See to it, brothers, that none of you has a wicked heart of unbelief that turns away from the living God.
etc. Our text leads us to consider -
I. APOSTASY IN ITS NATURE. "Departing from the living God."
1. This departure is not local. In this respect separation from the Divine presence is impossible "Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?" etc. (Psalm 139:7-12).
2. This departure is not theological The corruption of a man's creed will almost certainly be followed by deterioration of his character and conduct; yet a man may retain his hold of a true creed, and at the same time be falling away from the living God.
3. This departure is not ecclesiastical. Membership and activity in the visible Church of Christ may be fully maintained even while one is departing from God. Apostasy may exist in the heart long before it is manifested in action.
4. This departure is spiritual. It is a falling away from the living God in sympathy and in service. "They do always err in their heart" (ver. 10). It is the decline of love and loyalty to God.
II. APOSTASY IN ITS ROOT. "An evil heart of unbelief." Confidence in God is essential to union with him or love to him. Let any one doubt God's existence or character, that he is wise and righteous and good, and that man's sympathy with God will speedily perish. His apostasy has already begun. Doubt of our friends will be the death of our friendship. And unbelief towards God must lead to spiritual alienation from him, and that alienation persisted in must issue in spiritual death. It is of the utmost importance that we firmly grasp the truth that this unbelief is not intellectual, but moral; it is not the doubt of the inquiring mind, but of the wandering heart. It is the faith of the heart that unites man with God. "If thou shalt believe in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shelf be saved; for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness," etc. It is the unbelief of the heart that separates man from God. "An evil heart of unbelief."
III. APOSTASY IN ITS PERIL. There is the danger of:
1. Drifting further away from God. It is impossible for us to remain stationary in our relation to him. We are ever either drawing nearer to him or departing further from him. In this "failing away from the living God" the soul falls lower and lower.
2. Deprivation of spiritual blessings. Unbelief excludes the soul from the rest of God. The peace of the forgiveness of sins, the rest and joy of affections centered in God, the comfort of Christian hope, and the blessedness of true progress, are forfeited by the unbeliever.
3. The death of the soul. The soul lives only as it is united with God, and its union with him is impossible apart from faith in him. "Departing from the living God," its death is inevitable. What a death is that! A man in whom truth and trust, purity and love, righteousness and reverence, moral effort and aspiration, are extinct. What a death!
IV. APOSTASY IN ITS PREVENTION. "Take heed, brethren," etc.
1. Guard against the insidious advances of unbelief. "Watch and pray," etc.
2. Seek the increase of your faith in God and of your love to him. A nearer approach to God is the surest preventive of apostasy from him.
CONCLUSION. Is "thy heart right in the sight of God"? "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life." - W.J.
An evil heart of unbelief.
(J. Cumming, D. D.)I. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN UNBELIEF, or what we are to understand by a heart of unbelief. It implies —
1. Ignorance. We mean not that which is occasioned by a deficiency of means, nor that which is owing to want of instruction in the doctrines of the gospel. That in view is, in Scripture, sometimes denominated blindness of heart. It is that gross darkness which hangs over the minds of those who are not united to Christ, by reason of which they do not spiritually understand the great truths which they notionally credit. One may have all knowledge and yet be deploratdly ignorant in a spiritual respect. Therefore the character of all unbelievers, the most knowing as well as the most ignorant, is that they know not God, and obey not the gospel.
2. The rejection of, or refusal of a proper assent to the testimony of God. Many pretend to assent to the Divine testimony who do it not in a right manner or on proper grounds. They believe the truth of Revelation, and of particular doctrines. But for what reasons? Their fathers had the same persuasion. These things are believed by the church of which they are members, and it requires the same of them. Or, perhaps, they find no sufficient reason for calling in question the proofs of the inspiration of Scripture which are ordinarily brought. But such an assent is not that which accompanies salvation. For this is founded on the authority of God impressed on the word and manifesting itself powerfully to the conscience and heart.
3. Obduracy. It is not only essential to saving faith that the understanding be supernaturally enlightened, but that the heart be graciously mollified. For "with the heart man believeth unto righteousness." This is the most secure fortress of unbelief. Though rational considerations and common operations may produce a great change in the understanding, conscience, and affections, yet these are only the outworks of the soul. The will, as to any saving change, remains absolutely impregnable till the Holy Spirit makes a breach in it by that fire, and by that "hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces."
4. A rejection of the person and mediation of Christ. This is the crowning point of unbelief in all. As it hath been often said that the formal act of faith consists in receiving Christ, it may be also asserted that the rejection of Him constitutes the formal act of unbelief. As submission to the righteousness of Christ is the greatest act of faith, the rejection of His righteousness is the greatest act of unbelief. This is sometimes done openly, as when the very profession of His name is treated with scorn. Others do it more secretly by maintaining a profession while they make it only a cloak for their sin. There is still a more secret way of rejecting Him. For many apprehend that they have given their hearts to Christ, while some hidden lust still keeps firm hold of them.
5. A refusal on the part of those who hear the gospel to believe the record of God with particular application to themselves.
6. Distrust of God in Christ. In faith there is a resting on Christ alone for salvation as well as a cordial reception of Him. But unbelief refuses this exercise. Faith depends on His righteousness as the only ground of justification before God, but unbelief either contemptuously rejects this, or vainly endeavours to join it with the works of the law, or refuses it under the pretence of personal unworthiness.
7. Disobedience. There is the greatest contumacy in unbelief. "This is the commandment of God, that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ." Now, unbelief spurns at this commandment and tramples it under foot. It denies salvation through free grace to be practicable, reasonable, or comfortable. It says in effect, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey Him?"All may be exhorted to try themselves, by what hath been now observed, that they may know whether they really believe in Christ, or continue under the power of unbelief?
1. Try your knowledge. If it be supernatural and saving you will be convinced of your natural ignorance and of your absolute need of Christ, as of God, made unto you of wisdom. It will warm your heart with love to the unseen Redeemer.
2. Try the nature of your assent to the Divine testimony. Do you assent to its truth just because of the authority of God manifested in it? Do you trust the promise just because you judge Him faithful who hath promised? This is the only true foundation of faith.
3. Hath the obduracy of your heart been broken? If this be the case, you have learned that it is naturally a stony heart. The remaining obduracy of your heart is your daily grief, and you are still claiming His promise, "A new heart will I give you."
4. Have you received the Saviour, or do you still reject Him? If the former, then you have received Him in all His offices — as a Prophet, Priest, and King.
5. Do you claim a particular and personal interest in God's promise, in Christ exhibited therein, and in all the blessings presented to you through Him? It is the attainment of true believers alone really to appropriate Christ to themselves.
6. Do you rely on God in Christ? If so, you despise every other confidence, and are fully satisfied that your own righteousness is only a refuge of lies, and your own strength absolute weakness.
7. If you be delivered from the power of that disobedience which is in unbelief, you will obey from the heart, and habitually delight in the ways of God. If you know the obedience of faith you will constantly aim at the obedience of holiness.
II. THE CAUSES OF THAT POSITIVE UNBELIEF WHICH CONSISTS IN A REJECTION OF THE SAVIOUR. The corruption of human nature is the primary cause of all the particular evils that prevail in the heart or life. To this polluted fountain all the streams of iniquity must be traced. It is the ocean of depravity in the heart that, by its swelling tides, fills so many distinct channels. All men are naturally disposed to reject the testimony of God because they ate born in sin. Therefore all without distinction are called children of disobedience, or of unbelief. There are several things within the sinner himself, and some also of an outward nature, that operate on his mind as causes of that unbelief which is called positive or acquired, or of the continuance and increase of the natural unbelief of the heart, especially as manifested in the rejection of salvation through Christ, to illustrate some of which is our present design. Amongst these arc —
1. Ignorance. This hath been already viewed as an ingredient in unbelief. But it may be also considered in the light of a cause. Acquired unbelief proceeds especially from wilful ignorance. Of this sin Peter accuses the hearers of the gospel, For this, he says, "they are willingly ignorant of." The same complaint is made by the Psalmist, "They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness."
2. The love of sin. This is naturally supreme in the heart. It must be so indeed, because sin reigns in us. It is impossible that a supreme love of sin and faith in the Saviour should subsist in the same heart, for where faith is it purifies the heart.
3. Attachment to the objects of sense. Man, even according to his original state, from the very frame of his nature, hath a great and intimate connection with these. But this is unspeakably augmented by sin. In the state of innocence the senses were subjected to reason, but now reason is subjected to them. Therefore the whole man, as unrenewed, is denominated from these. He is called the natural, animal, or sensual man.
4. Inconsideration and indifference about the grace exhibited in the gospel. It is given as the character of sinners that they turn back from God, and will not consider any of His ways. Men presumptuously give the sacrifice of fools because they consider not that they do evil.
5. The agency of Satan. He works on the root of unbelief in the heart, and prompts men actually to reject eternal life. Therefore, he is called the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience. He makes them view the concerns of eternity as of little moment compared with those of time, and so entangles their minds with the affairs of this life as to make them suspend all serious attention to those of that which is to come. He likewise represents sin as a small matter that they may give themselves no trouble about salvation.
6. The love of the world. The pleasures, riches, and honours of this world swell so much in the sinner's eye that he views all eternal objects in a diminished light; he considers them as of no consequence, as unworthy of his pursuit.
7. The fear of suffering. This hath o[ten proved a snare. We have frequently perceived its influence in preventing a confession of Christ, and where it continues to overpower the mind it as really prevents a genuine faith in Him.
8. Lastly, perhaps the most powerful cause of unbelief is the pride of man. This natural principle in its influence in the heart directly opposes faith. It discovers itself in a variety of ways. It appears as a pride of reason, of wisdom or learning, of will, of righteousness, and of strength. Are these, then, the causes of that unbelief which consists in a rejection of the Saviour? It must undoubtedly be your duty, depending on Divine grace, to give all diligence to counteract their operation.For this purpose —
1. Labour to attain a real acquaintance with the truths of God. While you are assiduous in acquiring a doctrinal knowledge of them let it be your special aim to know them experimentally and practically in their power on the heart and life.
2. Supplicate the power of Divine grace for destroying the reign of sin in your hearts. It is the work of the Spirit to accomplish this by creating you again in Christ Jesus.
3. Endeavour to get your hearts loosed from sensible objects. Consider their insignificance, and the unspeakable value of those that are spiritual.
4. Despise not the grace that is in your offer. To recommend it to your attention you are assured that it is abundant, for "where sin hath abounded, grace did much more abound." You know not how soon you may be deprived of the offer. Consider the danger of continuing to refuse it. There remaineth no more sacrifice for sin.
5. Beware of listening I o the suggestions of Satan. His name tells you what he is — an adversary. Be not ignorant of his devices. And this is his great device to keep men at a distance from Christ. Some he prevails with one way, some another. But whatever method he take, if he can effect this, his great object is gained. The more that Satan instigates you to reject Christ, the more earnest ought you to be to embrace Him, for he desires nothing so vehemently as to deprive God of His glory and you of salvation.
6. Pray for deliverance from this present evil world, from the love and from the fear of it. It does not merit your love, for it makes no worthy return. Why should you fear the world? It cannot really hurt you. The utmost it can do is to kill the body.
7. Be denied to yourselves. How dangerous is it for a professed disciple to deny his Master? But whence are any chargeable with this aggravated sin? It is just because they have not learned to deny themselves.
(John Jamieson, M. A.)1. It strikes against all the perfections of the Divine nature. All these are illustriously displayed and infinitely glorified in the work of man's salvation. If you reject the Son of God, you are chargeable with practical blasphemy against each of the Divine attributes. You in effect call the wisdom of God foolishness. It is not to you the wisdom of God. Nor is it the power of God. For by your unbelief you say that it was exerted, even in this great salvation, for no great end. You also insult His holiness, as if it were a needless regard to trifling offences. By rejecting the Saviour you materially say that sin is a light matter, and that Christ died in vain. You brand His justice as if it were a groundless severity; for by refusing to accept of the obedience and sufferings of Christ, as in your stead, you practically declare that He obeyed and suffered without any real necessity. You virtually deny His faithfulness; for he that believeth not in God hath made Him a liar. His very love, which is the great source of salvation, you dare to treat as if it were unmeaning compassion; as being exercised about those who have no need of it; mercy extended to those who are not miserable, offering salvation to those who can easily save themselves.
2. It does injury to all the Persons of the adorable Trinity. The Father declares Christ to be His beloved Son; and this is His record, that in Him there is eternal life: yet sinners by their unbelief refuse to give it credit. The Son testifies concerning Himself; yet they reject His testimony. They will not allow Him to be the faithful and true witness. The Holy Spirit hath attested the excellency of that salvation exhibited in the gospel, not only as the Spirit of inspiration but by signs, and wonders, and divers miracles. He still attests it by common and saving operations on the hearts of men. Though God reveals Himself in the gospel under the endearing character of love, and though He describes the scheme of redemption as the most glorious of all the Divine councils, yet unbelief refuses Him all honour in this gracious revelation.
3. The great evil of this sin appears from the dignity of the person of Christ, and especially from the truth of His Divine nature. He is the more immediate object of faith; for by Him we believe in God: therefore unbelief is more immediately committed against Him.
4. Unbelief is greatly aggravated from Christ's relation to us as our Kinsman-Redeemer. The greater the condescension of any person, the greater is the evidence of his love, and the more inexcusable is our ingratitude if we make not a proper return. And behold I what infinite condescension is here.
5. The atrocious nature of this sin appears from the dignity of the mediatory office of Christ. The honour conferred on Him by His mission, as well as that essentially belonging to Him in His person, is often mentioned as a valid reason of faith, and as a striking proof of the evil of unbelief. This is the work of God, a work of the greatest importance, that work in the success of which He is especially concerned, "that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent."
6. The sin of unbelief is greatly aggravated by the reason of various relations in which the Son of God offers Himself in the gospel to sinners. That no person whatsoever may have excuse for rejecting Him from a pretended unsuitableness to his necessities in the character that Christ bears, in unspeakable love He reveals Himself in every character with which the necessity, nay, the misery of man, can in any respect correspond. Is the sinner in a widowed state, is he desolate and forsaken like a wife of youth? In great mercy this Kinsman-Redeemer saith, "Thy Maker is thy Husband." Is he, in a spiritual sense, an orphan? He reveals Himself as a Father to the fatherless, in His holy habitation. And in Him, indeed, the fatherless findeth mercy. Is he friendless and destitute? Here is "a Friend born for adversity, a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother," a Friend who hath laid down His life for His enemies. Is he foolish and ignorant? Christ proclaims Himself as the Counsellor. Hath he gone astray, and is he altogether unable to recover himself? He appears as a compassionate Shepherd, who "gathers the lambs with His arm, carries them in His bosom," and "brings back the hundredth sheep that was lost, on His shoulders, rejoicing." Is he weak? He is the Strength of Israel. Is he in a starving condition? Then Christ declares that He is the Bread of Life. Is he dead in trespasses and sins? The God-man is the Resurrection and the Life. Where then is thy excuse, O unbelieving man? There is no want in thyself but may be amply supplied in Christ, and will be amply supplied by a believing application to Him.
7. This sin is greatly aggravated from the work which Christ hath performed, and the blessings that He hath purchased.
8. A consideration of the variety of means and ordinances with which the hearers of the gospel are favoured tends to illustrate the great guilt of this sin. The greater the tenderness of a parent, and the more various the plans he pursues in order to reclaim a rebellious child, the greater is his guilt if he persists in rebellion. And how various are the means of grace which sinners enjoy — means of conviction, illumination, conversion, comfort, confirmation, and edification!
9. Under the power of this sin men refuse the influence of every consideration that hath weight with them in other things. In human affairs they are generally engaged by the reasonableness of any proposal. The proposals which God makes to us, in the Word, are highly reasonable. He offers eternal life, through Jesus Christ, without money and without price. He assures us that we cannot save ourselves. Yet the sinner prefers death to life.
10. This is a sin that can never be committed by heathens. For " how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?" Although their sin is declared to be inexcusable, yet their doom is more tolerable.
11. This is a sin that could never be committed by devils. Unspeakable is their guilt indeed. But they have never added, and never can add, to their other sins that of rejecting salvation through Jesus Christ.
12. This is a sin against the very remedy. "If ye believe not," saith Christ, "that I am He, ye shall die in your sins."
13. This sin, in some sense, lays bonds on Omnipotence. It does not so absolutely. It is impossible that the creature can ever defeat the purpose of the Creator, whatever it be, for He will do all His pleasure. But sinners may, and often, do counteract the operations of God as to their tendency in themselves. Thus they oppose their natural tendency, though they do not defeat the immutable purpose of God, but actually accomplish it.From these considerations we learn —
1. That unbelief attempts a second time to undo all that God hath done for His own glory and for the happiness of man. According to its nature, it is determined to war against God in all His works, though at the dreadful expense of warring against the soul.
2. The source of the ruin of many hearers of the gospel. Whatever attention they pay to the sins of their conversation, they are under no apprehensions about those of the heart. They endeavour to reform their lives, to deliver themselves from the more gross pollutions of the world. But oh! consider, that this is only to wash the outside of the cup, and of the platter; and that how much soever it please men, however beneficial it be to society, it comes far short of pleasing God.
(John Jamieson, M. A.)
1. It discovers itself by suggesting doubts about the reality of religion, or the truth of fundamental doctrines.
2. It appears in seeking sensible manifestations as the foundation of faith. Faith and sense are two things entirely different. Faith is the life of the Christian on earth. Sense is the life of saints in glory. Faith is a persuasion of the truth of God's testimony, on His own faithfulness pledged in the Word. Sense is the enjoyment of those blessings which are the subject of this testimony. We must first believe and then see; for it is not sense, but faith, which must be our support in this life. But Christians are often disposed to invert this order. They would first see, and then believe.
3. It appears in disbelieving the promise of God when providence seems to oppose its fulfilment. It is no small measure of faith that can bring a Christian to the same exercise with Job: "Though He shall slay me, yet will I trust in Him."
4. Unbelief discovers itself in unbelievers by making them doubt of God's love to them because of their unworthiness or when their love to Him is weak. They measure the extent and duration of Divine love by their own variable exercise; though they may be well assured, that as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than their ways, and His thoughts than their thoughts. The love of God to thee, weak Christian, is eternal. For He hath said — yea, He is presently saying, "I have loved thee with an everlasting love." It is unchangeable; for the Lord thy God in the midst of thee — rest in His love. Can anything, then, be more unjust to thy God than to doubt the truth of His love to thee because of the weakness of thy love to Him; when He hath at first extended loving-kindness over thee, and hath ever since been compassing thee about with mercy?
5. It often prompts the Christian to deny the whole of his experience because he is at times assaulted with terrors of conscience on account of sin. To conclude from these that all former experience has been a mere delusion proceeds from a mistaken apprehension of the Christian life; as if it were impossible that any who are savingly converted could feel a work of the law on their consciences. True it is that one of the blessings of the covenant of grace, and one of the most eminent fruits of justification, is peace of conscience. But we are not to suppose that this peace is altogether uninterrupted. As it admits of different degrees in different believers, so also of different degrees in the same person, according to the sovereignty of God's dispensation, or the variation of circumstances.
6. Unbelief takes advantage when matters exceed expectation. We have a striking example of this in the conduct of the disciples when Christ appeared to them after His resurrection. "They believed not for joy, but wondered."
7. Unbelief exerts its influence in disposing him to yield to corruption or temptation from a doubt of God's willingness to deliver. It is as if a soldier in the field of battle were to assure himself that he should be overcome; and under the influence of this apprehension should at the very first onset throw down his arms and desert his standard. How unlike is this to the soldiers of Jesus Christ, who must endure hardness, who ought to stand fast, quit themselves like men, and be strong. There is no sin or danger in doubting our own sufficiency. All is wrong with us, till we despair of it, till we see our greatest strength to be mere weakness. But to doubt of the strength of our Head is absolute unbelief; nay, to doubt of it as ours. This is the great reason of our falling.
8. In neglecting duty from an apprehension of danger. Fear is the child of unbelief; and where there is a persuasion of the Divine call, and yet disobedience to it from the fear of danger, it is a greater act of unbelief than the disbelief of the call itself. The rejection of God's call discovers ignorance and blindness of heart; but a refusal of obedience when conscience feels the force and authority of the call is more dishonouring to God because it is a gross abuse of light.
9. It uses every effort to drive Christians away from the exercise of prayer when it is not immediately answered. God could as easily answer the prayer of His people at first as afterwards; but it is His pleasure that they should join hope and patience with their faith. They must be taught submission to His will as to the season. He delights in their holy importunity, and will thus enhance the value of His blessings before He bestows them.
10. Unbelief breaks out in anxious thoughts about temporal subsistence. Like Asaph, they are in danger of fretting when they see the prosperity of the wicked. But there can be nothing more unreasonable. For this prosperity is nowise enviable, as it often proves their destruction.
11. This corruption often discovers itself in fears of death. It is one of the glorious fruits of the death of Christ to deliver His people not only from the power but from the fear of death. But many real Christians are so weak in faith, that all their life, through fear of it, they are subject to bondage. These fears also discover the strength of unbelief. For by indulging them they deny and deprive themselves of one blessed fruit of the purchase of Christ — a deliverance from the fear of death.Lessons:
1. Judge not of the love of God to you by the course of providence. If you take a just and comprehensive view of this it will prove a powerful confirmation of the truth of His Word. But a partial view can only tend to fill you with perplexity.
2. Beware of interpreting the designs of providence by its external aspect. It is denying providence and deceiving ourselves to explain it in this manner. For nothing can be a more uncertain evidence of the real design of God's procedure than its outward appearance. In general its intention is the very reverse of what carnal reason would suppose.
3. Do not imagine that there is any real humility in doubting or denying what God hath done for your souls, whatever evidence you have of His love in a work of progressive sanctification. There is a great ingratitude in such conduct: for whatever self-abasing thoughts you entertain, you ought always to acknowledge the truth of God's loving-kindness towards you.
4. Amidst all doubts, fears, and disquietudes, endeavour to present exercise of faith in Christ. This is the most effectual and confounding reply to all the reasonings of unbelief and temptations of Satan. This is a mean of comfort which has been often blessed to doubting saints when their Christian experience hath been of little use to them, when every other mean hath failed. To one groping in darkness there cannot be so convincing an evidence of the reality of light as to get a view of the sun shining in his strength.
(John Jamieson, M. A.)1. This exhortation by no means implies that it is either in our will or in our power to change our hearts. For, although it is otherwise with respect to conversion, regeneration is everywhere represented as a real change affected on the heart of the sinner, wherein he is entirely passive, as a new creation, a calling of things that be not, a quickening of those who are dead, a transformation into the image of God; in a word, as a work of such a nature, that it requires an exceeding greatness of Divine power.
2. This exhortation implies that we are in great danger of being negligent. The power of sin in our hearts, the temptations of Satan, and the influence of the world, are all evidences of the danger we are in of rejecting Christ.
3. It implies the necessity of watchfulness and jealousy of ourselves. Take heed, look around you, lest ye be misled as to the great interests of salvation. We are called to such vigilance as become a watchman appointed for the very purpose of observing the motions of an enemy.
4. These words denote the necessity of knowing our natural state as under the dominion of sin. It is not said, Take heed "lest there enter into your hearts any motion of unbelief," as if it were a thing that had no root within us, a habit to be contracted by imitation, or by a course of iniquity. But, take heed lest there be in any of you a heart of unbelief; as plainly declaring that this is natural to every man, and that it is so as denominating his whole heart.
5. It implies the possibility of knowing our present state.
6. It expresses the necessity and importance of the knowledge of our state. Were not this knowledge of the greatest consequence to us, the Holy Spirit would not press us so earnestly to take heed that we deceive not ourselves. The importance of this knowledge appears from that of its subject; as the glory of God and our eternal comfort are inseparably connected with it. On this question, whether we be in Christ? depends another of the greatest moment, whether God's highest end, not only in the works of creation and providence, but in redemption, and the highest end of our being be accomplished? This is the one thing needful, compared with which everything else that requires our attention is less than nothing and vanity.
7. It implies that it is highly incumbent on us to examine ourselves for discovering our state. The phrase here used signifies a looking not only about us but into ourselves, a trying of our own hearts: for thus alone can we discover the dominion or prevalence of unbelief.
8. This injunction declares the necessity of a diligent use and improvement of all the means of grace. We are not to confine our attention merely to what passes within us for attaining a knowledge of our state, but diligently to attend to ordinances as the means instituted by God for rectifying our state, if it be bad, and for giving us a greater degree of certainty.
9. It implies that Christians ought not only to know their real state but to attend to their present exercise.
10. This injunction further implies that the sin of believers, in itself considered, hath no less guilt, and is attended with no less danger than that of the unregenerate.
11. It also implies that our preservation in a state of grace is inseparably connected with the use of means on our part.From the foregoing observations, those who are still negligent about the state of their hearts may be exhorted —
1. To the exercise of self-examination.
2. Beware of spiritual sloth. This is the ruin of many hearers of the gospel. They will not give themselves so much trouble as to make a diligent inquiry into their state for eternity.
3. Earnestly apply to God Himself that He may open and incline your hearts. He alone can perform this work. It is His prerogative. It is entirely a supernatural work. It is not bestowed on men like any natural gift, such as wisdom or prudence. It must be communicated by the effectual operation of the spirit, implanting a new nature. For God saith, "Behold I make all things new."
(John Jamieson, M. A.)
1. From the impossibility of escape to final unbelievers.
2. From the severity of the punishment awaiting unbelievers.
3. The dignity of Christ's prophetical character. The chapter in which our text lies begins with this argument: "Wherefore... consider the Apostle... of our profession, Christ Jesus." How are we to consider Him? We are so to devote our minds to the contemplation of all His excellencies as fully to satisfy ourselves that He is every way worthy to be the object of our faith. We must consider Him as "the Apostle of our profession"; for He is that great Prophet whom God hath sent, after having promised Him so often and so long.
4. The honour put on those who steadfastly adhere to Christ. They are His house! He occupies their hearts, their whole persons, as His constant dwelling; for He hath said, "I will dwell in them." They are "builded up for an habitation of God through the Spirit." If so, we ought surely to be extremely vigilant, lest, by an evil heart of unbelief, we exclude this blessed inhabitant.
5. The authority of the Holy Ghost. This argument is proposed (vers. 7, 8). Unbelief, when described as a tempting of God, is held up to view as committed against each Person of the adorable Godhead. It is spoken of as a tempting of the Father (Psalm 95:7). It is viewed as committed against Christ (1 Corinthians 10:9). And here it is considered as directed against the Spirit. Unbelief is thus described, because it is a rejection of that salvation in which each Person of the Trinity hath a peculiar and distinct operation. It is especially a tempting of the Holy Ghost, because it is more immediately opposed to His work ill applying this salvation to the hearts of men. By unbelief He is peculiarly resisted, as He, according to the order of subsistence, is the Finisher of all the external works of God. Therefore unbelievers are not said to resist the Father, or the Son, but the Spirit. Two things are mentioned in the passage, in which the authority of the Holy Spirit is interposed. First, He enjoins on us the exercise of faith in hearing the voice of God, the present exercise of faith, without admitting of any delay. "To-day, if ye will hear." Then He warns us against unbelief and activity in hardening ourselves and tempting Him, like the ancient Jews. It is, therefore, necessary that we take heed, lest we be found chargeable with resisting the Holy Spirit of promise by a rejection of that which is the great subject of His testimony and ground of His operation in the Church, the salvation purchased by the blood of Christ.
6. The danger of being unexpectedly deprived of our day of grace. This argument is urged by the apostle, from the example of God's procedure with the Israelites (ver. 11). The day of grace is never extended beyond the day of life. But the latter sometimes continues after the former is gone.
7. The unspeakable blessedness necessarily connected with genuine faith. "For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end" (ver. 14). The great privilege which the apostle seems especially to have in his eye is union to Christ. He, in His incarnation, was made a partaker of us: "Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise took part of the same." Now, this participation is mutual; for being joined to the Lord, we are one spirit with Him. The apostle seems especially to describe faith as the evidence of our real participation of Christ. He exhibits it under one character, which is a certain proof of its sincerity. It is of a permanent nature. It is not a transient notion in the head, or affection in the heart, which we have to-day, and lose tomorrow, but a fixed principle, making us to abide in Christ to the end of our course.
8. The danger of exclusion from God's rest This argument is urged by the apostle in the last verse of this chapter, connected with the first of the following: "So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it." This argument is intimately connected with one already considered, arising from the danger of our day of grace coming to an end.
9. The all-penetrating nature of the Word of God. This argument is adduced (Hebrews 4:12, 13). From the foregoing observations we infer —(1) That God deals with us in the gospel as rational creatures. He proposes innumerable motives, which have a natural tendency to affect the will. He works on the affections by the most pressing entreaties, tender expostulations, and exceeding great and precious promises. As man is naturally swayed by hopes of honour, pleasure or interest, He shows that all these in their true value and perfect essence are engaged solely on His side. Thus He "draws with the cords of a man" (Hosea 11:4).(2) The necessity of having the heart right with God. Did the priests under the law examine the sacrifices, not only outwardly, but inwardly, to discover if there was any blemish So doth our great High Priest. He looks not only to the conduct, but to the heart, to see if there be any such blemish there, as would render the sacrifice a corrupt thing. For all things are naked and opened to Him.(3) One mark by which the voice of Christ may be known. It is of a heart-penetrating nature. "The sheep," saith the Great Shepherd, speaking of " Himself, "hear His voice:... for they know it. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers." Many flee from a searching ministry. But surely this is the greatest folly, and a certain evidence that the heart is bad. For " he that is of the truth, cometh to the light." What is this but. as far as possible, to flee from the presence of the Lord, to flee from the Word of God, who, by the means of His own appointment, is quick and powerful?(4) Christians may learn the danger of grieving the Holy Ghost. You do so by not improving His gracious motions within you when stirring you up to duty, and by committing sin.(5) Those Who are habitually careless may be warned from this branch of the subject not to tempt and resist the Holy Spirit.
(John Jamieson, M. A.)
1. This expression implies a rejection of spiritual and eternal life, through Jesus Christ. This sin, as persisted in, issues in a total separation from the blissful enjoyment of God as reconciled, an eternal banishment "from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His Dower" (2. Thessalonians 1:9).
2. It often produces a secret apostasy from Christ. Many retain the form of godliness, while they practically deny the power thereof. They indulge sin in the chamber of imagery, or practise it so secretly that their characters are not blasted.
3. Unbelief induces to a departure from all purity and strictness of profession.
4. Unbelief drives others so far that they entirely renounce a religious profession.
5. Unbelief often issues in confirmed, or in judicial obduracy.
6. It tends to the commission of the unpardonable sin. This evil heart is a sluice which, if once opened, knows no restraint but what is imposed on it by the restraining, preventing, renewing, or preserving grace of God. It is a torrent that would soon burst through all the fences of reason, natural dictates of conscience, common light, and strong convictions — nay, of saving grace already received, were not believers kept by the power of God through faith as the mean, kept by continual supplies from the fulness of Christ, and thus preserved hem perishing. It is naturally a rejection of the living God, and of that life of God, which can alone preserve from total apostasy and eternal death.
7. It tends to the indulgence of all sin. As unbelief is itself the departure of the heart from God, it continually impels to an universal departure from Him in the life. He who is under the power of unbelief never views sin as sin. Unbelief, which rejects Christ and salvation through Him, must necessarily give a preference to sin, his enemy. Nay, that very preference which the unbeliever gives to sin is the immediate cause of his rejection of the Saviour. The character of evil here given to the heart seems, indeed, especially to refer to the great efficacy of positive or acquired unbelief; for it makes the heart a great deal more wicked than it was before. Nor is it merely called evil, but the word used denotes great activity in evil, a labour in increasing its own corruption and that of the life, in strengthening itself in its own wickedness.
8. It tends to eternal death. If, as hath been said, it be a rejection of spiritual and eternal life, this must be the inevitable consequence.
(John Jamieson, M. A.)I. We may improve it for INSTRUCTION.
1. We may learn, in general, the great reason of the unprofitableness of the bearers of the gospel. It is their want of faith.
2. It may be inferred that we ought to view every sin in its natural tendency. This particularly applies to unbelief. Therefore the apostle holds up this sin in its genuine scope, in departing from the living God. This is one great object of the deceitfulness of sin to conceal its true spirit, design, and end. But we ought to tear off the veil, and then shall we see that its ways lead down to death.
3. A departure from the ordinances of the gospel is a departure from God. The Hebrews might be apt to excuse themselves for renouncing the gospel dispensation in the hour of trial by pretending that they still secretly adhered in heart to God, trusted in the Messiah, and retained a respect to ordinances formerly enjoined. But the apostle shows that, by departing from the gospel, they really apostatised from the living God. Others may endeavour to excuse themselves in like manner from their inward respect to God, while they refuse attendance on the means of grace. But all who habitually do so renounce the authority of God, who hath an undoubted right to appoint what religious ordinances soever He pleases. Unless we acknowledge His authority in this respect, our hearts do not submit to Him; we rise up in actual rebellion against Him.
4. The great danger of speaking irreverently of the Holy Spirit, either as to His person or operations.
5. We may learn that even the partial exercise of unbelief in the hearts of God's people is highly provoking to Him. Therefore we are so earnestly dehorted from it. We have an instance of His displeasure in this respect with two eminent saints, Moses and Aaron, although Moses was the principal actor.
II. This subject affords ground of TRIAL. Let every one put this important question to his own heart, "Do I really believe in Christ, or am I still under the power of this evil heart of unbelief?"
1. If your faith be saving, you are convinced that it is the work of God.
2. It is attended with evangelical repentance. "They shall look on Me whom they have pierced, and shall mourn." Have you never been made to abhor yourselves? Has all your sorrow for sin been confined to its consequences? If so, you are yet strangers to the faith of God's elect.
3. The heart is purified by means of it. This grace always produces holiness. It instigates to, and is instrumental in, the mortification of all known sin.
4. It worketh by love. It produces a supreme love to God. For "he that loveth not, knoweth not God." It works by love to the brethren. For "hereby do we know that we are passed from death to life," &c.
5. It overcometh the world. The Church is represented as having the moon under her feet. This may be understood of the present world, of which, because of the uncertainty of all its enjoyments, the moon in her many waxings and wanings, in her constant changes, is a very proper emblem. Faith overcomes the world in its allurements.
6. It produces a high esteem of Christ; for to them that believe He is precious.
7. Faith receives and improves Christ in every respect in which He is revealed. It embraces Him in His person as God-man. Therefore believing is called receiving Him. Indeed, faith is, on our part, the great instrument of union to Christ. Faith embraces His righteousness. Therefore it is called the righteousness of faith, and said to be unto all and upon all them that believe It receives Him in all His offices, as made of God to us wisdom, righteousness, and sanctification.
8. Faith purifies the life. "As the body without the spirit is dead, even so faith without works is dead also." That faith which does not influence the practice is deceitful and destructive.
(John Jamieson, M. A.)Jeremiah 17:9; Ezekiel 11:19; Ecclesiastes 8:2). Accordingly, the gospel deals first and above all with the heart. Mere change of life, while a deceitful heart remains, will avail nothing. The gospel's first promise, therefore, is (Ezekiel 37:26, 27). The renewed heart implies everything — new light to the darkened mind, a renewed will, a new life. The root of all the evils that afflict our race is the unbelieving heart. You will find many urge in those days that, as faith is simply belief in testimony, as to whose value people may differ, unbelief is no sin. For instance, you may hear that a certain event took place in London last week, and the evidence seems to you so good that you believe the report; a friend of yours, however, does not believe it, because he thinks the evidence untrustworthy. In neither case does moral blame attach to the person; all that can be said is, that the two friends differ. Now any one who reads Holy Scripture will soon discover that, as to the great truths of religion, Scripture treats faith in them, or unbelief, in no such easy temper as this. Faith, according to the Bible, is our first duty, and unbelief a damning crime (Mark 16:16; John 6:29; John 3:18). What, then, is the essence of saving faith? (Romans 10:9, 10). It is believing God's testimony concerning His Son, concerning our doom as sinners, His love as our Saviour, His death for us, His resurrection, His reign over us, and His Spirit's work in us. As to God, it is our taking Him at His word, in all He tells us of our emptiness, and of Christ's fulness. As to ourselves, it is the assertion and triumph of the higher nature within us over the lower, of the unseen and eternal over the world of sense about us and within us. We see, then, why faith saves. It lays hold upon God; it overcomes the world. The believer lives as seeing Him who is invisible, as in presence of things eternal. God has clearly revealed to us this unseen lie, and established by many infallible proofs both its existence and its awful character. Reason deals with the evidence, and then, assured of the facts, faith's eye gazes upon them as though they were visible, and the believer lives under the abiding sense and power of them. What this power is, we see in Hebrews
11. Whereas, where an evil, unbelieving heart is, there will be found the victory not of faith, but of the world — evil thoughts, evil desires, evil words, evil acts, the deceitful heart desperately wicked. In Romans 1:28-32 we have one of the reasons why unbelief is condemned. It is a sin against knowledge. It may be said, indeed, that many live in ignorance of unseen realities; but whence springs this? With multitudes, from indifference. They care for none of the things that make for their soul's peace, and hence take no pains to know God's way of peace for guilty sinners. Multitudes, again, are lost by procrastination. The longer the delay, the less the hope. Worldliness grows upon one, deadness of heart spreads and deepens; ossification, stoniness of heart — the truest and most awful mortification known to us; the conscience becomes dulled, the eye of sense opens, the objects of sense allures, faith's eye closes, and unseen things become dim, shadowy, unsubstantial. Luxuries become, from habit, necessities; the lust of the flesh, &c., grow by indulgence; and the desires after better things unseen dwindle by disuse. Faint wishes after heavenly things, and these but seldom take the place of settled purpose; while the strong will, every day stronger, drags down the captive spirit to earth, and sense, and sin. Pride unites with careless indolence in making the unbeliever reject the gospel. He rebels against its simplicity. His good name, good works, good character — something of self as are equivalent for salvation; whereas, all the while, eternal life is God's free gift, which can neither be bought nor bribed, but must come of God's own rich, undeserved grace, for His Son's sake. Strange, too, as it may seem, the evil heart betrays its presence as much by shame as by pride; but it is the false shame, which springs not from sin but from fear of the opinion of the world about us. There is but one way to God, but there are a thousand ways of departing from Him. He who is the slave of impure thought, of anger, hatred, malice, envy, or covetousness, will find that his evil begirt will soon open up a way by which he may depart still further from the living God. To each and all the gospel says — Return. The test of faith is obedience.
(W. McLean.)1. Unbelief hardens men's hearts against means afforded for their good (2 Kings 17:14; Exodus 9:19, 21).
2. It keeps them from being established in the way of God (Isaiah 7:9).
4. It takes away the profit of God's word (Hebrews 4:2).
6. It makes miracles not to be regarded (John 12:37).
7. It enrageth men's minds against the truth (Acts 17:5):
8. It moved the apostles to depart from people (Acts 19:9).
9. It makes men unfit to call on God (Romans 10:4).
10. Unbelievers can in nothing please God (Hebrews 11:6).
11. They are no sheep of Christ (John 10:26).
12. They are under Satan's power (2 Corinthians 4:4).
13. To unbelievers nothing is pure (Titus 1:15).
14. The gifts which Christ bestows upon them are fruitless and without power (Matthew 17:20).
15. Christ's own power is stinted to them (Matthew 13:58).
16. Unbelief makes men do detestable acts (1 Timothy 1:13).
17. It was an especial cause of the rejection of the Jews (Romans 11:20).
19. It excludes from heaven (Hebrews 4:11).
20. It thrusts down to hell (Luke 12:46; Mark 16:16; John 3:18; 2 Thessalonians 2:12; Revelation 21:8). Can that which is in itself so heinous a sin, and that which has so many fearful effects following upon it, be accounted an infirmity? If we would judge it as indeed it is a true, proper sin, a cause of many other gross sins: a sin most dishonourable to God, and damagable to our own souls: we should take more heed of it, and be more watchful against it.
5. Adore Him (Romans 14:11).
7. Turn to Him (Acts 14:15).
9. Hold close to Him (John 6:68, 69).
13. Pervert not His word (Jeremiah 23:36).
14. Never depart from Him (Hebrews 3:12).
The Homiletic Monthly.I. THE EVIL IN UNBELIEF.
1. Distrust is born of evil experience. The innocent child is credulous. Its confidence is destroyed by what it comes to see of dishonesty, falsehood, and selfishness. But this product of sin ought not to become the principle by which to weigh the truth of higher things.
2. Infidelity has dishonoured our nobler nature. Its philosophy is materialistic. Its theory of human origin is degrading. The unbelievers of every age neglect the human spirit and pamper the lower nature of man.
3. Scepticism is a covert for sinners. Infidel eras in all human history have been connected with selfish luxury and license.
II. THE INHERENT DAMNATION. The miser has no faith in kindness. The seducer no faith in woman's virtue. The trader in souls no faith in any rights of the weak. The traitor no faith in loyalty. And so such men as Nabal, and Aaron Burr, and Benedict Arnold, carry about inherent damnation. Yet the principle of evil unbelief, run to extreme in their cases, is the same, in only less degree, in every unbeliever's heart.
III. THE TREATMENT OF DOUBT. Do not denounce or debate. Give kind, clear, truthful, positive argument; but do not argue in a strife of wits. Raise the standard of Christian living, promote revivals. For "if any man will do His will, he shall know." The gospel is a mystery; then an experience, then a growth in knowledge, under true conditions.
(The Homiletic Monthly.)
1. Because of the insidious character of such a moral state. An overt act we cannot hide from view, but an evil heart may have seduced us far away from God before we are conscious of it.
2. Because of the radical character of such a condition — a bad heart vitiates every moral act.
3. Because the danger arising from such a spiritual state is most imminent.
(J. M. Sherwood, D. D.)I. Unbelief in the revelation of Jesus Christ is EVIL IN ITS NATURE. Unbelief is not a mere error in judgment; a mere miscalculation of the amount and force of testimony: — but a state of the heart involving disobedience to God; aversion to His truth. And is not the heart that is capable of all this, an "evil heart"; — a rebellious heart; — a hard, ungrateful heart? Yes, unbelief, so far from being no sin, or a small sin, is the radical principle, the most noxious element of all sin. And if all unbelief be thus evil, how pre-eminently evil is that unbelief which not only refuses to hear and to yield assent when God speaks, but which sets at naught such a message as the glorious gospel — a message of love and mercy, of peace and pardon and life.
II. Proceed to show that the heart-of unbelief is "an evil heart," by tracing this unhappy state of mind to some of its CHIEF CAUSES. That which is always and essentially evil in its NATURE cannot be imagined to have any other than an evil SOURCE.
1. And on this point the Word of god is clear and decisive. It uniformly traces unbelief, in all its forms, to a corrupt source. It represents it as generated and nourished by pride, by prejudice, by unhallowed appetite and passion, by corrupt habits of living, by a desire to be free from all the restraints which the faith of the gospel imposes. If the children of unbelief were really actuated by that spirit of candid inquiry; can it be imagined that their manner of investigating the religion of Jesus Christ could be such as it to commonly is? Can it be believed that levity, sneer, habitual ridicule, and profane scoffing become the discussion of matters so infinitely important?
2. The same charge of unhallowed origin is still further established against the spirit of unbelief, by the undoubted fact, that while its votaries are unceasing and ardent in their efforts to draw those around them from the religion of Christ; they discover no serious desire either to practise themselves, or to inculcate on others that which they profess to believe.
3. Again, the history of the rise and progress of many of the most common cases of infidelity, plainly demonstrates that its source, no less than its nature, is evil. Thousands of the young, as well as of the aged, have been, manifestly, drawn into infidelity by their evil passions and their vices.
III. No less evil are its EFFECTS. Our blessed Saviour has taught us to judge of all moral professions and claims by this test. "Therefore," said He, "by their fruits shall ye know them." With regard to the DOCTRINES which unbelief inculcates, they are, notoriously, as to the great mass of them, radically and essentially corrupt. It has, indeed, been often remarked, and with great justice, that INFIDELITY HAS NO PRINCIPLES. In truth, there was scarcely the smallest exaggeration in the charge of the satirist when he said that the sum of their creed is "to believe in all unbelief." Now, is it possible to conceive that such principles, or rather such absence of all principle, can tend to promote the order, purity, and happiness of society? As well might we dream of darkness begetting light, or of committing men to the school of Satan and his angels, to be trained up for the heavenly paradise. And as the speculative opinions of the votaries of unbelief are generally and essentially corrupt; so their practice has been, in all ages, worthy of their creed. Who, let me ask, ever since the religion of Jesus Christ has existed in the world, have been most conspicuous for the regularity, purity, and benevolence of their lives — infidels or Christians? That the effect of unbelief in revealed truth has ever been to generate moral corruption is attested by all history. Read, for example, the "Confessions of Rousseau," that wonderful monument of perverted genius, who undertook to paint his own likeness, and you will behold the portrait of one of the most polluted and miserable of men. Read what Voltaire and his royal patron and companion in unbelief, the Prussian monarch, say of each other, and you will find one of the most revolting and loathsome pictures of moral baseness ever presented by men claiming a decent place in society. But further; who, let me ask, have ever been found throughout Christendom most zealous and active in forming and executing plans for the benefit of mankind? What class, I say, have ever been found most ready for every such good work — infidels or Christians? On the other hand, by what class of persons are the great mass of the crimes which pollute and disturb society committed? They are infidels, either open or secret. Further, was it ever known that any son or daughter of Adam was reformed from a wicked life by embracing infidel opinions? But oh, how often has the dying culprit been heard to confess with anguish and tears that infidel sentiments led him astray; that the rejection of the Bible gradually led to profaneness, to intemperance, to lewdness, to fraud, to robbery, perhaps to murder, — and at length to the infamy of a felon's death 1 I am aware that it will be said by those who are determined to resist all evidence on this subject, that many professing Christians have been as immoral as other men. This is, no doubt, a fact; and yet it does not in the least degree weaken our argument, or militate against the doctrine of our text. On the contrary, it rather confirms every word which has been uttered. Were these persons real, or only nominal Christians? Nay, infidels themselves are witnesses that they were nominal Christians only. Why else have they, with few dissenting voices, acknowledged that the morality of the Bible is the best in the world? Practical inferences:
1. We may see the reason why Christian faith is so constantly in Scripture enjoined as a duty, and the absence of it condemned and threatened as a sin. The fact is — as you have heard — faith is so essentially connected with the state of the heart and the current of the affections; its very nature so inseparably involves moral feeling, practical choice, and the spirit of obedience; that where it is present it is the gem of all that is good in the soul; and where it is absent, there is the essence of rebellion.
2. We may learn how many and great are the evils which must necessarily flow from the decline and the weakness of faith in the real Christian. The "evil heart of unbelief" is not confined to that infidelity which is speculative and entire. It exists, and exerts a pestiferous influence, in the case of many a sincere believer. This is the worm at the root of all spiritual duty, prosperity, and comfort. In short, faith, among the Christian graces, is like the main-spring in a well-adjusted machine. Its character affects everything.
3. We may infer that infidelity is, in every respect, hostile to the best interests of civil society. An infidel people will ever be an immoral, profligate people; and a people characteristically immoral and profligate cannot long continue to be a free and happy people.
4. We are taught, by what has been said, that if we desire to bring our children and others committed to our care to the knowledge and love of the truth, we must not content ourselves with mere frigid instruction, with mere addresses to the intellectual powers. We must take measures to enlist the whole man in the great subject.
5. We may learn from this subject the reason why the great, the rich, the philosophical, and the honourable among men so seldom embrace the genuine gospel; and also why, when they do profess to embrace it, they so rarely appear to enter heartily and thoroughly into its spirit. The reason is — not that there is any deficiency of evidence in the gospel; the real and principal reason is, that men "cannot serve God and mammon."
6. We may see, in the light of this subject, the alarming situation Of infidels.
7. Finally, this subject teaches us the unspeakable importance of Christians showing forth their faith by their works. It was once said by a female martyr, of feeble body, but of firm and undaunted spirit — when standing before her merciless persecutors, who endeavoured to perplex and confound her by their learned subtleties — "I cannot meet you in argument for Christ, but I can die for Him." My dear fellow professors, we may not be called to " die for Christ"; but we can all live for Him.
(S. Miller, D. D.)I. THE TRUE NOTION OF FAITH. Faith, which is the principle of the gospel, respects the promises and declarations of God, and includes a sure trust and reliance on Him for the performance. Beyond this there is no further act of faith. Religion is a struggle between sense and faith. The temptations to sin are the pleasures of this life; the incitements to virtue are the pleasures of the next. These are only seen by faith; those are the objects of every sense. On the side of virtue all the motives, all the objects of faith engage. On the side of vice stand the formidable powers of sense, passion and affection. If this be the case, if religion has nothing to oppose to the present allurements of the world but the hopes and glories of futurity, which are seen only by faith — it is no more absurd to say men are saved by faith than it is to say they are ruined by sense and passion, which we all know has so much of truth in it, that it can have nothing of absurdity.
II. The character given in the text of AN UNBELIEVING HEART — namely, that it makes us depart from the living God.
1. That it is for want of faith, considered as a principle of religion, that men depart from the living God. The knowledge of God is but like other natural knowledge, as long as it has it residence in the head only. To become a principle of religion it must descend into the heart, and teach us to love the Lord with all our minds, with all our souls, and with all our strength. The faith then of the gospel, and which the wicked man is an utter stranger to, is that faith which makes us cleave steadfastly to the Lord with full purpose of heart.
2. That faith cannot be a principle of religion till it has its effect and operation in the heart. Even sense works in the same manner, and, powerful as it is, has no effect till it has made its way to the heart, the seat of all our passions and affections. There, and there only, it prevails as a principle of action. Sense produces no sensuality till it warms the affections with the pleasures of the world; and faith produces no religion till it raises the heart to love and to embrace its Maker. The great advantage the world has over religion lies in the certainty and reality of its objects, which flow in upon us at every sense. To supply this defect on the part of religion, Revelation was given to assure us of the certainty and reality of things future; without which assurance they could have no effect or influence on our affections.
3. That the motions and operations of the heart are in great measure under our own power and government. We find daily that we can check our passions and inclinations to serve the purposes of this life, and if we would do as much for that which is to come, we shall answer all that the apostle in the text requires of us, when he exhorts us to take heed of an evil heart of unbelief.
(Bp. Sherlock.)I. THERE IS MUCH UNCONSCIOUS BACKSLIDING. In a petrifying spring articles are often placed under the dropping water, and as it trickles down upon them they are gradually hardened till they become like the very stone. So is it with sin. Gently and slowly it seeks its way into the heart, and hardens it day by day, even while the possessor of that heart may be more or less unconscious of the change that is going on. This is backsliding. Sin permitted, the heart gradually hardened, unbelief taking his place on the throne, and then, departure from the living God.
II. THIS UNCONSCIOUS BACKSLIDING MAY EXIST IN QUARTERS WHERE WE LEAST SUSPECT IT. The word of the text is, "lest there be in any of you." "Any of you," what a searching word! "Lord, is it I?" It is always dangerous to stay ourselves upon our strength, our knowledge, our experience; upon anything, in fact, but the sustaining grace of God supplied to us through faith from moment to moment. It is worthy of note, and has often been remarked, that in the accounts of backsliding furnished in Scripture, men seem to have failed just in those points of character where they were supposed to be strongest.
III. THE TRUE SAFEGUARD AGAINST THIS UNCONSCIOUS DECLENSION. "Consider... Christ Jesus." As the devout Jew was encouraged to walk about the holy city, and note her strength and beauty, so are we urged to consider the Lord Jesus in every aspect of His blessed character, offices, and work. Only with the eye of faith fixed on a full-orbed Christ, and a heart occupied in the consideration of Him, shall we be able to comply with the exhortation of the text.
(W. P. Lockhart.)Romans 4:5; Galatians 3:11; Mark 9:23; Matthew 17:20; Luke 8:48, &c.). But a second thing, equally beyond doubt, is universally asserted of this Divine grace: that from a true faith springs of necessity, like a tree from its root, a corresponding obedience, a bringing forth the fruits of the Spirit. To be a believer and a doer of the Word are the very same thing. Faith or belief is holy living, and holy living is faith, being one and indivisible; so that the inward principle, denoted by the term faith, comprehends all things which, whether in our justification or sanctification, are made by the word of God essential to our everlasting salvation. Now, then, this nature of ours, which makes us what we are — men, and not angels or brutes — is not a single or a simple thing, but is made up of at least two parts, what we call our heart and our head, or our understanding. The first, that by which we feel, and love, and hate, and have a choice or will; and the other, that by which we see what is right and true, and in a lower form of it, reason about the things of the world in which we live, and which our senses present to us. Some things belong only to the head, and if that consents to them, it is enough; it is the belief which belongs to that kind of truths. Such are many things in numbers, and what is called science, and many matters of fact; men and people, for instance, mentioned in books, and many concerns of this life; the heart or will has nothing to do with them one way or other. But other things have not only a true and a false, but a right and wrong about them, and when admitted as true, make it absolutely necessary for us to approve them and to act upon them, and by reason of them; and since, therefore, they touch at once the heart and the head, they cannot be really believed, unless those two parts of our nature go together. When they do so, then, and then only can we, indeed, and in truth, be said to believe them. And when anything is thus admitted, and beats down all opposition before it, and occupies all our nature, all the spiritual being, whatever of it by which we think and feel, is made to act as God intended it to do. As a wheel rolls when the needful force pushes it in a particular direction, or any other machine moves when the spring is touched, so does the man. He is agitated, he is moved; thought and feeling go forth into visible actions he does and acts accordingly; his nature is at unity with itself, and all obstacles being overpowered, impels him in one way. Now, the solemn thing for us to consider is this, that such is the case with all that God has revealed to us in the glorious gospel of His Son. It is not made up of things to be received into the head, only as part of us, and to be kept like book knowledge, outside of the soul, but it is to be accepted by our whole and entire soul. You see, then, in an instant, what a number of powerful enemies there are within us, to divide, even in things of themselves most clear, the heart and will from the head, and to prevent that living and true belief in Christ, and in His gospel without which no soul of man can be saved. What a fearful alienation from God, as a spiritual God, there is in the heart, whatever natural graces may adorn it! What an iron stubbornness of will and resolution to conform all things to itself, and not itself to the eternal law I Yet God, if He is God, is not a word, or a fancy, but an awful King, who must in all things be obeyed. Flowing from the same evil source, what an unspeakable repugnance there is to such a love of Christ, as shall have power over us. What vanities, what idolatries, what coldnesses! What an evil ally in the world about us, and the enemies — not of flesh and blood, but princedoms, dominations, and powers, even all the hosts of Satan — who rest not day or night, but toil to harden up the evil heart within us, to the destruction of all living faith, and the ruin of the soul.
(J. Garbett.)I. IN ITS NATURE IT DOTH INVOLVE AN AFFECTED BLINDNESS AND IGNORANCE OF THE NOBLEST AND MOST USEFUL TRUTHS; a bad use of reason, and most culpable imprudence; disregard of God's providence or despite thereto; abuse of His grace; bad opinions of Him, and bad affections towards Him.
II. THE CAUSES AND SOURCES FROM WHENCE IT SPRINGETH.
1. Negligence, or drowsy inobservance and carelessness; when men being possessed with a "spirit of slumber," or being amused with secular entertainments, do not mind the concerns of their soul, or regard the means by God's merciful care presented for their conversion; being in regard to religious matters of Gallio's humour, "caring for none of those things."
2. Sloth, which indidposeth men to undergo the fatigue of seriously attending to the doctrine propounded, of examining its grounds, of weighing the reasons inducing to believe; whence at first hearing, if the notions had not to hit their fancy, they do slight it before they fully understand it, or know its grounds; thence at least they must needs fail of a firm and steady belief, the which can alone be founded on a clear apprehension of the matter, and perception of its agreeableness to reason.
3. Stupidity, or dulness of apprehension, contracted by voluntary indispositions and defects; a stupidity rising from mists of prejudice, from streams of lust and passion, from rust grown on the mind by want of exercising it in observing and comparing things; whence men cannot apprehend the clearest notions plainly represented to them, nor discern the force of arguments, however evident and cogent; but are like those wizards in Job, who "meet with darkness in the daytime, and grope at noonday, as in the might."
4. Bad judgment; corrupted with prejudicate notions, and partial inclinations to falsehood.
5. Perverseness of will, which hindereth men from entertaining notions disagreeable to their fond or froward humour.
6. This is that hardness of heart which is so often represented as an obstruction of belief.
7. Of kin to that perverseness of heart is that squeamish delicacy and niceness of humour which will not let men entertain or savour anything anywise seeming hard or harsh to them, if they cannot presently comprehend all that is said, if they can frame any cavil or little exception against it, if every scruple be not voided, if anything be required distasteful to their sense; they are offended, and their faith is choked.
8. With these dispositions is connected a want of love to truth, the which if a man hath not. he cannot well entertain such notions as the gospel propoundeth, being nowise grateful to carnal sense and appetite.
9. A grand cause of infidelity is pride, the which doth interpose various bars to the admission of Christian truth; for before a man can believe, every height [every towering imagination and conceit] that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, must be cast down." Pride fills a man with vanity and an affectation of seeming wise in special manner above others, thereby disposing him to maintain paradoxes, and to nauseate common truths received and believed by the generality of mankind. A proud man is ever averse from renouncing his prejudices and correcting his errors, doing which implieth a confession of weakness, ignorance, and folly. He that is wise in his own conceit, will hug that conceit, and thence is incapable to learn. A proud man, that is big and swollen with haughty conceit, cannot stoop down so low, cannot shrink in himself so much, as to "enter into the strait gate, or to walk in the narrow way, which leadeth to life": he will be apt to contemn wisdom and instruction.
10. Another spring of infidelity is pusillanimity, or want of good resolution and courage. Christianity is a warfare; living after its rules is called " fighting the good fight of faith"; every true Christian is a "good soldier of Jesus Christ"; the state of Christians must be sometimes like that of the apostles, who were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears; great courage therefore, and undaunted resolution, are required toward the undertaking this religion, and the persisting in it cordially.
11. Infidelity doth also rise from sturdiness, fierceness, wildness, untamed animosity of spirit; so that a man will not endure to have his will crossed, to be under any law, to be curbed from anything which he is prone to affect.
12. Blind zeal, grounded on prejudice, disposing men to stiff adherence unto that which they have once been addicted and accustomed to, is in the Scripture frequently represented as a cause of infidelity. So the Jews, being "filled with zeal, contradicted the things spoken by St. Paul"; flying at his doctrine, without Weighing it: so "by instinct of zeal" did St. Paul himself persecute the Church; being " exceedingly zealous for the traditions delivered by his fathers."
13. In fine, infidelity doth issue from corruption of mind by any kind of brutish lust, any irregular passion, any bad inclination or habit; any such evil disposition of soul cloth obstruct the admission or entertainment of that doctrine, which doth prohibit and check it; doth condemn it, and brand it with infamy; doth denounce punishment and woe to it: whence "men of corrupt minds, and reprobate concerning the faith"; and "men of corrupt minds, destitute of the truth," are attributes well conjoined by St. Paul, as commonly jumping together in practice; and "to them," saith he," that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure, but even their mind and conscience is defiled"; such pollution is not only consequent to, and connected with, but antecedent to infidelity, blinding the mind so as not to see the truth, and perverting the will so as not to close with it.
III. THE NAUGHTINESS OF INFIDELITY WILL APPEAR BY CONSIDERING ITS EFFECTS AND CONSEQUENCES; which are plainly a spawn of all vices and villainies, a deluge of all mischiefs, and outrages on the earth for faith being removed, together with it all conscience goeth; no virtue can remain; all sobriety of mind, all justice in dealing, all security in conversation are packed away; nothing resteth to encourage men unto any good, or restrain them from any evil; all hopes of reward from God, all fears of punishment from Him being discarded. No principle or rule of practice is left, beside brutish sensuality, fond self-love, private interest, in their highest pitch, without any bound or curb; which therefore will dispose men to do nothing but to prey on each other with all cruel violence and base treachery. Every man thence will be a god to himself, a fiend to each other; so that necessarily the world will thence be turned into a chaos and a hell, full of iniquity and impurity, of spite and rage, of misery and torment.
(I. Barrow, D. D.)1. The great reigning sin.
2. The great ruining sin.
3. That which is at the bottom of all sin.
(J. P. Lange.)
Departing from the living God.
Homilist.I. GOD IS A LIVING GOD.
1. Not a mere historical God; a God that has been and is no more.
2. Not a theoretical God — a Being made up of abstract propositions which we call theologies.
3. Not a dormant God — impassive, sluggish, inactive.
4. "Living" — always, everywhere, intensely.
II. DEPARTING FROM THE LIVING GOD IS AN IMMENSE EVIL.
1. The greatest insult to Him.
2. The greatest calamity to self.Cut the stream from the fountain, and it dries up; hew down the branch from the tree, and it withers to death; detach the planet from the sun, and it rushes into darkness and ruin; separate the soul from God, its fountain, root, sun — and ruin is its destiny.
III. UNBELIEF IS EVERMORE THE CAUSE OF THIS DEPARTING. Had men an undoubting, strong, abiding, and practical faith in the living God, and their obligations to Him, they would cling to Him with all the tenacity of their existence.
LinksHebrews 3:12 NIV
Hebrews 3:12 NLT
Hebrews 3:12 ESV
Hebrews 3:12 NASB
Hebrews 3:12 KJV
Hebrews 3:12 Bible Apps
Hebrews 3:12 Parallel
Hebrews 3:12 Biblia Paralela
Hebrews 3:12 Chinese Bible
Hebrews 3:12 French Bible
Hebrews 3:12 German Bible
Hebrews 3:12 Commentaries