First, the statement is too simple to be meaningful. It needs disclaimers and caveats. What is meant by hard words? Who is the audience? What are the limitations? And so forth. For those who are mature Christian with years of Bible study under their belt, the disclaimers and caveats probably come naturally. My concern is that people with immature faith in Christ and little spiritual discernment don't know the Biblical disclaimers, and this statement gives them permission to use a harsh tone that is completely inconsistent with the Biblical model for the call to repentance.
Second, if we really want to understand exactly what kind of words draw men to repentance (which is what I assume is meant by soft hearts), then we must look to the Bible and Jesus' example in particular. Depending on how you define your terms, Jesus definitely spoke harshly. But we need to distinguish between harsh content and harsh tone. When Jesus combined both hard words and a hard tone, the audience was the Pharisees, and there was never any pretense of an attempt to draw them to repentance. His methods in the temple were to provoke them, but not to repentance. If we use Jesus' tone with the Pharisees as our model for hard words, let's maintain no pretense that the result will be soft hearts. The Pharisees were hardened not softened (and deliberatley so) through these interactions with Jesus.
Contrast this with those drawn to repentance through conversations with Jesus. The woman caught in adultery. The woman at the well. And lest we think Jesus was only nice when confronting women with their sin, he has repeated conversations with the disciples correcting, training, and rebuking them.
The Scripture from beginning to end is filled with instruction on the type of words (content and tone) that minister grace to the hearers and draw men to repentance. In terms of soft v. hard words, probably the most definitive verse in Scripture is Proverbs 15:1.
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The New American Standard says a "gentle answer turns away anger." Another verse that gives additional clarity is 2 Tim. 2:24-25.
24 The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth,Gentleness is such an interesting term. We often confuse gentle with weak, but it really is quite different. Babies are weak. But when an adult who has the strength to crush the baby instead cradles them in their arms, they are being gentle. Gentleness is strength under control. In the context of Scripture, it is Christian strength tempered by wisdom and maturity under the Spirit's control. It disturbs me that gentleness seems a good goal for women in the church, but some immature men don't want to touch it with a 10 foot pole. Yet this is a characteristic of Jesus that He proclaims in His own teaching.
Matthew 11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
I'm going to add one more passage to this discussion, Ephesians 4:11-15, and then give some thoughts on the whole of them.
11And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
I think it's safe to equate the term "soft heart" from our original quote with Paul's vision in Ephesians. We are talking about the work of ministry that builds up the body of Christ in knowledge of God and maturity of faith. And the key phrase here is speaking the truth in love. This is a profound phrase and sums up the issue at hand. There is a way to speak truth that is not loving--and that is NOT God's method for building up His Body. Instead, we are called to speak the truth in love (see I Cor. 13--love is patient, kind, long-suffering, ever ready to give the benefit of the doubt, not keeping a list of wrongs). Paul says at the end of Ephesians 4 that there is a type of language that actually ministers grace to the hearer. These kinds of words are the ones that actually produce a soft heart, willing to receive the truth and repent.
In conclusion, when I think about the kind of language that I should use to draw others to repentance (which is a work of the Spirit that He allows me to participate in--but I myself am powerless to truly make someone else repent--just to be clear), I have to think back on the words and methods God used to draw me to repentance. How did God open your eyes to your sin? What tone did He use when He spoke into your heart?
Romans 2:4 gives an interesting thought that I'll use to conclude this discussion.
Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?We need to not take lightly God's methods that lead us to repent, and we need to give heed to His example as we desire to call others to repentance as well.