|« Prev||Chapter IV. On hardness of heart.||Next »|
Hardness of heart spoken to as an eminent sign of sin’s dominion; and it is shown 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 uncured, 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 frequently said to harden the hearts of men in their sins and unto their ruin; as he did with Pharaoh, Exod. iv. 21. 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, or 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 535dominion of sin. Such a heart is its throne, its proper seat, next to hell.
Secondly, 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; whence 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 by 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 [un]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 sin 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 536like 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, even as 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. 4. 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, poverty, ruin, 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 537much more difficulty in them, and which are hardly reconcilable 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 are 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 [are] in such a state [they] 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 seer” that came unto him with a divine message, and smote him, “and put him in a prison house, for he was in a rage,” 2 Chron. xvi. 10. A man would think that when he was recovered out of this distemper, it might have made him humble and watchful against other sins; but it was not so, for it is added that he “oppressed some of the people at 538the same time.” And he rested not there, but “in his disease he sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians,” verse 12. Unto persecution he added oppression, and unto that unbelief. Yet, notwithstanding all this, “Asa’s heart was perfect with the Lord all his days,” 1 Kings xv. 14; that is, he had a prevalent sincerity in him notwithstanding these miscarriages. But he was, doubtless, under the power of great hardness of heart. So is it with others in the like cases, when one sin makes them not careful and watchful against another; as when men have stained themselves with intemperance of life, they may fall into excess of passion with their families and relations, or into a neglect of duty, take any other crooked steps in their walk. This argues a great prevalency of sin in the soul, although, as we see in the example of Asa, it is not an infallible evidence of its dominion; yet of that nature it is wherewith divine peace and consolation are inconsistent.
3. When men fall into such unspiritual frames, such deadness and decays, as from which they are not recoverable by the ordinary means of grace, it is a certain evidence of hardness of heart and the prevalency of sin therein. It is so, whether this be the fault of churches or of particular persons. The preaching of the word is the especial divine ordinance for the healing and recovery of backsliders in heart or life. Where this will not effect it in any, but they will go on frowardly in the ways of their own hearts, unless God take some extraordinary course with them, they are on the brink of ruin, and live on sovereign grace alone.
Thus was it with David. After his great sin, there is no doubt but he attended unto all ordinances of divine worship, which are the ordinary means of the preservation and recovery of sinners from their backslidings. Howbeit they had not this effect upon him. He lived impenitently in his sin, until God was pleased to use extraordinary means, in the especial message of Nathan and the death of his child, for his awakening and recovery.
And thus God will deal sometimes with churches and persons. Where ordinary means for their recovery will not effect it, he will by sovereign grace, and it may be by a concurrence of extraordinary providences, heal, revive, and save them. So he promiseth to do, Isa. lvii. 16–19.
But where this is trusted unto, in the neglect of the ordinary means of healing, seeing there is no direct promise of it, but it is a case reserved unto absolute sovereignty, the end may be bitterness and sorrow.
And let them take heed who are under this frame; for although God may deliver them, yet it will be by “terrible things,” as Ps. lxv. 5, — such terrible things as wherein he will “take vengeance of 539their inventions,” Ps. xcix. 8, though he do forgive them. So David affirms of himself, that God in his dealing with him had broken all his bones, Ps. li. 8.
I fear this is the present case of many churches and professors at this day. It is evident that they are fallen under many spiritual decays; neither have the ordinary means of grace, repentance, and humiliation, though backed with various providential warnings, been efficacious to their recovery. It is greatly to be feared that God will use some severe dispensation in terrible things towards them for their awakening, or, which is more dreadful, withdraw his presence from them.
4. Of the same nature it is, and argues no small power of this evil, when men satisfy and please themselves in an unmortified, unfruitful profession; a severe symptom of the dominion of sin. And there are three things that manifest the consistency of such a profession with hardness of heart, or are fruits of it therein:—
(1.) A neglect of the principal duties of it. Such are mortification in themselves, and usefulness or fruitfulness towards others. A deficiency and neglect in these things are evident amongst many that profess religion. It doth not appear that in any thing they seriously endeavour the mortification of their lusts, their pride, their passion, their love of the world, their inordinate desires and sensual appetites. They either indulge unto them all, or at least they maintain not a constant conflict against them. And as unto usefulness in the fruits of righteousness, which are to the praise of God by Jesus Christ, or those good works which are the evidence of a living faith, they are openly barren in them. Now, whereas these are the principal dictates of that religion which they do profess, their neglect of them, their deficiency in them, proceed from a hardness of heart, overpowering their light and convictions. And what shall long, in such a case, stop sin out of the throne? Self-pleasing and satisfaction in such a profession argues a very dangerous state and habit of mind. Sin may have a full dominion under such a profession.
(2.) The admission of an habitual formality into the performance of religious duties is of the same nature. In some the power of sin, as we observed before, prevails unto the neglect and omission of such duties. Others continue the observation [of them], but are so formal and lifeless in them, so careless as unto the exerting or exercise of grace in them, as gives an uncontrollable evidence of the power of sin and a spiritual senselessness of heart. There is nothing that the Scripture doth more frequently and severely condemn, and give as a character of hypocrites, than a diligent attendance unto a multiplication of duties whilst the heart is not spiritually engaged in them. For this cause the Lord Christ threatened the utter rejection of the lukewarm 540church of Laodicea; and God pronounceth a most severe sentence against all that are guilty of it, Isa. xxix. 13, 14. Yet thus it may be with many, and that thus it hath been with them many do manifest by their open apostasy, which is the common event of this frame and course long continued in; for some in the daily performance of religious duties for a season do exercise and preserve their gifts, but, there being no exercise of grace in them, after a while those gifts also do wither and decay. They are under the power of the evil whereof we treat, — namely, a hard and senseless heart, — that can approve of themselves in such a lifeless, heartless profession of religion, and performance of the duties thereof.
(3.) When men grow senseless under the dispensation of the word, and do not at all profit by it. The general ends of preaching the word unto believers are:— [1.] The increase of spiritual light, knowledge, and understanding, in them; [2.] The growth of grace, enabling to obedience; [3.] Holy excitation of grace, by impressions of its power in the communication of the mind, will, love, and grace of God, unto our souls; — which is attended with, [4.] An impression on the affections, renewing and making them more holy and heavenly continually; with, [5.] Direction and administration of spiritual strength against temptations and corruptions; and, [6.] Fruitfulness in the works and duties of obedience.
Where men can abide under the dispensation of the word without any of these effects on their minds, consciences, or lives, they are greatly hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, as in Heb. iii. 12, 13, this case is stated. Now, whether this be, — [1.] From that carelessness and security which is grown on all sorts of persons, against which God doth justly express his indignation, by withholding the power and efficacy of his word in its administration from them; or, [2.] From an increase of an unsanctified light and gifts, which fill men with high thoughts of themselves, and keep them off from that humble frame which alone is teachable; or, [3.] From a loss of all due reverence unto the ministry as God’s ordinance for all the ends of the word, with a secret fortification of conscience by prejudices against its power, from the suggestions of Satan; or, [4.] From the love of sin, which the heart would shelter and secure from the efficacy of the word; or from what other cause soever it be, — it proceeds from a dangerous hardness of heart, from the power of sin.
Where this is the state of the minds of men, where this hardness is thus prevalent in them, I do not, no man can, give them assurance that sin hath not the dominion in them; but because all these things are capable of various degrees, it may not be concluded absolutely from any or all of them, in any degree, that so it is. But this we may safely conclude, — 1. That it is impossible for any man in whom 541this evil frame is found in any degree, and not sincerely endeavoured against, to keep any true solid peace with God or in his own soul; what seems to be so in him is but a ruinous security. 2. That this is the high road unto final obduration and impenitency. And therefore, 3. It is the present duty of those who have any care of their souls to shake themselves out of this dust, and not to give themselves any rest until they are entered into the paths of recovery. The calls of God unto such backsliders in heart for a return are multiplied; the reasons for it and motives unto it are innumerable. This ought never to depart from their minds, that without it they shall eternally perish, and they know not how soon they may be overtaken with that destruction.
Thus far have we proceeded in the inquiry, whether sin hath the dominion in us or no. There are on the other side many evidences of the rule of grace, sufficient to discard the pleas and pretences of sin unto the throne; but the consideration of them is not my present design. I have only examined the pleas of sin which render the inquiry difficult and the case dubious; and they arise all from the actings of sin in us as it fights against the soul, which is its proper and constant work, 1 Pet. ii. 11. It doth so against the design of the law, which is to live to God; against the order and peace of it, which it disturbs; and against its eternal blessedness, which it would deprive it of. The examination of the pretences insisted on may be of some use to them that are sincere.
But, on the other hand, there are uncontrollable evidences of the dominion of sin in men, some whereof I shall mention, and only mention, because they need neither proof nor illustration:—
1. It is so where sin hath possessed the will. And it hath possessed the will when there are no restraints from sinning taken from its nature, but from its consequents only. 2. When men proclaim their sins and hide them not, — when they boast in them and of them, as it is with multitudes; or, 3. Approve of themselves in any known sin, without renewed repentance, as drunkenness, uncleanness, swearing, and the like; or, 4. Live in the neglect of religious duties in their closets and families, whence all their public attendance unto them is but hypocrisy; or, 5. Have an enmity to true holiness and the power of godliness; or, 6. Are visible apostates from profession, especially if they add, as is usual, persecution to their apostasy; or, 7. Are ignorant of the sanctifying principles of the gospel and Christian religion; or, 8. Are despisers of the means of conversion; or, 9. Live in security under open providential warnings and calls to repentance; or, 10. Are enemies in their minds unto the true interest of Christ in the world. Where these things and the like are found, there is no question what it is that hath 542dominion and bears rule in the minds of men. This all men may easily know, as the apostle declares, Rom. vi. 16.
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