Calvary Road Baptist Church

“SLOW OF HEART TO BELIEVE”

Luke 24.25 

Much has been lost regarding a grasp of gospel ministry to the heart and soul since the days of the Puritans. Evangelism these days is overall very superficial and perfunctory. Therefore, while it must be granted that those giants of old seemed to have little interest or understanding of what God’s Word said about baptism, prophetical matters, and in some cases church polity, they were supremely interested in the glory and majesty of God and His dealings with wicked sinners.

I mention this because of my lateness in becoming interested in the Puritans, which has proven to be life-changing. My training was as a decisionist.[1] However, it was when my views concerning assurance of salvation were challenged that I began to rethink various positions I had held simply because others had held them. That next led, decades ago, to my discovery of certain truths in God’s Word related to evangelizing the lost that had once been widely embraced by gospel ministers.

Not that I am a Reconstructionist or suggest the Christian faith was lost only to be rediscovered by me. That heretical nonsense is claimed by the Mormons, the Seventh Day Adventists, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Campbellites, but not in any sense by me. What I have learned is that the Christian faith was profoundly influenced in the first half of the 19th century by American evangelist Charles G. Finney’s Pelagian heresy. Though few Christian preachers and teachers of his day or ours subscribed to every error Finney taught, his unbiblical influence was enough to affect evangelism in the United States.

Before Finney’s influence, most pastors, preachers, and theologians embraced monergism, the notion that God alone works the miracle of the New Birth. Since Finney, however, synergism, the belief that God and human beings cooperate to bring about the New Birth, has been in the ascendency. This can be seen when evangelicals are surprised that someone they know is not converted and they ask, “Why don’t you just get saved then?” How is Finney’s influence reflected in the way contemporary churches and Christians do evangelism? Whereas it used to be accepted that the Holy Spirit convicted an unbeliever of sin, righteousness, and judgment to come, whereupon God the Father drew the sinner to Christ, and the sinner came to faith in Christ simultaneously with the miracle of the New Birth, nowadays little real thought or attention is given to any of that.

Nowadays, in most churches, a gospel tract is read to someone, or someone is seen to feel bad at the end of a sermon, and he is then encouraged to close his eyes, bow his head, and repeat the words of a prayer to become a so-called Christian. Afterward, no thought is given to even the possibility that a person might have embraced a false hope, though such a possibility is presented by the Savior.[2] Our concern for souls mandates that we be on the lookout for false hopes.

Thanks be to God, we recognized the fallacy of that all too common approach to evangelism years ago. In our efforts to study God’s Word and to bring sinners to Christ, we discovered something else covered with the dust of inattention. That something was the striving the Lord Jesus directed for sinners in Luke 13.24. Study and reflection drew us to the conclusion that striving was our Savior’s prescription for gospel-hardened sinners, those who had heard the gospel of God’s grace in Christ but had steeled themselves against it.

How is one who has heard the gospel and refused it repeatedly to remedy the hardened heart by softening it, the callused conscience by sensitizing it, and the deceived mind by once more zeroing in on the truth? The Lord Jesus Christ said the sinner must strive to enter in at the strait gate. By God’s grace, we put that approach to dealing with recalcitrant sinners into practice, encouraging those who had been particularly stubborn to strive as the Master directed. Then fresh light was shed on Matthew 12, where we learn that our Lord Jesus enraged hardhearted Pharisees on a Sabbath day, first, by plucking grain from stalks in a field and eating, and second, by healing a man’s withered hand.

While the Pharisees took counsel against Him for what He had done, the Lord Jesus turned from those proud and openly defiant men and ministered to great multitudes of people, healing many. In what is the largest direct quote of prophecy from the Hebrew scriptures, Matthew explained the Savior’s actions of withdrawing from those who were resistant in favor of those who were receptive, with these words in Matthew 12.17-21: 

17 That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying,

18 Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles.

19 He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets.

20 A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory.

21 And in his name shall the Gentiles trust. 

Much can be said about this passage, but three things stand out in this explanation of Christ’s decision to turn from one group of sinners who resisted His ministry to be a profound blessing to another group of sinners who were receptive to Him. First, we see that Christ’s ministry expanding to the Gentiles was predicted. Second, we see our Savior’s attitude while dealing with sinners: 

“He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets.” 

In other words, He will not argue or contend. Third, we are given a promise: 

“A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench.” 

That is, He will deal very gently with the humble, having turned from the proud.

Do you see how compatible our Savior’s approach was with James 4.6 and First Peter 5.5? 

“God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.” 

The person who resisted Christ, who pushed back against the witness of the gospel, who was defiant and argumentative in the face of the truth, was grieving and quenching the Holy Spirit, and the Savior had no time for him. Thus, gospel ministry that reflects Christ’s approach is not one of pleading and begging defiant sinners, “Won’t you please give Jesus a chance? Please, oh please, come to Christ.” Rather, it is directing sinners, with the gentleness and tenderness of Christ, to do what those who are humble and receptive God’s grace will do.

Thus, our picture of Christ’s dealings with the lost is not only more sharply focused, but it is also more accurate. 

“A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench.” 

This is how Jesus Christ dealt with the lost so that they would come to Him by faith. However, the stubborn sinner, who has oft refused the gospel to his regret, finds that he cannot just up and come to Christ when he decides to. Too much pride. A conscience that is now seared. A heart that has become too hard.

Something must now be done to prepare the heart to believe unto righteousness. That is where the benefit of striving is seen. Thus, we have thankfully learned a great deal. God has been so good to us. However, that means our debt to the lost grows and our burden to put the truths we have learned to use now weighs more heavily. There is yet another vital truth for us to recognize, which brings me to our text for this morning, Luke 24.25: 

“O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” 

After His resurrection, the Lord Jesus Christ walked with two men on the road to Emmaus who did not immediately recognize Him, one of them named Cleopas. Though I will leave it to you to read the entire chapter in which our text is found, the point that I seek to bring to your attention is made in this single verse. Though they were earnest and sincere men, the risen Savior described them as “slow of heart to believe.” Thus, even the best of men have hearts that are slow to believe.

Allow me to make three comments related to the slowness of the heart to believe: 

First, THE MIND IS NIMBLE AND QUICK, WHILE THE HEART IS SLOW 

Does anyone here need evidence that the human mind is nimble, is quick and is all too capable of changing? What are these conditions known as ADD, ADHD and all the rest but the inability of the mind to stay focused on a single thing for very long? Is that not what we have always recognized as a short attention span? I am a prime example of the mind flitting about since it was the cause of much grief to my parents and teachers throughout my childhood. My head was on a swivel, and my eyes were attracted to every movement.

Would you like some scriptural support for this notion of the mind being quick and nimble? 

James 1.8:          

“A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” 

Proverbs 24.21:

“Meddle not with them that are given to change.” 

Matthew 26.40:

“And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour?” 

Mark 14.40:  

“And when he returned, he found them asleep again, (for their eyes were heavy,) neither wist they what to answer him.” 

Acts 17.21:

“For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell or to hear some new thing.” 

First Corinthians 7.35:

“And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.” 

There can be no legitimate argument against the recognition that men’s minds change quickly, with the holding of one’s attention being challenging for most people.

This is the basis for much preaching and teaching in ministry these days. The preacher or youth worker will laugh, and joke, and will engage in all sorts of antics because he knows that otherwise, he cannot hold his audience’s attention. Thus, he will entertain for fifteen or twenty minutes and then close with a Bible text and truth, and a sad illustration or story to evoke an emotional response, perhaps bringing some in his audience to tears. Those who are so moved think they have had a spiritual experience. Some of them think they have made a real decision for Christ. However, though on occasion someone will come to Christ despite such treatment and not because of it, nothing of a truly spiritual nature has likely occurred. Emotions have been aroused, and a superficial decision has been arrived at, much like we read of in the Parable of the Sower, Matthew 13.20-21: 

20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;

21 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. 

Quite different from the quickness and agility of the mind. However, the Savior very clearly acknowledged the slowness of men’s hearts when He talked to those two men on the road to Emmaus: 

“O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” 

 

Next, THE SLOWNESS OF THE HEART IS WELL ESTABLISHED IN SCRIPTURE 

Was the slowness of heart that our Lord reproached a slowness found only in those men’s hearts or is it a malady common to all men? Let me read some comments made in connection with different passages by well-known authorities from days gone by: Commenting on Luke 24.25, Matthew Henry wrote these words about the Savior’s words: 

“[ l .] He reproves them for their incogitancy, and the weakness of their faith in the scriptures of the Old Testament: O fools, and slow of heart to believe, v. 25. When Christ forbade us to say to our brother. Thou fool, it was intended to restrain us from giving unreasonable reproaches, not from giving just reproofs. Christ called them fools, not as it signifies wicked men, in which sense he forbade it to us, but as it signifies weak men. He might call them fools, for he knows our foolishness, the foolishness that is bound in our hearts. Those are fools that act against their own interest; so they did who would not admit the evidence given them that their Master was risen, but put away the comfort of it. That which is condemned in them as their foolishness is. First, Their slowness to believe. Believers are branded as fools by atheists, and infidels, and free-thinkers, and their most holy faith is censured as a fond credulity; but Christ tells us that those are fools who are slow of heart to believe, and are kept from it by prejudices never impartially examined. Secondly, Their slowness to believe the writings of the prophets. He does not so much blame them for their slowness to believe the testimony of the women and of the angels, but for that which was the cause thereof, their slowness to believe the prophets; for, if they had given the prophets of the Old Testament their due weight and consideration, they would have been as sure of Christ’s rising from the dead that morning (being the third day after his death) as they were of the rising of the sun; for the series and succession of events as settled by prophecy are no less certain and inviolable than as settled by providence. Were we but more conversant with the scripture, and the divine counsels as far as they are made known in the scripture, we should not be subject to such perplexities as we often entangle ourselves in.”[3] 

Thus, Matthew Henry saw slowness of heart to believe as a common problem among men. Explaining Psalm 119.32, “I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart,” Thomas Manton wrote these words: 

“Unbelief is the special part of the heart’s wickedness; partly because we have wronged God, therefore are apt to suspect him; for men are always jealous of those whom they have wronged, and that they cannot mean well to them from whom they have received ill. We have wronged God, and therefore are suspicious of him and of his good-will to sinners. And partly because the truths of God lie cross to our lusts and carnal interest, which maketh us so ready to pick quarrels with him. Ahab would not hear Micaiah, not because he prophesied false, but evil: John iii.20, ‘They will not come to the light, lest their deeds should be reproved.’ I say, such strict rules, such close and quickening truths, as God hath published in the gospel, men could wish they were not true; that there were no heaven, nor hell, nor world to come; and therefore, because it lies so cross to our lusts, our wishes gain upon our understanding and blind us, and we are not apt to believe these things. Who will close with that which makes against him? Men, that are loath the Word of God should prove true, are therefore slow of heart to believe it, Luke xxiv.”[4] 

He, too, saw the slowness of the heart to believe as a common problem with men. Princeton theologian, Charles Hodge, in his commentary remarks on Second Corinthians 3.15, “But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart,” by likening the veil Paul referred to as being the same thing the Lord Jesus spoke of in Luke 24.25.[5] John Trapp observed that the reason God gave the promise associated with the rainbow in Genesis 9.16-17, as a reminder that He would never again judge the world by flood, was owing to our slowness of heart that we need to be reminded so frequently. As well, the reason Pharaoh was given two dreams for Joseph to interpret, Genesis 42.21, was owing to the slowness of heart.[6]

Ever wonder why Isaiah 28.10 and 13 speak of 

“precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little . . . , But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken”? 

I suspect that it is because while the mind is very quick to turn about, the heart is very slow, very sluggish, and turns about only slowly. I could go on at length, but it is well established that the heart is slow to believe, while the mind is very quick to accept and embrace notions. Recognize that I am not arguing that the immaterial parts of people that are distinguished are entirely separate. I would never argue that the mind and the heart are entirely separate, though they are somewhat distinguished in God’s Word. However, it is shown in scripture that one aspect of a person’s immaterial being is quick to respond and very agile, while another aspect of our immaterial being, termed the heart, is sluggish and very slow to respond. 

Finally, OUR EVANGELISM MUST REFLECT THE REALITY OF THE HEART’S CONDITION 

We have long known and prayerfully worked hard to address the deceitfulness of the heart, and its desperate wickedness. However, it is plain to see that no matter your appreciation of the heart’s wickedness and deceitfulness, you will meet with so much frustration if you presume that the heart is as facile as the mind. The quickness of someone’s mind is a function of his intelligence, with those who are brighter being quicker than those who are slower, but with everyone’s mind being rather quick to turn about and change direction.

Not so the heart. The intelligence that produces speed and quickness in mind has no bearing on the agility of one’s heart. I have known many who are among the brightest of men whose hearts have proven to be sluggish to the degree that is amazing. Imagine the mind being much like a little skiff with an outboard motor that can be turned this way and that in a moment, while the heart is ponderous and slow, requiring both time and great effort to turn about, much like a supertanker full of crude oil.

This being the case, how effective do you think a speaker is who spends fifteen minutes warming up his audience with jokes and buffoonery before turning to a passage in God’s Word? Oh, he may fill the “altars” with crying young people, but has he affected any of their hearts? He may think he has influenced their hearts. They may think he has influenced their hearts. However, the opinions of some Puritan divines support my contention that God’s Word shows otherwise. You can turn about the mind from happy to sad, from silliness to seriousness, in just a few moments or minutes. However, the testimony of God’s Word, the way in which God deals with men and nations, and our Lord’s rebukes, show otherwise for the heart.

You may not like a church service that is not silly. You may prefer a preacher who is a standup comic, a joke teller, one you like to hear because he is adept at making you feel good for a few minutes and evoking laughter. The whole world of contemporary Christianity has gone after music that gets people moving, that enables the crowd to rock, that revs up the emotions. However, we see in God’s Word something you may have never realized before. Your heart cannot change moods as swiftly as your mind does. The impact of this realization? It is significant because faith’s effective channel is through the heart and not through the mind. Romans 10.10: 

“For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness.” 

Does it now become more apparent why we have seen more conversions with extended or protracted evangelistic meetings than we have when we conduct services according to a regular schedule? When scriptural appeals are dealt with by one’s mind night after night, perhaps there is less ability to react by erecting mental obstacles to the truths of God’s Word, Second Corinthians 10.3-5. Even when the truth begins to affect the heart to persuade the sinner to embrace Christ, it still commonly takes time before the heart turns about to come to Christ. As our Lord Jesus said, “slow of heart to believe.”

What does this mean to you Christian parents? It means you are far more important in this effort to reach your child than any of us ever before realized. No congregation can engage in special meetings all the time. Therefore, how important it is for you moms and dads to engage in efforts to affect the heart of your lost child, so your child’s heart will be better positioned to respond to the gospel than he otherwise would? You need to constantly engage your child in consideration of spiritual matters, probably on an almost daily basis. Of course, this is best done during family devotions. Dad, you are crucial, though I would caution you to avoid being heavy-handed.

Then, when comes the time when evangelistic services are conducted, how profoundly important it is for you to make the personal sacrifice to participate in every single service unless providentially hindered. Are your children raised and out of the house? The part you play in reaching the lost is still very significant by your involvement in and participation with the rest of us as we seek the salvation of the lost in our midst. 

I am sorry that not all our people are in attendance during a given gospel service. I wish they were in attendance, so they could demonstrate their appreciation of the proper role each of us plays in wooing and winning to Jesus Christ those sinners we know, we are related to, and we have in our midst.

Will you invite a visitor to lunch after a Sunday service, or arrange to do something with someone at another time? Great. I am not suggesting that you preach a sermon. However, I am urging you to be conscious of the sinner’s heart and the need for spiritual things to be constantly brought to mind to affect the heart.

Is a comment made that our services are not fun enough, that we do not have exciting enough music? We could do that if our purpose was entertainment and not real evangelism. As well, we have capable and competent singers in our church who have the skill to be very entertaining.

Ever wonder why we do not expend effort to have an excitement-oriented youth ministry? Youth ministries are typically all about entertaining kids for periods of time and then quickly refocusing their attention from games and fun activities to serious issues of sin and salvation.

Sounds fine and good, except for the fact that the human heart is sluggish and slow to believe. Regardless of the tears, the emotions, and the quick mental acceptance of Bible truths, the heart does not turn about quickly, which explains why so many who grow up in what seem to be good churches with seemingly great and energetic youth groups drop out of church and show their real spiritual condition.

We have reasons for what we are doing here at Calvary Road Baptist Church. The result of our efforts to present the simple gospel of God’s grace to sinners through faith in Jesus Christ will be souls saved and lives changed as you, and I work closely together to affect hearts so that the lost would with their hearts believe in Jesus Christ unto righteousness.

__________

[1] Decisionism is the belief that a person is saved by coming forward, raising the hand, saying a prayer, believing a doctrine, making a Lordship commitment, or some other external, human act, which is taken as the equivalent to, and proof of, the miracle of inward conversion; it is the belief that a person is saved through the agency of a merely external decision; the belief that performing one of these human actions shows that a person is saved. 

Conversion is the result of that work of the Holy Spirit which draws a lost sinner to Jesus Christ for justification and regeneration and changes the sinner’s standing before God from lost to saved, imparting divine life to the depraved soul, thus producing a new direction in the life of the convert. The objective side of salvation is justification. The subjective side of salvation is regeneration. The result is conversion.

[2] Matthew 7.22-23; Luke 13.23-28

[3] SWRB Puritan Hard Drive Collection, Still Waters Revival Books, 2010

[4] Ibid.

[5] Charles Hodge, An Exposition Of The Second Epistle To The Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), page 71.

[6] SWRB

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