Hard heads and hard hearts…

One can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. ~ Someone who never actually tried to catch flies

Our culture places a high value on hardness of heart. We can tell this by our love for soft words. Of course this is not how we describe it to ourselves. In speaking to ourselves, we generally have a most appreciative audience, we have great affection for smooth words, words which go down easily and don’t come back up to trouble us. Jeremiah talked about this. “They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14).

We like to believe that this love of soft words, words which will trouble neither the mind nor heart, nor anything in between, is a deep love of tenderness. Such a conviction flatters us, but our love is actually the opposite of tenderness.

If our hearts were a slab of concrete, and we wanted to keep them that way, our desire to have them caressed with a feather duster would exhibit no love of tenderness, but rather the contrary. The one who really wanted a tender heart would be calling for the jackhammer. Hard words, hard teaching, are like the jackhammer of God. It takes a great deal to break up our hard hearts, and the God of all mercy is willing to do it. But He always does it according to His Word, and His Word is not as easy on us as we would like. “Is not my word like a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” (Jer. 23:29).

When Christians call for smooth words, easy words, the result is hard people. When we submit to hard words, we become the tenderhearted of God. But let soft words have their way in a congregation, let soft words dominate the pulpit, and hardness of heart begins to manifest itself in countless ways—the common denominator is always that of granite hearts. Marriages dissolve, heresies proliferate, parents abandon children, quarrels erupt on the elder board and in the choir, bitterness, rancor, envy, and malice abound—and all because people will not abide that loathsome jackhammer, “Thou shalt not.”

We have come to the point—both in the church and nation—where anyone who speaks a hard word is automatically assumed to be displaying his own hard heart. He is harsh and divisive. He is unloving. Like Ahab, we do not like the prophet who tends to disrupt the general bonhomie of the courtiers and kept prophets. “And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, Did I not tell thee that he would prophesy no good concerning me, but evil?” (1 Kgs. 22:18).

We have lost the antithesis and therefore have forgotten that no virtue can be found in an intransitive verb. We think that it is good simply for a man to love, for example, forgetting that it depends entirely upon what he loves. After all, John told us not to love the world, or the things in it. We believe it is a sin to hate, forgetting that this depends upon what we hate. Is the hatred according to the Word of God or not? We think that it is a virtue to tolerate, forgetting that the Lord Jesus rebuked a church for tolerating that woman Jezebel. Everything hinges on what we are tolerating, and our global love for smooth words indicates that what we are most tolerating is our own hardness of heart.

Of course, because life is never simple, we must acknowledge that there is a type of harsh language which dishonors God and embitters our neighbor. And we also know that there is a type of soft answer which turns away wrath. We know that many cantankerous Christians have defended their sin in the guise of Valiant-for-Truth. Far from trying to smooth these words into an easy fit for us, we must take them as they come, and simply submit to them. There are certain kinds of harsh words which belong to the devil, and our speech should always be gracious and seasoned with salt.

Nevertheless, the one who speaks as Jesus and the apostles did, the one who seeks to imitate the discourse of Sacred Scripture, will soon find himself verbally opposed to sin. Sometime the sin is visible and concrete, an other times it is harder to identify as when a man sins theologically by refusing to accept what God has taught us in Scripture. And when that has happened, the one who reproves such sin will immediately be condemned as troublemaker in the gates of Zion, a pestilent fellow. We want to keep our hearts the way they are. And salt always stings.

But we need men who wake up in the morning knowing that they believe and what they believe. We need men committed to truth in principle, men willing to be unpopular in certain compromised quarters. We need men committed to the authority of truth over us, men who know that debate and discussion are not optional, but rather, are moral imperatives. In an age as compromised as ours, this can only serve to increase unpopularity. But the authority of truth means that hard study was not just a matter of scholarship chasing its tail. Questions are to be raised for the sake of actually finding answers. A wise pastor knows that splitting the difference between the right answer and the wrong answer will only result in another wrong answer. This mentality is not the province of a certain personality type. It is the inheritance of all the saints who would earnestly contend for the faith once and for all delivered. May God raise up many more such saints within the Church who are hungry for truth, along with men who are willing to say hard things.

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