Misplaced Presumptuous Tenderness

We live in a day of comfort. Every new product boasts a greater measure of ease than that which preceded it. Our public discourse insists that the highest form of virtue is that we do not make others feel uncomfortable about their beliefs or lifestyles. Then we read the Bible and, in many places, we find it to be extremely uncomfortable. Of course, we all have our "go-to" encouragement passages; and, it's right that love them. These are the cherished Gospel promises and comforts. These are, without question, supremely important to the life of faith for the child of God.  Still, we find just as many uncomfortable warnings and rebukes in Scripture as we do comforting promises and encouragements. So how should we approach the severe passages of Scripture? 

Reading through the second half of Proverbs 1 recently, I was struck with the severity of what God says to those who reject His wisdom,  

"Wisdom cries aloud in the street,
    in the markets she raises her voice;
at the head of the noisy streets she cries out;
    at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
    and fools hate knowledge?
If you turn at my reproof,
behold, I will pour out my spirit to you;
    I will make my words known to you.
Because I have called and you refused to listen,
    have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
because you have ignored all my counsel
    and would have none of my reproof,
I also will laugh at your calamity;
    I will mock when terror strikes you,
when terror strikes you like a storm
    and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
    when distress and anguish come upon you.
Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
    they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge
    and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
would have none of my counsel
    and despised all my reproof,
therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
    and have their fill of their own devices.
For the simple are killed by their turning away,
    and the complacency of fools destroys them..."

Charles Bridges, the great 19th Century Church of England minister, in his Exposition of the Book of Proverbs, explained that Christ is speaking in the passage. Jesus is the very wisdom of God. Christ is here calling men and women, boys and girls to come to Him and trust in Him for redemption and safety from the wrath of God. Bridges wrote:

"The Savior calls by his word—his providence--his ministers—conscience. But, I called, and ye refused. Not till his calls have been refused, does he thunder his warnings. But such grace, so rich and free, yet rejected—who can take the gauge of this guilt! All creatures beside are his servants.‘ Man alone resists his yoke. He stretched out his hand’ to afford help: to confer a blessing: earnestly to beseech its acceptance—-yea, even to command attention to his call. 

Bridges then explained that the turning point in the passage is due to the rejection of the Savior by those He was calling to Himself. He wrote,

"But no man regarded. He gives the wisest counsel, and when this is unavailing—the most wholesome reproof; but all is set at naught. Thus does he “endure with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.”‘ But, oh sinner! the day comes, when he, who once yearned, and wept, and prayed, and died, will have no pity; when he shall be as if he laughed and mocked at your calamity; when he shall disdain your cry; when he shall delight in the exercise of his sovereign justice over you.’ All will then be the desolation of realized fear"-—-sudden as a whirlwind'—-the distress and anguish of utter despair."

Recognizing the uncomfortableness of the language of Scripture, Bridges explained, 

"We must not soften down God’s own words by a misplaced presumptuous tenderness. Have we never seen them verified in the dying chamber of the hardened sinner, who has neglected and scoffed at the Gospel, and never sent up one cry for mercy on his soul’! And is there no warning here of the danger of a protracted repentance; of the worthlessness of confessions extorted by terror—-'howling on the bed'-—not weeping at the cross." 

It seems to me that there is a word here for us. The great temptation ministers and congregants alike face today is to "soften down God's own words by a misplaced presumptuous tenderness." We want to be sympathetic and empathetic to our lost and persihing neighbors. We want others to find us to be warm and compassionate. We want to be nurturing and kind-hearted Christians. And, all of these are good and right things after which to seek. The problem is that we often fail to realize that there is nothing so loving and compassionate as telling sinners the dreadful consequences of sin. If we "soften down God's own words by a misplaced presumptuous tenderness," we are not truly expressing tenderness, sympathy, empathy, love, compassion and kindness toward them. The uncomfortable words are often the most loving words. Better to speak the uncomfortable word of God now than to allow those around us to endure the uncomfortable wrath of God forever. So, as we abide in God's word and seek to deal honestly with our own hearts before it, let's make sure that we do not to "soften down God's own words by a misplaced presumptuous tenderness" as we procaim it to those around us. 


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