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He, that trusteth in his own heart, is a fool.
In the examination, which I propose to make of this passage of Scripture, I shall consider,
1. What is meant by trusting in our own hearts.
The heart is phraseology, often used in the Scriptures to denote all the powers of the soul; the imagination, the understanding, and the affections. The propriety of using the word in this manner is sufficiently evident from the consideration, that in most exercises of the soul all these powers are unitedly employed. If cases exist, in which one of these powers is exercised without the others; they are certainly solitary cases. Usually, at least, they are exerted together; and we imagine, reason, and feel, at the same time. In this extensive sense the word appears to be used in the text.
To trust in our hearts is obviously to be assured, or at least to be confident of the wisdom and rectitude, of the various plans which we devise for our conduct ; and to feel that their dictates may
be safely followed. Whatever may be the object in view ; the man in the case supposed, commits himself and his interests to the direction of his heart; and is satisfied, that it will conduct him safely and successfully to that which is good. In the same manner a dutiful child confidently commits himself and all his concerns, to the parent whom he loves. The parent is to plan,
and to control, both his business and his pleasure. The child is only to conform to what the parent prescribes. In the same manner, also, a pious man confides in his Maker.
But, to understand this subject correctly, as well as comprehensively, it is necessary, that we should examine it somewhat more minutely, I observe therefore,
1. That to trust in our own hearts is to rely on our wisdom and prudence in the common concerns of life.
God has taught us, that in the multitude of counsellors there is safety; that, where no counsel is, the people fall; that with. out counsel purposes are disappointed, and that by counsel every purpose is established ; that the way of a fool is right in his own eyes ; and that he, who hearkeneth unto counsel, is wise.
But in defiance of all these declarations of the Infinite mind, he, who trusteth in his own heart, feels, in the common concerns of life, assured that he possesses sufficient wisdom to direct his business, without any need of advice from others. Mark him with a little attention; and you will easily discern, that, in his own view, his plans are laid with sufficient skill to furnish every necessary promise of success. Persons of this character often have friends, distinguished for knowledge, experience and wisdom ; friends, who, if applied to, would kindly and cheerfully assist them with their best advice, and with the highest probability direct them in the happiest way for the attainment of their purposes. But, however young, inexperienced or ignorant, themselves are ; and however satisfied of the wisdom of their friends ; they are often wholly indisposed to ask advice at their hands. Nay the younger, the more inexperienced, the more ignorant, they are, the less are they usually disposed either to ask or receive advice, and the more inclined to rely upon their own wisdom. Thus, we see, children in the early stages of childhood hardly ever suspect, that they need any direction beside their
Youths begin to learn their incompetency to guide themselves. In manhood this persuasion very evidently increases in strength ; and, in middle age, ordinarily prompts us to believe, that by counsel etery purpose is established. Thus, the more
able we become to direct ourselves, the more unwilling we are to confide in this direction, and the more inclined to seek the aid of others. Thus our self sufficiency declines, as our experience and our consequent wisdom increase.
Those, who are young, almost always know better than their diparents how to avoid danger; to preserve their health ; to direct their own education ; and to pursue the best and safest road to real happiness. They are more competent to choose for themselves a profession; to form useful plans of business; and to pursue them with skill and success.
But this spirit is not found in the young only. The number is not small of those, whom it accompanies through life ; and who are, thus, children until they leave the world. However often they are deceived, and however greatly disappointed, they still go on with an uninterrupted complacency in their own wisdom. They have failed, it is true, of the success, which they promised themselves in their past plans ; but they are not less sure of sueceeding in their future enterprizes. Misfortune, hitherto, has been owing not to their own want of prudence, nor to any imperfection in their plans; but to a series of unlucky accidents, or to the blunders of those to whom the execution of them was unhappily entrusted. But this plainly infers no reason, why they should be at all less willing to confide in their future schemes. Thus they trust in themselves just in the same manner, as if all their former measures had been only prosperous.
2. To trust in our hearts is to trust in our own Schemes of religion.
Persons of this character may be arranged into two classes.
The first of these consists of men, who form religious systems, independently of the Scriptures. By these I intend Infidels, of every description. Infidels, as you know, determine that the Scriptures are not a Revelation from God. From the peremptoriness with which this determination is made, the confidence which they appear to place in their decisions, and the pretensions which some of them make to talents and learning ; it is very frequently supposed that this important question has often passed Vol. II.
in review before them, and undergone a very serious and thorough examination. Nothing, however, is in most cases farther from the truth. Very few even of those who are professed champions in this cause, have investigated the subject with an attention, remotely approximating to that which it deserves. When the question is concerning the existence of a Revelation, professedly disclosing the will of God concerning the future destiny of man; its very nature demands of all men the most solemn care, and the most critical inquiry. As all our interests are suspended on the decision; as annihilation and immortal existence form the first alternative, and the glories of heaven and the miseries of hell, the second, in our answer to this question, common sense imperiously demands that we approach it with feelings of the highest solemnity, examine it with the most vigilant inquisition, and decide it with unimpeachable impartiality. Were we able, indeed, to change the state of things by our determinations ; could we exist or be annihilated, could we be happy or miserable, at our pleasure ; it would be sufficient, that our decision should be peremptory. But, since the change, actually wrought, is only made in ourselves, and not in the purposes of God; since we shall exist, or not exist, the heirs of endless glory, or endless perdition, as he pleases; it is evident, that, if we answer the question lightly, falsely, or without sufficient proof, we answer it at our peril. How plainly, then, ought it to be answered by every man, as one who shall give an account.
In violent opposition to all this, however, it has been customarily answered by confident assertions ; by a sarcasm, a sneer, a laugh, a profane oath, or even a curse. Men of the world, men of business, devotees to pleasure, persons uneducated, striplings, nay even children, decide this tremendous question in the same categorieal manner, as if their answer were the result of demonstration, Have they examined it ? No. Have they read? No. Have they thought ? No. Whence, then, do they boldly determine on a question so momentous? They trust in their own hearts. TI were born with such capacities; their qualities are of a cast, so superior to the common attributes of men, that without
reading, conversation, or reflection, they can solve a question which demands more thought, learning and knowledge, than they can comprehend. All wise men, who are acquainted with them, see, that they are totally incompetent for the task which they have undertaken. But in their own view there are no abler judges. Ask them; and they are giants in intellect. Ask others; and they are embryos.
Secondly. In this class are those arranged also, who profess to believe, that the Scriptures are a divine revelation, and yet, instead of making them the rule of their faith, invent and adopt a philosophical system of religion ; and in pretence support it by the Scriptures.
These persons professedly believe, and some of them, I doubt not, persuade themselves that they actually believe, the scriptures to be the word of God, and to contain his pleasure concerning the duty and salvation of men. Of course, it would be naturally supposed, they resort daily and diligently to this fountain of truth, in order to learn their duty, and the way of life. Nothing can be farther from the fact. Instead of betaking themselves to their Maker, to learn the Religion which he has revealed, they form a system of doctrines and precepts for themselves ; and then resort to the Scriptures for texts, to support it. Instead of coming to God, to learn his pleasure, they first determine what his pleasure ought to be, and then compel his word, by perverting its meaning, to speak whatever they themselves please. Instead of receiving their religion from their Creator they make a religion for him; and expect that he will conform to its dictates.
The true explanation, the real cause, of this conduct is that these men trust in their own hearts; that they rely on their own ingenuity, their knowledge of moral subjects, their capacity to devise a system of moral truth; no less than professed Infidels.
If we profess to believe the Scriptures, as a Revelation from God; there can be no greater absurdity, there can be no greater indecency, than not to receive his declarations just as we find them. Who hath known the mind of Jehovah ? or who hath been his Counsellor? Shall a worm of the dust instruct his Ma