How weak is your heart, said the LORD GOD, seeing you do all these things, the work of an imperious whorish woman;
Three great errors of the day will stand corrected if due attention be paid to our text.
I. THAT A MAN'S LIFE MAY BE IRREGULAR AND YET THE MAN'S HEART BE GOOD. Here is a man who has little or no sense of practical honesty. He thinks the very least of getting into debt without the slightest probability of ever being able to discharge his liabilities. He lives in a superior house, lives in luxury, his family dress well, give entertainments, etc. But they never trouble about paying anybody; they will fail and begin over again, that they may do the same trick. Now, people will say of such an one: "Yes, he is sadly wanting in prudence, in discretion, in management; but really, he is as generous, good-hearted a fellow as ever lived." But, in fact, he is nothing of the sort. Content to feed on the fruits of others' industry, he is essentially false and cruel. Another of these good-hearted fellows is the man who won't work. People say of him, "What a pity! He has a fine disposition, he ought to have been born a gentleman." The fact is, he has made a blackguard of himself, whatever he was born; he has not a fine disposition, but, a base disposition; he lacks all that independence, self-reliance, courage which are the very essence of noble character. Another of these deceivers is the specious fellow, wanting in social purity and honour. People will speak regretfully of the escapades, the gallantries, the scandals, of what are termed the gay Lotharios; but these scoundrels are chided as if their infidelities and libertinism were simply on the surface, and, despite their licence, they are reckoned as honest, kind men of the world. Not so. Such men are profoundly selfish, cowardly, bloodguilty. Or take many intemperate men. People say: "Fine fellow; only, his own enemy." But that will not do. Breaking the heart of his friends, killing his wife, reducing his family to shame and wretchedness, he is altogether destitute of the qualities of honourable men. Evil conduct may assume the aspect of innocence, gaiety, greatness, but analyse it and it shall be seen to be mean, base, low, cowardly, ignoble. How weak, corrupt, vile is thine heart, seeing thou doest all these things.
II. THAT A MAN'S LIFE MAY BE IRREGULAR AND YET THE MAN'S HEART BE STRONG. This is the second error to be corrected by our text. There is really weakness in all sin, most pitiful weakness no matter how cunningly it may simulate strength. Take a passionate man. He feels strong, he looks strong, his language is strong; but in truth he is weakness itself. No matter how in his wrath he affects the god, he is the mere sport of the wind. The very word "passion" signifies the passivity of the man — not that he is the actor, but that he is being acted upon. The calm, patient man is the strong man. Take the ambitious man. He seems strong-natured, strong-willed, but real strength is wanting. A man like Napoleon seems a very incarnation of strength, but the fretfulness displayed by him on the rock of exile betrayed his essential weakness. Take a discontented man. People are ready to think that the complainings of such are signs of a large, powerful genius which frets at narrow conditions; but it is not so. Emerson says: "Discontent is the infirmity of the will." And this view is fully borne out by Paul: "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content...I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." Contentment is a question of strength. Take a selfish man. He is restless, daring, aggressive, assertive, grasping, and may easily be accounted a man of superior force; but one of the greatest preachers of our age has just shown us that the mightiest of all energies is the energy of unselfishness. Take a man of great animal appetites and indulgences. He thinks himself a bold, strong man, and many are disposed to think this type manly; but that is not the view of the prophet: "How effeminate is thine heart, seeing thou doest all these things." Carlyle says truly: "Crabbedness, pride, obstinacy, affectation are at bottom want of strength." The revelation of divinest strength lies in overcoming wickedness, and he who is overcome by wickedness is in soul dyspeptic, paralysed, crippled, impotent.
III. THAT A MAN'S LIFE MAY BE IRREGULAR AND YET THE MAN'S HEART BE NEUTRAL. The third error corrected by the text. Without saying, perhaps, that a man who leads a bad life has a noble heart, or a strong one, many are prepared today to say that the man's heart has nothing to do with his conduct whatever. The fault is not in the thoughts, affections, will, at all. The source of man's conduct is boldly affirmed to be his organisation; the man has an inborn character from which he cannot escape, his general constitution determines his personal conduct. And the circumstances of the man complete the ring of necessity in which he moves. Now, in opposition to this, the text declares the heart to be originative, the prime source of mischief. The conduct of Israel in entering into alliances with Egypt and Babylon and Nineveh is not condoned on the ground of Israel occupying a peculiar geographical situation, which rendered such alliances politic and necessary in the view of worldly wisdom; nothing is said of the peculiar geographical position, but the conduct of Israel is referred at once to their lack of true faith, of noble will, of inward loyalty to their covenant-keeping God. So today God does not excuse our bad conduct on the grounds of the nature we inherit, or the events which influence us, but He attributes to the individual a full, solemn responsibility. It is false; we are not waifs and strays, the sport of winds and currents: we are ocean steamers throbbing with a mysterious independent energy; we can set winds and waves at defiance, we know in which direction lies our path, we can turn the helm whithersoever we list, and if we make shipwreck we are not blameless, as an empty bottle driven on this shore or that, but we are found guilty and condemned by God and man as men at the wheel are found disobedient, as captains are found asleep, as pilots are found drunk or presumptuous. The great need then is the renewal of the human heart. Society needs regeneration before it will permit any considerable reconstruction. Seek in the Church to strengthen the conscience, to purify the life — that is our first grand work. And as to the individual, the defects of our life must be cured in the defects of our spirit.
(W. L. Watkinson.)
Parallel VersesKJV: How weak is thine heart, saith the Lord GOD, seeing thou doest all these things, the work of an imperious whorish woman;