For Weary Souls: Greenhill on the Sweetness of the Savior
As more and more people are beginning to read the Puritans, there seems to be a natural inclination towards what I call “the hard and heavy” writings of the Puritans. One reason is that more of that kind of material is available, having been reprinted several times over the last few centuries. Examples of what I consider “hard and heavy” writings would be things like Matthew Mead’s, The Almost Christian Discovered, or Thomas Shepard’s, The Parable of the Ten Virgins. Those are fine and necessary works; in our day, when carnality is accepted as a legitimate part of the Christian life because of the influence of antinomianism, these works are important.
But the Puritans were not only sound on their soteriology; they were true and masterful “physicians of souls,” as even secular psychologists and writers are wont to describe them. Those who revile the Puritans see in them only stern taskmasters, condemning any and all persons to hell who do not “walk the straight and narrow.” But even the great American preacher Jonathan Edwards, who is most famous for his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” actually preached more on the beauty and excellency of Jesus Christ than any other topic—and that is why I once edited all of those sermons into a single volume titled Altogether Lovely.
In this blog series, it is my desire to let you hear some of these Puritans speaking to the hearts of wounded and weary souls. These excerpts are from the following books:
- Sermons on Christ’s Last Disclosure of Himself, by William Greenhill
- Grace, by Christopher Love
- The Nature of Saving Conversion, by Solomon Stoddard
- The Case and Cure of a Deserted Soul, by Joseph Symonds
- Heaven Opened: The Riches of God’s Covenant, by Richard Alleine
- The Poor Doubting Christian, by Thomas Hooker
- A Discourse on the Disease of Melancholy and Trouble of Mind, by Timothy Rogers
First, the Puritans presented Christ as a Savior who really desires to save sinners. He had a heart for the lost, so they tried to entice sinners with His sweetness. Hear what William Greenhill had to say:
Does not Christ sweetly invite you, and use sweet invitations and allurements to draw sinners to Him? Can there be sweeter invitations than what you have from Christ upon this account in Matthew 11:28: ‘Come unto Me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest”?
Can you hear Christ crying out, “Oh, you poor sinners of the world, you poor sinners of the earth, you who travail under the burden of your sins, you who are heavy laden, you who are ready to sink into hell through fear of wrath: come unto Me; come unto Me.” He does not say, “Why have you broken Moses’ law? Why have you offended My Father? Why have you lived so basely and vilely?” No, He says, “Come unto Me, you who are weary and heavy laden, you who are ready to sink and perish, who are hungry and thirsty and know not which way to turn for relief; come unto Me.”
See what a blessed invitation is given in Isaiah 55:1–2: “Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money, come ye, buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do you lay out your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto Me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.” Is not here a sweet, gracious, blessed invitation to poor sinners, unto such as we are here this day? The Lord Christ is speaking unto you this day: “Ho, everyone, everyone who thirsts, young or old, rich or poor, learned or unlearned, of whatsoever condition you are—are you thirsty? Would you have mercy, peace, grace, and the Spirit of Christ? Would you have anything to do your souls good? Then come, come unto Me. Come to the waters.”
“Aye, but I have no money!”
It matters not; come without money. Come, for here is wine, milk, bread, marrow, and fatness; there’s that which will make your souls live; here’s virtue in Christ to make your souls live forever. So we read in Proverbs 23:26: “My son, give me thy heart.” God says, “O my son, give Me your heart.” Christ is the everlasting Father and He says, “My son, give Me your heart. Come to me.”
How are we to take this water? “Let him take of the water of life freely.” There’s something in this word “freely.” It notes, first, that, let a sinner be what he will, there is no bar put in against him to keep him off from this water. Let a man be a great sinner, an old sinner, let his sins be crimson and scarlet sins, God puts in no bar. Christ does not say, “Let a little sinner,” or “a young sinner,” or “a sinner who has sinned once or twice, or a hundred or a thousand times,” come, but He says, “Let whosoever will come; let him take of the water of life freely. Let his sins be what they will, all manner of blasphemies shall be forgiven.” There’s no bar except against the unpardonable sin; but whatever sin, though long continued in, though of the most heinous nature, though clothed with the most dreadful aggravations, yet it shall be forgiven. Let that sinner come and take of this water of life freely. A man who is leprous all over may as freely go into the river or sea and wash himself as the man who is sound. There is no bar in his way.
If the water of life is freely offered to sinners, then you who are barren and dead-hearted, who complain of unfruitfulness and unprofitableness, wait upon the Lord Christ in the use of means; for here is water of life, and Christ gives it out in the use of means. Are you dry, barren, and fruitless? Have you a dead heart? Christ has water of life to quicken you. Christ has water of life to make you more lively. “I am come,” said Christ in John 10:10, “that ye might have life, and that ye might have it in more abundance.” Christ is saying, “I have come for the very purpose of giving life, and to give life more abundantly, to give out these waters freely and fully.” When the rain falls from heaven upon the mountains and barren places, it will make them look green. So when Christ gives out these waters to mountainous hearts, to barren spirits, this water of life will soak into you, soften you, make you grow and flourish, and bring forth fruit.
This is all that God require. Under the covenant of works there was “Do this and live.” But now the last motion that Christ made when He left the world and gave out the Scripture was this: “If any man has a will, if there is willingness in you to receive waters of life, that’s the only thing I require, and all I require.”
He does not require great matters at your hands. He does not say, “Give Me house and lands; give Me your shops and your wares; give Me your ships; give Me your limbs, your blood and your lives.” No, He says, “If any man will, let Me have but willingness in you; this is all I require.” Proverbs 23:26: “My son, give Me thy heart.” What is His meaning? “Let Me but see a heart in you prizing, choosing, and pursuing the waters of life. That’s all I require. My son, give Me your heart.” He does not mean the piece of flesh in your body which you call your heart. But He would have you to have so much understanding as to see an excellence in Himself, His Son, His Spirit, His Word, and His grace, and then to choose the same, and to use the means to attain them. This is that which God requires, and all He requires. Shall the Lord only require your hearts, nothing but your hearts, and will you not study to have a heart willing to have God, to have waters of life?
Consider how easy that which the Lord requires at your hands is. The Lord requires no hard matters of you, only that whosoever will may take of the waters of life freely. The Lord might have put hard conditions and hard terms upon men and women. He might have done as Saul did with David in 1 Samuel 18:25: “Give me 100 foreskins of the Philistines, and thou shalt have Michal my daughter as your wife”; or as Caleb did when he said, “If any man will go and take Kiriath Sephar and subdue it, he shall have my daughter, Achsah” (Joshua 15:16). He might have put you upon it as he did the young man in Matthew 19:21: “Go and sell all that thou hast and follow Me, and thou shalt have waters of life.” But He does not put you upon such things. He only says, “Whosoever will, let him come and drink of the waters of life.” So it is easily received. Therefore, consider these things, and through the blessing of God they may prevail with your hearts to be more willing than ever to have water of life.
The next use is to let us see the infinite goodness of God, and His condescension toward poor creatures: that He who is greatness and glory, majesty and excellence, should condescend to us who are flesh and blood, who are corrupt, full of guilt, full of deformity, having no beauty, no excellence, no good in us; that God should condescend so far as that, upon our being willing, we should have waters of life. As was said before, He puts no hard terms upon us, but says, “Whosoever will, let him take of the waters of life.” That is, “let him take Me for his portion; let him take My Son. He shall be his righteousness. Let him take My Spirit; He shall be his sanctification. Let him take My Word; it shall be his light, his rule, and his comfort, and he shall be blessed here and hereafter.”
Oh, the infinite goodness and condescension of God towards poor wretches such as we are! Had you seen Solomon in all his glory and royalty to have stooped this far to a poor woman, leprous and full of sores, having no friends to speak for her, and had you heard him say to her, “Come, manifest your willingness to have me, and I will take you into my house, wash you, make you my queen and make you happy,” would this not have been a wonderful condescension from Solomon?
Thus it is with God. We were dirty and full of sores, with no friend to plead for us, but all was against us. We have no good or worth in us. Now Christ, the Prince of peace and life, comes and says, “Will you be saved, poor creatures? Will you be washed in My blood? Will you go along with Me? Will you be happy? Come, go along with Me. I will carry you to My Father. You shall sit upon a throne and live forever and enjoy God.” Oh, the goodness and condescension of God to poor sinners!
The Puritans realized that once a person was saved from sin, his troubles did not stop there. In our next post, we'll turn to the comforts that Christopher Love and Thomas Hooker draw up from the pages of Scripture for those who struggle with sin.
Dr. Don Kistler (DonKistler.org) is an ordained minister residing in Orlando. He is the founder of the Northampton Press, and the author of A Spectacle Unto God: The Life and Death of Christopher Love and Why Read the Puritans Today? The editor of all the Soli Deo Gloria Puritan reprints, Kistler has edited over 150 books and is a contributing author for Justification by Faith ALONE!; Sola Scriptura; Trust and Obey: Obedience and the Christian; Onward, Christian Soldiers: Protestants Affirm the Church; and Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching.
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