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9

The heart is devious above all else;

it is perverse—

who can understand it?

10

I the Lord test the mind

and search the heart,

to give to all according to their ways,

according to the fruit of their doings.

 


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What is taught here depends on what is gone before; and therefore they ought to be read together. Many lay hold on these words and mutilate them without understanding the design of the Prophet. This is very absurd: for we ought first to see what the prophets had in view, and by what necessity or cause they were led to speak, what was their condition, and then the general doctrine that may be gafilered from their words. If we wist to read the prophets with benefit, we must first consider the reason why a thing is spoken, and then elicit a general doctrine. Thus we shall be able rightly to apply this passage to a common use, if we first understand why the Prophet said, that the heart of man was insidious. He wished, no doubt, to be more earnest with the Jews; for he saw that they had so much wantonness and obstinacy, that a simple and plain doctrine would not have penetrated into their hearts. The declaration, that they are accursed who trust in men, and that no blessedness can be expected except we rely on God, ought to have been sufficient to move them; but when he saw that there was no sufficient power in such a declaration, he added, “I see how it is, the heart is wicked and vicious; so ye think that you have so much craftiness, that ye can with impunity deride God and his ministers: I, says Jehovah, I will inquire and search; for it belongs to me to examine the hearts of men.”

We hence see that there is an implied reproof, when he says, that the heart is insidious and wicked; 175175     The early versions and the Targum are neither consistent nor satisfactory as to the beginning of this verse: “Deep is the heart above all things, and it is man,” Septuagint; “Depraved is the heart of all, and inscrutable,” Fulgate; “Hard in heart is man above all things,” Syriac; “The heart, deeper than anything, is human,” Arabic; “Deceitful is the heart above all things, and it is strong.” Targum. Correct, no doubt, is the first clause in the Targum, but not the last. Critics agree as to the first word, “deceitful,” but not as to the word rendered in our version “desperately wicked.” It occurs in all nine times, and four times in other parts of Jeremiah, (Jeremiah 15:18; Jeremiah 17:16; Jeremiah 30:12, 15) and it is rendered “incurable,” except in Jeremiah 17:16. It means to be so bad as to be past endurance or past remedy. Blayney renders it here, “past all hope;” and Horsely, “incurable,” which is perhaps the best word, —
   Deceitful the heart above every thing, And incurable it is,
who can know it?

   The meaning is, that it is incurably deceitful; hence the question,” Who can know it?” — Ed.
as though he had said, “Ye think yourselves in this instance wise; is not God also wise?” Isaiah says ironically the same,

“Woe to them who go down to Egypt and make secret covenants, and who trust in horses, as though they could deceive me: ye are wise, I also have a portion of wisdom.” (Isaiah 31:1)

Notice especially the expression, “Ye are wise, etc.;” that is, “Ye are not alone wise; leave to me some portions of wisdom, so that I may be wise like yourselves.” So also in this place, “Ye are deceitful and insidious, and think that I can be deceived:” for astute men are ever pleased with their own counsels, and seek to deceive God with mere trumperies. “Ye are,” he says, “very cunning; but I, Jehovah, will search both your hearts and your reins.” I cannot finish the whole to-day.

By these words he means that they, after having for a long time made many evasions, would yet be brought to judgment, willing or unwilling; for they could not possibly deprive God of his right, that he should not be the judge of the world, and thus render to each the reward of his own works: for the Prophet does not speak of merits or of virtues, but only shews that how much soever the ungodly might hide themselves, they could not yet escape the tribunal of God, but that they must at last render an account to him.

We may further gather from this passage a general truth, — that the recesses of the heart are so hidden, that no judgment can be formed of man by any human being. We indeed know that there are appearances of virtue in many; but it belongs to God alone to search the hearts of men and to try the reins. Rashly then do many form an estimate of man’s character according to their own apprehensions or the measure of their own knowledge; for the heart of man is ever false and deceitful. If any one objects and says, that Jeremiah speaks of the Jews then living, there is an answer given by Paul,

“Whatsoever things are written in the Law pertain to all.” (Romans 15:4.)

Described then is here the character of all mankind, until God regenerates his elect. As then there is no purity except from the Spirit of God, as long as mencontinue in their own nature, their hearts are full of deceits and frauds. So the fairest splendor is nothing but hypocrisy, which is abominable in the sight of God. Let us proceed —




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