A SERIOUS QUESTION
by James Smith, 1858
"Is your heart hardened?" Mark 8:17
Sin hardens the heart. Before sin entered, the heart was soft and impressible; but sin petrifies, and the heart becomes more hardened the more we sin. Mercy, also, indirectly hardens the sinner's heart. Nothing hardened the heart of Pharaoh, like the mercy of God in removing the plagues. While he suffered, he quailed and yielded; but as soon as he saw that God removed the plagues, he hardened his heart afresh. Just so in affliction, especially bodily sickness, men appear penitent, and are ready to do many things; but as soon as God raises them up, they harden themselves more than ever; and very generally, the last state of such men is worse than the first.
The Lord Jesus expected the hearts of his disciples to be impressed and affected by what they saw and heard; but little effect was produced; therefore he puts the question, "Is your heart hardened?"
The same question is now proposed to us. What is the state of your heart? Is it soft and impressible, or is it hard and unaffected?
We have heard of God's great love in the gift of his Son — of his desire for our salvation — of his beseeching us to be reconciled. We have been loaded with his benefits, surrounded by his mercies, and have had ten thousand proofs of his goodness. What effect have these things had upon us? Have they subdued our enmity, conquered our prejudices, and won over our hearts for God? Or, "Is your heart hardened?"
We have heard and read of the love of Jesus; how he became a man who was God; lived a life of self-denial and sorrow; died a bitter and shameful death on the cross; ascended to heaven where he lives, loves, and pleads for sinners, and gives repentance and the remission of sins. What effect has this had upon us? Have we believed on Jesus, loved the Savior, and committed the keeping of our souls to him? Or "Is your heart hardened?"
We have sat under the ministry of the word; have been convinced that we are in danger, because our hearts were not right with God; have had the word impressed upon our minds, and felt the Spirit testifying and striving with our souls. He has presented the sweet invitations and precious promises of the gospel to us; he has set the pains of hell and the joys of heaven before us; he has warned, advised, and admonished us; but with what result? Have we yielded to him, and fled for refuge to the cross? Or, have we vexed, grieved, and resisted the Holy Spirit? "Is your heart hardened?"
Often, very often, the Lord has touched us by the dispensations of his providence, in the loss of friends and relatives, by sickness and pain of body; sometimes he has startled us with dreams, and terrified us with visions; but have we turned to him who smote us? or have we not shaken off serious thoughts, plunged into business, meddled with politics, or run after pleasure to rid ourselves of the reflections awakened? "Is your heart hardened?"
A hard heart is the greatest evil, and where God gives a man up to hardness of heart, it is a sore judgment. But how many there are all around us, in our towns and villages, in our congregations and households, who appear to have their hearts yet hardened!
With what touching emphasis may we put this question to the children of godly parents. You have been taught the truth from infancy, and have ever been trained up in the way that you should go. But after all the prayers and tears of your godly mother, after all the counsels and efforts of your Christian father, after all means are used for your conversion by the minister and church of Christ, "Is your heart hardened?"
Young man, what solicitude has your father manifested for you; what prayers has your mother offered for you; what hopes at times have been excited in their hearts respecting you; and are they to be now bitterly disappointed? Will you seek damnation in the error of your way? Will you wander out of the path of understanding? Will you break your mother's heart, and pierce your father through with many sorrows? What! with your knowledge of the Bible, after what you have seen of the power of religion, after what you have felt at times in your own conscience, when you were almost persuaded to be a Christian, "Is your heart hardened?"
Young woman, you cannot forget how your loving mother has spoken to you, prayed with you, and persuaded you to turn to the Lord. You are aware how your father's heart has yearned over you, how he has pleaded with God for you, what hopes he has at times had that you were really concerned for the salvation of your soul. You have heard of Jesus, and read of Jesus, and at times have been deeply affected by what you have heard and read. And will you now allow gaiety and folly, pride and worldliness, to choke the word, stifle your convictions, and erase all your good impressions? What! will you ignore God's counsel, reject the Savior's loving call, grieve the Spirit of grace, wound your father's heart, grieve your mother's spirit, and do what you can to destroy your immortal soul? "Is your heart hardened?"
If you harden your heart now, you may find by and by, that though you would repent — you cannot; though you would believe — you cannot; though you would pray — you cannot. O think of lying on a sick and dying bed, with a hardened heart, hardened through the deceitfulness of sin! O think of appearing before the judgment seat of Christ, to answer for hardening your heart against his glorious Father, against his Holy Spirit, and against his blessed self! What account will you be able to give, or what excuse can you make, for stifling your convictions, rejecting his word, and preferring the pleasures of sin — to the joys of his salvation?
Young friends, beware of hardening your hearts, or of giving up your hearts to a hardening process. Heart-hardening begins in youth. Heart-hardening often goes on most rapidly under the clear, faithful and affectionate preaching of the gospel. God's ministers are a savor of life — unto life; or a savor of death — unto death, unto all who hear them. The gospel is either the power of God unto salvation — or a testimony for God against the careless, unbelieving, Christ-rejecting hearer.
Reader, no doubt you have often heard the gospel, have been warned to flee from the wrath to come, have been invited to come to the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved, have felt in your own soul something of the powers of the world to come; "Is your heart hardened?" Take this question from the loving lips of Jesus, lay it on your conscience, press for an answer, nor rest until you obtain one!