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8. Motives to holy mourning

Let me exhort Christians to holy mourning. I now persuade to such a mourning as will prepare the soul for blessedness. Oh that our hearts were spiritual limbecs, distilling the water of holy tears! Christ’s doves weep. ‘They that escape shall be like doves of the valleys, all of them mourning, every one for his iniquity’ (Ezekiel 7:16).

There are several divine motives to holy mourning:

1 Tears cannot be put to a better use. If you weep for outward losses, you lose your tears. It is like a shower upon a rock, which does no good; but tears for sin are blessed tears. ‘Blessed are they that mourn.’ These poison our corruptions; salt-water kills the worms. The brinish water of repenting tears will help to kill that worm of sin which should gnaw the conscience.

Gospelmourning is an evidence of grace. ‘I will pour upon the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace, and they shall mourn . . .’ (Zechariah 12:10). The Holy Ghost descended on Christ like a dove (Luke 3:22). The dove is a weeping creature. Where there is a dove-like weeping, it is a good sign the Spirit of God has descended there. Weeping for sin is a sign of the new birth. As soon as the child is born, it weeps: ‘And behold the babe wept’ (Exodus 2:6). To weep kindly for sin is a good sign we are born of God. Mourning shows a ‘heart of flesh’ (Ezekiel 36:26). A stone will not melt. When the heart is in a melting frame, it is a sign the heart of stone is taken away.

3 The preciousness of tears. Tears dropping from a mournful, penitent eye, are like water dropping from the roses, very sweet and precious to God. A fountain in the garden makes it pleasant. That heart is most delightful to God which has a fountain of sorrow running in it. ‘Mary stood at Christ’s feet weeping’ (Luke 7:38). Her tears were more fragrant and odoriferous than her ointment. The incense, when it is broken, smells sweetest. When the heart is broken for sin, then our services give forth their sweetest perfume. ‘There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth’ (Luke 15:7). Whereupon St Bernard calls tears ‘the wine of angels’. And sure, God delights much in tears, else he would not keep a bottle for them (Psalm 56:8). One calls tears ‘a fat sacrifice’, which under the law was most acceptable (Leviticus 3:3). St Jerome calls mourning a plank after shipwreck. Chrysostom calls tears a sponge to wipe off sin. Tears are powerful orators for mercy. Eusebius says there was an altar at Athens, on which they poured no other sacrifice but tears, as if the heathens thought there was no better way to pacify their angry gods, than by weeping. Jacob wept and ‘had power over the angel’ (Hosea 12:4). Tears melt the heart of God. When a malefactor comes weeping to the bar, this melts the judge’s heart towards him. When a man comes weeping in prayer and smites on his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner’ (Luke 18:13), this melts God’s heart towards him. Prayer (says Jerome) inclines God to shew mercy; tears compel him. God seals his pardons upon melting hearts. Tears, though they are silent, yet have a voice (Psalm 6:8). Tears wash away sin. Rain melts and washes away a ball of snow. Repenting tears wash away sin. That sin, says Ambrose, which cannot be defended by argument, may be washed away by tears.

4 The sweetness of tears. Mourning is the way to solid joy. ‘The sweetest wine is that which comes out of the winepress of the eyes’, says Chrysostom. The soul is never more enlarged than when it can weep. Closet tears are better than court music. When the heart is sad, weeping eases it by giving vent. The soul of a Christian is most eased when it can vent itself by holy mourning. Chrysostom observes that David who was the great mourner in Israel was the sweet singer in Israel. ‘My tears were my meat’ (Psalm 42:3). On which place Ambrose gives this gloss: ‘No meat so sweet as tears.’ ‘The tears of the penitent,’ says Bernard, ‘are sweeter than all worldly joy.’ A Christian thinks himself sometimes in the suburbs of heaven when he can weep. When Hannah had wept, she went away and was no more sad. Sugar when it melts is sweetest. When a Christian melts in tears, now he has the sweetest joy. When the daughter of Pharaoh descended into the river, she found a babe there among the flags; so when we descend into the river of repenting tears, we find the babe Jesus there who shall wipe away all tears from our eyes. Well therefore might Chrysostom solemnly bless God for giving us this laver of tears to wash in.

5 A mourner for sin not only does good to himself but to others. He helps to keep off wrath from a land. As when Abraham was going to strike the blow, the angel stayed his hand (Genesis 22:12), so when God is going to destroy a nation, the mourner stays his hand. Tears in the child’s eye sometimes move the angry father to spare the child. Penitential tears melt God’s heart and bind his hand. Jeremiah, who was a weeping prophet, was a great intercessor. God says to him, ‘Pray not for this people’ (Jeremiah 7:16), as if the Lord had said, Jeremiah, so powerful are your prayers and tears, that if you pray I cannot deny you. ‘This kind of labour bears sway’, as he said in Plautus.’ Tears have a mighty influence upon God. Surely God has some mourners in the land, or he had destroyed us before now.

6 Holy mourning is preventing physic. Our mourning for sin here will prevent mourning in hell. Hell is a place of weeping (Matthew 8:12). The damned mingle their drink with weeping. God is said to hold his bottle for our tears (Psalm 56:8). They who will not shed a bottle-full of tears shall hereafter shed rivers of tears. ‘Woe to you that laugh now, for ye shall mourn and weep’ (Luke 6:25). You have sometimes seen sugar lying in a damp place dissolve to water. All the sugared joys of the wicked dissolve at last to the water of tears. Now tears will do us good. Now it is seasonable weeping. It is like a shower in the spring. If we do not weep now it will be too late. Could we hear the language of the damned, they are now cursing themselves that they did not weep soon enough. Oh is it not better to have our hell here, than hereafter? Is it not better to shed repenting tears than despairing tears? He that weeps here is a blessed mourner. He that weeps in hell is a cursed mourner. The physician by bleeding the patient prevents death. By the opening a vein of godly sorrow, we prevent the death of our souls.

7 There is no other way the Gospel prescribes to blessedness but this: ‘Blessed are they that mourn’. This is the road that leads to the new Jerusalem. There may be several ways leading to a city; some go one way, some another; but there is but one way to heaven, and that is by the house of weeping (Acts 26:20). Perhaps a man may think thus, If I cannot mourn for sin, I will get to heaven some other way. I will go to church; I will give alms; I will lead a civil life. Nay, but I tell you there is but one way to blessedness, and that is, through the valley of tears. If you do not go this way, you will miss of Paradise. ‘I tell you, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish’ (Luke 13:3). There are many lines leading to the centre, but the heavenly centre has but one line leading to it, and that is a tear dropping from the eye of faith. A man may have a disease in his body that twenty medicines will heal. Sin is a disease of the soul which makes it sick unto death. Now there is but one medicine will heal, and that is the medicine of repentance.

8 Consider what need every Christian has to be conversant in holy mourning. A man may take physic when he has no need of it. Many go to the Bath when they have no need. It is rather out of curiosity than necessity. But O what need is there for everyone to go into the weeping bath! Think what a sinner you have been. You have filled God’s book with your debts, and what need you have to fill his bottle with your tears! You have lived in secret sin. God enjoins you this penance, ‘Mourn for sin’. But perhaps some may say, I have no need of mourning, for I have lived a very civil life. Go home and mourn because you are but civil. Many a man’s civility, being rested upon, has damned him. It is sad for men to be without repentance, but it is worse to need no repentance (Luke 15:7).

9 Tears are but finite. It is but a while that we shall weep. After a few showers that fall from our eyes, we shall have a perpetual sunshine. In heaven the bottle of tears is stopped. ‘God shall wipe away all tears . . .’ (Revelation 7:17). When sin shall cease, tears shall cease. ‘Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning’ (Psalm 30:5). In the morning of the ascension, then shall all tears be wiped away.

10 The benefit of holy mourning. The best of our commodities come by water. Mourning makes the soul fruitful in grace. When a shower falls, the herbs and plants grow. ‘I will water thee with my tears, O Heshbon!’ (Isaiah 16:9). I may allude to it; tears water our graces and make them flourish. ‘He sends his springs into the valleys’ (Psalm 104:10). That is the reason the valleys flourish with corn, because the springs run there. Where the springs of sorrow run, there the heart bears a fruitful crop. Leah was tender-eyed; she had a watery eye and was fruitful. The tender-eyed Christian usually brings forth more of the fruits of the Spirit. A weeping eye is the water-pot to water our graces.

Again, mourning fences us against the devil’s temptations. Temptations are called ‘fiery darts’ (Ephesians 6:16), because indeed they set the soul on fire. Temptations enrage anger, inflame lust. Now the waters of holy mourning quench these fiery darts. Wet powder will not soon take the fire. When the heart is wetted and moistened with sorrow, it will not so easily take the fire of temptation. Tears are the best engines and waterworks to quench the devil’s fire; and if there be so much profit and benefit in gospel-sorrow, then let every Christian wash his face every morning in the laver of tears.

11 And lastly, to have a melting frame of spirit is a great sign of God’s presence with us in an ordinance. It is a sign that the Sun of Righteousness has risen upon us, when our frozen hearts thaw and melt for sin. It is a saying of Bernard, ‘By this you may know whether you have met with God in a duty, when you find yourselves in a melting and mourning frame’. We are apt to measure all by comfort. We think we never have God’s presence in an ordinance, unless we have joy. Herein we are like Thomas. ‘Unless (says he) I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, I will not believe’ (John 20:25). So are we apt to say that, unless we have incomes of comfort, we will not believe that we have found God in a duty; but if our hearts can melt kindly in tears of love, this is a real sign that God has been with us. As Jacob said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not’ (Genesis 28:16). So, Christian, when your heart breaks for sin and dissolves into holy tears, God is in this duty, though you do not know it.

Methinks all that has been said should make us spiritual mourners. Perhaps we have tried to mourn and cannot. But as a man that has dug so many fathoms deep for water and can find none, at last digs till he finds a spring; so though we have been digging for the water of tears and can find none, yet let us weigh all that has been said and set our hearts again to work, and perhaps at last we may say, as Isaac’s servants said, ‘We have found water’ (Genesis 26:32). When the herbs are pressed, the watery juice comes out. These eleven serious motives may press out tears from the eye.

But some may say, My constitution is such that I cannot weep. I may as well go to squeeze a rock as think to get a tear.

I answer, but if you cannot weep for sin, can you not grieve? Intellectual mourning is best. There may be sorrow where there are no tears. The vessel may be full though it wants vent. It is not so much the weeping eye God respects, as the broken heart. Yet I would be loath to stop their tears who can weep. God stood looking on Hezekiah’s tears: ‘I have seen thy tears’ (Isaiah 38:5). David’s tears made music in God’s ears. ‘The Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping’ (Psalm 6:8). It is a sight fit for angels to behold, tears as pearls dropping from a penitent eye.

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