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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 shew the Jews, that there was no way to avert the judgments of God, and to avoid the impending eyils 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 desperately 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 enable us so to try and examine ourselves here, that hereafter we may be found unblameable and without rebuke before him, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
1. The heart is here characterized, first, As deceitful, and that above or in all things : second, As desperately wicked: in so dangerous, so deplorable a state, as is not to be conceived or found out.
" Who can know it?” The word in the original [wan], which we translate desperately wicked, signifies a mortal, incurable disease; a disease which, seizing on the vitals, affects and threatens the whole frame; and which no remedy can reach. This idea leads us to that first transgression, whereby man, departing from God, fatally destroyed his soul's health, and sunk into that state so pathetically described by Isaiah, chap. i. “ The whole head is sick;" all the powers of the understanding disordered : “ and the whole heart faint;' all the springs of the affections enfeebled. “From the sole of the foot, even unto the head, there is no soundness, but wounds, bruises, and putrefying sores;” the evil growing worse .continually, and no help or helper at hand : “they have not been closed nor bound up, nor mollified with ointment." In consequence of this deep-rooted disorder, the heart is deceitful;—that is, it deceives and fails us in every instance: it promises more than it can perform : it misleads us with vain desires ; and mocks us with unsuccessful efforts : like the faint attempts of a sick man, to perform those actions which require a state of sound health and strength. That this is indeed the case, will, I think, appear from the following particulars; to which I entreat your attention.
Scripture and reason do jointly assure us, that
all we see is the work of an Almighty Being :the heavens and the earth, the sun, moon, and stars, and even the grass and flowers of the field, loudly proclaim the presence, the power, the wisdom, and the goodness of God: yet behold the extreme insensibility of man. The wisest of our species, in those places where Divine revelation was not known, ever mistook the effect for the cause ; and ascribed that honour to the creature which is due only to the Creator. This was the very best of the case; for, in general, they sunk still lower, to worship stocks and stones: nay, to the eternal reproach of the natural understanding in the things of God, the more civilized any nation was, the more renowned for arts and arms, the farther they were removed from those they termed barbarians, so much the more vile and contemptible the idolatry they established generally proved. The wisdom of the Egyptians paid divine honours to cats, monkeys, and the vilest reptiles. The fine taste of the Greeks consecrated those for gods, who, if they had lived amongst men, would have been deemed the pests of society; gods who were, professedly, both patterns and patrons of the most shamefulvices. The prowess of the Romans established altars to fear and paleness. So deeply were they infatuated, so totally lost to common sense, that the Apostle Paul's worst enemies could find no more plausible accusation against him, in one of the politest cities then in the world, than that he had ventured to affirm, “ they were no gods who were made with hands."
Thus stood the case with Heathens : let us now come nearer home. It is to be feared, the greatest difference between them and the generality of us called Christians, is, that we do not partake in their gross outward idolatry. In other respects,
our insensibility is perhaps as much greater than theirs, as our superior knowledge renders it more inexcusable. We acknowledge a God; that there is but one; that he is the cause of all things; that in him we live, and move, and have our being. Had the poor Heathens known this, we may judge, by their application to their mistaken worship, it would have had some influence on their practice. But what numbers of “us” live altogether as “ without God in the world.” I come not here to make invectives; let conscience judge, and give evidence accordingly. What do we think of the perpetual presence of God around us, and within us? We know that he is acquainted with all our thoughts, words, and actions; yet are we not more effectually restrained and awed by the presence of our fellow-worms, than by the regard of that Eye which is ten thousand times brighter than the sun? How are we affected by the works of God? Has not the appearance of a fine day, or the beauty of an extensive prospect, a force to extort a sense of satisfaction from every one ? but how few are there of us that can realize and acknowledge the hand of the glorious Author of these things? How seldom and how faintly, do we adopt the reflection of David ? “When I consider the heavens, the work of THY fingers, the moon and stars which THOU hast ordained; Lord, what is man that thou shouldst be mindful of him?” Ps. viii. What is our judgment of the word of God, that glorious message of love, in which he has pointed out to us the way of salvation? Is not this book the least read, the least admired, and the least understood, of any? We are presently affected, we enter with all our spirit into the moving incidents (as we term them) of a romance -or tragedy, though we know they are not founded on truth, nor have any rela
tion to ourselves; but we can read the history of Jesus Christ, his life and doctrines, his death and passion, with indifference, though we say, all he spoke, or did, or suffered, was for our sakes. What are our thoughts of that eternity to which we are posting, and to which, for aught we know, a few hours may introduce us? Is it not in the power of the meanest trifle that occurs, to hide this important point from our view ? It were easy to multiply particulars; but are not these sufficient to shew the deceitfulness, the desperate wickedness, of the heart? Let me add one more : the judgments of God are now abroad in the world for these things. We have warnings all around
We know that many fruitful lands in our neighbourhood are, in a manner, turned into a wilderness, for the sins of the inhabitants. Every post brings us tidings of some new desolation, and we cannot tell how soon the case may be our own; but we have neither sympathy for our fellow-creatures, nor concern for ourselves. We hear, we pity, we forget, in the same instant. But these things are remote. Is then what we see and feel more laid to heart ? Our friends and acquaintance are taken from amongst us daily; some of them suddenly, in the midst of their warmest pursuits, or just upon the accomplishment of their most favourite schemes: we drop an unmeaning tear, and fly to every officious vanity for relief. Perhaps we are visited ourselves, and brought down to the borders of the grave: but, even against this, we are, for the most part, proof; or, if we feel a slight impression, it gradually wears off with the disease; and we return, as soon as we recover, to our former follies with redoubled ardour.
This is a slight view of the insensibility of the