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Ezek 17:31-"Make you a new heart and a new spirit for why will ye die"
These words were addressed to the house of Israel, who from their history and from the verses in connection with the text, were evidently in a state of impenitency; and the requirement to make them a new heart and a new spirit, was enforced by the weighty penalty of death. The death mentioned in the text cannot mean natural death; for natural death is common both to those who have, and to those who have not, a new heart. Nor can it mean spiritual death, which is a state of entire sinfulness; for then it should have read, Why are ye already dead! The death here spoken of must mean, eternal death, or that state of banishment from God and the glory of his power, into which the soul shall be cast, that dies in its iniquities.
The command here addressed to the Israelites, is binding upon every unrepentant sinner, to who the Gospel shall be addressed. he is required to perform the same duty, upon the same penalty. It becomes, therefore, a matter of infinite importance, that we should well understand, and fully and immediately obey, the requirement. The questions that would naturally arise to a reflecting mind on reading this text, ask the following.
1. What are we to understand by the requirement to make a new heart and a new spirit?
2. Is it reasonable to require the performance of this duty on pain of eternal death?
Does God require of us the performance of this duty, without expecting its fulfillment, merely to show us our impotency and dependence upon him? Does he require us to make to ourselves a new heart, on pain of eternal death, when at the same time he knows we have no power to obey; and that if ever the work is done, he must himself do the very thing which he requires of us?
In order to answer these questions satisfactorily, I will attempt to show,
I. What is not the meaning of this requirement; and II. What is.
It should here be observed, that although the Bible was not given to teach us mental philosophy, yet we may rest assured that all its declarations are in accordance with the true philosophy of mind. The term spirit, in the Bible, is used in different senses: it sometimes means a spiritual being, or moral agent; in other places it is used in the sense in which we often employ it in conversation. In speaking of the temper of a man, we say he has a good or bad spirit, a lovely or hateful spirit. It is evidently used in this sense in the text. The term heartis also employed in various senses: sometimes it appears to be used as synonymous with soul; sometimes it evidently means the will; sometimes the conscience, sometimes it seems to be used in such an extensive sense, as to cover all the moral movements of the mind; sometimes it expresses the natural or social affections. The particular sense in which it is to be understood in any place, may easily be determined by the connection in which it stands. Our present business is, to ascertain its meaning as used in the text; for it is in this sense, that we are required to make us a new heart and a new spirit. I begin, therefore, by saying,
2. That it does not mean a new soul. We have one soul, and do not need another. Nor,
3. Are we required to create any new faculties, of body or mind. We now have all the powers of moral agency; we are just as God made us, and do not need any alteration in the substance of soul or body. Nor,
4. Does it mean that we are to bring to pass any constitutional change in ourselves. We are not required to add to the constitution of our minds or bodies any new principle or taste. Some persons speak of a change of heart as something miraculous--something in which the sinner is to be entirely passive, and for which he is to wait in the use of means, as he would wait for a surgical operation or an alectric shock. We need nothing added to the constitution of our body or mind; nor is it true in experience, that those who have a new heart, have any constitutional alteration of their powers whatever. They are the same identical persons, so far as both body and mind are concerned, that they were before. The alteration lies in the manner in which they are disposed to use and do actually employ, their moral and physical powers. A constitutional change, either in body or mind, would destroy personal identity. A Christian, or one who has a new heart, would not be the same individual in regard to his powers of moral agency, that he was before--would not be the same agent, and under the same responsibilities.
Again--a constitutional alteration and the implantation of a new principle, in the substance of his soul, or diffusing a new taste which is incorporated with, and becomes an essential part of his being, would destroy all the virtue of his obedience. It would make obedience to God a mere gratification of appetite, in which there would be no more real virtue than in eating, when we are hungry, or drinking, when we are thirsty.
Again--The constitutional implantation of a principle of holiness in the mind, or the creation of a constitutional taste for holiness, if such a thing were possible, would render the per severance of the saints physically necessary, make falling from grace a natural impossibility, and would thus destroy all the virtue of perseverance.
Again--A constitutional change would dispense with the necessity of the Spirit's agency, after conversion. A re-creation of his faculties, the implantation of a holy taste, in the substance of his mind, would plainly dispense with any other agency on his part in after life, than that of upholding the creature in being, and giving him power to act; when, in obedience to the laws of his renewed nature, or in the gratification of his new appetite, he would obey of course.
But this implantation of a new principle, which dispenses with the necessity of the special influences of the Spirit in after life, is contrary to experience; for those who have a new heart, find that his constant agency is as indispensable to their perseverance in holiness, as it was to their conversion.
Again--The idea of a constitutional change, is inconsistent with backsliding. For if the constitution of the mind were changed, and a taste for holiness and obedience were implanted in the substance of the soul, it is manifest that to backslide, or to fall from grace, would be naturally as impossible as to alter the constitutional appetites of the body.
Again--A constitutional change, is unnecessary. It has been supposed by some that the motives of the Gospel have no tendency to move the mind to obedience to God, unless there is a moral affinity. In other words, they maintain that as the motives of the Gospel are holy, there must be a holy taste or principle implanted in the substance of the mind, before these motives can act as motives at all; that there must be a taste corresponding to, and of the same nature with the outward motive, or there is nothing in the motive calculated to move the mind. That is, if the motive be holy, the constitutional taste must be holy; if the motive be sinful, and contrary to fact. Upon this principle, I would inquire, How could holy Adam sin? Did God, or the devil, first implant a constitutional sinful taste within him, answering to the outward motive? How could the holy angels sin? Did God also implant a sinful principle or taste in them? Or were Adam and "the angels that kept not their first estate," originally created with sinful tastes, answering to those outward motives? Then they were always sinners, and that by creation. Who then is the author of sin, and responsible for all their wickedness? It is true, the constitution of the mind must be suited to the nature of the outward influence or motive; and there must be such an adaptation of the mind to the motive, and of the motive to the mind, as is calculated to produce any desired action of the mind. But it is absurd to say, that this constitutional adaptation must be a holy principle, or taste, or craving after obedience to God. All holiness, in God, angels, or men, must be voluntary, or it is not holiness. To call any thing that is a part of the mind or body, holy--to speak of a holy substance, unless it be in a figurative sense, is to talk nonsense. Holiness is virtue; it is something that is praiseworthy; it cannot therefore be a part of the created substance of body or mind but must consist in voluntary obedience to the principles of eternal righteousness. The necessary adaptation of the outward motive to the mind, and of the mind to the motive, lies in the powers of moral agency, which every human being possesses. He has understanding to perceive and weigh; he has conscience to decide upon the nature of moral opposites; he has the power and liberty of choice. Now, to this moral great, possessing these faculties, the motives of the Gospel re-addressed; and there is plainly a natural tendency in these weighty consideration to influence him to obey his Maker.
But I come now to show what we are to understand by the command of the text. The Bible often speaks of the heart as a fountain, from which flow the moral affections and actions of the soul, as in Matt. xv.19, "Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies." The term heart, as applied to mind, is figurative, and recognizes an analogy between the heart of the body, and the heart of the soul. The fleshly organ of the body called the heart, is the seat and fountain of animal life, and by its constant action, diffuses life through the animal system. The spiritual heart, is the fountain of spiritual life, is that deep seated but voluntary preference of the mind, which lies back of all its other voluntary affections and emotions, and from which they take their character. In this sense I understand the term heart to be used in the text. It is evidently something over which we have control; something voluntary; something for which we are to blame, and which we are bound to alter! Now, if the requirement is that we are to make some constitutional change in the substance of the body or mind, it is evidently unjust, and enforced by a penalty no less than infinite, as obedience is impossible, the requirement is infinite tyranny. It is evident that the requirement here, is to change our moral character; our moral disposition; in other words, to change that abiding preference of our minds, which prefers sin to holiness; self-gratification to the glory of God. I understand a change of heart, as the term is here used, to be just what we mean by a change of mind in regard to the supreme object of pursuit; a change in the choice of an end, not merely in the choice of means. An individual may change his mind, and prefer, at one time, one set of means, and at another time, another set, to accomplish the same end: a man who proposes to himself as the supreme object of pursuit, his own happiness, may, at one time imagine, that his highest happiness lies in the possession of worldly goods, and in pursuit of this end, may give himself ;wholly to the acquisition of wealth, in pursuing which he may often change his choice of means; at one time he may pursue merchandise; at another, the profession of law; and still again, the profession of medicine; but all these are only changes of mind in regard to the means of accomplishing the same selfish end. Again, he may see that his happiness does not consist in the abundance of wealth; that he is to exist for ever; that he therefore has a higher interest in the things of eternity than in those of time; he may accordingly enlarge his selfish aims, carry forward his interest into eternity, and propose as the supreme object of pursuit, the salvation of his soul. It is now an eternal, instead of a temporal interest that he seeks; which he proposes as the supreme object of pursuit; but still the end is his own happiness; the end is substantially the same, it is only the exercise of selfishness on a more ample and extended scale; instead of being satisfied with the happiness of time, selfishness aims at securing the bliss of eternity. When confining his views and desires to the acquisition of worldly good, he aimed at engrossing the affections, the services, the honors, and the wealth of the world; he now "lengthens the cords, and strengthens the stakes" of his selfishness; carries forward his aims, his desires, and exertions towards eternity; sets himself to pray, to read his Bible, and become marvelously religious; and would fain engross the affections, and enlist the eternal God. While his views were confined to earthly things, he was satisfied that men should be his servants; but now, in the selfish pursuit of his own eternal happiness, he would fain call in all the attributes of Jehovah to serve him. But in all this there is no change of heart; he may have often changed in the choice of means, but his end has been always the same; his own happiness has been his idol.
A change of heart, then, consists in changing the controling preference of the mind in regard to the end of pursuit. The selfish heart is a preference of self-interest to the glory of God and the interests of his kingdom. A new heart consists in a preference of the glory of God and the interests of his kingdom to one's own happiness. In other words, it is a change from selfishness to benevolence, from having a supreme regard to one's own interest to an absorbing and controling choice of the happiness and glory of God and his kingdom
It is a change in the choice of a Supreme Ruler. The conduct of unrepentant sinners demonstrates that they prefer Satan as the ruler of the world, they obey his laws, electioneer for him, and are zealous for his interest, even to martyrdom. They carry their attachment to him and his government so far as to sacrifice both body and soul to promote his interest and establish his dominion. A new heart is the choice of JEHOVAH as the supreme ruler; a deep-seated and abiding preference of his laws, and government, and character, and person, as the supreme Legislator and Governor of the universe.
Thus the world is divided into two great political parties; the difference between them is, that one party choose Satan as the god of this world, yield obedience to his laws, and are devoted to his interest. Selfishness is the law of Satan's empire, and all unrepentant sinners yield it a willing obedience. The other party choose Jehovah for their governor, and consecrate themselves, with all their interests, to his service and glory. Nor does this change imply a constitutional alteration of the powers of body or mind, any more than a change of mind in regard to the form or administration of a human government.
There are certain things in regard to mind, with which we become familiar by experience. For instance, we know by experience that it is the nature of mind to be controled in its individual exercises and affections, by a deep-seated disposition or preference of a particular course or object. It is not necessary here, to enter into the philosophy of this fact, but simply to recognize the fact itself. For instance, when Adam was first created, and awoke into being, before he had obeyed or disobeyed his Maker, he could have had no moral character at all: he had exercised no affections, no desires, not put forth any actions. In this state he was a complete moral agent; and in this respect in the image of his Maker; but as yet could have had no moral character; for moral character cannot be subject of creation, but attaches to voluntary action. Do not understand me to affirm, that any considerable time elapsed between the creation of Adam and his possessing a moral character. It is presumed, that as soon as he awoke into being, and had knowledge of the existence and character of his Maker, the evidences of which doubtless shone all around him, he chose Him as his supreme ruler, and voluntarily dedicated all his powers to his service. This preference of God, and his glory, and service, over his own self-interest and every thing else, constituted his disposition, or his moral character; in other words, it was a perfectly holy heart. Out of this heart, or preference, flowed as from a fountain the pure waters of obedience. All the subordinate movements, affections, choices, and purposes of the mind, and all the outward actions, flowed from this strong and governing preference for God and his service. Thus he went forth to dress God's garden, and keep it. Now, for a time, this preference of Adam was strong and abiding enough to insure perfect obedience in all things; for mind will act in consistency with an abiding preference. For instance, the strong preference that a man may have for home may forbid his entertaining any purpose of going abroad. The strength of his preference for his wife, may prevent his consenting to any improper intimacy with other women; and the probability; and I may say possibility, of betraying him into acts of infidelity to his wife, may depend upon the strength and abiding energy of his preference of her to all other women. So while the preference of Adam remained unshaken, its energy gave direction and character to all his feeling and to all his conduct; and that which must stamp perfection upon the obedience of heaven, is the great strength and continually abiding energy of their preference for God and his service. Indeed the continued holiness of God depends upon the same cause, and flows from the same fountain. His holiness does not consist in the substance of his nature, but in his preference of right. His holiness must be voluntary, and he is immutably holy, because he is infinitely strong, so strong and so abiding as never to admit of change; of any conduct inconsistent with it. Adam was perfectly holy, but not infinitely so. As his preference for God was not infinitely strong, it was possible that it might be changed, and we have the low-spirited fact written in characters that cannot be misunderstood, on every side of us, that an occasion occurred on which he actually changed it. Satan, in the person of the serpent, presented a temptation of a very peculiar character. It was addressed to the constitutional appetites of both soul and body; to the appetite for food in the body, and for knowledge in the mind. These appetites were constitutional; they were not in themselves sinful, but their unlawful indulgence was sin. The proposal of the serpent was, that he should change his mind in regard to the supreme end of pursuit; and this change his heart, or his whole moral character. "Yea, hath God said, ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? and the woman said unto the serpent, we may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden, but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." Now the foundation of holiness in Adam, and that which constituted his holy heart, was the supreme choice that God should rule; the supreme preference of God and his glory to his own happiness or interest. It is easy to see, therefore, that the object aimed at by the serpent was to affect a change in the supreme end of pursuit. It was to prefer his own gratification to obedience to his Maker; to become as a god himself instead of obeying Jehovah; to pursue as a supreme end self-gratification instead of the glory of God. In yielding therefore to this proposal, in changing his mind upon this fundamental point, he changed his own heart, or that controling preference which was at once the foundation, and fountain, of all obedience. Now this was a real change of heart; from a perfectly holy, to a perfectly sinful one. But here was no constitutional change, no change in the substance of either body or mind. It was not a change in the powers of moral agency themselves, but simply in the use of them; in consecration their energies to a different end. Now suppose God to have come out upon Adam with the command of the text, "Make to you a new heart, for why will you die." Could Adam have justly answered, Dost thou think that I can change my own heart? Can I, who have a heart totally depraved, can I change that heart? Might not the Almighty have answered him in words of fire, Rebel, you have just changed your heart from holiness to sin, now change it back from sin to holiness.