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penitent, and contrite heart which the Most High will not despise. If our hearts be unmoved and unaffected by the divine character; if the law of God do not appear excellent, holy, just, and good, when viewed in all its threatenings and penalties, we shall consequently be unaffected with the evil and vile nature of sin, and be destitute of that contrition and godly sorrow, which are the essence of repentance.
Hardness of heart implies unbelief of heart : yea it is the essence of unbelief. As “ it is with the heart that man believeth,” so the heart of every adult, under the gospel, is in the exercise either of a true faith, or of a criminal unbelief. To exercise hardness, or opposition of heart to the law of God and the gospel of his grace, is the essence of unbelief. But to exercise a right disposition, a right feeling, or affection towards God, is the essence of true faith. This appears from the context. The apostle, having introduced the example of the Israelites of old, who perished through the hardness of their hearts, applies it to his hearers. « Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief.” Now it is evident from the connection, that what in the text, is called hardness of heart, is here called unbelief. “ An evil heart of unbelief.” A hard heart, therefore, is an unbelieving heart. It is the opposite of that good and honest heart, which Christ, in a parable, compared to good soil, well cultivated, and prepared to receive and nourish good seed. That is, a heart pleased with holiness ; being cultivated and prepared by the spirit of God, to receive and entertain the word, with right affections, dispositions, and resolutions ; so that it may bring forth fruit, to the praise and glory of God. Hence the exhortation, “ If ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Plainly implying, that hardness of heart is the only thing which prevents sinners from accepting salvation ; and that while they exercise it, they will con.
tinue unmoved and unaffected with the gospel. And here it may be observed, that though impenitent sinners have no right affection towards God, yet that the strength, or degree of their opposition is capable of being increased ; and they be given up of God to still greater degrees of hardness and insensibility ; by which their criminality and danger will be greatly increased.
II. It was proposed to mention some of those. things, which have a special tendency to harden the heart, or render it unfeeling, and insensible to things of a moral nature.
1. The practice of sin in general may be mentioned. The longer any continue in the exercise of impenitence, and practice of iniquity, of any kind, the more hardened, callous, and unfeeling will they become. This is evident from reason, scripture, and experience.
It is evident from reason. We know the force of habit ; and it is rational to suppose, the very practice of sin, continuing to set at nought the counsel of God, and despise, his reproof, should render the heart more. and more callous, and less susceptible of serious im-pressions.
It is evident from scripture. The apostle, in the context, exhorts, “ Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an eyil heart of unbelief, in depart-ing from the living God." On, as it is expressed in the next verse, “ Lest any of you be hardened, through the deceitfulness of sin ;" implying that so long as any, through the deceitfulness and allurements, of temptation, continue under the dominion of sin, their hardness will increase. Yea, it is represented by the apostle Paul, that those who give themselves. to an unrestrained practice of iniquity, may become. hardened to such a degree, as, to be without naturat affection. An awful degree of darkness, indeed. Though natural affection is a very different thing
from holy moral affection, and may be possessed without it ; yet when any have proceeded so far, in an unrestrained practice of iniquity, as to root out natural affection, it must then be evident, that they are wholly destitute of holy affection, and have become hardened by the practice of sin, to such a degree as is almost beyond hope.
It is found also by experience, that an unrestrained course of iniquity, has a tendency to increase and establish hardness of heart. How often are persons led on by degrees, to do those things without emotion, of which, once, had they been proposed to them, they would have said with Hazael, “ Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing ?” This proves that every moment that sinners continue in sin, it becomes more familiar to them ; and if left to themselves, they will grow more and more hardened and fearless in the practice of it. But it
may be proper to mention some particular sins, which have a special tendency to harden the heart.
One is a misimprovement, or abuse of special mercies, granted in the course of providence.
The sin of ingratitude, or abuse of great mercies, is not only a proof of hardness of heart, but does, in the very
exercise of it, tend especially still more to harden the heart. As the lying tongue hateth him who is afflicted by it, so does the exercise ci ingratitude tend to increase the hardness and enmity of heart towards its benefactor. This is evident from Rom. ii. 4-It is there represented, that the mercy and goodness of God, have a tendency, when rightly improved, to lead to repentance ; and given for that purpose. But when misimproved it has a contrary effect.
“Or despisest thou," says the apostle, “ the riches of his goodness and forbearance, and long-suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance. But after” or according to, “thy hardness and impenitent heart, treasur.
est up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath, and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God." Plainly implying, that to abuse peculiar mercies, or despise the goodness of God, will peculiarly increase hardness of heart ; and also, in proportion as the heart is hardened, the future condemnation will be aggravated.
Another thing, which has a special tendency to harden the heart, is disregarding the judgments of God.
The divine judgments, which from time to time are sent upon a wicked world, ought to be noticed by sinners ; and cause them to stand in awe, and to forsake the evil of their ways. But if they have not this effect, they will have a contrary one.
Thus it was with Pharaoh, of whom it is said, God hardened his heart. He did not harden it, however, by infusing any thing into his heart, which was not there before ; but by taking off restraints, and leaving him to follow his selfish, sinful propensities. In the prosecu . tion of these, he despised the goodness of God, and disregarded his threatenings. In this way the hardness of his heart increased ; the measure of his iniquities became full, and he' was destroyed. In his conduct he exemplified the inspired saying of the wise man : “ Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them,” that is fully harden ed, “ to do evil.” Again,
An abuse of the special privileges of the gospel and means of grace, has a peculiar tendency to harden the heart. It is rational to suppose, and evident from experience, that those who are favored with great light and peculiar privileges, having the gospel in their hands, and enjoying a plenitude of the means of grace, and yet neglect and misimprove them, do thereby become peculiarly hardened. This was the case with the Israelites who fell in the wilderness. The neglect and abuse of the means of
grace they enjoyed hardened their hearts, and they were destroyed. This was the case with Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Jerusalem. This has been the case with multitudes since, and may be the case with res. pect to multitudes at the present day. If they have the word of God in their hands ; if they have sabbath and sanctuary privileges, and opportunities for prayer and public worship, and neglect them; or attend
upon them in a wrong manner ; and especially, if they have peculiar convictions of conscience, and resist them ; “ Rejecting the counsel of God against themselves ;” “ The last state of such persons will be worse than the first.” Indeed, the remark which was made upon the practice of sin, in general, may be made upon every particular sin, and abuse of the means of grace, viz. that the practice of them hardens the hcart.
Sinners, in early life, are under restraints from the pious advice and religious education they receive ; and in general would startle at the thought of despising, or wholly rejecting the means of grace. But if by degrees they come to slight the word of God, profane his sabbaths, blaspheme his name, and « make a mock of sin," their hearts become hard and they can, with great ease, 6 cast off fear and restrain prayer.”
This leads to observe, once more, that associating with the irreligious and profane, has a special tendency to harden the heart. As the habits and external impressions, which are received by a religious education, put a great restraint even upon the wicked, lay them open in a measure to conviction, and render their conversion more probable, so there seems not a more direct way to remove these restraints, and harden the heart, than to choose the irreligious and profane for familiar associates. It is a maxim, founded o experience, and asserted by the pen of inspiration, that “ Evil communication corrupts good manners," The presence and example of the wick