God's Law in Man's Heart
Intended for Reading on Lord's-Day, February 28th, 1897,
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
On Lord's-day Evening, June 28th, 1885.
"For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts."Hebrews 8:10.
HEN God gave to Israel his law,the law of the first covenant,it was such a holy law that it ought to have been kept by the people. It was a just and righteous law, concerning which God said, "Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the Lord your God. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord." The law of the ten commandments is strictly just; it is such a law as a man might make for himself if he studied his own best interests, and had wisdom enough to frame it aright. It is a perfect law, in which the interests of God and man are both studied; it is not a partial law, but impartial, complete, and covering all the circumstances of life. You could not take away one command out of the ten without spoiling both tables of the law, and you could not add another command without being guilty of making a superfluity. The law is holy, and just, and good; it is like the God who made it, it is a perfect law. Then, surely, it ought to have been kept. When men revolt against unjust laws, they are to be commended; but when a law is admitted to be perfect, then disobedience to it is an act of exceeding guilt.
I read my duty in thy Word,
But in thy life the law appears
Drawn oat in living characters."
But, although we can read that law in the Scriptures, and see it wrought out in the life of Christ, yet it is needful that the Spirit of God should come and enlighten us with regard to it, if we are really to know what it is. Otherwise, a man may hear the ten commandments read every Sabbath day, and go on breaking them without ever knowing that he is breaking them; he may be keeping the letter of the commandments, and yet all the while be violating their spirit. When the Holy Spirit comes to us, he shows us what the law really is. Take, for instance, the command, "Thou shalt not commit adultery." "Well!" says one, "I have not broken that commandment." "Stay," says the Spirit of God, "till you know the spiritual meaning of that command, for whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." There is, also, the command, "Thou shalt not kill." "Oh!" says the man, "I never killed anybody, I have not committed murder." "But," says the Spirit of God, "whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer." When the Lord thus writes his law upon our heart, he makes us to know the far-reaching power and scope of the commandment. He causes us to understand that it touches not only actions and words, but thoughts, ay, and the most transient imaginations, the things that are scarcely born within us, the sights that pass in a moment across the mind, like a stray passenger who passes in front of the camera when a photographer is taking a view. The Spirit of God teaches us that even these momentary impressions are sinful, and that the very thought of foolishness is sin.
Did you, dear friend, ever have truth truly written on your heart? If so, I will tell you how you felt; you abhorred yourself, and you said, "Who can stand before this terrible law? Who can ever hope to keep these commandments?" You looked to the flames that Moses saw on Sinai and you shrank and trembled almost unto despair, and you entreared that these terrible words should not be spoken to you any more. Yet was it good for you thus to be made to know the law,not in the letter of it only, but in its cutting crushining, killing spirit for it worketh death to self-righteousness and death to all carnal boastings. When the law comes, sin revives, and we die; that is all that can come of it by itself. Yet is it necessary that there should be such a death as that, and that there should be such a revival of sin that we may know the truth about it, and under the force of that truth may be driven to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the end of the Iaw for righteousness to every one that believeth." So, then, writing the law in our heart means, first, making us know what the law really is.
If that is done, the Lord is pleased, next, to cause his people to remember that law. When a thing is "learnt by heart," you know the common meaning of that expression, even amongst our children. If they have learnt a thing by heart rather than merely by rote, they have made it their own, and it remains with them. A man with whom God the Holy Spirit deals is one who does not have to go to the 20th of Exodus to know what the law is; he does not need to stop and ask concerning most things, "Is this right?" or, "Is this wrong?" but he carries within him a balance and a scale, a standard and test by which he can try these things for himself. He has the law of his God written upon his heart, so that, almost as soon as he looks at a thing, he begins to perceive whether there is evil in it or whether it is good. There is a sort of sensitiveness in his soul which makes him discern between good and evil. When God the Holy Spirit is dealing with him, there is a true, enlightened conscience within him, so that he no longer puts bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter, or darkness for light and light for darkness; but something within him tells him, "This is right," or, "That is wrong." It is a most blessed thing when this is the case, and it is always the work of the Spirit of God.
I know that there is some sort of a conscience in most men; I am afraid it is a very small rushlight in some, and that it is almost blown out by their evil habits. They can even make themselves think that they are doing right, when they are as wrong as wrong can be; but in a child of God there is a burning and a shining light which reveals the truth concerning sin. There is within him a something that cannot be silenced; this is that principle or power which John Bunyan calls in his Holy War, "Mr. Conscience the Recorder of Mansoul." You know that, when the city of Mansoul rebelled against the great King Shaddai, and came under the sway of Diabolus, they shut Mr. Recorder Conscience up in a dark room, for they did not want to let him see what was being done. Yet, notwithstanding, when the old gentleman had his fits, he used to sorely trouble the inhabitants of the guilty town, so they kept him under lock and key as much as possible. But when Mr. Recorder Conscience gets full liberty, and lifts his brow into the sunlight, ah! sirs, then are we guided in a very different way from that of ungodly men who follow their own evil course. Then does the Lord say, "I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts." The law is there to censure or to cheer; it is there to let us hear its voice say, "This is the way, walk ye in it;" or it is there to say, "Stay where you are, go no farther;" or, "Return, thou backsliding daughter, and seek mercy of the Lord."
God does more than that for his people. When he writes his law in our heart, he makes us to approve it. An ungodly man wishes to alter God's law. "There," says he, "I do not like that command, 'Thou shalt not steal,' I should like to be a little bit of a trickster." Another says, "I do not like that purity of which the minister spoke just now, I should like to indulge myself a little. Am I to have no pleasure?" But when the law of the Lord is written in his heart, the man says, "The law is right." He would not alter it if he could; there is nothing that he hates more than the lowering of the tone of the law, for he does not want a lax morality. "Oh, no!" says he, "let us have the highest form of righteousness that can be, and may God help me to live up to it!" Paul says, "I delight in the law of God after the inward man;" and so is it with every true child of God, he cannot think of the holiness of God without at once saying, "I would not have him other than he is; let him be holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth, for as such I can worship him; but if he were less than that, I could not esteem him." If he hears of God's justice he delights even in that stern attribute, for he would not have an unjust God. Is a great thing when God leads a man to approve of all that is right; I do not mean merely to acknowledge that it is right, but to be glad that it is so, and to wish that in his own soul he were conformed to it.
There is a further writing of the law in the heart when the man of God is made to appropriate that law,not only to approve of it, but to approve of it for himself. There are many people who approve of laws as far as they keep their fellow-men in check, but they do not want laws for themselves. "Oh!" says such a person, "of course, everybody ought to be honest; my servants ought not to peculate, they ought not to rob me, they ought to give me a good day's work for their wage." When the argument is turned round, and the question is about giving a good day's wage for the work, then they talk about political economy, which means that it is absolutely necessary that men should be dishonest. That is the pith and marrow of that political science, that every man will be selfish, and that there is no hope that people will be otherwise. A man speaks that which is not true, and sees no evil in it; but if another should say anything against his character, that is a very different matter, it is quite unpardonable. He may walk through the earth, and devour men's characters as much as he pleases; that, of course, is mere criticism, such as we ought all to expect: but if he is touched, and there is a word spoken against him, it is cruel and unkind, and ought to be put down at once. When God writes the law in a man's heart, he takes the law more to himself than he applies it to anybody else and his cry is not, "See how my neighbors sin," but, "See how I sin his clamor is not against his brother's, fault, but against his own fault. No longer does he look out for motes in other men s eyes, but he is most concerned about the beam which he is quite is in his own eye, he and prays the Lord to remove it.
But, brethren, the law is not fully written in the heart till a man, approving the law and appropriating it to himself, feels he delights to obey it. "There," says he, "O my God, my highest happiness lies in doing as thou wouldst have me to do. I do not want any excuse or indulgence for sin, I want, above everything else, to be holy. It shall be my greatest pleasure to be pure, it shall be my perfect bliss to be perfectly holy. Thou hast so written thy law in my heart that, every time my heart beats, it seems to beat for holiness. of my new-born nature are towards right, towards truth towards goodness, towards God." This, dear friends, is to have the law of the Lord written in your heart so as to delight in it after the inward man, and to delight to practice it with the outward man, daily striving to make the entire life to be in accordance with the dictates of God's will. O brothers, is it not a wonderful thing that God shall ever make it as natural for us to be holy as once it was natural for us to be unholy, and that then we shall find it as much a joy to serve him as once we thought it a pleasure not to serve him, when, indeed, to deny ourselves shall cease to be self-denial? It shall enjoyment to us to be nothing it shall be delight to renounce everything of self and to cling close to God, and to walk in his ways. Then will be fulfilled in our experience the promise of our text, I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts."
There is an old Latin proverb which says that "things that are written remain;" and I quote that proverb here believing that it is intended in the text to teach us that, when God's law is written in our hearts, it is retained there. The lawyer always says, "You had better be careful what you say, but when you go to law, never write anything, hold back from the use of pen and ink, for that which is written remains." When God writes his law in our hearts, he writes that which will never be blotted out. Once let him take the pen is hand. and begin to write. "Holiness unto the Lord" right across a man's heart, and the devil himself can never remove that sacred line. So it is meant, in our text as a part of the covenant, that God will write "holiness" so deeply upon the nature of his chosen people that they may sooner cease to be than cease to be holy. He will so put his law right into their hearts that you must tear their hearts out before you can tear out their conformity to the mind of God. Is not this a wonderful method of writing the law in the heart? This is sanctification indeed. May God work it in each one of you! and he will if you are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ; for if you trust in Christ, you are in the covenant, and being in the covenant, this is the promise concerning you, "I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to thom a God, and they shall be to me a people."
Thus have I spoken upon the meaning of this blessing.
II. Now, for a few minutes, I am going to speak upon THE MEANS BY WHICH THIS BLESSING IS GIVEN,the pens that God uses when he writes upon human hearts,for I want you to notice this interesting process.
First, God writes his law upon his people's hearts with the pen of gratitude. He tells them that Jesus Christ loves them, and gave himself for them. He gives them a sight of the bleeding Savior, and tells them that their sin is put away by his death. Then, in return, they love the Lord with all their heart, and mind, and soul, and strength, The best way to make a man keep a law is to make him love the law-giver. We thought at one time that God was a cruel tyrant, but we have learned that he is our loving Father. We could not have thought that he would have given his only-begotten Son to die as the Substitute for us; but, now that he has done so, we love him with all our heart. There is one way of writing the law of God in our heart by giving us gratitude as the motive of a new life. The natural man's only motive for being good is, "If I am good, I shall go to heaven; and if I am bad, I shall go to hell." That is the slave's motive; but the child of God is no more a slave, he has been delivered from his former bondage. He says, "I am saved by sovereign grace, therefore I shall go to heaven. I shall never go to hell, that cannot be. I am God's chosen one, washed in the blood of the Lamb, and
What was my gain I count my loss;
My former pride I call my shame,
And nail my glory to his cross."
"Chosen, not for any goodness of my own, but entirely of the free and sovereign grace of God; tell me now what I can do to show my gratitude to such a gracious God." That is one way in which the law of the Lord gets written in the hearts of his people.
Again, the law is written in the heart by repentance working hatred of sin. Burnt children, you know, are afraid of the fire. Oh, what a horror I have had of sin ever since the day when I felt its power over my soul! It was enough to drive me mad when I felt the guilt of sin; it would have done so, I sometimes think, if I had continued much longer in that terrible condition. O sin, sin, I have had enough of thee! Thou didst never bring me more than a moment's seeming joy, and with it there came a deep and awful bitterness which burns within me to this day! And now, being set free from sin, can I go back to it? Some of you, my brethren and sisters, came to Christ with such difficulty that you were saved, as it were, by the skin of your teeth. You were like Jonah, you had to come up from the bottom of the mountains, and out of the very belly of hell you cried unto God. Well, that experience has made sin so bitter to you that you will not go back to it. The law has been written in your heart with the steel pen of repentance, and God has made sin to be a horrible evil to you.
Farther than that, and deeper than that God also writes his law upon the heart in regeneration, wherein he creates in man a new and better life. In regeneration, if I understand it at all, there is born in us a new nature. Our old nature is all sin, and it will never be anything else but sin. You may doctor it as you will, but it is a body of sin and death, and it will always remain so; but the new nature, which is born in us at our new birth, cannot sin, because it is born of God. It is a living and incorruptible seed, which liveth and abideth for ever; and that new heart, that right spirit, from its very birth, from its very origin, from its very nature, has the law and will of God engraved upon it. To the new nature, it is as natural to obey as to the old nature it is natural to disobey. To the new nature, it is as much its element to live in holiness as to the old nature it is its element to live in sin. Thus, by regeneration, the law of the Lord is written in the heart of his people.
Again, God writes his law the more fully in the heart of his people as they increase in knowledge. The more we know of God, of this life, of the life to Come, of heaven and hell, of the person of Christ, of the atonement, and of every other subject that is taught us in the Scriptures, the more we see the evil of sin, and the more we see the delights of holiness. Why, at the very first moment of his conversion, man is afraid of sin because of what he has seen of it; but as he begins to perceive how sin put the Christ to death, how sin digged the pit of hell, how sin brought all the plagues and curses upon the human family, and will continue to curse generations yet unborn, then the man says, "How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" Trained and educated in the school of Christ, the more he knows, the more he delights in the law and the will of God.
And farther than this, dear friends, the law is written in the heart, as God makes the new life in us to grow and increase. Some Christians, I am sorry to say, have but little spiritual life. I spoke yesterday with a man of God who has been preaching the gospel in the New Hebrides, where till lately the people were cannibals; and, by God's grace, he has brought hundreds, if not thousands, of the former savages to become Christians; and the good brother, when he spoke of his hardships, said, "All, but you do not know in England the joys of those who preach to cannibals!" True, most of the missionaries who first went out were killed and eaten, and our friend escaped by the skin of his teeth; I looked at him again to hear what his special and peculiar joys were. "Oh!" he said, "the joy of converting a cannibal to Christ is a greater bliss than can be known by you, who only bring ordinary people to the Savior; and," he added, "I tell you that there are no Christians that I know of that excel my converted cannibals. If you want to see the Sabbath day sacredly kept, you must come into my place, and see how these people who used to be cannibals keep it. Those who were accustomed to eat their fellow-men, now never rise without prayer, and never sit at the table without asking a blessing. There is not a Christian household but has family prayer in it, morning and evening. These people walk with God," said the missionary, "and live close to Christ; and as I look at them, it seems such a joy to have been the means of bringing these cannibals to Christ." I am afraid there are many nominally Christian people who are not half as good as those converted cannibals. What is the reason? It is because they seem to have God's life poured into them abundantly, and some among us have but little of it. Now, when a man gets the life of God abundantly poured into him, he is sensitive against sin, for he has the law of God written in his heart, and thereby God has made his conscience
He cannot bear to hear an ill word from others, or himself have an evil thought without being grieved and troubled. I have seen men who have professed to be Christians do many questionable things, and yet never feel that they were doing any wrong; but as for the true Christian, who lives near to God, and who has been acting perfectly right as far as other people could judge, when he gets home, he begins blaming himself for something he did not do. As far as you can see, he has said and done the right thing; but he says, "No, I did not say it as earnestly as I ought to have said it; I did not do it as I ought to have done it." As for myself, I know that, when I live nearest to God, I am most conscious of sin; and I believe that, in proportion as you get away from God, you win begin to think that you are perfect; but if you live in the light of the Lord, sin will be a daily plague to you, and you will be crying for the precious blood to wash you and It is the man who is spiritually blind who talks about his holiness, but it is the one whose eyes have been opened of God, the really holy man whom God has brought near to himself, who still cries out, "Holier! Holier! Higher."
Nearer to thee!
E'en though it be a cross that raiseth me.
Still all my song shall be.
Nearer, my God, to thee!
Nearer to thee!"
And this is how God writes his law in his people's hearts, by giving them so much light that they become tender and sensitive at the very approach of sin.
And, once more, communing with Christ is the best way of getting the law written in the heart. He who is with Christ from morning to noon, and from noon to dewy eve, and who can say at night,
I lay me down to rest,
As in the embraces of my God,
Or on my Savior's breast,"
he is the man who will have the law of God written in his heart. How can he sin whose garments smell of the myrrh and aloes and cassia of communion with Christ? How can he come out of the ivory palaces of fellowship with his Lord, and then go and live as others do, and sin against his God?
Thus, you see, dear friends, how it is that the Lord writes his law in the hearts of his people.
III. I have but a minute or two in which to speak upon THE GREAT GRACE WHICH IS CONTAINED IN THIS BLESSING. I do not know a greater gift than this that even God can bestow,save the gift of his only-begotten Son: "I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts."
O you poor sinners, I may exhort you to keep the law; but, without the Spirit of God working within you, nothing will come of it! But if God puts his law into your hearts, then you will keep it. Oh, that he might even now lead you to his dear Son, that you might see his law in the hand of Christ, and then feel that pierced hand dropping it into your heart to abide there for ever!
The great grace of this blessing lies here. First, God does what man would not and could not do. Man would not keep the law, he refused to obey it; so God comes, in the splendor of his grace, and changes his will, renews his heart, alters his affections, so that, what man would not do, God does. Man has also become so fallen that he cannot keep the law. Sooner might the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots, than h that is accustomed to do evil learn to do well; but what man cannot do, by reason of the perversity of the flesh, God performs within him, working in him to will and to do of his good pleasure. Oh, what amazing grace is this, which while it forgives our want of will, also removes our want of power!
And, dear friends, is it not a wonderful proof of grace that God does this without destroying man in any degree whatever? Man is a creature with a will,a "free will" as they sometimes call it,a creature who is responsible for his actions; so God does not come and change our hearts by a physical process, as some seem to dream, but by a spiritual process in which he never mars our nature, but sets our nature right. If a man becomes a child of God, he still has a will. God does not destroy the delicate machinery of our nature, but he puts it into proper gear. We become Christians with our own full assent and consent; and we keep the law of God not by any compulsion except the sweet compulsion of love. We do not keep it because we cannot do otherwise, but we keep it because we would not do otherwise, because we have come to delight therein, and this seems to me the greatest wonder of divine grace.
See, dear friends, how different is the Lord's way of working and ours. If you knock down a man who is living an evil life, and put him in chains, you can make him honest by force; or if you set him free, and hem him round with Acts of Parliament, you may make him sober if he cannot get anything to drink, you may make him wonderfully quiet if you put a gag in his mouth; but that is not God's way of acting. He who put man in the Garden of Eden, and never put any palisades around the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but left man a free agent, does just the same in the operations of his grace. He leaves his people to the influences that are within them, and yet they go right, because they are so changed and renewed by his grace that they delight to do that which once they loathed to do. I admire the grace of God in acting thus. We should have taken the watch to pieces, and broken half the wheels, and made new ones, or something of the kind. But God knows how to leave the man just as much a man as he was before his conversion, and yet to make him so entirely a new man that old things have passed away, and all things have become new.
And this is very beautiful, too, that when God writes his law in his people's hearts, He makes this the way of their preservation. When God's law is written in a man's heart, that heart becomes divinely royal property, for the King's name is there, and the heart in which God has written his name can never perish. Some years ago, my esteemed brother, Mr. John B. Gough, out of his great love for me, sent me a very valuable walking-stick. It must have cost him a large sum of money, for it was made of ebony, and it had a gold head to it, with pieces of Californian quartz curiously worked into the head of the stick. I cannot say that it was of much practical use to me, but still I valued it as a present from Mr. Gough. One night, a thief got into my house, and stole my walking-stick, and the man, of course, broke up the stick, and took off the gold from the head. He brought it down to a pawnbroker's not far from here; he had hammered and battered it as much as he could; but when the pawnbroker looked carefully at it, he saw the letters, "S-p-u-r-g-e-o-n." "Oh!" said he, to the man, "you stop a bit," which, of course, was just what the thief did not do. I got my gold back again because my name was in it; though the man hammered it, there was my name, and the gold was bound to come back to me, and so it did. Now, when the Lord once writes his name in your heart, he writes his law within you; and though the devil may batter you, God will claim you as his own. Temptation and sin may assail you, but if the law of the Lord is in your heart, you shall not give way to sin, you shall resist it, you shall be preserved, you shall be kept, for you are the Lord's.
This is the only way of salvation that I know of for any of you. First, you must be washed in the fountain filled with blood; and next, you must have the law of God written in your inward parts. Then shall you be safe beyond fear of ruin. "They shall be mine," saith the Lord of hosts, "in that day when I make up my jewels." Oh, blessed plan of salvation! May it be accepted by every man and woman here! And it can only be so by the work of the Spirit of God leading you to a simple trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Trust Christ to save you, and he will do it, as surely as he is the Christ of God. God help you to trust him now! Amen.
HYMNS FROM "OUR OWN HYMN BOOK"551, 489, 649.
Verses 27-33. Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man, and with the seed of beast. And it shall come to pass, that like as I have watched over them, to pluck up, and to break down, and to throw down, and to destroy, and to afflict; so will I watch over them, to build, and replant, saith the Lord. In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity: evey man that eateth the sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge. Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.