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to make them a new heart, as well as to repent and turn from all iniquity. The plain and important truth, therefore, which properly falls under our present consideration, is this:
It is the duty of sinners to make them a new heart.
The nature of this subject requires a careful and candid attention; especially the two first branches of it, upon which a clear understanding of the whole depends. For if we can ascertain what a new heart is, and what it is to make a new heart, the proof of the doctrine will be easy, and the whole discourse plain and intelligible to every capacity.
1. Let us consider what a new heart is.
Though a new heart be a Scripture phrase and in common use, yet different men attach very different ideas to it; and for this reason I shall proceed gradually in explaining it, and observe some things which it cannot mean.
There is no ground to suppose, that it means any new natural power or faculty of the soul, which is necessary to render sinners capable of understanding and doing their duty. They are as completely moral agents as saints, and as completely capable, in point of natural ability, of understanding and obeying the will of God. He knew that those whom he addressed in the text, and required to make them a new heart, were possessed of reason, conscience, and every other natural faculty of the mind, and upon this ground alone, made that solemn appeal to them in a preceding verse, “Are not my ways equal? are not your ways unequal?” Since God appeals to sinners as moral agents, we can
not suppose, that the new heart, which he requires them to make, is any natural power or faculty of mind, which they do not need, and which, if they did need, they could be under no obligation to obtain.
Nor can a new heart mean any new natural appetite, instinct, or passion. Whatever belongs to our mere animal nature, belongs to sinners as well as to saints. And when sinners become saints, they experience no change in their natural appetites, or animal propensities; but a new heart commonly serves to weaken and restrain, instead of increasing or strengthening such sensibilities as are destitute of every moral quality
Nor can a new heart mean any dormant, inactive principle in the mind, which is often supposed to be the foundation of all virtuous or holy exercises. Such a principle appears to be a mere creature of the imagination; but supposing it really exists, what valuable purpose can it serve? Can a dormant principle, which is destitute of all perception and sensibility, produce love, penitence, faith, hope, joy, and the whole train of christian graces? We may as easily conceive, that all holy affections should spring from that piece of flesh, which is literally called the heart; as to conceive, that they should spring from any principle devoid of activity. A new heart, therefore, cannot mean a new principle, taste, relish, or disposition, which is prior to, or the foundation of, all holy affections or gracious exercises.
This leads me to say positively, that a new heart consists in gracious exercises themselves; which are called new, because they never existed in the sinner, before he became a new creature, or turned from sin to holiness. This will appear to be a just and scriptural
explanation of a new heart, from various considerations.
In the first place, the new heart must be something which is morally good, and directly opposite to the old heart, which is morally evil. But there is nothing belonging to the mind, which is either morally good, or morally evil, which does not consist in free, voluntary exercises. Supposing there is a dormant principle in the soul, which lies at the bottom of all voluntary exercises, yet so long as it lies dormant and inactive, there can be no moral quality belonging to it. And, indeed, if it should really produce moral exercises, still all moral good or evil would lie in the exercises themselves, and not in the principle. There can be no moral good or moral evil in any thing belonging to the mind, which has no perception and activity. Accordingly, we never praise or blame any person for any property he possesses, or any motive he puts forth, or any thing in him or about him, in which he is totally inactive and involuntary. The new heart, therefore, which must be allowed to be morally good, must consist in free, holy, voluntary exercises, and not in any thing whatever, which is supposed to be prior to them, or the foundation of them.
This will further appear, if we consider, in the next place, that the divine law requires nothing but love, which is a free, voluntary exercise. The first and great commandment requires us to love God with all our heart; and the second commandment requires us to love our neighbour as ourselves. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. God requires love, and nothing but love, in every precept or prohibition he has given us in his word. But we know, that love is a free, voluntary exercise, and not any taste, habit, or principle, which is totally inactive
and involuntary. It is absurd to suppose, that God should require any thing of us, in which we are altogether passive, because this would be to require us to do nothing. Hence the new heart required in the text, must consist in activity, or the free, voluntary exercise of true benevolence, which comprises every holy and virtuous affection.
And this, I would further observe, is agreeable to the experience of all who repent, and turn from their transgressions, and make them a new heart and a new spirit. The change which they experience is merely a moral change. They find no alteration in their intellectual powers or speculative knowledge, but only in their moral exercises. They are sensible, that old things are passed away, and all things become new in their affections. They exercise such love to God, such hatred of sin, such faith in Christ, and such delight in the duties of devotion, as they never exercised before. Thus it appears from the united evidence of reason, scripture, and experience, that a new heart consists in nothing but new, holy, voluntary exercises of the mind. If this be a just explanation of a new heart, it will be easy to see,
II. What it is to make a new heart.
If a new heart consisted in a new principle or natural faculty, it would be difficult to see how a sinner could make him a new heart, without exerting almighty power, or performing an act of creation, which is absolutely impossible. But if, as we have seen, a new heart wholly consists in new holy affections, then all the sinner has to do to make him a new heart, is to exercise benevolence instead of selfishness, or to put forth holy instead of unholy exercises.
The precept in the text which requires sinners to make them a new heart, means no more nor less than their turning from
sin to holiness, or exercising that pure and holy love which the divine law requires. To make a new heart in this sense, is agreeable to the common apprehension and the common language of mankind. It is very common for one person to say to another, make yourself easy, or make yourself contented; that is, alter your mind, change your heart, exercise totally different affections from what you have at present. And there are many other familiar expressions, which convey the same idea; such as these in particular, Be kind-Be careful_Be sober-Be honest-Be
generous-Be friendly. Every person knows when he is addressed in this form, that he is required to exercise proper, instead of improper affections, or to exercise benevolence instead of selfishness. And since the divine commands run in the same form, they are to be understood in the same sense. When God says, Be soberBe vigilant-Be humble–Be obedient--Be holy-Be perfecthe means that men should put forth truly pious and holy affections. And so far as these and other divine precepts respect sinners, they require the exercise of the same affections, only with this peculiar circumstance, that they are new, or such as they never exercised before. There is no command given to sinners more plain and intelligible, than the command to make them a new heart. It does not mean, that they should create any new powers or faculties, or lay any new foundation for holy exercises; but only that they should exercise love, faith, repentance, and all the gracious affections, to which the promise of pardon and salvation are made. As the new heart consists in nothing but new holy affections, so the making of a new heart consists in nothing but exercising such new holy affections. The way is now sufficiently prepared to show,