The sufferings of Christ are exceedingly powerful, to melt believers’ hearts into godly sorrow.
The eye of faith is a precious eye; and according to its various aspects upon Christ, it produceth various effects upon the hearts of men. Eyeing Christ as our complete righteousness; so it pacifies and quiets the heart: Eyeing him as our pattern; so it directs and regulates our actions: Eyeing him as a sacrifice offered up to divine justice for our sin; so it powerfully thaws the heart, and melts the affections.
By meltings, I do not only understand tears; as if they only were expressive of all spiritual sorrow: For it is possible, the waters of sorrow may run deep in the heart, when the eye cannot yield a drop.
There be two things in repentance; trouble and tears. The first is essential, the last contingent. The first flows from the influence of faith upon the soul; the last much depends upon the temper and constitution of the body. It is a mercy, when our tears can flow from a heart filled with sorrow for sin, and love to Christ; yet it often falls out, that there is an heavy heart, where the eyes are dry. But that there is efficacy in faith to melt the heart, by looking upon the sufferings of Christ for sin, is undoubted.
How is it so powerful an instrument to this end?
- Faith eyes the dignity of the person of Christ, who was pierced for us; how excellent and glorious a person he is. … Here, by faith, the believer sees the Prince of the kings of the earth, the only begotten of the Father, equal to God, in nature and dignity, He, whom all the angels worship, hanging dead upon the cursed tree. Faith sees royal blood, the blood of God poured out by the sword of justice, for satisfaction and reconciliation; and this cannot but deeply affect the believing soul.
- Faith eyes the severity of divine justice charged against Jesus Christ, and the extremity of his sufferings; and this sight is a melting sight. The apostle tells us that he was made a curse and execration for us (Galatians 3:13). It relates to the kind and manner of his death upon the cross, which was the death of a slave: A freeman was privileged from that punishment. It looks upon, and well considers the sad plight and condition Christ was in, in the days of his humiliation for us. It is said of him in Matthew 26:28 that he was surrounded with griefs; exactly answerable to his name, as “a man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3). Let him look which way he would, outward or inward, upward or downward, to friends or enemies; he could behold nothing but sorrow, and what might increase his misery. Another evangelist saith, he was sore amazed (Mark 14:33). The word notes such a consternation, as makes the hair of the head stand upright. A third tells us, his soul was troubled (John 12:27). Here is a word from whence hell is derived; and denoting the anguish and troubles of them that are in that place of torment. And the fourth tells us, he was in an agony (Luke 23:44); all expressing in several emphatical notions and metaphors, the extremity of Christ’s anguish and torment. This cannot but greatly affect and break the believer’s heart.
- But then that which most affects the heart, is Christ’s undergoing all this, not only in love to us, but in our room and stead. He suffered not for any evil he had done, for there was no guile found in his mouth (Isaiah 53:4-5). But the just suffered for the unjust (1 Peter 3:18). It was for me, a vile, wretched, worthless sinner. It was my pride, my earthliness, the hardness of my heart, the corruption of my nature, the innumerable evils of my life, that brought him down to the dust of death: “He was made sin for us, who knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Who can believingly eye Christ, as suffering such pains, such wrath, such a curse, in the room of such a sinner, such a rebel, so undeserving, and so ill-deserving a creature, and not mourn as for an only son, and be in bitterness as for a first-born?
- Faith melts the heart, by considering the effects and fruits of the sufferings of Christ, what great things he hath purchased by his stripes and blood for poor sinners; a full and final pardon of sin, a well-settled peace with God, a sure title and right to the eternal inheritance; and all this for thee, a law condemned, a self-condemned sinner. Lord, what am I, that such mercies as these should be purchased by such a price for me? For me, when thousands and ten thousands of sweeter dispositions must burn in hell for ever! Oh, what manner of love is this!
- Faith melts the heart, by exerting a threefold act upon Christ crucified: (1) A realizing act, representing all this in the greatest certainty and evidence that can be. These are no devised fables, but the sure and infallible reports of the gospel. (2) An applying act; “He loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). “He loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood” (Revelation 1:5). (3) By an inferring or reasoning act. If Christ died for me, then I shall never die: If his blood were paid down for me, then my sins, which are many, are forgiven me: If he was condemned in my room, I am acquitted, and shall be saved from wrath to come, through him. O how weighty do these thoughts prove to believing souls!
Adapted from Works, 6:441–443.