If there is one thing more than another which we seek to keep in mind while preparing articles for these pages, it is the need for and importance of preserving the balance of Truth, for we have long been convinced that untold harm has been done to souls through failure at this point. If the preacher gives a disproportionate place in his ministry to the Divine Law, relegating the Gospel to the background, not only are his hearers in danger of forming a one-sided concept of the Divine character, but the Christian is deprived of that which is most needed for the establishing and growth of his faith in Christ. On the other hand if the Divine Law is virtually shelved so that its strictness, its breadth and its spirituality are not made known—light thoughts upon sin and superficial views of the holiness of God—will be the inevitable result. Both the Law and the Gospel must be expounded and enforced, if souls are to be acquainted with God as "light" (1 John 1:5) and as "love," and if they are to render unto Him that which is His due.
In like manner, there needs to be proportionate attention paid to both doctrinal and practical teaching, the one relating to instruction and the other concerning deportment. It is an essential part of the pulpit's office to open up the foundational truths of the Christian Faith, for only thus will souls be fortified against error. It is ignorance of the Truth which causes so many to fall easy victims to Satan's lies. Such doctrines as the Divine Inspiration of the Scriptures, the Holy Trinity, the Sovereignty of God, the Fall of man, the Everlasting Covenant, the Person and Office of the Mediator, the design and nature of the Atonement, the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit, the Justification and Sanctification of the believer—must be systematically taught—if the minister would discharge his duty. Yet he must not confine himself to doctrine. Those who feed on rich food and then take little or no exercise, become sickly and useless. This is true alike, naturally and spiritually. If it is worth anything—faith must produce works. Well-nurtured branches of the vine are for fruitfulness, and not ornamentation. Christians are to "adorn the doctrine of God" (Titus 2:10) by a daily walk which glorifies Him, and is a blessing to their fellows.
Once more—if the balance is to be preserved, the preacher must see to it that he is careful to maintain a due proportion between the objective and subjective sides of the Truth. He fails miserably in the discharge of his duty—if he neglects to probe the professor and search the conscience of his hearers. He needs to remind them frequently that God requires Truth "in the inward parts" (Psalm 51:6), that His Law must be written "upon the heart" (Hebrews 8:10) if it is to exert any effectual power in the life. He is required to call his hearers to "examine yourselves, whether you are in the faith" (2 Corinthians 13:5). Yes, he is to urge them to pray with David, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my ways" (Psalm 139:23).
Multitudes of professing Christians mistake an intellectual assent to the letter of Scripture, for a saving faith, and most of what they hear in so-called evangelical circles, is only calculated to bolster them up in a false hope. He who is faithful in dealing with souls, will frequently remind his hearers of Christ's statement, "Not everyone who says unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven: but he who does the will of My Father who is in Heaven" (Matthew 7:21).
But the preacher needs to be much on his guard, lest he overdoes what is termed "experimental preaching." If he virtually confines himself to the lines specified in the preceding paragraph, his hearers will become too introspective, too busily engaged in looking within, and instead of their assurance being strengthened, genuine Christians will be filled with doubts and questions about their state.
To counteract that tendency, the objective side of the Truth must also be emphasized. Christ in all the wonders and glories of His peerless Person, in the perfections of His mediatorial office, in the sufficiency of His atoning work, must be held up to view, so that the hearts of His redeemed may be drawn out to Him in faith, in love, in worship. They must be encouraged to "look unto Jesus" (Hebrews 12:2) and "consider the Apostle and High Priest of their profession" (Hebrews 3:1), for only thus will they be furnished with both incentives and strength to run the race that is set before them.
What has been pointed out above, applies as much to the editor of a magazine as to the occupant of the pulpit. He must beware of being a "hobbyist" —always harping upon a favorite theme. Side by side with pressing the precepts of Scripture—he must dwell upon the exceeding great and precious promises of God. Messages of exhortation must be balanced by messages of consolation. Articles which rebuke and lay low—-need to be followed by subjects which comfort the mourner and lift up the soul in praise to God. If on the one hand we read that the Lamb is to be eaten with "bitter herbs" (Exo. 12:8), right after we are told of the "tree" being cast into the bitter waters of Marah, so that they were made sweet (Exo. 15:25). If the Word of God is likened to a "hammer" which breaks in pieces the hard heart (Jer. 23:29) and a "sword" to pierce even to "the dividing asunder of soul and spirit" (Hebrews 4:12)—we also find it being compared with "honey and the honeycomb" (Psalm 19:10). He who is wise will observe these things and seek grace to be regulated accordingly.
At present we are engaged with a particularly searching portion of the Sermon on the Mount, and one design we have in dwelling upon it in such detail—is the testing and exposing of formal professors. It is therefore expedient that we should accompany these articles with a message that is intended to help (under God's blessing) those of the unestablished saints who are liable to draw a false conclusion therefrom. If empty professors are ready to greedily devour that Bread which is the peculiar portion of God's little ones—it is also true that not a few regenerate souls are prone to appropriate unto themselves that which applies only to hypocrites. If on the one side there are unregenerate people who firmly believe themselves to be real Christians, on the other side there are genuinely renewed souls who greatly fear they are not Christians at all—they who now conclude the profession of faith made by them, sincerely, in the past, was based on a delusion, and that after all they have been deceiving themselves and others—that they are hypocrites.
It is indeed a fearful thing—for a soul to be living in "a fool's paradise," persuading one's self, that all is well—while in reality the wrath of God abides on him. But is it anything less tragic (even though less dangerous) for a child of God to live in "the slough of despond," passing sentence of Divine condemnation upon himself—when in fact God has blotted out his transgressions? Why allow Satan to rob me of all rest of soul—when peace and joy are my birthright and legitimate portion? Perhaps, the reader replies, because I cannot help myself, the Enemy is too powerful for me. But my friend, Satan obtains his hold by lies, and his hold is broken as soon as we meet him with the Truth. He succeeds in seducing men into sinful acts—by promising them pleasure and profit therefrom; but the child of God meets his evil suggestions by reminding himself that if he sows to the flesh he must of the flesh reap corruption. In the light of what God says are the fearful and certain consequences of sin—that the lie of Satan is exposed and rendered powerless. Once you have good and solid reason to believe a work of grace has been wrought within you—pay no attention to the doubts which Satan seeks to cast thereon.
But something much graver and more grievous is involved than an act of folly when a child of God accredits Satan's lie that he is but a deceived soul and hypocrite: he dishonors and insults the Holy Spirit! A genuine Christian would be horrified at giving place to the delusion that the redemption of Christ is imperfect and inadequate, that His atoning blood is not sufficient to cleanse from sin, that it must be mixed with something from the creature. And ought he not to be equally horrified at calling into question the reality and efficacy of the Spirit's work in regeneration, supposing it is not to be credited unless it is regularly confirmed by certain feelings of which we are the subjects? Is it any less a sin to deny or even doubt the work of the Holy Spirit—than it is to deny or doubt the sufficiency of the finished work of Christ? Are we as diligent in seeking to guard against the one—as much as the other? It is much to be feared that few even among the saints regard these sins as being equally grave. Ah, my reader, it is a vile thing for me to affirm that I am unregenerate if there is clear proof—obtainable by comparing myself with God's unerring Word—that the blessed Spirit of God has quickened me into newness of life. Plain warning against this enormity, has not been sufficiently given by the pulpit.
What is meant, it may be asked, by the "clear proof" which God's Word presents to the renewed of their regeneration? That is a most important question, for ignorance thereon or a mistaken conception of the nature of that proof—has kept many a quickened soul from enjoying that spiritual peace and assurance to which he was justly entitled. Unless I know what are the principal features of a born-again soul—how can I compare or contrast myself with them? If I form my own idea of what it is, which fundamentally and experimentally distinguishes a Christian from a non-Christian—or if I derive my concept from the ideas and confessions of fellow mortals, instead of allowing it to be molded by the teaching of Holy Writ, then I am certain to err.
How many, for example, suppose that regeneration consists of a radical change of the old nature, a transforming of the flesh—into the beauty of holiness—and then because they discover there is still a sink of iniquity within, and sin now rages even more fiercely than it did formerly, draw the conclusion that most certainly no miracle of grace has been wrought within them?
Now in the parable of the Sower, the first recorded one of Christ's, we find what should be of great comfort to the fearing and trembling ones of the flock, for if they will carefully compare themselves with the different characters which are depicted in that parable, they ought to be able to perceive which of them portrays their own case and describes their own condition, and thus ascertaining which company they really belong. But in order to this there must be a genuine and frank looking of facts in the face. On the one hand, there must be no undue eagerness to believe the best of themselves, refusing to recognize their own features if the mirror of the Word reflects them as ugly ones. And on the other hand there must be no stubborn determination to go on believing the worst of themselves, declining to identify their picture even when it is drawn by the heavenly Artist, simply because it depicts their countenance as made lovely by the operations of Divine grace. Mock humility and feigned modesty are as much a sin as pride and presumption. David was not boasting when he said, "How love I Your Law," nor was Paul when he said, "I have fought a good fight." Each spoke the truth—but gave God the glory for his experience.
In the parable of the SOWER, our Lord sets before us the reception which the preaching of God's Word meets with. He likens the world to a field, which He divides into four parts according to the different kinds of its ground or soil. In His interpretation of the parable, Christ explained those different soils as representing various classes of those who hear the Word. They may be termed the hard-hearted, the hollow-hearted, the half-hearted, and the honest-hearted. The importance of this particular parable, appears in the fact that it is recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke, and all three narratives should be carefully compared in order to obtain the complete pictures set forth.
In this parable Christ is speaking not from the standpoint of the Divine counsels, for there can be no failure there—but from that of human accountability. What we have here is the Word of the Kingdom addressed to man's responsibility, the effect it has on him, his response thereto, and the reasons why the outcome is either unfruitfulness or fruitfulness.
The first class are the WAYSIDE hearers.In eastern countries the public highway often runs right through the center of a field, and because of the traffic constantly passing over—it is beaten down, packed, and becomes hard and unyielding. Such is the heart of all those who are given up to the commerce, the pleasures and fashions of this world. They may from various motives, attend a church—but the preaching of the Word has no effect upon them: they are unresponsive thereto. They do not go there seeking a blessing and their souls, are unaffected by what they hear. They do not cry unto God, "that which I do not see—teach me" (Job 34:32), for they are not concerned for His glory, or their own eternal welfare. They have no real personal interest in spiritual things, and are quite unimpressed by the most solemn representations, and unmoved by the most winsome appeals. Their bodies are in the pews—but their minds are elsewhere; their thoughts are upon the things which perish; their affections set on things below. They are not there to worship God—and are glad when the service is over.
Now let us notice the two things which are said of this class.
First, "when anyone hears the Word of the kingdom, and understands it not" (Matthew 13:19). How could the message have any effect upon him—when he failed to grasp its purpose? And how could he expect to enter into its meaning, when his attention was not concentrated thereon, when his interest was elsewhere? He has none but himself to blame. If he does not pray for light, whose fault is it that he remains in darkness!
Second, "then the Wicked One comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart."Where there has been no meditation upon the Word heard or read, no understanding thereof, and so, no impression made upon the heart—it is an easy matter for the great Enemy of God and man, to catch away the good Seed—or crowd out of the mind that which obtained a superficial entrance—so that there will not even be serious reflection thereon. Now my reader, are you prepared to solemnly and definitely affirm that you have no understanding of the Word of God, that it is entirely to you as if written in an unknown tongue, that Satan has so caught it away it has no place in your thoughts?
The second-class are the STONY-GROUND hearers.The type of ground referred to here, is that where the bed or base is of rock yet with a thin layer of earth over it. Into this shallow soil, the seed is received—but the result is most superficial and evanescent. It cannot be otherwise, for as our Lord points out, "they had no deepness of earth, and when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away." Those who belong to this class are what may be termed the emotional type. They are very impressionable, easily moved, quickly stirred. Yet it is all on the surface. They make good resolutions and quickly break them. They hear the Gospel and are carried away by the eloquence of the preacher and leap into Christ, as it were, in a moment, and profess an instantaneous faith in Him. Their faces are radiant and their joy is exuberant. They are the ones who come "forward" at Revival meetings and rush into church membership—but their future history is most disappointing. Let us take note of the three things said of this class.
First, "the same is he who hears the Word and instantly with joy receives it." The emotions have been stirred—but the conscience has not been searched. There was no awe of soul in realizing Who it is with whom we have to do, no heart-rending horrors of the sinfulness of sin, no alarm at the wrath to come—nothing but a sudden—yet transient, joy.
Second, "yet has he no root in himself." It was only a surface effect, a mere passing sentiment. There has been no plowing up of the soul, no Law-work producing deep and lasting convictions.
Third, "but endures for a while; and when tribulation or persecution arises because of the Word, by and by he is offended" (Matthew 13:20, 21). Their "goodness is as a morning cloud and as the early dew that goes away" (Hosea 6:4) The scoffs of the ungodly, the cold shoulder from old friends prove too much for them—and the churches know them no more. Now my reader, test yourself at this point: has your experience stood the test of time, or have you abandoned your profession and returned to your wallowing in the mire?
The third class are the THORNY-GROUND hearers.The type of ground here referred to, is where the soil seems to be more fertile and favorable, for it is neither so beaten down as to have an impenetrable surface, nor so shallow that there is no room for root. But it is inimical to a desirable crop, for weeds and thistles, thorns and briars choke and crowd out the good seed so that an harvest is prevented. This is admittedly the most difficult class to diagnose. The seed has taken root and a shoot springs up and promises well—but it is surrounded by hostile weeds. However, it survives and puts forth an ear—but it is so overgrown with briars, that the sunshine cannot reach it—its life is choked, and it comes to nothing. They who belong to this class attempt to serve two masters. They are very pious on the Lord's Day—but thoroughly impious on the other days. They sing the songs of Zion, are members of a church—but make no serious attempt to regulate their daily lives by the precepts of Holy Writ.
Let us take note of Christ's interpretation of the thorns. In Matthew 13:22 they are defined as "the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches." The one who has made a Christian profession is young. He has a growing family, his position in this world is not yet secured and therefore he cannot be expected to be out and out for the Lord. Once he "does well in life" he will have more leisure for spiritual things and more to give to the cause of Christ. Meanwhile temporal anxieties weigh him down. Suppose he "does well"—does the Lord now have the first place in his affections and thoughts? Far from it—riches are deceitful and cumber their possessor. He feels he must live in accord with his improved position, do more entertaining, send his children to an expensive college. Mark 4:19 adds "the lust for other things entering in"—perhaps he aspires to civic office—and how can he spirituality thrive in politics! Luke 8-14 gives "the pleasures of this life." These are the thorns which choke so many, and they "bring no fruit to perfection" or completion. Would you say, my readers, that the "thorns" have so choked the Word of God in you that you have brought no fruit to completion?
The fourth class are the GOOD-GROUND hearers.This is soil which not only receives the seed and has depth to give it root—but where it springs up, bears fruit and actually brings forth a goodly yield—so that the gardener is well-rewarded for his labors. Let us take careful note then of what is here noted of the good-ground hearer.
First, it is, "he who hears the Word and understands it." He has taken pains so to do. He has "searched the Scriptures daily" (Acts 17:11) to ascertain whether or not the things to which he has listened, are really according to the Divine Oracles, for he feels there is far too much at stake to take any man's say-so for it. Mark 4:20 adds, "and receives it." He has prayerfully pondered what he has heard and personally appropriates it as God's message to his own soul. However unpalatable to the flesh, however searching and humbling, he does not refuse it. Luke 8:15 adds "and retains it and brings forth fruit with patience." He holds fast the Word because it is treasured up in his heart as his most cherished possession; and though he is much discouraged by the slowness of his growth he perseveres in crying to God for the increase.
But there is one word said concerning this fourth class which we wish to particularly observe: they are the ones who receive the Word "In an honest and good heart." This is the only time in the parable that our Lord defines the kind of heart which received the Word. It is here we have disclosed the decisive factor, that which fundamentally distinguishes those belonging to the fourth class from all the others. Thus it is of prime importance we should seek to ascertain exactly what is connoted by "an honest and good heart" (Luke 8:15), and diligently search ourselves whether or not we possess such. Clearly the terms used here by Christ are in designed contrast from Jeremiah 17:9, "the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked," which describes that which every descendant of Adam is born with. "An honest and good heart" then is not the natural heart—but one which Divine grace has imparted.
"But that on the good ground are those who, in an honest and good heart, having heard the Word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience" (Luke 8:15). Let it be duly considered that as it is not the falling of the seed into the ground which makes it good, so it is not the Word of God which makes the heart honest. The soil itself must be rich—or there will be no satisfactory crop; and the heart itself must first be honest—if the Word is to be received and bear fruit. But such a heart no man has by nature—instead it is "deceitful above all things—and desperately wicked." The heart of fallen man is radically and essentially dishonest, feeding on lies, loving deceits, producing hypocrisies; and he can no more effect any alteration in it—than the Ethiopian can change his skin. Nor does he even desire to do so—he is totally unconscious of its rottenness.
"The disposings of the heart of man is from the Lord" (Proverbs 16:1). It is by the regenerative operations of the Holy Spirit, that the heart is made honest. Honesty, or sincerity of heart—is the grand distinction between the genuine Christian and all other men. We do not regard it as a separate grace, like purity or humility—but rather is the regulator of all the graces. Thus we read of "sincere faith" (2 Timothy 1:5) and "sincere love" (1 Peter 1:22). As holiness is the glory of all the Divine perfections—so sincerity is what gives color and beauty to all the Christian's graces. Holiness is the distinctive glory of the Godhead—as one termed it, "an attribute of attributes, casting luster upon the others." "As God's power is the strength of His perfections, so His holiness is the beauty of them. As all would be weak without almightiness to back them, so all would be unlovely without holiness to adorn them" (Charnock). Thus it is on a lower plane—without honesty to regulate them, the graces of the Christian would be worthless.
As honesty of heart is that which distinguishes the genuine Christian from all other men—so it is the grand feature which is common to all the children of God, none of them being without it. Different saints are eminent for various graces: Abraham for his faith, Moses for his meekness, Phineas for his zeal, Job for his patience or endurance. But sincerity is that which characterizes and regulates all of them, so that to speak of a hypocritical Christian is a contradiction in terms.
An honest heart is an "upright" heart (Psalm 7:10). That is, it is a "single" (Colossians 3:22) or "undivided" one (Hosea 10:2). An honest heart is a "sound" one (Proverbs 14:30), a "true" one (Hebrews 10:22). The marks and fruits of an honest heart are frankness, genuineness, truthfulness, integrity, righteousness, fidelity, and sincerity—in contrast from deception, deceitfulness, or pretense. An honest heart hates all shams. But passing from generalizations let us point out some of the more specific and fundamental workings and manifestations of an honest heart.
1. An honest heart loves the Truth—and none other does."Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19). This is a true description of all men the world over. What a fearful state to be in: not only in the dark—but loving the darkness! And why? Because it is congenial to their depraved hearts—it is their native element. Hence the passage goes on to say, "Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed" (v. 20). Many excuses are made why they turn away from plain and faithful preaching, and why they do not read God's Word in private—but the real reason is because they hate the Light! Exposure, even to themselves, is the very last thing of all they desire. In sharp contrast therefrom: "But he who does truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God" (v. 21). This is the man with an honest heart—so far from hating the Light—he welcomes it, wanting to be searched by it.
An honest heart is open to the Word, not merely to certain portions only—but to the Word as a whole. Such a one sincerely wants the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth. He does not wish the preacher to please or flatter him—but to be frank and faithful. The language of the insincere heart is, "Speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits" (Isaiah 30:10). They desire to hear of an easy and flesh-pleasing road to Heaven, one which does not demand the denying of SELF, and forsaking the world. They want to be at ease in their sins, and assured they are the children of God—while free to serve the Devil. But it is the very opposite with one having an honest heart. He is fearful of being imposed upon, and thinking more highly of himself than he has a right to do. If he is deceived—he ardently longs to be undeceived; if he is building his house upon sand—he wants to know it. He is willing to be tested and searched, and therefore he "comes to the Light"—does so repeatedly and continuously, as the tense of the verb denotes.
An honest heart, then, is a Truth-loving heart, one which genuinely desires to know the mind of God, one which is ready for his creed, his character and his conduct—to be searched by the light of the Sanctuary. He wants to know the truth about God, the One with whom he has to do, the One before whom he must yet appear and render an account. He will not be put off with any superficial and sentimental representations of the Divine Character, he determines at all costs to acquaint himself with God as He actually is. He wants to know the truth about himself. He is anxious to determine whether he has only a head or intellectual knowledge of things that matter most—or whether he has been given a heart or spiritual knowledge of them. He wants to make certain of how he stands with regard to God and eternity, and he dares not take any man's opinion or say-so with regard thereto.
2. An honest heart accepts the Divine diagnosis of fallen man's condition—and bows to the Divine verdict passed upon him.That diagnosis, is that he is sinful, depraved, corrupt in every part of his being; that his understanding is darkened, his affections perverted, his will enslaved. The Divine Physician declares that, "You are sick from head to foot—covered with bruises, welts, and infected wounds!" (Isaiah 1:6). It explains why this is so: because man, every man, is "shaped in iniquity" and "conceived in sin!" (Psalm 51:5). And therefore, "the wicked are estranged from the womb—they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies" (Psalm 58:3).
So far from allowing that there is something spiritually good in every man, which only needs to be carefully cultivated in order to bring it to fruition—the Divine Physician declares, "people's thoughts and actions are bent toward evil from childhood" (Gen. 8:21), and in the flesh, "there dwells no good thing" (Romans 7:18). And the honest heart does not quarrel with that diagnosis—but receives it as true of himself. Because fallen man is what he is—he stands condemned before his Judge.
The Divine Law pronounces him guilty. It declares that he is a rebel against God, that he has followed the desires of his own heart and disregarded the claims of his Maker. It declares that there is, "no fear of God" before his eyes (Romans 3:18), that he has conducted himself as though there is no Day of reckoning to be faced. It declares that he has "ignored My advice—and rejected the correction I offered" (Proverbs 1:25). It declares that "the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36). It declares that, in the searching light of the Divine holiness, his best performances, his religious actings, his very righteousnesses are as "filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6). Now because the honest heart welcomes the Light, because it sincerely desires to know the worst about himself—it bows to the Divine verdict and "accepts His testimony has affirmed that God is true" (John 3:33). An honest heart acknowledges, "I am vile" (Job 40:4), "without excuse" (Romans 1:20), a Hell-deserving sinner; and none but an honest heart sincerely does so!
3. An honest heart causes its possessor to take his place before God in the dust.How can it be otherwise, if he accepts the Divine diagnosis and condemnation of his condition? As the penitent thief on the Cross acknowledged, "We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve" (Luke 23:41), so the one who truly bows to God's verdict owns that the everlasting burnings are his legitimate due. Thus pride receives its death-wound, all pretensions to goodness are repudiated, and with the publican of old—he smites upon his breast crying, "God be merciful to me—a sinner!" Instead of seeking to extenuate his transgressions, he wonders at God's patience toward him. Instead of asking, What have I done to deserve eternal damnation? he marvels that he is not in Hell already. He perceives clearly that if such a wretch as himself is to receive salvation—it must be by grace alone, and that God has the full right to withhold such grace—if He so pleases.
4. An honest heart ceases fighting against God, which is only another way of saying that he repents of his evil past, for true repentance is a taking sides with God against myself. He who loves the Truth—is influenced and regulated by it; and therefore is he brought to renounce whatever is opposed to it. As light and darkness are opposites, so uprightness and crookedness, sincerity and sin have nothing in common. Where there is an honest heart, repentance and conversion necessarily follow. And repentance is not only a sorrowing for sin—but also a turning away from it, the throwing down of the weapons of our warfare against God. To love the light—is to love God, for He is light (1 John 1:5). If we truly love God—we shall forsake our sins, abandon our idols and mortify our lusts. An honest soul cannot do otherwise: anything short of that would be hypocrisy. "We are lying if we say we have fellowship with God—but go on living in spiritual darkness." (1 John 1:6). The upright man is the one who "fears God—and turns away from evil" (Job 1:8).
5. An honest heart seeks to please God in all things—and offend Him in none.That is why this honesty is termed "simplicity (the single eye) and godly sincerity" (2 Corinthians 1:12), for it desires and seeks the approbation of God, above everything else. An honest heart refuses to accept the plaudits of men, on anything for which conscience would condemn him. "God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). He cannot be deceived by pious words or a sanctimonious demeanor. He must be approached with "a true heart" (Hebrews 10:22). That is, all dissimulation and pretense has to be set aside, in our dealings with Him who "searches the heart and the thoughts" and whose eyes are "a flame of fire." When the heart beats true toward God, there is a deep desire to please Him, not in some things only—but in all things, so that without reserve it asks, "Lord, what will You have me to do?" (Acts 9:6). True, that desire is not fully realized in this life—but the genuineness of it is evidenced when we can truly say, "I hate every false way!" (Psalm 119:104).
6. An honest heart does not pretend to be wise—but is very conscious of and frankly owns up to great ignorance.Even though he is well acquainted with the letter of Scripture and thoroughly familiar with all the external means of grace—that does not content him. There is a longing for a spiritual, an experimental, an efficacious knowledge of the Truth. Such a one feels himself to be the truest babe in Divine things, which is indeed a healthy sign, for it is under such, that the mystery of godliness is revealed (Matthew 11:25). Such a one cries daily, "Teach me what I cannot see" (Job 34:32), for he longs to know the way of the Lord more perfectly—not only in the letter, but chiefly in the power thereof. So conscious is he of his ignorance, that he prays with David, "make me to understand the way of Your precepts" (Psalm 119:27)—how to walk in them, the way to keep them. And again, "Teach me Your statutes"—observe well how this is repeated again and again (Psalm 119:12, 26, 64, 68, 124, 135), for it is in this, that the upright realize themselves to be more deficient.
7. An honest heart makes conscience of sin.Necessarily so if he sincerely desires to please God. Therefore he does not willfully and habitually ally himself in any known sin, against the light and stirrings of conscience, for "the highway of the upright is to depart from evil" (Proverbs 16:17). As one of the lesser known Puritans said, "A righteous man hates all sins, even the ones he cannot conquer; and loves all the Truth, even that which he cannot understand" (Anthony Burgess). He makes conscience of what the world calls peccadilloes or trifling faults, praying, "Catch the foxes for us—the little foxes that ruin the vineyards" (Song. 2:15). Yes, "cleanse me from secret faults" (Psalm 19:12)—the sins of ignorance of which I am not conscious—but which defile before the thrice Holy One. Consequently, an honest heart makes it a point of confessing all known sins to God, even those of which his fellows know nothing. Sin is his heaviest burden—and greatest grief. "Behold, I am vile!" (Job 40:4)
8. An honest heart welcomes godly reproof."Rebuke a wise man—and he will love you" (Proverbs 9:8)—but hypocrites will resent it and fools rage at you. An honest heart prefers the bitters of gracious company—to the dainties of the ungodly. He would rather be smitten by a saint—than flattered by the unregenerate. He not only gives a permit to faithful admonition but, when in his right mind, invites to, "Let the righteous smite me: it shall be a kindness; and let him reprove me, it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head" (Psalm 141:5). "As oil refreshes and perfumes—so does reproof, when fitly taken, sweetens and renews the heart. My friend must love me well—if he tells me my faults and points out my errors" (C. H. Spurgeon). "Faithful are the wounds of a friend—but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful" (Proverbs 27:6). Only the upright will subscribe to that.
9. An honest heart is impartial."Now we are all present before God, to hear everything you have been commanded by the Lord." (Acts 10:33). These words of Cornelius were the language of sincerity. How very rare is such a spirit. The average church-member wishes to hear only that which accord with "our doctrines" and when he reads the Bible it is through theologically-tinted glasses. Here is where so many preachers are handicapped: they are bound by a detailed creed and know that if they departed therefrom, that they would lose their position. Bias, prejudice, sectarian shibboleths quench the spirit of sincerity. To desire the Truth for Truth's sake is rare indeed. But an honest heart is impartial, refusing to pick and choose—and is not swayed by denominational prejudices. An honest heart values the Divine precepts equally with the promises, appropriates the admonitions and threats—as well as the comforting portions of Scripture, acknowledges himself in the wrong and his opponent who has the Truth on his side to be right, and admires and owns the image of Christ, when he sees it in one belonging to another company.
10. An honest heart is chiefly concerned with the inner man.In His solemn denunciations of the Scribes and Pharisees Christ said, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous—but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness!" (Matthew 23:25, 27-28). It is at this point especially, that the genuine Christian is distinguished from formal religionists. One with an honest heart makes conscience of wandering thoughts, evil imaginations the workings of unbelief, the risings of pride and rebellion against God. He seeks grace to mortify his lusts and prays to be cleansed from "secret faults." He cries daily, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10); "Unite my heart to fear Your name" (Psalm 86:11); "Incline my heart unto Your testimonies, and not to covetousness" (Psalm 119:36). He makes much of heart work—and endeavors to keep it with all diligence (Proverbs 4:23).
Probably most of our readers are ready to exclaim, Alas, this quite cuts me off! I freely admit that such sincerity of heart as has been described ought to be found in me—but to my shame and sorrow—I must confess that much to the contrary, is still operative in my soul. But cannot you see that this is the last thing you would frankly, own if you were dishonest?! The fact is, that no soul is conscious of the workings of unbelief—until God has given faith; is not troubled about the swellings of pride until humility is bestowed, mourns not over coldness—until love is communicated; and is not exercised over deceitfulness before he is made sincere.
We best learn to know things—by their opposites. It would be a great mistake to insist that there is such a thing as perfect and unmixed sincerity in this life—so that there is no deceit or falsehood joined with it. We not only know in part—but our faith and love are weak and unstable, and sincerity of heart has to contend with much that is opposed to it. If we can plead before God uprightness of intentions, and if we grieve over all crookedness within us—that is sure proof we are no longer under the dominion of hypocrisy.
There are two distinct and mutually-hostile principles at work within the Christian, each bringing forth after its own kind, and it is by what each one brings forth—that its presence may be ascertained. The "works of the flesh" are manifest (Galatians 5:19, etc.)—but "the fruit of the Spirit" (v. 22, etc.) is equally identifiable. A detailed description of "the fruit of the Spirit" should not be understood to mean that "the flesh" has ceased to exist. And a portrayal of the workings of an honest heart must not be taken to signify that all which is contrary thereto has been expelled. David was an upright man—yet he found it needful to pray, "Remove from me the way of lying" (Psalm 119:29). The disciples of Christ had been given honest hearts—yet their Master deemed it requisite to bid them, "be not as the hypocrites" (Matthew 6:5). It is the regenerate who are exhorted, "Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind" (1 Peter 2:1), which would obviously be quite meaningless, if those evils had been eradicated from their beings.
"Who can understand his errors! Cleanse me from secret faults" (Psalm 19:12). There is more deceit and self-ends operating in all of us, than we perceive. If you prize an honest heart above a good name, and value a clear conscience before God beyond a high reputation among men—you are no hypocrite!