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ing forth of the soul unto God, or experience the least movement of heart toward a christian obedience. So far as the intellectual as. sent is concerned, the very devils believe. There are no infidels in eternity. And yet there are wicked spirits there, who never feel the kindlings of holy affections. Such a faith is utterly powerless—it is dead. And all those who have advanced no farther are still to be numbered among the ranks and rest under the condemnation of unbelievers.
Unbelief of whatever grade is sinful in the sight of God and ruinous to the soul. Upon this point there is great discrepancy in the public sentiment. Faith is often thought to be of little consequence in the matter of salvation. Men sometimes suppose, if only the general tenor of their lives is on the side of morality, the mere trifling defection upon this point will not exclude them from heaven. Not so are we taught in the Scriptures. The text declares a heart of unbelief to be evil. The apostle in another part of the epistle says, “ without faith it is impossible to please God." And the Savior just before his ascension authorized the universal and uncompromising proclamation of this doctrine" he that be. lieveth and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be .damned.” Such is “the law and the testimony” on this point; and let every careless worldling hear it with trembling alarm.
The evil of unbelief may be seen in the unwillingness which it evinces on the part of him who indulges it to submit to Divine requirements. The secret of it is not so much a want of conviction that Christ is the great and only Savior, as unwillingness of heart to come to him for life. It is not so much an error of the understanding as wickedness of heart. For the most part men believe and know that there is life, peace, and purity above; yet, like carrion worms, they prefer to riot in stench and rottenness. “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, but men love darkness rather than light,” They love their pleasures and worldly habits more than the service of God, and relish sin more than holi
They wilfully and wickedly resist the truth and darken their souls; and it is this which constitutes the great cause of the unbeliever's condemnation and ruin.
The apostle speaks of unbelief as leading away from the great source of happiness, to a departure from the living God. There are in every human breast such restless cravings of soul, such dis
quietudes of conscience as 'must drive all rejecters or neglecters of the Gospel to the hopeless alternative of seeking from other quarters and by other means the glorious ends which it proposes. Hence many unbelievers fly to philosophy and wander for years through its profound depths, hoping by the mere efforts of their own reason to discover some royal road to happiness. Others pursue a different path, and like the builders of Babel, attempt to construct a way to heaven with their own meritorious works, sacrifices, pilgrimages, penances, and mortifications. Whilst a third class launch out upon the broad seas of selfishness and libertinism, expecting to quench the thirst of a famishing soul by sensual gratifications. Thus their unbelief leads them away from the fountain of living waters, to seek for cool streams in the arid desert; whilst the farther they go, the hotter and the drier become the sterile wastes around them; until at last, far away from all kind sympathies and beyond the reach of help, they fall the scorched and blasted victims of their own presumption and wickedness.
The sin of unbelief, like all other sins, also deceives and hardens the heart. It presents false promises, and hopes of success which can never be realized. It assures of enjoyment--and pleasureand freedom which it cannot impart. With influences resembling the fabled charm of the serpent, it draws its victims along with the fascinations of bright colors and pleasant sounds to the very jaws of ruin. Like those misty risings from the sea which are often mistaken by the mariner for the long-desired shore, but which as he approaches entirely evade him; so sin beguiles the unwary heart with bright prospects of rest and happiness which are never to be obtained. When once indulged, it hurries on the soul from one degree of alienation from God to another far beyond what was first anticipated. Enchanted by its siren voice, many are borne along the general current of worldliness, until the heart becomes hard—the conscience seared—and the moral susceptibilities all deadened; and floated at last into the great whirlpool of impiety, remain for a little while pleasantly rocking over the eddying waters, utterly unconscious of their danger, until the dread thunder of the sinking centre bursts with black despair upon their startled ears !
Of all the attributes of sin this hardening deceitfulness is the most dangerous and fearful. This is the potent charm which seduces the soul to death. How many an unsuspecting one has been
lured by its enchantments to the dark realms of endless despair ! How many are even this day tolerating and encouraging its caresses, who, could they but see in naked reality the dread consequences which await them, would fly away in utter abhorrence! Could that young man foresee the degradation and wretchedness of the drunken life he is about to lead, how promptly would he dash away his cups, knowing that
-“ in the flowers which wreath the sparkling bowl,
Fell adders hiss and poisonous serpents roll.” Could he but know the misery, disgrace, and despair which is at last to burn and crisp his soul, you would find him no more in the secret room of the gamester. Did he but understand the pollution, remorse, and dying agony which is to dishonor the close of his career, how would he avoid the company of the voluptuary and the sensualist. But as it is, he sees no danger nigh. Everything glows with glad hope. Flowery fields and sunny walks spread invitingly before him. Trees of sweet fruit are waving in his eye. Green shades and pleasant breezes all whisper come—come and be satisfied. Others just in the path before him eat, drink, and die in his sight; but he thinks not of danger. Kind friends with bitter tears beseech him, stay away-stay away! But he sees fortune, honor, and happiness almost within reach, and he will not be prohibited from stepping forth and partaking. A world of plenty smiles invitingly around him, and he will not suffer his hands to be bound. A voice from heaven cries--Beware! A still small voice within him whispers—Beware! But so completely is he bound by the bewitching spell that he presses heedlessly on. Step after step he takes, each removing him farther and farther toward the brink of perdition. In a few years the work is accomplished—the fatal line passed—and the fires of hell kindled up around him in furies indescribable and never to be abated or extinguished. The fruit of his unbelief now reaches its maturity, and the smoke of his torment ascends up for ever and ever!
Such is the alarming evil spoken of in the text, and from which with its dire concomitants the apostle wished to save his readers. It is with deep anxiety then we enter upon the consideration of the direction he gives how to avoid it.
“ Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart
of unbelief, in departing from the living God. And exhort one another daily, while it is called to-day.”
The first thing which Paul proposes as a preventive of unbelief, is the exercise of a strict guard. “ Take heed." There is nothing more important to the preservation and advancement of christian character, than a careful watchfulness over all the movings of the soul. A thorough acquaintance with one's own heart—its feelings--weaknesses-fears--and hopes, is entirely indispensable to true and consistent piety. Without it we are likely to form wrong conclusions as to our real characters and wants, misapply the truth, and wrest the Scriptures to our own destruction. An absence of a strict self-watchful disposition, and a constant guard over all the actions, feelings and operations of the heart, exposes us to every form of delusion and infidelity. The human “heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” It is full of subtlety and insidious artifice. It will cramp-conceal—and pervert the truth, distort-smooth over--and explain away everything that comes in opposition to its selfishness and corruption. It would persuade us that virtue is vice, and that vice is virtue. It blinds the judgment, and hushes the cries of conscience by false coloring and misrepresentation. It clings willingly and tenaciously to every species of error, abomination, and skepticism. It is fully of hypocrisy and lies. It urges every petty prejudice with all the confidence of reasonable objection, and presents the most glaring sophistry with the uncompromising sternness of immuiable truth. Nor is there any doubt or infidelity so plausible, powerful, or difficult to be uprooted, as that which grows upon us out of the deep depravity of the heart. Low in the chambers of the soul stand the mightiest battlements of hell. It is there that Satan's fiercest enginery is played, and his deadliest arrows shot at our integrity. The beloved Dr. Payson has somewhere observed, “all the atheistical, deistical, and heretical objections which I meet with in books are childish babblings, compared with those which Satan suggests, and which he urges upon the mind with a force which seems irresisitble."
Hence, how pertinent and important is the apostolic injunction, Take heed. My brethren, ponder it well. Guard the operations of your souls, and suppress and repel the first risings of unbelief. Constantly keep a watchful eye upon your religious feelings, and
the manner in which you receive and hold Divine truth. Beware of giving room in your hearts to the first germs of doubt. In whatever form it presents itself, at once pronounce upon it your anathemas, and rush to the Rock of
defense. But the apostle further directs his readers to “exhort one another daily.” This mutual exhortation is to be regarded rather as a special, than as a general direction. Those to whom it was originally given were placed in very peculiar and critical circumstances. Their escape from the terrible judgment which was hastening on Jerusalem and the Jewish nation, was made to depend upon the most careful observance of certain foretold signs, and the most prompt action when these signs were once manifested. Hence it was highly important for them daily to exhort each other-converse freely upon the matters which then more particularly concerned them- endeavor to excite each other to vigilance and sobriety—and keep constantly before each other's minds the solemnity of the scenes through which they were about to pass.
But although this direction applied with special force to the Jews, it is not to be regarded as exclusively confined to them. It is full of wisdom in its application to all christian believers in all time and in all places. It becomes us also to “ exhort one another daily while it is called To-day, lest any be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” Not that it is the duty of each church-member to assume the responsibility of public exhortation. This is a duty which properly belongs to the ministry, and is justifiable in the laity only in rare cases of undoubted piety associated with at least a moderate share of intellectual cultivation. The direction refers more to that private watch and care which individual members should always exercise over each other. Not that one should set himself as the conscience-keeper of his brother; nor that we are to assume unto ourselves the censorship of each other's characters. This would be entirely contrary to the spirit of the text, as well as true christian forbearance. The meaning is, that intimate friends in the church should frequently commune together, in a fraternal manner admonish each other of their failings, and strive to aid each other toward heaven. And not only intimate friends. This matter is spoken of as a general duty devolving equally upon all. Such a tender and confidential connection is here pre-supposed in every church organization, as to render it no infringement upon the