Take heed, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.
I. Unbelief in the revelation of Jesus Christ is EVIL IN ITS NATURE. Unbelief is not a mere error in judgment; a mere miscalculation of the amount and force of testimony: — but a state of the heart involving disobedience to God; aversion to His truth. And is not the heart that is capable of all this, an "evil heart"; — a rebellious heart; — a hard, ungrateful heart? Yes, unbelief, so far from being no sin, or a small sin, is the radical principle, the most noxious element of all sin. And if all unbelief be thus evil, how pre-eminently evil is that unbelief which not only refuses to hear and to yield assent when God speaks, but which sets at naught such a message as the glorious gospel — a message of love and mercy, of peace and pardon and life.
II. Proceed to show that the heart-of unbelief is "an evil heart," by tracing this unhappy state of mind to some of its CHIEF CAUSES. That which is always and essentially evil in its NATURE cannot be imagined to have any other than an evil SOURCE.
1. And on this point the Word of god is clear and decisive. It uniformly traces unbelief, in all its forms, to a corrupt source. It represents it as generated and nourished by pride, by prejudice, by unhallowed appetite and passion, by corrupt habits of living, by a desire to be free from all the restraints which the faith of the gospel imposes. If the children of unbelief were really actuated by that spirit of candid inquiry; can it be imagined that their manner of investigating the religion of Jesus Christ could be such as it to commonly is? Can it be believed that levity, sneer, habitual ridicule, and profane scoffing become the discussion of matters so infinitely important?
2. The same charge of unhallowed origin is still further established against the spirit of unbelief, by the undoubted fact, that while its votaries are unceasing and ardent in their efforts to draw those around them from the religion of Christ; they discover no serious desire either to practise themselves, or to inculcate on others that which they profess to believe.
3. Again, the history of the rise and progress of many of the most common cases of infidelity, plainly demonstrates that its source, no less than its nature, is evil. Thousands of the young, as well as of the aged, have been, manifestly, drawn into infidelity by their evil passions and their vices.
III. No less evil are its EFFECTS. Our blessed Saviour has taught us to judge of all moral professions and claims by this test. "Therefore," said He, "by their fruits shall ye know them." With regard to the DOCTRINES which unbelief inculcates, they are, notoriously, as to the great mass of them, radically and essentially corrupt. It has, indeed, been often remarked, and with great justice, that INFIDELITY HAS NO PRINCIPLES. In truth, there was scarcely the smallest exaggeration in the charge of the satirist when he said that the sum of their creed is "to believe in all unbelief." Now, is it possible to conceive that such principles, or rather such absence of all principle, can tend to promote the order, purity, and happiness of society? As well might we dream of darkness begetting light, or of committing men to the school of Satan and his angels, to be trained up for the heavenly paradise. And as the speculative opinions of the votaries of unbelief are generally and essentially corrupt; so their practice has been, in all ages, worthy of their creed. Who, let me ask, ever since the religion of Jesus Christ has existed in the world, have been most conspicuous for the regularity, purity, and benevolence of their lives — infidels or Christians? That the effect of unbelief in revealed truth has ever been to generate moral corruption is attested by all history. Read, for example, the "Confessions of Rousseau," that wonderful monument of perverted genius, who undertook to paint his own likeness, and you will behold the portrait of one of the most polluted and miserable of men. Read what Voltaire and his royal patron and companion in unbelief, the Prussian monarch, say of each other, and you will find one of the most revolting and loathsome pictures of moral baseness ever presented by men claiming a decent place in society. But further; who, let me ask, have ever been found throughout Christendom most zealous and active in forming and executing plans for the benefit of mankind? What class, I say, have ever been found most ready for every such good work — infidels or Christians? On the other hand, by what class of persons are the great mass of the crimes which pollute and disturb society committed? They are infidels, either open or secret. Further, was it ever known that any son or daughter of Adam was reformed from a wicked life by embracing infidel opinions? But oh, how often has the dying culprit been heard to confess with anguish and tears that infidel sentiments led him astray; that the rejection of the Bible gradually led to profaneness, to intemperance, to lewdness, to fraud, to robbery, perhaps to murder, — and at length to the infamy of a felon's death 1 I am aware that it will be said by those who are determined to resist all evidence on this subject, that many professing Christians have been as immoral as other men. This is, no doubt, a fact; and yet it does not in the least degree weaken our argument, or militate against the doctrine of our text. On the contrary, it rather confirms every word which has been uttered. Were these persons real, or only nominal Christians? Nay, infidels themselves are witnesses that they were nominal Christians only. Why else have they, with few dissenting voices, acknowledged that the morality of the Bible is the best in the world? Practical inferences:
1. We may see the reason why Christian faith is so constantly in Scripture enjoined as a duty, and the absence of it condemned and threatened as a sin. The fact is — as you have heard — faith is so essentially connected with the state of the heart and the current of the affections; its very nature so inseparably involves moral feeling, practical choice, and the spirit of obedience; that where it is present it is the gem of all that is good in the soul; and where it is absent, there is the essence of rebellion.
2. We may learn how many and great are the evils which must necessarily flow from the decline and the weakness of faith in the real Christian. The "evil heart of unbelief" is not confined to that infidelity which is speculative and entire. It exists, and exerts a pestiferous influence, in the case of many a sincere believer. This is the worm at the root of all spiritual duty, prosperity, and comfort. In short, faith, among the Christian graces, is like the main-spring in a well-adjusted machine. Its character affects everything.
3. We may infer that infidelity is, in every respect, hostile to the best interests of civil society. An infidel people will ever be an immoral, profligate people; and a people characteristically immoral and profligate cannot long continue to be a free and happy people.
4. We are taught, by what has been said, that if we desire to bring our children and others committed to our care to the knowledge and love of the truth, we must not content ourselves with mere frigid instruction, with mere addresses to the intellectual powers. We must take measures to enlist the whole man in the great subject.
5. We may learn from this subject the reason why the great, the rich, the philosophical, and the honourable among men so seldom embrace the genuine gospel; and also why, when they do profess to embrace it, they so rarely appear to enter heartily and thoroughly into its spirit. The reason is — not that there is any deficiency of evidence in the gospel; the real and principal reason is, that men "cannot serve God and mammon."
6. We may see, in the light of this subject, the alarming situation Of infidels.
7. Finally, this subject teaches us the unspeakable importance of Christians showing forth their faith by their works. It was once said by a female martyr, of feeble body, but of firm and undaunted spirit — when standing before her merciless persecutors, who endeavoured to perplex and confound her by their learned subtleties — "I cannot meet you in argument for Christ, but I can die for Him." My dear fellow professors, we may not be called to " die for Christ"; but we can all live for Him.
(S. Miller, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.