A Broken and a Contrite Heart
George Everard, 1884
"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise." Psalm 51:17
In nothing do we see more the wisdom of God, than in turning about that which is evil--and making it a means of great good.
Look at the sin of David. It was in every way a great and daring transgression. Murder and adultery--and these covered by deceit, and in one who had received no common mercies at the hand of God--all this made the sin beyond measure sinful before the Lord. Moreover, by his sin, he gave "great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme."
But did not God so mercifully order it that in the outcome, the people of God had great occasion to rejoice? But for David's sin, we would never have possessed the fifty-first Psalm--and has not this been in all ages a treasury of devotion for humble and devout souls? In the hand of the Spirit, has it not been a means of leading many a sinner into the way of peace?
Let me mention a remarkable instance of this. A girl of fourteen was sleeping with an elder sister. One night the latter rose from her bed when she thought her sister was fast asleep, and kneeling by the bedside she repeated, just audibly, the Psalm to which I refer. Her sister was awake and heard it, and the Spirit of God took the words and used them to her conversion. She lived for about sixty years afterwards, and her whole life was fragrant with prayer and praise and love, and fruitful in every good work.
I would take a single verse for our own meditation at this season. It may help us to close the year aright. For as we look back over another year of mercies and of opportunities--and consider how far we have failed to live as we might have done--nothing befits us more than a humble, broken, contrite heart.
There may be some who speak of attaining a perfection where there is no room for sin. It seems to me that our wiser plan is to learn more our infirmities, our shortcomings, our neglects, and while we ever set the highest standard possible before us for our aim, to take the very lowest place, and with the publican to cry, "God be merciful to me, a sinner!"
God delights in the lowly, humbled soul. No legal sacrifice, no offering of goat or lamb or bull, could David bring, that would be acceptable for a sin like his. But a heart crushed beneath the consciousness of guilt, and owning the hatefulness of his sin before God--this, he knew, would be a sacrifice that would not be despised. With such, God delights to dwell. He who has his dwelling-place "in the high and holy place," makes His abode also "with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones" (Isaiah 57:15).
Here is the temple to which God has constant regard--not the material building however magnificent--but to Him that "is poor and of a contrite spirit, and that trembles at his word" (Isaiah 66:1, 2).
Here is the one to whom the Lord is close at hand to hearken to his prayer; for "the Lord is near to those who are of a broken heart, and saves such as are of a contrite spirit" (Psalm 34:18).
Here is the one to whom the Lord ever tends as the Good Physician; for "He heals the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds" (Psalm 147:3).
And has it not ever been thus? When the wicked king Manasseh greatly humbled himself in his dungeon--did not God hear his cry and restore him to his throne? (2 Chronicles 33:12.)
When the immoral woman, so covered with the shame of her former life, bent in tears at His feet--did not Christ speak to her words of life and peace? Did He not say, "Your sins are forgiven!" (Luke 7:48.)
When Peter went out and wept bitterly for his threefold denial--did not the Master mark his tears, and appear to him alone on the day of the resurrection? (Luke 24:34.)
Oh seek this precious blessing of a heart ever tender, ever ready to own and confess sin, ever grieving more and more over sins of the past and sins of the present, being assured that no gift does the Lord more willingly impart by His Spirit, and that no gift more opens the door for the fullness of grace and joy which is in Christ Jesus.
Let me add a few thoughts as to the evil of sin, which may assist you in cherishing a spirit like this.
Consider the BONDAGE of sin. Our Lord has declared that "he who commits sin is the slave of sin." It is a true word. There are multitudes who are slaves of sin in some form or other. The sin which at first seems but a silken thread, becomes by and by an iron chain. There are men and women in the world who are conscious that sin is ruining their health and peace and home comfort--and yet they cannot break away from it. In spite of an upbraiding conscience and a desire for a better life--sin drags them down lower and lower.
Ought not this to give us a hatred and dread of sin? Ought it not to humble us in the recollection of our liability to fall before its power? Ought it not to bring us in consciousness of our weakness and proneness to evil, to seek for help and deliverance from Him who alone can set us free?
Consider, too, the INFECTION of sin. It so easily spreads from one to another. "One sinner destroys much good," for his sin draws others into the same path. It is evidently so with grosser sins. Intemperance, blasphemy, profligacy--these things are ever propagating themselves in all directions by the example of those who commit them.
It is no less the case, though not so evidently, with more subtle forms of evil. For instance, you take a young lady who is punctual in religious duties, and against whom you could lay no charge of any glaring fault--but her heart is cold and indifferent towards her Savior, and she has no desire for an earnest, Christian life. None can tell the evil influence which this spreads around her. It chills one who is just beginning to seek the Lord. It spreads an atmosphere of worldliness in many a circle. It discourages new efforts for good among Christians, and in many ways it does a vast amount of harm. Here is another reason for watchfulness and care and humiliation.
Think how many souls you may have injured by your example. Perhaps, when you were quite unconscious of it, some remark you made, some heedless action had an effect for ill upon another which will never be effaced. Can you have any sense of your duty to others and lightly treat a matter like this? It was the earnest prayer of one who had lived a very ungodly life, "O Lord, help me to do as much good as I have done harm!" May this, too, be our petition in the recollection of the evil that our influence may have wrought!
There is another point we ought not to pass by. Consider the COSTLINESS of sin. Jonah paid his fare to go to Tarshish in opposition to the will of God. He never reached Tarshish, but only gained the scorn of the heathen sailors, a place in the fish's belly, and terrible hours of darkness and woe! And did ever any man in the end receive better wages for his sin?
Before men invest their money in any purchase, it is always worth while to count the cost. It is well worth a few moments thought, whether what they receive back will repay them for what they give. In this matter of sin, it is especially so. You may gain some passing gratification. You may add a few dollars, or a few hundred dollars to your income. You may escape some present trouble. But what does it cost in the end?
Sometimes it brings in this life shame and disgrace, poverty and rags, loss of home or life. But willful, determined sin always costs that which is still more important than any of these. It costs a man peace of conscience. It costs a man . . .
the salvation of his soul,
the favor of God,
hope on a deathbed, and
a glorious inheritance hereafter.
It costs a man all that makes this life or the next, really valuable. It robs a man of all power to live a virtuous and useful life here, and of all prospect of a home in the kingdom of Heaven.
The costliness of sin! Who can tell it out fully, but the soul that is lost eternally? I read lately an incident that seemed to speak very forcibly of the fearful outcomes of sin.
Canon Wilberforce was taking a holiday in the Isle of Skye. One day he noticed a magnificent golden eagle flying bravely upwards. He watched it with admiration and delight, but soon noticed that something was wrong with it. It seemed unable to proceed. It floundered in its course, and by its uncertain movement showed that for some reason its strength was failing. Soon after, it began to fall, and soon it lay, a few yards from his feet, a lifeless mass. What could have wrought the change? No human hand had harmed it. No sportman's shot had reached it. He went to examine the bird, and what did he find? It had carried up with it a little weasel in its talons, and as the eagle drew these near to its body for flight, the little creature had wormed itself out of them, and had drunk the life-blood from the eagle's breast.
How like sin is this! It may seem to be but a little one, but it fastens on the soul and works death. It destroys utterly all holy and heavenly desires, and leaves a man at length so dead in heart and conscience, that all possibility of the new life is quenched forever. Woe be to a man when such is the case! The Spirit grieved, the temple forsaken, and God Himself gives the man up to his own wickedness!
A terrible cost for any sin, however sweet and tempting for the moment it may seem! Will you risk it? Will you venture on so great a danger? Nay, rather let the remembrance of your sins, and the certain outcome of them, unless subdued and forgiven--make you confess and forsake them. Far better a heart broken for sin and from sin--than that sin should itself crush and destroy all your peace, and bring to you at last that eternal damnation from which there is no deliverance.
Yet one other thought. Think of sin as having wounded and slain your best Friend. Whatever Christ endured, was the bitter fruit of sin.
Not a pang of sorrow shot through His tender heart,
not a wound on His sacred body,
not a moment of desolation,
not a thorn in His brow,
not a nail in hand or foot,
nor one of those unknown griefs which lay so heavily upon Him, but which we cannot fathom--not one arose, but through our sin!
Shall not this assist our repentance, and enable us the more to humble ourselves before God? Well is it through the Spirit, to look upon Him whom we have pierced and mourn!
Flow, my tears, flow still faster,
Thus my guilt and sin bemoan;
Mourn, my heart, in deeper anguish,
Over sorrows not your own!
See, a spotless Lamb draw near,
To Jerusalem, to die
For your sins--the sinless One.
Think! ah, think! what you have done!
Can we view the Savior given
To the smiter's hands for us?
Can we all unmoved, unhumbled,
See Him mocked and slighted thus,
View the thorny chaplet made,
For His meek and silent head,
Hear the loud and angry din,
And not tremble for our sin?
Follow from the hall of judgment
This sad Savior on His way;
But in spirit, as you journey,
Often pause, and humbly pray.
Pray the Father to behold
By the Son your ransom told,
And a substitute for thee
In His Well-beloved see!
Must I, Jesus, thus behold Thee.
In Your toil and sorrow here,
Can I nothing better yield Thee
Than my unavailing tear?
Lamb of God! I weep for Thee!
Weep, your cruel cross to see!
Weep, for death that death destroys!
Weep for grief that brings me joys.
"A broken and contrite heart!" Do you possess it? Is there at least something of this spirit? Have you ceased to make excuses for sin? Have you been made willing to take your true place--as a sinner--as a criminal in God's sight--as one having not a shadow of merit, or goodness, or rightness of any kind before Him? Is it your prayer that you may know your iniquity and sin, and then utterly renounce it?
Remember that only a broken heart can receive a bruised and crucified Savior. No soul without conviction of sin wrought by the Holy Spirit, ever yet truly believed in Christ. There are many who cry "Come to Christ!" "Come to Christ!" who yet fail to show the steps by which men can come to Him, especially the first step, namely, self-condemnation, self-abasement for our manifold transgressions. Here is the old path; here is the only safe path; fall low on your knees, cast away every cloak and covering, cry in your heart, "Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before You!" Then look up and behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! Look unto Him, and be saved for evermore.
It may be that someone reads these lines with real self-reproach. There is a great stumbling-block in your path. You long for a broken and contrite heart, but you write bitter things against yourself, because you seem to yourself so unmoved and insensible to the greatness of your sin. You dread more than anything, a hard heart--and yet this is the one thing you seem unable to get rid of. In such a case, I would remind you that a broken heart is not the Savior, and that he who mourns the lack of it most certainly, in some measure, possesses it. But by no means let this temptation keep you away from Christ. He is "exalted to give repentance and remission of sins"--and He alone can give it you. You cannot work right and humble feelings in yourself. They must come from Christ, and He will give them to those who ask them at His hands.
I remember some few years ago meeting a young woman at a mission, to whom this matter was a great burden. "I have been trying for two years to make myself feel my sins, and I cannot," was her sorrowful lament. I had been preaching on Christ's words, "How often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you would not!" (Matt, 23:37.) So I said to her, "Suppose a little chick were half frozen in a barn-yard, and could scarcely feel itself alive from numbness--what would be the best thing for it to do? Would it not be to flee at once to the warmth of the mother hen's wing?" I think she saw her mistake. I think she learned that those who would learn more of their sin, and who desire a more contrite spirit--can find it nowhere so surely and fully as in nearness to Jesus, trusting only in His grace, and finding their shelter beneath His merciful wings.
"Retreat beneath His wings,
And in His grace confide;
This more exalts the King of kings
Than all your works beside."
I would suggest to every reader who has known something of this difficulty, a prayer which has often been a help to myself. It is a prayer, in fact, which suits the soul in every stage of the Christian life. It seems to me also so full, so wide, so all-inclusive, as to embrace every need that we can possibly experience. It is admirably suited likewise for one looking back over a year that is closing, and over former years which cannot be recalled.
Take the petition and adopt it for your own individual use: "May it may please You to give me true repentance, to forgive me all my sins, negligences, and ignorances, and to endue me with the grace of Your Holy Spirit to amend my life according to Your Holy Word."
Such a petition, offered to the Savior in humble reliance upon His grace, can never be in vain. It honors His name as the Savior of sinners, and He will assuredly fulfill it; for He has said, "Him that comes unto Me I will never cast out."