- Sermon I. the Rising Generation Exhorted to Adopt the Religion of Their Christian Forefathers.
- Sermon II. Hope In God.
- Sermon III. On the Means and the Importance of Grace.
- Sermon IV. Corruption of Heart the Source of Irreligion and Immorality.
- Sermon V. Against Despair and Suicide.
- Sermon VI. On the Folly and Danger of Thoughtlessness.
- Sermon VII. Perseverance In the Religious Principles Taught In Youth, and Particularly In Faith and Hope, Recommended.
- Sermon VIII. Good Intentions the Least Fallible Security For Good Conduct.
- Sermon IX. Religion the Chief Concern of Life.
- Sermon X. On Conformity to Fashion and the Customs of the World
- Sermon XI. On Seeking a Remedy For Sorrow, In Vice and Dissipation.
- Sermon XII. Christian Politeness
- Sermon XIII. On the Duty of Preventing Evil, By Actual Coercion, As Well As By Advice and Remonstrance.
- Sermon XIV. On Pursuing Visionary Schemes of Happiness, Without Attending to Scripture, and Revealed Religion
- Sermon XV. the Pride of Human Learning and False Philosophy, a Great Obstacle to the Reception of Christianity.
- Sermon XVI. On the Duty of Servants.
- Sermon XVII. On the Wickedness and Misery of Envy and Contention.
- Sermon XVIII. the Cunning Oe the Wicked Inconsistent With Wisdom.
- Sermon XIX. On the Snares of the Devil, and Means of Escaping Them.
- Sermon XX. Moderation Necessary to All Solid and Durable Enjoyment.
- Sermon XXI. Happiness to Be Found Rather In the Enjoyment of Health and Innocence, Than In the Successful Pursuits of Avarice and Ambition.
- Sermon XXII. On the Duties of the Preacher and the Hearer.
- Sermon XXIII. * On the Benefits to Be Derived From the Sight of a Funeral.
- Sermon XXIV. a Preparatory Persuasive to the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
- Sermon XXV. the Prospect of Perpetual and Universal Peace to Be Established On the Principles of Christian Philanthropy.
- Sermon XXVI. On the Necessity of Increasing the Places of Public Worship On the Establishment; and On the Duty of Supporting the Objects of the Philanthropic Society.
- Sermon XXVII. the Support of the Magdalen Hospital Recommended.
- Sermon XXVIII. the Education of the Poor Recommended.
corruption of heart the source of irreligion and immorality.
Psalm xcv. 10.—It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways.
As worldly honour and emolument frequently attend superior abilities, many, who are by no means actuated by virtuous motives, eagerly pursue intellectual improvement, and all the ornaments of various erudition. A great number is urged up the steeps of science, by a principle of pride and self-interest. But this desire to improve the natural sagacity, and to enlarge the boundaries of knowledge, for the sake of worldly interest, is seldom accompanied with any solicitude for the melioration of the heart. Men who are justly anxious to become, and to be esteemed, able and learned, are too often indifferent on the subject of their moral and religious character. Let the world admire their wit, their acuteness, their strength of reason and depth of learning, and they regard not its opinion of their morals, any farther than it may be conducive to their interest to be externally decent and tolerably punctual in pecuniary negociations.
It is obvious to observe, that even in the common course of education much less attention is paid by many to the culture of the heart, than to the improvement of the understanding, and the acquisition of shining accomplishments. While a boy displays what is called a fine spirit in mischievous frolics, and makes a tolerable appearance in the studies of his school, some are unwise enough to admire instead of reprobating his propensity to evil. Such a propensity, if attended with a certain sprightliness of manners, is too often considered as a mark of genius, and a certain presage of future eminence; a fatal error, which tends to pollute life at the very fountain, and to infuse such impurity into all its progressive streams, as they may possibly carry with them into the ocean of eternity.
Every competent judge of that which makes and keeps us happy, must lament this conduct, as he must be convinced that more happiness arises to the individual and to society, from goodness of disposition, than from great parts and brilliant accomplishments. When they are all united in the same person, they greatly enhance each other's value; but if they are to be separated, it is certain that goodness of heart, rectitude of intention, meekness, innocence, and simplicity, are infinitely more desirable, than wit, eloquence, and erudition.
Those, indeed, whose hearts are right, will seldom fall into fatal or irretrievable mistakes, by the defects of their understandings, or of their acquired knowledge. It is the obliquity of the heart which causes the most frequent and most destructive instances of immorality and irreligion. It is a people that doerr in their heart, says the text, and they have not known my ways; a plain intimation, that an ignorance of the ways of God, of truth and virtue, is commonly produced, by the corruption of the will and affections, and not by a want of intellectual ability. From these words I shall take occasion to enforce the necessity of cultivating the heart, in order to arrive at happiness and wisdom; and I shall endeavour to represent the effects of an erring, or bad heart, on our own happiness, the happiness of others, and our acceptance with God.
I. “The first vengeance on the guilty,” said a heathen poet, “ is that which is inflicted on his bosom by his own conscience.” Notwithstanding the pains which the wicked take to deaden their sensibility, they cannot entirely divest themselves of it; and the malignity of their hearts will give them many a severe pang in the midst of their highest enjoyments, and throw a gloom over their minds in the day of their brightest prosperity. A righteous Providence has decreed that every bad man should be a self-tormentor.
But supposing the wicked to have arrived at that hardened state which enables them to stifle conscience, and to despise the pungency of remorse; yet their corrupted hearts are of themselves, independently of religious compunction, engines of perpetual self-torment. The badness of their hearts is, as it were, a serpent, which they carry in their bosom, and which stings and bites them in their softest moments of pleasure and repose. They bear their own hell within them; and if there were no other, would be punished enough by this, to evince the wisdom and happiness of him who has reformed his heart, and preserved it pure, by his own diligence cooperating with the assistance of divine grace.
Is there any mode of torture devised by the cruel ingenuity of man, comparable to the inward corrosions of envy? This vice, which is always prevalent in a bad heart, turns all the brighter prospects of life into darkness, the fairest into deformity, and would of itself be sufficient to unparadise an Eden. A sound heart is the life of the flesh, says Solomon, but envy the rottenness of the bones.
Is it not certain, that anger, hatred, and malice, occasion more misery to those who entertain them, than to those against whom they are directed? The heart in which such dispositions have fixed their abode, is emphatically compared to a troubled sea. It has no rest. It foams, it is violently agitated with every blast, it is dashed against the rocks, it casteth up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked. But is there any happiness independent of peace? There may be mirth, and noise, and riot, and a violent ebullition of the animal spirits, but there cannot be any sincere enjoyment without tranquillity. It has pleased the benevolent Creator to render the malignant passions painful to the bosom which harbours them; evidently with a design to stimulate men to divest themselves of their influence, by suggesting the most powerful of all motives, those of self-interest and self-satisfaction. If you will persist in bearing hatred, anger, and malice, against those whom reason, nature, and religion, teach you to love, you shall be the first to suffer. So have ordained the law of nature, and the word of God. Miserable man that thou art, thou impotently and diabolically endeavourest to diffuse misery on all who are so unfortunate as to be connected with thee; but, by a just and merciful dispensation, it falls first, and principally, on thyself; a merciful dispensation, because it may chastise thee till thou art led to seek and to effect a reform in thy heart, a purification of that source from which happiness and misery must be derived.
A bad heart is always over-run with inordinate desires. Pleasure of the most sensual and the grossest nature is the most congenial to it. Hence it is continually involved in the stratagems of intrigue. Ten thousand cares and fears, unknown to the innocent, agitate and molest it. The pleasures which it is always pursuing, never fall to its share unpolluted, unalloyed, or uninterrupted. Loss of health, loss of fortune, loss of character, are always incurred by him who addicts himself to the intemperate or forbidden indulgences of sensuality. Jealousy and suspicion kindle a flame which tortures with caustic corrosion. Violent agitations of spirits are followed by dreadful languors and dejection. Repeated and incessant debauchery gradually divest the senses of their susceptibility. The organs of sensation become paralytic before their time; but the wantonness of desire is still destined to remain, as an anticipation of that torture which the Lord hath appointed for the sensual and the devilish. Inordinate lust is indeed a fire which scorches the heart in which it burns with infernal flames.
The whole life of him who is cursed with a bad heart, is one uniform tenour of deceit. But deceit implies and requires a continued succession of mean subterfuges and anxious cares. Many painful palpitations of heart must he endure, who is engaged in the prosecution of an artful scheme. He must impose on himself a continual restraint, for nature will be for ever revolting. He must pass many sleepless nights, and the pillow which is downy to the innocent, is to him a pillow of thorns. His art is usually discovered by those who converse with him, and he is consequently treated with peculiar reserve. Many take a pride and pleasure in defeating his enterprises. All who know him despise him, and avoid his intercourse. He may, indeed, sometimes succeed in nefarious schemes by nefarious methods; but he pays dearly for his success, and is not able to enjoy it with pure satisfaction.
Selfishness in the extreme is always the striking characteristic of a bad heart. It is of bad-hearted men the scripture speaks, when it declares, that men shall be lovers of their own selves. But this selfishness, instead of procuring, as it intends, a greater share of good, converts the little good that falls to it into evil. Greediness seldom enjoys; for when it has obtained the object, it immediately pursues another. It is never satisfied. Whatever is highest, and whatever is best, appears, in the eyes of the selfish man, too low and too bad for his deserts. His vanity and conceit are unlimited. If any unexpected advantage befal him, he is not thankful for it; because he thinks his merits might have procured a better, or a larger share. Like some savage beasts of prey, he devours every thing he can reach, yet never fattens on the spoil.
It were endless to enumerate the particular circumstances which confirm the remark of the heathen poet, that “no bad man is happy,” and the declaration of the scriptures, that there is no peace for the wicked. From what has been already said, it sufficiently appears, that Providence has decreed that a bad heart shall, even in this world, become a scourge to its wretched possessor. It is invariably found to embitter every sweet, to render prosperity joyless, and adversity unsupportable.
II. But a bad heart is destructive of all social happiness no less than of personal. It acts the part of Satan among mankind. It goes about, seeking whom it may devour.
That envy, which corrodes itself, stops not there. It is perpetually endeavouring to destroy the peace of others, and too often succeeds. It is pleased to defeat any laudable purpose, and to disappoint any reasonable expectation. Calumny and detraction are its constant employment. It delights to shoot arrows in the dark; and many a cruel wound is inflicted on those who expect no enemy, because they deserve none. Indeed, the virtue, innocence, and consequent good character of others, excite all its rancour and resentment. Men of virtue and probity, who deserve and possess the good opinions of those who know them, are thus mortified and injured by aspersions, which though the feeblest hand can throw upon a character, the strongest cannot entirely remove.
The dissensions which subsist among mankind, and poison the sweets of society, are usually occasioned by the secret machinations of a bad heart. Like Satan, as he is represented by the poet of Paradise Lost, the bad-hearted man cannot bear to look on scenes of love. He whispers the tales of the backbiter in the ear of two parties, under the pretence of kindness to each; and thus raises a degree of distrust, which soon terminates in a lasting animosity. He starts a topic of conversation, or revives a forgotten story, which brings to mind an old dispute, and occasions a new one. Mischief is his delight, and he is never better pleased than when he has caused a misunderstanding between two worthy persons, and then left them to do each other material injury, in the ardour of their resentment.
In the gratification of his animal passions he pays no attention to the rights of hospitality; he feels no pity for unsuspecting innocence. He cares not, though he rob a family of its peace for ever. He is ready to betray and destroy all who place any confidence in his pretended honour. The more mischief attends the prosecution of his criminal purposes, the more is he delighted with them. It is this, indeed, which in his base and corrupted heart, appears to add the highest relish to his fancied enjoyments. As he is certainly of a degraded nature, so his pleasures are evidently brutal. Unfortunate are they who fall victims to his seduction; for they are sure to meet with insult, as well as injury. Their calamity is constantly aggravated by wanton and unnecessary ill-usage, and there is little doubt, but that, if the consequence of human laws could be avoided, the wretch would add to every cruel outrage, the last sad work of human malice, even murder.
His avarice is so great, that it precludes justice. Wherever he can defraud with secresy, be assured that no ties of that false honour to which he pretends, will restrain his inclination. Is he trusted as the guardian of orphans, whose fond parents have chosen him for the protector of their defenceless offspring? he is the first to violate their property. Is he in any respect confided in? his first endeavour is to promote his private interest by the abuse of confidence. There is no kind of business or engagement in which you can be connected with him, but you will find yourself embarrassed and injured by his artifices. It is, indeed, his interest to keep up good appearances in the world, and therefore he will only rob your purse or pocket when he can do it clandestinely.
If we take an actual survey of life, and trace the moral evil and consequent misery of it to their true sources, we shall find them all originating from the impure fountain of a bad heart. There are, indeed, natural evils in abundance; but they would be easily supportable, if they were not infinitely aggravated and increased by external and acquired corruption. It is not the violence of storms and tempests, nor the inclemency of seasons, nor any other physical irregularity, which destroys the happiness of human nature. It is the monsters and eccentricities which appear in the heart of man, which lead him from the path of reason, which darken the light with which God illuminated his breast, which degrade the native dignity of his being, and confound him with the beasts that perish, or rather with the evil spirits that live to diffuse sin and woe.
Indeed there is every reason to believe, that as the human heart may, by Divine grace, partake of the Divine nature, it may also, when deserted by grace, assume something of the diabolical. The powers of darkness must be allowed by all who believe in Christianity, to have great influence over the heart of man; and what we denominate a bad heart, is certainly such an one as is occupied by evil spirits, on the desertion of the Holy Ghost the sanctifier.
III. This leads to the third topic of the discourse on which it was proposed to display the effects of a bad heart in the affairs of religion.
Infidelity is much more frequently occasioned by badness of heart, than any conviction of the reasoning faculty. An evil heart of unbelief, is a very striking expression of the Holy Scriptures. When the heart is corrupt, the understanding is darkened; and that part of the soul which was formed to perceive spiritual truth, loses its sensibility. It is dead; but the death is occasioned by itself; a kind of suicide, which infinitely aggravates the misfortune. In this wretched state, the whole plan of revelation, and every part of the Gospel, appear to it as the dream of superstition. At the same time, entertaining a surmise that, after all, the Gospel may be true, and envying the happiness which it promises those who receive it as true, the bad heart endeavours to divest them both of their belief and their hope.
Experience confirms this observation; for what kind of men have they been who have written against Christianity? They have indeed been subtle, and sometimes furnished with a considerable share of human learning; for though their powers of perception are dead to spiritual things, they are yet able to make a proficiency in the comparatively poor accomplishment of human erudition. But examine the history of their private lives, or learn their temper and spirit from the style and sentiments of their worship, even where religion is not concerned, and you will find indubitable marks of pride, vanity, and malevolence. You will also find them libertines in some moral principles; but extenuating the guilt of them, or rather recommending them obliquely, whenever they can make an opportunity.
Their whole views being confined to this world, they have no higher object than human praise. Distinction flatters their pride. They are satisfied, if, by their singular opinions, or bold assertions, they can render themselves important enough to become the topic of conversation. They swell in their own eyes, and immediately assume the name and air of philosophers, or correctors of the errors and prejudices of mankind. But that their motives are not those of philanthropy, to which they pretend, is evident, from the manner in which they speak of those mistakes which they undertake to rectify. They do not treat them with compassion, but with ridicule and malignity. If they were really humane, they would commiserate errors in which so many are involved. Indeed, I believe, they would rather permit them to pass without animadversion; for they cannot but know that these very follies, as they are pleased to call them, which they censure with the utmost asperity, are to a very considerable part of the human race, a source of solid consolation. Their pretensions to liberality, generosity, benevolence, and whatever is amiable, are but the cloaks of their maliciousness; of that maliciousness which arises from a bad heart, from a heart possessed and governed by the influence of an evil spirit.
But those who maintain the cause of infidelity in their writings, are few, compared to others, who profess and propagate it by their lives and conversation. In this age, when the writings of sceptics are communicated by numerous vehicles to the lowest orders, it is very common to meet with disputers against Christianity, even among the vulgar. But mark the men. Are they such as are honest and industrious in their calling, sober and regular in their lives, or respected in their neighbourhood? By no means. They are men who have every symptom of a bad heart. They are idlers, drunkards, debauchees, gamesters, bad husbands, bad fathers, bad servants, useless or injurious in every relation. They are distinguished by impudence and insolence, enemies to order, delighting in affronting their superiors, and ready, if their power seconded their inclination, to destroy the distinctions of learning, virtue, opulence, and rank, to level all to their own standard, or rather to erect themselves into tyrants by the exertion of brutal force. Such usually are infidels in the lower walks of life; and their deeds amply evince, that neither the fear of God nor of men is before their eyes. Disciples these, who do honour to their illustrious instructors, the modern philosophers and correctors of prejudices. I appeal to experience. It is not uncommon, in the present age, to hear the lowest mechanics dispute the authenticity of the Mosaic account of the creation, controverting the possibility of the deluge, and laughing at the mysteries of revelation. They appear, indeed, both in their conduct and their arguments, to be apt scholars of such sages as a Mandeville, and a Bolingbroke.
In the middle ranks there is, perhaps, less infidelity, than in the lowest or the highest. But there also it abounds, and exhibits additional proofs that it arises from corruption of heart. It will be difficult, I believe, to recollect an instance, of a professed and confirmed infidel, who has not afforded abundant proofs that he is a bad man. He cannot bear that Christianity should be true, because, if it is, he cannot practise some favourite vice, or avail himself of some fraudulent advantage. He wishes to be emancipated from the chains of conscience. He finds a deviation from the rules of moral and religious rectitude necessary to the accomplishment of his purposes. He enrolls himself, therefore, among the scholars of some scoffer at religion, who is the fashionable writer of the day. Or, if he happens to be no reader, which is frequently the case, he proposes some unbelieving man of rank and distinction, as a model for his imitation. His bad heart naturally leads him to admire opulence and splendour, and from these appearances, he is tempted to form a judgment of rectitude, much more than from any reasoning or internal sentiments of propriety. Unfortunately, too many in the higher ranks, afford lamentable, though brilliant examples, of daring immorality and irreligion; and the middle ranks are more frequently misled by such false shining lights, than by sceptical argumentation.
What characters do the great men of this world bear, who have avowed themselves the patrons of infidelity? Have they not usually exhibited every mark of a bad heart, of a diabolical and infernal nature? Have they not been gross in their pleasures; destroyers of domestic peace; blood-thirsty duellists; insolent, overbearing, and oppresive neighbours? Have they not been fomenters of faction and war, or mean instruments of arbitrary power for the sake of aggrandizing themselves and their families? Ready to blaspheme their God, for the entertainment of their sycophantic company; have they not shown themselves equally ready to betray their country for their own emolument? Every part of their conduct has displayed the very qualities which characterise the prince of darkness. Nor let any one call these representations uncharitable. They are certainly true, and the Christian preacher is bound to cry aloud and spare not, without respect to persons. Infidelity and immorality in high stations are so peculiarly injurious by the influence of example, that they can never be too frequently stigmatised with the infamy they deserve. The deformity of a bad heart must not be disguised by the external glitter of a star, nor the purple robe of power.
Infidelity is, indeed, too often in all ranks, both the cause and the effect of a corrupted heart. But true Christianity and a bad heart are incompatible. By badness of heart I have never meant the occasional lapses which may be caused by sudden passion, or by the infirmity of nature. I comprehend under that description, a settled, habitual, and voluntary depravity; a disposition entirely hardened, and deeply corrupted by pride, envy, hatred, malice, lust, and avarice. He who unfortunately owns such a complication of wickedness, cannot be a Christian. He is in a state of reprobation. He is given over to the evil one. He is truly a demoniac, and none can cast out the devils from his heart but Jesus Christ.
What then remains, but that he seek to become a new creature by regeneration? He is dead in trespasses and sins. He must be born again, in order to live to God.
But this renewal of a right spirit within him, must be partly the result of his own efforts, as well as of the consequent operation of the Holy Ghost. The prime object is to teach his stubborn knees to bow, and his hardened heart to melt.
The first advice to be given is, that he encourage the very slightest tendencies to religious sensibility. Under any great loss, in violent pain, on the death of a near relation or valuable friend, there usually arise, even in the worst of hearts, some feelings of a devotional nature. They are often so slight as to pass away with little notice. But these are dawnings of a future day, unless the sun is set to rise no more. They must therefore be encouraged, and the best method of encouraging them is to seek solitude, to avoid the haunts of dissipation, and the usual pursuits of profit and pleasure, and to read such books as have a tendency to rekindle the latent sparks of piety.
These emotions, thus encouraged, will return with additional vigour. They must be still cherished, like a grain of mustard seed, which is at first diminutive, but, nourished by the genial power of the earth, and refreshed by showers, becomes a large plant. Good thoughts, and good resolutions, faint and imperfect at first, gradually advance to a high state of improvement by cultivation.
Pleasure always attends the consciousness of improvement. Thus what was begun with pain, is continued with delight. God Almighty, who rejoices over one sinner that repenteth, sends down the benign influence of his grace, to assist him in the arduous work of a late reformation.
Faith gradually grows up in his mind. The veil is withdrawn from his heart. The darkness and shadows of death pass away as soon as the Sun of Righteousness dawns upon the soul. Faith and repentance produce a renovation of the whole man, and he who was lost and fallen, is raised and restored to the favour of his Redeemer.
But, without constant care and vigilance, all may be lost again. Prayer and pious meditation are necessary to keep the heart from relapsing into its former impurity. The heart is deceitful above all things, and therefore will require to be above all tilings carefully superintended. The fire just lighted, and scarcely burning, will be again extinguished, without a constant supply of proper fuel, and frequent resuscitation, It will be necessary, therefore, that he who has made so valuable a proficiency as to know the state of his corrupted heart, and to desire its amendment, should strengthen his resolution by frequently partaking of the holy communion, and by engaging in all other offices of the church, which are wisely established as the means of grace, and to promote edification.
Our God is a merciful God. If it were not so, who could abide his judgment? But mercy is the attribute in which he chiefly delights. However bad therefore our hearts have been, if we sincerely turn unto him at last, he will not be extreme to mark what has been done amiss. He will receive us as the father of the prodigal son in the gospel. But yet his justice is singular as well as his mercy, and if we neglect so great salvation, after having frequently been warned of our wickedness and danger, there is every reason to believe that we may be excluded for ever, and that our portion may be among those evil spirits whom we have imitated and resembled in all our conduct during this state of probation. Turn ye, therefore, without a moment's delay, from the error of your ways. From the gloomy, rugged path that leads to death and destruction, turn to light, happiness, and glory. Begin to-day, while it is called to-day, and let no worldly business or pleasure erase from your heart the impressions you may have now received by the humble instrumentality of the preacher. Put your hand to the plough and turn not back.
I will conclude with entreating the younger part of those who hear me, to begin early to keep the heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life. They cannot yet be habitually corrupt. They may indeed have evil tendencies, but they cannot yet be hardened and confirmed in them. Remember, young man, in thy youth, that it is easier to prevent than to cure. Check the progress of the slightest taint, for you cannot but know that a speck of rottenness will soon pervade the fairest fruit which nature has produced. Be constant and regular in your prayers. Attend to the advice of your parents and instructors. Let no gaiety or schemes of pleasure seduce you from the wing of those whom nature and reason have appointed to foster you, till you shall have arrived at maturity. Love truth, and practise the strictest equity in your pecuniary concerns, however trifling they may be. A little leaven leaveneth a great lump, so a little dishonesty, or evil of any kind, cherished in your heart in early youth, will overspread it in the age of manhood. Blessed are ye while ye retain the innocence and simplicity of children. Fools may call it folly, and the world may despise and neglect it; but be assured, that infantine simplicity, and innocence of heart, were the qualities in which our Saviour took delight, and that he will reward these with the kingdom of heaven. To those who err in their hearts, and have not known his ways, through the pride and obstinacy of human wisdom, however learned, opulent and exalted they may be, however esteemed for abilities and knowledge in this world, he will say, Depart from me, ye cursed. How different and how sweet will be the other sentence, Come, ye blessed children of my Father, ye pure in heart, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world?
Take heed, therefore, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. Bid exhort one another daily, while it is called to-day: lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end; while it is said, To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. Heb. iii. 12.