By A.W. Pink
From Studies in the Scriptures Publication: September, 1939
"Because thine heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before the LORD, when thou heardest what I spake against this place . . . I also have heard thee, saith 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 rent 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 you[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 animal meat during "lent," yet these very people have no compunction in worshipping images of wood and stone. Verily 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 veriest 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 the Christ of God. 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: moves not away from but 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 till 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" (Isa. 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 honour 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 dishonours 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 wilt Thou 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" (Rom. 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 whatsoever his hand findeth 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, "Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that 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 neighbours. When he sees one in dire distress he will not pass by on the other side, but go and endeavour to relieve him. A heart which is tender Godwards is never hard and cruel manwards.--A.W.P.