The effect of sin is to make the heart hard. The more a person sins, the harder the heart becomes. This is truth that the Bible expresses repeatedly. Jesus talked about it a lot. When the disciples asked Jesus why He spoke in parables, He said, “Because this people’s heart has become hard.” Ellen White says that men’s hearts today are harder than they were in the days of Christ. When you understand the cure for hardness of heart, you not only know what to do so that your marriage will not end in divorce, but you will know how to win souls to Christ.
I was studying to be a minister and after I had studied for a while and had my first district, I realized that I still did not know anything about what I was supposed to be doing. I knew a lot of history, had studied public speaking, biblical languages, sociology, and psychology, but I still did not know what I was doing. When I first went to work as a pastor, I was pastoring churches alone. I prayed and said, “Lord, You’re going to have to help me. I don’t know what I’m doing out here. I don’t know what to do.” And in His providence, I believe, the Lord sent to me a man who was a very experienced evangelist, and I had an opportunity to work with him on several occasions, sometimes for weeks at a time. He had won thousands of people to Christ and he taught me something that I have never forgotten. When we were out visiting he used to quote to me repeatedly. “You should not feel it your duty to introduce arguments upon the Sabbath question as you meet the people. If persons mention this subject, tell them that this is not your burden now. But when they surrender heart and mind and will to God, they are then prepared candidly to weigh evidence in regard to these solemn, testing truths.” Evangelism, 228. This evangelist would say that until a person had surrendered his heart, mind, and will to the Lord, he was not prepared to hear any doctrines.
There are millions of people in America today who believe that the seventh day is the Sabbath and are not keeping it. They know truth, why do they not follow it? Because they have not surrendered heart, mind, and will to the Lord. Their hearts are hard.
Reach the Heart
“God’s plan is first to reach the heart.” Ministry of Healing, 157. Their hearts are hard and God’s plan is first to reach the heart. When you understand this principle, it starts to make sense why Ellen White said that a Christian family could do more good than all the sermons that could be preached. When you walk into a home and there is no bickering, fighting, and hard-heartedness, but the people in that home express affection and sympathy toward each other and are courteous and kind, it is like the atmosphere of heaven. This is so powerful that Ellen White says the influence of a Christian family can do more good than all the sermons that can be preached because it reaches the heart, and “The truth expressed in living, unselfish deeds is the strongest argument for Christianity.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 2, 240.
Jesus spent more time healing than He spent preaching. Until the door to the heart is open, preaching does no good. “Even the most hard hearted and apparently sin-encased souls may be approached in this way and understand something of the mystery of godliness and become so charmed that they will not rest until they have a knowledge of Jesus Christ and His saving grace.” Counsels on Health, 537.
The most hard hearted can be reached by helping where they need help. Different people need different kinds of help. Everywhere, people are in distress. Now people may not think you are doing evangelism when you go to help people in distress, but that is the first step. Because until the door of the heart is open, anything else is of no avail.
If a person has surrendered his heart to Jesus, everything else is going to come along. Because if you have somebody’s heart, you have all of them. Helping people where they need help; when they are sick and when they are in distress, opens the door to their heart. It softens the heart.
Point Them to Calvary
Ellen White instructed, “The minister should come close to the trembling one, and point him to Calvary, lifting up a crucified and risen Saviour as the sinner’s only hope.” Review and Herald, May 31, 1892. Often times we come into contact with people and we do not realize their condition or the struggles of their mind. They feel discouraged and stuck in a rut of sin. They need to be pointed to Calvary. This is what will happen, “There are many whose hearts are as hard as the beaten highway, and apparently it is a useless effort to present the truth to them; but while logic may fail to move, and argument be worthless to convince, let the laborer for Christ come close to such in Christlike sympathy and compassion, and it may be that the love of Christ will subdue and melt the soul into tenderness and contrition.” Ibid.
Sin makes us hard-hearted. As long as we are living a life of sin, our heart is getting harder. But when a person comes to Calvary, something happens in the heart. Sin is seen in a different light. It does not look so wonderful anymore. It completely changes your mind about sin. Ellen White said that the cross of Christ is the theme around which all other truths cluster. The cross of Christ needs to be dwelt upon in every sermon. Why? Because our hearts are hard and if they are not melted, all the truth that we can preach and teach, will do no good. She said, quoting from the apostle Paul, “The world by wisdom, knew not God. Let the wayward and hard-hearted be led to the feet of Jesus; here they may learn precious lessons of love of their Creator and Redeemer, and hope will spring up.” Ibid.
Jesus’ own disciples were hard-hearted. Luke says their hearts were still hardened. Eventually they were cured except for Judas. Peter thought he knew his own heart, but he did not. He denied his Lord, a very hard-hearted thing to do. It cut Jesus to the heart to realize that Peter would do that to Him. After Peter denied Him, Jesus looked straight at Peter. If Jesus had been angry with him, Peter would have committed suicide. But he saw no anger, only love.
A Broken Heart?
One of the things that has to happen to the hard heart before that person can be taken to heaven is, his heart has to be broken. The Bible teaches that our hearts have to be broken or we cannot be saved. Jesus said, “And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” Matthew 21:44. Those are the two choices that every person must make. If you fall on the rock, your own hard heart will be broken, but if the rock falls on you, it will grind you to powder. When Peter ran out of the judgment hall back to Gethsemane, his heart was broken. “Then he went out and wept bitterly.” Matthew 26:75. Peter went right to the place where Jesus had prayed a few hours before, and he fell down, weeping. It was there that he was converted. He was cured from his hardness of heart and he never again was a boastful, arrogant person like he had been.
If we come to Calvary and understand what really happened, it will break our heart. The reason it will break our heart is because we are sinners. When your heart is broken, then it can become soft and tender; not hard-hearted anymore. Until your old heart is broken, you cannot receive a new heart.
“There is a sad lack of tenderness and sympathy among the servants of Christ. They do not love as brethren. They are harsh and dictatorial. Especially is their conduct toward the erring destitute of pity or compassion. Said the apostle, ‘Considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.’ We shall surely be judged by our Heavenly Father in the same manner that we have judged others. ‘With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged.’ ‘He shall have judgment without mercy that hath showed no mercy.’ Oh that these hard-hearted, exacting ones would fall upon the Rock and be broken, lest theirs be the terrible alternative, that the Rock shall fall upon them and grind them to powder.” Review and Herald, December 20, 1881. If I am harsh, dictatorial, or exacting, what is my problem? I am hard-hearted and I have to fall on the Rock and be broken so that I can become tender and sympathetic and receive a new heart.
Do Justly and Love Mercy
We need to cultivate mercy and the love of God among us as Adventists. One of the things that I am most concerned about in the Historic Adventist movement today is the way that we treat each other. I want us to think very seriously about our condition and realize that we may not be in as good a condition as we think. It is evident by the way that we treat each other in our homes and churches that we are not ready for heaven. The way we talk about one another, the way we act toward one another is not Christlike. We have to be changed in heart if we are going to heaven.
“We must deal justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before God. We must let Christ into our hearts and homes. We must cultivate love, sympathy, and true courtesy one to another. The reason that there are so many hard-hearted men and women in the world is that generous affection has been regarded as weakness. If we would have tender hearts such as Jesus had when He was upon the earth and sanctified sympathy such as the angels have for erring mortals, we must cultivate the simple, unaffected affections of childhood, then we should be directed by heavenly principles which are refining and elevating in their tendency.” Signs of the Times, November 10, 1887.
A heart like the Pharisees had, Ellen White says, is the natural human condition because of sin. Have you received a new heart? That is what it means to be born again. When that happens, I am not so concerned about whether my wife makes me happy. I am not thinking of getting rid of her. I think completely opposite. My thinking is that I vowed before God to make this woman happy and I am going to be true and faithful to her and make her happy. What happens to me is not of the most consequence. The other person is of the most consequence because my heart is tender, sympathetic and I cannot stand to see that person hurt. When we can stand to see our spouses and our families and our church members hurt, that is proof there is something the matter with our heart. Jesus could not endure it. Ellen White says that He could not witness a wrong word or act without pain which showed in His countenance. He could not hurt anybody! Has your heart been changed? Have you fallen on the Rock and been broken?
If I Be Lifted Up
God was providing everything the Children of Israel in the wilderness needed, but they were hard in heart and were murmuring and complaining. So God gave them a bigger problem. He removed His protecting hand. Poisonous snakes in that wilderness began biting and Israelites started to die by the thousands. God told Moses to make a serpent of brass and put it up on a pole and to tell the Children of Israel, “If you will look at that serpent, you’ll be saved.” Jesus told Nicodemus that the serpent represented Jesus. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3: 14, 15. In the same way that they had to look at that serpent, Jesus said, the Son of Man had to be lifted up and if you will look at Him and keep looking at Him, and put your trust in Him, something will happen in your heart. It is a divine science that we cannot explain. The Bible says, “Look unto Me and be saved all the ends of the earth for I am God and there is no other.”
What happens when a person comes to Calvary and starts to meditate on what it means? To most Christians today Calvary is just a story. They have a crucifix in their car, they have pictures in their homes of Christ on the cross, but they do not understand. Ellen White says that if we are going to be saved at last we must learn the lesson of penitence and contrition at the foot of the cross. We have to stay there long enough so that our heart gets changed, the old heart is broken, and we receive a new heart. We need to spend time studying the life of Christ, especially the closing scenes. It would be well for us to spend an hour a day, Ellen White says, studying His life, taking it point by point, especially the closing scenes.
What will happen if you do that? “Look alone to Jesus as your righteousness and your sacrifice. As you are justified by faith, the deadly sting of the serpent will be healed.” Sons and Daughters of God, 222. We have been stung by the serpent. The sting of sin makes the heart as hard as stone. People can be hurting all around and you do not know it. By familiarity with sin we become accustomed to it.
The Devil Wants to Destroy Your Family
The devil is trying in every way to destroy the church of God today, and the most effective way he has is to destroy the family. The way to save the church is to save the family. The way to destroy the church is to destroy the family. It is that simple. “No unpleasant words are spoken in heaven. There no unkind thoughts are cherished. There envy, evil surmising, hatred, and strife find no place. Perfect harmony pervades the heavenly court. Well does Satan know what heaven is, and what the influence of the angels is. His work is to bring into every family the cruel elements of self-will, harshness, selfishness. Thus he seeks to destroy the happiness of the family. He knows that the spirit governing in the home will be brought into the church. Let the father and mother always be guarded in their words and actions. The husband is to treat his wife, the mother of his children, with due respect, and the wife is to love and reverence her husband. How can she do this if he treats her like a servant, to be dictated to, ordered about, scolded, found fault with before the children? He is forcing her to dislike him and even to hate him.” Upward Look, 163.
The devil’s plan is to destroy the church. How does he do it? He destroys the home first and he gets us to treat each other in a hard-hearted way. And as we keep doing it, our hearts just become harder and harder. God’s plan is for me to come to the cross, and as I keep studying it day by day, the contrast between His heart and my heart becomes painful. It breaks my heart and when my heart is broken, then God can give me a new heart that is merciful, loving, sympathetic, and tender. A heart that cannot bear to see somebody in my family or in my church hurting. I have to go and try to help them if anybody is hurting. That is the way Jesus was. And when you have a heart like that, you are never asking the question, “Is my wife making me happy or not?” The question you are asking is, “Are my wife and children happy?” If they are not happy, what should I do so they will be happy?”
We will have the same care for people in the church. We will not be able to see people in the church hurting and not do anything. And what will that do to the church? You will start having brotherly love grow up in the church. We have a desperate need today in our churches for brotherly love. Our hearts are hard. They need to be broken and we need a new heart. Jesus wants to give me a new heart that is tender, merciful, loving, sympathetic, kind; a heart that is so tender that I cannot bear to see somebody in my family or my church hurting. When we get it, there will be all kinds of problems in our churches that will be solved. Pray earnestly and ask the Lord to give you that new heart, He has promised to do it!