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II. Why this is so extremely difficult for them to know.
I. We are to consider what is implied in their knowing their own hearts.
They are as conscious of their own hearts as saints are of theirs. They know that they have hearts, which are distinct from perception, reason, conscience, and all their intellectual powers and faculties. But this knowledge of their hearts is not that which is intended in the text. For in this sense they may perfectly know their own hearts, while they remain entirely ignorant of them in other important respects. This leads me to observe,
1. That their knowing their hearts in the sense of the text, implies the knowledge of their selfishness. It is this alone that distinguishes their hearts from the hearts of saints. Those who bear the moral image of God, have hearts of universal and disinterested benevolence. But the hearts of sinners are wholly selfish. Saints love those who do not love them; but sinners love those only who do love them; and all the criminality of their hearts consists in their partial, interested affections. They may love all the objects that saints love, and hate all the objects that saints hate; and yet all their affections be different, in their nature, from the affections of saints. Whether they love or hate good or bad objects, still their love and hatred are entirely sinful, because they are altogether selfish. This they are not apt to know, nor believe. They often think that however different they may be in other respects from saints, yet they do not differ from them in point of selfishness. They imagine they have both love to God and man, which does not arise from mercenary motives. But they cannot be said to know their own hearts, until they know that all their desires and affections are of a selfish nature, and actually flow from love to themselves.
2. The knowledge of their hearts implies the knowledge of their desperate, incurable wickedness. Their hearts are selfish, and so selfish, that no means or mere secondary causes can cure them. For their selfishness does not arise from ignorance of themselves and of other beings and objects, but from their placing their supreme love wholly on themselves. No intellectual light or moral motives which can be exhibited before them, will have the least tendency to alter or meliorate their hearts. Were it possible for them to have a clear, just and comprehensive view of themselves, of God, of Christ, of all the truths in the Bible, and of all things in this and in every other world, it would only serve to excite love to themselves, and make them sensible that they valued their own interest and happiness more than the interests and happiness of the universe. And though they should feel the impropriety and criminality of such selfish
affections, yet this would have no tendency to destroy their feelings, or to make them truly benevolent. Hence their hearts are desperately wicked. There is no hope of their ever becoming better from any motives that can be set before them, or from any means which can be used with them. And until sinners see their hearts in this light, they are unacquainted with them, and know not the nature and depth of their own depravity. Besides,
3. Their knowing their own hearts implies their knowing their extreme deceitfulness. They are deceitful above all things. There is nothing so apt to deceive. They will deceive not only once or twice, but a thousand times. They will deceive every day, every hour, and almost every moment. They are perpetually changing, and putting on new and different appearances. They change as often as the objects upon which they are placed change. They will love one object this moment, and quite a different one the next. The object which they hated yesterday, they will love to-day; and the object they love to-day, they will hate to-morrow. Phey are as unstable as water, and as changeable as the wind. And it is this mutability, which makes them so deceitful. Sinners have no ground to place the least dependence on their hearts. And they cannot be said to know them, until they become thoroughly acquainted with their extreme deceitfulness. Having considered what is implied in their knowing their own hearts, I proceed to show,
II. Why it is so extremely difficult for them to gain this knowledge.
“ The heart is deceitful above all things -- who can know it?” According to this representation, there must be some great difficulty of some kind or other, in the way of sinners' knowing their own hearts. But from what does this difficulty principally arise ? Certainly it cannot arise from their being incapable of knowing what passes in their own minds. They have as quick a sense of feeling as saints have, and are as conscious of the operations of their own hearts. When they love or hate, choose or refuse, they are conscious of having these exercises, and of perceiving the objects of their love and hatred, or of their choice and rejection. So that the difficulty of knowing their own hearts cannot arise frorn this quarter. Nor can it arise from their being incapable of discerning the moral nature of their voluntary exercises. Their consciences are as good as the consciences of saints, and they are as capable of knowing the criminality of all their selfish affections. This is evident from the experience of sinners. Sometimes they are conscious of the criminality of all their desires and hopes and fears, and feel self condemned for being entirely destitute of true love to God and man, and being entirely absorbed in love to their own present and future happiness. They know that they have such feelings; and they know that such feelings are altogether criminal. And this, which some sinners know, all might know; for all have the same capacity and means of knowing. So that they are under no natural inability of knowing their own hearts as fully as saints know theirs. But yet there is a great difficulty in knowing their own hearts.
1. They are unwilling to know their own hearts. This is true of all sinners. Accordingly Christ says, “ He that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.” It always gives pain to sinners to know their own hearts, because it always brings guilt and danger into view. There is no knowledge so disagreeable to them, as the knowledge of their hearts. Yea, no knowledge would be disagreeable to them, if they were only willing to know themselves. But this unwillingness to become acquainted with their hearts is extremely great, and renders it next to impossible to give them this important and necessary knowledge. It has obstructed the instructions of the prophets, of Christ, of the apostles, and of thousands of Christ's ambassadors since his day. Sinners will shut their eyes and stop their ears against the truth, and, if possible, remain ignorant of their own hearts. They cannot bear to see the total and incurable sinfulness and malignity of their hearts, and the dreadful evils which appear to be connected with such odious and destructive affections. To think of being holden by the cords of their iniquities, and bound over by them to endless destruction, makes them shrink back from the knowledge of themselves, and in a manner, compels them to prefer darkness to light. They had rather rest in ignorance and ease, than search into the corruptions of their hearts, and discover such a source of guilt and wretchedness as they carry about with them. This is one great difficulty in the way of their knowing themselves.
2. There is another thing which renders it still more difficult for them to know their own hearts. It is what the scripture calls the deceitfulness of sin. All sin is selfishness, and all selfishness is deceitful. For selfishness will put on ten thousand different appearances. It will always change, as the circumstances of sinners change, and dispose them to feel differently in every different situation. The desperate wickedness or selfishness of the natural heart is represented in the text as the cause of its extreme deceitfulness : and its extreme deceitfulness is represented as the cause of the extreme difficulty in the way of sinners, knowing their own hearts. “ The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?” What sinner can know his own heart, which is totally corrupt, perfectly selfish, and extremely deceitful ? How can he become acquainted with all its turnings and windings under all the situations and various circumstances in which he is placed, and amidst all the variety of objects with which he is surrounded ? His heart will vary just as his outward circumstances and inward views vary. He will perpetually feel towards every being, every creature and every object, just as it tends to promote or obstruct his own happiness. This is true of all sinners. They love or hate all objects, just as they view them as having a favorable or unfavorable aspect, in respect to themselves. In particular,
1. They love or hate God, just as he appears friendly or unfriendly to them. While he smiles upon them in his providence, and grants them the desires of their hearts, they are well pleased with him. They rejoice that God is, that he governs the world, and that he fills the earth with his goodness. They have no consciousness of the least enmity against him, but are disposed to speak well of him, and give thanks at the remembrance of his mercies. This was the disposition of the Israelites at the side of the Red Sea. They could joyfully join in celebrating the praises of God, for their great and signal deliverance. They sang his praise with gladness of heart. And all other sinners would have done the same under the same circumstances. Their selfish hearts are always pleased with the favors God bestows upon them, and they love him so long as they think he loves them. And they are no less pleased with spiritual, than temporal favors. When they imagine God is disposed to forgive their sins and admit them to heaven, they will sensibly rejoice in the hope of eternal life. In a word, they will always love God while they believe he loves them, and intends to do them good. But on the other hand, whenever he appears opposed to them, their hearts are opposed to him. Their selfish hearts dispose them to hate God himself, when he appears to stand in the way of their happiness. This was exemplified in the Israelites, who sang his praises but soon forgot his works. As soon as they perceived that he was a holy, sin-hating and sin-revenging God, disposed to destroy them for their unholy, selfish affections, they turned against him, murmured, complained, and expressed their bitter opposition to him, by saying, he has brought us into the wilderness to destroy us. The selfish hearts of sinners always will dispose them to love or hate God, just as they view him friendly or unfriendly to them.
2. The hearts of sinners love or hate Christ, accordingly as he appears to be their friend or their enemy. This was verified
through the whole course of his public ministry. While they viewed him as their friend and temporal deliverer, they flocked around him in multitudes wherever he went, and rent the air with their hosannas. But when he let them know his true character, his ultimate design, and his real feelings, their selfish hearts immediately changed, their love turned to enmity, and they zealously cried, “ Crucify, crucify him.” He knew what was in their hearts before they expressed it in word and deed, and therefore refused to commit himself to those who professed to believe in him, and to love and follow him. Though many followed him, by land and by water, and manifested peculiar love and attachment to him, yet they deserted hirn as soon as he exposed and condemned their selfish motives. This he did most plainly. “ Verily, verily I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves and were filled.” And “from that time many of his disciples went back and walked no more with him."
3. The hearts of sinners love or hate good men, just as they appear for them or against them. Job was the delight and admiration of sinners, while his heart and hand were opened in distributing numerous favors to them, which their needy circumstances required. But when he was no longer able to continue his favors to them, their love turned into neglect, contempt and reproach. Moses, at one time, was the object of universal love and veneration, but at another, the object of general disapprobation and complaint, among the selfish Israelites. At one time, sinners were ready to pluck out their eyes for Paul; and at another, they hated him most heartily, because he told them the truth. When sinners are in distress of mind, they will fly to saints for instruction ; but when they become careless and secure, they will shun and avoid them. When they are in prosperity, they despise the prayers of saints; but when they are sick, or in trouble and affliction, they will desire and value them. Indeed, whenever they view good men as their friends and benefactors, they love them; but when they view them as opposed to their evil hearts and conduct, they hate them. This Christ told his disciples to expect from the world. “ If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” And Solomon says, “ An unjust man is an abomination to the just; and he that is upright in the way, is abomination to the wicked.”
4. Sinners love and hate one another, just as they appear to promote or obstruct their interest. Herod and Pontius Pilate were entirely opposed to each other, as long as their interests