Of Gods making a true Converts heart tender and flexible for every duty. Also what Heart of flesh implies, with the effects and consequents of it.
EZEK. 36. 26.
WE come in the third place to consider the mercy, as it is positively set down, I will give an heart of flesh. If flesh were taken here properly for a massie part, then it could be no gracious promise, for every mans heart by nature is of flesh; but flesh is taken improperly or metaphorically; for when it is used in the Scripture improperly, it is either taken in a good sense, or a bad sense: In a bad sense, it either denoteth fragility, misery and vanity. Thus All flesh is grasse; and thine horses are flesh, not spirit. Or else sinfulnesse and cor∣ruption: Thus, John 3. Whatsoever is born of the flesh is flesh. And In my flesh dwel∣leth no good thing, Rom. 7. It should greatly humble us, that the Scripture cals sin in us by such names, for it argueth sin to be innate, inbred in us, that we and sin are all one as it were: as if we were not so much sinners as sin it self; it cleaveth to us as the flesh to the bones. But secondly, this word [fle••] is used in a good sense, though not so frequently, signifying a tender, pliable and flexible heart to what is godly, and is by way of opposition to a stone. Thus, 2 Cor. 3. The hearts of the Corinthians which so readily received Pauls doctrine, are called fleshy ta∣bles; and here it is used in this sense in the text, I will give an heart of flesh: We may justly admire the mighty work of God in making waters to gush out of the rock, in touching mountains, so that they melt like wax; but above all, this mighty power of God, that makes hearts so story and impenetrable, to be rea∣dy and capable for all duties.
That God in conversion doth make a mans heart tender and flexible for every duty he requireth.*
The example of all converts witnesseth this; when Mathew is converted, he leaveth his custom feat, though full of profit, and followeth Christ, which could not be without much self-deniall and persecution. Is not here a stone made flesh? Zacheus the Publican, no sooner wrought upon by grace, but he makes restituti∣on and satisfaction: even above the exact command of the law; but his heart is made so tender that he had rather be beyond, then come short of his duty. Mary Magdalen a notorious sinner, called the sinner by an emphasis, when wrought upon, this dry wilderness is made a fountain of water. The Jailer a cruel harsh man to the Apostles, when his heart is touched, in what amazements doth he fall, how tender and compassionate to the Apostles whom he had wronged; he that did cast them in prison, put chains and •etters upon them, in a moment is alter∣ed, and washeth their soars. And let Paul close all, what a stony heart had he! Page 517 His heart was like the stones they stoned Stephen with, and although he stoned not Stephen with his own hands, yet he was consenting to it, and kept their gar∣ments, insomuch that Austin saith, Omnium lapidantium manibus lapidavit, he stoned him with the hands of all them that threw stones at him. He that compel∣led the disciples to blaspheme, and was mad against them, see how in a moment his stony heart is taken away, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? Oh tender heart, now he is willing to do and suffer any thing! Thus God wheresoever he vouchsafeth this converting grace, of an obdurate, averse stony heart, he makes tender and pliable.
To open this, let us consider first, What is implyed in this heart of flesh; for that * comprehends several gracious qualities: And
First, A tender melting heart is principally intended. The heart of stone will neither yeeld to threatnings, or be softened by mercies; but the fleshy heart, that is tender under both. Thus Josiah is commended for his tender, melting heart, while the threatnings of the law were read, 2 Chron. 34. 27. and certainly thou∣sands of people discover, this promise was never effectual to them; for how ob∣durate and wilfull are they against the word of God! they rage and roar like bears and tigers with vexation, rather then tenderly be softened about the mat∣ters of religion. Oh then consider, how tender thy spirit is about Gods com∣mands, doth it presently thaw? is it immediatly softened when Gods word comes to thee? this is a good sign. I know the people of God do much com∣plain their hearts are not so tender and softened as they desire: They complain they are very stocks and stones sometimes; as the Church, Why hast thou harden∣ed our hearts from thy fear, Isa. 63. 17. But yet because they feel this stoniness, and they can tenderly bewail this, therefore it's a plain argument the work of grace is in their souls, though it be imperfect, and so it is not to be expected that all stoninesse should be removed out of the heart in this life. Contra vitia pugnamus non ut penitus vincamus, sed ne vincamur, Seneca.
Secondly, From this tender softnesse of heart floweth A quick sensiblenesse,*and a lively apprehension of any spiritual thing that concerneth it. The tender skin doth presently feel the least offence, whereas that which is brawny and rugged is not so sensible. Thus it is in the true convert, he is very sensible, he is quick in understanding, as the Scripture expresseth it. And this sensiblenesse is discerned in several particulars; as first, he can discern between things that differ, Heb. 6. He hath senses exercised, to discern between good and evil. He is compared to an Eagle, his eye will quickly discern afar off. He is the spiritual man that judgeth all things; so that the true convert is not easily seduced by errors and false doctrines, for he hath a tender sensible heart: he is not easily inticed by Satan to sinfull lusts, for he is presently sensible. So secondly, his tendernesse appears, in that the least sins, the very motions, the very inclinations are an heavy burden unto him: Thus Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, 2 Chron. 32. 26. David when he numbered the people, though the act it self were lawfull, yet because he did not keep Gods order, he did it out of vain glory, and Gods anger broke out because of it: See how tenderly be is affected, Let thy anger be upon me and my fathers house, What have these sheep done? When he cut off the lap of Sauls gar∣ment, his heart smote him. Paul, how sadly and miserably doth he cry out of the inward lusts of sin within him! Thus the fleshy heart is so tender, that it feels the very weight of a mote, as well as of a beam.
Thirdly, The sensiblenesse of it is discovered, in that When he repents of sin, he*is much affected because of the unkindnesse that is in sin against God. Against thee, this only have I sinned, Psal. 51. These Israelites should loath and abhorre them∣selves when God was pacified towards them, Ezek. 16. 63. This fleshy heart is so sensible of the ill requitall that is in all sin, for God his favour and love to them, that this affects them abundantly.
Fourthly, This fleshy heart implies Tractablenesse and dociblenesse in the under∣standing,*Page 518and flexibility in the will. Tractablenesse in the understanding, that whereas a man naturally shuts his eyes against the light, he will not hear or un∣derstand, but is froward, cavilling and alwaies disputing against the things of his everlasting peace; now he hath obtained that religion which the Apostle calls 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, easily to be perswaded. This is one great corruption in man, that his un∣derstanding exalteth it self against the word, and he hath many carnall cavils and and prejudices against grace: now when God worketh on the heart, the under∣standing is captivated and brought into obedience, 2 Cor. 10. 5. The word of God destroyeth all those strong holds, and they are glad that this spiritual light should enter into their hearts. Oh there is little hopes of a proud, froward, ca∣villing person, that loveth to be arguing and contradicting those things that make for purity and godlinesse: When a man is taught of God, he is easily brought off to beleeve, to submit, A little childe can lead them, as Isaiah prophesieth, Isa. 11. 6. As tractablenesse in the understanding, so flexibility in the will, is also implied in this heart of flesh. The will of man, that is the hardest part of the stone in a man, that is contumacious, wilfull, opposite; that is the King, the Lord, the gover∣nour; till that be mastered, till that stoop, nothing in man will turn to God: but this converting grace makes willing of unwilling, makes it to choose and imbrace that which once it abhorred; as Paul, What wilt thou have me to do? Oh it's th•se wills of men, that are the great enemies to godlinesse. Hence God is said to work in us to will, as well as to do, Phil. 3. To will, this is admirable; oh pray importunately that God would give thee to will good, that God would give thee to choose and imbrace it. It's wonderfull to consider how this hard iron, when melted by grace, will be put into any frame or fashion.
Fifthly, This fleshy heart implieth, An obediential resignation of our selves up into Gods hands. That now we stand at nothing, we refuse nothing, we object * nothing, we do not pick and chuse in our obedience, This (O Lord) I could do, but excuse me in the other thing. No, a fleshy heart is that which is all over yielding and submitting: He doth not say, I will give them an heart partly of stone, and partly of flesh; for although stoninesse be in the regenerate heart, yet because it is not there by constant prevalency and universality, therefore it is still an heart of flesh, so that nothing will discover this work upon thy soul, sooner then an obediential resignation to all duties. He that breaks one is guilty of all, in this sense, because he breaks vinculum obedientiae, the bond of obedience, which is the authority of the law-giver: For to be fleshy supposeth a capacity and easi∣nesse to receive any impression: wheresoever it findes a command, there it crieth out, Lo here am I to do thy will, O God: Thy law is written in my heart. We shall not inlarge this particular more, because the explication of a stony heart, doth by way of contrariety illustrate this fleshy heart. Let us therefore take notice of the severall effects and consequents of a fleshy heart, and they are remar∣kable. *
First, This heart of flesh is accompanied with an awfull fear and trembling under the word of God, and his glorious Majesty. They have deep thoughts of fear and reverence when they come before God. Thus Iosiah, whose heart was tender, and melting, did also tremble at the threatning in the word of God. If Abraham was so deeply debased in his spiritual approach to God, because he was but dust and ashes, how much rather because of sin! We may then quickly discover grace in the tenderness of it, if it be not prophane, careless, and formall in religious duties. If thy heart be a melting heart, thy praiers are melting praiers, thy hearing is melting hearing, thou wouldst not be so senselesse, carelesse in these duties as most men a•e. Oh then cry out of thy self, for the want of this gracious dispo∣sition. Thou findest thy heart like brasse and Iron, not like flesh, when thou com∣est to him.
Secondly, A gracious fleshy heart doth readily bow and yield to God in all afflicti∣ons and chastisements for sin. The stubborn oak, that will sooner break then bow; *Page 519 but the tender withe, that will move every way, as it is desired: and thus it is here, Men of stony hearts, unbroken hearts, if any waies afflicted or chastised for sin, how full of rage, discontent, fury, and all manner of vexation, fretting even at God himself and all his instruments! but the tender fleshy heart that pre∣sently accepts of the punishment of its sin, as God calls upon, Levit. 26. 41. It saith with the Church, I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sin∣ned against him. It wholly studieth to clear and justifie God, but to condemn and accuse it self: O then let the people of God in the midst of all the waves and tempests that rise in their soul, remember to allay all by this, that they are fleshy and not stone. That as God made it an argument to take off his afflicting hand, because it was frail weak flesh; Gen. 6. My spirit shall not alwaies strive with man, because he is flesh: so he may also abate his anger, because thou art gracious and tender flesh. This is a precious symptom of grace, when thy soul afflicted, is like a box of precious oyntment broken, or like sweet flowers pounced, many precious and fragrant graces discover themselves. As the fire doth discover the mettals, whether good or bad; and tempests and windes, whether trees be well rooted or no; so do calamities, whether men be gracious or no; and in nothing doth thy grace more manifest it self then justifying God, and abhorring thy self. Have any frettings, any repinings made a commotion in thy heart? quiet all, and remember, the work of grace is to make a man yielding and readily sub∣mitting.
Thirdly, The godly heart of flesh is so tender, that it doth not only avoid sin it self,*but the occasions of it, the appearance of it. Abstain from all appearance of evil, 1 Thes. 5. 22. David would not drink the water of Bethlehem, because it had the appearance of mens bloud, and thus the godly are to provide all things honest in the sight of all men. Christ that would not wash his hands before meal, though otherwise a civil custom, in it self lawfull, yet he refused, that he might not con∣firm the Jews in their superstitious conceit about it, did hereby instruct us that we should not only keep from the fire of sin, but also from the very flame. The first sin that proved so fatall to all mankinde came by occasions and temptations; Eve saw the fruit that it was good, and desirable. God had not commanded her to forbear looking on it, but this became a temptation to her, and by those win∣dows of her eies death comes in. This made Paul keep down his body. This caused Job to make a covenant with his eies; and David to set a watch before his mouth. Look then to this, wouldst thou know whether this gracious ten∣der heart be in thee or no; art thou then afraid to come near the brink of sin, any thing that hath the appearance of it, thou runnest away from it, as Moses did from his rod, when turned into a serpent. This you should especially observe who venture into the occasions of wickednesse, haunt the places where the pro∣phane lusts of the flesh are daily committed: You do like the moth, that never leaveth buzzing and flying about the candle, till she hath burnt her self. The He∣brews that were to eat no unleavened bread in the Passeover for seven daies, were so carefull, that they did diligently search the house, to see none was there, yea they would not so much as make mention of the word signifying bread, lest it should do hurt, and tempt any. And wilt not thou be afraid to come where the infection of the plague of any sin is? Dost thou fear the infection of the body, and not that of the soul? come not then near this mountain, least thou beest de∣stroyed.
Fourthly, A godly heart of flesh is tender and apprehensive of all inward heart-sins,*and secret sins, as well as publick and notorious. Paul had a soft heart of flesh, when he could finde those motes in his eies, and complains of them as beams, Rom. 7. and indeed because the dishonour of God, and offending of him, is the great mountain and weight upon his soul, therefore whatsoever sin is done in secret, he is as sensible of it, as if it had been done in the eies of the whole world. That is a known instance of the tender heart of Joseph, when in the temptation Page 520 of secresie in sinning, he cried out, How can I do this and sin against God! Oh then this discovers the many degrees thousands are off from the tender work of grace: For its a shame to speak of what is done by many in secret. Secret un∣cleannesse, secret injustice and fraud, secret theeving, secret drunkennesse, if it can be carried so that the world may not know it, that reproach may not brand them for it, they care not. Oh men of stony hearts! Did not God behold thee? Is not darknesse and light, night and day all one to him? Never be incouraged to sin in hope of secresie, for God will bring out those deeds of darknesse, without repentance, one time or other, to thy great confusion. I know no such differen∣tiall mark from an hypocrite and a true godly man, as this. An hypocrite may have as great abilities and inlargements, may have as external a strict conversati∣on as a godly man: but then in this he alwaies fails, he doth not humble himself for, or mortifie inward motions and lusts of sins. He is not affected with heart-corrup∣tions, because God looks into the heart, and beholds the heart. Oh then, that the word of God might powerfully work upon you in this respect. Its not an heart of flesh, as long as wicked, proud, earthly, unclean thoughts can lodge in thy soul, though they break not out into action.
Lastly, A tender heart of flesh is greatly afflicted with the dishonour that is done to God by other mens sins as well as his own. David must needs have a very soft heart, * when rivers of water came from his eies, because men kept not Gods Law. Flesh is easily wounded, it is easily pierced, and thus is a godly mans heart, because God is not owned, is not magnified where he liveth. The Prophet Isaiah cried out, We is me because I dwell among men of unclean lips, Isa. 6. 5. How then do other mens impieties work upon thee? are they like a sword in thy bowels? Doth the tearing and rending of Gods Name by blasphemous courses, even tear and rend thy heart? Doth the prophane naming of the wounds and bloud of Christ, even make wounds and bloud in thy heart? then thou maiest praise God, that he hath not left thee without zeal for his glory. Is thy soul grieved and tormen∣ted with seeing and beholding the wickednesse of men done in the world?
Use. 1. Of consolation and comfort to those to whom God hath vouchsafed this tender and soft heart. Its such a mercy thou couldst not help thy self to, nor * all the world could vouchsafe it to thee. Say, Blesse the Lord O my soul, and ad∣mire his grace, who hath thus melted thee. The time was when thou wast harden∣ed and bold in sin, thou couldst swallow down great Camels, and it did not trouble thee; thou couldst commit such and such impieties, and thy heart would never smite thee for it. Oh but now if there be any distemper, any rebellion, any unkindnesse in thy life to God; it dissolves thee, it moveth thy bowels: go on blessing God for this mercy. Do not think it a losse to thee, nor a reproach to thee: Not a losse, for happily thou maiest say, If I had not such a tender heart, if I were not so afraid to sin against God, I might get such earthly advantages: If I were as bold and as large in my principles as others, then I could thus inrich my self; but this tender heart of mine hinders me. Do not judge this a losse but again; the later end of this will be a rich crop, though for the present thou hast but gleanings: God doth with thee as Boaz with Ruth; first he gave her but gleanings, and a little measure of Corn, but afterwards he gave her himself and all that he had. Thus God at last will give the injoyment of himself and eternal glory, when hardened sinners shall vomit up their advantages, which will be like gravel in the mouth. Nor do not thou judge it a reproach; the world judgeth it pusillanimity, a tender heart, a foolish, scrupulous heart. But as it is said of God, He can do all things, only he cannot sin, for that is an impotency, Potentissimè hoc non potest; so it is here, thou darest loose thy comforts, thy advantages; thou darest be hated, persecuted, only thou darest not sin, Magnanimiter hoc non audes! At the day of death, at the day of judgement, what boldnes, what confidence wilt thou have? when the great bold men of the world shall tremble like leaves, and have fear round about them.