“SOUL-PIERCING SORROW” Part 1
1. Turn in your Bible to Acts 2.37: “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
2. This evening we again venture deep into Puritan territory, dealing with considerations that decisionists never imagine, much less give much thought to. I think it will take three sermons to adequately lay the groundwork and then deliver this material I have gleaned from Thomas Hooker that I would like you to take to heart.
3. Think about those men on the day of Pentecost who had heard Simon Peter preach. Imagine what thoughts ran through their heads and what impressions they felt upon their hearts as they reflected on his words. And the implications of what Peter had said to them.
4. If a man does not respond to the Gospel that is preached he is guilty of the sin of opposing the Word. And when you are under conviction such opposition to God’s Word is properly seen as a terrible and soul damning sin. Thus, a man guilty of such a sin could imagine himself falling, dashed below on the rocks of God’s truth, rocks hard enough to break a man’s soul.
5. By meditating those men saw the extent of their sins. By reflecting upon God’s Word they saw what Scripture revealed of their sin. And being Jews intimately acquainted with God’s Word, their minds might have fixed on Proverbs 1.26, where they would remember the words of Solomon: “I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh.” Well, they were afraid now. That man on the steps above them, who spoke after they had seen and heard miraculous signs, had accused them, along with the Romans, of crucifying the Son of God. Somehow, they knew he was telling the truth and that they were, indeed, guilty in the sight of God. Would God, then, laugh at their calamity? Would He mock them now that their fear had arrived?
6. For some the answer is “Yes,” God will laugh at your calamity. “Yes,” God will mock when your fear comes. You may not fear now, but you will fear someday. Those well-schooled men standing on the steps that led up to the Temple courtyard knew God’s Word well enough to know that they, individually, could not know in advance the answers to these questions. So, their fear grew more fearsome as they continued to meditate and ponder and think. Would God laugh at their calamity? Would He mock them now that their fear had arrived?
7. They understood that by means of ignoring God’s Word they were despising the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself. And they had ignored God’s Word. They did not know but that their condemnation was already thereby sealed, because Second Chronicles 36.16 reads, “But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against his people, till there was no remedy.”
8. Had they not mocked the messengers of God by paying no attention to them, by dismissing their warnings, by mocking their preaching, by accusing them of being drunk with new wine? Therefore, they properly wondered about the rising wrath of God, and could not put out of their minds the dread that there may be, for them, no remedy.
9. To be sure, whenever a sinner discounts the preaching of God’s Word, refuses to pay attention to God’s preacher, and distracts himself when he should be listening to the warnings that would deliver him, he is only aggravating his condemnation. And this is what most of our Church kids do, parents. This is why your own child is not converted. It’s not God’s fault that he’s not converted. It’s not the Savior’s fault. It’s not my fault. It’s because he refuses to pay attention when I preach, distracts himself when he should be listening to my warnings, and is all the while rejecting the Lord Jesus Christ.
10. Remember what the Lord Jesus Christ said: “23 Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. 23 And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee,” Matthew 11.21-24.
11. And what about Hebrews 2.3, which reads, “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” And it might also be said, “How will you escape if you neglect so great salvation?” Do not think that God’s warning to one is not sufficient warning to another, and that if one person imperils his soul by ignoring the means of salvation that the other who ignores the same means does not as well imperil his soul, too. So, what was true of those centuries ago is true of anyone here today who has heard the Gospel and is not saved.
12. You might ask yourself sometime, “How do I dare to do this? By what rationale do I casually increase the danger to my own soul? Why do I provoke God so much that He promises to laugh at my destruction? For what good reason do I despise Christ and His Spirit?” If you are converted, you might ask these questions about your children. How dare do they do this? By what rationale do they increase the danger to their souls? Why do they provoke God as they do?
13. But back to you are unconverted. Why would you so behave as to make your case irrecoverable and to aggravate your condemnation? And if consideration of these effects of willfully ignoring God’s warnings does not bow down your heart, then you need to call upon your conscience to play its proper role.
14. My friend, you need for your God-given conscience to rise up and accuse your soul, with the realization that everlasting condemnation awaits you unless you turn to Christ. Perhaps your conscience is seared or callused. If so, educate and inform your conscience as to how it ought to react to the danger you are in.
15. And if this isn’t enough, you need to plead with God to take matters into His Own hands, to press the truth home to your soul so that it will not rest or be peaceful until it is humbled before Christ. This is what you need to do who are hard and callused in your sin, resistance and stubborn in your resistance to the truth, in order to bring the truth home to your soul. Because it’s when I have finished with my sermon that your works begins, that you will by meditating hear my sermon again and again all week long.
16. “But why should I have do to this, pastor? Why do I have to meditate and pray and strive?” Because you have already shown the hardness and coldness of your own heart by your stubborn and steadfast refusal to come to Christ on the many occasions you were invited to do so. If you were not so hard hearted, and if these kids weren’t so hard hearted, they would long ago have been converted. So, I am not preaching to tender hearted people who have never before known what God demanded of them, but to hard and stiff-necked rebels who, knowing God’s will, still resist.
17. You see, it is this kind of a person who, if he never meditates on his sins, is likely to never be brokenhearted for his sins. So, please take note of this. You need to get from where you are right now to where they are in our text. And you will get from where you are to where they were by meditating, by calling your conscience to act, and then by pleading with God to intervene.
18. That which will bring in this brokenness of the heart and sincere sorrow in your spirit, which God insists upon from His servants, is the phrase, “they were pricked in their heart.” So that you may more clearly see the truth in this phrase, let’s go deeper and let me show two things to you by way of introduction:
19. First, let me show you what this piercing or “pricking” of the heart is, then I want to show you what is meant by heart.
20. We start with what is here meant by “pricking.” By “pricking,” Dr. Luke refers to real sorrow, the kind of sorrow that Paul referred to in Second Corinthians when he wrote, in Second Corinthians 7, “9 Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. 11 For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.”
21. Imagine this word “pricked” to refer to sorrow in three degrees, since the Greek word translated in our text refers to not just a bare pricking, but to a quite thorough penetration. There are three ways in which pricking illustrates sorrow.
22. First, you cannot be pricked without some pain resulting, some grief, some distress. Whether you are stuck with a needle or scraped with a rough edge or punctured with a tack, there will be associated with that pricking a level of discomfort, pain, irritation. It’s unavoidable. So it is with the sinner’s heart.
23. Second, when there is a pricking there is a dividing of tissue in some way. It is the separation of one part of the tissue from another. So, whether it is being stuck with a needle, lanced with a blade, punctured with an instrument, tissue is torn or cut and separated. And thus it is with the sinner’s heart. Hebrews 4.12: “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” And again, pain is unavoidable, whether it be flesh or the sinner’s heart.
24. Third, using the imagery of a boil or a cyst that needs lancing, when the pricking occurs there is a letting out of something, be it blood and water, be it pus, or whatever it might be. So it is with flesh, and so it is with the sinner’s heart.
25. So, when there is real sorrow of the heart there are three observable characteristics brought about by the sorrow of heart produced by the convicting ministry of the Spirit of God: First, there is a great grief and irritation of soul.
26. Second, by reason of the burden that weighs heavily on the heart, that combination between sin and the soul comes in some measure to be loosened and distinguished the one from the other. The soul, being grieved with the sin, has now become interested in being severed from the sin. And this is a major milestone.
27. Thirdly, this knot of corruption being now loosened somewhat, and the solder joint between sin and the soul being cracked, the boil being lanced if you will, there is now a passage opened for the letting out of all these corruptions, so that the heart may be taken out from under the power of sin, and be subject to the power and guidance of God. This is the true nature of sorrow.
28. And by the way, consider also this. Unless the Lord pricks your heart in this way, should God not wound and irritate your soul in this fashion, your sinful heart would never be severed from sin, because sin is too much a god to you, it rules you too well (as it does with every unconverted person).
29. This is how your soul is made to see something more than just the pleasures of sin. Because until you see in your soul the corruption of sin and the eternal punishment of sin and the everlasting danger of sin, your soul will never part with sin. So, God is forced by your sinful nature to make sinners feel this way, so that you may be severed from your sins, and so that you may be made willingly subject to God in all obedience.
30. Now, let’s consider what is meant by the word “heart.” The Greek word “kardi<a” implies two things especially, which concerns our purpose: What is not intended by this word is your heart organ. As a matter of fact, the Greek word “kardi<a” was only rarely used in non-Christian writings during the first century after Christ.
31. By “heart” is meant your will itself, and that ability of your soul whereby your heart says, “I will have this, and I will not have that.” If it is recognized that your ability to understand is settled in your mind, so the will, the capacity to decide, to choose, is seated in your heart.
32. When it comes to taking or refusing, then, accepting or rejecting, we are now dealing with the function of man’s will. And to illustrate that your heart is where your will is I have two verses: Matthew 6.21, where Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” The connection? You decide where your treasure will be, thus the connection between your will and your heart is hereby established.
33. The other verse is Romans 10.10, where Paul wrote, “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Believing is an act of will. But it’s with the heart that man believes. Thus, here, too, the connection between your heart and your will is shown. So, in both verses the correspondence between man’s heart and man’s will is seen.
34. What does this show us, then, about those men on the day of Pentecost? And what does it show you that must happen to you, if you are not converted? It shows us that they were not only pricked as with a pin, but then sorrow seized upon their souls, and pierced to their very wills. It was not an outward, necessarily observable demonstration of sorrow that could be easily seen by those without discernment, but a sorrow that went deep, to the very root, and entered into their heart.
35. To look at this situation from another perspective, when the Spirit of God has awakened a sinner he will feel that his unpardoned sins are of a piercing nature. They gash and wound both the soul and the conscience of the transgressor.
36. Now then, what should you do with what you now know about the pricking of the heart? How should you use this truth? Use this truth to dispute the wrong notion held by some that the only delight in life comes from sinful deeds. Those who believe such lies are greatly deceived.
37. There is no gall but in sin, and there is no sorrow but from sin, and sin only imputed and not actually experienced made our Savior to buckle under it, Psalm 22. David’s heart was crushed with it, Psalm 40.12. And the apostle Paul wrote “that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain” under it, Romans 8.19.
38. Sin is a burden to the sun to give light to the adulterer to see his harlot. Sin is a burden to the air to be breathed by a blasphemer who will use the air to belch out oaths against the God of heaven. Sin is what sinks the damned into the bottomless pit. Sin is such that Judas preferred to hang himself than endure the horror of conscience for it.
39. Away with the foolish conceit of you who think there is no pastime but in sin, however men glory in sin, and who take delight in sucking the pleasure out of sin. Yet in the end will be bitterness for you. Your sweet meat will have a sour sauce. And those sins which are so sweet to you now will like acid eat the bottom out of your soul, from everlasting to everlasting. “They were pricked in their heart.”
40. Now, if you are the mom or dad of an unconverted kid you, too, will want to make use of what I have shown this evening. Understand that if your child does not pay attention to the preaching of God’s Word he will not take seriously his sin problem. If he does not pay attention to the preaching of God’s Word he will not be able to meditate upon his sins, cannot then take sin really seriously, and will not then be pricked in his heart. Your kid may work you and manipulate you, and may even convince himself that he is seriously dealing with sin and wants to be converted. But if that same kid is not paying attention to the preaching, cannot rehearse with decent accuracy what has been preached, then that kid is playing a game and is fooling the adults who take him for being serious.
41. So, what we want to focus our attention on is this soul deep sorrow, this piercing of the soul of those that are affected with it. They were not only affected to the point of crying about their sins and to say they will stop such sinning. The adulterer is not only brought to tears about his sin, so that he sees the person he committed adultery with in light of his sin and no longer as someone to be desired, but it goes further. It sinks into his very soul, and pierces his heart.
42. It’s like sorrow of any kind that is deeply and truly real. With the repentance of Nineveh under the preaching of Jonah, it was not only the ordinary and regular run of the mill people who forsook their sins. No. Even the king came from this throne and sat in dust and ashes. As did the royalty and others of the city. Even the animals of their herds and their flocks fasted, the Bible tells us.
43. So it is, comparatively, with this sorrow. Real sorrow is all over a person. It’s not only for the tongue to talk of sins, and the eye to weep for sins, but even the will itself puts on sackcloth, . . . as well as the heart, and all the affections, like so many obedient peasants following after a ruler.
44. It affects your eyes so that you cry. It affects your heart so that it flutters and then feels heavy. It can make the knees knock together. It can make the hands grow feeble and the grip weak. So, it’s not like the decisionist would say, “Lord please hurry up and be merciful to me, and then leave me alone.” No. This has to go to your heart. And you may cry your eyes out, and may or may not cry for your sins in public, with people wondering what’s going on.
45. My friends, this sorrow is unknown in decisionist evangelism, because decisionism doesn’t know what to do with the sinner who’s heart is not immediately affected by the Gospel and who does not quickly come to Christ. But I am dealing with those who are hard and resistant and rebellious and stiff-necked. What does decisionism do with a kid like your kid, who has heard hundreds of Gospel sermons, but is still unconverted? By any measure, that means your kid is hard and cold and stubborn. Amen?
46. But there are means to make use of to such a sinner. Notice what David wrote in Psalm 51.8: “Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.” Remember, David’s sorrow was nothing slight. He had become hard and cold and resistant to God, so he experienced a bone breaking grief. And he seeks to picture with such words, in this psalm, the burden being so heavy and so great that it made all the strength that was in him to shake.
47. And in Psalm 32.4 we read, “My moisture is turned into the drought of summer.” So you see, this sorrow goes so deep into the soul that it not only takes away the outward refreshing, but it took away all the moisture, the inward juice, the very oil of life. It dries you up.
48. Now, it would be a wonderful thing for a sinner to simply turn to Christ and be converted. But such is the nature of human depravity, such is the deceitfulness of the human heart, that a person who resists his initial contact with the Gospel, who has heard sermons and has not forsaken his sins and come to Christ, shows himself to be a hard case. Are such hard cases to be dismissed? Are we to pretend that they are not as hardhearted as they have shown themselves to be? Is there nothing to be done for them? Have they been forsake by the Spirit of God?
49. Not necessarily. But they must be dealt with after the fashion described in Hosea 13.4-8:
4 Yet I am the LORD thy God from the land of Egypt, and thou shalt know no god but me: for there is no saviour beside me.
5 I did know thee in the wilderness, in the land of great drought.
6 According to their pasture, so were they filled; they were filled, and their heart was exalted; therefore have they forgotten me.
7 Therefore I will be unto them as a lion: as a leopard by the way will I observe them:
8 I will meet them as a bear that is bereaved of her whelps, and will rend the caul of their heart, and there will I devour them like a lion: the wild beast shall tear them.
50. Pay particular attention to verse 8. God, speaking of His dealings with hard and rebellious Israel, indicates that He will “rend the caul of their heart.” What does this mean? It means that when dealing with cold and rebellious people God knows that the caul of the heart must be torn. That is, the sack surrounding the heart, the pericardium, or its spiritual equivalent, must be ripped by conviction.
51. If you think you will be converted before this occurs, after you have heard all the Gospel sermons you have heard without converting effect, then you need to think again. Ask Kelly and Tiana and Julie and Arjelia and Melinda and Krystal and Daniel and Dave and Paul and Dominic and Shawna and Toni and Lavona.
52. Some in our Church were converted rather quickly. But those I have mentioned to you are some who have had their hearts torn in preparation for their hopeful conversions. They were pricked in their heart. Are you a long time under Gospel preaching without being converted? How about your kid? Methinks you are harder and colder and wickeder than you think you are. Methinks your kid is harder and colder and wickeder than you think, as well.
* Note: You can make “Continued” a link to the sermon I preach on Nov 24th PM
Thomas Hooker, The Soul’s Preparation For Christ, (Ames, IA: International Outreach, Inc., 1994), pages 98-120.
Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 508.
Thomas Hooker, The Soul’s Preparation For Christ, (Ames, IA: International Outreach, Inc., 1994), page 100.