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wicked works. He striveth with his Maker; he resists the Spirit and truth of God; he despises and rejects the only Savior, and is an enemy to the cross of Christ. Thus he is, emphatically, and by profession, a fighter, a warrior against God. (Acts 5:39.) In this con flict with his Maker, the language of his heart is, no God, No GOD! Following the desires and purposes of his heart, he chooses and de. termines to live without God in the world.
Now, when it is remembered that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, against the very course which this impenitent sinner, this desperate rebel, is habitually pursuing; that this wrath abideth on him every moment; that it is increasing with every sin he commits; that it is approaching, with inconceivable rapidity, nearer and nearer, with every hour that passes; that he knows not the day nor the hour, when this tremendous torrent of indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, shall burst upon him; the desperate wickedness of his heart must appear in the most striking light. Nothing but desperation can break through the restraints thrown around him to arrest his progress to perdition. His sentence of condemnation is written in capitals, large enough to fill the wide expanse of heaven over his head; but instead of trembling, he provokes the Judge with still more daring crimes. Conscience often reproves and condemns him, often remonstrates and pleads with him; but he does violence to this internal and friendly monitor, hardens his heart, and plunges deeper in sin. God, his offended Sovereign, with the voice of mercy, with infinite kindness, calls to him to turn and live; assures him that after all his years of rebellion, after all his aggravated offences, if he will repent and believe in a crucified Savior, he shall be saved; his sins, through the blood of the atonement, shall be freely pardoned; but he makes light of these invitations and promises, refuseth to be healed, smites with malicious scorn, the cup of salvation from his lips, tramples the blood of atonement under his feet, does despite unto the Spirit of grace, and thus raises the standard of defiance against Omnipotence. With much longsuffering the Lord waits with him, gives him time for reflection, time for repentance, and with increasing earnestness repeats the invita. tions of mercy; but he despises the heavenly birthright, and turns the grace of God into more insolent rebellion.
Who are the parties engaged in this conflict? The sinner is a creature but of yesterday, a poor worm of the earth, weak and frail, dependent on God for his existence, for his breath, and for the power which is exerted in sin.
It is God against whom he fights; the selfexistent, cternal, omnipotent Jehovah, with whom this rebel-worm is contending; that God, who, with a single touch, could crush him in death. It is weakness contending with infinite power; it is folly disputing with divine wisdom; it is insignificance arrayed against the majesty of heaven; it is the wickedness, the malice, the enmity of demons, waging war with the holiness, the purity of the universe. The supposition that the sinner can succeed in this unequal combat, would be the most inexcusable blasphemy. Sooner, ten thousand times sooner, might Leonidas, with his chosen band, have been expected to vanquish the Persian host: sooner, by millions, might the meanest worm that crawls on the earth, be expected to heave them mountain from its deep foundation into the midst of the ocean. If the sinner will identify himself with sin; if he refuses to repent and forsake it, his utter and eternal destruction is inevitable. The character, the laws, the government of God—the interests of the universe require it. At the appointed time, when the measure of his iniquity is filled up, when the forbearance of God is exhausted, when it will make the best impression on the universe, then sudden destruction cometh upon him, and he shall not escape; then shall he be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power. The case of Leonidas does not more clearly exhibit the reality and nature of desperation, than does the case of the hardened, impenitent, incorrigible sinner. By resolving to continue in sin, as he frequently and deliberately does, he cuts off the possibility of escape, and seals the certainty of his own perdition.
Once more,--and this wickedness will fully account for the deceitful. ness of the human heart. The sinner is ignorant, in a great measure, of the degree and tendency of his wickedness. He is not aware of the vileness and malignity of his own heart. He will readily confess, indeed, that he is a sinner; but it will be with the same indifference with which he would point out his right hand from his left; proving, most conclusively, that he does not understand the fearful import of the confession which he makes. This is implied in the latter clause of the text: Who can know it? evidently implying that none but God can know it. Hence it follows; I, the Lord, search the heart, and try the reins, fc. There exists in active and constant operation in the sinner's heart, a principle of enmity against God; and yet he is not fully aware of either its existence or its influence. If an enemy lies in ambush against us, he is more dangerous than when meeting us in the open
field. If we know the ambuscade, we shun it and are safe; if we know it not, we go forward and are ruined. The sinner's heart is desperately wicked, but he knows it not; therefore, it is deceitful above all things.
II. Let us now select a few instances illustrating this deceitfulness. Hazael, chief officer of the king of Syria, was sent to the prophet Elisha. During the interview, the prophet fixed his eyes steadfastly on him, and wept. Hazael, being ashamed, inquired, why weepeth my lord? The prophet replied; Because I know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel, mentioning some of the most savage cruelties, as a part of this evil. Hazael replied: But what! is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing? He considers it impossible for him to be guilty of such atrocities, and therefore repels the intimation of the prophet with indignant feelings. Yet after a short time, and under different circumstances, he is guilty of those
very barbarities, which the prophet had foretold. He knew not, nor even suspected the wickedness of his own heart, and therefore it de. ceived him; and yet that wickedness was there, and wanted only a suitable occasion to break forth in all its appropriate acts of brutal violence. Here, then, is a striking instance of the deceitfulness arising from the unknown, the unsuspected wickedness of the heart.
Another, not less striking, is furnished by the young man, the young ruler, who came to the Savior, with the respectful salutation, Good Master; with the pious inquiry, what good thing shall I do; and for the best of all objects, that I may inherit eternal life; at the same time kneeling in proof that he was humble, sincere and willing to be taught. While other young men of wealth are neglecting, perhaps persecuting the Savior, this young ruler runs to him, lest the present opportunity, , if neglected, might never return. While others are spending their time in idleness, or in works of darkness; he is engaged in doing good. While others are stained with every species of crime against their fellow-men, he is free from every stain of this kind. As it rcgards relative duties, he is perfectly moral; for the Savior does not question, but seems to admit the truth of his declaration on this subject. In this young man there is much that is naturally amiable, for the Savior beholding him, that is, viewing with attention, not his features or external appearance, but his disposition, his character, loved him. Doubtless this young man expected to receive the instruction for which he asked with approbation and delight; but how great was his disappointment! He is ignorant of his own heart. He has not the slighest suspicion that there is in it such a root of bitterness, such, till now, concealed opposition to this Teacher. Had he been asked, when presenting his request, do you not dislike and reject this Teacher? he would, no doubt, have indignantly replied, am I a Samaritan, or a devil, that I should do this? Yet he cannot conceal from himself the fact that he rejects this Teacher. As a man,
may respect and receive him; but as a religious instructor, he deliberately rejects him. He is determined to give up the hopes of eternal life, rather than part with his beloved wealth. The voice of the Savior has turned the sorrow of many a heart into joy; in this case, it turns anticipated joy into sadness, sorrow and grief. The viper in his bosom is not perceived, till warmed and irritated by this crisis, it strikes its deadly fangs against this Good Teacher.
Who does not recollect the case of Peter, as an afflictive and mel. ancholy instance of the deceitfulness of the heart? We hear his public and solemn professions of attachment to his Master; Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I not deny thee. He considers it possible that others, even the other apostles, might forsake their Lord, yet if they should, he is confident that he will not. The Savior kindly and plainly warns him of the event about to take place; but he seems to suspect, not his own heart, but the truth of the prediction, and becomes more confident; Though I die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. In making these professions, there is reason to
believe that he was sincere; but there was still greater reason to believe that he was ignorant, totally ignorant of his own heart. But let us follow them to the palace of the high priest, where his Master, as a culprit, is on trial for his life. A damsel says to him; Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee. The crisis has now come.
What will Peter now say? Has he forgotten the professions, made but a few hours ago? No, he has not forgotten them; they are in his thoughts; for his Master, to whom they related, is, at this moment, within his view. Silence, or even delay, is inadmissible; he must speak; and he does speak; But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest. After going out on the porch, another maid said to them that stood by, This is one of them. He has had a few minutes, at least, for reflection, to recover from the perturbation of the first unexpected attack, to hear the voice of conscience, to compare his late professions with his still more recent denial, but having taken the first step, he is prepared for the second. And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man. Returning from the porch, and mingling again with those in the palace, several persons affirmed that he was one of them, for his speech proved him to be a Galilean. One, in particular, alleging that he was one of them, for he himself had seen him in the garden. Here is proof in support of the charge alleged; the dialect which he used, and the testimony of an eye-witness, who had seen him, in the garden, draw the sword in defence of his Master. What an earthquake of feeling must have agitated his bosom at this moment! He has had an hour for reflection. He must either confess the wick. edness and turpitude of his former denials, or add to them another, still more wicked and base. But he began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man of whom you speak! Is this the man who, but a few hours ago, professed an attachment greater than that of all others, and declared that he would die sooner than deny his Master? It is the same man! · To have denied once, and in simple language, would have been wicked; but to deny twice, and thrice, with an oath, and then cursing and swearing, is desperately wicked ! These denials come from the heart; for there was time, between each of them, for reflection; and not to reflect was impossible. During two of these denials, his Master was in his view; and during the last, it is highly probable his eye was fixed on him. That wickedness, developed in these denials, was in the heart, when the warm professions of attachment were made; but he does not know, nor even suspect that it was there. When told by his Master that he would, that very night, deny him, most evidently he does not believe it. Had he known or even suspected this, he would not have been so greatly deceived; he would not have fallen from the extreme of confident pro. fession, to the guilt and turpitude of these repeated denials. Here, then, is one of the most instructive, impressive and afflictive instances, and also one of the clearest proofs of the wickedness and deceitfulness of the heart, that can be found in the annals of human nature.
Let us now select a few cases, illustrating the same subject, from ourselves, coming under our own observation and making a part of our own experience.
Multitudes are deceiving themselves respecting the character and state of their hearts, by giving undue importance to mere natural goodness, and the good opinion of others founded on this goodness. There is nothing harsh, severe, or repulsive in their temper; kind, af fectionate and cheerful in all the relations of life; courteous and obli. ging to others; moral in their deportment, respectful to religion, constantly attending public worship. And perhaps there is added to all this, the interest which youth, and wealth, and influence in society can impart. They are respected and esteemed by all, and sincerely loved by many. How easy is it, and how probable is it, that these will substitute this mere natural goodness, for that which is spiritual the good opinion of men for the approbation of their Julge! How difficult and almost impossible is it for such to believe that, with an active and deep-rooted enmity, they hate God, and hate the Savior, and his salvation ! Yet such is the fact, (John 15:23,24.) They do not profess to have been born again, to love God, or to repent of sin: they belong to the world, are the friends of the world; of course, they are the enemies of God, the enemies of the cross of Christ. Without repentance toward God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, they will soon be confirmed in this state; and, divested of all this natural good. ness, will forever be hateful and hating one another. It is afflictive in the extreme, to think that those who are now so amiable, will, at some future period, fight and rage against God, with all the fury and malice of devils! The seeds of this wickedness are now in their hearts; but they know it not, they believe it not; and are, therefore, deceived to their own destruction.
The deceitfulness of the heart is manifest, again, in this: that sin. ners are often led, step after step, to a degree of shameless impiety, of daring wickedness, which they once supposed impossible that They would ever reach. But taking the first step, they are prepared for the second, and this leads to a third, until they drink iniquity like water. They first walk in the counsel of the ungodly, then stand in the way of sinners, then sit in the seat of tlie scornful. The first step, in this broad
way which leadeth to destruction, is taken, without much ap. prehension of danger; because its connection with the last is not perceived, nor supposed to exist. Yet that connection exists, and strengthens as every successive step is taken. The youth, when the first profane word escapes from his lips, has no intention of becoming, by profession and by habit, a profane swearer, a bold blasphemer. But the first having been uttered, the second and third follow, until the habit is formed, and he belches forth, without either shame or remorse, the language of hell upon earth. The man who indulges in the tem. perate use of ardent spirits, has no intention of becoming a drunkard, and of dying, unobserved and unpitied, in the ditch. And yet most cases of habitual intoxication and premature death from the excessive use of this insidious poison, commenced with the temperate use of it.
But one of the most striking and deplorable instances of the deceit fulness of the heart is, the supposed intention to repent at some future