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The Tender Heart – Richard Sibbes

Category Book Excerpts
Date May 13, 2024

The following is the first part of Sibbes’s sermon The Tender Heart, which is published with three other sermons as Josiah’s Reformation in the Puritan Paperback series.

“And as for the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire
of the Lord, so shall ye say unto him, Thus saith the
Lord God of Israel concerning the words which thou
hast heard, Because thine heart was tender, etc.
– 2 Chron. 34:26–27

THESE words are a part of the message which the prophetess Huldah sent to good King Josiah; for as the message was concerning him and his people, so his answer from her is exact, both for himself and them. That part which concerned his people is set down in the three foregoing verses; that which belongs unto himself is contained in the words now read unto you, ‘But to the king of Judah, etc.’ The preface to her message we see strengthened with authority from God, ‘Thus saith the Lord God of Israel’; which words carry in them the greater force and power from the majesty of the author. For if words spoken from a king carry authority, how much more then the word of the Lord of hosts, the King of kings? Here is her wisdom, therefore, that she lays aside her own authority, and speaks in the name of the Lord.

We see that waters of the same colour have not the same nature and effect, for hot waters are of the same colour with plain ordinary waters, yet more effectual; so the words of a man coming from a man may seem at first to be the same with others, yet notwithstanding, the words of God, coming from the Spirit of God, carry a more wonderful excellency in them even to the hearts of kings. They bind kings, though they labour to shake them off. They are arrows to pierce their hearts; if not to save them, yet to damn them. Therefore she speaks to the king, ‘Thus saith the Lord God of Israel concerning the words which thou hast heard, etc.

Here we read of Josiah, that he was a man of an upright heart, and one who did that which was right in the sight of the Lord; and answerably we find the Lord to deal with him. For he, desirous to know the issue of a fearful judgment threatened against him and his people, sendeth to Huldah, a prophetess of the Lord, to be certified therein; whereupon he receiveth a full and perfect answer of the Lord’s determination, both touching himself and his people, that they being forewarned might be forearmed; and by a timely conversion to the Lord, might procure the aversion1That is, ‘turning away’. of so heavy wrath. He in uprightness sends to inquire, and the Lord returns him a full and upright answer. Whence we may learn,

Doctrine 1. That God doth graciously fit prophets for persons, and his word to a people that are upright in their hearts. Where there is a true desire to know the will of God, there God will give men sincere prophets that shall answer them exactly; not according to their own lusts, but for their good. Josiah was an holy man, who, out of a gracious disposition, desirous to be informed from God what should become of him and his people, sends to the prophetess Huldah. It was God’s mercy that he should have a Huldah, a Jeremiah, to send to; and it was God’s mercy that they should deal faithfully with him. This is God’s mercy to those that are true-hearted. He will give them teachers suitable to their desires; but those that are falsehearted shall have suitable teachers, who shall instruct them according to their lusts. If they be like Ahab, they shall have four hundred false prophets to teach falsehood, to please their lusts (1 Kings 22:6); but if they be Davids, they shall have Nathans. If they be Josiahs, they shall have Huldahs and Jeremiahs. Indeed, Herod may have a John Baptist (Mark 6:17–27); but what will he do with him in the end when he doth come to cross him in his sin? Then off goes his head.

Use. This should teach us to labour for sincerity, to have our hearts upright towards God; and then he will send us men of a direct and right spirit, that shall teach us according to his own heart. But if we be false-hearted, God will give us teachers that shall teach us, not according to his will, but to please our own. We shall light upon belly-gods and epicures, and shall fall into the hands of priests and Jesuits. Where such are, there are the judgments of God upon the people, because they do not desire to know the will of God in truth. We see (Ezek. 14:3, 4), the people desired to have a stumblingblock for their iniquity. They were naught2That is, ‘naughty’, wicked. , and would have idols. Therefore they desired stumblingblocks. They would have false prophets, that so they might go to hell with some authority. Well, saith God, they shall have stumblingblocks: for thus saith the Lord God of Israel, ‘To every man that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet to inquire; I the Lord will answer him that cometh, according to the multitude of his idols; according to his own false heart, and not according to good.’ What brought the greatest judgment upon the world, next to hell itself, I mean antichrist—the terriblest judgment of all, that hath drawn so many souls to hell—but the wickedness of the place and people, and his own ambition? The sins of the people gave life to him. They could not endure the word of God or plain dealing; they thought it a simple thing. They must have more sacrifices, more ceremonies, and a more glorious government. They would not be content with Christ’s government which he left them, but were weary of this. Therefore, he being gone to heaven, they must have a pope to go before them and lead them to hell. Therefore let men never excuse those sins, for certainly God saw a great deal of evil in them and therefore gave them up to the judgment of antichrist. But let us magnify God’s mercies that hath not so given us up. Thus we see how graciously God deals with a true-hearted king: he sends him a true answer of his message.

Verse 27, ‘Because thine heart was tender, etc.’ Now here comes a comfortable message to good Josiah, that he should be taken away and not see the miseries that should befall his people; the cause whereof is here set down, ‘Because thy heart was tender and thou didst humble thyself before God’; which cause is double.

1. Inward.
2. Outward.

1. The inward is the tenderness of his heart and humbling of himself. 2. And then, the outward expression of it is set down in a double act: (1.) Rending of clothes. (2.) Weeping.

‘Because thou hast rent thy clothes, and wept before me.’ After which comes the promise, ‘I have also heard thee,’ saith the Lord; ‘behold, I will gather thee to thy fathers, and thou shalt be put in thy grave in peace, and thine eyes shall not see all the evil which I will bring upon this place, and upon the inhabitants of the same.’

I will first remove one doubt, before I come to the tenderness of Josiah’s heart.

Quest. What! may some say, Is there anything in man that can cause God to do him good?

Ans. No. One thing is the cause of another, but all come from the first cause. So tenderness of heart may be some cause of removal of judgment; but God is the cause of both, or they all come from the first cause: which is God. So that these words do rather contain an order than a cause. For God hath set down this order in things, that where there is a broken heart there shall be a freedom from judgment; not that tenderness of heart deserves anything at God’s hand, as the papists gather, but because God hath decreed it so, that where tenderness of heart is, there mercy shall follow; as here there was a tender heart in Josiah, therefore mercy did follow. God’s promises are made conditionally; not that the condition on our part deserves anything at God’s hand, but when God hath given the condition, he gives the thing promised. So that this is an order which God hath set down, that where there is grace, mercy shall follow. For where God intends to do any good, he first works in them a gracious disposition: after which he looks upon his own work as upon a lovely object, and so doth give them other blessings. God crowns grace with grace.

By ‘heart’ is not meant the inward material and fleshy part of the body; but that spiritual part, the soul and affections thereof. In that it is said to be ‘tender’ or melting, it is a borrowed and metaphorical phrase. Now in a ‘ tender heart’ these three properties concur:

1. It is sensible3That is, ‘sensitive’. . 2. It is pliable. 3. It is yielding.

1. First, A tender heart is always a sensible heart. It hath life and therefore sense. There is no living creature but hath life, and sense to preserve that life. So a tender heart is sensible of any grievance, for tenderness doth presuppose life, because nothing that hath not life is tender. Some senses are not altogether necessary for the being of a living creature, as hearing and seeing; but sensibleness is needful to the being of every living creature. It is a sign of life in a Christian when he is sensible of inconveniences. Therefore God hath planted such affections in man, as may preserve the life of man, as fear and love. Fear is that which makes a man avoid many dangers. Therefore God hath given us fear to cause us make our peace with him in time, that we may be freed from inconveniences; yea, from that greatest of inconveniences, hell fire.

2, 3. Again, A tender heart is pliable and yielding. Now that is said to be yielding and pliable, which yields to the touch of anything that is put to it, and doth not stand out, as a stone that rebounds back when it is thrown against a wall. So that is said to be tender which hath life, and sense, and is pliable, as wax is yielding and pliable to the disposition of him that works it, and is apt to receive any impression that is applied to it. In a tender heart there is no resistance, but it yields presently to every truth, and hath a pliableness and a fitness to receive any impression, and to execute any performance; a fit temper indeed for a heart wrought on by the Spirit. God must first make us fit, and then use us to work. As a wheel must first be made round, and then turned round, so the head must be first altered, and then used in a renewed way. A tender heart, so soon as the word is spoken, yields to it. It quakes at threatenings, obeys precepts, melts at promises, and the promises sweeten the heart. In all duties concerning God, and all offices of love to men, a tender heart is thus qualified. But hardness of heart is quite opposite. For, as things dead and insensible, it will not yield to the touch, but returns back whatsoever is cast upon it. Such a heart may be broken in pieces, but it will not receive any impression; as a stone may be broken, but will not be pliable, but rebound back again. A hard heart is indeed like wax to the devil, but like a stone to God or goodness. It is not yielding, but resists and repels all that is good; and therefore compared in the Scripture to the adamant stone. Sometimes it is called a frozen heart, because it is unpliable to anything. You may break it in pieces, but it is unframeable for any service, for any impression; it will not be wrought upon. But on the contrary, a melting and tender heart is sensible, yielding, and fit for any service both to God and man. Thus we see plainly what a tender heart is. The point from hence is,

Doct. 2. That it is a supernatural disposition of a true child of God to have a tender, soft, and a melting heart. I say that a disposition of a true child of God and the frame of soul of such an one, to be tender, apprehensive, and serviceable, is a supernatural disposition; and of necessity it must be so, because naturally the heart is of another temper—a stony heart. All by nature have stony hearts in respect of spiritual goodness. There may be a tenderness in regard of natural things; but in regard of grace, the heart is stony, and beats back all that is put to it. Say what you will to a hard heart, it will never yield. A hammer will do no good to a stone. It may break it in pieces, but not draw it to any form. So to a stony heart, all the threatenings in the world will do no good. You may break it in pieces, but never work upon it. It must be the almighty power of God. There is nothing in the world so hard as the heart of man. The very creatures will yield obedience to God; as flies, and lice, to destroy Pharaoh; but Pharaoh himself was so hard-hearted, that after ten plagues he was ten times the more hardened (Exod. 10:27). Therefore, if a man have not a melting heart, he is diverted from his proper object; because God hath placed affections in us, to be raised presently upon suitable objects. When any object is offered in the word of God, if our hearts were not corrupted, we would have correspondent affections. At judgments we would tremble, at the word of threatenings quake, at promises we would with faith believe, and at mercies be comforted; at directions we would be pliable and yielding. But by nature our hearts are hard. God, may threaten, and promise, and direct, and yet we insensible all the while. Well, all Josiahs, and all that are gracious, of necessity must have soft hearts. Therefore I will show you,

1. How a tender heart is wrought.
2. How it may be preserved and maintained.
3. How it may be discerned from the contrary.

Buy Josiah’s Reformation (Paperback, 176 pages, $4.50).

Featured Photo by Md Rumon Munshi on Unsplash

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