Born in Norfolk in 1600, Thomas Goodwin grew up somewhat religious. That all wore off when he went as a student to Cambridge. However, when he was twenty, he heard a funeral sermon that made him deeply concerned for his spiritual state. It took him time, but he came to truly feel the gospel. Goodwin’s dying words were, ‘Christ cannot love me better than he doth. I think I cannot love Christ better than I do; I am swallowed up with in God … Now I shall be ever with the Lord.’
Where does such confidence in the love of Jesus come from? For Goodwin, it came from realising Christ’s love for him. This is what we will see as we examine his most popular work: ‘The Heart of Christ’.
1. The tenderness of Christ on earth
When we look at Christ in the four gospels, we see someone who is meek, gentle, approachable and tender. Goodwin explains that now that ‘he is in heaven, his heart remains as graciously inclined to sinners that come to him, as ever on earth.’ He has not weakened in love now that he is in heaven.
We see this tenderness when we look at his address to the disciples in the upper room on the night he was betrayed. How amazing that our Lord, knowing what lay ahead of him, chose to care so kindly for the disciples. After all, he is the one with the greater trial before him. He is the one that could be demanding that they to minister to him. Yet he is moved with compassion when he thinks of what the next hours will be like for them and he takes the opportunity to both show his love and speak words of comfort.
He tells them that he will come back for them. I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:3). Goodwin explains that it ‘is as if he had said, “The truth is, I cannot live without you, I shall never be quiet till I have you where I am, so that we may never part again; that is the reason of it. Heaven shall not hold me, nor my Father’s company, if I have not you with me, my heart is so set upon you; and if I have any glory, you shall have part of it.’
Not only will he come back for them, but, in the meantime, he will send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, ‘will comfort you better than I should do with my bodily presence.’ If ‘you will listen to him, and not grieve him,’ he will tell you, ‘nothing but stories of my love ...’
It is not just before the crucifixion that Jesus speaks of his love for his disciples, he demonstrates his love to them after he was raised from the dead.
How those the disciples had let him down! They slept in the Garden of Gethsemane after he had asked them to pray. Peter had denied him with oaths and curses. Then when Jesus was placed in the tomb the disciples acted with unbelief—they had seen him do miracles, they had heard him teach on his death and resurrection, yet they refused to believe him. It would be understandable if having witnessed them fail in him in his sufferings he remained distant from them when he rose in glory. We might understand if his first message for these disciples was to be irate with them. Instead, he tells Mary Magdalene, ‘Go tell my brothers’ (John 20:17). Even though they had been ashamed of him, he is not ashamed to call them brothers (Hebrews 2:11).
The Bible ends with an invitation to experience such love: ‘The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let those who hear say, “Come”. And let anyone who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price’ (Revelation 22:17).
2. The tenderness of Christ in heaven
Having looked at the tenderness of Christ on earth, Goodwin now focuses on the tenderness of the risen Christ in heaven. In particular, he looks at a verse from the book of Hebrews, and Jesus’ role as heavenly high priest representing us before the Father. ‘For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like we are, yet without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need’ (Hebrews 4:15-16). When we are tempted, we can look for strengthening grace. When we fall, we seek the Father’s unfailing mercy through Jesus.
The role of the high priest involved compassion towards those who had sinned. Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness (Hebrews 5:1-2). Mercy towards sinners is a part of the qualifications of the high priest, and Jesus is uniquely qualified as our heavenly high priest. Not only does he show mercy to those who act in ignorance but those who sin with a high hand. ‘Jesus deals gently and only gently with all sinners who come to him, irrespective of their particular offense and how heinous it is’ (Dane Ortland).
But how can Jesus sympathise with my falling into sin, after all he was without sin? He doesn’t know the shame of failure. He doesn’t know what it feels like to fall into the same trap again and again. He didn’t have a sinful nature enticing him to sin (James 1:14-15). Yet Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are, and I think it is fair to say that though we may not understand everything about how temptation worked on him, the temptations he resisted were severe than any we will face. While he may not have given in, he knew the tug of sin, and so is sympathetic towards sinners.
So, you have fallen again, you turned on the computer and looked at those images. Maybe you remembered what they said about you, and you became bitter with them, again. You opened the fridge and pigged out, again. You didn’t keep that secret and gossiped, again. Again, you find yourself being harsh and critical. Again, you lost your cool and said things you should not have. How do you feel about yourself now? You despise your weakness, you feel a failure, and you think there is no hope.
But how does Jesus think about you in your failure? Near the end of the book, Goodwin writes, ‘your very sins move him to pity more than anger … even as the heart of a father is to a child that hath some loathsome disease, or as one to a member of his body that hath the leprosy, he hates not the member, for it is his flesh, but the disease, and that provokes him to pity the part affected the more.’
As you sit there feeling defeated remember that Christ is moved with a feeling of pity towards you. He still loves you. He will not huff with you. You may not feel ashamed to look at him, but he beckons you to come. Come to the throne of grace, where you can find grace and mercy in your time of need.
Remember the doctor in our opening illustration. He wanted to see those people cured. Christ wants us to approach him for race and mercy in our time of need. Delight his heart by coming to him!
Prayer from the Valley of Vision
Love to Jesus
If I love you my soul shall seek you, but can I seek you unless my love to you is kep alive to this end?
Do I love you because you are good, and can alone do me good?
It is fitting that you should not regard me, for I am vile and selfish; yet I seek you, and when I find you there is no wrath to devour me, but only sweet love.
You stand as a rock between the scorching sun and my soul, and I live under the cool lee-side as one elect.
When my mind acts without you it spins nothing but deceit and delusion;
When my affections act without you nothing is seen but dead works, O how I need you to abide in me, for I have no natural eyes to see you, but I live by faith in one whose face to me is brighter than a thousand suns!
When I see that all sin is in me, all shame belongs to me; let me know that all good is in you, all glory is yours.
Keep me from the error of thinking you do appear gloriously when some strange light fills my heart, as if that were the glorious activity of grace, but let me see that the truest revelation of yourself is when you eclipse all my personal glory and all the honour, pleasure and good of this world.
The Son breaks out in glory when he shows himself as one who outshines all creation, makes men and women poor in spirit, and helps them to find their good in him.
Grant that I may distrust myself, to see my all in you.