« PreviousContinue »
nature is precisely the same, whether they are stronger or weaker. It is morally impossible that their love to their friends or to their Creator should rise so high as to become disinterested or virtuous love. And as their affections do not become any better by rising ever so high, so they do not become any better by extending ever so far. The same mercenary motives which induce them to love their intimate friends, may induce them to extend their regards to their country and to their Saviour. Many sinners undoubtedly love their country, because the prosperity of their country tends to promote their prosperity; and some sinners love their Redeemer, because they think he loves them. Multitudes followed Christ for the sake of the loaves and the fishes, and loved him because they thought he loved them, and would promote both their temporal and eternal good. But in all these cases, the love of sinners was perfectly selfish and sinful. It is exactly of the same nature as the love of the miser to his money. Could sinners have a clear and extensive view of all created and uncreated objects, and did they love them all for the sake of their own private, personal benefit, their selfish love, instead of becoming any better, would become unspeakably worse. For the guilt of their selfishness would be in exact proportion to the extent of their knowledge. If it be criminal for one person to prefer his interest to a greater interest of another, it must be more criminal to prefer his interest to the greater interest of a nation, and for the same reason, it must be unspeakably more criminal still to prefer his interest to the whole interest of the universe. The consequence irresistibly follows, that the higher the love of sinners rises, and the farther it extends, the more criminal it becomes.
4. If sinners are constantly under the governing influence of selfishness, then they must experience an essential change in their affections, in order to be saved. If they naturally possessed the least degree of disinterested love, or true holiness, there would be no need of a radical and essential change in their moral exercises. They might love God and repent of sin and believe in Christ, without becoming new creatures. Their carnal mind, which is perfect selfishness, cannot be new modified or moulded into benevolence, by any exterior means or motives. Though under some circumstances, they may, without a change of heart, hate the world which they once loved, and love God whom they once hated, yet their love and hatred will arise from the same mercenary motives, which are entirely sinful. Sinners are continually turning their attention and their affections from one object to another; but their love and their hatred continue to be of the same selfish nature. The careless sinner fixes his whole attention and affection upon the world; but when he is awakened from his stupidity, he turns his whole attention from the world to God, whom he hates for the same reason for which he before loved the world. Whatever sinners love and hate, they love and hate from selfish motives; and consequently no change of objects, motives, or circumstances, has the least tendency to change the nature of their affections. So that nothing short of a divine influence upon their hearts, can turn them from selfishness to benevolence, or from sin to holiness, without which they cannot see the kingdom of God.
5. If sinners love themselves because they are themselves, which is selfish and sinful, then after they experience a saving change from selfishness to benevolence, they love themselves in a manner totally different from what they did before. They love themselves in the same manner that God loves them. He loves them impartially, according to their characters and capacities. And they love themselves impartially, according to their characters and capacities. He values their interest no more nor less than it is worth. And they value their own interest no more nor less than it is worth. Moses valued his interest less than the interest of all the Israelites. Paul valued his salvation less than the salvation of his whole nation. loses and Paul loved themselves as disinterestedly as they loved their fellow men. Many have imagined that it is impossible for men to love themselves from any other motives than selfish motives, and of consequence, that it is impossible for them to love others better than themselves. But this is a false and dangerous opinion. Just so far as men become holy or benevolent, they cease to love themselves selfishly; and so far as they cease to love themselves selfishly, they love their fellow men impartially; and so far as they love them impartially, they will not fail to love some more, as well as less, than themselves. Good men have no right to be selfish in the least degree; but they have a right to value their own temporal and eternal interest according to its worth, and no more. And their goodness always leads them to form this just opinion, and to exercise this impartial affection, in respect to themselves. It is true, indeed, that when sinners become saints, they do not become perfectly holy and free from selfishness; but as soon as they shall arrive at the state of moral perfection, there will not remain the least tincture of selfishness in their hearts.
Finally, it appears from this discourse that it is highly necessary to explain and inculcate the total selfishness of sinners. They never will believe that they are totally depraved, until they see wherein total depravity consists. They are very apt to think that their intellectual powers are as good as those of other men, and that they sometimes, at least, employ them in as amiable and virtuous a manner. This leads them to disbelieve and deny the doctrine of total depravity. But let them be taught that total depravity consists in total selfishness, which is a free and voluntary exercise that belongs to the heart and not to the understanding, and they can no longer disbelieve or deny that they are totally depraved. For they must know from their own experience, that selfishness has reigned in their hearts, and constantly led them to regard their own good more than the good of others, or the glory of God. And so soon as they are convinced of the total selfishness of their hearts, they will be equally convinced of their total depravity. This shows the importance of explaining and inculcating the entire selfishness of sinners. There is no other truth so directly calculated to fasten conviction on their conscience, and to throw them into the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. As soon as they come to realize that they have always acted from mean, mercenary motives, in all they have done for God, for themselves, and for others, their former goodness, and their former hopes built upon it, entirely vanish, and they see no ground of dependence, but only the undeserved and unpromised mercy of God. This was the case of Paul under a realizing sense of his total selfishness. When the divine law was brought home to his conscience, his sins revived, and the ground of his hope gave way. For he realized that he had always been governed by mere selfish motives in all his conduct, which was expressly forbidden by the precept, “ Thou shalt not covet;" that is, thou shalt not feel nor express the least degree of selfishness. It is in vain to preach about total depravity without explaining it; for nothing will convince sinners that they are totally depraved, until they are made to see and feel the total selfishness of their hearts. This Christ knew, and therefore not only taught total depravity, but made it appear to be total selfishness. It is not the name, but the thing signified by total depravity, that will carry conviction to stupid, self righteous and self deceived sinners. Upon this subject it is impossible to be too plain and explicit. It is necessary to teach sinners the nature and criminality of selfishness, not only to convince them of their guilt and danger, but also to convince them of their immediate and indispensable obligation to perform every duty which God has required them to perform. As soon as they see and feel that they are totally selfish, they cannot help seeing and feeling that they have no excuse for the neglect of duty, but are under immediate and indispensable obligations to turn from all their transgressions, to make them a new heart and a new spirit, to repent and believe the gospel, and to walk in newness of life. When they clearly see, and sensibly feel, that all their depravity and criminality consists in their free and voluntary exercises of selfishness, they can no longer plead it as an excuse for impenitence and unbelief, because they know that it depends upon their own choice, whether they shall love or hate God, whether they shall continue in, or cease from sin, whether they shall accept or reject the offers of mercy, and whether they shall be saved or lost. They feel the whole authority of the law and of the gospel binding them to turn and live, while they realize that their depravity is not their calamity, but their guilt. And when the preachers of the gospel have thus shown sinners the plague of their own hearts, they may with propriety and force address them in the language of the apostle: “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ's stead, Be ye reconciled to God."
THE DECEITFULNESS OF THE HUMAN HEART.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked ; who can know it ?
JEREMIAH, xvii. 9.
This passage of scripture is very often quoted, and almost as often misunderstood and misapplied. All self deceivers are fond of believing that the heart is so wicked and so deceitful, that it is impossible for any to know whether they are in the state of nature, or of grace. They frequently say they sincerely desire to know their hearts, yet they are so extremely deceitful that it is utterly out of their power. It is, therefore, of great practical importance to exhibit the spirit of this text, and unfold its true meaning. It is evident that God is here addressing sinners, whose hearts alone are desperately wicked. And this being true, it naturally follows that they are the persons who find it so extremely difficult to know their own hearts.
The prophet plainly supposes that the wickedness of their hearts is the ground of their deceitfulness; and their deceitfulness is the ground of the difficulty in knowing them. So that the question in the text is, who among sinners can know the desperate wickedness and deceitfulness of their own hearts? And this question leads us to conclude,
That it is extremely difficult for sinners to know their own hearts.
The truth of this proposition none will be disposed to dispute; for saints know it to be true by their own experience, and sinners in general are fond of believing it to be true. I shall therefore only attempt to show,
I. What is implied in their knowing their own hearts; and, VOL. IV.