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The human being has an innate and constant ability of self-flattery

Now we're turning today, in the beginning of this study 'The Heart of the Matter', to a verse that speaks from the words of God about the diseased heart that is in the human being. We're turning to Jeremiah, his prophecy in chapter 17 and a well known verse to us all. Jeremiah chapter 17 and our text is verse 9, but we're going to read from verse 1 to understand the context of God's message to us. Jeremiah chapter 17 and verse 1, and God says through His prophet: "The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the table of their heart, and upon the horns of your altars; Whilst their children remember their altars and their groves by the green trees upon the high hills. O my mountain in the field, I will give thy substance and all thy treasures to the spoil, and thy high places for sin, throughout all thy borders. And thou, even thyself, shall discontinue from thine heritage that I gave thee; and I will cause thee to serve thine enemies in the land which thou knowest not: for ye have kindled a fire in mine anger, which shall burn for ever. Thus saith the Lord; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord. For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places the land that is not inhabited, the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited. Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope is in the Lord. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit" - and here's our text - "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings. As the partridge sitteth on eggs, and hatcheth them not; so he that getteth riches, and not by right, shall leave them in the midst of his days, and at his end shall be a fool".

Let us pray: Our Father we thank Thee this day for Thine own inspired truth, we thank Thee that it is reliable, we can trust it. We thank Thee that we know, and we believe in the depths of our being, that it is God breathed. And therefore we pray that there would be no-one that would reject the word of God in this place today, or they will be described as a fool. Help us to understand what Thou wouldst have us know, and lead us and teach us by the Holy Spirit - the greatest commentator and applier of the word of God that there is. Bless us now as we wait on Thee, and fill with Thy Holy Ghost we pray. In Jesus name. Amen.

I believe that the human being has an innate and constant ability of self-flattery. Listen to that statement: the human being has an innate and constant tendency of self-flattery. Do you believe that? We perceive things to be better than they really are. Why do I say that? I apply it, not just to those in the world outside of Christ, but to those within the church of Jesus Christ - that they believe that today, in the grace of God, in their Christian life, they are better than yesterday and the day before and perhaps the decade before. We all tend to flatter ourselves, and tell ourselves that things aren't as bad, perhaps, as often we think they are. What is the reason for me making this statement? Can I back it up with the word of God? Well I hope I can, from Jeremiah chapter 17 and verse 9, look at it: 'The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?' Many people have forgotten that they have a diseased heart.

Why is it that today, within the church of Jesus Christ, there is a weakening of the Gospel?

We often ask the question together, and especially in the place of prayer: why is it that today, within the church of Jesus Christ, there is a weakening of the Gospel? Why is there a weakening of our understanding and our view of the sinfulness of sin? Why do we weaken in understanding of what it is to live a holy and a godly life in the fear and admonition of the Lord? Why is it, in the day in which we live, there is a lack of soul winning and souls coming to the Lord Jesus Christ in faith? Why is it that believers seem to be able to live absolutely unconscious of eternity and the judgement seat of Christ? I believe all of those misgivings are perhaps found in one reason, and that is: a misconception of ourselves, and indeed a misunderstanding of the hearts that are within us.

If you look at this passage of scripture, you will see that Jeremiah - as you read the whole book of Jeremiah and I trust that you have at some time in your life - you will find out that Jeremiah was a priest and a prophet. You will also find out that Jeremiah remained unmarried, for one reason - to show the children of Judah that God was dissatisfied and displeased with them, and He was severing Himself from them. He is described as the weeping prophet - and indeed he entitles one of his books 'The book of Lamentations', why? Because it's a book of weeping and wailing over the situation, and the condition of God's people of Judah in their particular day. And we find as we read through the prophecy of Jeremiah that, because of Jeremiah's preaching, because of the fact that he proclaimed the undiluted word of God, he was persecuted for it. He preached judgement, he told the children of Judah that Babylon was going to come and wreck the whole of Jerusalem, and the whole of their nation, and that would be the judgement of God. Because of it Jeremiah was tried for life, he was put in the stocks, he was thrown into a pit, and many times he was publicly humiliated before his nation, for one reason and one reason only, listen - he was a preacher of repentance.

When we preach repentance, as one has said, we will find our head on the platter - like John the Baptist. And any man or woman who decides to preach God's Gospel of repentance and faith in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ will suffer persecution. And Jeremiah proclaimed, eventually, that not only was God threatening judgement, but that God's judgement was eminent and Babylon was going to come - and He even warned the people, 'Don't fight against Babylon, because it's coming. God has decreed that it must be so because of your sin'. What was Judah's sin? And why would God judge His own people in such a way? If you turn to chapter 2 of Jeremiah, you find that Judah had begun to delve into idol worship, the gods of other nations, false gods who had demons behind them. We find also, throughout the book of Jeremiah, that they began to delve into child sacrifice. They'd taken the gods of other nations and they were now offering their own kith and kin, boys and girls, their own seed and offspring to these false gods in the Valley of Henon, just outside Jerusalem. We find also that if you read the book of Jeremiah, that they began to worship the queen of heaven - a false god who many worship in the Roman Catholic faith today. And we find that also there was a reformation in Judah and that God had His man Josiah, and Josiah began to try and change many of the things that sinful men had brought into the nation and into the Israel of God of that day. One by one he began to change these awful sinful transgressions and abominations in the sight of God. But as we reflect, in hindsight, and as the Holy Spirit reflects within the word of God, looking back on that reformation we find that it was only an outward reformation. Why is it that many of the reformations of God's people are only outward? The reason is that the problem is not outward, the problem is inward, the problem is the disease of the heart. The problem is not simply on the skin surface, but it goes deeper than that, the deadly cancer is deep within the soul - and we read this book and we find that they had dabbled in religious apostasy, insincerity, dishonesty, adultery, injustice and slander of one another and because of it God says, in verse 1 of chapter 17: 'The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron'.

My friend if you're here and you're not converted, or you are backslidden, your sin is in the face of God who is holy...God's judgement is inevitable

The pen of iron was the instrument used to engrave the name of the god upon the bottom of the god. And God says to them, 'Your sin is written in stone before Me'. But it is more severe than that - if you look at the rest of verse 1 you find that it is written with the point of a diamond, it is graven upon the table of their heart, upon the horns of your altars. If you go into the first five books of the Bible you find that the horns of the altar was the place on which the blood of atonement was to be put. Do you see what God is saying to His people? 'Your sin is where the blood ought to be!' - and my friend if you're here and you're not converted, or you are backslidden, your sin is in the face of God who is holy. And the blood ought to cover your sin, but if the blood is not covering your sin, just as it was not for the children of Judah, God's judgement is inevitable.

What an awful picture we have before us today. God also told them in verse 4 that they would forfeit the land, the land that was promised to Abraham - the promised land - they would forfeit it because of their sin and they would be carried away to Babylon as captives. Turn with me to Romans chapter 11, Romans chapter 11 - and let me say before we read this passage of Scripture, that I believe wholeheartedly in the eternal security of the believer, but I often think that we skip over some of these verses and don't really delve into the meaning of what they say. And in Romans chapter 11 we have the picture of Israel, and Israel is described as a branch that has been broken off for a little season, because of their disobedience, because they rejected the Lord Jesus Christ as Messiah - 'He came unto His own and His own received Him not'. They have been broken away for a season and Gentiles have been ingrafted in, other branches. Now let's look at this and let's understand what it is saying, verse 18, and Paul is saying to us Gentiles and to the Romans he is speaking to: 'Boast not against the branches' - don't boast against Israel - 'But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee'.

I believe that once you're saved, you're always saved. But I also believe the verse in which we have read from, and I believe that it is there, and Paul meant it to be there, and the Holy Spirit means it to be there, so that we will sit up and listen. And as we look at the children of Judah and think of their sin and think of their hardened hearts against God, if we fail to see our own hearts and our own sin we have failed miserably. Can we all say: The dearest idol I have known, whate'er that idol be, help me to tear it from Thy throne, and worship only Thee?

What is the heart? The Bible definition of the heart is not the physical organ that pumps blood around our bodies, but the Bible describes it as the citadel of man, the seat of his dearest treasures and affections. It is described as the mind, the centre of thinking and reason, the place where emotion evolves and the will is exercised. It is the source of all decisions, all wisdom, it is the depositary of all effects of speech and conduct that we have. It is the very source of everything that we are as human beings. What does Jeremiah say? That it is deceitful, above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it? And I want us, for the moments that remain, to look at this subject of the diseased heart.

Why is it foolishness to trust in one another?

Jeremiah, and God, says first of all: that the heart has ultimate deceptiveness, ' is deceitful above all things...'. Secondly: it has desperate wickedness, '...and desperately wicked...', God says. And thirdly: it has infinite elusiveness, '...Who can know it?'. Let us look at its ultimate deceptiveness. And what God is saying here, and what Jeremiah is saying [is] that it is foolishness, it is absolute folly, to trust in men and women - and you would concur with that, wouldn't you? That we don't trust in men and women, or at least we ought not. And that's what these children of Judah were doing, they were trusting in the arm of flesh, as we read from verse 5, 6 and 7. They were not trusting in God, they were trusting in their brothers and their sisters, in the Israel of God. Why is it foolishness to trust in one another? Because God says we are frail - and not only are we frail, but we are false and we are deceitful and deceptive, and at the very moment when we think that we are trusting in God, just like Judah, is the very time when we are not trusting God, and the time when we are deceiving ourselves - why? Because the heart is deceitful above all things!

Matthew Henry put it like this: 'Our hopes and fears rise or fall according to second causes, as they shrink or frown'. In other words, our happiness is depending, not [on] what is in our heart, but depending upon our environment and what is happening to us. Depending on whether the secondary sources, as Henry says, rises or frowns upon us. That is what the word happiness means isn't it? It's the old Anglo-Saxon word 'hapness' - and 'hap' describes luck, or chance, or circumstances that come into our life, and it describes how we determine our disposition within our soul and our spirit by what is happening around us in our circumstances. God says that our hearts are deceitful in that way. He tells us, first of all, that our heart is deceitful by its very nature. That we are unconscious, that we are so wicked - unconscious wickedness, not aware - we don't even suspect the sin that at times is in our breast and in our being. That's why He said, 'Deceitful above all things'. That is ultimate deceitfulness! Above everything that there is, our hearts are deceitful. It is subtle, it is false, it is like Jacob whose name is 'the supplanter', it is a twister, and a liar, and a deceiver.

How can we know the evidence that our hearts are deceitful? We can see it by the fruit of our hearts. As another prophet said, 'When they call evil good and good evil'. When men in society, and within the church of Jesus Christ, put a false colour on something, you can be sure it is proof of a diseased heart. And when men say 'Peace, peace', when there is no peace!

When repentance is preached, and when sin is preached, even within the church of God there is murmuring, there is complaining

I have been heavily burdened by my own sinfulness. And I know that when repentance is preached, and when sin is preached, even within the church of God there is murmuring, there is complaining. But my friend that is a sure sign that you do not know your heart. It is deceitful above all things! Jesus says, in Mark chapter 7, if you want to turn to it, verse 21: 'For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile a man.

The world is concerned about happiness today, but as A.W. Tozer put it: 'God is more concerned with the state of people's hearts, than with the state of their feelings'. Our hearts are deceitful - do you notice the Lord Jesus didn't even stop to prove that fact? He stated it, because it is self evident from the way we live. And when you're in the garden and you see hornets flying from a rotting log in the corner of the garden, you immediately say, 'There must be a nest there', when you see them flying to and fro. And when we see sins flying in and out of our hearts, we must say, not that the sin is coming out of us, but the sin is within us.

We are deceitful by nature, and we are also deceitful in our hearts by choice. If you look at verses 7 and 6 of this passage of scripture, you see that these men and women have chosen to go in this direction, because he shows it up by the conduct of a godly man: 'Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope is in the Lord'. There is a choice, the will has made a choice to walk not after God - and isn't that right? Isn't it in the heart of men that men whisper to themselves, 'There is no God!'? Isn't it within the heart that they decide that God does not see them in their life of sin? Isn't it in the heart that they decide that there will be no judgement after death, they will have no account of their sins? And isn't it in the heart that the believer says to himself: 'I will be blessed in my life of sin'? And it is the heart that cheats men and women to their ruin. And man's doom is not just because he is a sinner by nature, but he is a sinner by choice also - he is a self-deceiver and a self-destroyer. His heart, within him, in the depths of who he is, is ultimately deceptive!

Jeremiah goes on, secondly, to say that it has desperate wickedness. One translates it like this: 'It has incurability, it is mortally sick, there is nothing that can help the desperate wickedness of the heart'. The heart is often alluded to within the scriptures as the conscience. I want you to think of the magnitude of this. That if the conscience of men and women, which has been put into our beings to put things right that are wrong, is wrong itself!...what hope is there for a man? If the mother of all righteousness, put into men and into Adam in the beginning to tell him right from wrong, becomes the mother of all falsehood, what will happen to man? It is like a ruler that is too short! It's like a balance that is uneven! It's like a clock that is too slow! And I ask the question of us all today: what will happen to a man or a woman when the candle of the Lord is giving a false light? When God's deputy within the soul is deceiving men and women because of the deceitfulness of their heart and the ultimate wickedness of it - it is like the lighthouse guiding ships into their doom in the rocks! J.C. Ryle said, and he said well, that '...sin and the devil will always find helpers in our hearts...', because they are deceitful above all things and desperately, desperately wicked.

Why did I do that? Why did I contemplate that? Why am I found in this sin? It's not like me!

Our hearts have ultimate deceptiveness and desperate wickedness. And thirdly, they have infinite elusiveness. One man translated it like this: 'Who can perceive your heart? Who can understand? Who can be acquainted with his own heart and his own mind?' What Jeremiah is saying is, 'I don't even know myself!'. Do you feel like that sometimes? A thought comes into your mind or into your heart, or you're tempted to sin in a certain way, or maybe you fall into a certain sin and you think to yourself: 'Why did I do that? Why did I contemplate that? Why am I found in this sin? It's not like me!'. The reason why you say that is because you don't know you. And because the heart is infinite in its elusiveness - and I want you to see this - that who asks this question? Look at the verse: 'The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it?' - who is asking the question? God! God is asking the question! God, who knows all things, omniscient, who is everywhere and who sees into your heart at this moment, is asking: 'Who can know your heart?'.

Now I'm not suggesting that God does not know, for we find that God begins to answer that question - but He wants to show us the depths of the elusiveness, the deceptiveness, and the wickedness of the human heart. He is saying that we cannot describe how bad it is. We can't know how we'll behave when we're faced with temptation - and Peter's an example, he thought that he would die for the Lord, he would go all the way to the cross for the Lord, and when it came to the bit he betrayed the Lord three times. Romans 7, Paul testifies the things that he wanted to do, he couldn't do and the things he didn't want to do, he did and he declares, in a note of frustration and agony: 'Oh! Wretched man that I am!'. We all feel like that at times, as believers, and you can see clearly that the Israelites and Judah were foolish in trusting other men, because God was telling them that you can't even trust yourself. And why do we look to other men, when we can't even trust the heart that is within us? It has infinite elusiveness. But God is directing us by the Holy Spirit in this verse, to see that He can see the heart! He can understand the heart! It is not blind to Him, it does not baffle Him! Look at verse 10: ' I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings'. 'I the Lord search the heart', God knows our hearts, God sees our hearts, all our thoughts, all our feelings, the common ones, the very rare ones, the motives, the intents of our being, the things that we cleverly and artfully disguise, and industrially conceal from those around us, the nearest and dearest to us - God knows! He says not only does He know, but He weighs it. 'I try the reins', I put what I know into My holy balances and I judge you and your heart. It is like Belshazzar and his drunken orgy, that the finger of God writes upon all our hearts, 'Thou art weighed and found wanting'.

But I want to finish on a beautiful note: that we are to do what the Psalmist tells us in Psalm 4 and verse 14, listen: 'Stand in awe, and commune with your heart'. As you see all of this, and you see - as Calvin says, that: 'The recesses of the heart of man are so hidden, that no judgement can be formed only, or by any, human being' - and you see the heart's deceitfulness and elusiveness - and you hear what Spurgeon says, listen: 'There is enough tinder in the heart of the best of men in the world, to light a fire that shall burn to the lowest hell'. Unless God should quench the sparks as they fall, there is enough corruption, depravity and wickedness in the heart of the most holy man that is now alive to damn his soul to all eternity, if the free and sovereign grace does not prevent it. And as we stand in awe of our own diseased, sinful hearts and wonder at it, isn't it wonderful to know that God, who searches our hearts and weighs our hearts, listen: is greater than our hearts?!

Your heart does condemn you, my heart condemns me when I sin because I know it is a diseased heart - but praise the Lord, God is greater! Our God is greater than sin!

Turn with me, to 1 John chapter 3 and verse 20, 1 John chapter 3 and verse 20, he says: 'For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things' - there is hope! Your heart does condemn you, my heart condemns me when I sin because I know it is a diseased heart - but praise the Lord, God is greater! Our God is greater than sin! Our God is greater than man's depravity! Our God is holier than to look upon iniquity! Yet when my heart condemns me, my God is able to save me!

I was reading this morning in my devotions from Psalm 45, look at it for a moment. Psalm 45, and in verse 1 we read this: 'My heart is inditing a good matter: I speak of the things which I have made touching the king: my tongue is the pen of a ready writer. Thou art fairer than the children of men: grace is poured into thy lips: therefore God hath blessed thee for ever', verse 7, 'Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows'. Our heart is diseased! Our heart is without hope! God is holy of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and His Son the lovely Lord Jesus Christ was sent to earth - pure, spotless, separate from sinners and undefiled, knew no sin, did no sin, thought no sin, and could not sin! God help anyone who believes that our lovely Lord Jesus could sin. If that was the case, it were possible for the sovereign throne of Heaven to topple and the ceiling of it to fall in - it cannot happen! And do you know one of the reasons why it cannot happen? Because He is our only hope! Without Him we have nothing! In all His purity, in all His righteousness He is our hope and there at Calvary's cross on a ragged, limestone rock outside Jerusalem, my filthy, diseased heart was plundered! Was cleansed! And it was given back to me a new heart! Isn't that wonderful? My friend, if you're not converted today, that can happen to you. That can happen, for God to say: 'A new heart also will I give you, 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' - God is able to do that! We will never appreciate the full and adequate atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ until we understand the total, utter depravity of mankind. When you look from the heights of heaven, that you are in today believer, to the depths of hell that Christ has pulled you from - isn't it amazing?! Can you shout 'Hallelujah'? How wonderful our Saviour is! The diseased heart that the Great Physician can heal, can cleanse and He gives us a heart transplant!

No wonder Madame Guyon wrote this in her poetry:

'My spirit and faculties fail.
Oh, finish what love has begun!
Destroy what is sinful and frail,
And dwell in the soul Thou hast won.

Dear theme of my wonder and praise.
I cry, who is worthy as Thou?
I can only be silent and gaze,
'Til all that is left to me now'.

Faber put it like this:

'Each proof renewed of Thy great love,
Humbles me more and more,
And brings to light forgotten sins
And lays them at the door.

And the more I love Thee Lord,
The more I hate my own cold heart.
The more Thou woundest me with love,
The more I feel the smart!'

What will you do with your heart?

We ought to see our hearts as despised, to see them as deceitful, to see them as wicked, and to see them as absolutely elusive. But my friend, can I ask you today - whether you are inside of Christ or outside of Christ - what will you do with your heart? Will you keep it yourself, believe everything it says and live by it day by day, or will you give it up to God? Will you give it up to God today, and let Him take it and make it a new heart, to the glory of God?

I'm very conscious today that there could be those, who have never dealt with their sinful, diseased hearts, and let Christ change them into new creatures. And if you have heard the voice of God speaking to you today, His love constrains you to come, why not receive Him? For to them that receive Him, He gives the power to become the sons of God. And Christian today, when we contemplate what the Lord Jesus went through there at Calvary's cross, to plunder our hearts and to make them new - oh, let us walk in holiness and in godliness after our Lord.

Our Father, we thank Thee for the Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the incurable heart, the One who shed His blood to wash us clean, that we may stand one day in white robes, presented faultless before the throne of Thy glory, oh God. We thank Thee that from the depths You heard our cry, and lifted us out of the miry clay and set us on a rock. Help us never to cease to praise Thee, help us never to lose the thrill of our salvation. In Jesus name. Amen.

Don't miss Part 2 of 'The Heart Of The Matter': "The Heart That God Broke To Mend"

Transcribed by:
Preach The Word.
September 2000

This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the first tape in his 'The Heart Of The Matter' series, titled "The Disease Of The Heart" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.

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