Man is born in sin and in his heart goes astray from God from the very womb. His heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). God is not in all his thoughts and there is no fear of God before his eyes. All these things the Scriptures assert. Sin has stripped man of every vestige of desire and ability to seek, in any degree, the praise and honour of his Creator, and at heart he is full to overflowing with enmity and rebellion against the revealed Name and declared will of Him that is Most High. “The carnal mind is enmity against God” (Rom 8:7); and this is all exposed as man is portrayed in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and as his conduct is viewed from one generation to another in the light of these same Scriptures. By his wicked works, innumerable and diverse as they are, the godless, immoral and unspiritual condition of his heart is discovered and made manifest. As the Lord Jesus declares, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matt 15:19). And those who contend that there is any good thing in man, are still in spiritual darkness and “do greatly err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God.”
Yet however desperately wicked the heart of man is, the Lord, and He alone, can give a sinner a new heart, which He does in the case of all whom He hath loved with a sovereign and eternal love. As He says, “And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you: and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: that they may walk in My statutes, and keep Mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be My people, and I will be their God” (Ezek 11:19,20). This word “heart” in its particular meaning, of course, applies to the seat of the affections in man. Yet throughout the Scriptures it refers frequently to the whole soul and is also used by the Holy Spirit to denote the different faculties separately and distinctively as the case may be. For example, we read in Galatians 4:6: “God hath sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying Abba, Father.” Now this does not imply that God merely sent the Spirit into the affections of those who were the sons of God by adoption, but into the inner man of all the faculties of their souls. Then, on the other hand, we find that Paul in Romans, in dealing with the matter of the wilful ignorance of men with respect to God, writes: “their foolish heart was darkened” (Rom 1:21); that is, that the understanding was darkened. So that we see the term “heart” is used to denote any and every faculty and the whole soul as such, as the inspired writers were moved by the Holy Ghost. And thus when God gives a sinner a heart to know and love Him, He deals with the whole soul by the powerful and regenerating operations of the Holy Spirit, through His Word (law and gospel), and implants within that new heart, the religion that is from heaven, which is spiritual, saving, deep and enduring. “He that hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philip 1:6).
Now, on the memorable occasion of Pentecost, when Peter preached at Jerusalem and charged home upon his hearers the guilt of having crucilied Jesus, being imbued with power from on high in his ministrations, “when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” They were in their consciences brought in guilty before the bar of God and were at a loss what to do, to have the arrows of conviction from the Almighty removed from their hearts. And in the mercy of God, the continued work of the Holy Spirit through the law brings the sinner in his heart to die to any hope of salvation from sin by the deeds of the law, as the apostle says, “But when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died” (Rom 7:5). Yes, the sinner dies in his heart, in his soul’s experience to all hope in himself.
Then when God’s time of deliverance comes, and Christ Jesus in the glory of His righteousness and atoning death is made manifest by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God to the undone sinner, how does the helpless sinner attain unto an interest in Christ, deliverance from sin and condemnation and the possession of peace with God and life everlasting? We read, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8); and it is “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness” (Rom 10:10), and by that faith which cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Rom 10:17); which faith upon Christ Jesus is also of the operation of God – that is, wrought in and implanted within the heart by the work of God’s Spirit. This is indeed a divine and deep work in the soul which brings joy and peace in believing to the heart of the poor sinner.
Now such as are enabled to believe by the grace of God bestowed upon them, are led not only to look upon the Lord Jesus Christ whom they have pierced, but also to mourn for Him, to mourn after a godly manner over their sins laid upon Him and suffered for by Him. This is indeed a rending of the heart in spiritual grief towards God, “For godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation, not to be repented of” (2 Cor 7:10). And whatever fruits of necessity appear outwardly answerable to repentance, repentance has its seat in the heart, for “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise” (Ps 51:17). Then further, the Church says, “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19), and whatever degree of affection the saved sinner has for God, this has been shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost. Attachment to Christ, His Word and the things of His Kingdom is not in mere words, deeds and profession, but a gracious disposition of the heart which is the product of a divine work within. And further, what a blessed hope is begotten in the hearts of the subjects of grace – a “hope of the glory of God” grounded upon the one foundation laid in Zion, even Jesus Christ. And however weak and faint this hope may be at times through manifold temptations, yet it is implanted deep down within, and shall be a tree of life to them ultimately; for “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick, but when the desire cometh it is a tree of life.”
And what a world of spiritual activity goes on in that heart where true religion has been set up by the grace of God. There is a hungering and thirsting after righteousness; the Spirit maketh intercession there with groanings which cannot be uttered; there are longings for renewed views of the Redeemer; there is a cleaving to the Lord and the “words of eternal life”; there are the constant breathings of the soul in prayer and a constant sense of need and shame over sin, ignorance and unworthiness; there is the desire to meditate “on the law of God day and night,” and rejoicing of heart at tokens for good; there is the desire to praise the Lord for works of wonder done; and then, as Paul relates, there is a warfare within, “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 7:22-25).
Thus the religion of the true, living Christian is a religion pre-eminently of the heart, and will bear its own blessed fruit in the outward life and conduct in relation to God and man, “for by their fruits ye shall know them,” saith Jesus. And with all their imperfections, genuine believers have “oil in their lamps,” and the Lord who looketh upon the heart, knoweth them that are His. Now, if we profess to have spiritual heart religion, let us look well and seriously to the claim we make, in view of the eternal world and the judgment of the great day. “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 1:10,11).
[Editorial, Free Presbyterian Magazine, April 1953.]