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I come now in order, to show you what a broken heart, and what a contrite spirit is. This must be done, because in the discovery of this lies both the comfort of them that have it, and the conviction of them that have it not.
Now, that I may do this the better, I must propound and speak to these four things.
I. I must show you what a heart that is, that is not broken, that is not contrite.
II. I must show you how, or with what the heart is, broken and made contrite.
III. Show you how, and what it is, when broken and made contrite.
The heart, before it is broken, is, 1. hard, and stubborn, and obstinate against God, and the salvation of the soul. Zechariah 7:12; Deuteronomy 2:30; Deuteronomy 9:27. 2. It is a heart full of evil imaginations and darkness. Genesis 8:21; Romans 1:21. 3. It is a heart deceitful, and subject to be deceived, especially about the things of an eternal concernment. Isaiah 44:20; Deuteronomy 11:16. 4. It is a heart that rather gathereth iniquity and vanity to itself, than any thing that is good for the soul. Psalm 41:6; Psalm 94:11. 5. It is an unbelieving heart, and one that will turn away from God to sin. Hebrews 3:12; Deuteronomy 17:17. 6. It is a heart not prepared for God, being uncircumcised; nor for the reception of his holy word. 2 Chronicles 12:14; Psalm 78:8; Acts 7:51. 7. It is a heart not single, but double; it will pretend to serve God, but will withal lean to the devil and sin. Psalm 12:2; Ezekiel 33:31. 8. It is a heart proud and stout; it loves not to be controlled, though the controller be God himself. <19A105> Psalm 101:5; Proverbs 16:5; Malachi 3:9. 9. It is a heart that will give place to Satan, but will resist the Holy Ghost. Acts 5:3; Acts 7:51. 10. In a word, “It is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked:” so wicked that “none can know it.”
That the heart before it is broken is such, and worse than I have described it to be, is sufficiently seen by the whole course of the world. Where is the man, (whose heart has not been broken, and whose spirit is not contrite,) that, according to the word of God, deals honestly with his own soul?
It is one character of a right heart, that it is sound in God’s statutes, and honest. <19B980> Psalm 119:80; Luke 8:15. Now, an honest heart will not put off itself, nor be put off with that which will not go for current money with the merchants; I mean, with that which will not go for saving grace at the day of judgment. But alas! alas! but few men, how honest soever they are to others, have honesty towards themselves! Though he is the worst of deceivers who deceiveth his own soul, as James has it, about the things of his own soul. James 1:22,26. But, II. I now come to show you, with what and how the heart is broken, and the spirit made contrite.
The instrument ‘with which the heart is broken, and with which the spirit is made contrite, is the word. “Is not my word,” says God, “like a fire and like a hammer, that breaketh the rock in pieces?” Jeremiah 23:29.
The rock, in this text, is the heart, which in another place is compared to adamant, which adamant is harder than flint. Zechariah 7:11,12; Ezekiel 3:9. This rock, this adamant, this stony heart is broken and made contrite by the word. But it only is so, when the word is as a fire and as a hammer, to break and melt it. And then, and then only, it is as a fire and a hammer to the heart, to break it, when it is managed by the arm of God. No man can break the heart with the word; no angel can break the heart with the word; that is, if God forbear to second it by mighty power from heaven. This made Balaam go without a heart rightly broken, and truly contrite, though he was rebuked by an angel; and the Pharisees die in their sins, though rebuked for them, and admonished to turn from them, by the Savior of the world. Wherefore, though the word is the instrument with which the heart is broken, yet it is not broken with the word, till that word is managed by the might and power of God.
This made the prophet Isaiah, after long preaching, cry out, that he had “labored for nought, and in vain.” And this made him cry to God, to “rend the heavens and come down:” that the “mountains,” or rocky hills, or hearts, might be broken, and melt at his presence. For he found by experience, that as to this, no effectual work could be done, unless the Lord put to his hand. This also is often intimated in the Scriptures, where it saith, when the preachers preached effectually to the breaking of men’s hearts, the Lord wrought with them. “The hand of the Lord was with them,’ and the like. Mark 16:20; Acts 11:21.
Now when the hand of the Lord is with the word, then it is mighty. It is “mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds.” It is sharp, then, as a sword in the soul and spirit; it sticks like an arrow in the hearts of sinners, to the causing of the people to fall at his feet for mercy. Then it is, as was said afore, as a fire, and as a hammer to break the rock in pieces. 2 Corinthians 10:4; Hebrews 4:12; <19B003> Psalm 110:3.
And hence the word is made mention of under a double consideration. 1. As it stands by itself. 2. As attended with power from heaven. 1. As it stands by itself, and is not seconded with saving operation from heaven, it is called the word only, the word barely, or as if it was only the word of men. 1 Corinthians 4:19,20; 2 Thessalonians 2:13.
Because, then, it is only as managed by men, who are not able to make it accomplish that work.
The word of God, when in a man’s hand only, is like the father’s sword in the hand of the sucking child; which sword, though ever so well pointed, and though over so sharp on the edges, is not now able to conquer a foe, and to make an enemy fall and cry out for mercy, because it is but in the hand of the child. But now let the same sword be put into the hand of a skillful father, (and God is both skillful and able to manage his word,) and then the sinner, and then the proud helpers too, are both made to stoop, and submit themselves.
Wherefore I say, though the word be the instrument, yet of itself it doth do no saving good to the soul; the heart is not broken, nor the spirit made contrite thereby; it only worketh death, and leaveth men in the chains of their sins, still faster bound over to eternal condemnation. 2 Corinthians 2:15,16. 2. But when seconded by mighty power, then the same word is as the roaring of a lion, as the piercing of a sword, as a burning fire in the bones, as thunder, and as a hammer that dashes all to pieces. Jeremiah 25:30; Amos 1:2; Amos 3:8; Acts 2:37; Jeremiah 20:9; Psalm 29:3-10.
Wherefore from hence it is to be concluded, that whoever have heard the word preached, and have not heard the voice of the living God therein, have not as yet had their hearts broken, nor their spirits made contrite for their sins.
And this leads me to the thing, namely, to show how the heart is broken and the spirit made contrite by the word, and verily it is when the word comes with power. But this is but general; wherefore more particularly: — Then the word works effectually to this purpose, when it findeth out the sinner, and his sin, and shall convince him that it has found him out.
Thus it was with our first father; when he had sinned, he sought to hide himself from God; he gets among the trees of the garden, and there he shrouds himself; but yet, not thinking himself secure, he covers himself with fig-leaves, and now he lieth quiet. ‘Now God shall not find me, thinks he, nor know what I have done.’ But lo! by and by, he hears the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden. And now Adam, what do you mean to do? Why, as yet, he skulketh, and hides his head, and seeks yet to lie undiscovered. But behold the voice cries out, “Adam!” and now he begins to tremble. “Adam, where art thou?’ says God; and now Adam is made to answer. But the voice of the Lord God doth not leave him here: no, it now begins to search, and to inquire after his doings, and to unravel what he had wrapt together and covered, until it had made him bare and naked in his own sight before the face of God.
Thus, therefore, doth the word, when managed by the arm of God. It findeth out, it singleth out, the sinner; the sinner finds it so; it finds out the sins of the sinner; it unravels his whole life; it strips him and lays him naked in his own sight before the face of God; neither can the sinner nor his wickedness be longer hid and covered; and now begins the sinner to see what he never saw before.
Another instance for this is David, the man of our text. He sins, he sins grossly, he sins and hides it; yea, and seeks to hide it from the face of God and man. Well, Nathan is sent to preach a preaching to him, and that in common, and that in special: in common, by a parable; in special, by a particular application of it to him. While Nathan only preached in common or in general, David was whole, and stood as right in his own eyes as if he had been as innocent and as harmless as any man alive. But God had a love for David; and therefore commands his servant Nathan to go home, not only to David’s ears, but to David’s conscience.
A third instance is that of Saul of Tarsus. He had heard many a sermon, and was become a great professor; yea, he was more zealous than were many of his equals. But his heart was never broken, nor his spirit ever made contrite, till he heard one preach from heaven — till he heard God, in the word of God, making inquiry after his sins. “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” says Jesus; and then he can stand no longer; for then his heart breaks, then he falls to the ground, then he trembles, then he cries out, “Who art thou, Lord?” and “Lord what wilt thou have me to do?”
Wherefore, as said, then the word works effectually to this purpose, when it findeth out the sinner and his sin, and also when it shall convince him that it has found him out. Only I must join here a caution; for every operation of the word upon the conscience is not saving; nor doth all conviction end in the saving conversion of the sinner. It is then, only such an operation of the word that is intended, namely, that shows the sinner not only the evil of his ways, but brings the heart unfeignedly over to God by Christ. And this brings me to the third thing.
III. I am therefore come to show you how and what the heart is when broken and made contrite. And this I must do, by opening unto you the two chief expressions in the text. 1. What is meant by this word “broken.” 2. What is meant by this word, “contrite.”
First, For this word, “broken.” Tindal renders it a troubled heart; but I think there is more in it. I take it, therefore, to be a heart disabled, as to former actions; even as a man whose bones are broken, is disabled, as to his way of running, leaping, wrestling, or aught else, which vainly he was wont to do. Wherefore, that which is called a broken heart in the text, he calls his broken bones, in verse the eighth, “Cause me,” saith he, “to hear joy and gladness, that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.” And why is the breaking of the heart compared to the breaking of the bones? but because as when the bones are broken, the outward man is disabled as to what it was wont to do; so when the spirit is broken, the inward man is disabled as to what vanity and folly it before delighted in; hence feebleness is joined with this brokenness of heart. ‘I am feeble, saith he, and sore broken. I have lost my strength and former vigor, as to vain and sinful courses.’
This, then, it is to have the heart broken; namely, to have it famed, disabled, and taken off, by a sense of God’s wrath due to sin, from that course of life it formerly was conversant in. And to show that this work is no fancy, nor done but with great trouble to the soul, it is compared to the putting the bones out of joint, the breaking of the bones, the burning of the bones with fire, or as the taking the natural moisture from the bones, the vexing of the bones, etc. Psalm 22:14; Jeremiah 10; Lamentations 1:13; Psalm 6:2; Proverbs 17:22.
Secondly. What is meant by the word “contrite .” A contrite spirit is a penitent one; one sorely grieved, and deeply sorrowful, for the sins it has committed against God, and to the damage of the soul; and so it is to be taken in all those places where a contrite spirit is made mention of: as in Psalm 34:18; Isaiah 57:15; Isaiah 66:2.
As a man that has by his folly procured a broken leg or arm, is heartily sorry that ever he was so foolish as to be engaged in such foolish ways of idleness and vanity; so he whose heart is broken with a sense of God’s wrath due to his sin, hath deep sorrow in his soul, and greatly repents that ever he should be such a fool, as by rebellious doings to bring himself and his soul to so much sharp affliction. Hence, while others are sporting themselves in vanity, such a one doth call his sin his greatest folly. “My wounds stink, and are corrupt,” saith David, “because of my foolishness.”
Men, whatever they say with their lips, cannot conclude, if yet their hearts want breaking, that sin is a foolish thing. Hence it says, “The foolishness of fools is their folly.” Proverbs 14:24. That is, the foolishness of some men is, that they take pleasure in their sins: for their sins are their foolishness, and the folly of their soul lies in their countenancing this foolishness. But the man whose heart is broken, is none of these. He cannot be one of these, any more than he that has his bones broken can rejoice that he is desired to play a match at football. Hence to hear others talk foolishly, is to the grief of those whom God has wounded: or, as it is in another place, their words are “like the piercings of a sword.” Psalm 69:26; Proverbs 12:18.
This therefore I take to be the meaning of these two words, a “broken” and a “contrite” spirit.