« AnteriorContinuar »
in the behalf of any sin ; that is, for a continuance in it, prevalent thereunto, ruins all sincerity. It may be, the pretence is, that it is but a little one, of no great moment, and that wbich shall be compensated with other duties of obedience ; or, it shall be retained only until a fitter season for its relinquishment; or, men may be blinded after conviction to dispute again, whether what they would abide in be sinful or no, as is the case frequently with respect unto covetousness, pride, and conformity to the world; it is a dreadful effect of the ruling power of sin. Whatever impeacheth the universality of obedience in one thing, overthrows its sincerity in all things.
Fifthly, Hardness of heart, so frequently mentioned and complained of in the Scripture, is another evidence of the dominion of sin. But because there are various degrees also hereof, they must be considered, that we may judge aright what of it is an evidence of that dominion, and what may be consistent with the rule of grace : for it is that mysterious evil whereof the best men do most complain, and whereof the worst have no sense at all.
Hardness of heart spoken to, as an eminent sign of sin's dominion, and is
shewed, that it ought to be considered as total or partial. HARDNESS of heart is either total and absolute; or, partial and comparative only.
Total hardness is either natural and universal; or, judiciary in some particular individuals.
Natural hardness is the blindness or obstinacy of the heart in sin, by nature, which is not to be cured by the use or application of any outward means : 'hardness and impenitent heart;' Rom. ii. 5. This is that heart of stone, which God promises in the covenant to take away, by the efficacy of his almighty grace, Ezek. xxxvi. 26. Where this hardness abides ancured, unremoved, there sin is absolutely in the throne ; this therefore we do not inquire about.
Judiciary hardness, is either immediately from God; or, it is by the devil through his permission.
In the first way, God is said frequently to harden the hearts of men in their sins, and unto their ruin, as he did with Pharaoh ; and he doth it in general two ways. 1. By withholding from them those supplies of light, wisdom, and understanding, without which they cannot understand their condition, see their danger, nor avoid their ruin. 2. By withholding the efficacy of the means which they enjoy for their conviction and repentance; yea, and giving them an efficacy unto their obduration, Isa. vi. 9, 10. And concerning this divine induration, we may observe,
1. That it is the severest of divine punishments in this world. 2. That therefore it is not executed, but towards those that are habitually wicked, and so do, of choice, harden themselves in their sins, Rom. i. 26. 28. 3. For the most part it respects some especial times and seasons, wherein are the turning points for eternity. 4. That the condition of those so hardened is remediless, and their wounds incurable.
Where any are thus hardened, there is no question about the dominion of sin. Such a heart is its throne, its proper seat next to hell.
There is a judiciary hardness, which Satan, through God's permission, brings on men, 2 Cor. iv. 4. And there are many ways whereby he doth effect it, not here to be insisted on.
But there is a hardness of heart, that is indeed but partial and comparative, whatever appearance it may make of that which is total and absolute, where the inquiry ariseth, whether it be an evidence of the dominion of sin or no.
There is a hardness of heart, which is known and lamented in them in whom it is. Hereof the church complains, Isa. lxiii. 17. 'O Lord, why hast thou hardened our heart from thy fear?' or suffered it so to be; not healing, not recovering our hardness. And there are sundry things which concur in this kind of hardness of heart. As,
1. Want of readiness to receive divine impressions from the word of God. When the heart is soft and tender, it is also humble and contrite, and ready to tremble at the word of God. So it is said of Josiah, that his heart was tender, and he humbled himself before the Lord,' when he heard his word, 2 Kings xxii. 18, 19. This may be wanting in some in a great measure, and they may be sensible of it. They may find in themselves a great unreadiness to comply with divine warnings, reproofs, calls. They are not affected with the word preached, but sometimes complain that they sit under it like stocks and stones. They have not an experience of its power, and are not cast into the mould of it. Hereon they apprehend that their hearts are hardened from the fear of God, as the church complains. There is indeed no better frame of heart to be attained in this life, than that, whereby it is to the word as the wax to the seal, fit and ready to receive impressions from it. A frame that is tender to receive the communications of the word in all their variety, whether for reproof, instruction, or consolation; and the want hereof, is a culpable hardness of heart.
2. There belongs unto it an affectedness with the guilt of sin, as unto the sorrow and repentance that it doth require. There is none in whom there is any spark of saving grace, but hath a gracious sorrow for sin, in some degree or other; but there is a proportion required between sin and sorrow. Great sins require great sorrows; as Peter, on his great sin, wept bitterly. And all especial aggravations of şin, require an especial sense of them. This the soul finds not in itself. It bears the thoughts of sin, and the rebukes of conscience, without any great concussion or remorse. It can pass over the charge of sin, without relenting, mourning, dissolving in sighs and tears; and it cannot but
say sometimes thereon, that its heart is like the adamant or the flint in the rock; this makes many fear, that they are under the dominion of sin; and they fear it the more, because that fear doth not affect and humble them as it ought. And it must be granted, that all unaffectedness with sin, all want of humiliation and godly sorrow upon it, is from an undue hardness of heart. And they, who are not affected with it, have great reason to be jealous over themselves, as even unto their spiritual state and condition.
3. Of the same kind in its measure, is unaffectedness with the sins of others, among whom we live, or in whom we are concerned. To mourn for the sins of others, is a duty highly approved of God; Ezek. ix. It argues the effectual working of many graces, as zeal for the glory of God, compassion for the souls of men, love to the glory
and interest of Christ in the world. The want hereof is from hardness of heart, and it is that which abounds among us. Some find not themselves at all concerned herein, some make pretences why they need not so be, or, that it is not their duty; what is it unto them how wicked the world is, it shall answer for its own sins. Nor are they moved when it comes nearer them.. If their children come to losses, ruin, poverty, then they are affected indeed. But so long as they flourish in the world, be they apostates from profession, be they enemies to Christ, do they avowedly belong unto the world, and walk in the ways of it; they are not much concerned, especially if they are not scandalously profligate. But this also is from hardness of heart, which will be bewailed, where grace is vigilant and active.
4. Want of a due sense of indications of divine displeasure, is another instance of this hardness of heart. God doth ofttimes give signs and tokens hereof; whether as unto the public state of the church in the world, or, as unto our own persons, in afflictions and chastisements. In the seasons hereof, he expects that our hearts should be soft and tender, ready to receive impressions of his anger, and pliable therein unto his mind and will. There are none whom at such a time he doth more abhor, than those who are stout-hearted, little regarding him or the operation of his hands. This in some measure may be in believers; and they may be sensible of it, to their sorrow and humiliation.
These things, and many more of the like nature, proceed from hardness of heart, or the remainder of our hardness by nature, and are great promoters of the interest of sin in us. But where any persons are sensible of this frame, where they are humbled for it, where they mourn under and cry out for its removal, it is so far from being an evidence of the dominion of sin over them in whom it is, that it is an eminent sign of the contrary; namely, that the ruling power of sin is certainly broken and destroyed in the soul.
But there are other instances of hardness of heart, which have much more difficulty in them, and which are hardly reconcileable unto the rule of grace. I shall mention some of them.
1. Security and senselessness under the guilt of great
actual sins. I do not say this is or can at any time be absolute in any believer. But such it may be, as whereon men may go on at their old pace of duties and profession, though without any peculiar humiliation, albeit they are under the provoking guilt of some known sin, with its aggravations. It will recur upon their minds, and conscience (unless it be seared) will treat with them about it. But they pass it over, as that which they had rather forget and wear out of their minds, than bring things unto their proper issue by particular repentance. So it seems to have been with David after his sin with Bathsheba. I doubt not but that before the message of God to him by Nathan, he had unpleasing thoughts of what he had done. But there is not the least footsteps in the story, or any of his prayers, that he laid it seriously to heart, and was humbled for it before. This was a great hardness of heart, and we know how difficult his recovery from it was. He was saved but as through fire. And where it is so with any one, that hath been overtaken with any great sin, as drunkenness or other folly, that he strives to wear it out, to pass it over, to forget it, or give himself countenance from any reasoning or consideration against the especial sense of it and humiliation for it; he can, during that state and frame, have no solid evidence that sin hath not the dominion in him. And let such sinners be warned, who have so passed over former sins until they have utterly lost all sense of them, or are under such a frame at present; that they recall things to another account, and suffer no such sin to pass without a peculiar humiliation, or whatever be the final issue of things with them, they can have no solid ground of spiritual peace in this world.
2. There is such a dangerous hardness of heart where the guilt of one sin makes not the soul watchful against another of another sort. Wherever the heart is tender, upon a surprisal into sin, it will not only watch against the returns thereof, or relapses into it, but will be made diligent, heedful, and careful against all other sins whatever. So is it with all that walk humbly under a sense of sin. · But when men in such a state are careless, bold, and negligent, so as that if they repeat not the same sin, they are easily hurried into others. Thus was it with Asa; he was wroth with the prophet that came unto him with a divine message, and smote