These words, in the Lord’s rebuke to Samuel at Bethlehem, are very full of solemn and encouraging matter to every one who will pause to meditate upon them. Knowing, feeling as we do, what the heart of man really is, the declaration that “the Lord looketh on the heart,” might seem most appalling and almost discouraging, were it not that our vigilance and care must be alarmingly and profitably quickened by the knowledge that there exists One “to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid” (Heb_12:4), who judges not as man, by inference and induction, but who sees at once the most latent operations of the whole machine of mind, every minute bias and propensity, every secret spring of inclination and action, which even escapes our own self-consciousness and penetration, and all the intricate and complicated mechanism which connects human motive with human action; and all this he beholds in its real and undisguised essence, without any intervening mists of passion or prejudice, such as distract human judgments.
These things are very wonderful to us—very difficult to realize, although the understanding is ready enough to assent passively to them. Yet, wonderful as this is—difficult as it is to apprehend clearly—there is nothing more true, more real in the commonest things around us, than that “all things are naked and open to the eyes of him with whom we have to do,” and that in his great account not less all our thoughts and impulses than all our actions, are written down. There is nothing hidden from him. Even our actions are not measured by the aspect they present before men, but by the intentions in which they originate; and these are far better known to him than they can be to ourselves, without the aid of his Holy Spirit to seek and search them out. “Discerning of spirits” is a gift from God—discerning our own spirit is eminently his gift.
To deceive others as to the condition of our heart, and as to the motives of our actions, is not difficult; and still more easy—fatally easy—it is for us to deceive ourselves; but there is no deceiving Him who “looketh on the heart.” It is, therefore, our most imperative and essential duty to look there ourselves, to examine ourselves whether we be in the faith, to pray for God’s Holy Spirit—that Spirit who searcheth all things—to guide us in this inquiry—and to remember that the Scripture has put us on our guard against self-deceit, by telling us that “the heart is deceitful above all things;” Note: Jer_17:9. by warning us “to keep the heart with all diligence,” since “out of it are the issues of life;” Note: Pro_4:23. and that “he that trusteth in his own heart is a fool.” Note: Pro_28:26.
Serious, and even awful, as is to a reflecting mind the thought that the most secret counsels of the heart—counsels often at the time secret even to ourselves—appear in broad daylight before the searching eye of “the Father of spirits.” there is no reason why we should be so overwhelmed with this reflection as not to remember that God, while he views our infirmities, is most compassionate and merciful; and although he cannot tolerate or endure the sinfulness even of thought, so abhorrent to the purity of his nature, he has, for our sakes, provided a most efficient remedy, a most safe resource, a most powerful means of purification.
With this consideration in view, there is not in all the Bible a truth more consolatory to the true Christian than that which assures us that the hearts of all men are open to the Lord. If this were not the case, we must depend for all our happiness upon the judgment of man, who can look no farther than the outward appearance. How often, in the judgment of man, are our kindest and best intentions misconstrued, our purest motives questioned, and our best actions maligned? But this need not affect us greatly; we can yet be of good cheer. The soul, shrinking from the world’s ungentleness, finds rest and comfort in the thought that our merciful Father has looked upon our heart—has seen all—knows all, and will be our witness, our advocate, our vindicator, in that day when the thoughts of all hearts shall be revealed; when that which has been spoken in darkness shall be heard in light; when that which has been spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops; and when He who seeth in secret, shall reward us openly, for much in our hearts that man has misunderstood or despised.
The reflection that we ourselves have often been misunderstood and misrepresented, even in matters in which we know that our conscience is most void of offence towards God and towards man; the consideration that this has often arisen not from evil-minded or unfriendly men, not from intentional wrong or malignity of purpose, but merely from want of caution and proper reflection upon such means as we do possess of understanding the character and purposes of each other; and the recollection that even so good and religious a man as Samuel, honored with prophetic gifts, was grievously mistaken in his judgment from outward appearances, ought to make us careful to exercise towards others the forbearance and the candor which we claim for ourselves. Judge not, that ye be not judged,” is an awful sentence, which has a deeper and larger meaning than we usually assign to it as the words pass over our tongues. It teaches that in the absence of all knowledge of the heart, in the necessity of going much, if not entirely, by the outward appearance, it is not only a moral obligation but a Christian duty to be kind and lenient in our judgment of the actions and motives of others, and in our appreciation of their characters. It may be doubtful whether, in fact, it does not forbid all judgment of motives, as a matter beyond the scope of our limited view, and which God alone can truly estimate. The maxim of the world is to trust no man till you have tried him; but the true rule of Christian conduct in this world is to distrust no man till, you have tried him—that is, until his unworthiness has been evinced by conduct concerning which even human judgment cannot well be mistaken. Knowing what evil there is in the world, it is not, indeed, any part of our duty to commit the lives or welfare of ourselves or others into the hands of strangers, in the supposition that they will prove faithful, but in our dealings with others it is our duty to put the best possible construction upon all their actions; and our manifest incapacity of viewing the hearts of men, should restrain us from all curious speculation upon the characters of those with whom we have no concern. Could we even see their hearts as clearly as we observe their outward conduct, we should still be inexcusable in passing judgment upon our brethren—our judgments may be as false as they are cruel and criminal. Like Jesse, nay, like Samuel, we may despise those whom God has not despised—we may condemn as reprobate and unconverted those to whom God will give the kingdom of heaven—and we may draw comparisons favorable to ourselves where “the Lord, who looketh upon the heart,” may judge far otherwise. Note: See the Rev. Henry Thompson’s Davidica. London, 1827.