"Because your heart was tender, and you have humbled yourself before the Lord, when you heard what I spoke against this place . . . I also have heard you, says the Lord." - 2 Kings 22:19
This was part of the message which God sent in response to an inquiry made by the godly king Josiah. It occurred at a time when the earthly people of God had sunken very low—so low that "the Book of the Law" had been lost, and was only then recovered (v. 8). The sacred Book was read in the hearing of the king, and so deeply was he affected by its solemn message, "he tore his clothes" (v. 11). As he learned of the greatness of Jehovah's wrath, which was kindled against his subjects, Josiah sent messengers to inquire of the Lord. The answer was that sore judgment would certainly fall upon Jerusalem—but that the king would be removed from this world before the storm of Divine wrath should burst.
That the above is recorded for our instruction scarcely needs to be pointed out, and deeply important and valuable are the lessons illustrated thereby. It tells us that the One with whom we have to do takes cognizance of the state of our hearts. It reveals to us the fact that God's dealings with us in Providence are regulated—in part, at least—by the state of our hearts. It announces to us that a tender heart is of great price in the sight of the Lord. It makes evident that the tenderness of Josiah's heart was the reason why Divine judgment did not fall upon his kingdom in his own lifetime. It presents to us the startling and blessed spectacle of a man with a tender heart at a time when spirituality was at its lowest ebb in Israel. It makes clear to us what are the marks or characteristics of a tender heart.
What an excellent thing, then, is a "tender heart." What delight it gives unto the Lord. Why certainly, for it is the product of His own handiwork. By nature the heart of fallen man is very far from being "tender" Godwards, for that is what was denoted in the case of Josiah. No, sad to say, it is the very opposite: so far as the Lord is concerned, the heart of every descendant of Adam is hard, callous, stubborn and defiant. Before it can become tender, a miracle of grace needs to be wrought upon it. It is to this the words of the Prophet refer: "I will put a new spirit within them; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh" (Ezek. 11:19). Whatever be the future application of these words to the nation of Israel, the substance of them is most assuredly made good every time a soul is truly born again.
A "tender heart," then, stands in direct antithesis from a hard one. It is the opposite of a heart of stone, which is cold, lifeless, not responsive. It is a spiritual, a supernatural thing: we stress this because some confuse with it the workings of natural conscience. There are not a few who mistake the fluctuations of natural conscience for a heart made tender in the fear of the Lord, and in this age of superficiality this is scarcely to be wondered at. There are plenty of unregenerate people who have consciences that are—in certain directions—very alert and active. Witness the deluded Roman Catholics who would not dream of eating any meat during "lent," yet these very people have no compunction in worshiping idols of wood and stone. Truly such religionists "strain at a gnat and swallow a camel." Such is man the world over—until and unless sovereign grace is pleased to bestow upon him a tender heart.
Natural conscience is intensely superstitious. It is most punctilious over self-inflicted austerities, and most watchful against violating self-imposed rules—yet it will commit sins which one who has the fear of God in his heart would not be willingly guilty of, for gold or rubies. On the other hand, the very same conscience will stumble over the smallest trifles, regarding which, one who is enlightened by God and regulated by His Word would not feel the least scruple about. Natural conscience will "pay tithes of mint, anise, and cummin," while it "omits the weightier matters of the Law" (Matt. 23:23). It will refuse to enter Pilate's judgment hall, "lest it should be defiled" (John 18:28), and that, at the very time when its possessors were venting their hatred against Christ. Thus the distinction between the superstitious workings of conscience in the natural man—and the activities of a "tender heart" in the child of God is clear-cut, and there is no excuse for confusing the one with the other.
A heart which has been made tender in the fear of God is one which moves as the Holy Spirit works upon it. It moves toward the One whom the Spirit is here to glorify, for the Divine will is its orbit. "It is like the mariner's compass, which having been once touched by the magnet, always turns toward the North. It may indeed oscillate and tremble backwards and forwards—but still it will return to the pole, and ultimately remain fixed at the point whence it was temporarily disturbed. So when the heart has been touched by the Spirit, and has been made tender in God's fear, it may for a time waver to the right hand or to the left—but it is always trembling and fluctuating until it points toward God, as the eternal center of its happiness and holiness" (The Gospel Pulpit, 1843).
Let us now be a little more specific. A "tender heart" is not only one of Divine production and is the opposite of a hard and unregenerate heart—but it is a sensitive one—just as a tender plant is exceedingly sensitive to chilly winds and biting frosts. A heart that is tender in the fear of God, shrinks from all sin and makes conscience of the same. So long as it retains its tenderness, it firmly refuses to trifle with that which the wicked make a sport of. It shuns the very appearance of evil, and hates the garment spotted by the flesh. Its earnest and constant prayer is, "Lead me not unto temptation—but deliver me from evil." Because it is so sensitive, it "trembles at the Word of God" (Isaiah 66:2), for His holy awe is upon that soul. Consequently, it deems the contents of that Word far too sacred to be made the subject of carnal jangling and argument.
A tender heart is one which has a deep concern for the glory of God and the welfare of His kingdom. Superlatively was this exemplified by the Lord Jesus Christ: who so thoroughly absorbed with the honor of His Father and the furtherance of His cause on earth, His own interests and aggrandizement were completely swallowed up in magnifying the One who had sent Him. And the same principle is found in each of His followers, though with vastly different degrees of manifestation. The tender heart is one in which the love of God is shed abroad, and just so far as that is allowed to dominate and regulate do we seek to please Him. Consequently, a tender heart is one which is deeply grieved, touched to the quick, by everything which dishonors his best Friend—whether it be seen in others or discovered in himself. What more tender than the eye—and what so sensitive to a foreign substance!
A "tender heart" is pliant. The heart of the unregenerate is likened unto "the nether millstone" (Job 41:24). But that which is wrought upon by the Holy Spirit resembles wax—receptive to His impressions upon it. The stony heart is impervious to pleadings and threatenings alike—but the tender heart is amenable and responsive to the Divine call. Man in his natural state says with Pharaoh, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice?" (Exo. 5:2). But one which has been supernaturally quickened asks, "Lord, what will You have me to do?" (Acts 9:6). The more tender the plant, the more readily it lends itself to being trained or twined around an upright stake. So it is with the child of God. In his "first love" he freely yields himself unto God as one that is alive from the dead, and his members as instruments of righteousness unto God" (Romans 6:13). This tenderness and pliability of heart, is evidenced by its possessor humbling himself before God—as was clearly the case with Josiah (2 Kings 22:19).
A tender heart is conscientious. It makes its possessor diligent in the performance of duty. If an employer, he will not oppress and be a hard taskmaster—but be just, and considerate, knowing that he also has a Master in Heaven. If an employee, he will not shirk his work—but will do it with all his might whatever his hand finds to do, with good will, "as to the Lord" (Eph. 6:7). It makes its possessor careful in heeding the Divine exhortations and warnings. He lays to heart such a word as, "Catch the foxes, the little foxes, which spoil the vines" (Song. 2:15). How tender we are of our eye—no matter how tiny the particle of grit which enters and irritates—we quickly and diligently seek to extract it. Equally zealous is a tender heart to remove whatever endangers spiritual fruitfulness.
It makes its possessor considerate of the rights and needs of his fellows. He will not take advantage of kindness nor disregard the welfare of those about him. He will deny himself rather than callously ignore the comfort of his neighbors. When he sees one in dire distress he will not pass by on the other side—but go and endeavor to relieve him. A heart which is tender Godwards is never hard and cruel man-wards.
"Because your heart was tender" (2 Kings 22:19). We now offer a few remarks upon how a tender heart may be preserved. This is a matter of great importance, for though such a most desirable possession be obtained as a sovereign gift from God—yet it can only be retained by much diligence on our part. This should scarcely need any arguing—yet hyper-Calvinists are likely to demur, supposing that an insistence upon Christian responsibility is the same thing as crying up creature ability. But does not the natural shadow forth the spiritual here, too? Is it not a fact with which we are all familiar that the more "tender" any object or creature be, the more care and cultivation it requires?
"Keep your heart with all diligence" (Proverbs 4:23). This must put an end to all quibbling on the part of objectors: where God speaks there must be an end of all strife. And diligence, great and constant diligence, is required on our part if a tender heart is to be preserved. How? In what directions?
First, by guarding against everything which is hostile to it. To be more specific: it is sin which hardens the heart. In exact proportion as sin obtains dominion over us, do we steal ourselves against God. And it is just here that our accountability comes in: "Awake to righteousness, and sin not" (1 Corinthians 15:34). Thought we cannot impart a tender heart, we can certainly impair one. "Harden not your hearts" was the Lord's call to His people of old, and to us also today; and if we are to comply therewith, we must fear, hate, and resist sin!
Sin is insidious. Scripture speaks of "the deceitfulness of sin" (Hebrews 3:13). If we are not on our guard, it will steal upon us unawares; unless we are wide awake and alert to the danger, sin will overcome us like the fumes of a deadly gas. That is why the Lord bids us "Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation" (Matthew 26:41). Yes, watch as well as pray, and pray as well as watch. We all know what happened to Peter because he failed so to do, and his case is recorded as a solemn warning for us. "Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away" (Proverbs 4:14, 15). Notice carefully how the same prohibition is iterated and re-iterated again and again in these verses. It is the first approach of sin—which we most need to resist. It is by making conscience of its earliest stirrings within, that a tender heart is preserved.
Every Christian will readily allow that sin is insidious—but it is one thing to recognize this in theory and quite another to be regulated by it in practice. All will agree that one of the most effective means of victory over sin is to steadfastly refuse its first advances; yet the fact remains that few do so. It is at this very point we must take our stand, if a tender heart is to be retained. But how? By guarding against carnality. Things indifferent become a snare if they are not kept within due bounds. That which is lawful is not always expedient. An immoderate use of the world, will bind chains upon us, which are not easily snapped. Inordinate affection for those nearest to us, will sap true spirituality. Beware, then, of setting your love too much upon mere things or creatures.
Nothing will keep the heart tender so much as cultivating the spirit of filial awe. Alas that this is now so rarely insisted upon. "The fear of the Lord is to hate evil" (Proverbs 8:13). Necessarily so, for God is ineffably holy, and where He is revered, sin is loathed. "By the fear of the Lord, men depart from evil" (Proverbs 16:6), for two cannot walk together except they are agreed. The more concerned I am not to displease my Master—the more shall I shun that which He forbids. "Be in the fear of the Lord all the day long" (Proverbs 23:17), for "Happy is the man who fears always" (Proverbs 28:14). We must strive to be in the fear of God not only in the first hour of devotion—but throughout the day. The more we live in the conscious realization that the eyes of the Holy One are upon us—the more will our hearts be kept truly tender.
"Because your heart was tender" (2 Kings 22:19). What a desirable thing is a tender heart. How earnestly we should aspire after one. And when such has been graciously bestowed upon us, what diligence we should exercise in seeking to preserve the same. The tenderness of Josiah's heart was precious in the sight of the Lord, and in consequence thereof, his prayers were answered, as the remainder of our opening text declares. There is nothing like a tender heart, my reader, for obtaining the ear of the Lord. A tender heart is one which is responsive to the voice of God, and unless we possess this, how can we expect Him to hear our calls? A tender heart is the only one which truly honors God, as it is the only one which ensures our growth in grace. How deeply important, then, is the question, 'Have you, have I, really a tender heart?' May we be enabled to answer truthfully.
In the last two issues, we pointed out some of the principal characteristics of a tender heart, and also sought to indicate those duties which must be performed if we are to retain this valuable possession. But it is probable that many of our readers would prefer for us to tell them how a tender heart may be recovered. They are already persuaded of the great excellence of this spiritual treasure, and they also perceive clearly what is necessary in order to retain it. What grieves them is that they are conscious of guilty failure in safeguarding this Divine gift. They are sensible that the fine gold has become dim, that little foxes have spoiled their vines, that their conscience is no longer so sensitive as it once was, that they do not respond so readily to the motions of God's Spirit; that much hardness now resides in their hearts.
It is sadly true that a tender heart may be lost: not absolutely so—but relatively; not permanently—but temporarily. But sadder still is the fact that many who have suffered this deprivation are unconscious of it. It is with them as it was with Ephraim of old: "Strangers have devoured his strength—and he knows it not! Yes, gray hairs are here and there upon him—yet he knows not!" (Hosea 7:9). They may still attend the means of grace and perform their outward devotions—but their hearts are not in them. They may still be respected by their fellow-Christians and regarded as in a healthy spiritual state—while in reality they are backsliders. Sights from which they once shrank—appall them no longer. Things which used to exercise their conscience—do so no more. The standard at which they formerly aimed—is now regarded as too strict and severe.
Said the Apostle to the Galatians, "You did run well, who (or "what") has hindered you?" (5:7). What are the things which destroy tenderness of heart? Ungodly companions is one. Satan will tell the young Christian that he or she may keep old friends and suffer no loss—but God says, "Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners" (1 Corinthians 15:33). Friendship with worldlings will soon have a paralyzing influence upon true spirituality.
Prayerlessness is another thing which speedily affects the heart. Unless a close fellowship with God be maintained—and that is impossible if the Throne of Grace is neglected—coldness and hardness will soon steal upon us.
Equally so will a neglect of the Word. This will not necessarily mean the omission of reading so many chapters each day—but the absence of actually communing with God therein.
The spirit of hypocrisy, pretending to be what we are not, hardens the heart—for insincerity and tenderness are incompatible.
Yes, a tender heart may be lost—as truly as first love may be left (Revelation 2:4). Can it be regained? Yes, though not as easily as it may be hardened. How?
First, by warming afresh at the fire of God's love. This is ever the most effectual means of removing hardness of heart. What was it, which melted and broke you down at your first conversion? Was it not a sense of the Divine grace, and a sight of Christ's dying love? And nothing else is so calculated to soften the backslider. It is "the goodness of God" which leads to repentance (Romans 2:4). What was before David when he commenced his contrite confession? This: the Lord's "loving-kindness" and the "multitude of His tender mercies" (Psalm 51:1).
When was it that Peter went out and wept bitterly? Was it not, when the Savior "turned and looked upon him" (Luke 22:61)? Was it not the sorrow which Peter saw in that look—a sorrow which issued from love for him—which broke his heart?! The Lord had given him every proof that he was dear unto Him, and how had Peter requited that love? And has not the Lord given you, my brother, my sister, abundant evidence that you are precious in His sight? Did He deem any sacrifice too great to make atonement for your sins? Has He not favored you above millions of your fellows—in bringing you to a saving knowledge of the Truth? Has He not bestowed the Holy Spirit upon you? Has He not borne with your dullness—with infinite patience? Can you dwell upon these things with an unmoved heart? Surely not! Seek unto Him, then, and your coldness and hardness will indeed be thawed.
Second, by genuine CONTRITION. As it is the allowance of sin which hardens the heart, so it is sorrow for sin which softens it. Hence, when the Lord admonishes the one who has left his first love, His word is, "Remember therefore from whence you are fallen, and repent, and do the first works" (Revelation 2:5). First, "Remember therefore from whence you are fallen," which looks back to the previous verse. Call to mind the happy fellowship you once enjoyed with the eternal Lover of your soul, when He found delight in you, and your own heart was satisfied. Consider "from whence you are fallen"—no longer leaning on His bosom—but having entered a course which both displeases and dishonors Him. Unless this produces godly sorrow in you, nothing else will, and it is godly sorrow which "works repentance" (2 Corinthians 7:10). Take a leaf out of the copybook of the prodigal son: arise, forsake the far country, return to your Father, and pour out your griefs into His welcoming ear.
Third, by the exercise of FAITH. "And do the first works" (Revelation 2:5). What was the first work you did, when you originally came to God in Christ—as an empty-handed and contrite sinner? Was it not to cast yourself upon His mercy, to lay hold of His promises, to trust in the sufficiency of Christ's atoning blood? Well, the same remedy is available now. Did not David cry, "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10)?—deal with me now as You did at the first! And was he not able to say, "He restores my soul" (Psalm 23:3)? Precious promises are recorded in the Word, which exactly suit your case: "Return, O backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings" (Jer. 3:22). "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely" (Hosea 14:4). Make these promises your own, plead them before God, and count upon Him making them good in your own case.
In conclusion, a word or two on some of the EVIDENCES of a tender heart. We mention one or two of these so that writer and reader may test himself by them. Is your heart affected by the present state of Christendom? Are you made to sigh and cry, "for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof" (Ezek. 9:4)? Is your experience, in some measure at least, that "Horror has taken hold upon me because of the wicked that forsake Your Law" (Psalm 119:53)? "My eye shall weep sore and run down with tears, because the Lord's flock is carried away captive." (Jer. 13:17) Is that how you feel? Again, "I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision" (Acts 26:19): do you respond to the motions of God's Spirit? Finally, do you mourn over your own hardness of heart, and grieve over your callousness? These are some of the manifestations of a tender heart.