The Central Principle in Man
Jeremiah 17:9
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

Few men are acquainted with themselves. With the principles of commerce, political economy, scientific investigation, classical criticism, theologic research, ecclesiastical history, they are more familiar than with the secrets of their own nature, and features and motives of their own character. The source of every evil, the secret of all felicity, is not touched until the heart is reached and scrutinised.


1. It distorts the character of God. "God is merciful" — often a plea for continuance in sin.

2. It misrepresents the means of human felicity. Young persons flatter themselves that they have but to drink fully of the cup of earthly pleasure to be really happy. No greater mistake. Others seek it in the acquisition of wealth, settling it in their mind that he who has most gold has most happiness.

3. It perverts the way of salvation. Rites, penances, frames, and conditions are piled up until the Saviour is either hid or barely seen.

4. It misrepresents the nature and excellence of true religion. Does religion include humbleness of mind? The deceitful heart declares that it is "a silly weakness." Does religion include meekness of disposition? The deceitful heart stigmatises it as foolish fastidiousness. A spirit of forgiveness is despised as unmanly. Tenderness of conscience is condemned as ridiculous precision. Spirituality of mind is designated canting hypocrisy, and purity of heart and life a thing impossible.

5. It disguises the true character of sin. "Vice is first pleasing, then delightful, then frequent, then habitual, then confirmed; then the sinner is independent, then obstinate, then he resolves never to repent; then he dies, then he is damned."

6. It deceives itself and endeavours to deceive God (Malachi 1:14).

7. It surpasses in treachery everything else. The mossy swards, the ocean, the desert mirage, the morning bright with sunshine, are all deceitful; but not more so than the human heart. Inconstant as the wind, uncertain as riches, ever betraying and betrayed, who would trust it?


1. Its corruption is desperate. "Wicked to desperation." Hence the deeds of violence and despair which prevail.

2. Its corruption is unsearchable. "Who can know it?" Think of Pharaoh insolently rejecting the commands of Jehovah, in spite of plagues and pestilence. Think of Manasseh, Saul, and Peter boasting, then denying his Saviour with oaths and curses. Learn —

1. The necessity of regeneration. Nothing but "a new heart" will meet the requirements of the case, Hence David: "Create in me a clean heart, O God." Hence the promise in Ezekiel: "A new heart will I give unto you."

2. The necessity for self-distrust. "He that trusteth his own heart is a fool." Treat it as you would a man who had deceived you in every possible way. Always act upon the supposition that it is concealing something wrong. "Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life."

(W. H. Booth.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

WEB: The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it?

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