THE human heart has been so often confounded with the nature of mankind that
there should be much profit in meditating on its meaning in the word of God. Indeed, one
who objected to the thought that human nature, or instinct, is not depraved, sent a long
list of passages dealing with the human heart and its dire condition, none of which even
touched the subject of human nature. In the early chapters of Romans, where man's nature
is out of line with sin (Rom.1:26) and in harmony with conscience and God's law
(Rom.2:14), the heart is given an entirely different reputation. It is unintelligent,
darkened (Rom.1:21), lustful (verse 24), hard and unrepentant (2:5). How can there be any
greater contrast than this?
It is evident that the term "heart" is usually found in
a figurative sense. It will help us to consider its literal usage first. It is the organ
which propels the blood stream in living souls. Only those forms of life which have blood
have a heart. Now the soul of the flesh (not the life) is in the blood
(Lev.17:11). So, as the soul is the seat of consciousness and sensation, only such forms
of life as are consciously alive and able to sense their surroundings and move about have
a heart. Even a very trifling interference with the flow of blood brings on vertigo and
unconsciousness. The heart is the center and power of soul life. It is located deep within
the framework of the body, invisible. Its ceaseless rhythm is not noticed by the casual
eye. Though every act is dependent on it, it lies hidden, out of sight. The physical organ
is seldom referred to in Scripture (2 Sam.18:14; 2 Kings 9:24), but it is the basis of its
In seeking its figurative force we are confronted with an
unfortunate fact, if we may so speak. The scriptural import is largely at variance with
popular usage in English. In the Scriptures the heart is never the seat of the
affections or the feelings, though there may be some passages which, taken by themselves,
might be so construed. Emotion, in Scripture, is connected with the viscera of the abdomen
(Phil.1:8). There is a secondary usage, however, which comes very close to the Scriptures.
We speak of the entire personality as capable of being influenced or moved under this
figure, as "He has a good heart" or, as it comes out in the adjective
Perhaps the most graphic illustration of this word is found in
the choice of David, who was a man after God's own heart (1 Sam.13:14). Samuel the prophet
was sent to Jesse to anoint one of his sons to be the king of Israel. When the eldest was
considered, he seemed to Samuel to be just the one for such an exalted office, for he had
a comely countenance and was of fitting stature for so high an honor. So Samuel said,
"Surely Jehovah's anointed is before Him!" But Jehovah said to Samuel,
"Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused
him: for it is not as man sees; for man looks at the aspect but Jehovah looks at the
heart" (1 Sam.16:7). So seven sons of Jesse were seen by Samuel. But none of them had
the heart to be the shepherd of Israel.
Not till all had been rejected did they call David. The character
of his heart is hinted by his place and occupation. He was tending the sheep. That was the
very work which Israel so sorely needed. Saul was their choice of a king. He was tall and
stately, like Jesse's seven sons. But he did not shepherd his people. His heart was not
right. It was set on himself. David's was on the sheep. David was fair to look upon, with
beautiful eyes, but these were not his qualifications. His heart was devoted to doing the
will of God. Beneath the external appearance, here was a man who relied on Jehovah and
delighted to please Him. This was expressed in later life in such deeds as the slaying of
Goliath, the sparing of Saul, the kindness to Mephibosheth, and especially in his desire
to build the temple. God and His glory filled his heart and made it great.
The difference which now exists between superficial appearances
and the heart is a product of sin. In the ideal state a man appears to be what he is. His
looks do not belie his character. Such is the perverting power of sin that the spiritual
man pays scant attention to outward signs, for they seldom accord with inward realities.
This explains why the heart is so often connected with evil and sin, or with its absence.
The distinction between appearance and heart could not exist in ideal conditions.
Sin is not a superficial fault. It is not the outward veneer
which has been scratched, but the very center and core of life's activities which has been
affected. To carry out the figure already employed, it is not a skin disease merely,
occasioned by contact. with some poisonous shrub, but a vital degeneration of the heart,
which vitiates the functions of every organ of man's internal economy.
One of the distressing features of civilization and polite
society, to the spiritual man, is the great stress laid upon artificial deportment and
manners. The heart must be hid behind a cloak of forms and phrases. It is a sin of good
breeding never to expose one's real self, but to sustain a superficial fiction which is
supposed to cover and conceal the austerities of life. It is difficult to discover the
heart, and it may be best to leave it covered as much as possible, in most cases. But, in
the intercourse between saints, it is of the utmost necessity to drag aside the
conventional coverings, and deal with deep realities. While our fellowship is to be with
all saints, it is impossible to commune with those whose hearts are not right. We are to
call upon the Lord with all who have a clean heart (2 Tim.2:22).
Many a fruitless discussion of the varieties of faith, such as
"saving faith" and "historical faith," would have been profitable if
considered in connection with the heart. There may be an apparent assent and conformity to
a creed, or even membership in a religious organization, corresponding to the belief
engendered by the signs done by our Lord. He did not trust such "faith" because
He knew what was in humanity (John 2:23- 25). It was not heart faith.
Just so today there is a great dearth of that hearty faith which alone is
"saving" and "effectual." With the heart it is believed for
righteousness (Rom.10:10). The frothy, showy, sentimental, sensational
"evangelism" of our day stirs up a stormy emotionalism on the surface but seldom
reaches the depths of positive conviction, or grips the heart. Hence mountainous
"results" disappear when the evangelistic tornado subsides.
Probably the most quoted passage on the subject of the human
heart and its depravity is Jeremiah 17:9:
|"The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked:
Who can know it?"
The last clause is usually
omitted, for it does not fit in with the idea generally adduced from the words before it.
Much has been said about the word "deceitful." It has been defined as
"crooked." It is the verb of the name Jacob. The heart is a Jacob. Perhaps the
word tricky would be as near as we can come to it. It describes one who trips up
another by the heel. The Septuagint renders it "The heart is deep, beyond
all." As there is a close similarity between the Hebrew word deep" and the
one now in the text, it is possible that "deep" was the right reading when the
Septuagint was translated. It leads very naturally to the question which follows:
"Who can know it?"
The following phrase is a "desperately wicked"
translation, for there is not the slightest suggestion of wickedness in the word itself or
any of its contexts. I confess that I think that the human heart is desperately wicked.
This translation proves it. Can there be a sin more heinous than a deliberate change of
the meaning of the word of God, even if the substitution is true? God is not
speaking of man's wickedness here, but of his mortality and frailty. Job said that his
wound was "incurable" -- the same word. But it was not wicked, and it was cured.
David's infant child was very ill (2 Sam.12:15), but it certainly was not desperately
There are two things which make the human heart a problem no one
can solve. It is liable to trip and it is too ill to be depended on. Who can know it? Only
the Lord, as the very next verse affirm, "I, Jehovah, heart explorer.
"We look upon the outside, but "the hidden human of the heart" is
invisible, inscrutable, except to the eye of God. It is like overripe fruit. It may appear
luscious without, but is rotten to the core within.
Perhaps the most impressive token of Christ's divine character
and mission was His ability to read the hearts of His hearers. His vision was like the
modern X-ray. It could pierce all barriers. He looked right through all affectations and
hypocrisy. He could see the very thoughts. Before His hearers had uttered their sentiments
He revealed them and gave His answer (Mark 2:8; Luke 24:38).
This, also, is the great prerogative of the written word. It is
"living and active, and keener than any two-edged sword, and penetrating up to the
parting of soul and spirit, as well as the articulations and marrow, and is a judge of the
sentiments and thoughts of the heart. And there is not a creature which is not apparent
before it. Now all is naked and bare to the eyes of Him to Whom we are accountable"
The truth intended to be conveyed by the unscriptural phrase
"total depravity of human nature" is far better expressed by associating sin
with the heart. This shows that it is not a superficial phenomenon, affecting only a part
of life's activities, but lies at the very source from which every vital action springs,
and vitiates every act and thought. Corrupt the heart and the whole man is affected. Sin
in the heart permeates the entire being, so that there is no spot sound, no motion or
imagination which is wholly right. There is a sense in which it is "total." And
there is a sense in which it is "depraved." But both of these thoughts are more
concisely and correctly expressed when we associate sin with the heart, out of which are
all the issues of life.
If, instead of speaking of a "new nature," we should
speak of a "new heart" or a "new spirit," we might not be
dispensationally correct; but we would at least be within the realm of revelation. The new
covenant Jehovah has made with Israel consists in giving them a new heart and a new
spirit. It is this which will keep them from sinning. What an utter contrast is this new
covenant with the old! In that they had a part, but they are absolutely passive in the
new. It is altogether of God. "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit
will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will
give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My spirit within you, and cause you to walk in
My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land
that I gave to your fathers: and ye shall be My people, and I will be your
Paul's epistles begin with the dark, unintelligent (Rom.1:20),
lustful (Rom.1:24), hard and unrepentant (Rom.2:5) human heart, but end with a clean heart
(1 Tim.1:5; 2 Tim.2:22). This is in full accord with Peter's declaration at the counsel in
Jerusalem, when he told the Circumcision that God had cleansed the hearts of the aliens by
faith (Acts 15:9). God has given us the earnest of the spirit in our heart (2 Cor.1:22).
This it is which makes us sons of God (Gal.4:6). Our nature has not been changed. Our
heart is not new. It has been cleansed by the homing of the holy spirit.
Indeed, the realities of heart faith, in the present economy of
God's grace, are in contrast to the superficial religious ritual of Israel. Were they
circumcised? We have the real circumcision, which is of the heart (Rom.2:29; Col.2:11).
Had they the dwelling place of God? Christ dwells in our hearts by faith (Eph.3:17). Had
they a choir to praise Him in song? We give thanks to the accompaniment of the music of
our hearts (Eph.5:19).
The impartation of a new heart to Israel will make them a
regenerate nation, fit channels for the earth's restoration in the day of Jehovah. All
this is in closest concord with the character of the blessings of that day. These will be
soulish as well as spiritual. Just as their physical bodies will be blessed with perfect
hearts to propel a perfect blood stream, so the figurative heart will impel them into
experiences which will be a joy and satisfaction to their souls. Comfortable and
delightful physical sensations are indicated by the "salvation of the soul" and
the "new heart." With it they will be given a new spirit.
With us the emphasis is so strong on spirit that, in the
resurrection, our bodies will no longer be soilish or, soulish but spiritual. This does
not mean that they will not be made of soil, or that we will not have a Soul. Otherwise
the fact that our present bodies are soilish and soulish would prove that we had no
spirit. The soul dominates these bodies: the spirit will rule our resurrection bodies. The
glorious celestial habitation for which we wait will be material and will possess
sensation, but it will be so suffused with the presence and power of the spirit that
matter and sense will take a strictly subordinate place.
It is both superfluous and incongruous to speak of a celestial
spiritual body as having a new heart. In that supernal splendor that which is within will
shine forth in every perfection of form, of feature or of expression. There will be no
"hidden man of the heart," as in these soulish bodies. The possibility of
duplicity will not exist, and the phrase which implies the possibility of a discrepancy
between the apparent and the real is unhappy and intrusive.
Mankind, since Adam, is corrupt to the very core. Sin has reached
the very heart. In this life the believer should cleanse his heart by means of the word of
God. He is not given a new heart. That is for Israel in the coming millennium. If we wish
to conform to the pattern of sound words (2 Tim.1:13), when we desire to describe the
enormity of human sin or the "total depravity of man's nature," we will do so in
terms of the heart, and will not refer it to his nature.