“The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9.
This is the source of the idolatry and creature-confidence of the Jews. Sins which were the cause of their ruin; and though what is here said is particularly applicable to their hearts, yet is in general true of the heart of every man; which is deceitful and deceiving; and puts a cheat upon the man himself whose it is.
It deceives him with respect to sin; it proposes it to him under the notion of pleasure; it promises him a great deal in it, but does not yield a real pleasure to him; it is all fancy and imagination; a mere illusion and a dream; and what it gives is very short-lived; it is but for a season, and ends in bitterness and death.
Or it proposes it under the notion of promising him rights, by such and such sinful ways it suggests, but, when he has got them he is the loser by them; these deceitful riches choke the Word, cause him to err from the faith, pierce him through with many sorrows, and endanger the loss of his soul.
It promises honour and preferment in the world, but promotes him to shame; it promises him liberty, but brings him into bondage; it promises him impunity, peace, and security when sudden destruction comes.
It deceives him in point of knowledge, it persuades him that he is a very knowing person, when he is blind and ignorant and knows nothing as he ought to know; and only deceives himself; for there is no true knowledge but of God in Christ, and of a crucified Christ, and salvation by Him. ( I Corinthians 3:18; 8:1-2; Galations 6:3).
It deceives in the business of religion; it makes a man believe that he is, a very holy and righteous man, and in a fair way for Heaven, when he is far from that, and the character it gives him; in order to this, it suggests to him that concupiscence or lust, or the inward workings of the mind, are not sin; and it is only on this principle that it can be accounted for, that Saul, before conversion, or any other man, should be led into such a mistake, as to conclude that, touching the righteousness of the law, he was blameless.
It represents either sins as more peccadilloes, as little sins, and not to be regarded; and even puts the name of virtue on vices, profuseness and prodigality it calls liberality, and doing public good; and covetousness has the name of frugality and good economy.
It directs men to compare themselves and their outward conversation with others, that are very profane and dissolute; and from thence to form a good character of themselves, as better than others; and as it buoys up with the purity of human nature, so with the power of man’s free will to do that which is good, and particularly to repent at pleasure; and it puts the profane sinner upon trusting to the absolute mercy of God, and hides from him His justice and holiness; and it puts others upon depending upon the outward acts of religion, or upon speculative notions, to the neglect of real godliness (James 1:22, 26).
The man of a deceitful heart, the hypocrite, tries to deceive God himself, but he cannot; he oftentimes deceives men, and always himself; so does the profane sinner, the self-righteous man, and the false teacher; who attempts to deceive the very elect, but cannot; yet, a good man may be deceived-by his own heart, of which Peter is a sad instance. (Matthew 26:33, 35, 70, 72, 74).
The heart is deceitful, to a very great degree, it is superlatively so; above all, above all creatures; the serpent and the fox are noted for their subtlety, and wicked men are compared to them for it; but these comparisons fall short of expressing the wicked subtlety and deceit in men’s hearts; yet, it is more deceitful to a man than the Devil, the great deceiver himself; because it is nearer to a man, and can come at him, and work upon him, when Satan cannot; or about, or concerning all things; it is so in every thing in which it is concerned, natural. civil, or religious, and especially the latter.
The Septuagint version-renders it deep; it is an abyss, a bottomless one; there is no fathoming of it; the, depths of sin are in it. (Psalm 64:6). And, seeing it is so deceitful, it should not be trusted in; a man should neither trust in his own heart, nor in another’s (Pro. 28:26 and 25:19).
And desperately wicked; everything in it is wicked; the thoughts of it are evil; the imaginations of the thoughts are so; even every imagination, and that only, and always (Genesis 6:5). The affections are inordinate; the mind and conscience are defiled; the understanding darkened, so dark as to call evil good, and good evil; and the will obstinate and perverse. All manner of sin and wickedness is in it; it is the cage of every unclean bird, and the hold of every foul spirit; all sin is forged and framed in it; and all manner of evil comes out of it (Rev. 18:1, Matt. 15:19). Yea, it is wickedness itself (Psalm 5:9).
It is so even to desperation; it is incurably wicked, as it may be rendered; it is so without-the grace of God, and blood of Christ; who can know it? Angels do not Satan cannot; only the spirit of man can know the things of a man within him; though the natural man does not know the plague of his own heart; the Pharisee and perfectionist do not, or they would not say they were without sin; such rant arises from the ignorance of their own hearts; only a spiritual man knows his own heart, the plague of it, the deceitfulness and wickedness in it; and he does not know it all; God only knows it fully. (I Cor. 2:11, I Kings 3:38).