Take heed, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.
I. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN UNBELIEF, or what we are to understand by a heart of unbelief. It implies —
1. Ignorance. We mean not that which is occasioned by a deficiency of means, nor that which is owing to want of instruction in the doctrines of the gospel. That in view is, in Scripture, sometimes denominated blindness of heart. It is that gross darkness which hangs over the minds of those who are not united to Christ, by reason of which they do not spiritually understand the great truths which they notionally credit. One may have all knowledge and yet be deploratdly ignorant in a spiritual respect. Therefore the character of all unbelievers, the most knowing as well as the most ignorant, is that they know not God, and obey not the gospel.
2. The rejection of, or refusal of a proper assent to the testimony of God. Many pretend to assent to the Divine testimony who do it not in a right manner or on proper grounds. They believe the truth of Revelation, and of particular doctrines. But for what reasons? Their fathers had the same persuasion. These things are believed by the church of which they are members, and it requires the same of them. Or, perhaps, they find no sufficient reason for calling in question the proofs of the inspiration of Scripture which are ordinarily brought. But such an assent is not that which accompanies salvation. For this is founded on the authority of God impressed on the word and manifesting itself powerfully to the conscience and heart.
3. Obduracy. It is not only essential to saving faith that the understanding be supernaturally enlightened, but that the heart be graciously mollified. For "with the heart man believeth unto righteousness." This is the most secure fortress of unbelief. Though rational considerations and common operations may produce a great change in the understanding, conscience, and affections, yet these are only the outworks of the soul. The will, as to any saving change, remains absolutely impregnable till the Holy Spirit makes a breach in it by that fire, and by that "hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces."
4. A rejection of the person and mediation of Christ. This is the crowning point of unbelief in all. As it hath been often said that the formal act of faith consists in receiving Christ, it may be also asserted that the rejection of Him constitutes the formal act of unbelief. As submission to the righteousness of Christ is the greatest act of faith, the rejection of His righteousness is the greatest act of unbelief. This is sometimes done openly, as when the very profession of His name is treated with scorn. Others do it more secretly by maintaining a profession while they make it only a cloak for their sin. There is still a more secret way of rejecting Him. For many apprehend that they have given their hearts to Christ, while some hidden lust still keeps firm hold of them.
5. A refusal on the part of those who hear the gospel to believe the record of God with particular application to themselves.
6. Distrust of God in Christ. In faith there is a resting on Christ alone for salvation as well as a cordial reception of Him. But unbelief refuses this exercise. Faith depends on His righteousness as the only ground of justification before God, but unbelief either contemptuously rejects this, or vainly endeavours to join it with the works of the law, or refuses it under the pretence of personal unworthiness.
7. Disobedience. There is the greatest contumacy in unbelief. "This is the commandment of God, that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ." Now, unbelief spurns at this commandment and tramples it under foot. It denies salvation through free grace to be practicable, reasonable, or comfortable. It says in effect, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey Him?"All may be exhorted to try themselves, by what hath been now observed, that they may know whether they really believe in Christ, or continue under the power of unbelief?
1. Try your knowledge. If it be supernatural and saving you will be convinced of your natural ignorance and of your absolute need of Christ, as of God, made unto you of wisdom. It will warm your heart with love to the unseen Redeemer.
2. Try the nature of your assent to the Divine testimony. Do you assent to its truth just because of the authority of God manifested in it? Do you trust the promise just because you judge Him faithful who hath promised? This is the only true foundation of faith.
3. Hath the obduracy of your heart been broken? If this be the case, you have learned that it is naturally a stony heart. The remaining obduracy of your heart is your daily grief, and you are still claiming His promise, "A new heart will I give you."
4. Have you received the Saviour, or do you still reject Him? If the former, then you have received Him in all His offices — as a Prophet, Priest, and King.
5. Do you claim a particular and personal interest in God's promise, in Christ exhibited therein, and in all the blessings presented to you through Him? It is the attainment of true believers alone really to appropriate Christ to themselves.
6. Do you rely on God in Christ? If so, you despise every other confidence, and are fully satisfied that your own righteousness is only a refuge of lies, and your own strength absolute weakness.
7. If you be delivered from the power of that disobedience which is in unbelief, you will obey from the heart, and habitually delight in the ways of God. If you know the obedience of faith you will constantly aim at the obedience of holiness.
II. THE CAUSES OF THAT POSITIVE UNBELIEF WHICH CONSISTS IN A REJECTION OF THE SAVIOUR. The corruption of human nature is the primary cause of all the particular evils that prevail in the heart or life. To this polluted fountain all the streams of iniquity must be traced. It is the ocean of depravity in the heart that, by its swelling tides, fills so many distinct channels. All men are naturally disposed to reject the testimony of God because they ate born in sin. Therefore all without distinction are called children of disobedience, or of unbelief. There are several things within the sinner himself, and some also of an outward nature, that operate on his mind as causes of that unbelief which is called positive or acquired, or of the continuance and increase of the natural unbelief of the heart, especially as manifested in the rejection of salvation through Christ, to illustrate some of which is our present design. Amongst these arc —
1. Ignorance. This hath been already viewed as an ingredient in unbelief. But it may be also considered in the light of a cause. Acquired unbelief proceeds especially from wilful ignorance. Of this sin Peter accuses the hearers of the gospel, For this, he says, "they are willingly ignorant of." The same complaint is made by the Psalmist, "They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness."
2. The love of sin. This is naturally supreme in the heart. It must be so indeed, because sin reigns in us. It is impossible that a supreme love of sin and faith in the Saviour should subsist in the same heart, for where faith is it purifies the heart.
3. Attachment to the objects of sense. Man, even according to his original state, from the very frame of his nature, hath a great and intimate connection with these. But this is unspeakably augmented by sin. In the state of innocence the senses were subjected to reason, but now reason is subjected to them. Therefore the whole man, as unrenewed, is denominated from these. He is called the natural, animal, or sensual man.
4. Inconsideration and indifference about the grace exhibited in the gospel. It is given as the character of sinners that they turn back from God, and will not consider any of His ways. Men presumptuously give the sacrifice of fools because they consider not that they do evil.
5. The agency of Satan. He works on the root of unbelief in the heart, and prompts men actually to reject eternal life. Therefore, he is called the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience. He makes them view the concerns of eternity as of little moment compared with those of time, and so entangles their minds with the affairs of this life as to make them suspend all serious attention to those of that which is to come. He likewise represents sin as a small matter that they may give themselves no trouble about salvation.
6. The love of the world. The pleasures, riches, and honours of this world swell so much in the sinner's eye that he views all eternal objects in a diminished light; he considers them as of no consequence, as unworthy of his pursuit.
7. The fear of suffering. This hath o[ten proved a snare. We have frequently perceived its influence in preventing a confession of Christ, and where it continues to overpower the mind it as really prevents a genuine faith in Him.
8. Lastly, perhaps the most powerful cause of unbelief is the pride of man. This natural principle in its influence in the heart directly opposes faith. It discovers itself in a variety of ways. It appears as a pride of reason, of wisdom or learning, of will, of righteousness, and of strength. Are these, then, the causes of that unbelief which consists in a rejection of the Saviour? It must undoubtedly be your duty, depending on Divine grace, to give all diligence to counteract their operation.For this purpose —
1. Labour to attain a real acquaintance with the truths of God. While you are assiduous in acquiring a doctrinal knowledge of them let it be your special aim to know them experimentally and practically in their power on the heart and life.
2. Supplicate the power of Divine grace for destroying the reign of sin in your hearts. It is the work of the Spirit to accomplish this by creating you again in Christ Jesus.
3. Endeavour to get your hearts loosed from sensible objects. Consider their insignificance, and the unspeakable value of those that are spiritual.
4. Despise not the grace that is in your offer. To recommend it to your attention you are assured that it is abundant, for "where sin hath abounded, grace did much more abound." You know not how soon you may be deprived of the offer. Consider the danger of continuing to refuse it. There remaineth no more sacrifice for sin.
5. Beware of listening I o the suggestions of Satan. His name tells you what he is — an adversary. Be not ignorant of his devices. And this is his great device to keep men at a distance from Christ. Some he prevails with one way, some another. But whatever method he take, if he can effect this, his great object is gained. The more that Satan instigates you to reject Christ, the more earnest ought you to be to embrace Him, for he desires nothing so vehemently as to deprive God of His glory and you of salvation.
6. Pray for deliverance from this present evil world, from the love and from the fear of it. It does not merit your love, for it makes no worthy return. Why should you fear the world? It cannot really hurt you. The utmost it can do is to kill the body.
7. Be denied to yourselves. How dangerous is it for a professed disciple to deny his Master? But whence are any chargeable with this aggravated sin? It is just because they have not learned to deny themselves.
(John Jamieson, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.