Perhaps we could read the Scriptures just at this point in our service. We're turning to Matthew's Gospel and chapter 13 for our reading, Matthew chapter 13 - and it wasn't that long ago that I spoke on this passage of Scripture before, but I want to home in on a different aspect of it this evening, and I want to concentrate specifically on 'The Hardened Heart'. We'll read verses 1 through to 23 for our portion this evening.
Verse 1: "The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side. And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them. Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty".
Now through this whole portion of Scripture, the Lord Jesus is essentially asking a question of the people who are His listeners, and it is this: what is your spiritual heart condition? I wonder how you would answer that question this evening? Now, everyone has a spiritual heart condition. You may not be aware of what it is, but you have a heart, I hope, and therefore you will have a heart condition - not only a physical one, but a spiritual one. Of course, we all have a red bit of flesh beating in our chest, our physical heart, but this word 'heart' has often been used in the Bible, and indeed in our own language, as an expression of the seat of affections and how we stand before God. So really, what we're asking is: how are you in the sight of God tonight? What is your condition in God's eyes? How is your heart?
Now there are a great deal of similarities between the physical heart and the spiritual heart. For instance, if your heart, physically, is in good shape, you'll be filled with life, you'll have a regular beat, there'll be a free flow of blood that brings the oxygen of life to your body and your whole well-being, you'll be supplied with every need, physically speaking, that you could ever want; and you'll have the burdens of life sustained by the strength that your healthy heart brings to your body - and of course, it goes without saying that your heart will be free from all disease. But you know, that's not a million miles away from what a spiritual heart in good shape is like: it's filled with life, the very life of God. It has a regular beat, it's in time with God's will. It has a flow of blood that brings to it the oxygen of God's eternal life, it supplies every need through God, we're sustained through the burdens of life by the power of God because God lives in our hearts. It's free from that awful disease of sin! Is that the way your spiritual heart is tonight? It's in good condition?
Of course the opposite, bad condition, means you've got heart trouble. If that's the case in the physical realm for you, you will know that your heart will have lost some of its vital and related functions, you may even have experienced heart failure - your heart has failed you at times. Maybe your heart beat is irregular, maybe there are blockages to prevent the flow of the oxygen of life coming to it. The result is that your health suffers, you become slow and lethargic, you lose energy, you're not able to concentrate as you used to be. You know my friends this evening, many suffer heart disease. Their heart trouble is because their heart is diseased, and ultimately it will lead to their death. Surely the parallel is obvious?
When our hearts are not right before God, we lose the vitality of life, we do not function as we ought, and our hearts sometimes fail us for fear, we are irregular in our beat and walk of life. Often it happens that when our heart disease, spiritually speaking, becomes protracted, our arteries become hardened. It becomes more difficult - and you understand what I'm saying - for God to communicate His life to us because of the hardening influence of sin and spiritual heart disease. Ultimately, as Romans 6 verse 23 says, the result of that is death.
How is your heart tonight? Now I know that some may be suffering from physical heart disease, but there's something much more serious than the hardening of your arteries, and that is the hardening of your heart spiritually. You see the Bible teaches us that we're all born with a heart defect. Spiritually we have inherited a problem, genetically, from our father Adam and our mother Eve in the Garden of Eden. Not only is that the problem of original sin, but the Bible says that we have learned sin in our lives. We're born in sin, God's word says, but as we grow up we begin to practise sin more and more, and we abuse our spiritual heart to such an extent that it has a hardening effect. When we abuse our heart with sin we get harder. Just like in the physical realm when we abuse our body and our physical heart we get problems, heart disease, that becomes even more protracted as we get older, as the years pass. As we increase in age, we find that time affects our disease in our heart, and it's the same in the spiritual realm: the more we sin the harder we get, and the more time passes the problems get more difficult.
Now what do people do to try and solve their heart condition? Well, in the physical realm they try to treat their heart, they take medication to try and keep the symptoms at bay. That's what many people do in the spiritual realm: they try and redress the balance because they feel deep within them, without maybe admitting it publicly, sin - they decide that luxury, or pleasure, or materials, or success, or some kind of drug, or even self-confidence will keep the symptoms of their sin at bay, the problems of their spiritual heart. Some will even turn to artificial substitutes. If their heartbeat is out of pace with God, well, they try to bring a more regular beat and they turn to religion. They get the ten commandments or a code of ethics, and they feel that that keeps them in pace, morally, with God. But ultimately, even in the physical realm, medication and even artificial substitutes can be no substitute for a healthy heart.
A more extreme procedure that some of you have gone under is bypass surgery. Ultimately what it does is self explanatory, it bypasses the problem, it avoids, temporarily, the problem. Anyone - not to put fear upon you - who has had a heart bypass for over 10 or 12 years will tell you that even this is not a long-term solution, it's not a complete solution. It's the same in the realm of the spiritual: if you try to avoid your heart condition, if you try to bypass it, that is not a cure. You can try and dull the symptoms by medication, you can try and substitute a good heart condition by some other means, you can try to bypass it temporarily - but ultimately what we need as spiritual entities before God are new hearts. Our heart is so diseased by sin that we need a spiritual heart transplant. I'm not talking about another person's heart that is subject to the same problems as ours has been, but we need a new and a perfect heart to replace the old diseased one.
Now I'm asking you again: how is your heart? A good indication of the condition of your heart is how you respond to the message of the Gospel. If you like, the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, is God's heart monitor, it's God's ECG, it shows the condition of your heart. Now the Lord Jesus, in the passage that we read together this evening, talks about the conditions of the heart, and they are various. I want you to notice first of all in verse 9 of our passage that the Lord Jesus said these remarkable words: 'Who hath ears to hear, let him hear'. Now these words give us an insight into how we can measure the condition of our heart. He could have said: 'He that has a heart to hear, let him hear'.
Now as we go through the Gospels we find that He says this three times in Matthew's gospel, three times in Mark's gospel - and when He comes to Revelation (incidentally, for the benefit of you Christians here tonight), He said it eight times to the church: 'He that has ears to hear, let him hear', or 'He that has a heart that can hear, let him hear'. That is God's measure of your heart condition: whether or not you're hearing and receiving what God has to say to you.
Now the Lord Jesus in this parable outlined four specific heart conditions. First of all in verse 23, if we can take them in reverse order, we see that He talks about the receptive heart: 'He that receives the seed in good ground is the one who hears God's word, understands it; and he bears fruit, brings forth a hundredfold, sixty, and thirty'. The Lord Jesus is talking about a heart that has received the seed of God's word, received God's message, and what happens is: it has been a prepared heart, God has dug up the ground of sin and allowed this person to receive the seed of God's word, and they have understood it, they have grasped the message of God's good news, and they have borne fruit to that effect. It's the good, the clean, the deep-soiled heart in which the seed of God's word might flourish. The proof of it is that it brings forth much fruit. Now that's very simple tonight, that means that if you're a Christian you should be bringing forth some kind of fruit to the glory of God - and if you're not, the likelihood is that you may not be a Christian.
The Lord Jesus couldn't have made it plainer: you need to have a receptive heart, and if you're not receptive to God's truth - even if you repel it at the extreme - that's a sure sign. But even if you're just apathetic - you could give and take it - that could be a sign that you're not saved. The second heart He mentions in verse 22 is the crowded heart, He said: 'He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful'. This is a preoccupied person, a person who initially has received God's word and agrees with it and gives intellectual and emotional consent to it; but then all of a sudden, through life difficulties arise, and thorns and thistles grow around them. Now in Palestine in these ancient days, the Lord Jesus was referring to how farmers would have at times been lazy. The farmer would have cut the weeds off his ground and burnt the ground to eradicate all the shoots, but deep down within that ground the roots were still there. The Lord Jesus is talking about men and women who have divided hearts. On the one hand they have chosen to follow Christ, and on the other hand they are preoccupied with riches and the things of this world and they're not fruitful. Their life is full of thorns, they're deceiving themselves and deceiving others, pulling out the weeds that are visible to everybody around but God says that the root of sin is still in their heart.
My friend, is that you tonight? You're preoccupied with this world, you're taken up with all that it has: riches, its deceitfulness, the care of this world. Though you believe the Gospel, your life is choking God's influence in your soul - and that's a sign, my friend, that you're not saved. Now get it from the Lord Jesus: not saying that you're just not the Christian you ought to be, it's saying that you haven't got the real thing - and that's serious!
Then the third heart in verses 20 and 21 is the shallow heart. This person receives the seed in stony places. He hears the word, with joy he receives it, yet he has not root in himself 'but dureth for a while: and then when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, by and by he is offended'. This speaks of the impulsive person. I'm not saying that all impulsive people are shallow, but sometimes that is the case. The Lord Jesus illustrated it by saying the ground is stony, and in Jesus' day stony ground would have been like the shelf of rock over which there was just an inch or two of sod. That narrow skin of earth wouldn't have been sufficient either to nourish or to protect the seed. What would happen was: the seed would be planted, and then it would start to shoot, and there was no nourishment from beneath. Then when the sun came out, the sun would scorch it and it would wither away.
There are many people, Jesus says, who when they hear the Gospel, they receive the seed of God's word. They embrace it and say: 'That's great! That's the message that I want, I want my sins forgiven, I want to go to heaven one day', and then problems come because of their confession of faith. They receive tribulation, persecution, because of the Lord Jesus and they say: 'I've had enough with this, I didn't sign up to all this trouble', and they leave the faith. Jesus says: 'They were never mine in the beginning'. My friend, if that's you, you've never been saved.
Then fourthly and finally what I want to concentrate on tonight is the hard heart in verse 19. Jesus said: 'When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side'. This is the unresponsive heart. We've seen that there is the receptive heart, the crowded heart, the shallow heart, and this is the hard heart - it's hard ground! We believe that it was probably a thoroughfare, the right of way that had been trodden down by travellers throughout the years, it's the wayside path. So many people have walked on it that when the seed fell on it, it couldn't even sink in. Then the birds saw it and they swooped down and snatched it away. Jesus says that's the person who hears the word of God and it just rolls over their consciousness, their understanding and their heart - it means nothing to them because their heart is so hard!
Now my friend, all of these illustrations about the heart that Jesus gives us - but especially that of the hard heart - tells us that when we hear God's word, just like you're hearing it tonight, we have a responsibility to hear and to heed it; and if we don't there are serious consequences. You only need to look at verse 12, the Lord Jesus explained this: 'Whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath'. Very simple, the Lord Jesus is saying: 'If you respond to my word you will receive more of it, and I will bless you more. But if you reject my word, you will lose what you already have'. Now this is a law that we find right throughout life - not just in nature, if the sod did not accept the seed it would lose it - but you receive it not only in that part of nature all around us in our environment, but in our own bodies. I've told you before that if you covered your eye up for a couple of months, and you take the patch off again, you'll probably be blind or at least your sight will have debilitated somewhat. Strap your arm up and your muscle will waste away - and it's the old lesson that 'if you don't use it, you'll lose it'. It's not just in the physical realm, it's also in the mental capacity - if you don't use your mind, you begin to lose its capabilities. That's why all you old men do crosswords and Sudoku and everything like that, to keep yourselves active - thinking! But my friend, in the spiritual realm it's the same: if you don't use what God has given to you, the opportunities that He brings along your path, there is a danger that you'll lose it!
Indeed, many believe that this hard heart speaks of business, the picture of all these journeying people travelling down this road of life, and they're beating down the path harder and harder, asphalt-hard by their frantic feet. Maybe I'm speaking to someone tonight, and all this matter of spirituality and the Gospel and God's word, well, it doesn't really matter to you in the sense that you don't necessarily agree with it terribly much, but you don't have time to contemplate it! It's too inconvenient, your life is too busy, it's cluttered with too many things - and the danger is you could be hardening your heart to the Lord Jesus! I'll tell you my friend, business is a killer of the soul. The devil will keep you like a little hamster in its cage going round that wheel over and over again, and he'll just stand there laughing while you neglect your soul.
How is your heart tonight? Is it hard? Let me tell you the consequences of a hardened heart. Someone could be attending this meeting - and this is what's on my soul just now - and they could be hearing the message week after week, or on other occasions, and they're just remaining unmoved, constantly unresponsive to God's word. There's no change in their life whatsoever. Jesus said in verses 14 to 17 that that is you, my friend, if you just can't see this message - you can't see it! That is, your spiritual sight is nonexistent. I mean the Gospel is just not clear, you can't seem to focus in on it, you maybe think it's a bit of a fairytale, pie in the sky when you die. It just doesn't come to you as real, it hasn't touched you in the depth of your soul. My friend, that means you can't see it, and you can't see it because your hard heart won't let you.
Jesus said people like that can't hear it, their spiritual hearing has gone as well as their sight - that means it's not sinking in. You're not really listening to it! On another occasion the Lord said: 'Let these sayings sink down into your ears'. How graphically He's describing to us that this is meant to go into your ears and travel down 18 inches or so into our heart - but you're not hearing it that way, are you? You're not seeing it the way Christ wants you to see it. Then thirdly He says that hardhearted people, the consequence is that they don't understand it. You don't understand spiritual thoughts, you're not grasping the import of the fact that you're a sinner, the fact that Christ died for you, and the fact of the great danger that you're in without Him!
Well, in one respect we should not be surprised. First Corinthians 1:18 says that the preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. It's not wise to tell people they're delivered through a Man who dies in a Roman form of execution. Paul gives us more insight into this in 1 Corinthians 2:14, where he says that the spiritual truths of God are foolishness to the natural mind of a man who has never been converted. My friend, the harder your heart is to God's influences, the more ridiculous and foolish the Gospel will be! So if you're sitting here in your subconscious or your conscious, and you're just laughing, poking fun at what we're saying, or finding fault and questioning - it could be that you have a hardened heart, and you're in an awful state, my friend.
Consequently, if that is your condition, the greatest truths of the Gospel leave you numb, unresponsive. A preacher tells you of your sin, and how God says that you have broken His law and His wrath is upon you, and He's angry with sinners like you everyday - you don't say, like Isaiah, 'Woe is me! For I am undone, I am a man of unclean lips, I dwell amongst a people of unclean lips'. You don't say, like Peter, in the presence of one who is preaching Christ: 'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man!'. You don't say, like the apostle Paul: 'I'm the chief of sinners! Lord, have mercy on me, I see my sin'. Then when we bring you from your sin to Calvary, and we present to you a loving Saviour who came from the right hand of the Father, clothing Himself in perfect human flesh, living the life of a man and going to a cross and dying the death of a sinner, and bearing your shame, enduring God's wrath, exhausting the punishment of a world of sinners - and you see the blood flowing from His veins, from His hands and His feet and His side, and from that crown of thorns, and you see Him spat upon and buffeted and mocked and blasphemed, and you see the darkness come down for three hours when God pours on Him the iniquity of us all - and you remain unmoved. You don't sit at the foot of the cross, like John who was there, and say: 'Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and give His Son to be the propitiation, the atoning sacrifice, for our sins'. You don't say, like the apostle Paul, who wasn't even following Christ when He died: 'The Son of God, look at Him, He loved me and He gave Himself for me!'.
When you hear this Gospel that you're a sinner, and God's provision has been made through the precious blood of His Son, and the invitation goes out to you that you need to repent of your sin and you need to embrace this One who died on the cross and rose again the third day - you don't say, like the Philippian jailer: 'What must I do to be saved?', you just sit there. You go out the same way you came in week after week after week - it's nothing to you! Your sin is nothing to you, the Saviour is nothing to you, and the Gospel sermon means nothing to you! Your heart is cauterised, it's desensitised - Paul says it's past feeling! My friend, if you're there, you're as good as in hell! But if there is just an ember of the sense of your shame, and the sense of the suffering of Christ, and the sense of your need - Oh, I pray and I plead with you to fan the flames of that spark, for it could be your only chance tonight!
The cause of your hardened heart has been the effects of protracted sin, self-righteousness, abuse. If you were to test your spiritual cholesterol level tonight, you would find perhaps that sin is floating around your whole system. Hosea said: 'Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart', and your life has been taken away by sin, and you're sitting here tonight - that's why you're hard, a life of protracted abuse. Your heart is further hardened by the influence of Satan. It's bad enough that we're killing ourselves, but we have an enemy who wants to poison us. Second Corinthians 4:4 says he is the god of this world, seeking to blind the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the Gospel should shine into them, and they be saved. Bishop Ryle said: 'Sin and Satan will always find helpers in our heart'. If our heart wasn't bad enough, there's sin all around us, and there is Satan, like a roaring lion, wanting to devour your soul, my friend. That's why you're hard, that's why you can't see it or hear it or understand it.
Finally this evening I want to tell you about the cure for the hardened heart. My first point here might surprise you, but it's simply this: in one sense there is no cure. Did you hear that? In one sense there is no cure. Jeremiah 17 verse 9 says: 'The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?'. Another translation puts it like this: 'The heart is deceitful above all things, and beyond cure'. That means that without God you are helpless, you're hopeless. You can't change your way, you can't turn over a new leaf and get religious all of a sudden - it's not like that. The Bible says an Ethiopian can't change his skin, or a leopard his spots, 'then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil' - it's in you, it's in me, it's in us all! My friend, if you continue unresponsive to the only cure that God has given in the Gospel, you can be sure that you'll never be cured. Proverbs 29 and verse 1 says: 'He that hardeneth his neck shall suddenly be broken, without remedy'. If you harden your neck to God, my friend, He'll break you.
But praise God, though there's no cure in you or in me or in any of us, there is a softening influence in the Gospel of God's grace that can cure us! When we get to Calvary with the weight of our sin on our back, and we're melted by the love that flows from Jesus, that is the influence that can melt our hardening heart! But I'll tell you this, some people ask me from time to time: 'Is anyone beyond redemption?', and you know my answer is 'Yes'. A man or woman is beyond redemption if the cross does no longer affect them. If Calvary love doesn't touch them and doesn't change them, the likelihood is that they will never be changed! My friend, if God has shown you what His Son has done for you, a man or woman who doesn't appreciate their sin or appreciate the Saviour and His suffering can never be saved!
Not only is there the softening influence of God's gracious Gospel, but there is the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. My friend, if you need a new heart - and you do if you're not a Christian - this is the very place to get it, and I'm not talking about the Iron Hall. God's word says: 'A new heart will I give you, a new spirit will I put within you. I will take away the stony heart of your flesh and I will give you a heart of flesh'. Jesus said: 'You can be born again', He will give you His heart, the heart of God that desires His desires and wants to please God. It doesn't matter whether you say you're a Christian or not - is your heart right with God? One man was baptised, he was able to do mighty works in Acts chapter 8, Simon Magus was his name, and he wanted to buy the power of God the Holy Spirit so that he would do the wonders. The apostle said to him: 'Your heart is not right with God!'.
Would he have to say that to you tonight? Or can you cry out, like David who said: 'Create in me a clean heart, O God, renew a right spirit in me. Hide Your face from my iniquities to bring me into Your presence'. I don't know whether you know why ice forms on the ground, but there are really two reasons that are related. Of course, the temperature drops and then ice forms, but there's another cause and that is simply the subtraction of the sun's rays. My friend, you can harden your life with sin; the temperature, morally, can be dropping - but do you see if God starts to retract His rays of influence and grace, and the Gospel no longer affects you the way that it used to - listen to me: you are in trouble! Murray M'Cheyne said in one of his sermons: 'As long as you are unconverted, you're under a double process of hardening. The frosts of an eternal night are settling down upon your soul, and the Sun of Righteousness with westering wheel is hastening to set upon you for ever. If, then, the plough of grace cannot force its way into your icebound heart today, what likelihood is there that it will enter tomorrow?'.
'He that hath ears to hear, let him hear', and if today you hear His voice, harden not your heart. The Lord has been gracious enough to give you another opportunity of hearing His voice, and receiving the seed of His word and His Son who is your Saviour. But what if your soul is drifting over the deadline tonight, and this further act of refusal is your final one? My friend, what if God should actually heed your refusal tonight, and never speak again? Turn while the Saviour, in mercy, is waiting.
Lord, move, we pray, in this place. Draw sinners to Yourself. Impress upon them the necessity of fleeing today to the arms of Jesus, not squandering the seed that has been given them. Let no one in this place harden themselves one more time to the truth, but may they embrace Christ as He is freely offered in the Gospel, in His wonderful name we pray, Amen.
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This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording, titled "The Hardened Heart" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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