HARDENING THE HEART
Delivered on Sunday evening, December 1, 1850,
BY THE REV. C. G. FINNEY,
(of Oberlin College, United States.)
at the Tabernacle, Moorfields, London.
"Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To-day, after so long a time; as it is said, To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts." Heb. iv. 7.
This reference to David relates to the ninety-fifth Psalm, from which these words were quoted. The apostle was addressing the Israelites, and, in this connexion, was speaking to them of the manner in which their forefathers tempted God in the wilderness, the result of which was that they were not suffered to enter into the promised land. In warning the Israelites against unbelief, he says to them, "To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts."
I. I shall inquire into the meaning of the word "heart," as here used.
This term, like many others in the Bible, and in common language, is employed in a variety of senses. Here, however, it manifestly means the "will." To harden the heart, in the sense in which the phrase is here understood, is doubtless to gather up the energies of the will, and to resist, to become stubborn, and obstinate. When the Bible commands or exhorts people not to harden their hearts, it is equivalent to saying, "Do not resist and strengthen yourselves against the voice of God. Do not become stubborn and rebellious, and set yourselves against the voice of mercy; but, to-day, after so long a time; if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts." That is, if you are inclined to listen to what he says, you are not to harden your hearts and become stubborn.
Parents sometimes have the mortification of seeing their own children become stubborn against parental authority, and of seeing their requirements resisted, and their counsels set at nought. Parents often see children, when they undertake to press them to do anything, instead of obeying, wax stubborn and rebellious. They stand and resist, and manifest a cool determination to persevere in their disobedience; to persist in resisting the claims of their parents; and, so far as the philosophy of the act is concerned, resistance to God is just the same. The mental process is precisely similar. The mind resisting truth "is hardening the heart," in the sense of the text. I shall next inquire
II. How is it that sinners do harden their hearts?
How do they do this? And here let me say, that when individuals resist the truth -- when they resist its authority when it is presented to them -- they have to make some apology for their conduct. The natural tendency of the truth, when it is presented to the mind, is to convince it -- to beget a choice -- to lead the individual to yield himself up to its influence. The mind and truth sustain such relations to each other, that the former is naturally and necessarily influenced by the latter; and unless the individual resists the truth, its natural tendency is, as I have said, to lead the will into a state of obedience to it.
When persons harden their hearts, there must be some reason for their doing so. Take the case of the Jews, -- the apostle called on them not to harden their hearts. He knew they were in danger in doing so. He knew their prejudices of education, their Jewish notions, and peculiar views of things. He knew the course they had taken with Christ previous to his crucifixion, and now he had been crucified, had risen from the dead, and was proclaimed to the world as a risen Saviour -- he was writing this epistle to the Jews, and therefore reverts to a passage of their former national history. He calls their particular attention to it; and when he had strongly fixed their minds upon the course their fathers pursued, and its results -- knowing well to whom he was addressing himself, being well versed, as I have said, in the prejudices against Christ -- knowing their self-righteous spirit, and that they were prepared to resist Christ -- knowing all these things, he warns them solemnly not to harden their hearts. It is easy to see that they could assign themselves multitudes of reasons for resistance. He knew that they were in error -- and in great error -- on the subject of religion, and therefore he called on them not to harden themselves -- not to betake themselves to their prejudices -- not to fly to their Jewish errors and peculiar notions, and to strengthen themselves in opposition to the truth.
This leads me to say that persons are very much in danger of hardening themselves, by holding fast to some erroneous opinion or improper practice to which they are committed. All their prejudices are in favor of it, and they are very jealous lest anything should disturb it. They hold on to some particular error, and whenever they are pressed to yield to the claims of God, unless it is done in a peculiar way, so as to be consistent with their prejudices, they are apt to rise up and strengthen themselves against it. What danger such persons are in of assigning to themselves, as a reason for resisting the truth, that it clashes with some of their favorite notions! When they see its practical results contradict some pet theory of theirs, they will strengthen themselves against it.
I recollect an instance of this kind. One evening, in the city of New York, I found among the inquirers a very anxious lady, who was exceedingly convicted of her sins, and pressed her strongly to submit to God. "Ah!" she said, "if I were sure I am in the right church, I would." "The right church!" said I, "I care not what church you are in, if you will only submit yourself to Christ." "But," she replied, "I am not in the Catholic Church, I am not in the right church; if I were, I would yield." So that her anxiety about the "right church" prevented her yielding at all, and she continued to harden her heart against Christ. This is often the case whether persons are Catholics, or whatever they are; when pressed strongly to submit, they flee to some prejudice, and immediately hide themselves behind it; and although they cannot deny the truth of what they resist, still there is some error or prejudice to which they betake themselves by way of present resistance to the truth that is pressing their consciences.
Others harden themselves by indulging in a spirit of procrastination. "I will follow thee," is their language, "but not now." They say, "I intend to be religious," but when God presses them to yield, they are not quite ready. They say, "This is not exactly the time," assigning to themselves some reason for present delay in order to harden themselves. They have something, perhaps, in hand, which must be attended to first. Do let me ask you, now, how many times some of you, when thus pressed to yield at once to Christ, have urged some such reason as this for your delay?
Why are you not Christians? Is it because your attention has never been called to the subject? Is it because you never intend to be Christians? No! Well, what is the matter with you? How is it that you have always succeeded in assigning to yourself a reason for a present delay? One time, you have one reason; at another, another; and you have, in fact, as many reasons as occasions, and they come up whenever you have been pressed immediately to surrender your heart to God. Now, I ask you if this is not true? I ask you if you do not know that it is true, as well as you know that you exist?
I remark again, that many persons strengthen themselves and harden their hearts by refusing, wherever they can refuse, to be convicted of their sins. They have a multitude of ways of avoiding the point, and force away the truth, and hardening themselves against it. Take care, for instance, of the practice of excusing sin. The veriest sinner in the world will make some excuse for what he is doing; and at least it suffices to satisfy himself. It is exceedingly difficult to convince a man against his will; it is remarkable to see how a man will evade conviction. Go to the slaveholder, for instance, and how many excuses he will make! How many things he will conjure up! Sometimes he will even flee to the Bible to defend himself; at other times, he will excuse himself by saying that he knows not what to do with his slaves -- that the laws of his State forbid him to emancipate them. You may press him on every point -- you may reason with him again and again, but all to no purpose. Men often excuse and defend their sins in this way; and sometimes they actually deny that they are sins at all, when they come to be pressed to give them up; but the apologies they make are such as God will never receive, although they suffice, at present, to delude themselves.
But again: Another way in which men harden themselves is, that they are unwilling to come and do what is implied in becoming Christians. They reason thus within themselves: -- "I must give up such and such things, if I become a Christian I must do thus and thus." They consider that they must make a profession of religion, and that, therefore, the eyes of the world will be thenceforth upon them; they see that they must consequently be careful how they conduct themselves. They cannot go to such and such places of amusement; they must discontinue such and such things they have been in the habit of doing, and which are now so dear to them. This is how they reason; they begin to count the cost. But a short time since, I was pressing an individual to yield up certain forms of sin of which I knew him to be guilty. "Ah," said he, "if I begin to yield this and that, where will it all end? I must be consistent," said he, "and where shall I stop?" Where should he "stop?" It was clear that the cost was too great, and that he was therefore disposed to harden himself and resist God's claims, because he considered God required too much. If he were going to become a Christian, he knew that, to do his duty, he must give up sin as sin, and that it would cost him the sacrifice of his many idols. This is a very common practice. If you ask persons, in a general way, they are willing to be Christians; but "what will be expected of them?" Ah! that is quite a different thing! If you tell them what it really is to be a Christian, that is quite another thing. Now you have set them to count the cost, and they find it will involve too great a sacrifice. They are wholly unwilling to renounce themselves and their idols; and accordingly they betake themselves to hardening their hearts, and strengthening themselves in unbelief.
I will cite the case just referred to for a moment. The conversation respected, at that time, a particular form of sin. Now, why did he not yield at once? Why did he not instantly say, "I will give it up. I know it is wrong and inconsistent with love to God, and I will therefore renounce it." But instead of this, he saw that the principle on which he yielded this point would compel him to give up others; and therefore, he said, "if I begin this, where shall I stop?" He gathered up all the reasons he could, and strengthened himself in his position. Thus he was hardening his heart; this was just what the Jews did when Christ preached.
Thus it is men perceive that it will call upon them to humble themselves before God, and make restitution where they have been fraudulent in their dealings; they see that to become Christians, implies that they undo, as far as it lies in their power, the wrong they may have committed, and become honest men. They see that multitudes of things are implied in listening to the voice of God, and becoming followers of Jesus Christ, and this causes them to surround themselves with considerations to sustain them in their unbelief and resistance to the authority of God. I might mention a great many other particulars under this head; I shall not, however, at present, do so, but in a few words show,
III. Why men should not harden their hearts in this way.
Perhaps the first thing that I shall notice will startle some of you. It is this; you should not harden your hearts, "because, if you do not do so, you will be converted."
I have already said, that truth is so related to the mind, and the mind to truth, that when the mind perceives truth, with its practical bearing, this relation acts as a powerful impulse to the mind, tending strongly to induce it to yield and conform; it is a natural stimulus to the mind, prompting it to act in a given direction. To be sure, it can be resisted; and it is this resistance that God exhorts you to avoid, you are to let the truth take effect.
You recollect, perhaps, some of you, that the apostle says -- I believe it is in the Epistle to the Romans -- however, in the particular passage to which I was going to refer, God denounces those who restrain the truth, and go on in unrighteousness; that is, those who hold it back, and prevent it from influencing their mind. This is the way the heart is hardened, by refusing to yield to the truth, withholding the mind from going out in obedience to it.
Now, observe, beloved, that if the truth is but yielded to, this is conversion itself. Conversion is the act of the mind in turning from error, selfishness, and sin, and yielding to the claims, and obeying the commands of the Almighty. This is conversion.
Now, as I said, the natural tendency of the truth is to stimulate the mind to embrace and obey it. God has so constituted the mind, that, as everybody knows, truth is a most powerful stimulant, which invites and draws the mind in a given direction: Truth induces it to act in conformity with its dictates. Now, to do this, to obey the truth, that is conversion. If you do not obey it, it is because you harden yourself against it, and resist its influences; for it is an utter impossibility to be indifferent to the presentation of truth, and especially is it utterly impossible to maintain a blank indifference to the presentation of the great practical truths of Christianity. They are not mere abstractions, in which the mind sees no practical bearing, but they are realities of such a nature that the mind must either resist them or suffer them to guide it.
The apostle knew that if they did not harden themselves, they must surely be converted.
Another reason why you should not harden your hearts, is, that you will not be converted if you do. In other words, if you resist the Spirit, God never forces you against your will. If he cannot persuade you to embrace the truth, he cannot save you by a physical act of omnipotence, as, for instance, he could create a world. You are a free moral agent, and he can save you only in his own way. In other words, if he cannot gain your own consent to be saved in his own way, he cannot possibly save you at all. If you wish him to save you by moving your will, as I would move this lamp --[ Mr. Finney here moved the branch of one of the pulpit lamps to and fro]-- I say, if he is to save you as I move this lamp, he will not do it. It is not a physical operation that can make you willing; that is not the way in which the will is controlled. He must have your consent; and when he sends his ministers to reason with you, -- when his Spirit strives with you, -- he strives to gain your free consent; hence he says, "To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts." If conversion were a mere act of the physical omnipotence of God, he would not exhort you not to harden your hearts; for how could you harden your hearts against, and resist a physical almightiness?
Men who have this conception scoff at the idea of the sinner's hardening himself against God. Persons who talk thus, of course, assume that conversion does consist in an act of omnipotence; they seem unable to comprehend that conversion consists in God's securing your own consent, and that is all. Did you ever consider this, dying sinner? Did you ever reflect on the fact, that all that is necessary, is, to give your consent to be saved? You fancy you are willing; but the fact is, that your obstinacy is the only real difficulty to be overcome -- to get you to yield yourself up to God's claims. It is easy for you to see, that if you harden your heart, and surround yourself with prejudices, gather all your energies up to resist, -- if you do this, it is easy for you to see that you can only expect to remain unconverted -- to live, and die, and perish in your sins! While you harden yourself, it is impossible that you should be converted, for conversion is the very opposite of this resistance -- it is the yielding yourself up; the claims of God.
Another reason why you should not harden your hearts, is, that you may be given up! God may give you up to the hardness of your hearts. The Bible shows that this is not uncommon. Whole generations of the Jews were thus given up. You may be, and there is considerable danger; the same God of mercy that now governs the world gave up whole generations in that comparatively dark generation; and if so, what reason have we to suppose that he will not do so with you? God, under the Gospel, is not more merciful than he was under the law -- he is the same God. Some think there is not so much danger of this now; but the fact is, there is more, because there is more light. He gives them up because they resist the light of the truth with regard to his claims. I beg of you to consider this.
IV. We Shall Inquire, Whose "voice" is here referred to?
Is it the voice of a tyrant, who comes out with his omnipotent arm to crush you? "If you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts." Whose voice is it? In the first place, it is the voice of God; but, more than this, it is the voice of your Father! But is it the voice of your Father, with the rod of correction pursuing you, to subdue you by force? Oh, no! it is the voice of his mercy -- of his deepest compassion. Hear what he says: "Ephraim, my dear son; Ephraim, my pleasant child;" for although he spake against him, yet did he "earnestly remember him still." Like a father who has almost made up his mind to abandon a disobedient and cruel child, whose misconduct he could not endure, and whom he found it impossible to reform. All the father works up in him at the remembrance of that child; the parental heart yearned over him. "I have spoken against him, yet do I earnestly remember him still."
Just so God addresses you. He "earnestly remembers" you. He offers to forgive you. He says, "after so long a time." How long a time? How old are you? How many long years has God waited for you? Just number them up -- some of you, perhaps, eighteen, twenty, twenty-five, thirty. How many years have you refused to hear the voice of your Father, your Saviour; the voice of mercy, the voice of invitation, the voice of promise, the voice of expostulation, and even of entreaty? By his providence, the work of the Spirit, the words of the inspired volume, the ministrations of his servants -- in how many ways has this voice reached you? And now he says, "after so long a time!"
A few further remarks must close what I have to say; and the first remark is this: persons often mistake the true nature of hardness of heart. Supposing it to be involuntary, they lament it as a misfortune, rather than regret it as a crime. They suppose that the state of apathy which results from the resistance of their will, is hardness of heart. It is true that the mind apologies to itself for resistance to the claims of God, and, as a natural consequence, there is very little feeling in the mind, because it is under the necessity of making such a use of its powers as to cause great destitution of feeling. This is hardening the heart -- that act of the mind in resisting the claims of God. For persons to excuse themselves by complaining that their hearts are hard, is only to add insult to injury. They resist God's claims, and then complain of the hardness this resistance induces; they harden themselves in the ways we have stated, rendering themselves obstinate against God, and then they complain of the results of their own actions. Now, is this the way?
I remark, once more, it is worthy of notice that the claims, commands, promises, and invitations of God are all in the present tense. Turn to the Bible, and from end to end you will find it is, "To-day" if ye will hear his voice. "Now" is the accepted time. God says nothing of to-morrow; he does not even guarantee that we shall live till then. It is "to-day," after so long a time, harden not your hearts."
Again: The plea of inability is one of the most paltry, abusive, and blasphemous of all. What! Are men not able to refrain from hardening themselves? I have already said, and you all know, that it is the nature of truth to influence the mind when it receives it; and, when the Spirit does convert a man, it is by so presenting the truth as to gain his consent. Now, if there was not something in the truth itself adapted to influence the mind, he might continue to present the truth forever, without your ever being converted. It is because there is an adaptedness in truth -- something in the very nature of it, which tends to influence the mind of man. Now, when persons complain of their inability to embrace the truth, what an infinite mistake! God approaches with offers of mercy, and with the cup of salvation in his hand, saying, "Sinner! I am coming! Beware not to harden yourself. Do not cavil. Do not hide behind professors of religion. Do not procrastinate! for I am coming to win you."
Now, what does the sinner do? Why, he falls to hardening his heart, procrastinating, making all manner of excuses, and pleading his inability. Inability! What! Is not a man able to refrain from surrounding himself with considerations which make him stubborn? Is he not able to come from this soul-destroying business of hardening himself? Oh! sinner, you are able; that is not the difficulty.
Once more: I said this is a most abusive way of treating God. Why, just think. Here is God endeavoring to gain the sinner's consent -- to what? Not be sent to hell. Oh, no! he is not trying to persuade you so to harden yourself as to consent to lie down in everlasting sorrow. Oh, no! he is not trying to persuade you to do anything, or to consent to anything, that will injure you. Oh, no! he is not trying to persuade you to give up anything that is really good -- the relinquishment of which will make you wretched or unhappy -- to give up all joy, and everything that is pleasant -- to give up things that tend to peace -- he is not endeavoring to persuade you to do any such thing as this. With regard to all such things, he is not only willing that you should have them, but would bring you into a state in which you could really enjoy them. He cries out, "Sinner! do thyself no harm!" He is trying to prevent you from injuring yourself, and not endeavoring to play off any game upon you which will interfere with your well-being or happiness; he is trying to prevent your ruining yourselves, and trying to consent to be blessed. Will it hurt you to give up your sins? God sent Christ to turn you away from those courses which, by a natural law, must prove your ruin. What is it, then, that God wishes you to do?
What is that sweet voice which falls so sweetly from heaven? It should melt all stubbornness down. It is the voice of his infinite compassion and love. Oh, sinner, destroy not thine own soul! Flee not from the Saviour who has come to save you! Harden not yourself against the offered mercy; and, now that the cross of salvation is passed around from lip to lip, do not push it away! What are you doing? Is God come to injure you? If he had come in wrath, he would not care whether you hardened your heart or not. O sinner! if you place him in such a relation that his infinite heart is obliged to make the sacrifice, when he enters into judgment he will not tell you not to harden yourself. Then you may harden yourself if you can. He says, "Can thy heart be strong in the day that I shall deal with thee?" Oh, no! But now it is different. Now he comes and sweetly tries to win you -- he comes as a friend, as a father, as a Saviour! spreading out his broad arms of love to embosom you every one, drawing you so near to his great, gushing heart as to thrill its tides of eternal love through all your being. Oh! will you resist? What! "after so long a time!" Oh! sinner, is it not infinitely inexcusable? Shall he fail to get your consent? Then, when you sit before him in solemn judgment, and the universe shall all be gathered together, he will publish the fact of how, after he tried to spread out his broad, beneficent arms of love over you -- how, after he tried to gather you under the wings of his protection -- but ye would not! He could not gain your consent! What! shall it be told of any of you in the solemn judgment that God could not possibly gain your consent to the only terms on which he could possibly save you? Ah! when he shakes his skirts, as it were, and exclaims, "I am clear of thy blood." what will you say?
Again, he will have the eternal consolation of knowing that he has taken all the pains to get you to consent that he wisely could take. You will be obliged to say, "The fault was my own, and I have been an infinite fool! I have resisted the claims of Christ, hardened myself against his dying love, and cast away my soul!" Sinners! how many times have you been invited? Can you remember? How many times have you seen the Lord's Table spread? Are you prepared to partake of the elements now about to be spread -- the solemn avowal of your attachment to Christ? How many times, I ask again, have you been invited? Have you not had enough of sin? How much more do you want? Let me ask you another question -- how much longer would you like to live in your sins? How many years have you already devoted to them? Do you think God ought to allow you to enjoy a little more sin? Suppose he, personally, put the questions, "Do you think I ought to allow you to live any longer in your sins? Do you think I ought to let you live to remain in rebellion any longer?" Suppose he should say, "Unless I fan your heaving lungs in sleep to-night you will be lost. Unless I keep you, you will lie down in hell before the morning. Now, do you think I ought to keep you alive to sin against me another day? Do you think that when you lie down in your sins, I ought to watch over you, and see that you do not die; and that Satan does not steal away your soul, and drag you down to the depths of hell?" Dare you look the Eternal in the face and say, "Yes, Lord." Dare you say, "I think I ought to be indulged a little longer, and not be hurried in this way?" No, indeed! You know you are without excuse. You could only say that you are "infinitely to blame," and you are in infinite danger if you do not to-night cease to sin, and yield yourself up.
[Mr. Finney, after a short prayer, dismissed the congregation, while the church remained to celebrate the Lord's Supper; however, seeing that between three and four hundred persons kept their seats, as "spectators," in the spacious galleries, Mr Finney, after the administration of the ordinance by the pastor (the Rev. Dr. Campbell), again addressed the assembly.]
Christ has invited you to "do this in remembrance" of him. Whose business is this? Is it yours only, or mine only; or is it equally incumbent on both? Did Christ die for you, and not for me? or for me, and not for you? or did he give himself up for us all? Surely it is the duty of all to "do this" for whom Christ died. Did he tell you to "do this," and you have really never done it? How is this? I want to know why you have never done it? Is it because you are not a Christian? Why are you not? When Dr. Campbell (the pastor of the church) announced that the communicants would seat themselves below, while the spectators would retire to the gallery -- "Spectators! non-communicants!" said I to myself; "who are these non-communicants? Are there, then, those of Adam's race for whom Christ has not died? Are there those who will thus openly acknowledge that they have "no part or lot in the matter?" Suppose, now, that Christ actually had died only for a part of mankind, and you knew that it had no more reference to you non-communicants in the gallery than to the fallen angels! If you knew this, why, of course, I should expect to see you non-communicants; for why should you celebrate his death if his blood was not shed for you? You might then absent yourselves with some reason.
But, if this were the case, how could you sit round that gallery and look on? Now, do take this view of the matter, and consider it for a moment.
But Christ says, "Ho everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters of life -- come, buy wine and milk without money and without price," -- "Come unto me and be ye saved all ye ends of the earth." Suppose, then, that the cup were handed round to you -- would you say, "Oh! I am not prepared: I am not a Christian?" Why are you not? You shut yourself out by your own consent.
"Not prepared!" You are neglecting Christ, and hardening your hearts against him -- that is the reason you are "not prepared."
"Not prepared!" Just think of it! Who is it that requests you to "do this?" It is a friend -- a dying friend -- a friend dying in your stead. What does he say? He says, "I am just going to offer up my life for you; break this bread, pour out this wine, and partake of them in remembrance of me -- partake ye all of it, and when you do so, remember my struggle, my groans, my agony, and death." Will you obey this dying injunction? Why, then, do you thus turn you backs upon it?
Suppose that a mortal should do you a similar favor? Suppose a fellow-creature should bleed and die in your stead, and in the agony of death should take a ring from his finger and say -- "Here, dear friend, take this, wear it, look at it, and as often as you do so, remember me!" How would you regard this love-token presented in the hour of nature's final struggle? Would you throw the ring lightly away? Suppose any one should say -- "Give me that ring;" or, "How much will you take for it?" How much would you take for it? Why you would sooner part with your heart's blood than lose it; and if they inquired why you so prized it, you would tell them your simple story, and assure them that nothing could induce you to part with it.
Now, think of this! Yet when Christ made an effort to save you from endless death, by suffering himself, how indifferent you are! Was it a mere ring? No! He took bread and brake it, saying, "This is my body which was broken for you;" he took wine and poured out, saying, "This is my blood which was shed for you, do this in remembrance of me." Who is to "do this?" Why, all of you; seeing that for all of you his blood was shed.
But practically you say, "I will not do this," and turn your back on the ordinance. What must angels think, when they see a number of persons for whom Christ died, and to whom he said, "Do this in remembrance of me," but who will not do it? If there can be amazement in heaven, surely this would cause it.
Now, will you ever neglect it again? I recollect an instance of an individual present at a season like this, when the question came up about his long neglect, when he was so impressed by the consideration of the sin and danger of his position, that he resolved on the spot, that he would never voluntarily neglect it again. At the next communion he was there, and could rejoice in the resolution he had taken, to drawn near that great heart of love. After that he was always one of the first at the table.
What do you say to-night? Now think of this when you lay your head on your pillow to night. Can you say, "Lord, this night have I rejected thee publicly before the whole congregation." Try to go to sleep, but say first, "Lord, do not let me die to night, I have just come away from thy table and refused to acknowledge thee, and do not let me go to hell to-night."
Would you not blush to talk thus? would you not rather say, "O my God! I have to-night rejected Jesus, and how dare I sleep in my sins? This night, Lord, I in my heart give thee a solemn pledge, that, by thy grace, I will never turn my back on that ordinance again. It shall never be said of me (by thy grace), that I am not prepared. I will remember thee; and in the presence of heaven and earth, I will manifest my gratitude to thee from this time." Oh! let it be written in heaven!