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SERMON XIII. .
THE DECEITFULNESS OF THE HUMAN HEART.
JEREMIAH, xvII. 9. - The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked : who can know it?
This passage of scripture is very often quoted ; and
i almost as often misunderstood and misapplied. Allselfdeceivers are fond of believing, that the heart is so wicked and so deceitful, that it is impossible for any to know whether they are in the state of nature, or of grace. They frequently say, they sincerely desire to know their hearts, yet they are so extremely deceitful, that it is utterly out of their power. It is, therefore, of great practical importance to exhibit the spirit of this text and unfold its true meaning. It is evident, that God is here addressing sinners, whose hearts alone are desperately wicked. And this being true, it naturally follows that they are the persons, who find it so extremely difficult to know their own hearts. The prophet plainly supposes, that the wickedness of their hearts is the ground of their deceitfulness; and their deceitfulness is the ground of the difficulty in knowing them. So that the question in the text is, who among sinners can know the desperate wickedness and deceitfulness of their own hearts? And this question leads us to conclude,
That it is extremely difficult for sinners to know their own hearts.
The truth of this proposition none will be disposed to dispute; for saints know it to be true by their own experience ; and sinners in general are fond of believing it to be true. I shall therefore only attempt to show,
1. What is implied in their knowing their own hearts; And,
II. Why this is so extremely difficult for them to know.
I. We are to consider what is implied in their knowing their own hearts.
They are as conscious of their own hearts as saints are of theirs. 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. This leads me to observe,
1. That their knowing their hearts, in the sense of the text, implies the knowledge of their selfishness. It is this alone, that distinguishes their hearts from the hearts of saints. Those, who bear the moral image of God, have hearts of universal and disinterested benevolence. But the hearts of sinners are wholly selfish. 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 is entirely sinful, because it is altogether selfish. This they are not apt to know, nor believe. They often think, that however different they may be, in other respects, from saints, yet they do not differ from them in point of selfishness. They imagine they have both love to God and man, which does not arise from mercenary motives. But they cannot be said to know their own hearts, until they know that all their desires and affections are of a selfish nature and actually flow from love to themselves.
2. The knowledge of their hearts implies the knowledge of their desperate, incurable wickedness. Their hearts are selfish and so selfish, that no means, or mere secondary causes can cure them. For their selfishness does not arise from ignorance of themselves. And other beings and objects, but from their placing their supreme love wholly on themselves. No intellectual light or moral motives, which can be exhibited before them, will have the least tendency to alter or meliorate their hearts. Were it possible for them to have a clear, just and comprehensive view of themselves, of God, of Christ, of all the truths in the bible and of all things in this and in every other world, it would only serve to excite love to themselves and make them sensible, that they valued their own interest and happiness more than the interests and happiness of the universe. And though they should feel the impropriety and criminality of such selfish affections, yet this would have no tendency to destroy their feelings, or to make them truly benevolent. Hence their hearts are desperately wicked. 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. Besides,
3. Their knowing their own hearts implies their knowing their extreme deceitfulness. They are deceitful above all things. There is nothing so apt to deceive. They will deceive not only once or twice, but a thousand times. They will deceive every day, , every hour, and almost every moment. They are perpetually changing and putting on new and different appearances. They change as often as the objects, upon which they are placed, change. They will love
, one object this moment, and quite a different one the next. The object, which they hated yesterday, they will love to-day; and the object, they love to-day, they will hate to-morrow. They are as unstable as water, and as changeable as the wind. And it is this mutability, which makes them so deceitful. Sinners have no ground to place the least dependance on their hearts. And they cannot be said to know them, until they become thoroughly acquainted with their extreme deceitfulness. Having considered what is implied in their knowing their own hearts, I proceed to show,
II. Why it is so extremely difficult for them to gain this knowledge. “The heart is deceitful above all things : who can know it ?" According to this representation, there must be some great difficulty of some kind or other, in the way of sinners knowing their own hearts. But from what does this difficulty principally arise ? Certainly it cannot arise from their being incapable of knowing what passes in their own minds. They have as quick a sense of feeling as saints
have ; and are as conscious of the operations of their own hearts. When they love or hate, choose or refuse, they are conscious of having these exercises and of perceiving the objects of their love and hatred, or of their choice and rejection. So that the difficulty of knowing their own hearts cannot arise from this quarter. Nor can it arise from their being incapable of discerning the moral nature of their voluntary exercises. Their consciences are as good as the consciences of saints; and they are as capable of knowing the criminality of all their selfish affections. This is evident from the experience of sinners. Sometimes they are conscious of the criminality of all their desires and hopes and fears; and feel self-condemned for being entirely destitute of true love to God and man, and being entirely absorbed in love to their own present and future happiness. They know that they have such feelings ; and they know that such feelings are altogether criminal. And this, which some sinners know, all might know; for all have the same capacity and means of knowing. So that they are under no natural inability of knowing their own hearts as fully as saints know theirs. But yet there is a great difficulty in their knowing their own hearts. This leads me to ob. serve,
1. They are unwilling to know their own hearts. This is true of all sinners. Accordingly Christ says, “He that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.” It always gives pain to sinners to know their own hearts, because it always brings guilt and danger into view. There is no knowledge so disagreeable to them, as the knowledge of their hearts. Yea, no knowledge would