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to our salvation, and such a disregard to the divine commands, as is inconsistent with a religious temper.
Finally; Prayer to God is an important means of establishing our hope. The Psalmist prays; “Search me, O God, and try my heart; see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
We have seen the importance of a hope which will not make us ashamed; and we have seen by what means we may make this attainment.
Let us not be careless and indifferent in a matter of such serious consequence. No attention-no labor can be too great for such a hope as has been described—a hope which will be our support in adversity, our comfort in death, our joy in the presence of Christ at his coming, when the conscious sinner and the detected hypocrite will tremble and be dismayed. Let us not reckon our lives dear to us, that so we may finish our course with joy. Let us never indulge those flattering imaginations, nor admit those presumptuous conclusions, which will only raise the soul aloft, that it may receive a more terrible downfall. Let us search our hearts with jealousy, form our hopes with caution, and work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Let us press toward perfection with ardor, discharge our duty with zeal, resist temptations with firmness, serve God with faithfulness, and thus give diligence to the full assurance of hope to the end. Animated by an increasing hope of heaven, let us pursue the object with warmth, quicken our motion toward it daily, as it draws nearer to our view, till at last all our desires and pursuits terminate in it, all our hopes are lost in enjoyment, and all our affections are swallowed up in Goda
THE NEW HEART A DIVINE WORK,
EZEKIEL XXXVI. 26.
A new heart will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you ;
and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.
At the time when Ezekiel delivered this promise, the Jews were under the yoke of the Chaldean monarch, in a state of captivity, which, from its beginning, continued seventy years. During this period, though by their impenitence they rendered themselves unworthy of God's favorable notice, yet he mercifully remembered them, and inclined the heart of their oppressor to allow them privileges, which he denied to other captives. They still enjoyed the ministry of their prophets, and they received many comfortable assurances of emancipation from their bondage, when the set time to favor them should come.
To give the more effectual support to the faith and hope of good men, the prophets, in their sacred lectures, often extended their views beyond the time of this deliverance, to a more glorious day, not yet arrived, when the veil shall be wholly removed from the eyes of that people, and their hard hearts shall be softened into repentance and obedience. The promises contained in the latter part of the chapter where our text is, are probably of this kind. Though they had a primary respect to the deliverance of the Jews from Babylon, and to the meliorated disposition with which they returned to their own land, yet they received a farther accomplishment in the time of Christ and his apostles, when many among Jews, as well as Gentiles, turned to the Lord. But their entire completion is referred to the day foretold in the eleventh chapter to the Romans, “When the deliverer shall come out of Zion, and turn away ungodliness from Jacob, and all Israel shall be saved.”
The blessings promised them in our context are chiefly of a spiritual nature; such as sanctification, pardon, a new heart, a heart of flesh, and the presence of the Divine Spirit. To these shall be added peace, safety, plenty, and every kind of temporal prosperity, which can consist with a happy state of religion. “I will take you from among the heathen," saith their God," and will gather you out of all countries, and will bring you 'unto your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes.”
The great change to be made in this people, when they should be brought into favour with God, is expressed by a new heart and a new spirit.
We will consider the nature--the importance--and the attainableness of this change.
I. We will consider the nature of the change.
A holy temper is often, in scripture, represented under this character. David
“O God, create in me a clean heart, renew in me a right spirit.” We are taught by the gospel, that “we must be renewed in the spirit of our mind-must put on the new manbecome new creatures-walk in newness of life.”
This newness of heart is, in our text, opposed to former filthiness and profaneness. It pre-supposes, therefore, a depraved and vitiated state of mind, as what renders the change necessary; and it imparts, not the creation of new mental faculties, but the introduction of holy tempers and dispositions. Thus it is described
by Saint Paul; “We were sometimes foolish and disobedient, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But God of his mercy hath saved us by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost." They, who are renewed in the spirit of their minds, “have put off the old man, which is corrupt according to deceitful lusts, and have put on the new man, which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness."
This change intends something more than an external reformation. It has its ground-work in the heart. There may be an observable amendment in the outward behaviour, while the inward temper remains the same. New circumstances may produce a great alteration in the manner of life, when there is no habitual change in the disposition of the heart. We read of those, “who in their trouble, return and enquire after God; but are not steadfast in his covenant, because their hearts are not right with him”-of those, “who return, but not to the most High”—of those, turn to the Lord; but feignedly, not with their whole heart”-of those, “who for a time escape the pollutions of the world, but are again entangled therein and overcome.”
A bare restraint on the vicious inclinations, or a partial, or temporary amendment of the manners, amounts not to the scriptural import of the new heart and the new spirit. The apostle says,
If any man be in Christ he is a new creature: old things are passed away, all things are become new."
1. This new heart implies some new views and apprehensions of divine things.
Sinners are often said to be in darkness, either on account of their ignorance of the great truths of religion, or their disregard and inattention to them. They have eyes but see not, and they have ears but hear not. Their heart is waxed gross, so that the things of God are not discerned in their spiritual nature, nor felt in their mighty importance. In conversion, the eyes of their understanding are opened—they are made light in the Lord; not by an immediate discovery of new truths, but by a sensible apprehension of truths already known.
When one, who has lived in gross ignorance of religion, becomes a subject of conversion, the change will be accompanied and followed with new accessions of knowledge.
This was the case of those, who, in the apostles' times, were converted from heathenism to Christianity; and may still be the case of many, who for want of a proper education, or through their own negligence, have lived strangers to the doctrines of the gospel, until the time when God began a good work in them, by awakening them to a conviction of their guilt and an apprehension of their danger.
This enlightening, however, is not in a way of immediate discovery, but only in a way of rational improvement-not by a new revelation, but by a proper use of the revelation which they have.
The gospel contains all things which we need to know. Many under the gospel, through their own carelessness, remain ignorant of the things which are there taught. When their hearts are awakened to a sense of the importance of religion, they attend with diligence on the means of knowledge, and make easy improvement in it. They will know, when they follow on to know the Lord.
It was in this way that men, in the apostolic times, were enlightened in the knowledge of the truth. Paul was sent to open the eyes of the Gentiles, and turn them from darkness to light. Peter was sent to Cornelius to tell him words, by which he should be saved. Ananias was ordered to go and instruct Paul in the things which the Lord would have him to do.
It may be hoped, that few, educated under the gospel, are ignorant of its essential doctrines and precepts. At least, it is certain, men may have knowledge in the great mysteries of religion, without the temper of it.
When such as these become the subjects of conversion, if no addition is made to their doctrinal knowledge, they may yet be said to be turned from darkness to light, because they have new apprehensions of the things, which they before understood and believed; they consider them more attentively, discern them more clearly, feel them more sensibly, and are influenced by them more powerfully.