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DISCOURSES (OR SERMONS),
AS INTENDED FOR THE PULPIT.
Στύλος και εδραίωμα της ἀλήθειας, και ὁμολογουμένως μέγα ἐςι τὸ της ευσεβείας μυστηριον· Θεὸς ἐφανερωθη ἐν σαρκί
DISCOURSES (OR SERMONS).
ON THE DECEITFULNESS OF THE HEART.
JER. XVII. 9, 10.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.
THE prophet Jeremiah had a hard task. He was appointed to inculcate unwelcome truths upon a vain insensible people. He had the grief to find, all his expostulations and warnings, his prayers and tears, had no other effect than to make them account him their enemy, and to draw reproach and persecution upon himself. He lived to see the accomplishment of his own predictions; to see the land of his nativity desolated, the city destroyed, the people almost extirpated, and the few who remained, transported into a distant country, to end their days in captivity.
Those who have resolved, honestly and steadily, to declare the word of the Lord, have, in all ages, found a part of his trial: the message they have had to deliver has been disagreeable and disregarded. It is no hard matter to frame discourses that shall meet with some degree of general approbation; nor is it difficult to foresee the reception which plain truth must often meet
with but those who undertake a charge must perform it; and ministers are bound to declare to the people every thing that regards their welfare, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear. If the watchman sees the danger coming, and does not blow the trumpet, to give the most public notice possible, he is answerable for all the evils that may follow. This is applied as a caution to the prophet Ezekiel; and, undoubtedly, every one who administers in holy things is concerned in it. "So thou, O son of man, I have set "thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore "thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn "them from me. When I say unto the wicked man, "O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost "not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that "wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood "will I require at thine hand;" Ezek. xxxiii. Let this awful passage plead our excuse, if, at any time, we seem too urgent, or too plain, in our discourses. Too plain or urgent we cannot be. Our business is most important: opportunities are critical and precious. It is at the hazard of our souls if we speak deceitfully; and at the hazard of yours if we speak in vain.
In the preceding verses, the prophet gives us a striking image of the opposition between the righteous and the wicked, in their present state, their hopes, and their end. The one is compared to a tree; the other to heath and stubble; the one, planted by streams of water; the other, exposed on the salt burning desert: the one, green, flourishing, and full of fruit; the other, parched and withering: the hope of the one, fixed on the Lord, the all-sufficient Almighty God; the rash dependence of the other, on a frail feeble arm of flesh. Suitable to this difference is their end: the one, blessed,
provided against all evil, so that he shall not be careful in the year of drought; the other, cursed, and cut off from the expectation of any amendment. "He shall "not see when good cometh." The immediate design was, perhaps, to show the Jews, that there was no way to avert the judgements of God, and to avoid the impending evils which threatened them, but by returning to the Lord, who had begun to smite, and who alone was able to heal them. But this they refused. They preferred their own contrivances; "they leaned upon "an arm of flesh;" sometimes upon Egypt, sometimes upon Assyria: one while presuming upon force; another while upon cunning. They were fruitful in expedients; and, when one broken cistern failed them, had recourse to another. But the prophet denounces the curse of God both on them and their supports; subjoining the words of my text; which may be understood, either as a farther proof of what he had said, or an assigned cause, of that obstinacy and perverseness he had complained of: "The heart is deceitful above all things, "and desperately wicked: who can know it?"
But, without confining the words to the first occasion of their delivery, I shall consider them, as teaching us a doctrine, abundantly confirmed by many other passages of Scripture, "That the heart is deceitful and despe"rately wicked:" which I shall endeavour to illustrate in a plain familiar way. I shall, secondly, from the next verse, enforce this observation, That the heart (bad as it is) is incessantly under the divine inspection and examination: "I the Lord search the heart and
try the reins." I shall, thirdly, consider the issue and design of this inquest; that "every man," may, in the end, receive "according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings." And may the Lord