David sometimes sang with his harp; and sometimes the organ of his eye wept: “I water my couch with my tears” (Psalm 6:6). Christ calls his spouse his “dove” (Song 2:14). The dove is a weeping creature. Grace dissolves and liquefies the soul, causing a spiritual thaw. The sorrow of the heart, runs out at the eye (Psalm 31:9).
The Rabbis report that the same night on which Israel departed from Egypt towards Canaan, all the idols of Egypt were broken down by lightning and earthquake. Just so, at that very time at which men go forth from their natural condition towards heaven, all the idols of sin in the heart must be broken down by repentance! A melting heart is the chief branch of the covenant of grace (Ezek. 36:26), and the product of the Spirit: “I will pour upon the house of David the spirit of grace, and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him” (Zech. 12:10).
Question: But why is a godly man a weeper? Is not sin pardoned, which is the ground of joy? Has he not had a transforming work upon his heart? Why, then, does he weep?
Answer: A godly man finds enough reasons for weeping:
1. He weeps for indwelling sin, the law in his members (Romans 7:23), the outbursts and first risings of sin. His nature is a poisoned fountain. A regenerate person grieves that he carries with him, that which is enmity to God! His heart is like a wide sea in which there are innumerable creeping things (Psalm 104:25)—vain, sinful thoughts. A child of God laments hidden wickedness; he has more evil in him than he knows of. There are those windings in his heart which he cannot trace—an unknown world of sin. “Who can understand his errors?” (Psalm 19:12).
2. A godly man weeps for clinging corruption. If he could get rid of sin, there would be some comfort—but he cannot shake off this viper! Sin cleaves to him like leprosy! Though a child of God forsakes his sin—yet sin will not forsake him. “Concerning the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away: yet their lives were prolonged for a season” (Dan. 7:12). So though the dominion of sin is taken away—yet its life is prolonged for a season; and while sin lives, it molests! The Persians were daily enemies to the Romans and would always be invading their frontiers. So sin “wars against the soul” (1 Pet. 2:11). And there is no cessation of war—until death. Will not this cause tears?
3. A child of God weeps that he is sometimes overcome by the prevalence of corruption. “For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do.” (Romans 7:19). Paul was like a man carried downstream. How often a saint is overpowered by pride and passion! When David had sinned, he steeped his soul in the brinish tears of repentance. It cannot but grieve a regenerate person to think he should be so foolish as, after he has felt the smart of sin—still to put this fire in his bosom again!
4. A godly heart grieves that he can be no more holy. It troubles him that he shoots so short of the rule and standard which God has set. “I would”, says he, “love the Lord with all my heart. But how defective my love is! How far short I come of what I should be; no, of what I might have been! What can I see in my life—but either blanks or blots?”
5. A godly man sometimes weeps out of the sense of God’s love. Gold is the finest and most solid of all the metals—yet it is soonest melted in the fire. Gracious hearts, which are golden hearts, are the soonest melted into tears by the fire of God’s love. I once knew a holy man, who was walking in his garden and shedding plenty of tears, when a friend came on him accidentally and asked him why he wept. He broke forth into this pathetic expression: “Oh, the love of Christ! Oh, the love of Christ!” Thus have we seen the cloud melted into water, by the sunbeams.
6. A godly person weeps because the sins he commits are in some sense worse than the sins of other men. The sin of a justified person is very odious:
(i) The sin of a justified person is odious—because he acts contrary to his own principles. He sins not only against the rule—but against his principles, against his knowledge, vows, prayers, hopes, experiences. He knows how dearly sin will cost him—yet he adventures upon the forbidden fruit!
(ii) The sin of a justified person is odious, because it is a sin of unkindness (1 Kings 11:9). Peter’s denying of Christ was a sin against love. Christ had enrolled him among the apostles. He had taken him up into the Mount of Transfiguration and shown him the glory of heaven in a vision. Yet after all this dazzling mercy—it was base ingratitude, that he should deny Christ! This made him go out and “weep bitterly” (Matt. 26:75). He baptized himself, as it were, in his own tears! The sins of the godly go nearest to God’s heart. The sins of others anger God; the sins of the godly grieve him! The sins of the wicked pierce Christ’s side! The sins of the godly wound his heart! The unkindness of a spouse, goes nearest to the heart of her husband.
(iii) The sin of a justified person is odious, because it reflects more dishonor upon God. “By this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme” (2 Sam. 12:14). The sins of God’s people put black spots on the face of piety. Thus we see what cause there is why a child of God should weep even after conversion. “Can whoever sows such things refrain from tears?”
Now this sorrow of a godly man for sin, is not a despairing sorrow. He does not mourn without hope. “Iniquities prevail against me” (Psalm 65:3)—there is the holy soul weeping. “As for our transgressions, you shall purge them away”—there is faith triumphing.
Godly sorrow is excellent. There is as much difference between the sorrow of a godly man, and the sorrow of a wicked man—as between the water of a spring which is clear and sweet, and the water of the sea which is salt and brackish. A godly man’s sorrow has these three qualifications:
(a) Godly sorrow is INWARD. It is a sorrow of soul. Hypocrites “disfigure their faces” (Matt. 6:16). Godly sorrow goes deep. It is a “pricking at the heart” (Acts 2:37). True sorrow is a spiritual martyrdom, therefore called “soul affliction” (Lev. 23:29).
(b) Godly sorrow is SINCERE. It is more for the evil that is in sin—than the evil which follows after sin. It is more for the spot—than the sting. Hypocrites weep for sin only as it brings affliction. Hypocrites never send forth the streams of their tears, except when God’s judgments are approaching.
(c) Godly sorrow is INFLUENTIAL. It makes the heart better: “by the sadness of the countenance, the heart is made better” (Eccles. 7:3). Divine tears not only wet—but wash; they purge out the love of sin!
Use 1. How far from being godly are those who scarcely ever shed a tear for sin! If they lose a near relation—they weep. But though they are in danger of losing God and their souls—they do not weep. How few know what it is to be in an agony for sin, or what a broken heart means! Their eyes are not like the “fishpools in Heshbon”, full of water (Song 7:4)—but rather like the mountains of Gilboa, which had “no dew” upon them (2 Sam. 1:21). It was a greater plague for Pharaoh to have his heart turned into stone—than to have his rivers turned into blood.
The wicked, if they sometimes shed a tear—are never the better. They go on in wickedness, and do not drown their sins in their tears!
Use 2: Let us strive for this divine characteristic. Be weepers! This is “a repentance not to be repented of” (2 Cor. 7:10). It is reported of Bradford, the martyr, that he was of a melting spirit; he seldom sat down to his meal but some tears trickled down his cheeks. There are two lavers to wash away sin: blood and tears. The blood of Christ washes away the guilt of sin; our tears wash away the filth of sin.
Repenting tears are precious. God puts them in his bottle (Psalm 56:8). Repenting tears are beautifying. To God—a tear in the eye, adorns more than a ring on the finger. Oil makes the face shine (Psalm 104:15). Tears make the heart shine. Repenting tears are comforting. A sinner’s mirth turns to melancholy. A saint’s mourning turns to music! Repentance may be compared to myrrh, which though it is bitter to the taste—is comforting to the spirits. Repentance may be bitter to the flesh, but it is most refreshing to the soul. Wax which melts is fit for the seal. A melting soul is fit to take the stamp of all heavenly blessing. Let us give Christ the water of our tears—and he will give us the wine of his blood!
(from Thomas Watson’s “The Godly Man’s Picture”)