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THE DECEITFUL AND WICKED HEART. JEREMIAH 17:9.-The heart is deceitful above all things, and des
perately wicked: who can know it?
WHEN the sun set last evening, and darkness covered the earth, you were perfectly assured that he would rise again;--you felt an en. tire confidence that any purpose depending for its accomplishment on this event could not fail. Had your prosperity or adversity, your sickness or health, your life or death, been inseparably connected with the rising of the sun, you would have looked for it with the same certainty with which you did for the dispersion of darkness. This confidence is the result of truth understood and believed by the mind. This truth is derived from the regularity with which God, according to his purpose,
directs all the movements of the heavens and the earth; and in connection with this, from the plain declarations of his word, that day and night, seed time and harvest, summer and winter, shall succeed each other till the end of time. The whole word of God is truth; because it is given by divine inspiration. The passage just repeated, and which we consider the text for the present, is true-emphatically true. Last evening, the rising of the sun this morning, was a future, but confidently expected event. That which was then expected, has been realized: the sun has risen;—for he is now shedding his beams on the earth. We are as certain of this fact, as we are of our own existence; for we are at this moment surrounded by his light. But it really is not, cannot be more certain that the sun has risen, and is now shining, than it is that the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. These are the words of the prophet, moved by the Holy Spirit,- the Spirit of truth.
This passage implies that other things are deceitful. Men often deceive each other. The man who has any thing to sell, will praise the article beyond its real merit, that he may obtain for it more than its value. On the other hand, the buyer saith, it is naught, it is naught; but when he is gone his way, having defrauded his neighbor, then he boasteth. Promises are made, and thus expectations are excited, without the honest intention, and without the probable means of performing them. Such instances of wilsul deception are too common. Hence that suspicion that is cherished, that watchfulness that is employed by those who are much acquainted with the world. Hence those securities that are required in all the important transactions of life. Hence, too, the necessity for laws to defend the character, and protect the rights, of one part of the community from the fraudulent designs and the wicked impositions of the other. There are some who lie in wait to deceive; who mark out from the multitude the weak, the simple, the unsuspicious, the ignorant, and make these the victims of their deceitful policy. There are not a few deceitful workers, who will pursue, for weeks and months, that course of conduct, which is calculated and intended to remove the suspicions and excite the confidence of those whom it is their diabolical purpose to deceive and to ruin. There is many a female, once with the fair prospect of comfort and respectability before her, now, in the deepest disgrace, excluded from decent society, who can witness to the success of such deceitful workers, such cold blooded, detestable seducers. Hypocrites are deceivers by profession. All their good works, all their acts of devotion, are intended to deceive others. They wish you to believe that they are pious, while conscious that they are not, that they may the more easily defraud the fatherless, and rob the house of the widow. Indeed, to the most sincere and upright man, it is deeply humiliating to know that he belongs to a race, with whom he can have no intercourse without unceasing vigilance and caution to secure himself from their fraudulent designs.
The world, in its three great divisions, its pleasures, its riches and its honors, is deceitful; not from design, but because it is perverted to purposes which it was not intended to answer. Those who have been most successful in the pursuit of worldly pleasures, if they speak the language of experience, will pronounce them vanity of vanities; all is vanity. Those who have hoarded up the riches of earth, have hoarded up corroding cares, anxieties and fears in the same proportion. They will experience the deceitfulness of riches; the pleasure was in the ardent pursuit, not in the possession. When a man is raised to honor by the suffrages of a free and grateful people, as the reward of merit, of a life of active beneficence, such honor is better than precious ointment. This man will submit to the cares, and discharge the duties of the office which he fills, not for the sake of the honor connected with it, but for the sake of doing good, of being more extensively useful. But when this office is sought and obtained by the arts of duplicity, with strife and contention, he will find himself deceived; his happiness will be imaginary, not real.
But deceitful as men are to each other; deceitful as the world is to those who give it their chief attention; and deceitful as many other things are; the heart is deceitful above all things. Some men, from education or even from selfishness, are honest in their dealings; but the deceitfulness of the heart is universal, having no limits but those of the human family. Every sinful heart is full of deceit, and every heart is sinful. Men who use deceit with their tongues, for the want of oppor. tunity, are not always practising their arts of duplicity; but the wicked heart is, at all times, under all circumstances, working a deceitful work. Men deceive each other for the sake of some temporal object, some momentary pleasure; but the deceptions of the heart involve the things that are spiritual, the deep interests of the soul, the joys and sorrows of eternity. Man, by his cunning craftiness, aims to deceive his fellow man; but the heart deceives itself: the sinner is, at once, both the deceiver and deceived, both inflicting and suffering the injury. Such deceitfulness, so universal in extent, so constant in operation, relating to things of such transcendent importance, leading its author and its victim to fearful and endless perdition, can be found in nothing but the wicked heart of man: here it is found in its supreme, unparalleled degree. This heart is not only deceitful, but deceitful above all things. Let us, then, through the assistance of the Holy Spirit, inquire,
1. What is the cause of this deceitfulness; and, that the subject may be useful to us, may come home to our consciences,
11. Refer to some examples, from which its nature and reality may be clearly seen in its effects.
1. What, then, is the cause of this deceitfulness? Why is this proneness to deceive as characteristic of the human heart, as features are of the countenance? When you see the river, flowing with a widening and deepening current, you are sure that there are fountains which furnish this constant supply of water; and that you could trace the stream up to the fountains from which it flows. Can this flood of iniquity, this torrent of deceitfulness, which is whelming our guilty world in misery, and in its results, reaching eternity, be traced back to its fountain, to a cause that will account for such singular and tremendous effects? It can. If we mistake not, the wickedness of the heart is this cause.
The heart is deceitful, because it is wicked; deceitful above all things, because desperately wicked.
So far as the heart is made good, changed by the Spirit and truth of God, so far is it an honest heart, in which there is no guile. The holy angels, because they are holy, deceive not. Satan, because he is that wicked one, deceiveth the whole world. They are wicked men who are seducers, waxing worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. In a heart, perfectly pure, motives to deception cannot be found, or even supposed; and without motives, deception could not be practised; for it implies design; and the accomplishment of some purpose, according to this design. Thus, although the bible was not intended to teach philosophy in systematic order, yet, as it regards mind and its operations, and as far as our spiritual interests are involved, it gives us the true philosophy: effects are ascribed to their true and adequate causes; and causes are seen producing their appropriate effects.
The heart is DESPERATELY wicked. Of this passage, critics and commentators have given different expositions. Some tell us that it means, infirm, weak,
frail. This interpretation does not correspond with the whole tenor of scripture; with accurate observation and experience on this subject. The deceitfulness practised by the heart is not, as it ought to be, if such was its cause, infirm, weak, and frail; it is active, powerful, energetic; producing the most wonderful effects of endless perdition. The guilt of man does not admit, for its atonement, of an infirm, weak and frail Mediator; but one possessing and exercising all the attributes of Deity, is indispensably necessary for this purpose. The great power and wisdom of angels would fail in this enterprise of mercy. The atonement required, was not, in its merit, to be in proportion to the results of mere infirmity, weakness and frailty; but of the most deliberate, persevering and active rebellion against God.
When the heart is changed and made new, it is not mere infirmity, weakness and frailty that are strengthened, but enmity that is slain, affections and lusts that are crucified, requiring divine energy to accomplish the work.
Others tell us that the word should be rendered incurable: the heart is deceitful above all things and incurable. To this we have no objections; for its meaning is the same with the current version. That case of disease which is incurable is, for this reason alone, desperate. If any possible remedy could be applied with success, the case would not be desperate; for there would still be hope respecting it. Now this is literally true of the heart; it is incurably, and therefore desperately wicked. This wickedness admits of no possible renedy, and is therefore hopeless and desperate. When the diseased man is restored to health, it is not the disease, but the man that is cured; and by the destruction of the disease, or by driving it from the system. So the mind, the immortal soul, may be restored to spiritual life and health, only, however, by the destruction of sin, or by driving it from the moral system. Sinfulness is not essential to rational minds, to intelligent beings: the minds of Adam and Eve were, for a time without sin; the mind, that essential part of the hunian nature of Christ, was perfectly pure; myriads of angels are holy. The mind may, therefore, be delivered from sin, and restored to perfect holiness; only, however, by the utter destruction of sin. The means of salvation, are therefore, the means of this destruction. The Son of man came not to destroy men's lives, but the works of the devil.
That this truth may be more clearly understood, let us adopt the rhetoric of Paul, who views sin clothed with all the attributes of distinct personality, and agency, as exercising intelligence, practising deceit, selecting fit occasions for accomplishing intended purposes, reigning, having dominion, dwelling and working in the heart, waging war, slaying its victims, &c. This is the person, according to the vivid conceptions, the glowing rhetoric of Paul, who is the deliberate, the determined, the active enemy of God; who will neither ask nor receive mercy; who is determined neither to cease from his efforts, nor give up his subjects, but with his life, his very existence; whose struggles and warfare are the struggles and warfare of desperation. No degree of kindness can soften or change him into a friend; his fixed determination is, to conquer or die. Hence, if his subjects are delivered from his dominion, this body of sin must be destroyed; this old man must be crucified, as the only possible means of deliverance.
When the sinner approves of sin, embraces it in his heart, yields himself to its control, refuses to forsake it, or even be sorry for it and this is strictly true of all men by nature—he is so completely identified with it, that whatever is said of sin when personified, is strictly true, and may be said of the sinner himself. Every impenitent sinner on earth embraces sin with a grasp so powerful, that nothing but Omnipotence can relax it. In the deliberations and purposes of his own mind, he is resolved, with adamantine firmness, never to forsake sin, never to exist without it, never to submit to God, never to have Christ the Savior to reign over him. He has taken the attitude of wilful rebellion against God, and is fully determined that this attitude shall be eternal. He is determined never to repent of sin, never to ask for mercy, never to be the friend of God. What are these but the workings and promptings of desperation? His heart, while he is thus identified with sin, or while he remains impenitent, is incurably, and therefore desperately wicked. The most fearful enemy is he who fights from desperation.
The history of Greece furnishes a striking illustration of this fact. The Persian monarch, with an army more numerous, it is supposed, than ever was marshalled before or since his time, had invaded the country for the purpose of conquest. Leonidas, the Lacedemonian chief, with three hundred Spartans, and a few others, determined to sacrifice themselves on the altar of Grecian liberty, to the safety and glory of their country. Having not the slightest hope of vanquishing the millions of the Persian army, and determined not to survive the crisis, they fought from absolute desperation. Their strength was the strength of despair; their courage was the courage of despair. The conflict was dreadful. The number slain, except where miraculous power interposed, was probably never so great, when compared with the small number of assailants.
Such is every impenitent sinner on earth. His course of persevering rebellion can flow from nothing but desperate wickedness. In scriptures he is considered and called an enemy to God. He is a friend of the world; and whosoever will be the friend of the world is the enemy of God. His opposition is not merely in theory or speculation, but in principle and in practice. He is an enemy in his mind, --his thoughts and reasonings and purposes are all inimical—and exert a powerful influence on his life; he is therefore an enemy by