-distrust. “He that trusteth his own heart is a fool.” Treat it as you would a man who had deceived you in every possible way. Always act upon the supposition that it is concealing something wrong. “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” (W. H. Booth.)
The deceitfulness of the heart
I. Men impose on themselves respecting their own character. The human heart is a great deep: a deep so turbid by sin and agitated by passion that we cannot look into it far; a deep which no line yet has been long enough to fathom. The account in the history of the Bible of the depravity of man is not more humiliating than is the account in Tacitus and Sallust, in Hume and in Gibbon; the account in the Sacred Poets is substantially the same as in Shakespeare and Byron; the account given by Paul is the same that you will find in the books of every traveller who has penetrated the dark regions of the heathen world. You admit the account to be true of the world at large, of other men; you take securities of others; you put padlocks and bolts on your stores; you guard your houses, as if you believed it were true. Others believe the same of you; and the Bible holds all to be substantially alike--all fallen and ruined. And yet it is evident that men do not by nature attribute to themselves the character which is given of the human heart in the Bible. Who will bear to be told, though you may go with all the influence of the tender relations of friendship, and all the influence that you can take with you from any official relation, that his mind is “enmity against God”; that “in his flesh there dwelleth no good thing”; that he “is a hater of God”; that he is a “lover of pleasure more than a lover of God”; that he is “living without God and without hope”; that his “heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked”? You will hear it from the desk--for you believe that it is our official duty to make the statement; and the statement is of necessity so general that no one feels himself particularly intended. But would you hear it from me, if I should come to you alone, and if I should make the statement with all the tenderness that I could assume? Is it not possible that your heart has deceived you on this point? Let me suggest few things for your consideration. One is, that if the Bible be true, there is no such native excellence of character as you suppose you possess; for in the most solemn manner the Bible declares the whole race to be guilty, and ruined, and lost; and the Bible has such evidences of its truth and its Divine origin as should lead you to suppose it possible that its account of the human character is correct. Another consideration is, that multitudes of men who once had the same view of themselves which you have, have been convinced of their error, and have been led to accord with the account in the Bible. I allude to those who are now Christians. Another consideration is, that there is nothing easier than to deceive ourselves in this matter. You have certain traits of character which are in themselves well enough, and which may be commendable, and you exalt them in the place of others which God requires. You have a disposition that is naturally amiable and inoffensive. So has a lamb and a dove. Is this the love of God? Is that what the law requires? You are honest and upright towards men. Is this the love of the Creator, and is this to be a substitute for repentance and faith? Are you not deceived in your estimate of your own character in regard to the love of virtue? Let me ask a few plain questions. You say you love truth. Why then resist the truth as designed to bear on your own heart and to show you what you are? You are amiable. Why not then love the Lord Jesus Christ? Has there been anyone among men more amiable or lovely than He? You love purity. Why not then love God? Is there anyone more pure than He? You are aiming to do right. Why then do you not pray in the closet, and in the family, as you know you ought to do?
II. Men deceive themselves in regard to their real attachments. You think you have no undue attachment to a child. When the great Giver of life takes this child back to Himself, are you willing to part with it? You think you have no undue attachment to wealth. How do you feel when you are embarrassed and when others are prospered? When wind, and tide, and fire, and tempest are against you, and when others grow rich? When your property takes to itself wings and flees away, while others are enjoying the smiles of Heaven? You think you have no undue attachment to the world, and that in the influence which that world has over you, you are showing no disrespect to the commands of God. Let me ask you, is any pleasure abandoned because He commands it? Is any place of amusement forsaken because He wills it? You suppose you have some attachment to Christians, and to the Christian religion. You admit the Bible to be true, and mean to be found among the number of those who hold that its doctrines are from Heaven. Yet does the heart never deceive you in this? Is not this the truth--for I make my appeal to your own consciousness? You admit the doctrines of the Bible to be true in general; you deny them in detail. You think you have no particular opposition to the duties of religion. But is not this the truth? You admit the obligation in general; you deny it in detail.
III. The heart is deceitful in regard to its power of resisting temptation. In the halcyon days of youth and inexperience, we think that we are proof against all the forms of allurement, and we listen with no pleasurable emotions to those who would warn us of danger. We flatter ourselves that we are able to meet temptation. We confide in the strength of our principles. We trust to the sincerity of our own hearts. Professed friends meet us on the way and assure us that there is no danger. The gay, the fashionable, the rich, the beautiful, the accomplished, invite us to tread with them the path of pleasure, and to doubt the suggestions of experience and of age. We feel confident of our own safety. We suppose we may tread securely a little farther. We see no danger near. We take another step still, and yet another, thinking that we are safe yet. We have tried our virtuous principles, and thus far they bear the trial. We could retreat if we would; we mean to retreat the moment that danger comes near. But who knows the power of temptation? Who knows when dangers shall rush upon us so that we cannot escape? There is a dividing line between safety and danger. Above thundering Niagara the river spreads out into a broad and tranquil basin. All is calm, and the current flows gently on, and there even a light skiff may be guided in safety. You may glide nearer and nearer to the rapids, admiring the beauty of the shore, and looking on the ascending spray of the cataract, and listening to the roar of the distant waters, and be happy in the consciousness that you are safe. You may go a little farther, and may have power still to ply the oar to reach the bank. But there is a point beyond which human power is vain, and where the mighty waters shall seize the quivering bark and bear it on to swift destruction. So perishes many a young man by the power of temptation.
IV. The heart deceives itself in its promises of reformation and amendment. Permit me to ask of you, how many resolutions you have formed to repent and be a Christian--all of which have failed! How many times have you promised yourself, your friends, and God, that you would forsake the ways of sin and live for heaven--all of which have failed? How often have you fixed the time when you would do this? And yet that time has come and gone unimproved. At twenty, at thirty, at forty, at fifty years of age you may have resolved to turn to your Maker should you reach those periods--but on some of you the snows of winter have fallen, and yet a deceitful and a deceived heart is pointing you to some future period still. It deceived you in childhood; it deceived you in youth; it deceived you in manhood; it deceives you in old age. It has always deceived you as often as you have trusted it, in all circumstances of life--and yet you trust it still. It has deceived you oftener than you have been deceived by any and all other things--oftener than we are deceived by the false friend; oftener than the traveller is deceived by his faithless guide; oftener than the caravan is deceived by the vanished brook; oftener than the bow deceives the hunter; oftener than you have been deceived by any and all other men. There is no man whom you have not trusted more safely than your own heart; no object in nature that has been as faithless as that:--and I appeal to you if it is not deceitful above all things. Conclusion:
1. There is danger of losing the soul.
2. The heart of man is wicked. You have a heart which you yourself cannot trust. It has always deceived you. You have a heart which your fellow men will not trust. They secure themselves by notes, and bonds, and mortgages, and oaths, and locks, and bolts;--and they will not trust you without them. You have a heart which God regards as deceitful and depraved, and in which He puts no confidence, and which He has declared to be “desperately wicked.” I ask whether that heart in which neither God nor man, in which neither we nor our friends can put confidence, is a heart that is good and pure? Is it such a heart as is fitted for heaven? I answer no--and you respond to my own deep conviction when I say it must be renewed.
3. I would conjure you to wake from these delusions to the reality of your condition. I would beseech you to look at truth, and be no longer under the control of a deceived and a deceitful heart. (A. Barnes, D. D.)
The deceitfulness of the heart
I. From men’s general ignorance of their own character. They think, and reason, and judge quite differently in anything relating to themselves,’ from what they do in those cases in which they have no personal interest. Accordingly, we often hear people exposing follies for which they themselves are remarkable, and talking with great severity against particular vices, of which, if all the world be not mistaken, they themselves are notoriously guilty. In vain do you tender to them instruction or reproof, for they turn away everything from themselves, and never once imagine that they are the persons for whose benefit these counsels and admonitions are chiefly intended. If we trace this self-ignorance to its source, we shall find that it is in general owing, not only to that partiality and fondness which we all have for ourselves, but to the prevalence of some particular passion or interest, which perverts the judgment in every case where that particular passion or interest is concerned. And hence it happens that some men can reason and judge fairly enough, even in cases in which they themselves are interested, provided it does not strike against their favourite passion or pursuit. Thus the covetous man will easily enough perceive the evil of intemperance, and perhaps condemn himself if he has been guilty of this sin in a particular instance. But he is altogether insensible to the dominion of his predominant passion, the love of money. It has become habitual to him. His mind is accustomed to it, so that in every case, where his interest is concerned, his judgment is warped, and in these instances he plainly discovers that he is totally unacquainted with his own character. The same observation applies to other particular vices.
II. From men’s general disposition on all occasions to justify their own conduct. If we cannot justify the action itself, we attempt to extenuate its guilt from the peculiar circumstances of the case. We were placed in such and such a particular situation, which we could not avoid; our temptations were strong: we did not go the lengths that many others would have gone in similar circumstances; and the general propriety of our conduct is more than sufficient to overbalance any little irregularities with which we may sometimes be chargeable. Men even learn to call their favourite vices by softer names. Intemperance is only the desire of good fellowship; lewdness is gallantry, or the love of pleasure; pride, a just sense of our own dignity; and covetousness, or the love of money, a prudent regard to our worldly interest. Besides these single determinate acts of wickedness, of which we have now been speaking, there are numberless cases in which the wickedness cannot be exactly defined, but consists in a certain general temper and course of action, or in the habitual neglect of some duty, whose bounds are not precisely fixed. This is the peculiar province of self-deceit, and here, most of all, men are apt to justify their conduct, however plainly and palpably wrong. To give an example: There is not a word in our language that expresses more detestable wickedness than oppression. Yet the nature of this vice cannot be so exactly stated, nor the bounds of it so determinately marked, as that we shall be able to say, in all instances, where rigid right and justice end, and oppression begins. In like manner, it is impossible to determine how much of every man’s income ought to be devoted to pious and charitable purposes: the boundaries cannot be exactly marked; yet we are at no loss in the ease of others to perceive the difference betwixt a liberal and generous man, and one of a hard-hearted and penurious disposition.
III. From the difficulty with which men are brought to acknowledge their faults, even when conscious that they have done wrong. We wish always to entertain a favourable opinion of ourselves and of our own conduct, and are displeased with those who endeavour in any instance to change this opinion, though it be done with the best, and most friendly intention. But how unreasonable is this degree of self-love! Were we alive to our true interests, we would wish to become better acquainted with our follies and our faults, and would esteem our faithful reprovers our best friends.
IV. From the disposition which men discover to rest in notions and forms of religion, while they are destitute of its power. Hence it is that so many are hearers of the Word only, and not doers also, deceiving their own selves. Hence it is that so many shew great zeal about small and unimportant matters in religion, who are shamefully deficient in some of its plainest and most essential duties; that so many are punctual in their observance of religious institutions, who are unjust and uncharitable in their conduct towards their fellow creatures. Hypocrisy in all its forms and appearances flows from the deceitfulness of the heart for in general men deceive themselves before they attempt to deceive others.
V. When men overlook the real motives of their conduct, and mistake the workings of their own corruptions for the fruits of the Spirit of God. We are greatly shocked when we read of the dreadful persecutions which in different ages have been carried on against the faithful servants of Christ; yet these men pretended zeal for the glory of God: nor is it improbable, but that many of them might so far deceive themselves as to imagine that they were doing God service, while shedding the blood of His saints. This is indeed the highest instance of the extreme deceitfulness and desperate wickedness of the human heart, and the most awful proof of being given up of God to a reprobate mind. But, in a lesser degree, men frequently practise this kind of deceit upon themselves, ascribing to the Word and to the Spirit of God what is evidently the effect of their own ignorance, wickedness, and depravity. (D. Black.)
The natural characteristics of the heart
I. The unparalleled deceitfulness of the heart.
1. The false views which it leads men very generally to adopt respecting the safety of their state.
2. The delusions which it practises upon us in reference to those sins to which we are most prone.
II. Its desperate wickedness.
1. Every part of it, every one of its faculties, partakes of this depravity.
2. The seeds at least of every evil are invariably found there.
3. Its wickedness will further appear, if we reflect on the aggravating circumstances under which it will prompt to the commission of our darling sin.
III. Inscrutable. “Who can know it?”
1. But when we speak of the impossibility of thoroughly penetrating the inmost recesses of the heart, we speak in reference to created beings only. With regard to the omniscient God, He is one who “searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts” (1 Chronicles 28:9): nay, He understandeth our thoughts “afar off” (Psalms 139:2), knows them before they are conceived.
2. Neither, when we say that the heart is inscrutable, do we mean to deny that a very considerable knowledge of it, a knowledge which is sufficient for all practical purposes, is attainable by man. With regard to merely worldly characters, indeed, however they may boast of their penetration into the schemes and designs of others, they commonly have scarcely taken the first step in the knowledge of the unparalleled deceitfulness and desperate wickedness of their own hearts: on this subject they know next to nothing.
3. It is the real Christian alone who attains any adequate and useful knowledge of this kind: and who makes this attainment by means of the influences of that Spirit, who was promised by our Lord for the purpose of convincing the world of sin; by means too of the diligent and humble study of that Worn of God which, when accompanied by that Spirit, proves itself to be “quick and powerful,” etc.
4. Yet even the measure of knowledge which he is thus enabled to attain, is not acquired without the greatest difficulty: a difficulty which arises from the nature of that deceitfulness which he is endeavouring to detect; and from the power of that self-love which would still lead him to view his own heart with a partial eye.
1. How great the folly of trusting to our own hearts!
2. How important the duty of watchfulness!
3. The necessity of earnest prayer.
4. In what urgent need we stand of God’s mercy in Christ.
5. The indispensable necessity of that great change of heart, which, under a variety of appropriate images, is so repeatedly insisted on in the Bible: which is represented at one time as a being born again; at another as a new creation; at a third, as a spiritual resurrection to a life of holiness. (John Natt, B. D.)
The deceitfulness of the heart
1. Man discovers this corrupt principle by adopting or maintaining a profession of religion hypocritically. Those who are conscious of hypocrisy may adopt and maintain a religious profession merely in some degree to pacify conscience. When this is alarmed by a sense of sin, they are fain to lull it, if possible, by the semblance of holiness. Others may assume a cloak of religion, that in this way they may display their natural abilities, and gain the affection or admiration of the religious: or they may design the advancement of their temporal interests. They use religion just as it serves their own purposes. Some throw aside the cloak of a profession as being too cumbersome, as soon as their purposes are served by it; or perhaps when they find themselves disappointed in their expectations. Others continue to wear it to the end, and will never be discovered, till the Son of Man shall send His angels to separate the precious from the vile.
2. The deceitfulness of the heart appears when men discover greater zeal about matters of indifference, or, at least, of comparatively less importance than about those of the greatest moment. They are perhaps regular in the observation of secret, private, and public ordinances, but in a great measure negligent of relative duties. They are undutiful husbands or wives, parents or children, masters or servants. You can have little dependence on their word, or confidence in their uprightness in civil dealings. Perhaps they carry on a practice of deceit, extortion, and oppression in so secret a manner, that although suspected by all around, no one can prove it. There are others who go still farther. They place the greatest part of their religion in scrupulosity about matters of mere indifference. The smallest deviation from a common form, which has no other sanction than that of custom, and it may be, not even that of common sense, will be esteemed a grievous defection. The most innocent and necessary recreations will be reckoned unlawful freedoms. Notwithstanding all this warmth of zeal, you may perhaps find some of this character, if carefully watched, almost strangers to a principle of common integrity. They will make conscience a plea for all their impositions on others. But they more generally arise from the deceitfulness of the heart than from any tenderness of conscience.
3. The short continuance of religious impressions, whether on saints or sinners, is another evidence of this deceitfulness.
4. This deceitfulness appears by the many delusions of the imagination, in forming great hopes of earthly riches, honour, or pleasure. How often does the poor man build himself up, and regale his fancy with the empty prospect of great riches. How often does the mean man amuse his imagination with the delusive hope--we can scarcely call it hope, for it hath not probability sufficient to constitute hope--with the idea, with the supposition of honour and dignity, to which it is possible he may yet be advanced. If one of his acquaintance has been unexpectedly exalted in his situation in fife, he will consider this as a strong argument for the probability of his own advancement. And is not this vanity of imagination, which all must feel in some degree, because of the natural folly of all, a decisive proof of the deceitfulness of the heart?
5. The extreme reluctance of the heart to believe its own deceitfulness, is a great evidence of its power. So great is this reluctance, that sinners, instead of crediting what they hear from the law and testimony, are apt to take offence at the servants of Christ, when they insist on the evils of the heart; as if they had a pleasure in magnifying the wickedness of man, and in representing human nature as vastly worse than it really is.
At any rate, they deny the applicableness of the doctrine to themselves, and proudly say, with the vain-glorious Pharisees, Are we blind also? Learn:
1. The origin of hypocrisy in a religious profession. Of this the natural deceitfulness of the heart is the parent.
2. The only cure of hypocrisy. This is the destruction of the principle of deceit.
3. The danger of this course. (J. Jamieson, M. A.)
The greatest cheat a man has is his own heart.
I. His heart cheats him of a true estimate of himself. It tells him that he is morally what he is not, that he is rich, “increased in goods,” and needeth nothing; whereas he is “poor, blind, and naked.”
II. His heart cheats him by false promises of the future.
1. It promises him a longer life than he will have.
2. It promises him greater enjoyments than he will ever have. To all it paints a Canaan; but most find it, not a Canaan but a painful pilgrimage in the wilderness.
3. It promises him greater opportunities of improvement than he will ever have. It always holds out to him a “more convenient season”; but the “convenient season” seldom comes. (Homilist.)
The heart’s deceitfulness towards itself
I. It abounds in contradictions, so that it is not to be dealt with on any constant rule.
1. The frame of the heart is ready to contradict itself every moment. Facile now, then obstinate; open, then reserved; gentle, then revengeful.
2. This ensues from the disorder wrought upon our faculties by sin.
II. Its deceit lies in its full promisings upon the first appearance of things.
1. Never let us think our work in contending against indwelling sin is ended. The place of its habitation is unsearchable. There are still new stratagems and wiles to be dealt with. Many conquerors have been ruined by their carelessness after a victory.
2. The fact that the heart is inconstant calls for perpetual watchfulness. An open enemy, that deals by violence only, always gives some respite; but against adversaries that deal by treachery nothing but perpetual watchfulness will give security.
3. Commit the whole matter, therefore, to Him who searcheth the heart. Here lies our safety. There is no deceit in our hearts but He can disappoint it. (John Owen, D. D.)
The deceitfulness of man’s heart
I. A difficult subject to deal with.
1. The examination is made by the guilty party into his own character.
2. Nothing more humiliating and painful to man’s pride.
II. No deception like that of the heart.
1. It is the fountain of deceit.
2. It deceives its owner and best friends often.
3. Its deceit is in a large measure voluntary.
4. Its deceitfulness is insidious in its growth.
5. Will be terrible in its consequences.
III. The examples of scripture bear this out (1 Kings 13:11-18; 2 Kings 5:22-27; 2 Kings 8:7-15; Acts 5:5-10).
IV. The heart deceives its possessor continually. With regard to--
1. Its motives.
2. Its inclinations.
3. Its safety amidst temptations.
4. Its power of reformation.
1. To distrust and watch it.
2. To trust in Christ and His Word. (E. Jerman.)
And desperately wicked.--
Wickedness of the heart
1. The universal prevalence of wickedness in the world, in all countries, and in all ages. A great part of the business of the world has relation to the existence and prevalence of crimes; either to prevent, to guard against, or to punish them. Our laws, our courts, our prisons and penitentiaries, our locks and bars, our munitions of war on sea and land, are all evidences of the wickedness of man. No nation legislates on the principle, or with the expectation, that men will not be found wicked. Indeed, civil government itself owes its origin to the necessity which exists of guarding against and coercing the wickedness of the people. Heathen writers, as well as Christian, give testimony to the fact that men are desperately wicked. What is history, but a record of the crimes of men? And not only historians, but poets and satirists among the heathen, paint the depravity of man in the most frightful colours. And all modern travellers of veracity, and especially missionaries, unite in testifying that the picture of human nature, drawn by Paul in his epistles, is an accurate delineation of the present condition of the whole pagan world. And alas! nominal Christians are but little better. Indeed, considering their light and privileges, their guilt is much greater.
2. The desperate wickedness of the heart will appear also, if we consider its aversion to God and holiness. Do men, generally, who have the opportunity of knowing the true character of God, love it as the angels do in heaven? Do they love it at all? If they do, would they not all be found zealously engaged in glorifying God by worshipping Him in His earthly temples? Would they not be found in constant and cheerful obedience to His will?
3. Another evidence of the desperate wickedness of the human heart is, that it never grows better, or makes any true reformation of itself; but, on the contrary, grows worse and worse, as long as it is left to the influence of its own corrupt principles.
4. The heart of man, left to itself, not only never grows better, but this disease may well be called “desperate,” because it yields not to the most powerful remedies which human wisdom has ever invented; but increases in virulence under them all.
5. When the heart appears to be converted, and a visible reformation takes place in the life, after a while these promising appearances, which, like blossoms in the spring, gave ground to hope for abundant fruit, are nipped by the severe frost, or blasted by the chilling wind, and all our hopes are disappointed. The soul was impressed by Divine truth, and the affections for a season warmly excited, but the bitter root of iniquity was not eradicated.
6. No severity nor continuance of pain will ever conquer or remove the depravity of the heart. Many have resorted to self-inflicted tortures, as great as human nature can endure, and have spent their lives in crucifying the desires of the flesh; and they may have, to a certain degree, succeeded in diminishing the ardour of those passions which are connected with the animal frame, by emaciating the body; but this did not reach the real seat of the malady. It lies far deeper than the flesh.
7. Another argument of the desperate wickedness of the human heart is the power of indwelling sin in the regenerate. (A. Alexander, D. D.)
To know our sin is the first lesson that a child of God must learn. Salvation is sweet, because of the danger in which sin puts us. The Saviour lived, and bled, and died, to atone for it.
I. The nature of sin is twofold--as it exists in the heart, and as it is seen in the act.
II. The effects of sin are twofold, as the nature of sin was; there is the guilt of sin, and there is its power.
III. The cure of sin is twofold likewise; its guilt is washed away in the blood of Christ, and its power is broken down by the Holy Ghost. Why, then, should we be afraid to look at our sin, when we have a perfect cure for it? Have you learned to hate sin? It is not enough to hate the sins of others; but you must learn to hate your own, however pleasant they may be to you, and however long you may have practised them. Nor is it enough to fear the punishment of sin, unless you mourn under its guilt, and seek to be freed from its power (E. Garbett, M. A.)
The heart is a grand impostor
It is like a cheating tradesman who will put you off with bad wares; the heart will put a man off with seeming grace, instead of saving. A tear or two shed is repentance, a few lazy desires is faith; blue and red flowers that grow among the corn look like good flowers, but they are beautiful weeds. The foolish virgins’ lamps looked as if they had had off in them, but they had none. Therefore to prevent a cheat, that we may not take false grace instead of true, we had need make a thorough disquisition and search of our hearts. (T. Watson.)
The heart deceitful
The dank, mossy sward is deceitful; its fresh and glossy carpet invites the traveller to leave the rough moorland tract, and at the first step horse and rider are buried in the morass. The sea is deceitful; what rage, what stormy passions, sleep in that placid bosom and how often, as vice serves her used-up victims, does she cast the bark that she received into her arms with sunny smiles a wreck upon the shore. The morning is oft deceitful; with bright promise of a brilliant day it lures us from home; the sky ere noon begins to thicken; the sun looks sickly; the heavily laden clouds gather upon the hill tops; the lark drops songless into her nest; the wind rises moaning and chill; and at last tempest storm and rain thicken on the dying day. The desert is deceitful; it mocks the traveller with its mirage. Deceitful above sward, or sea, or sky, or enchanting desert, is the heart of man; nor do I know a more marked or melancholy proof of this than that afforded by our light treatment of such weighty matters as sin and judgment. (T. Guthrie.)
The impurity of the heart
In a vessel filled with muddy water the thickness visibly subsided to the bottom, and left the water purer and purer until it became perfectly limpid. The slightest motion, however, brought the sediment again to the top; and the water became thick and turbid as before. “Here,” said Gotthold, when he saw it, “we have an emblem of the human heart. The heart is full of the mud of sinful lusts and carnal desires; and the consequence is, that no pure water--good holy thoughts--can flow from it. Many a one, however, is deceived by it, and never imagines his heart half so wicked as it really is, because sometimes its lusts are at rest, and sink to the bottom. But this lasts only so long as he is without opportunity or incitement to sin. Let that occur, and worldly lusts rise so thick that his whole thoughts, words, and works show no trace of anything but impurity.”
The difficulty of knowing the heart of man
“Who can know it?” The heart is deep, and, like Ezekiel’s vision, presents so many chambers of imagery, one within another, that it requires time to get a considerable acquaintance with it, and we shall never know it thoroughly. It is now more than twenty-eight years since the Lord began to open mine to my own view; and from that time to this almost every day has discovered to me something which, till then, was unobserved; and the farther I go the more I seem convinced that I have entered but a little way. A person that travels in some parts of Derbyshire may easily be satisfied that the country is cavernous; but how long, how deep, how numerous, the caverns may be, which are hidden from us by the surface of the ground, and what is contained in them, are questions which cannot be fully answered. Thus I judge of my heart, that it is very deep and dark and full of envy; but as to particulars, I know not one of a thousand. (John Newton.)
I the Lord search the heart.
God, the inspector of the heart
I. The description given of the human heart.
1. “The heart is deceitful above all things.” There is scarcely a truth, for instance, revealed in the Bible, which it has not, at one time or other, led some men to call in question. But the deceitfulness of the heart appears nowhere, perhaps, so striking as in the case of many who sit under the faithful ministry of the Gospel, or are visited with some severe attack of sickness. How many are there who, in these circumstances, form the most serious resolutions of repentance and reformation! Their goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it passeth away.
2. The heart is desperately wicked. We must take the heart as it is to the Physician of souls, or remain forever without a cure.
3. “Who can know it?” Its deceitfulness is an ocean which we cannot fathom, its wickedness a worm which we cannot explore.
II. The Divine conduct in reference to the heart.
1. He “searches the heart, and tries the reins.” He is acquainted with our principles and motives, our dispositions and affections. However small the measure of good, or the measure of evil, which may be lurking within, He must instantly see it. Though it should be only as a grain of mustard seed sown in a garden, or as a grain of wheat sown in a field, His piercing eye cannot fall to discover it.
2. The object which He has in view in doing this, or the important reason which He assigns for thus searching the heart and trying the reins;--“even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.”
1. If the heart is deceitful above all things, let us learn to distrust it for evermore.
2. If the heart is desperately wicked, let us see the necessity of having a new heart created within us.
3. Though we cannot fathom all the depths of deceit and wickedness contained in the human heart, we may yet obtain a much more extensive knowledge of these things than we generally possess.
4. Since God searches the heart, and tries the reins of the children of men, let us know the utter impossibility of imposing upon Him.
5. Since God will give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings, what manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness! (D. Bees.)
God searching the human heart
Taken by the gardener into a gentleman’s garden, I saw long rows of beautiful chrysanthemums, preparing for a flower show. “Each one of those has to be examined every day, said he, lest earwigs get into the tender tops and eat out the young buds.” And while I watched I saw the under-gardener going from one to another, gently opening the top shoots, and seeing that no hidden evil lurked within. “Behold, Thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part Thou shalt make me to know wisdom” (Psalms 51:6). What earwigs of thought, desire, imagination get into the heads of the Lord’s plants, their best parts! How jealous Paul was of young converts, lest earwigs of false doctrine, or evil practice, should destroy his labour. The head Gardener sees to this. “I the Lord search the heart” (Jeremiah 17:10). (Footsteps of Truth.)
To give every man according to his ways.--
God’s rule of judgment
I. The preparation God is making for the future judgment.
1. He continually marks the ways of men.
2. He records everything in the book of His remembrance.
II. The rule by which the judgment shall be determined.
1. The sentence will be according to every man’s works (Galatians 6:7-8; 2 Corinthians 9:6).
2. Rightly understood, this strongly declares the equity of God’s future judgments. Everything that can affect the quality of an action will be taken into account. (C. Simeon, M. A.)
As the partridge sitteth on eggs, and hatcheth them not; so he that getteth riches, and not by right, shall leave them in the midst of his days.
Riches gotten not by right
The illustration is taken from natural history. Some think it refers to an ancient practice still maintained amongst the Arabs, of driving the mother birds from place to place till they become exhausted, and are easily captured: in which case, of course, the poor partridge never has the joy of seeing her own progeny. Patiently has she sat for weeks in her nest, over eggs which another than herself is to hatch. I do not think this is the intended idea at all. On looking into the Septuagint, I find the rendering of the verse somewhat different, but practically the same as many of you will find in the margin of your Bibles. “As the partridge gathereth young which she has not herself brought forth.” That is more plain and natural. The partridge is in the habit of stealing eggs from the nests of other birds of a different species, and of sitting upon them: and then, shortly after these eggs are hatched, the young, forsaking their false parent, and associating with birds of their own order, make the old partridge look very foolish, as all her promising brood desert her.
I. The Bible has nothing to say against a man’s getting rich by just and honourable means. A fine healthy sight it is we may see every morning in London, the thousands of young men pressing in to the city on bus or car, or better still, on their own two feet, eager for business, and determined to get on. Diligence in business is one of the prime virtues of human life upon the earth, but the motive power which impels it is the expectation of gain. To be altogether indifferent to material profit, so far from being a recommendation, betokens an unmanly and defective character. It is all very well to moralize on the duty of being contented with our lot, bug there is a certain “contentment with our lot” that simply means indolence, and stupidity, and the lack of enterprise. The wish to get riches is not a sinful wish; nay, it may be a most laudable one, and, as I have said, a useful stimulus to industry. Hence, it is by no means a good thing for a man to have been “born with a silver spoon in his mouth”; it may, indeed, make him the envy of others, but his moral dangers are enormously increased thereby. I don’t pity you in the least, my young brothers, if you have had to begin life without a halfpenny; so long as you have good brains, sound health, high principle, and a fair opening, I have no fear of you; stick to your work; push on; go ahead; and may God prosper you!
II. Riches unrighteously gotten are no blessing. “There are many ways in which you may violate the spirit of the eighth commandment, without robbing the till, or forging a cheque, or making a false entry in the cashbook. Do let me entreat you to be straightforward and open in everything; let your conduct and character be above the shadow of suspicion; let truthfulness and honesty be a very law of your being; condescend to nothing which conscience does not thoroughly approve; have an instinctive horror of everything approaching duplicity or equivocation; hate a lie as you hate death; and let your whole action in business be such that you can invite the eye of God to search you through, confident that all is straight and right. Ah! believe me, such a character is the grandest capital in the long run: as John Bright wrote to a young man who applied to him for advice:--“In my judgment the value of a high character for strict honour and honesty in business can hardly be estimated too highly and it will often stand for more in the conscience, and even in the ledger, than all that can be gained by shabby and dishonest transactions.” It seems to the rogue, wrote Thomas Carlyle, that he has found out a short northwest passage to wealth, but he soon discovers that fraudulence is not only a crime but a blunder. Sin never pays. Said a pawky Scotch farmer to his son, “John, honesty’s the best policy; I’ve tried both ways mysel’.” There is a great deal of money made in trade, which, it must be confessed, is gotten not by right. Too often there is one code of virtue for the home circle, and another code for the factory or shop. One system of morals for the Sunday, another for the weekday. Violations of rectitude, which would be severely condemned in the family, are winked at in business. When we come to the strict standard of God’s law, we shall find a vast deal more unrighteousness in the mercantile world than most of us are willing to allow. Strange as it may seem, thousands of men are far more ready to be benevolent than just. Mr. Gladstone, in one of his speeches, sagaciously observed, “I would almost dare to say there are five generous men for one just; man. The passions will often ally themselves with generosity, but they always tend to divert from justice.” I am quite in a line with the text when I advise you to practise frugality. Don’t spend all our earnings; cultivate thrift. However small the sum, it will grow; and the tendency will be to develop in you self-denial, economy, and forethought. Then I would also suggest to you the wisdom, nay, the duty, of effecting, at as early a date as possible, an insurance on your life. When Jacob was bargaining with Laban about terms, he showed the sagacity that has ever been characteristic of his posterity; he was not going to remain in Laban’s service without fair wages; “and now,” he added, “when shall I provide for mine own house also?” I would almost go so far as to say that the small yearly sum it will now involve is not your own; if you spend it on unnecessary comforts, you may “leave them in the midst of your days, and at your end may be a fool.”
III. The penalty on the acquisition of unrighteous gain generally follows even in this life. Perhaps this does not hold so markedly in our times as under the old dispensation, because immortality, with its just retribution, is now more clearly revealed. Still, no thoughtful person can fail to see how often a terrible Nemesis pursues the fraudulent man, even “in the midst of his days,” and how, “at his end,” even the world styles him “a fool.” Some unexpected turn comes, some monetary crisis, some commercial disaster, and lo! all his hoarded gains take wing and fly away, and the unprincipled man is left like the silly partridge, to sit disconsolate in an empty nest! But though the money abide with him, there may be wretchedness untold, and he is ready to curse the gold that promised so much happiness, and now yields so little. Ill-gotten wealth will never make its owner really happy. There are plutocrats in this city whose tables are covered with silver plate, who drink their sparkling champagne, and roll along the streets in their sumptuous carriages, whose lives are unutterably miserable. A worm is gnawing at the root. Their fortune has been built upon a basis of deception, bringing with it deep, unutterable remorse; and though friends may flatter, an upbraiding voice from the unseen is ever whispering in their ear one little word of four letters--and two of them the same--“Fool!” Do not forget that your best possessions, even now, are things which cannot be weighed in a scale, nor measured by a rule; they are treasures which rust cannot tarnish, nor thieves carry away. It was a noble declaration of Marcus Aurelius, “My dominions are greater within than without”; and if this was the utterance of a heathen monarch, what ought a Christian to feel? Only let a living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ put you into connection with the riches of His grace, and let there burn within you the hope of a glorious immortality; then, I hesitate not to say, your fortune is made; you have the guarantee of peace and plenty here, and the promise of a blessed inheritance hereafter! (J. T. Davidson, D. D.)
Riches that escape from a man
Allusion is here made to a well-known fact in natural history. If a partridge or a quail or a robin brood the eggs of another species, the young will not stay with the one that happened to brood them, but at the first opportunity will assort with their own species. Those who have been brought up in the country have seen the dismay of the farmyard hen, having brooded aquatic fowls, when after a while they tumble into their natural element--the water. So the text suggests that a man may gather under his wings the property of others, but it will after a while escape; it will leave the man in a sorry predicament. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
I. There are many wrong ways of getting riches, or seeking, at least, to get them, even where there is no violation of right or equity in a man’s transactions with his fellow men.
1. What right-minded man would rush into the strife and scramble for them in the headlong way that many do?
2. Can that man be said to be getting riches rightly who is scraping them together, and hoarding them up, without regarding the urgent necessities, not to say anything of the desirable comforts, of others?
3. Is it right to get riches in an irreligious way, by habitually neglecting God and putting our duty to Him out of the account altogether?
4. It is one thing to get riches in a way that is not right--that is, unworthily, hard-heartedly, and irreligiously--and another thing to get them “and not by right,”--that is, unrighteously, by downright dishonesty, by the violation of the law of equity, by the rupture of the bond of uprightness in the conduct of man to man. It is this latter way of getting riches which is expressly mentioned here, emphatically condemned, and threatened with an inevitable and appropriate punishment.
II. There is a remarkable connection between what is said about the human heart in verse 9, and what immediately follows. “The heart is deceitful,” etc. Here is a challenge. Fathom the depth of depravity, obscured and complicated by the deceitfulness, who can. There is only One who can accept the challenge; and He does. “I the Lord search,” etc. His judgment is ever according to truth. He stamps all human character with its proper die; calls all human conduct by its proper name; and will infallibly lead all human conduct, be it good or bad, to its appropriate issue. Not by right are riches gotten--
1. If by the deceptions of merchandise.
2. By the unfair remuneration of labour.
3. By the artifices of commerce.
Conclusion--Be industrious: seeking, by the hand of diligence, if it be God’s will, even to be rich. But beware of being carried away from moral principle, from a religious life, by the prevailing furor of business, the almost terrific money rage. “One thing is needful.” All things are ours, if we are Christ’s, for Christ is God’s. (H. Angus, D. D.)
A glorious high throne from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary.
This book of Jeremiah is a very thorny one--it might be called, like his smaller work, “The Book of Lamentations.” Our text is as a lily among thorns, as a rose in the wilderness; the solitary place shall be glad for it, and the desert shall rejoice. The words sound like sweet music amid the crash of tempest. The bitter tree yields us sweet fruit. The weeping prophet wipes away our tears.
I. The true place of our sanctuary. It is not at Jerusalem, nor yet at Samaria; it is not at Rome, nor yet at Canterbury. The place of our sanctuary is our God Himself. “God is our refuge and strength.” “Lord. Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.”
1. He is viewed under the aspect of a sovereign reigning in majesty--“A glorious high throne is the place of our sanctuary.” Many refuse to worship God as reigning: they have not yet grasped the idea that the Lord is King, so that they cannot understand the song, “The Lord reigneth: let the earth rejoice.” For that includes, first, Divine sovereignty, and some men grow black in the face with rage against that truth; they cannot endure it. He will make His own election, and He will distribute His mercy as seemeth good in His sight. Now this God whose sovereignty is so much disputed is our God; a glorious high throne for absolute dominion and sovereignty is the place of our sanctuary. To Him whose sovereign grace is the hope of the undeserving we fly for succour. Besides sovereignty, of course, His glorious high throne includes power. A throne without power would be but the pageantry of vanity. There should be power in the King who ruleth over all: and is there not? Who shall stay His hand, or say unto Him, “What doest Thou?”
2. Forget not that the Lord reigns in exceeding glory. The excellence of His dominion surpasses all other, for He is the blessed and only Potentate. Every act of His empire exhibits His glorious character, His justice, His goodness, His faithfulness, His holiness.
3. It says, “A glorious high throne from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary.” It is a very blessed thing to come back to the fact that the Lord has not newly assumed a throne, from which He has newly cast out some former king. As His is the most potent of empires, so is it the most ancient. God is never taken by surprise; He has foreseen all things, and worked them into His grand plan. God is working evermore for a glorious purpose, which shall one day make the universe and all eternity to sing with rapturous joy that ever God determined to do what He is now doing.
4. When the prophet alludes to the place of our sanctuary, our mind is naturally led to feel that there must be some kind of place where God especially reveals Himself. The place where He mainly revealed Himself among men was the temple, to which I have said Jeremiah somewhat alludes. Now, where was the temple built? It was built upon that mountain whereon Abraham took his son Isaac to offer him up as a sacrifice. A ram caught in the thicket was the substitute for Isaac; but there was no substitute for Jesus, the Son of God. He died, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God. But there, where the most instructive of all types of the heavenly Father’s love was exhibited, there must be the temple wherein God would converse with men and make for men a place of sanctuary. The temple itself was built upon that site, and there it was that God dwelt visibly between the wings of the cherubim, above the ark of the covenant, over that golden lid which was called the mercy seat. What was that ark of the covenant, but a type of our Lord Jesus Christ in a most instructive way. The sacrifice of Isaac and the ark of the covenant were only types of that greater sacrifice, when He who is the Wonderful, the Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, went up to the Cross, and on Calvary “it pleased the Lord to bruise Him.” It is natural that the Lord should meet with us in grace in the place where He put His Son to grief. There, where He made His soul an offering for sin, the Lord becomes well pleased with us. Now, then, the place where we worship is God Himself revealed in the person of His dear Son. I pray you, never try to worship anywhere else. Christ is the one altar, the one temple, the one sanctuary.
5. In addition, the Lord God is our refuge; for a sanctuary was a place to which men fled in the hour of peril Is not Jesus our refuge from present guilt and from the wrath to come?
II. I am to speak concerning whose who depart from God. Alas, that there should be such!--men who leave the river for the desert, the living for the dead! Who are they? The text says, “All that forsake Thee,” and “they that depart from Me.” See, then, that this text has a bearing upon us, because these people of whom we are now going to speak were not an ignorant people who did not know God, or how could they be said to forsake Him? At one time, evidently, these people had something to do with the Lord, but after awhile they forsook Him. What did they do? They no longer sought unto the Lord as once they did, but ceased to be fervent in their service. At first they ceased to worship Him, they took no delight in His ways; they tried to be neutral, they were lukewarm, careless, indifferent, they forgot God. After thus declining in zeal, and refusing outward worship, they went further; for he says they had departed from Him--they could not endure the Lord, and therefore went into the far country. They said unto God, “Depart from us; we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways.” They went into open sin; they disowned their God and broke His commands: some of them even dared to blaspheme Him. The course of sin is downhill. The man who once forgets his God soon forgets himself; and then he throws the reins on the neck of his lusts and goes from sin to sin, forgetting his God more and more. The most hardened of sinners will one day be ashamed, saying, “I acted unprofitably to myself.” Such shame will come over you forgetful ones one of these days. It may not come upon you till you die, but it is very probable that it will assail you then. When in your dying hours, what a dreadful thing it will be to be filled with shame at the remembrance of the past, so as to be afraid to meet your God, ashamed to think that you have lived a whole life without caring for Him! What will it be to wake up in the next world and to see the glory of God around you--the glory of the God whom you despised! Oh, the shame that will come over the ungodly in judgment! “They shall wake up to shame and everlasting contempt.” Great men and proud men will be small enough ere long; and careless and profane persons will be miserable enough when that word shall be fulfilled--“All that forsake Thee shall be ashamed.” And then it is added that they “shall be written in the earth”; that is, if they turn away from God they may win a name for a while, but it will be merely from the earth, and of the earth. O worldlings, you have your riches in this poor country which is soon to be burned with fire. Your pleasures and treasures will melt in the fervent heat of the last days. Your life’s pursuits are a short business, ending in eternal misery. The text tells us that there shall come something besides this: they that forsake God shall one day be sore athirst even unto death, “because they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living waters.” There is for the soul but one fountain of water, flowing, cool, clear, ever refreshing. “All my springs are in Thee,” said David; and so may we say, for our only source of supply is the Lord our God. If a man turns away from God, then he forsakes the cool fountain, he goes to broken cisterns that hold no water, and he will perish of thirst.
III. Let us look at the comers to God. Those who come to God--how do they come? They come away from all the world. O soul, if thou wouldst have peace, come away to your God. Never take your place with those who shall be written in the earth. How did believers come to God of old? Jeremiah came sick and needing to be saved, for he cried, “Heal me, O Jehovah, save me.” That is the way to come. But come to God with faith. It was grand faith of Jeremiah which enabled him to say, “Heal me, and I shall be healed.” Sick as I am, if Thou wilt act as physician to me I shall be cured: if Thou save me, lost as I am, I shall be saved. Come along, poor sinner. “Where, sir?” say you. To God in Christ Jesus. And come with this acknowledgment on your tongue,--“For Thou art my praise.” We have a good God, a loving God, a tender God, a gracious God, a God full of long-suffering and mercy and faithfulness to us poor sinners. This is good argument in prayer--“I have made my boast in Thee, O God, I pray Thee let not my glorying be stopped. Be to me as I have declared Thou wilt be.” But suppose you cannot say so much as that, then put it this way--“Heal me, O Lord; heal me this morning; save me, O Lord; save me at once, and Thou shalt be my praise. Lord, I promise that I will never rob Thee of the honour of my salvation; if Thou wilt but save me Thou shalt have all the glory of it.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God our sanctuary
The godly soul has a sure defence and aid in his living, loving Father and God. In every time of earthly need and trouble this is his chief consolation, and the source of serene and abiding joy
I. Thy necessity of a divine refuge. Times come when the hardiest and most self-reliant is made to feel that he is but feebleness, vanity, and dust. Protection, comfort, and settledness for the soul can alone be found in God.
1. We are victims of moral evil.
2. Of mental and physical sorrows.
II. The nature of the refuge afforded.
1. Lofty and glorious in position. There we may obtain--
2. All-sufficient in resources. Help for every circumstance, need, age.
3. Perpetual and abiding in duration. (James Foster, B. A.)
Man’s refuge-A glorious high throne
The word sanctuary at first meant anything separated and set apart for a holy purpose; later it came to designate a place used exclusively for sacred services; and then we find it used to express one chief end of a sacred place--an asylum--a place of refuge to which the guilty may fly and be safe.
I. Man’s refuge. No creature so much needs the shelter and defence of a safe hiding place as man. His sources of danger are more than can be numbered. Beset with foes, he is in constant need of shelter, and often cries out for deliverance. What so welcome to him as a refuge! Physically regarded, as possessed of a body over which disease and death reign, how often does he sigh for some asylum, which may furnish a defence against these invaders of life! How is he to escape the feeling of terrible desertion and unimaginable dangers, how help crying out for some refuge from “the fightings without, the fears within,” and the foes on every side? And, looking still deeper, when we see that he is the subject of a disease deceitful above every other--a disease which pertains to his whole nature--an “incurable wickedness,” and when we hear him cry out in anguish of soul, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver into from this body of sin and death,”--who does not rejoice at the very idea of refuge? How hard it is not to complain against God, and to demand “wherefore He has made man in vain!” How still harder to believe that there is a refuge for man which has been set up from the beginning! But in all times of deepest trouble, when human helpers fail and the hour of extremity comes, the strange thing is that the universal instincts of man’s nature do lead him to look for help, and though he passes away apparently unhelped, he does so looking for help. You may have stood among a crowd, upon the shore, watching some vessel tossed on the tempestuous billows which threatened to overwhelm her until at length a mighty wave washed over her and swept her clean of every living soul. And as that sea overwhelmed her there arose from the breast of everyone of the gazing crowd, “God help them!” Was that prayer an unconscious self-delusion in that moment of agony, or is there help for man in all times of his need? Or you may have listened to a judge passing the awful sentence which doomed a fellow creature to death--and whilst telling him there was no longer mercy or hope for him on earth, pointing to heaven and assuring him of hope and help in God. Was that judge dishonouring his judicial robes, and deceiving that poor wretch by this solemn mockery of pretended mercy, or is there an open door of hope in heaven for the poor outcasts from earth? And we have all read of the poor thief upon the Cross, turning, whilst paying the last penalty of the law with his life, in penitence to the Saviour and praying, “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom”; and we know the gracious answer he received, “This day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.” Was our Lord deceived in this promise, or did He knowingly deceive the miserable victim of crime in the moment of his extremity? Oh no--there is help for the helpless, help for the hell-deserving, shelter for the defenceless, a refuge for the outcasts. “The just God,” who is also a “Saviour”--oh, how I love that combination--hath said, “Look unto Me and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth; for I am God and there is none else.”
II. Man’s refuge is a sanctuary. A place which is only a refuge furnishes but a temporary shelter. To the shipwrecked, a naked rock jutting out of the sea would be a glad refuge from the devouring waves; but it would not be a refuge long. But a refuge, which is also a sanctuary, a Divine house, affords not only shelter, but rest, repose, and satisfaction for all we need or can desire. The house of God may well be a home for man. And he who enters such a refuge soon discovers that it will be to him all his desire.
III. Man’s refuge is not only sacred, but royal. “A glorious high throne is the place of our sanctuary.” The house of God, “the dwelling place of the Most High” is also the seat and source of all rule, authority, and power. “Under the shadow of the Almighty,” man finds a sure defence for the whole breadth of his nature, in the midst of every possible circumstance, throughout the whole course of his history. The security and defence vouchsafed to him are of the highest character, and inseparable from the nature of the throne, which has become his refuge. The sanctuary-refuge-throne is holy, and the holiness of the throne is its defence and security. The power of the throne is the defence of man’s refuge. But the throne, which has become man’s refuge, is not merely a symbol of power, but also of power surrounded with becoming glory. There is “the pomp which surrounds a throne.” The throne gathers up and crowns every excellency.
IV. This sanctuary-refuge-throne is spoken of as an exalted throne. It is high enough to embrace not merely man’s individual nature, in all its integrity of body, soul, and sprat, but the whole race--the earliest sons in all the height and might of their experience, together with the latest born in the feebleness of beginning life. And not merely the race of man, for, under its exalted height is gathered together, in one unity of blessed life, all the elect, from the archangel before the throne to the weakest and meanest of the sons of men.
V. This exalted throne is glorious in the history of its exaltation. Its exaltation has not been by might but by right. Righteousness has been pleased and the law magnified throughout the holy pathway of ascent from a humble refuge to the glorious high throne. In becoming a refuge for the destitute, the abandoned, the lost, the throne has revealed the charms of the holy order and eternal righteousness by which triumphant conquests are made over every form of disorder and wickedness. Fugitives from the consequences of violated law, as they enter the refuge become obedient to law; the wicked become righteous; the sinful are made holy.
VI. It has been set up from the beginning. The provision for the requirements of man’s fallen nature was no afterthought but a forethought. The refuge was ever latent in the unbroken depths of the throne, and, for the revelation of its fundamental glory, needed to be opened up. The history of man unfolds the eternal purpose, and will be no mean history when complete. It was the joy of the Eternal Wisdom, whose “delights were with the sons of men” “ere ever the earth was”; it will be His joy when the earth is no more. The discords of human history lie between two harmonies, the one in which they have no place, the other in which they have been resolved. In man’s nature is struck the keynote of those pre-established harmonies, the melody of which is being written out in his history as a fitting song with which to celebrate the close of his earthly career, and the reconciliation of all things.
VII. The personality of this refuge. An impersonal refuge could never afford shelter and defence for man against his personal foes. Moreover, the impersonal could never afford rest to, nor become a home for man. Man needs man, a human security, a human joy, a human home, a warm maternal bosom on which to rest; not even God as God, but God as man. Is there such a person? One who is a refuge for man and a sanctuary for God? One who is also a throne, a throne exalted by a glorious history, and yet set up from the beginning? Oh joy of all joys, that God has revealed to us One possessed of all these attributes! We make our first acquaintance with Christ as a refuge. We seek in Him deliverance, shelter, and safety. Having made the experience of Him as a refuge, we begin to find He is more than a refuge, that He is a Divine house, a blessed home, a home in the house of God. Then, as we enlarge our acquaintance with our home, we find it a house of many mansions, opening up out of each other height above height, until a very throne is displayed to us--the throne of God, rising out of the refuge for man--and that the refuge is lost in the throne. And then as we gaze upon the throne which has hidden the refuge in its glory, the humanity in the Divinity, we begin to discover the refuge again in its deeper depth, something human in the depths of the Divine, and that it gives its own lustre to the central glory of the throne. And we perceive that this eternal humanity in the depths of Deity which gives a lustre to the eternal glory is the humanity which is the Alpha and Omega of man’s earthly history. And seeing this we refuse to it all dates and proclaim it to have been ever from of old, and that it “became” the eternal Son in the bosom of the Father, nay, “behoved Him to be in all things made like unto His brethren that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people”; nay, more, that it “must needs have been” that He might “enter into His glory”! Hallelujah! God has made Himself one with us in our necessities that we may partake of His glory. (J. Pulsford, D. D.)
Adoring exclamations of a soul gazing on God
I. A wonderful vision of what God is. There are three clauses. They all seem to have reference to the temple in Jerusalem, which is taken by a very natural figure of speech as a kind of suggestive description of Him who is worshipped there. “The Sublime Porte” is properly the name of a lofty gateway which belonged to the palace in Constantinople, and so has come to mean the Turkish Government--if government it can be called. So we talk of “the Papal see.” Or, again, the decision of “the Chair” in the House of Commons. So the prophet takes outward facts of the temple building as symbolising great and blessed spiritual thoughts of the God that filled the temple with His own lustre.
1. “A glorious throne”--that is grand, but that is not what Jeremiah means--“A throne of glory” is the true rendering. In the Old Testament, where “glory” is ascribed to God, the word has a very specific meaning, namely, the light which was afterwards called the “Shekinah,” that dwelt between the cherubim, and was the symbol of the Divine presence, and the assurance that that presence would be self-revealing, and would manifest Himself to His people. The throned glory, the glory that reigns and rules as King in Israel, is the idea of the words before us. It is the same throne that a later writer in the New Testament speaks of when he says, “Let us come boldly to the throne of grace.” We all can draw near, through the rent veil, and walk rejoicingly in the light of the Lord; this glory is grace; this grace is glory. This, then, is the first of Jeremiah’s great thoughts of God, and it means--“The Lord God omnipotent reigneth,” there is none else but He, and His will runs authoritative and supreme into all corners of the universe.
2. “High from the beginning.” It was a piece of the patriotic exaggeration of Israel’s prophets and psalmists that they made much of the little hill upon which the temple was set. Jeremiah felt it to be a material type, both of the elevation, and of the stable duration, of the God whom he would commend to Israel’s and to all men’s trust. “High from the beginning,” separated from all creatural limitation and lowness, He whose name is the Most High, and on whose level no other being can stand, towers above the lowness of the loftiest creature, and from that inaccessible height He sends down His voice, like the trumpet from amidst the darkness of Sinai, proclaiming, I am God and there is none besides Me. Yet while thus “holy”--that is, separate from creatures--He makes communion with Himself possible to us, and draws near to us in Christ, that we in Christ may be made nigh to Him.
3. He is “the place of our sanctuary.” That is, as though the prophet would point as the wonderful climax of all, to the fact that He of whom the former things were true should yet be accessible to our worship; that, if I might so say, our feet could tread the courts of that great temple; and we draw near to Him who is so far above the loftiest, and separate from all the magnificences which Himself has made, and who yet is “our sanctuary,” and accessible to our worship. Ay! and more than that--“Lord! Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.” In old days the temple was more than a place of worship. It was a place where a man coming, had, according to ancient custom, guest rights with God. God Himself, like some ancestral dwelling place in which generation after Generation of fathers find children have abode, whence they have been carried, and where their children still live, is to all generations their home and their fortress.
II. The soul rapt in meditation of this vision of God. To me, this long-drawn-out series of linked clauses without grammatical connection, this succession of adorning exclamations of rapture, wonder, and praise, is very striking. It suggests the manner in which we should vivify all our thoughts of God, by turning them into material for devout reverence; awestruck, considering meditation. We should be like ruminant animals who first crop the grass--which being interpreted means, get Scripture truth into our heads--and then chew the cud, which being interpreted is, then put these truths through a second process by meditation on them that may turn into nourishment and make flesh.
III. The meditative soul going out to grasp God thus revealed, as its portion and hope. “O Lord! the hope of Israel.” I must cast myself upon Him by faith as my only hope; and turn away from all other confidences which are vain and impotent. So we are back upon that familiar Christian ground, that the bond which knits a man to God, and by which all that God is becomes that man’s personal property, and available for the security and the shaping of his life, is the simple flinging of himself into God’s arms, in sure and certain trust. Then, every one of these characteristics of which I have been speaking will contribute its own special part to the serenity, the security, the Godlikeness, the blessedness, the righteousness, the strength of the man who thus trusts. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
All that forsake Thee shall be ashamed.
A backslider ashamed of his conduct
A London City missionary writes: “One Sunday afternoon, when out visiting, I noticed a soldier. He was in a great hurry, but I soon caught him up, gave him a tract, and, walking with him, spoke to him about his soul. In reply he said, ‘I only wish I was the same as I used to be. For four and a half years I was a Christian. I worked for Christ with all my heart, and was never so happy as when so engaged. I made up my mind to enlist. I thought I should get on all right, but when my companions knew I was a Christian, they made it so hot for me I could not stand it, and gave in.’ ‘But,’ said I, ‘what would your country think of you if you were a coward in the face of an enemy? And should you fear to face the foes of Jesus Christ? When the greatest danger surrounds you, then it is your duty to be most faithful, not only to King Edward, but to King Jesus.’ The young soldier was deeply moved, and said, ‘I do thank God for meeting you. I will give my heart to Jesus again, and by God’s help I will be true to Him. I will not be a coward again, but will confess Him tonight in the barrack room.’”
Shall be written in the earth.--
Where is our name being written
Prudentius rightly saith, that their names that are written in red letters of blood in the Church’s calendar, are written in golden letters in Christ’s register in the book of life; as on the contrary, these idolaters whose sin was with an iron pen engraven on tables of their hearts (verse 1) are justly written in the earth. (John Trapp.)
Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved.
The Lord’s healing
I. The prophet’s cry. Sin is the sickness of the soul. It has seized upon all its powers. Not one single faculty has escaped; all are polluted, all diseased. Its very vitals are affected by sin. The understanding is darkness (1 Corinthians 2:14). The will is stubborn; the conscience is impure (Titus 1:15). The very memory is impure. But the chief seat and residence of sin is the heart (Jeremiah 4:18). Oh, how little do we know its deep defilement (1 Kings 8:38). The leprosy of the law was a type of it. It is poison (Psalms 140:3). It is the “mire” in which the sow wallows, the “vomit” of dog (2 Peter 2:22). One sin has in it all enmity, rebellion, distance from God, all deceitfulness, hardness; and yet, how slight are our deepest views; how poor and feeble our most heartfelt repentance; how unfeeling our most touching sorrow. Sin is by all human skill and human power incurable (Jeremiah 2:22).
II. Is this so? Then no one but Jesus the Lord can heal our spiritual diseases.
1. It requires omniscience to know them. There is in all sin, in every one sin, a depth which human wisdom can never fathom--a depth of baseness, ingratitude, contempt (Psalms 19:12).
2. It requires omnipotence to subdue them. It requires the same putting forth of Divine omnipotence to bring light into the darkened soul as to bring light into this darkened world (2 Corinthians 4:6).
3. It requires infinite patience to bear with these soul-diseases.
4. It requires an infinite sympathy, and a boundless love.
III. His healing.
1. The means whereby He heals are various. Indeed, there is not a single circumstance which He does not employ for this very end. By things pleasant, things painful; comforts and crosses; by what He gives, by what He takes away; by friends, by foes; by saints, by sinners; by the Church, by the world; by sickness, by health; by life and by death; He heals the sin-sick soul.
2. The character of His healing.
1. Our wisdom is to be willing to have our spiritual maladies discovered, yea, thoroughly searched.
2. Our wisdom is to be willing to have them thoroughly cured, honestly to wish this, cost what it may, “Heal me.”
3. To expect no cure but what is promised.
4. To put ourselves fairly into His hands.
5. Above all, to trust not only in Him, but in the blessed confidence of a simple faith that He is able to heal, and will heal, to come to Him with the prophet’s cry, “Heal Thou me.” (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
A cry for healing and saving grace
I. Sin is the disease of the soul and is so felt.
1. Loss of rest.
2. Deprivation of taste.
3. Loss of sight.
4. Loss of hearing.
II. Christ is the only Physician.
1. The infinite efficacy of Christ’s atonement, as showing God’s readiness as well as ability to pardon.
2. Since God requires forgiveness without bounds of us, will not He extend the same to sinners?
3. The direct statements of Scripture.
4. Great instances of mercy.
III. Prayer is our only refuge. The appointed means. Has never failed.
IV. Praise should be our truest delight. (S. Thodey.)
A prayer for salvation
1. These words express a deep concern about salvation, and an earnest desire to obtain it.
2. A firm persuasion that God alone can save.
3. A heartfelt application to God for salvation through the medium of prayer.
4. An unwavering confidence that the salvation which God bestows in answer to prayer will be a salvation suited to the wants of fallen man. (G. Brooks.)
The penitent’s prayer
I. As expressing a deep concern about salvation and an earnest desire to obtain it. He not only cherishes a lively aversion to all that stings him with remorse, or that fills him with alarm; he mourns also the loss of those positive blessings of which his apostasy has deprived him, and thirsts for their recovery.
II. The true penitent being thus awakened to a sense of his need of salvation, and to unfeigned and anxious concern about obtaining it, he applies for it to Almighty God. “Save me, O Lord.” The nature and exigency of his situation compel him to have recourse to God as alone able to deliver him. The Divine mercy exhibited in the Gospel encourages him to put his confidence in God, as perfectly willing to bestow the deliverance he is so anxious to attain. Every new proof that he discovers of God’s kindness gives him a more forcible impression of the heinousness of his guilt and of the folly of his conduct, and shows him still more clearly how much he must lose by remaining in a state of alienation and impenitence, and thus adds a fresh and double impulse to the anxiety that he feels, and the desire that he cherishes, for pardon and reconciliation.
III. The true penitent applies to God for salvation through the medium of prayer. “Save me, O Lord.” The moment that the sinner feels the real burden of his transgressions, and is made fully sensible of his need of Divine mercy, that moment he as naturally, and as necessarily, cries to God, for the requisite communications, as the hungry child craves bread from its bountiful parent, or as the condemned criminal supplicates pardon from his compassionate sovereign. And the penitent transgressor not only feels his heart naturally lifted up to God in prayer, when convinced that it is He from whom cometh his aid, he also applies in that way, in conformity to the Divine institution. He knows that prayer is the appointed method of seeking for and of obtaining the blessings of salvation.
IV. The confidence which the true penitent feels, that if the salvation which he asks be granted, it will be altogether such as his circumstances require, and such as will more than gratify his utmost wishes. It is as if the penitent said to God whom he is addressing, “Were any other being to undertake my salvation, I should not be saved. There would be some imperfection in the achievement. It would be an attempt, but not attended with success. But if Thou Thyself save me, I shall be saved indeed. There will be no feebleness in the purpose; no inadequacy in the power; no deficiency in the means; no failure in the result. The perfection of Thy nature must reign in all Thy works; and that provides a security that nothing can occur to frustrate or to impair the work of my salvation.” (A. Thomson, D. D.)
Prayer for healing and salvation
These are great biblical words: “heal” and “save.” We all know what it is to get a wound healed. The man with the gift of healing is sent for, and he binds up the wound and anoints it with the ointment. But God’s healing goes far deeper than bodily wounds. Each heart is here its own interpreter. And then, “save.” That means more than heal. We shall have to wait till the hereafter to know all that is meant by that great word. Now the prayer implies a helpless condition, in which we can only cry to God for healing and salvation. There is a place sometimes called “the back o’ beyond,” another name for it being “wit’s end” (Psalms 107:1-43). With regard to the soul, it is well to find ourselves there, and the sooner the better; for it is not a hopeless place by any means. The Help of the helpless is ready there at the call of distress. He can do little for us indeed till we thus learn that really there is no other help but He. The Earl of Aberdeen tells how on one occasion, going up the Nile in his yacht, he saw a little steamer coming puffing rapidly down. He was told it was Gordon’s steamer, who was Governor of the Soudan at the time. On hearing that, he was anxious to speak with Gordon, if possible; but the question was how to accomplish it, for in a few minutes the steamer would be past. Suddenly a brilliant idea struck the earl. He gave orders to his men to hang out signals of distress. He was sure Gordon was not the man to pass by heedless a signal of distress. The ruse proved successful. The steamer began at once to veer round, and in a very short time was alongside the yacht. Now we all know that the helpful spirit was very characteristic of Gordon, but where was it he learned it? Just by sitting at Jesus’ feet. And we may be sure that the disciple is not greater than the Master in that readiness to heed and help at the call of need, and that what Jesus was in the days of His flesh, He is now and ever will be. One thing more is implied in the text--the assurance that the help will be all-sufficient. The prophet is sure that God will perfect His work of healing and saving. And that is a great matter, to know that it is something that lasts. Our soul shall be restored and shall bless the Lord who healeth all its diseases. Yea, and so will the world in the good time coming, when all lands shall be healed, and God’s saving health shall be known among all nations. (J. S. Mayer, M. A.)
Thou art my praise.
God the believer’s praise
I. The nature of true effectual healing.
1. Spiritual healing is a gradual and progressive thing. It begins with a sinner’s principles, for if the principle of our actions be not a part of God’s holy teaching, and grafted by the Spirit of Christ into those who are the children of His adoption, it is one of the unsanctified impulses of nature. It is the soul’s worst enemy, a wandering, faithless state, that will never lead us to Bethlehem, and as the seed of the bond woman must be utterly cast out. When this terribly diseased principle is healed, the Spirit’s work is in operation; and we begin to apprehend what that unearthly life is, which leads every other life that is worth possessing after it. From the principle the work of healing is carried forwards to the various actions that branch from it; the wild grape is no longer the curse of the vineyard. When the husbandman takes the plant itself in hand, it yields naturally to the superior excellency of the graft, and partakes of its very character and condition. We cannot now indulge the senses as we did; we were once their slaves, they are now our handmaids, and enter freely with us into the liberty of the Gospel.
2. It is free and unpurchaseable by any creature who has the heart and disposition of a sinner. There is no buying the skill and medicines of our Physician. When He heals, it is “without money and without price.” Nay, He was Himself compelled to purchase at the hands of justice, the power of stopping the ravages of corruption, and drawing a line, beyond which the sin of leprosy should not spread. No one, neither man nor angel, will ever be capable, I say not of estimating, but of imagining, the greatness of that purchase.
3. It is an effectual and everlasting healing. Christ’s balm goes down to the very depth of the diseased places; He sifts, and tries, and searches the wound before He closes it.
II. The distinction between healing and salvation. Both of these blessings are the precious and enduring treasures of redemption; though one of them is but a mean to an end; if I am not healed I cannot be saved; my earthly heart must not only be emptied of its enmity and rebellion, and deceivableness of unrighteousness, but of whatever hinders it, on its way to glory. Yea, and it must be refilled, with that measure of Divine love which will spur it forward, and strengthen and advance it on its journey towards Zion. When I am healed, my bosom glows with delight that I shall not go down in my natural uncleanness to the grave: my self-interest has quite wrapped itself up in the sweet security of the blessing; the depths of a wounded spirit are fathomed by the only hand that can get to the bottom of them. I have lost the distress, and pain, and poignancy of guilt; the scars are indeed mercifully left upon me, to be my remembrancers of what a gracious and loving Jesus has done for my sick soul, but the killing sickness is gone, and I seem to apprehend the wonderful reality of my being plucked as a brand out of the burning. The act of healing may, perhaps, with more propriety belong to the office of the Holy Spirit, than to the incarnate Son,--but salvation is that chariot of fire which exclusively holds the triumphs, the royalties, the priceless riches of Christ. We identify salvation with conquests and suffering, and a vesture stained with blood; it calls us, in special language, to draw near, and kiss the Son, and to support our everyday trials, by giving our thoughts to that surpassingly severe trial which He passed through as a Conqueror upon the Cross.
III. In what way the Lord is glorified as the believer’s praise. It is no question of conjecture in this place, whether God, under every one of His providences, in dark and clouded clays, as well as in clear bright sunshine, is worthy to be praised; for that will admit of no discussion, if we believe that He is the perfection of wisdom, and goodness, and love; but this is a matter for individual, experimental inquiry, and so is limited to a narrower space. Have you, and have I the right apprehension of our God as a Father? and of ourselves as His children? to be able to go down deep into the spirit of the text, and to say, “Thou art my praise”?
1. If the Lord is your praise, your hearts will be full of desire to honour Him in every act of your lives; and your continual longing will be to plead with Him, that every fresh song you sing to His glory may savour of this unselfish spirit.
2. If God be our praise we shall labour to be conformed to His likeness.
3. If God be our praise, all the heart springs must be so full of it as to throw the precious living water into the life. (F. G. Crossman.)
Be not a terror unto me: Thou art my hope in the day of evil.
Divine wrath an object of fear
I. The petition.
1. God’s majesty is in itself an object of fear and dread (Hebrews 12:21; Isaiah 6:5; Habakkuk 3:16; Hosea 3:5).
2. Divine chastisements are to be feared (Jeremiah 10:24; Psalms 6:1; Job 9:34).
3. God’s wrath is still more dreadful.
4. The prophet prays for support and comfort in the time of trial.
II. The expression of confidence.
1. The grace exercised is hope.
2. The time when this grace is exercised. “Day of evil.”
1. That hopes and fears are blended together in the experience of the godly (Psalms 147:11).
2. If God is sometimes a terror to His own people, how much more to the wicked? (B. Beddome, M. A.)
Whereby the kings of Judah come in.
Courage and fearlessness before kings
When King Don Pedro was unexpectedly brought into the hall in Chicago in which Moody was speaking on “Accepting Christ,” the obsequious usher, after showing the king to a seat on the platform, whispered to Moody, “King Don Pedro is on the platform.” Moody took no notice, but at the end of his powerful appeal turned to the king and said, “And that is a question that kings cannot postpone, for on their decision depends what God will do with the king.” The king afterwards spoke of him as “a man to be heard and believed.” (G. Campbell Morgan.)
Preaching before the greatest King
Latimer, while preaching one day before Henry VIII, stood up in the pulpit, and, seeing the king, addressed himself in a kind of soliloquy, thus, “Latimer, Latimer, take care what you say, for the great King Henry VIII is here.” Then he paused, and proceeded, “Latimer, Latimer, take care what you say, for the great King of kings is here.”
But hallow ye the Sabbath day.
Cheating God out of Sunday
An old Christian, living at Salem, was much annoyed by the conduct of some of his neighbours who persisted in working on the Sabbath. One Sabbath, as he was going to Church, his Sabbath breaking neighbours called out to him sneeringly from the hayfield, “Well, father, we have cheated the Lord out of two Sundays anyway!” “I don’t know that,” replied the old gentleman, “I don’t know; the account is not yet settled.”
The design of the Sabbath
The true spirit of the Sabbath appointment is, not that we should condense the religion of the week into the Sabbath, but that we should carry forth from the Sabbath its hallowed impulses and feelings into the other days of the week, to elevate and sustain us amid its wearisome secularities and depressing cares. The Lord has given us the Sabbath, not to relieve us of out religion, but so to revive our religion on that day as to impel its healthy tide into the remotest nook and corner of everyday duty. (Andrew Thomson.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Jeremiah 17". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany