« PreviousContinue »
are never under a natural necessity of sinning. If they will only keep their hearts in the manner which God requires, they will always be secure against every moralevil. Though they may be tempted by the world, by wicked men, and by Satan, yet they may always resist and overcome all these external temptations. Christ was tempted by the world, by Peter, and by the Devil, but they could not draw his guarded heart astray. Satan tempted Job, by stripping him of every thing which he held most dear and valuable in life; but he kept his heart from rising against God, and sinned not. All men, at all times, are equally able to resist all the snares and temptations with which they are surrounded in this state of trial. Their eyes and ears and imaginations may be assaulted, but while they keep their hearts with due care, they may bid defiance to all their spiritual enemies. These can do them no harm, while they follow that which is good. So long as they set their affections on things above, things below cannot corrupt their hearts. They are just as able to resist all temptations, as they are to keep their hearts with all diligence. Let them only perform this duty, and it will give them the victory over the world and all the things of the world.
2. Since men can guard their hearts against evil, it is easy to see that they can guard their hearts against good. They can no more be laid under a natural necessity of becoming good, than of becoming evil. As they can resist all temptations to sin, so they can resist all motives to embrace the gospel and obey the divine commands. They can shut their eyes, stop their ears, and harden their hearts against every thing that can be said to them, or done for them, by those who seek to promote their spiritual welfare. They are entirely out of the reach of all the means of grace, which they can abuse to their own ruin. And even the calls and admonitions of divine providence may be lost upon them, and only serve to increase their guilt and ripen them for future and aggravated destruction. This was exemplified by the conduct of those, who heard and rejected the preaching of Noah; by those who heard and despised the voice of Moses and the prophets; by those who heard and rejected the counsel of God, under the preaching of Christ and the apostles, and by those at this day, who wax worse and worse, under all the manurings and cultivations of the word, the providence and Spirit of God. Though divine truth may be conveyed to the ears, the understandings, and consciences of sinners, yet they can despise, or oppose it, and stifle convictions, and obstinately persist in the course to ruin. In a word, they can and will destroy themselves, unless God sees fit to change their hearts by his sovereign and irresistible grace.
3. We learn from what has been said, the imminent danger those are in, who neglect the duty enjoined in the text. This neglect all sinners are continually guilty of, in the whole course of their conduct. They never keep their hearts in the manner God requires. They suffer their hearts to rove from object to object, and to fix upon any object which gives them the most pleasure, or promises them the most profit. And though their curiosity, or interest, or peculiar circumstances sometimes constrain them to fix their attention upon spiritual and divine objects, yet they take occasion from them to indulge their selfishness, malignity, or contempt. So that all objects with which they are surrounded, all persons with whom they converse, all favours with which they are indulged, all afflictions with which they are visited, and all the instructions which are poured into their minds, have a natural and powerful tendency to corrupt their hearts, and push them on in the path to destruction. Let them turn their eyes, or fix their attention where they will, they can see, and hear, and know nothing but what draws forth their corruptions, and increases both their guilt and danger. While they neglect to keep their hearts, they lie open to all the temptations of Satan, to all the seductions of wicked men, and to all the sin and guilt, which arises from the abuse of all their natural talents, temporal favours, and religious advantages. This awful truth all sinners under genuine conviction clearly see and sensibly feel, which cuts off all hope of salvation, but that which arises from the mere sovereign
mercy of God.
4. We learn from what has been said, that none can be sincere in religion, who entirely neglect to keep their hearts. Their concern about their external conduct has no religion in it, while they are totally unconcerned about their internal views and feelings. There are many very strict and moral persons, who pay no regard to the motives of their conduct, and lay no restraint upon the corruption of their hearts. They mean to maintain a sober and regular life, while they set their hearts wholly upon the world, and indulge every selfish affection. They mistake morality for religion, and build their hopes of heaven upon a false and sandy foundation. But no external obedience or outward forms of worship, which flow not from a pure and holy heart, partake of the nature of true religion. This our Saviour abundantly taught, in the course of his preaching to those religious sects who flourished in his day, and were esteemed eminently pious. He told his disciples in his sermon on the mount, “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” And he reproved the Scribes and Pharisees themselves in the most severe and solemn manner. “Wo unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint, and anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Wo unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup, and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.” Real saints keep their hearts with all diligence, but formalists and hypocrites neglect this duty, and expose themselves to be shut out of the kingdom of heaven.
5. We learn from what has been said, the nature of the christian warfare. It consists in watching, guarding, and keeping the heart. All true christians know, that they are naturally inclined to attend to improper objects, and to exercise improper affections. They view themselves in an enemy's land, where every person and object will lead them astray, unless they keep their eyes and hearts upon proper objects, and guard against every worldly or selfish affection. Their warfare consists not in attacking their spiritual enemies, but in avoiding, or resisting them, by every holy and virtuous exercise. They know, that while they keep their hearts in a holy and heavenly frame, neither Satan, nor the whole world can lead them into sin; but if they once allow their eyes, or ears, or hearts to wander, the veriest trifles are suficient to make them stumble and fall, and will never fail to produce this fatal effect. In this spiritual warfare, they will find no discharge, nor even respite, until they leave the
present evil world, and arrive at that state of rest and perfection, which remains for the people of God.
6. This subject teaches christians the importance of their constantly and sincerely attending to all the means of grace, which God has appointed for their spiritual benefit. The reading of the holy Scriptures, the hearing of the gospel preached, the commemorating of the death of Christ at his table, the meditating much upon heavenly and divine objects, and especially the frequent and devout calling upon God in secret, private, and publick, will have a happy tendency to enliven and increase every religious affection, and keep them from all the paths of the destroyer. All the means of grace were appointed for the edifying and perfecting of the saints, who need such aids to carry them forward in the divine life, and to guard them against the dangers to which they are daily and constantly exposed. This is the only way in which they can have any ground to expect, they shall be always able to keep their hearts. By attending to good objects, they will exclude bad ones, and by exercising good affections, they will banish bad ones from their hearts. If they will constantly and faithfully improve the means of grace, God has promised they shall experience these happy effects. “The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree; they shall grow like the cedar in Lebanon. Those that be planted in the house of the Lord, shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing."