By John Bunyan
[VI. ADVANTAGES THAT A CHRISTIAN GETS BY KEEPING HIS HEART TENDER.]
And here, as in a fit place, before I go any further, I will show you some of the advantages that a Christian gets by keeping of his heart tender. For, as to have a broken heart, is to have an excellent thing, so to keep this broken heart tender, is also very advantageous.
First. This is the way to maintain in thy soul always a fear of sinning against God. Christians do not wink at, or give way to sin, until their hearts begin to lose their tenderness. A tender heart will be affected at the sin of another, much more it will be afraid of committing of sin itself (2 Kings 22:19).
Second. A tender heart quickly yieldeth to prayer, yea, prompteth to it, puts an edge and fire into it. We never are backward to prayer until our heart has lost its tenderness; though then it grows cold, flat, and formal, and so carnal to and in that holy duty.
Third. A tender hearts has always repentance at hand for the least fault or slip, or sinful thought that the soul is guilty of. In many things the best offend; but if a Christian loseth his tenderness, if he says he has his repentance to seek, his heart is grown hard, has lost that spirit, that kind spirit of repentance, it was wont to have. Thus it was with the Corinthians; they were decayed, and lost their tenderness; wherefore their sin, yea, great sins, remained unrepented of (2 Cor 12:20).
Fourth. A tender heart is for receiving often its communion with God, when he that is hardened, though the seed of grace is in him, will be content to eat, drink, sleep, wake, and go days without number without him (Isa 17:10; Jer 2:32).
Fifth. A tender heart is a wakeful, watchful heart. It watches against sin in the soul, sin in the family, sin in the calling, sin in spiritual duties and performances, &c. It watches against Satan, against the world, against the flesh, &c. But now, when the heart is not tender, there is sleepiness, unwatchfulness, idleness, a suffering the heart, the family, and calling to be much defiled, spotted, and blemished with sin; for a hard heart departs from God, and turns aside in all these things.
Sixth. A tender heart will deny itself, and that in lawful things, and will forbear even that which may be done, for some Jew, or Gentile, or the church of God, or any member of it, should be offended, or made weak thereby; whereas the Christian that is not tender, that has lost his tenderness, is so far off of denying himself in lawful things, that he will even adventure to meddle in things utterly forbidden, whoever is offended, grieved, or made weak thereby. For an instance of this, we need go no further than to the man in the text, who, while he was tender, trembled at little things; but when his heart was hardened, he could take Bathsheba to satisfy his lust, and kill her husband to cover his wickedness.
Seventh. A tender heart, I mean, the heart kept tender, preserves from many a blow, lash, and fatherly chastisement; because it shuns the causes, which is sin, of the scourging hand of God. 'With the pure thou wilt show thyself pure, but with the froward thou wilt shew thyself unsavoury' (2 Sam 22:27; Psa 18:25-27).
Many a needless rebuke and wound doth happen to the saints of God through their unwise behaviour. When I say needless, I mean they are not necessary, but to reclaim us from our vanities; for we should not feel the smart of them, were it not for our follies. Hence the afflicted is called a fool, because his folly brings his affliction upon him. 'Fools, ' says David, 'because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, are afflicted' (Psa 107:17). And therefore it is, as was said before, that he call his sin his foolishness. And again, 'God will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints; but let them not turn again to folly' (Psa 38:5, 85:8). 'If his children transgress my laws, then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes' (Psa 89:30-32).
[How to keep the heart tender.]
QUEST. But what should a Christian do, when God has broke his heart, to keep it tender?
ANSW. To this I will speak briefly. And, first, give you several cautions; secondly, several directions.
[First, Several cautions.]
1. Take heed that you choke not those convictions that at present do break your hearts, by labouring to put those things out of your minds which were the cause of such convictions; but rather nourish and cherish those things in a deep and sober remembrance of them. Think, therefore, with thyself thus, What was it that at first did wound my heart? And let that still be there, until, by the grace of God, and the redeeming blood of Christ, it is removed.
2. Shun vain company. The keeping of vain company has stifled many a conviction, killed many a desire, and made many a soul fall into hell, that once was hot in looking after heaven. A companion that is not profitable to the soul, is hurtful. 'He that walketh with wise men shall be wise, but a companion of fools shall be destroyed' (Prov 13:20).
3. Take heed of idle talk, that thou neither hear nor join with it. 'Go from the presence of a foolish man, when thou perceivest not in him the lips of knowledge' (Prov 14:7). 'Evil communications corrupt good manners. And a fool's lips are the snare of his soul.' Wherefore take heed of these things (Prov 18:7; 1 Cor 15:33).
4. Beware of the least motion to sin, that it be not countenanced, lest the countenancing of that makes way for a bigger. David's eye took his heart, and so his heart nourishing the thought, made way for the woman's company, the act of adultery, and bloody murder. Take heed, therefore, brethren, 'lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin' (Heb 3:12, 13). And remember, that he that will rend the block, puts the thin end of the wedge first thereto, and so, by driving, does his work.
5. Take heed of evil examples among the godly; learn of no man to do that which the word of God forbids. Sometimes Satan makes use of a good man's bad ways, to spoil and harden the heart of them that come after. Peter's false doing had like to have spoiled Barnabas, yea, and several others more. Wherefore take heed of men, of good men's ways, and measure both theirs and thine own by no other rule but the holy Word of God (Gal 2:11-13).
6. Take heed of unbelief, or atheistical thoughts; make no question of the truth and reality of heavenly things: for know unbelief is the worst of evils; nor can the heart be tender that nourisheth or gives place unto it. 'Take heed, therefore, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God' (Heb 3:12). These cautions are necessary to be observed with all diligence, of all them that would, when their heart is made tender, keep it so. And now to come,
[Second], to the Directions.
1. Labour after a deep knowledge of God to keep it warm upon thy heart; knowledge of his presence, that is everywhere. 'Do not I fill heaven and earth, saith the Lord?' (Jer 23:24). (1.) Knowledge of his piercing eye, that it runneth to and fro through the earth, beholding in every place the evil and the good; that his eyes behold, and his eyelids try the children of men (Prov 15:3). (2.) The knowledge of his power, that he is able to turn and dissolve heaven and earth into dust and ashes; and that they are in his hand but as a scroll or vesture (Heb 1:11, 12). (3.) The knowledge of his justice, that the rebukes of it are as devouring fire (Heb 12:19). (4.) The knowledge of his faithfulness, in fulfilling promises to them to whom they are made, and of his threatenings on the impenitent (Matt 5:18, 24:35; Mark 13:31).
2. Labour to get and keep a deep sense of sin in its evil nature, and in its soul-destroying effects upon thy heart; be persuaded, that it is the only enemy of God, and that none hate, or are hated of God, but through that. (1.) Remember it turned angels into devils, thrust them down from heaven to hell. (2.) That it is the chain in which they are held and bound over to judgment (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). (3.) That it was for that that Adam was turned out of paradise; that for which the old world was drowned; that for which Sodom and Gomorrah was burned with fire from heaven; and that which cost Christ his blood to redeem thee from the curse it has brought upon thee; and that, if anything, will keep thee out of heaven for ever and ever. (4.) Consider the pains of hell. Christ makes use of that as an argument to keep the heart tender; yea, to that end repeats and repeats, and repeats, both the nature and durableness of the burning flame thereof, and of the gnawing of the neverdying worm that dwells there (Mark 9:43-48).
3. Consider of death, both as to the certainty of thy dying, and uncertainty of the time when. We must die, we must needs die; our days are determined, the number of our months are with God, though not with us; nor can we pass them, would we, had we them, give a thousand worlds to do it (2 Sam 14:14; Job 7:1, 14:1-5). Consider thou must die but once, I mean but once as to this world; for if thou, when thou goest hence, dost not die well, thou canst not come back again and die better. 'It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment' (Heb 9;27).
4. Consider also of the certainty and terribleness of the day of judgment, when Christ shall sit upon his great white throne, when the dead shall, by the sound of the trump of God, be raised up; when the elements, with heaven and earth, shall be on a burning flame; when Christ shall separate men one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats; when the books shall be opened, the witnesses produced, and every man be judged according to his works; when heaven's gate shall stand open to them that shall be saved, and the jaws of hell stand gaping for them that shall be damned (Acts 5:30-31, 10:42; Matt 25:31, 32, 34, 4; Rev 2:11; 1 Cor 15:51; Rev 20:12, 15; 2 Peter 3:7, 10, 12; Rom 2:2, 15, 16; Rev 22:12).
5. Consider, Christ Jesus did use no means to harden his heart against doing and suffering those sorrows which were necessary for the redemption of thy soul. No; though he could have hardened his heart against thee in the way of justice and righteousness, because thou hadst sinned against him, he rather awakened himself, and put on all pity, bowels, and compassion; yea, tender mercies, and did it. In his love and in his pity he saved us. His tender mercies from on high hath visited us. He loved us, and gave himself for us. Learn, then, of Christ, to be tender of thyself, and to endeavour to keep thy heart tender to God-ward, and to the salvation of thy soul. But to draw to a conclusion.