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IT IS THE DUTY OF SINNERS TO MAKE THEM A
EZEKIEL xviii, 31.
THE Jews were now under the correcting hand of God in Babylon; but instead of accepting the punishment of their iniquities and ascribing righteousness to their Maker, they bitterly complained of the severity and injustice of his conduct. They said, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge.” God knew they meant to insinuate, that he was punishing them, not for their own sins, but for the sins of their fathers, which he solemnly declares to be a false and absurd insinuation. “As I live, saith the Lord, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son, is mine; the soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son.” But still they objected, “the way of the Lord is not equal." God now appealed from their reason to their conscience, and demanded, “O house of Israel, are not my ways equal? Are not your ways unequal? Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord God: Repent and turn yourselves from all your transgressions, so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions whereby ye have transgressed, and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” Here sinners are expressly required
to make them a new heart, as well as to repent and turn from all iniquity. The plain and important truth, therefore, which properly falls under our present consideration, is this:
It is the duty of sinners to make them a new heart.
The nature of this subject requires a careful and candid attention; especially the two first branches of it, upon which a clear understanding of the whole depends. For if we can ascertain what a new heart is, and what it is to make a new heart, the proof of the doctrine will be easy, and the whole discourse plain and intelligible to every capacity.
1. Let us consider what a new heart is.
Though a new heart be a Scripture phrase and in common use, yet different men attach very different ideas to it; and for this reason I shall proceed gradual. ly in explaining it, and observe some things which it cannot mean.
There is no ground to suppose, that it means any new natural power or faculty of the soul, which is necessary to render sinners capable of understanding and doing their duty. They are as completely moral agents as saints, and as completely capable, in point of natural ability, of understanding and obeying the will of God. He knew that those whom he addressed in the text, and required to make them a new heart, were possessed of reason, conscience, and every other natural faculty of the mind, and upon this ground alone, made that solemn appeal to them in a preceding verse, “ Are not my ways equal? are not your ways unequal?” Since God appeals to sinners as moral agents, we can
not suppose, that the new heart, which he requires them to make, is any natural power or faculty of mind, which they do not need, and which, if they did need, they could be under no obligation to obtain.
Nor can a new heart mean any new natural appetite, instinct, or passion. Whatever belongs to our mere animal nature, belongs to sinners as well as to saints. And when sinners become saints, they experience no change in their natural appetites, or animal propensities; but a new heart commonly serves to weaken and restrain, instead of increasing or strengthening such sensibilities as are destitute of every moral quality.
Nor can a new heart mean any dormant, inactive principle in the mind, which is often supposed to be the foundation of all virtuous or holy exercises. Such a principle appears to be a mere creature of the imagination; but supposing it really exists, what valuable purpose can it serve? Can a dormant principle, which is destitute of all perception and sensibility, produce love, penitence, faith, hope, joy, and the whole train of christian graces? We may as easily conceive, that all holy affections should spring from that piece of flesh, which is literally called the heart; as to conceive, that they should spring from any principle devoid of activity. A new heart, therefore, cannot mean a new prin ciple, taste, relish, or disposition, which is prior to, or the foundation of, all holy affections or gracious exercises.
This leads me to say positively, that a new heart consists in gracious exercises themselves; which are called new, because they never existed in the sinner, before he became a new creature, or turned from sin to holiness. This will appear to be a just and scriptural
explanation of a new heart, from various considerations.
In the first place, the new heart must be something which is morally good, and directly opposite to the old heart, which is morally evil. But there is nothing belonging to the mind, which is either morally good, or morally evil, which does not consist in free, voluntary exercises. Supposing there is a dormant principle in the soul, which lies at the bottom of all voluntary exercises, yet so long as it lies dormant and inactive, there can be no moral quality belonging to it. And, indeed, if it should really produce moral exercises, still all moral good or evil would lie in the exercises themselves, and not in the principle. There can be no moral good or moral evil in any thing belonging to the mind, which has no perception and activity. Accordingly, we never praise or blame any person for any property he possesses, or any motive he puts forth, or any thing in him or about him, in which he is totally inactive and involuntary. The new heart, therefore, which must be allowed to be morally good, must consist in free, holy, voluntary exercises, and not in any thing whatever, which is supposed to be prior to them, or the foundation of them.
This will further appear, if we consider, in the next place, that the divine law requires nothing but love, which is a free, voluntary exercise. The first and great cont mandment requires us to love God with all our heart; and the second commandment requires us to love our neighbour as ourselves. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. God requires love, and nothing but love, in every precept or prohibition he has given us in his word. But we know, that love is a free, voluntary exercise, and not any taste, habit, or principle, which is totally inactive and involuntary. It is absurd to suppose, that God should require any thing of us, in which we are altogether passive, because this would be to require us to do nothing. Hence the new heart required in the text, must consist in activity, or the free, voluntary exercise of true benevolence, which comprises every holy and virtuous affection.
And this, I would further observe, is agreeable to the experience of all who repent, and turn from their transgressions, and make them a new heart and a new spirit. The change which they experience is merely a moral change. They find no alteration in their intellectual powers or speculative knowledge, but only in their moral exercises. They are sensible, that old things are passed away, and all things become new in their affections. They exercise such love to God, such hatred of sin, such faith in Christ, and such delight in the duties of devotion, as they never exercised before. Thus it appears from the united evidence of reason, scripture, and experience, that a new heart consists in nothing but new, holy, voluntary exercises of the mind. If this be a just explanation of a new heart, it will be easy to see,
II. What it is to make a new heart,
If a new heart consisted in a new principle or natural faculty, it would be difficult to see how a sinner could make him a new heart, without exerting almighty power, or performing an act of creation, which is ab. solutely impossible. But if, as we have seen, a new heart wholly consists in new holy affections, then all the sinner has to do to make him a new heart, is to exercise benevolence instead of selfishness, or to put forth holy instead of unholy exercises. The precept in the text which requires sinners to make them a new heart, means no more nor less than their turning from