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THE CORRUPTION OF THE HUMAN HEART.
JAMES iii. 2.
In many things we offend all.
The doctrines of human corruption, and the consequent necessity of a Redeemer, are not merely scriptural, but the cardinal points, the very vital essence of scripture; and I cannot but hope that they are acknowledged as such by all who hear me. Indeed, I have from time to time laboured to establish this, with such an accumulation of proof from the word of God, that I think you must, as a mere matter of reasoning, have been convinced of this truth. But it is one thing to give a general assent to a proposition, and another to have a personal feeling of its truth, and to make an individual application of it to one's self; and therefore many a man may in some sort believe these doctrines, without being the better for them. For say to a person, “all mankind are sinners," and probably he would not dispute your assertion; but follow up this general position, by applying it particularly to him whom you address,—“you are yourself a sinner, and can have no well grounded hope of salvation, but through the merits of Christ, made available by repentance and faith," and you might probably find him immediately stand on his defence. He would be slow to acknowledge, or would not acknowledge with humility, the certain but distressing conclusion ; he would rather be inclined to apologize for himself, than to speak with gratitude of the mercy of God, in offering pardon to such an offender. In fact, we have a natural repugnance to confess even to ourselves, how imperfect we are; and I put down this
very feeling, as one of the most decisive proofs of the truths which we are so unwilling to admit; for that such an infirm, inconsistent, defective creature as man, should set a value upon his own virtues, and that, too, even before God, is an instance of pride and self ignorance, that clearly indicates a sinful nature. Yet so it certainly is. In the list of the evil dispositions which exist in the “ heart of man,” our blessed Lord, who well knew its secrets, puts “pride ;” and we are all naturally proud ; we are fond of flattering ourselves. We cannot endure to see the blots and blemishes of our own characters. Every man has his favourite, to whose imperfections he is blind--and that favourite is himself. He is his own idol; and of that idol he“ maketh him a God, yea, he falleth down and worshipeth it.” But do we find the same reluctance to believe our neighbours imperfect and sinful ? Can we not easily discover a mote in the eye of every brother whom we look upon? If his actions be bad, does not the tale of scandal find a ready circulation ? If doubtful, does not the worst view of them meet with the most general concurrence ? If good, are they not very commonly attributed to wrong motives ; to hypocrisy, to ostentation, to party-spirit, to self interest ?
I stop not to point out the conclusion to which this partial mode of reasoning, this habitual spirit of uncharitableness, ought honestly to lead us in our judgment of our own nature; what must be the perfection, what the purity of a creature, to whom it is habitual so to misdeem of himself and his fellow creatures ? But, I pray you forget your neighbours for å while, and think of
yourselves. The very same persons whom
you censure, censure you in return. Both may be correct in some cases, but it would be better for both to enquire into their own failings, than into the faults of others. This is what I particularly wish you all to do now; and I desire you to attend to the remarks which I shall make in my present address, not with a view to discover whether the rest of mankind are sinful, but whether you yourselves are so.
I doubt not that on this subject there are many of my hearers who already think as I could wish; many who are very ready to acknowledge, what they have long felt, that they are both prone to evil, and commit evil of some sort, though not with deliberate intention, yet continually, and that they leave undone much which it is their duty to do; and with such it is, I daresay, the first and most frequent prayer of their hearts, that they may be cleansed from all their sins, and enabled by the grace of God, to go on improving in their disposition and in their conduct. Depend upon it, every man who is a sincere Christian, is very sensibly alive to his own infirmities, and therefore also to his great need both of pardon through Jesus Christ, and of the help of God's Holy Spirit to strengthen him against the temptations by which he is continually assailed. I feel certain that the more Christianlike a man is in his temper and frame of mind, the more deeply conscious he is of his necessities in both these respects ; that the more intimately he knows himself, the more humbly he thinks of himself; that he is finding out new sins, new frailties, new tendencies to evil, perpetually. That he has scarcely conquered one bad disposition, before he discovers another, which before he had not thought of; that those which he has most laboured to subdue, and against which he has been most successful, for ever require his watchfulness and care, lest they should return upon him and gain a fresh victory. In short, that his whole life is one continued scene of
very active warfare against very busy enemies, and that his deceitful heart may betray him into the fatal danger of confidence and security, if he is not ever on the watch against its delusions.
I will say, with decision, that the sort of feeling which I have described always does, and must exist in the minds of those who have received the seed of the gospel into good ground : that it is its natural fruit, and will therefore spring up in different proportions, according to the soil upon which it is sown. For let me ask you, is not this feeling founded on the warrant of the gospel ? Is not that holy message full of assertions of the infirmity and corruption of our nature? Full of assurances that Christ died “for the remission of our sins?” Of encouragement to those, and to those only, who feel the weight of their transgressions, and their own inability to