“SOUL-PIERCING SORROW” Part 3
1. “they were pricked in their heart” That’s what we read in Acts 2.37, in response to their hearing and meditating on the day of Pentecost.
2. This evening I want to ask the question, “How does the soul behave itself when this happens?” “How do you react to your heart being pricked?”
3. Decisionists deny that it’s possible to tell whether a person is saved or lost. But if they are correct, then there is no way for a pastor to tell who he should and should not baptize, and there is no way a Christian can tell who she should or should not marry.
4. To be sure, no one can tell with absolute certainty who is saved and who is lost. But we are not as helpless in discerning the presence of spiritual life as decisionists would have us to believe. They only argue as they do because they have such a low view of conversion that they think there is little difference between one who is born again and one who is not, between one who is indwelt by the Spirit of God and one who is not, between one who is saved from his sins and one who is not.
5. Along the same line, a decisionist gives no thought to what marks and indications are present and discernible when a sinner’s heart is pierced through with sorrow. Now, to be sure, I am quite the novice at this and no seasoned pastor in this respect. But I do sit at the feet of some Puritans who were men of great discernment in such matters.
6. Last week we looked at how God runs the heart through with sorrow, and how He keeps the soul sorrowful. This evening I share with you what little more I am learning about a soul’s behavior when it is run through with sorrow for sins.
7. How can we tell when the soul has been pierced with sorrow? Two main points for your consideration:
1A. First, WEARINESS OF THE SOUL
When the soul has been pierced through with sorrow the heart becomes weary of the burden of sin, as it is sin, and thinks it is the greatest burden in the world. As a man who has a massive weight on his back tries to adjust this way and that way, and if he cannot remove it he tries to ease it, so the heart uses all means and takes all courses of action to try and cast off and ease itself of the vileness of sin and plague of sin. This weariness of the soul, which follows from the weight of sin, makes itself known in these three ways:
1B. First, the sinner is conscious of sin.
His eye is ever on it. His mouth is ever speaking of it. He is always complaining about it. And he has no objection to being shamed for it. If a man has a terribly sore place on his body, his eye and his finger will constantly be on it. So it is with the soul.
1C. An example of this would be, when the Israelites realized the hideous wrath of God against them, they pleaded with Samuel to pray for them: “And all the people said unto Samuel, Pray for thy servants unto the LORD thy God, that we die not: for we have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king,” First Samuel 12.19.
2C. An example would also be a fellow who has a kidney stone that he is passing. Does he not complain the most where the pain is the greatest? The doctor examines some pain in your body and asks, “Is this where it hurts?” “No,” you say, “It’s over here.” And when the doctor comes to the right place you say, “That’s it.”
3C. Or when you go to Dr. French with a sensitive tooth. He gently taps with his ball peen hammer and asks, “Is that it?” “No.” Then he taps on the next tooth and asks, “Is that it?” And you answer “Yes!”
4C. That’s the way it is with a man who’s stung with the vile nature of sin. When he complains of sin he doesn’t complain of its horror, or of its punishment. He complains of the sin . . . for being sin. The soul sees this and complains about it and takes shame for it.
5C. The apostle Paul was this way with his own sin. Listen to what he wrote to First Timothy 1.13: “Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy.” He does not say, “I felt really bad,” or “I was under such conviction.” No. He said that he was “a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious.” You don’t read of Paul belly aching or complaining about how rough it was for him, about how he suffered for his sins, about how bad he felt, for such is not the behavior of a soul that is pierced and a heart that is pricked.
6C. There are certain species of birds that pretend to be wounded so they can lure predators away from their nests. I think the bobwhite does this, acting like its wing is broken to entice foxes and coyotes, to save her young ones. But hypocrites do the same thing. A hypocrite will complain and bellyache as a means of keeping a secret sin concealed.
7C. There is much to be learned from the difficulty a man has in admitting his sins to God. For when a man is that way toward his sins, it’s a sign that he’s not really weary of sin. It indicates that he is not truly willing to confess his sin. And you must confess your sins. First John 1.9 shows it to be a requirement for forgiveness: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
8C. Sometimes God accepts a secret confession, if it’s the truth. And by confession, I do not refer to reciting a list of your sins as to a priest in a confessional. First John 1.9 refers to acknowledging to God that you agree with His verdict about your sins. You openly and publicly attest to your guiltiness in the sight of God.
9C. But when God wants you to spill your guts and come clean about your sins, when you instead try to cover things up and you will only admit to something which every poor child of God is troubled with, when God wants you to acknowledge the lust that you are guilty of and you are too ashamed to admit to it, then it’s obvious that your heart has not been pricked, your soul has not been pierced, for you have not yet come to the weariness of sin.
10C. Some are content to confess and complain of their sins when God is taking them through the ringer and squeezing them really hard, as was the case with Judas. But remember something about Judas. It was his punishment that he complained greatly about. It was Hell that was his greatest fear. He was only weary of sin because of the plague and punishment attached to it. He never did object to sin because it was sin. He never did object to sin because of the vileness of it.
2B. Second, the sinner complains about sin.
I speak of being conscious of sin, now, not conscious of sin’s plague. So, too, I now speak of complaining about sin, and its vile nature.
1C. An unconverted sinner whose heart is pricked will generally never meddle with sin or give in to what has been revealed to him as sin. Why? Because he’s wearied with the burden of sin.
2C. The reason is, because when your soul sees sin as it is sin, and that sin is a burden to your soul, and your heart has become weary of sin, you won’t want to add to the burden that weighs you down. Your heart is weary enough already.
3C. You feel as though you’ve had your fill of sin and want no more. You’re sick of it. Why would you want to add to your misery? Why would you want to add to your condemnation? Why would you want to further enrage the Almighty? Why further widen the gulf that already separates between you and your God?
4C. If your soul is truly weary of sin you will think, “Failure to do this duty is evil. Therefore I will do it. Doing of this action is sinful. Therefore I will not do it.” And you will be willing to put up with the misery of being under conviction rather than committing sin.
5C. You see, regardless of how you might feel, sin is worse than sorrow for sin. Therefore, if you really are sorry for sin, if you really are pricked in your heart, you will take the lesser of two evils, which is to feel really bad and so not commit the sin. If a man hates his sin only because of the grief associated with it, only because of the sorrow and guilt associated with it, then as soon as that is removed he will return to his sin again.
6C. This was the fault in Judas Iscariot’s case. His sorrow caused him to see his sins, caused him to confess his sins, caused him to bewail his sins. And this is much more than most so-called repentant people these days. He was even openly ashamed of himself for his sins. But though he confessed and complained about his sin, he was still willing to commit suicide rather than undergo the horror of sin.
7C. In other words, he estimated his feelings about his sins to be worse than his sins. If he had truly been weary of sin because of the loathsomeness of it he would not have killed himself. He never did object to sin because it separated his soul from God. Judas Iscariot’s complaint was not about his sins, then, but about the feelings he associated with his sins.
3B. Third, the sinner’s concern about sin.
Even if God were to remove His judgment from sin, and take away the horror of conscience, if the sinner’s heart truly sees sin as it is sin he will not be able to lay aside his sorrow.
1C. So long as sin prevails nothing will satisfy the heart-pricked sinner but the removal of his sin. That soul which can be cured by any means other than by Christ was never truly wounded for sin.
2C. You see, if ease cures you, then it was horror that bothered you and not sin. If honor cures you, then it was shame that burdened you and not sin. If riches cure you, then it was poverty that pinched you and not sin.
3C. But if your soul is truly wounded for sin, then nothing can cure you but a Savior to pardon you and grace to purge you. What good will it do your soul to be at ease and liberty, and to be in heaven, if you still have a naughty and rebellious heart? For you see, if it were possible for you to be in heaven with your sinful heart, your sins would tire you and burden you there just as much as here.
4C. So, you see, those souls that are cured by anything other than by Christ, those souls were never truly wounded for sin as sin. It may be that they felt deep horror, and they experienced great vexation. But it was not the stroke of sin that did trouble them. Therefore, they did not truly get converted, because Jesus saves from sins, Matthew 1.21.
2A. Second, PERSISTENCE OF THE SOUL
That heart that is pricked, that soul that is pierced through with sorrow, which has seen the vileness of sin, which is willing accept shame upon itself, which shuns sins but accepts sorrow, and is not satisfied with anything but Christ, will be persistent.
1B. The soul is restless in pestering the Lord for mercy, and will not be quiet until he gets some evidence that he’s gotten saved.
1C. The soul of one who is pierced through with sorrow will not take “No” for an answer. Neither will he be content unless he can find acceptance through the goodness of God in Christ. This is not hard to see.
2C. If a man is burdened with a weight, or some heavy load is laid on him, and if he falls under his burden, he will lie there until he dies. Now, if there is no one nearby to help him, the only thing he thinks about is crying out for help. He may see no one, or have any reason for hope, but he will still cry out, “Help me. Help me.”
3C. Saul of Tarsus was blind for three days, according to Acts 9.17. No doubt, during the three days it took him to get to Damascus and the house of Ananias, he prayed to God without rest until he had found mercy. Such is the nature of true sorrow. It always drives a man to God, whereas reprobate sorrow drives a man from God.
4C. Now, it may be that there are times a fellow gets discouraged and thinks he will never find mercy. But the Lord somehow spurs the fellow on in his desire to be converted and he will continue to make use of means, will not give up on God, will not turn his back on God’s Word, will continue pleading with God and listening to the preaching.
5C. Though he may sometimes conclude that he will never get saved, and will even have someone tell him from time to time to give it up, he will still think to himself, “I can’t be any worse off than I am now. If I go to Hell, at least I’m going to Hell striving to get saved.”
2B. This is not like the rich young ruler who came to Christ and claimed that he could do anything, yet asked Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life.
1C. Jesus, you will remember, told him that he lacked only one thing. “Sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.” But he went away sorrowful from Christ, we are told in Luke 18.23.
2C. He did not come to Christ sorrowful, but went away sorrowful from Christ. If he had been burdened with sin as sin he would have come to Christ sorrowful, and said something like, “Lord, my sins are a heavy burden to me. Please deliver me from it, give me mercy to pardon me, and grace to remove it.” But the Savior heard no more of the young man.
3C. In our text, this pricking of the heart made the Jews come to Peter, saying, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” They did not do what many do these days, getting as far away from the preacher as they can get, thinking that distance from the preacher is what makes a person feel better. No, they sought the preacher out and asked, “What shall we do?”
4C. The sinner who is truly humbled and burdened with sin as sin, comes home and is resolved to wait for mercy till the Lord shows mercy to him. The sorrow of the world sent Judas Iscariot and Ahithophel to the gallows, but godly sorrow always drives a man to God.
3B. When Jonah was in the whale’s belly, he said in effect, “LORD, though I cannot come to thy temple, I will look towards it.” In like manner a sorrowful soul that is truly burdened with sin will say, “Though I cannot come to heaven, yet I will look up to heaven. And though I never find mercy, yet for mercy will I wait.”
1. My friends, decisionism denies the cause and effect of the spiritual realm. Decisionism is quite simply blind to the spiritual realities that are attested to in God’s Word. And the spiritual reality that we have dealt with this evening is that the sorrow-pierced soul behaves in a predictable and observable way.
2. On one hand, the sorrow-pierced soul is weary. Weary of sin. Many souls are weary, but not weary of sin. Most are weary of conviction, weary of guilt, weary of discouragement, weary of concern for the punishment that awaits them. But only a few are weary of sin as sin. If you can discern between the soul that is weary of sin as opposed to the soul that is weary of these other things then you have discovered the distinction between godly sorrow that worketh repentance, that Paul referred to in Second Corinthians 7.10-11, and the sorrow of the world that will not result in a genuine conversion.
3. As well, the sorrow-pierced soul is determined. Determined like Saul of Tarsus was, even though he was blind. Determined like Jonah was, even though he was in the belly of the whale. Not at all like the rich young ruler who had it all, including all the advantages, yet did not really want Jesus Christ as the only satisfaction for his soul.
4. I hope you will consciously focus your attention on being weary of sin, not how you feel about sin, not your punishment for sin. And what is so bad about sin? It separates you from all that is good, it denies to you communion with your God.
5. And when you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, remember the persistence of Saul and the persistence of Jonah and how the rich young ruler was without persistence. Somehow and in some way God enables those who truly seek the forgiveness of their sins the persistence they need to come to Christ.
6. My prayer is that you will be one of those who becomes a real Christian.