The Grace of Christ, or,
Sinners Saved by Unmerited Kindness
William S. Plumer, 1853
"We believe it is through the grace of our
Lord Jesus that we are saved." Acts 15:11
THE HEART OF MAN IS ALL WRONG
Let us look at our own hearts. There is a mystery in all
iniquity. In Scripture it is often called a lie, guile, deceit. The heart of
man is full of all treachery; so that "there is no faithfulness in their
mouth; their inward part is very wickedness; their throat is an open
sepulcher; they flatter with their tongue." "His mouth is full of cursing,
and deceit, and fraud." "They speak vanity everyone with his neighbor: with
flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak." "The counsels of the
wicked are deceit." "They hold fast deceit; they refuse to return." "The
heart is deceitful above all things." It deceives every being but one. It
would deceive Him, if he were not omniscient. None but God knows all the
depths of iniquity and duplicity within us.
Genuine conviction is attended with a sense of the divine
knowledge and hatred of our sins. What unconverted man can without terror
dwell on the words, "God, you see me!" To the regenerate it is for a joy
that God knows all their hearts, and will search and cleanse them. When the
wicked sin greedily, and have no checks in their consciences, you may know
that it is because God is not in all their thoughts. "Do you think that I
believe there is a God, when I do such things?" said Nero to Seneca, who was
reproving him for his vices.
Though the language of the Bible is strong, it is just.
God declares, and every Christian knows by sad experience--that his heart is
deceitful above all things. Among beasts, the fox and serpent are deceitful.
But their arts are few and can soon be learned. The currents of the sea are
deceitful, yet you may soon acquire a knowledge of the dangers thence
arising. There is a law in their variations. Even the magnetic needle is not
always true to the pole. Yet its variations can be precisely calculated. But
no mortal knows how much his heart varies from the law of God. "Who can
understand his errors?" Psalm 19:12. A broken tooth or foot out of joint can
never be safely trusted. Men know this and never wittingly rely upon them.
But all men put more or less confidence in their own hearts.
Man is the only creature on earth that seems to practice
self-deception. The fox deceives his pursuers, not himself. But man
"feeds on ashes: a deceived heart has turned him aside, that he cannot
deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?" Isaiah
44:20. Who has not often seen that "there is a way that seems right unto a
man, but the end thereof are the ways of death?" Proverbs 16:25. How timely
is that exhortation of Paul, "Let no man deceive himself!" 1 Cor. 3:18. How
strange and yet how common that he, whose heart has deceived him a thousand
times, should yet confide in it as if it had always been honest!
Education is sometimes so conducted as to make us blind
to our real characters. One trained at a Jesuit's school complained: "I have
been so long in the habit of concealing my real sentiments from others, that
I hardly know what they are." Few men have been such adepts in the arts of a
corrupt court as Talleyrand; but many still live, who think with him that
"language was designed to conceal thought." In such cases "deceiving and
being deceived" are commonly united. That we should sometimes deceive others
is proof of our depravity; but that we should spend our lives in
self-deception is truly astonishing. Men of the fewest virtues commonly have
the highest thoughts of themselves. Peter solemnly averred his adhesion to
Christ, though all others should forsake him; yet in the trying hour his
conduct was worse than that of any but the traitor. When forewarned of his
wickedness Hazael felt insulted, and cried, "What! is your servant a dog,
that he should do this wicked thing?" Yet he very soon perpetrated all the
horrible crimes, which had been foretold. Above most men Ahab sold himself
to do iniquity, and thus brought dire curses on his person and kingdom; yet,
as soon as he saw Elijah, he said, "Are you the one who troubles Israel?"
A perfect knowledge of the treachery of our hearts is
possessed by none but God; a just knowledge of them belongs to no portion of
mankind, but those who are enlightened by the Holy Spirit.
The heart is also VILE. It is "desperately
wicked." It loves vanity, and folly, and sin. It hates holiness, and truth,
and divine restraints. It is a sink of iniquity, a pool of pestilential
waters, a cage of unclean birds, a sepulcher full of dead men's bones. It is
torn by wild, fierce, unhallowed passions. It rejects good and chooses evil.
It is wholly corrupt. There is no soundness in it. It is full of evil. "Out
of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications,
thefts, false witness, blasphemies." Matt. 15:19. Men may rail at the vices,
principles, and prejudices of others, and be worse themselves.
"He who trusts in his own heart is a fool." Proverbs
28:26. If the word, fool, here as in some other cases designates a wicked
man, it is well applied. None but ungodly men lean upon their own hearts,
their own wisdom and counsels, their own strength and sufficiency, their own
merit and righteousness. If the word, fool, points out one, who is destitute
of wisdom, then who lacks that quality so much as he, who believes his heart
upright and honest, when all his life it has been leading him away from God,
and practicing on him the grossest deceptions? Surely human nature is a poor
thing. Man at his best estate is altogether vanity. "Before
conversion, his heart is the worst part about him." Every wise man will say
with Paul: "I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, there dwells no good
thing." Romans 7:18.
Sometimes the word, heart, is in Scripture used to
designate the conscience, as where it is said, "if our heart condemns
us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things." We all have by
nature "an evil conscience." The state of the world judged by the entire
state of men's consciences, presents one of the most appalling subjects of
contemplation. "He who has a blind conscience, which sees nothing; a dead
conscience, which feels nothing; and a dumb conscience, which says
nothing--is in as miserable a condition as a man can be in on this side