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THE MORAL EFFECTS OF CHANGED CIRCUM
BY REV. H. H. PIPER.
1 SAMUEL X. 9 :
“And it was so, that when he had turned back to go from Samuel, that
God gave him another heart."
The language of Scripture in conveying religious and moral truth is always adopted from the common mode of thought and expression prevailing when the sacred author wrote. To make it express to us intelligibly the same useful truth, we must be aware of the state of knowledge at the writer's time; and we must often explain the language as accommodated to the understanding of those for whom it was written, and not corresponding to the nature of things. In natural philosophy and in the economy of nature as it is now understood, did we not use this precaution, we should be led into the grossest mistakes. At one time, indeed, the Scriptures were represented as the depositary of all knowledge, scientific as well as theological ; and the friends of science, who discovered valuable truths in the system of nature, were prosecuted if those truths contradicted, or seemed to contradict, the language of Scripture. But it is now generally known that the Scriptures do not teach natural philosophy, do not attempt to correct popular errors on this subject, and throw no light upon the properties and functions of mind as they are developed in their natural exercise. When this language passes into con
ventional usage, it then remains to express intelligibly facts and truths with which in reality it has no connection. There is an instance of this in the passage to which I now wish to direct attention. The heart, next to the brain, is the most important vital organ in the economy of life. When its agency is impaired by any disease, life is always in imminent danger. When it can no longer perform its functions, life
It is said to be the least sensitive of any of the instruments by which life is carried on. But as the passions and affections of the mind affect the general health and often disturb the circulation of the blood, oppression at the heart is felt when any great trouble assails us. It is from this fact, most probably, that the heart has from time immemorial been regarded as the seat of the affections. This has giv rise to a language in which the term “the heart” is used not only to denote the affections, but all the moral purposes, all the prudential considerations, all the intentions, and not unusually the intellectual powers in general. This at once explains the occurrence not merely in Scripture, but in many instances in common use, of such phrases as the following : “a heart of flesh”—and "a heart of stone,”—“a hardened heart,”—“an understanding heart,”—“a faint or a merry heart,”—“deceiving the heart,"_"searching the heart,"_“putting fear in the heart," _“thinking evil in the heart," - or "applying the heart to wisdom,”—“taking away one heart and giving another.” Such expressions will never cease to be used to denote the affections we can cherish, the moral qualities we can exhibit, and the principles by which we can regulate our lives.
He who made us knows our frame, knows all that is in us much better than we know ourselves, governs us, and will be our judge. His knowledge comprises the secret springs of actions, the hidden motives of conduct, the principles cherished, the faith that guides, the hopes that rouse, or the fears
that deter. Man can know only the external acts. We too often conceal from ourselves and from others the real motives which prompt us.
But God knows our inmost thoughts. Few deny this important truth; but, alas ! how few daily apply it to the high practical influence it is adapted to exercise over all we do and say and think and feel Were we each to bear in mind perpetually, and to repeat to ourselves, the solemn truth-All I think, all I do or say or hope or desire, is known by God: wherever I am, there He is : I cannot go from His presence, or hide anything from His knowledge,—what a check to all sinful, unholy thoughts, to all evil passions, to all actions contrary to the laws of God and the useful laws of society, would this be! Who would dare to transgress? Who could be inclined to do evil, if devoutly he would perpetually say to himself, “ Thou, God, seest me" }
While we acknowledge and act under the influence of this truth, we must believe that the power of God is unlimited, and that He has perfect control over the being whom He has formed. He can do this directly without the ordinary means of influencing the purposes and wishes of mankind. All direct interference it is beyond our ability to comprehend. We believe that it has taken place. We know that the Spirit of God was without measure imparted to Jesus Christ, and that God was in him and with him for the full accomplishment of his glorious mission. But the instruments of His agency which he employs in the course of providence and in the natural order of things, it is of the highest practical importance for us to trace. Those higher influences are rare and for special occasions : the instances which belong to the ordinary experience of every life are common. Well understood, they would defend us from the dangerous notions, that God will prevent sin, if we do not resist it; that He will keep us from evil, while we eagerly rush into it; that He forms our character, while we by our conduct try wilfully to degrade it. His agency, which is never withheld from those who seek it, acts only to that extent which leaves us free agents, without which we could not be morally accountable. There is no doctrine of necessity to us of any practical importance, but the necessity of improving our advantages, if we would not fall into condemnation.
I shall fully illustrate this truth by shewing how God does that in the ordinary course of life for each individual, which he is said in our selected passage to have done for Saul. This, rightly understood, will explain in some degree the moral agency of the Deity, while it will encourage piety and quicken moral vigilance. And it will shew that there is never any agency on the part of God which precludes the necessity of care, of prudence, of labour and exertion, on the part of
1. God gives another heart by altering the outward circumstances and prospects of the individual. In this way He wrought on the character of Saul. This young man was living at home with his father, and occupying himself with the employments of rural life. At the time, he was, in company with a servant, seeking asses which had strayed. After a long and fruitless search, he evinced filial piety in expressing a wish to return home, lest his father's anxiety should be excited on his own account. But a new scene was opening to him. The servant suggested that they should consult the man of God. This man, the prophet Samuel, distinguished Saul with marked attention ; communed with him upon the high destiny which was before him ; combated and removed all the objections which modestly arose in his mind; and gave him assurance that he should become the captain and king of Israel, the first raised to that exalted dignity. When Saul left the presence of the seer, when he saw the fulfilment of the signs which had been given him, then no longer did he hesitate to admit
thoughts suited to his future lot—thoughts and feelings which would tumultuously arise in the prospect of such a sudden and unexpected change. Then it is emphatically said, “God gave him another heart."
With any great change in the prospects of any individual, it is almost inevitable that a change in his feelings, his purposes and plans, will take place; and he must watch them with the greatest care, that in the untried future he may not indulge wishes or adopt purposes that will not promote his own happiness, or make him useful and esteemed in that new station in which he is called to move. In the breast of Saul at the time, it is probable that patriotic feelings arose, increased love for his countrymen, zeal to serve them, plans would be revolved for promoting their good, for vanquishing their enemies, for securing their internal peace, and advancing civilization and general improvement. These exercises of mind, so far beyond anything that had ever entered it before, were the result of that calling which God had given him, and were as natural as that ambition and those self-indulgent thoughts which might be excited in a less amiable mind,—thoughts which would make the change a curse, and prevent the possibility of happiness and usefulness. And we learn with regret that Saul in later years did not escape the corruption of that elevation he had attained, and found the crown that he had obtained a crown of thorns that goaded him to injustice, ingratitude, and eventually brought his life to an untimely and miserable end.
2. Years as they pass away, in the experience which they furnish, produce a change in the feelings and thoughts of men, and thus God often gives to him, whom life can instruct, another heart. The vain expectations which inexperience cherishes,the flattering dreams with which youth is often amused, often beguiled,—the false estimate we form of things with which we are unacquainted, known only in anticipation,—will appear