Smooth Words, Hard Hearts

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We live in an era which places a high value on hardness of heart. We can tell this by our love of soft teaching.

Of course this is not how we describe it inwardly. In speaking to ourselves, when we generally have a most appreciative audience, we have great affection for smooth words, words which go down easily. Jeremiah talked about this. “They have also healed the hurt 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 of 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 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?’ says the Lord, ‘and like a hammer that breaks 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 — but the common denominator is always that of granite hearts. Marriages dissolve, heresies proliferate, parents abandon children, churches split, children heap contempt on their parents, quarrels erupt on the elder board and in the choir, bitterness, rancor, envy, and malice abound — and all because the 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 disrupts the general bonhomie of the courtiers and kept prophets. “And the kind of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, ‘Did I not tell you he would not prophesy good concerning me, but evil?'” (1 Kings 22:18).

We have lost the antithesis and therefore have forgotten that no virtue can be found in a transitive 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 to love not the world, or the things in it. We believe it is a sin to hate, forgetting that this depends upon what we hate. But is the hatred according to the Word 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 mostly 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 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 hard 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 Scripture, will soon find himself verbally opposed to sin. Sometimes the sin is visible and concrete, and 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 were.

We need men who wake up in the morning knowing what they believe. We need men committed to truth in principle, who are willing to be unpopular in some quarters. We must be committed to the authority of truth over us, and know that makes debate and discussion a moral imperative. In an age as compromised as ours, this will only serve to increase that unpopularity. But the authority of truth means that hard study is not just a matter of scholarship chasing its tail. Questions are to be raised for the sake of finding answers. 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 particular personality type. It is the inheritance of all the saints who would contend earnestly for the faith. May God raise up many more within the church who are hungry for truth.

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