But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
Hardness scarcely needs an explanation. It is that which, taking it from the armoury or from the smithery, gives the power to any metal to resist a weapon thrown against it; to turn the edge of the sword, to blunt the point of the spear, to quench the fiery dart, as it were: and in that sense of course it would be auspicious to have something that was hardened. But to render insensitive that which is carried within, and which ought to be sensitive; to have a disposition which has the power of turning away an appeal, of dismissing an argument, and of making vital truth a matter of indifference — that kind of hardening is much to be deplored. And it is just that which we are cautioned against. Every physician knows that a medicine is worn out by continuous use. As it were, the system adapts itself to it, and it ceases to be remedial. So there is a power in repetitious truth to become unremedial to men. This hardening is not brought about on purpose in those to whom I refer. I am not speaking to that class of persons who deliberately set themselves against the truth; I am speaking to that very much larger class of persons who first become indifferent to truth, and then are deceived in regard to it, and at last are snared by its enemies. One of the circumstances which tend to deceive men, and to wear out the power of truth upon their conscience and upon their understanding, is the attempt to make truth merely the cause of susceptibility, or of mere emotions. Men want to be stirred up; they want to feel; but feeling constantly stirred up and never employed loses tone. It is had for any man to have feeling that abides as feeling. Now it is the peculiar nature of religious truth that it plays upon excitability. Of truth there is much that touches hope, much that touches fear, and much that touches conscience, on every side; but it is a very dangerous thing for a man to hear more truth preached than he cares to practise. You may say that so much of that which he hears as he does not practise goes over to the account of instruction; and that may be so in regard to truth set forth in a didactic form; but to accustom oneself to hearing truth merely for the sake of having it play upon the susceptibilities is very dangerous, because it is a very deceitful experience; and yet there are multitudes of persons that do it. Then, next, there are a great many who hear the teaching of the Word of God, who receive it into good ground — that is, into their reason — who approve it, who feel as though they ought to give heed to it, and who wish to profit by it, but in whom the impulse dies with that wish, and does not convert itself into a choice. They say, "I think that view was just: it commends itself to my mind as truth, and I really have been taking it home to myself; I am thinking about it; the time has come when I should be a better man, and take some steps in advance; if I am ever going to be a Christian man I ought to become one now" — and that is about the extent to which they go. Now, when a man has done that through the first year, when he has done it through the second year, and when he has done it through the third year, he begins to be tattooed, as it were. Constant iteration and trituration harden the skin, and the sensibility of his mind becomes like the sensibility of the palm of his hand, and grows leather-like. By reason of the continual handling of a man's judgment his power of choosing becomes inert and inoperative. The perpetual raining of truth upon a man may be kept up without developing in him either character, as I said in the first instance, or choice, as I say in the second instance. Then, when the truth is being preached to men of their own sinfulness, and of their great need of a transformed nature, so that they shall rise from the flesh life to the spirit life, a great many persons feel as though this were a thing that ought to be pondered. They feel as though time should be taken to think of it. They are afraid they shall commit themselves without having reckoned whether, beginning a Christian life, they can complete it. So they take it into account. And there are two points to be made on that subject. In the first place, there is one class who take it into account, not by meditation and thought, but by reverie. It is one thing for a man to say, "God be merciful to me, a sinner; without the interposition of Divine grace I am lost; and I will cry immediately to God for help; I will begin a Christian life to-day." That is effectual. But, on the other hand, a man, coming home from listening to a strong sermon, says, "That was well put. What if I should go to church next Sunday night, and the minister should preach on Lazarus? And what if I should be awakened? And what if I should have one of those terrible experiences which I have heard of? And what if all the sins of my life should be brought before me? And what if I should roll all night in distress? Then the minister would come and see me, and friends would gather around me, and I would pray and wrestle, and by-and-by there would suddenly come a bur,-t of light, and I should be converted, and everything would be new to me; and I would join the Church, and what a happy day it would be for father and mother when they saw me do that! And I would be a real Christian — not a lean, skinny Christian, like some that I have seen." Thus a man weaves the fabric of an imaginary life, and it is all reverie. He supposes he is thinking about religion. He says, "I am taking it into consideration." Oh, fool! you are taking it into consideration very much as a spider weaves silk when he makes cobwebs to catch flies on. It is all in the air. It is vacuous. There are other persons who have a very salutary horror of insincerity. They say to themselves, "This matter of religion is of transcendent importance, and if a man is going to be a Christian he ought to consider it well." And there is a certain sort of comeliness in this. No man ought to go tumbling headlong into a profession of religion. But it is not necessary that a man should have a theological education before he can become a Christian. And, besides, no man can wait. No man does wait. There is not a man of you who, when the way of manhood is pointed out to him, does not choose. You go one way or the other. You know what truth is, and you either take the way of truth or the way of falsehood. Ten thousand influences upon every side have been pressing home the truth upon you. And what is the result? You say, "Yes, religion is a profoundly important thing; and yet it is one that ought to be much thought of." But this ought not so to be. It is not for you, like a ship in a harbour, to cast anchor now, and swing with every tide that carries you first north and then south, for ever changing and never travelling. It is not for you to stand still and talk about thinking. A long time ago you ought to have been doing. You ought before now to have chosen, and to have converted sensibility into conduct and character. And if all the excuse you have for not entering upon a Christian life is that you do not want to do it until you have laid the foundations of thought; if you excuse yourself by saying, "I do not want to go into a Christian life until I have made sure that I will not come out of it," then let me warn you lest you harden your heart through the deceitfulness of sin in this most guileful and specious form. At last, when men have got past these stages, there comes the stage of easy acquiescence and of mild criticism from the standpoint of mere taste. They make such a voyage as boys make who take their whittled-out miniature boats over to the park and sail them across the lake and back again. There is as much in one of these voyages as in the other. There are others who criticise the truth from a logical and instructive standpoint. They have intellectual acumen, they have critical sensibility, they are good critics: a great deal better critics than they are Christians. The truth may be as weighty as eternity; it may be a truth that reaches to the very heart of Christ; it may be the whole theme of salvation by faith in the Saviour: and all that it does to them is to excite in them a momentary pleasure of the taste, a transient gratification of the intellect, and a generous criticism as to its ability or inability, as the case may be. And what is the condition of a man upon whom the presentation of the weightiest truths no longer awakens sensibility, nor stimulates a disposition to choose, nor creates an impulse in the right direction? These are not bad men — that is, in the sense of being vicious, or in the sense of being guilty of outrageousness in any way. Often their conduct is conformable to all the best rules of social life. But they have sealed themselves against the higher forms of spiritual growth which translate one from the life of the body to the life of the Spirit. And their chances for development in true manhood as it is in Christ Jesus grow less and less every day through the deceitfulness of sin which is hardening their hearts. And so as men grow old, as age creeps on them, upon natural decay is superinduced this waste which arises from the constant hearing of the truth and from non-action, and which results in men's coming into that dry and arid state in which the harvest is past, and the summer is ended, and they are not saved. And now, what is to be done? Consider the guilt of every man who thus practises upon himself. It was only as early as 1400, I think, in the war between the Turks and the Greeks, that that magnificent structure, the Acropolis, and the temple of Minerva, and the statue of Minerva, and that wonderful frieze, the work of Phidias, whose very fragment has been the despair of the art of modern days, were destroyed. Into the magnificent temple of Minerva, which was the glory of Athens, the Turks threw bombs, which exploded and shattered the temple into a mass of shapeless ruins; and that which adorned the ripest age of the world in beauty and art perished, as it were, in an hour. To have demolished an old granite fort, to have battered down an old earthwork, would have caused sorrow to no one; but to have blotted out the grandest and most exquisite achievements of human taste, human thought, and human hand-skill, must have filled with regret every heart that loved what was beautiful. But what is any statue, even from the chisel of Phidias, or what is any temple, compared with man, who is the temple of God? and what was ever wrought in ivory or marble that was to be compared with the humanity that is in every man? and for you to destroy that humanity in yourself, to turn it into courses of evil, in spite of the influences that are tending to draw it the other way; and so to trample under foot and extinguish your higher nature — that is wanton. It is wicked beyond the power of language to express its degree of wickedness. Woe be to the man who corrupts his spiritual nature, or overlays it with animalism, or beats it down in spite of its crying, and destroys it. Consider, too, what is the nature of the truth that men resist. If the gospel of Christ had simply disclosed to men the infamy of their condition, if it had merely poured out upon them warnings and threatenings, if it had withheld from them all promises of mercy, then there would have been little to attract them to it, and there would have been some reason for their revulsion from it; but the whole presentation of the truth as it is in Christ is charming to the reason, to every noble sensibility, to every feeling of honour, and to every elevated taste, however exacting. The whole tone and the whole sphere of the New Testament is as sweet as music, and ought to vibrate upon every uperverted heart, and ought to make every soul desire to have that commerce with God and with the Lord Jesus Christ by which it shall rise and take hold upon its immortal destiny. And now, suffer me not to preach to you; suffer me to beseech you. If there are any here who have serious thoughts, let me say to them, Serious thoughts are very well if you make something out of them. In summer, when drought has long prevailed, clouds come trooping through the sky, and the farmer says, "Ah! at last the weary, parched earth will be refreshed"; but no, the clouds have no rain in them, they pass on, and the ground is as dry as it was before. To-morrow other clouds sail in caravans through the heavens, and give promise of refreshing showers; but the showers do not come. Thoughts that produce no results are of little account. To be worth anything they must be condensed into forms of active life. And while I urge you to heed and ponder the Word of God, I bid you to beware of taking it so that it shall not lead to the production of fruit in your Christian life.
(H. W. Beecher.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.