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GIVING THE HEART TO GOD A REASONABLE DUTY.
My son, give me thine heart. —- PROVERBS, xxiii. 26
MANKIND are reasonable creatures, and the religion which God enjoins upon them, is a reasonable service. But yet it has always been found extremely difficult to reason with men upon religious subjects. Solomon was the wisest of men, and understood religion, as well any other art or science. And in the latter part of his life, after he had thoroughly investigated the laws of nature, and examined the principles and practices of mankind, he turned preacher; and no mere man ever preached better upon the subjects which he handled. But though his observations were very weighty, though his illustrations were very striking, and though his words were wisely chosen, and, like goads, extremely pointed, yet it does not appear that they very often produced any genuine convictions, or saving effects. There was the same difficulty then that there is now, in reasoning upon that religion which God requires, and which is altogether disagreeable to every natural heart. Were it not for the moral depravity of human nature, it would be as easy to convince men that they ought to love God, as it is to convince them that a child ought to love his parent, or that a servant ought to love his master. But so long as the carnal mind remains, which is enmity against God, it is extremely difficult to convey light and conviction to the understandings and consciences of sinners, upon the disagreeable subject of religion. This is the principal difficulty in the way of making every one feel his obligation to obey the precept in the text, “ My son, give me thine heart.” God here speaks, with paternal affection VOL. V.
and authority, to every one of his undutiful and disobedient children ; and they are all under indispensable obligations to hear and obey his voice. It is, therefore, proposed,
I. To explain the precept in the text; and,
1. The first thing to be considered is the import, or proper meaning of giving the heart to God.
1. This implies the exercising of love to God. To love, and to give the heart, signify the same thing. No man is ever said to give his heart to any object, without loving that object. Men may attend to a thousand things, converse about them, and reason upon them, without loving them, or giving their heart to them. But when they love any object, they may then be said to give their heart to it. Men may believe the being of God, and see the displays of his perfections in his word and providence, while they exercise no love to him, but withhold their hearts from him. So our Lord teaches : “ This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” As not giving the heart to God is not loving him, so giving the heart to God must mean actually loving him.
2. Giving the heart to God implies not only loving him, but loving him for what he is in himself. Men may love God for his favors, without loving his true character. The Israelites loved God for opening a passage through the Red Sea and delivering them from the enemies that pursued them; while they were real enemies to his amiable character and glorious designs. Satan supposed that Job might have loved God for the smiles of his providence, while he had a heart to curse him for his frowns. Our Lord reproved those who loved him for the loaves and fishes, but hated his character and doctrines. It is as common now, as ever it was, to love God and Christ from mercenary motives; but this is not truly giving the heart to our Creator and Redeemer. For mercenary love always terminates upon the good bestowed, or expected; and not upon the bestower. God is never truly loved, but only when he is loved for what he is in himself. True love to God terminates upon his truly amiable and excellent character. It is natural for sinners to love those who love them. And whenever they imagine that God loves them and intends to save them, it is as natural for them to love him, as to love any other supposed benefactor. But this is really loving themselves, and not God; and is actually keeping their hearts to themselves, instead of giving them to bim. Therefore it is necessary to observe,
3. That giving the heart to God implies loving him supremely. The expression, “ to give God the heart," naturally denotes supreme affection. It has this meaning when applied to inferior objects. When Judah pleaded for the return of Benjamin, he told Joseph that his father loved Benjamin ; and to express the strength of his affection for him, he subjoined that his “father's life was bound up in the life of the lad." To express strong and supreme affection in a parent towards a child, it is common to say that his heart is bound up in that child. Though mankind may sincerely and properly love one another without loving one another supremely, yet they cannot love God properly and sincerely without loving him supremely. To love God for what he is in himself, necessarily implies love ing him above all other objects. He is the Supreme Being; he possesses supreme natural and moral excellences; and 10 love him for these, is to love him supremely. A man may love God for his favors, while he loves himself and other objects more than God; but he cannot love God for his superlative moral excellence, while he loves himself, or any other object, more than his Creator. The scripture always represents true love to God as supreme. God says to every man,
« Thou shalt have no other gods before me;" which is virtually saying, Thou shalt suffer no object, but myself, to take the supreme place in thy heart. The first and great command to every man is, “ Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart;" which is tantamount to saying, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God supremely. The divine Saviour requires supreme love to himself. “ He that loveth father or mother more than me, and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me.” And the apostle John represents true love to God as supreme. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world: If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." His obvious meaning is, that there can be no true love to God, but what is supreme. If we admit scripture to explain scripture, we must conclude that the command in the text requires supreme love to God. To give God the heart cannot signify any thing less than loving him, and loving him supremely for what he is in himself. The paternal precept in the text, “ My son, give me thine heart," requires all the children of men to love God with a sincere, constant and supreme affection. I now proceed to show,
II. The reasonableness of complying with this divine injunction. Here let us consider,
1. That we are the offspring of God. He hath made us and not we ourselves. He is the Father of our spirits, and the former of our bodies. He hath made us wiser than the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven. His inspiration has given us understanding. We have derived all our rational and immortal powers from him; and by his constant visitation we are preserved in existence. There is no other being on whom we are so absolutely dependent; and there is no other being who has such an absolute propriety in us. These are plain and obvious reasons for his requiring, and for our giving him, our hearts. He says, “ If I be a Father, where is mine honor? and if I be a Master, where is my fear?” If he be our kind and almighty Father, we ought to feel like children towards him, and give him the supreme affection of our hearts. We esteem our existence as infinitely valuable. We would not exchange our rational and immortal spirits for the whole material creation. But whatever we have, that is rational, that is immortal, that is either naturally or morally excellent, we have received from him. Indeed, we have nothing, but what we have received from him. Our capacity of knowing his existence, of discerning his moral excellence, and of loving his great and amiable character, we have received from him; yea, our capacity of loving and enjoying any thing, we have received from his infinite fulness. Nothing, therefore, can be more reasonable in the nature of things, than to love our Maker in whom we live, and move, and have our being, with supreme affection.
2. God is in himself infinitely worthy of the supreme love of all mankind. He is possessed of every great and amiable attribute. He is self existent and independent. He has always existed, and will always exist. His power is unlimited, and he can do every thing that can be done. He has made, and constantly upholds all things, by the word of his power. The heavens, and the earth, and the whole creation, are lighter in his hands than a feather in ours. His understanding is infinite, and surveys all things in all their relations and connections, constantly and perfectly. His presence surrounds all creatures, and fills all places. He is an absolute Sovereign, whose hand none can stay, and whose will none can control. He is infinitely greater than any and all created intelligences. All his creatures are as nothing, and less than nothing and vanity, in comparison with his unlimited and immense existence. These natural perfections of God are inseparably connected with his pure and universal benevolence. God is love. He regards all his creatures from the highest to the lowest, with a tender and benevolent heart. He is good unto all, and his tender mercies are over all his works. His love is entirely disinterested, and never degenerates into partiality, injustice, malevolence, or any other unholy affection. The most discerning eyes of men and of angels never have discovered, and never will discover the least deformity, or imperfection in his moral character. Our Father who is in heaven, is supremely excellent in all his natural and moral attributes. It is therefore in the highest degree reasonable, that we should give him the supreme place in our hearts. The intrinsic and supreme excellence of the moral character of God, is the highest possible reason why we should love him supremely.
3. The conduct, as well as the character of God, renders it altogether reasonable that we should give him our hearts. He has done more for us than for any other of his rational creatures. He has exercised his absolute sovereignty in mercy to his sinful and ill deserving creatures on earth. Here he has done his most marvellous works and bestowed his most rich and distinguishing favors. For he has given his Son to die, to redeem us from the wrath to come. To the meanest and vilest of mankind, he has made the gracious offer of eternal life. Some of his most inveterate enemies he has turned into friends, and made them meet for the inheritance of the saints in light. And he is still carrying on his great and merciful design of redeeming love, from day to day, as well as from age to age, and bringing home many sons to glory. The operations of his grace towards the sinful children of men, excite the admiration and joy of all the heavenly hosts. How reasonable it is, then, that we should give our hearts to God, who has set his heart upon us, and done as much as it is morally possible for him to do for our everlasting good. God loves our world, and is constantly displaying the wonders of his grace before our eyes. We have, therefore, not only the strongest, but the most distinguishing and endearing reasons for loving him supremely and ardently.
4. It is reasonable that men should give God the supreme affection of their hearts, because this will afford them the highest happiness that they are capable of enjoying. All permanent happiness flows from love. None can enjoy true happiness without placing their supreme affections upon some agreeable object; and that object which stands highest in their affections must afford them their highest felicity. Those who love the world supremely, derive their highest happiness from the world. This is evident from universal observation. How often do we see worldly minded men become immediately wretched, by losing the things of the world which they once loved and possessed. Rational creatures always find their highest happiness in the object in which their hearts are bound up. The natural and irresistible conclusion is, that men must give their hearts to God, the greatest and best of beings, in order to enjoy the highest happiness. So long as their affections are alienated from him, a realizing sense of his character