George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
The Evangelical Grace of Tenderheartedness
Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted--Eph 4:32
Paul's Hard Heart
The first thing to impress me as I read these words is the change which had been wrought in the apostle. There had been a day, not so far away, when you would scarce have expected such a word from Paul. When Paul first appears on the scene, he seems the incarnation of hardheartedness. He is a Pharisee, cruel and intolerant, delighting in sacrifice and not in mercy. He holds the clothes of the murderers of Stephen, intensely interested in that ghastly spectacle, and he makes havoc of the Church of Christ. Is it not remarkable that such a man should become the advocate of tenderness? No softening of the years could have wrought that. It is a tribute to the power of Christ. For if it was Christ in Paul that made him great and inspired him to be the evangelist of nations, it was also Christ who made him tenderhearted. There are men who are constitutionally tender, but I do not think that Paul was of that kind. He had to fight his way out of the stony ground into the green pastures of this grace. And when we remember how Paul had lived at Ephesus and how he had labored night and day with tears, we feel what an urgency his word would have, "Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted."
Tenderheartedness Is Different from Weakness
There is a tenderness--and it is very common--which is the antithesis of strength. There is no justice in it, no morality, no love of the good, no hatred of the bad. It is the overflowing of an easy nature that often works irreparable wrong just because it has not strength enough to take a firm stand for what is right. It is weak. Not such is the tenderheartedness of Paul. It knows the cleavage between light and darkness. It knows that it may be cruel to be kind and that sometimes it may be kindest to seem cruel. But it also knows how lonely people are; how sad the heart may be for all the laughter; how heavily the burden of the cross may weigh, although the face is always brave and bright. Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted. You can never tell what that other soul is bearing. The men and women you are inclined to envy--if you knew all, you might not envy them. And it is this--this instinct for the deeps, this surmise of what is hidden in the shadow --it is this that gives to tenderheartedness its power and its place in Christian brotherhood.
Causes Which Make Tenderheartedness Difficult
1. Custom--There are several causes working in the world which make it a hard thing to keep the tender heart. One of the commonest of all is custom. Do you remember, in the parable of the sower, what happened to the seed by the wayside? It fell on the pathway that led across the field, and the birds of the air came and picked it up. It was not stony ground on which it fell; it was not foul with thistles and with thorns; it was good ground, but it was beaten hard by the passing of innumerable feet. Little children had gone that way to school; grave and reverend men had gone to the synagogue. And the feet of happy lovers had been there, and the weary step of the farmer going home, until at last, under that ceaseless traffic, the surface had become impenetrable, and the strip that might have been golden with a harvest was just the happy hunting ground of birds. Are we not all exposed to such a hardening with the constant traffic of our days? Ah friends, what open hearts we had when heaven lay about us in our infancy! But now we are dulled down a little; we are less sensitive, less eager, less receptive; and one inevitable peril of all that is the peril of ceasing to be tenderhearted.
2. The struggle to live--Another enemy of this same grace is the fierce struggle which many have to live. Men say it is difficult to be true today; it is equally difficult to be tender. You could hardly expect a soldier on the field to be a perfect pattern of gentleness. At home he might be that--with his own children--scarcely amid the rigors of the war. And in that city battle of today which we disguise with the name of competition, a man must be in deadly peril of losing the genius of the tender heart. In simpler communities it was not so. Life was easier in simpler communities. And time was longer, and men had more leisure, and the sense of brotherhood was not quite lost. But in the city with its stress and strain, with its pressure at every point, and with its crowd, life may have the joy of growing keen, but it has also the risk of growing cruel. It is not often that the successful man is what you would call the tenderhearted man. The battle has been too terrible for that: there has been too much crushing underfoot; and always when a man tramples upon others, he tramples in that hour on his own heart. Now I want you to remember that when Paul wrote to Ephesus, he wrote to a city like Glasgow or like Liverpool. He was not addressing a handful of quiet villagers. He was writing to a commercial metropolis. And that, I take it, just means this, that Paul was alive to the dangers of the city and knew how supremely difficult it was there to keep the secret of the tender heart.
3. Sin--But the greatest enemy of tenderheartedness is the old sad fact of sin. Sin is the mightiest antisocial power that ever alighted with curse upon the world. Sin blights all that is fairest in the character; sin coarsens everything that is most delicate; sin in the long run softens nothing; it hardens everything it touches. You would think from the popular novels of today that sin is something which transfigures life. Young men and women, don't you believe it; that is the most tragic of fallacies. Sin at the heart of it is always vile. Deck it in any garments that you please, sin leaves us narrower, impoverishes life, always ends in hardening of the heart. There is an old legend of the goblin horseman whose steed might be heard galloping at midnight. And the legend was that where the hoofs alighted, the grass would nevermore be green again. I think that is a parable of sin when a man gives it the rein within his heart; "it hardens all within, and petrifies the feeling." Sin hardens a man's heart towards his wife. It hardens a man's heart towards his children. It hardens him to the touch of human need and to the call which the world makes upon his sympathy. And that is why the grace of tenderheartedness is so conspicuously a Christian virtue--because it betrays that conquest over sin which has been won for us in Jesus Christ.
Think for a moment of the case of David to illustrate what I have been saying. By nature David was a gallant soul, and he was as tenderhearted as heroic. When a shepherd, he had faced a lion; when sent to the army, he had faced Goliath. No one could question the magnificent courage of one who had these fine actions to his credit. And yet this David, when he lit on Saul asleep alone in a cave and at his mercy: this David, who had matched himself with giants, was too tenderhearted to destroy him. One blow, and he was monarch of a kingdom. One blow, and a crown was on his brow. And there was not a Jewish warrior in his train but would have said "It is the will of God." But David could not do it--it was impossible, and David was never greater than just then, when at the back of all his bravery he showed the chivalry of the tender heart. But then there came the day when David sinned, and I shall draw a veil over his sin. But who is this plotting against Uriah and making him drunk and sending him out to die? Ah friends, this is that very David who had once been so chivalrous and gentle but who now, in the grip of a dark passion, has forfeited his tenderness of heart. I thank God he got it back again when he cried in penitence to heaven. "Create in me a clean heart," he cried, "O God, and renew a right spirit within me." But I thank God too that the story is all here to warn us against the hardening of sin, to teach us how all that is fairest in the best may be blighted by the power of its curse.
The Disguise of Our Lack of Tenderheartedness
I know no virtue that is more often disguised than the virtue of which I am speaking. It is not one of the qualities of which men are proud as they are proud of courage or endurance. On the contrary, they are a little ashamed should one suspect them of being tenderhearted. And so very often they hide it out of sight and wrap it up in the most strange disguises and assume a manner that is so far from gentle that it takes a little while to guess the truth. It is not always those of gentle manners who really possess the gentlest hearts. Some of the tenderest men I ever knew have had a rough, even a boisterous, exterior. They were like Mr. Boythorn in Bleak House who was always for hanging somebody or other and all the time was feeding the canary that nestled without a tremor in his hand. I am not sure that had you seen our Lord, you would have fathomed His tenderness at once. Had you seen Him when face to face with Pharisees, I may say without a doubt that you would not. It was one of those secrets that was revealed to children, for children have far quicker eyes than we, and they detect, as by a kind of genius, the gentleness that is hidden in the heart. The French have a proverb which says this--there is nothing so tender as the austere man. Like other proverbs, that has its exceptions, for there are austere men who are not tender. But at least let it teach us not to be rash in judgment, not to sum up at once against our brother. There are men who seem to have a face of brass, and all the time they have a heart of gold.
Memory in the Service of Tenderheartedness
This, too, is one of the works of memory. God has given our memories that calling. It is one of the great works of memory to keep a man tenderhearted in the struggle. I always remember that story of John Newton with whom Christ dealt in such a signal way. As a young man he was desperately wild as if God had given him over to work iniquity. And yet in the wildest of it all, he tells us, he could never forget the soft hand of his mother. Although he was a thousand miles away, he felt that soft caress upon his head. "I will arise and go unto my Father"--was not that the memory of home? "And the Lord turned and looked on Peter"--do you not think the past was in that look? Peter was hardening his heart that night; he was a reckless and a desperate man; and the Lord looked, and all the past revived, and then like summer tempest came his tears. Do we not all have hours like that when the past revives to make us tenderhearted? That is one of the offices of memory where the heart is in daily peril of hardening. And it may be that is the deepest reason why men so often grow tenderer with age. Once they were living in the fierce light of hope; now in the softer light of memory.
Fellowship with Christ Makes Us Tenderhearted
But the great secret of the tender heart lies in the fellowship of Jesus Christ. It is a continual wonder about Jesus that He was so strong and yet so tenderhearted. No authority could make Him fearful; no array of power could ever daunt Him, and yet a bruised reed he would not break, and smoking flax He would not quench. He was not tender because He knew so little. He was tender because He knew so much. All that was hidden from duller eyes He saw--all that men had to bear and battle through. Their helplessness, their crying in the night, their inarticulate appeal to heaven--all this was ever audible to Jesus and kept His heart as tender as a child's. And He never lost this tenderheartedness even in the darkness of the cross. Men scorned Him, and they spat on Him, and crucified Him, yet "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." And what I say is that when that mind of Christ is given by the Spirit to you and me, then whatever happens, however we are treated, we shall be kind one to another, tenderhearted.
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