by Thomas Boston
To bind up the broken-hearted. - Isaiah 61:1
IN these words, we have another piece of work which the Father has put in Christ's hand. He hath sent him "to bind up the broken-hearted." In the words there is, 1. The work itself, to bind up; Luke hath it to heal, chapter 4:18. He is employed by the Father as the great Physician to bind up sinners, as a surgeon does a broken bone or any other wound, and to heal them. This belongs to his priestly office. We have, 2, The objects of it; "the broken-hearted," such as are sick of sin, who have their hearts broken and cast down within them, on account of sin, and its consequences. This is a sickness which Christ is sent to cure.
From this subject, you may observe the following
DOCTRINE, Our Lord Jesus is appointed of his Father, to be the Physician of broken-hearted sinners, to bind them up, and heal them.
For illustrating this doctrine, we shall consider,
I. What is that brokenness of heart, which is here meant.
II. What is it in and about sin which breaks the man's heart, who is thus evangelically broken-hearted.
III. What sort of a heart a broken heart is.
IV. How the Lord Christ binds up, and heals the broken-hearted.
V. Make some improvement.—We are then,
1. To inquire what is that brokenness of heart which is here meant, and of which the Lord takes so much notice. The broken-hearted is of two kinds.
1. There is a natural one, arising from natural and carnal causes merely, which worketh death, 2. Cor. 7:10. Thus many who are very whole-hearted in respect of sin, complain that their hearts and spirits are broken by their crosses, afflictions, and ill usage which they meet with in the world. Thus Ahab, Haman, and Nabal, their hearts were broken with their respective crosses. This is nothing but the crack which a proud heart gets by God's providence, when it will not bow, and is very displeasing in God's sight. This Christ will not heal, till it is broken at another rate. There is,
2. A religious broken heart, which arises from religious causes, namely, sin and its consequences. Sin has sunk into the souls of all Adam's posterity, like a deadly poison. But most men are whole-hearted, though they carry their death about with them, because the poison has not yet begun to work. The thorn of guilt is sticking in their conscience, but they are easy, for it has not yet begun to fester. But when the poison begins to work, the heart is broken with it. Every such breaking of heart is not the sickness unto life which Christ is sent to heal. There is a twofold religious breaking of heart.—First, A mere legal one; Jer. 23:29, "Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord, and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?" When the heart is broken by the mere force of the law, it is broken as a rock in pieces by a hammer, each part remaining hard and rocky still. As it breaks the heart of a malefactor, to hear his doom pronounced that he must be hanged for his crime; so does the law break the heart of a sinner. This breaks the heart for sin, but not from it. Thus the hearts of Cain and Judas were broken, and thus the hearts of the damned shall be broken for ever. Men may die of these wounds, and never be healed. But there is,—Secondly, An evangelical one. When not only the law does its part, but the gospel also breaks the sinner's heart; Zech. 12:10, "And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and supplication; and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him as one that is in bitterness for his first-born." This is that kindly heart-breaking for sin, which is an effect of gospel-grace, a sickness of which never one shall die, it is the very malady which in the text Christ is sent to cure. Sin in an ungracious soul, is like poison in a serpent, it is agreeable to their nature, it does not make them sick at all. Though it be indeed with them as a kind of serpent, from whose killing looks men defend themselves, by holding a glass betwixt them and the serpent, which reflects the poison on the serpent himself, and so kills him. Thus, Psalm 7:16, "The wicked man's mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealings shall return upon his own pate." But in those in whom God has a gracious work, sin is like poison in a man, contrary to his nature, and so makes him heartsick. Thus the true broken-hearted sinner is as sick of sin as ever a man was of poison, which he had unwarily swallowed down, and would by all means be quit of it. We now come,
II. To inquire what it is in and about sin which breaks the man's heart, who is thus evangelically broken-hearted. There is,
1. The guilt of sin, by which he is bound over to the wrath of God. This, which cannot be taken away but by a free pardon, sickens the poor creature at the heart; Isaiah 33:24, "And the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick; the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity." This guilt is their burden, a burden on their backs, on their heads, on their spirits, which makes them to cry out, as in Hosea 14:2, "Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously." They find the load, and their spirits are broken under it, as a burden which they are not able to bear. There is,
2. The domineering power of sin, or its tyranny, by which they are led captives to it. This is breaking to them that lusts are so strong, and they so weak, that they cannot get the mastery over them as they would; Rom. 7:23, 24, "But I see another law in my members, warring agaiast the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin, which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" For some time the yoke of sin sat soft on their necks, they walked willingly after its commandments; but now they are weary of its dominion, averse to submit to its rule, and their hearts are broken under the weight of those iron fetters from which they would now fain be delivered. There is,
3. The contrariety which is in sin to the holy nature and law of God. The commandment is come into the heart, which it is inclined to obey, and so that contrariety is breaking; Rom. 7:13, "Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me, by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful." The love of God has so touched the heart, as to produce in him a considering sin to be bitter as death. The soul is wounded and cast down to think of its grieving the Spirit, trampling on the holy law, sinning against mercies, against checks and reproofs; and accounts itself very miserable in thus requiting the Lord. There is,
4. The indwelling of sin, and its cleaving so close to a person that he cannot shake it off; Rom. 7:24, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" He sees sin to be in his heart and life, and not only so, but that it is interwoven into his very nature, and not to be totally extirpated till death. He has now a sincere love to holiness, an ardent desire of perfection, Phil. 3:13, 14; an hearty hatred against sin, and an irreconcileable enmity to it; so that it cannot but be breaking to him, while he sees the unwelcome guest still within his habitation. There is,
5. Sin's mixing itself with all he does, even with his best duties: Rom. 7:21, "I find then a law, that when I would do good, evil is present with me." In the fairest line which he writes, sin leaves a blot; and on the purest and most sacred of God's holy things to which he puts hand, sin drops its defilement. This is breaking to a holy heart. When he reviews his duties, and sees what deadness, what want of faith and love is in his prayers, hearing, communicating, and the like, what unwatchfulness, untenderness, and ungodliness, in his daily walk, he is loathsome in his own eyes, and sick, heart-sick of his sinful self.
6. Frequent backslidings into sin are very breaking in this case. The Lord complains of breaking by these; Ezek. 6:9, "I am broken," says he, "with their whorish heart, which hath departed from me, and with their eyes which go a-whoring after their idols." And, on the other hand, they are most breaking to the sensible sinner himself; Jer. 31:18, "I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus; Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke; turn thou me, and I shall be turned, for thou art the Lord my God." O how heavy is it to a gracious heart, to be so often falling back into evils mourned over and resolved against! How near the heart of a sick man must it go, to be so often relapsing, after he has been in a fair way of cure. Nothing is more powerful to make one say of life, I loathe it. There is,
7. Desertions, hidings of the Lord's face, and interruptions of the soul's communion with God. See how breaking these are, Isa. 54:6, "For the Lord hath called thee, as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God." Sometimes the soul is brought very low by desertions, and ready to give up all for lost: Lam. 3:18, "And I said, My strength and my hope is perished from the Lord." This is a bitter root, springing up from sin, and branches forth divers ways, all of them breaking to a sensible soul. There is spiritual deadness, Song 5:2. Influences from heaven are restrained, and so the heart is bound up as with bands of iron and brass. They cannot either believe, love, or mourn acceptably. All that remains is a secret dissatisfaction with their own case, only a sigh or a groan, because they cannot believe, love, or practice, as they know to be required of them, saying, Isa. 63:17, "O Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and harden our hearts from thy fear?" This is breaking. Next there is, prayers shut out, Lam. 3:8. "Also when I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayer." While a Christian has access to God by prayer, and can pour his complaints into his bosom, whatsoever be his case, he has not so much to complain of. Thus Hannah, after she had done so, went her way and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad. This also encourages them to wait upon the Lord, Micah 7:7. But when the door of access seems to be shut, and a thick cloud is drawn about the throne, this is breaking: Lam. 3:44, "Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayers should not pass through." This made Zion say, Isa. 49:14, "The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me." And Psalm 20:2, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?"—Again, there is wrath apprehended, the terrors of God seizing on the soul. "The arrows of the Almighty," said Job, "are within me, the poison whereof drinketh up my spirit, the terrors of God do set themselves against me," chap. 6:4. This is of all terrors the most terrible, and what heart can remain whole under it? Prov. 18:14, "The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmities, but a wounded spirit who can bear?" See how Heman was broken under this. Psalm 88:15, "I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up; while I suffer thy terrors, I am distracted." It made Job, a grave solid man, of extraordinary piety, cry out in the congregation, as unable to contain himself, chap. 30:29, 30, 31, "I am a brother to dragons, and a companion to owls; my skin is black upon me, and my bones are burned with heat. My harp also is turned to mourning, and my organ into the voice of them that weep."—Finally, there are temptations dogging the soul, the more vile and horrid these are, the more dreadful. Sometimes the Lord looses Satan's chains, and he is let almost loose on a Christian, 1 Cor. 12:7. Hence there are fiery darts shot into the heart, extraordinary temptations as to faith or practice, Eph. 6:16; and these, though repelled, yet coming back as if a siege were laid to the soul, by an army resolved to master the town. And when, withal, one is left often to fall under these, this is most breaking to a gracious soul. There is,
Lastly, To sum up all in a word, a Christian's sinfulness, with the bitter fruits springing from his sin; these are what are breaking to his heart. He is not what God would, nor what he would have himself to be. He is dissatisfied with himself, yet cannot right his case; Rom. 7:19, "For that which I do, I allow not; for what I would, that I do not; but what I hate, that do I." He brings miseries on himself by his sin, and therefore is sadly broken under the thought of his case.—We now proceed,
III. To shew what sort of a heart a broken heart is. As to this we observe,
1. That it is a contrite or bruised heart; Psalm 51:17, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise." Not only broken in pieces like a rock, but broken to powder, and so fit to receive any impression; so the word signifies. The heart, though before sometimes like an adamant, which mercies could not melt, nor judgments terrify, is now kindly broken and bruised betwixt the upper and nether mill-stone;—the upper mill-stone of the law, a sense of God's wrath against sin; and—the nether mill-stone of the gospel, of divine lore, mercy, and favour, manifested in word and providences. If one going to break a hard stone, would lay it firm upon another hard stone, which will not yield underneath it, then, when you strike, it will either not break at all, or if it do, it will not break in shivers; but either lay it hollow, or on a soft bed, and it will break all in shivers. Thus, lay the hard heart upon the hard law, and strike it with the most dreadful threatenings of hell and damnation, it either will not break at all, or at least it will not break small. But lay the hard heart on the bed of the gospel of mercy and love, and then let the hammer of the law strike, the heart will go asunder. Legal preaching, which casts a veil over gospel-grace, is not the way to make good Christains. Joel lays the hearts of his hearers on mercy, then fetches his stroke with the hammer of the law, and cries, chap. 2:13, "Rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil." But it is the Spirit of the Lord that carries home the stroke, else it will not do. A broken heart is,
2. A pained heart, an aching heart; Acts 2:37, "When they heard this, they were pricked to the heart, and said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Bruising or breaking a living member is not without pain. God wounds the guilty conscience, that the sinner may see and find what an evil and bitter thing sin is; Jer. 2:19, "Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee; know therefore, and see, that it is an evil thing and a bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, and my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord God of hosts." The deeper that the wound is, the sorer the heart is broken. It is pained with sorrow; Prov. 15:13, "By sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken." A broken heart is a sorrowful heart for sin, for the offence given to God, the dishonour put on him by it, and the evil brought on one's self. Thus the broken-hearted sinner is a mourning sinner, Zech. 12:10. The spirit of heaviness sits down on the man, till Christ bind up his wound; his joy is turned into lamentation. The heart is pained also with remorse for sin, Acts 2:37. Every remembrance of his folly gives him a twitch by the scourge of conscience. He calls himself fool and beast for so requiting the Lord. He is heartily displeased with himself on that account; Job 42:6, "Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." He smites on his breast, as worthy to be pierced, Luke 18:13; and smites on his thigh, as worthy to be broken for what he has done. Again, it is pained with anxiety and care how to be saved from sin; Acts 16:30, "What shall I do to be saved?" It brings a burden of care upon his head, how to get the guilt removed, the power of it broken, and to get it expelled at length. Never was a man more anxious about the cure of a broken leg or arm, than the broken-hearted sinner is to get his soul-wounds healed, and to be free of sin, which is his greatest cross. The heart is pained with longing desires after grace; Psalm 119:20, "My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments at all times." The broken-hearted sinner, sensible of his spiritual wants, longs for the supply of them, pants for it as a thirsty man for water; and the delay of answering these desires makes a sick heart; Prov 13:12, "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick." A broken heart is,
3. A shameful heart. The whole heart in sin is impudent; but the broken heart is filled with shame. Ezra said, chap. 9:6, "O my God, I am ashamed, and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God; for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens." The man hangs down his head before the Lord, as not able to look up, Psalm 40:12. He sees himself stripped of his beautiful garments, and is ashamed of his spiritual nakedness, and, with the publican, he cannot lift up his eyes. He is fallen into the mire, and is ashamed to come before God in his defilement, Isa. 64:6. His vain expectations from the way of sin are baulked, and so he turns back ashamed. His reproach is discovered, he is convicted of the basest ingratitude, and so is filled with shame. As the thief is ashamed when he is found, so is the house of Israel ashamed, Jer. 2:26.—A broken heart is,
4. A soft and tender heart, for a broken and a hard heart are opposed to each other; Ezek. 36:26, "I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh." When the spirit of the Lord breaks the heart with gospel-grace, he melts it down, and softens it, takes away that stonyness, stiffness, hardness, that cleaves to the heart in its natural state. The brokenhearted sinner, however, will very probably say, Alas! I find my heart a hard heart. To this I answer, to find the hardness of heart, and to be weighted and grieved with it, is a sign of tenderness, even as groaning is a sign of life: 2 Cor. 8:12, "For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what a man hath, and not according to what he hath not." There is no heart in this world but there is some hardness in it. There may be tears where there is no broken heart, as in Esau, and there may be a broken and tender heart where tears are not. Try, therefore, the tenderness of your hearts by the following marks.:—
Are your hearts kindly affected with providences? Thou meetest with a mercy, and it is a wonder to thee that the Lord should be so kind to such an unworthy wretch. Thou sayest as Jacob, "I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou has shewed unto thy servant," Gen. 32:10. It melts thy heart into an earnest desire of holiness, knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance. Again, thou meetest with rebuke of providence, shewing thee that thou art out of the way, and thou darest not venture farther that way. This is a good sign; Prov. 17:10, "A reproof enters more into a wise man, than a hundred stripes into a fool." Again, do the threatenings of the Lord's word awe thy heart, not only in respect of gross outbreakings, but in the course of thy daily walk? Isa. 62:2, "But to this man will I look, even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word." Art thou afraid of the Lord's displeasure more than of anything else, and must thou stand at a distance from these things which the world makes light of on that account? This is a sign of a tender heart. This reflection was comfortable to Job, chap. 31:23, "For destruction from God was a terror unto me; and by reason of his highness I could not endure." Now this had a tendency to keep him free from all sin.—Finally, have the Lord's commandments an awful authority on thy conscience, so that thou art tender of offending him, and trampling on them? A hard heart can easily digest an offence against God, but a tender heart respects all his commandments, Psalm 119:6. A burnt child dreads the fire; and the sinner whose heart has been broken for sin dreads sin as the greatest evil. There are some who will be very tender at their prayers, it may be that they weep and pray; but then fearful untenderness appears in their ordinary walk. But shew me the person who is in the fear of the Lord all the day long, who is afraid to say or do an ill thing; I say, this is the tender person, though his prayers should be filled from beginning to end with complaints of hardness of heart; not the other; 1 John 5:3, "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments; and his commandments are not grievous."—A broken heart is,
5. A rent heart: Joel 2:13, "And rend your hearts, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God." The plough of humiliation and repentance is drawn through the heart, which tears up the fallow-ground, and pierces to the very soul. Many a man's heart is rent with remorse, or rather mangled, which is never thoroughly rent; and so their wound foes together again after some time, and they are as before. But the truly broken heart is rent to no purpose, till the plough reach to the root of sin.
Here there may be proposed this question, What is the difference of these rendings? To this I answer, an unrenewed man's heart may be rent for sin, but it is not rent from it. The heart truly broken is not only rent for, but from sin; not only affrighted at, but framed into a hatred of it, Ezek. 36:31, "Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities, and for your abominations." The heart is so broken that the reigning love of sin runs out of it, as water out of a cracked vessel, or as filthy matter out of a wound which is laid open. He digs deep, as the wise builder; the other, like Balaam, who professed a regard to the authority of God, but still loved the wages of iniquity. Again, the rent of the former either closes too soon, as those who quickly fall secure again, getting ease by bribing their consciences; or it never was closed at all, falling under absolute despair, like Judas. But the other is at length healed, yet not till the great Physician takes the core in hand. The wound is kept open, and the soul refuseth healing, till the Lord looks down and beholds from heaven, as in Lam. 3:50. The wound is too deep to be cured, but by his blood and Spirit, yet not so deep, but that some ray of hope is always left; there is a "who knows but the Lord will yet return?"—The broken heart is,
6. A pliable heart. The hard heart is a heart of stone, unpliable. When the spirit breaks the heart for sin, he makes it a heart of flesh, Ezek. 36:26. Hearts which the grace of God has not touched, are like young horses not used to the saddle, young bullocks unaccustomed to the yoke; they are unpliable and unmanageable, because they are not yet broken, Jer. 31:18. But if ever any good may be made of that heart of thine, the spirit of God will break it; however wild and untractable it be, the Spirit will make it pliable. He will make it pliable to the will of his commandments, saying, "Lord, what wouldst thou have me to do? and what shall we do?" Acts 2:37. They had often heard before what they should do, but they would not comply, but now, since their hard heart is broken, they are very pliable. Many a time the sinner's heart gets such a piercing thrust in his sinful course, that one would think, surely he will comply now. Yes, but the heart is not broken yet, therefore the man will not comply, according as Solomon represents it in the case of the drunkard, Prov. 23:29, 32, and 34, "They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not; when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again." But if God have any thoughts of love to him, the Spirit of God will take the ease in his own hand; and were he as stiff as the devil and his hard heart can make him, he will break him to that rate, that he shall ply as wax ere he have done with him. Witness Saul the persecutor, who was so softened, that he cried, Lord, what wouldst thou have me to do? Acts 9:6. The heart becomes pliable also to the will of his providence: Psalm 51:4. "That thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be cleared when thou judgest." An unrenewed heart is a murmuring one under the hand of God, and will readily choose to sin rather than suffer. But the broken heart will say, give me thy favour, and take from me what thou wilt: Luke 14:26, "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." Sometimes one meets with an affliction, and they cry out they are broken, they are not able to bear it. God sends them a heavier one, they are stricken till they leave off weeping, and withal opens the heart-vein to bleed for sin, and so in some sort they are made to forget their affliction. And it is their great concern to get their soul's disease healed, let God do with them otherwise as he will.—A broken heart is,
Lastly, A humble heart; Isa. 57:15, quoted above. The hard heart is a gathered boil; when it is broken, it is discussed. As soon as the heart is broken, under a sense of sin, pride and self-conceit vanish away, and the more broken-hearted that a person is, the less proud. Paul was a proud persecutor, but the Lord laid the pride of his heart, when he broke it, Acts 9:4, 5. Hezekiah, in his brokenness of heart is very humble: "I shall go softly," said he, "all my years in the bitterness of my soul," Isa. 38:16. O! if the proud and empty professors of this day had a taste of this broken heart, it would soon lay their gay feathers, let out the ulcers of pride, self-conceit, which are swollen so big in many a poor soul. It would turn the saying, "Stand by, for I am holier than thou," unto "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man." It would make them think little of what they have been, of what they are, and of what they have done or suffered; little of what all their attainments, gifts, yea, and graces also, if they have any, are.