THE INNER LIFE  by Octavius Winslow

The Broken and Contrite Heart

"The Penitence and Prayer of the Inner Life"

"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." -Psalm 51:17.

It has been the lowly but the earnest attempt of the preceding pages to stir up the grace of God in the living, believing soul. There is not a moment in the history of the child of God- even those moments that would appear the most favorable to the progress of the Divine life- but there is a tendency in that grace to descend. We have seen how affluent the Word of God is in its metaphorical elucidation of this important subject. And if the figure of 'gray hairs' -of 'wells without water' -of the 'salt that has lost its savor,' can at all depict this melancholy condition of the soul's spiritual deterioration, then is the sad portrait presented to our view in its most vivid coloring, as drawn by the hand of a Divine master.

Although we might have dwelt much longer on this part of our general subject- for we have by no means exhausted all the metaphors of the Bible illustrative of a relapsed state of the spiritual life- but anxious to apply to the disease we have been probing- we hope with not too rude a hand- the Divine balm which the Great Healer has mercifully provided, we leave at this stage of our work the consideration of the relapse, and pass on to that of the recovery- praying, that if to the mind of the reader there is any real discovery of the low state of his soul, if any true and powerful concern as to that state, if any secret contrition, any lowly repentance, and any breathing after a better and a revived condition of the inner life, the words of the royal penitent, which we are about to open up, may fall upon his wounded spirit like balsam from the bleeding tree- with an influence soothing, cheering, and healing.

How sweet and expressive are the words- "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise!" In further prosecution of our design, let us direct our attention to this broken heart, as unfolding the certain evidence of a recovered state of spiritual relapse- and then, to God's especial regard for it, as constituting the great encouragement to our return.

The subject enters deeply into the very soul of real, vital religion. All other religion that excludes as its basis the state of mind portrayed in these words, is as the shell without the pearl, the body without the spirit. It has ever been a leading and favorite scheme of Satan to persuade men to substitute the 'religion of man' for the 'religion of God'. The religion of man has assumed various forms and modifications, always accommodating itself to the peculiar age and history of the world. Sometimes it has been the religion of intellect- and men have prostrated themselves before the goddess of reason. Sometimes it has been the religion of creeds- and men have prided themselves upon the bulwarks of a well-balanced and accurate orthodoxy. At other times it has been the religion of the ascetic and the recluse- and men have fled from the dwellings, of the living, and have entombed themselves in caves and dungeons of the earth. Yet again, it has been the religion of forms and ceremonies- and men have strutted forth in the fancied apparel of superior sanctity. And thus we might proceed almost ad infinitum. All these are human religions, invented by Satan, and palmed upon the world as the religion of God.

We have observed tat the religion of man- be its form what it may- has ever kept at the remotest distance from the spiritual; every thing that brought the mind in contact with truth, and the conscience and the heart into close converse with itself and with God, it has studiously and carefully avoided- and thus it has evaded that state and condition of the moral man which constitutes the very soul of the religion of God- "the broken and contrite heart."

There is a sense in which the history of the world is the history of broken hearts. Were the epitaph of many over whose graves- those "mountain-peaks of a new and distant world" we thoughtlessly pass, faithfully inscribed upon the marble tablet that rears above them so proudly its beautifully chiseled form, it would be this- "Died of a Broken Heart." Worldly adversity, blighted hope, the iron heel of oppression, or the keen tongue of slander, crushed the sensitive spirit, and it fled where the rude winds blow not, and "where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest." Passing beyond the limit of time, we visit in imagination the gloomy precincts of the lost, and lo! we find that the abodes of the finally impenitent are crowded with weeping, mourning, despairing souls. Yes! there are broken hearts there- and there are tears there- and there is repentance there, such as the betrayer of his Lord felt, before he "went to his own place," -but, alas! it is the "sorrow of the world, which works death."

In all this worldly grief, there enters nothing of that element which gives its character and complexion to the sorrow of David- the broken and contrite heart, the sacrifice of God which he despises not. A man may weep, and a lost soul may despair, from the consequences of sin; but in that sorrow and in that despair there shall be no real heartfelt grief for sin itself, as a thing against a holy and a righteous God. But we are now to contemplate, not the broken spirit merely, but the contrite heart also- the sorrow of sincere repentance and deep contrition springing up in the soul for sin- its exceeding sinfulness and abomination in the sight of God.

The state which we have now in contemplation defines the first stage in conversion. The repentance which is enkindled in the heart at the commencement of the Divine life, may be legal and tending to bondage; nevertheless it is a spiritual, godly sorrow for sin, and is 'unto life.' The newly awakened and aroused sinner may at first see nothing of Christ, he may see nothing of the blood of atonement, and of God's great method of reconciliation with him, he may know nothing of faith in Jesus as the way of peace to his soul- yet, he is a true and sincere spiritual penitent. The tear of holy grief is in his eye- ah! we forget not with what ease some can weep; there are those the fountain of whose sensibility lies near the surface- an arousing discourse, an affecting book, a thrilling story, will quickly moisten the eye,but still we must acknowledge that the religion of Jesus is the religion of sensibility; that there is no godly repentance without feeling, and no spiritual contrition apart from deep emotion.

Yes! the tear of holy grief is in his eye; and if ever it is manly to weep, surely it is now, when for the first time the soul that had long resisted every appeal to its moral consciousness, is now smitten to the dust, the heart of adamant broken, and the lofty spirit laid low before the cross of Jesus. O it is a holy and a lovely spectacle, upon which angels, and the Lord of angels himself, must look with ineffable delight. Reader, have you reached this the primary stage in the great change of conversion? Have you taken this the first step in the soul's travel towards heaven? It is the knowledge of the disease which precedes the application to the remedy; it is the consciousness of the wound which brings you into contact with the Healer and the healing. O who, once having experienced the truth, would wish to escape this painful and humiliating process? who would refuse to drink the wormwood and the gall, if only along this path he could reach the sunlight spot where the smiles of a sin-pardoning God fall in focal glory and power? Who would not bare his bosom to the stroke, when the hand that plucks the dart and heals the wound, is the hand through whose palm the rough nail was driven- "wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities?" Who would not endure the uneasiness of sin, but to feel the rest that Jesus gives to the weary? and who would not experience the mourning for transgression, but to know the comfort which flows from the loving heart of Christ?

Again the question is put- has the Spirit of God revealed to you the inward plague, has he brought you just as you are to Jesus, to take your stand upon the doctrine of his unmerited, unpurchased mercy- asking for pardon as a beggar, praying for your discharge as a bankrupt, and beseeching him to take you as a homeless wanderer into the refuge of his loving and parental heart?

But the state of holy contrition which we are describing marks also a more advanced stage in the experience of the spiritual man; a stage which defines one of the most interesting periods of the Christian's life- the Divine restoring. David was a backslider. Deeply and grievously had he departed from God. But he was a restored backslider, and, in the portion we are now considering, we have the unfoldings of his sorrow-stricken, penitent, and broken heart, forming, perhaps, to some who read this page, the sweetest portion of God's word. But of the truth of this we are quite assured, that in proportion as we are brought into the condition of godly sorrow for sin, deep humiliation for our backslidings from God, our relapses, and declensions in grace, there is no portion of the sacred word that will so truly express the deep emotions of our hearts, no language so fitted to clothe the feelings of our souls, as this psalm of the royal penitent: "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to your loving-kindness: according unto the multitude of your tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight: that you might be justified when you speak, and be clear when you judge."

Thus upon the altar of God he lays the sacrifice of a broken heart, and seems to exclaim, "Wretch that I am to have forsaken such a God, to have left such a Father, Savior and Friend. Has he ever been unto me a wilderness, a barren land? Never! Have I ever found him a broken cistern? Never! Has he ever proved to me unkind, unfaithful, untrue? Never! What! did not God satisfy me, had not Jesus enough for me, did not a throne of grace make me happy, that I should have turned my back upon such a God, should have forsaken such a bosom as Christ's, and slighted the spot where my heavenly Father had been so often wont to meet and commune with me? Lord! great has been my departure, grievous my sin, and now most bitter is my sorrow; here at your feet, upon your altar, red with the blood of your own sin-atoning sacrifice, I lay my poor, broken, contrite heart, and beseech you to accept and heal it."
"Behold, I fall before your face;
My only refuge is your grace.
No outward forms can make me clean,
The leprosy lies deep within."

Such is the holy contrition which the Spirit of God works in the heart of the restored believer. Such is the recovery of the soul from its spiritual and mournful relapse. Brought beneath the cross and in the sight of the crucified Savior, the heart is broken, the spirit is melted, the eye weeps, the tongue confesses, the bones that were broken rejoice, and the contrite child is once more clasped in his Father's forgiving, reconciled embrace. "He restores my soul," is his grateful and adoring exclamation. O what a glorious God is ours, and what vile wretches are we!

But there is one declaration of the royal penitent which enunciates a most precious truth- the Lord's especial regard for the broken and the contrite heart. "A broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." There are those by whom it is despised. Satan despises it- though he trembles at it. The world despises it- though it stands in awe of it. The Pharisee despises it- though he attempts its counterfeit. But there is one who despises it not. "YOU will not despise it," exclaims this penitent child, with his eye upon the loving heart of his God and Father. But why does God not only not despise it, but delights in and accepts it? Because he sees in it a holy and a fragrant sacrifice. It is a sacrifice, because it is offered to God, and not to man.

It is an oblation laid upon his altar. Moses never presented such an oblation- Aaron never offered such a sacrifice in all the gifts which he offered, in all the victims which he slew. And while some have cast their rich and splendid gifts into the treasury, or have laid them ostentatiously upon the altar of Christian benevolence, God has stood by the spot to which some poor penitent has brought his broken heart for sin, the incense of which has gone up before Him as a most precious and fragrant sacrifice. Upon that oblation, upon that gift, his eye has been fixed, as if one object, and one only, had arrested and absorbed his gaze- it was a poor, broken heart that lay bleeding and quivering upon His altar.

It is a sacrifice, too, offered upon the basis of the atoning sacrifice of his dear Son- the only sacrifice that satisfies Divine justice- and this makes it precious to God. So infinitely glorious is the atonement of Jesus, so divine, so complete, and so honoring to every claim of his moral government, that he accepts each sacrifice of prayer, of praise, of penitence, and of personal consecration, laid in faith by the side and upon that one infinite Sacrifice for sin.

He recognizes in it, too, the work of his own Spirit. When the Spirit of God moved upon the face of unformed nature, and a new world sprang into life, light, and beauty, he pronounced it very good. But what must be his estimate of that new creation which his Spirit has wrought in the soul, whose moral chaos he has reduced to life, light, and order! If God so delighted in the material and the perishable creation, how deep and ineffable must be his delight in the spiritual and the imperishable creation! If such his satisfaction at a new-born world, destined so soon to be marred by sin, and smitten by the curse, and consumed by the flames- what do you think must be his satisfaction in beholding a world springing from its ruins, whose purity sin shall never deface, whose loveliness no curse shall ever blight, and whose duration shall survive in ever-growing and imperishable beauty and grandeur the destruction of all worlds!

But in what way does God evince his satisfaction with, and his delight in, the broken and contrite heart? We answer- first, by the manifestation of his power in healing it. There are two portions of God's word in which this truth is strikingly brought out. "He heals the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds." The office of Jesus as a Divine healer is with signal beauty set forth- "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted." Never did a physician more delight to display his skill, or exercise the benevolent feelings of his nature in the alleviation of suffering, than does Jesus in his work of binding up, soothing and healing the heart broken for sin, by speaking a sense of pardon, and applying to it the balsam of his own most precious blood. But our Lord not only heals the contrite heart, but as if heaven had not sufficient attraction as his dwelling-place, he comes down to earth and makes that heart his abode: "Thus says the Lord, To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at my word." And again, "Thus says the high and lofty One that inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy, I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones."

What, dear, humble penitent, could give you such a view of the interest which Christ takes in your case- the delight with which he contemplates your contrition, and the welcome and the blessing which he is prepared to bestow upon you, on your casting yourself down at his feet, no, in throwing yourself in his very arms, wide expanded to receive you, than this fact, that he waits to make that sorrow-stricken heart of yours his chief and loved abode- reviving it, healing it, and enshrining himself forever within its renewed and sanctified affections.

Thus we have attempted to describe the twofold process by which the lapsed state of the inner life is arrested and restored- this process, as we have shown, consisting in the knowledge which the believer entertains of the real state of the spiritual life in his soul, and then in the godly sorrow, the holy contrition, which that discovery produces. What more shall we say? One thing only. Be your state what it may, seek, cherish, and cultivate constantly and habitually, a broken heart for sin. Think not that it is a work which once done is to be done no more. Deem it not a primary stage in your spiritual journey, which once reached, never again occurs in your celestial progress. O no! As in the natural life we enter the world weeping and leave it weeping, so in the spiritual life- we begin it in tears of godly sorrow for sin, and we terminate it in tears of godly sorrow for sin- passing away to that blessed state of sinlessness where God will wipe away all tears from our eyes.

The indwelling of all evil- the polluting nature of the world along which we journey- our constant exposure to temptations of every kind- the many occasions on which we yield to those temptations- the perpetual developments of sin unseen, unknown, even unsuspected by others- the defilement which attaches itself to all that we put our hands to, even the most spiritual and holy and heavenly- the consciousness of what a holy God must every moment see in us- all, all these considerations should lead us to cherish that spirit of lowliness and contrition, self-abhorrence and self-renunciation, inward mortification and outward humility of deportment, which belong to, and which truly prove the existence of, the life of God in our souls.

And what, too, prompts a constant traveling to the atoning blood- what endears the Savior who shed that blood? What is it that makes his flesh food indeed, and his blood drink
indeed? What is it that keeps the conscience tender and clean? What enables the believer to walk with God as a dear child? O it is the secret contrition of the lowly spirit, springing from a view of the cross of Jesus, and through the cross leading to the heart of God.

Your religion, dear reader, is a vain religion, if there enters not into it the essential element of a broken and a contrite heart for sin. With Job you may have heard of Jesus, "with the hearing of the ear," but not with him, have "abhorred yourself, and repented in dust and in ashes." Oh! with all your gettings, get, I beseech you, a broken heart for sin. God can have no transactions with you in the great matter of your soul's salvation, but as he sees you prostrate at his feet in repentance, humiliation, and confession. He will only deal with you for the stupendous blessings of pardon, justification, and adoption, in the character and posture of a broken-hearted sinner, urging your suit through the mediation of a broken-hearted Savior. He can negotiate only on those terms which justify and magnify the stupendous sacrifice of his only-begotten and well-beloved Son.

If, then, you value your eternal interests, if you cherish any proper regard for the final happiness of your soul- if you wish to escape the wrath to come- the undying worm, the quenchless flame, the unutterable, interminable torments of the lost- if you shrink from the risk, the almost certain risk, involved in the circumstances of your final sickness, and a dying hour- then repent, repent sincerely, repent deeply, repent evangelically, repent- NOW! For, "God NOW commands all men everywhere to REPENT, because he has appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness."

Backsliding Christian! Do you feel within your heart the kindlings of godly sorrow? Are you mourning over your wandering, loathing the sin that drew you from Christ, that grieved his Spirit, and wounded your own peace? Are you longing to feed again in the green pastures of the flock, and by the side of the Shepherd of the flock, assured once more that you are a true sheep, belonging to the one fold, known by, and precious to, the heart of Him who laid down his life for the sheep? Then approach the altar of Calvary, and upon it lay the sacrifice of a broken and a contrite heart, and your God will accept it. The door of your return stands open- the pierced heart of Jesus. The golden scepter that bids you approach is extended- the outstretched hand of a pacified Father. The banquet is ready, and the minstrels are tuning their harps to celebrate the return from your wanderings to your Father's heart and home, with the gladness of feasting, and with the voice of thanksgiving and of melody!

"Return, O wanderer, return!
And seek an injured Father's face;
Those warm desires that in you burn
Were kindled by recovering grace.
"Return, O wanderer, return!
Your Savior bids your spirit live;
Go to his bleeding side, and learn
How freely Jesus can forgive.
"Return, O wanderer, return!
Regain your lost lamented rest;
Jehovah's melting affections yearn
To clasp his Ephraim to his breast."