Tuesday, July 07, 2015

The Heart of Christ by Thomas Goodwin

The Heart of Christ Towards Sinners on Earth
by Thomas Goodwin, Kindle edition

On Sunday evenings I've been doing a series on Jesus our Prophet, Priest and King. In considering Jesus' High Priestly work I wanted to devote a sermon to Hebrews 4:15, with a special emphasis on our Lord's sympathy. The commentaries don't have a lot to say about that aspect of the verse, but I remembered finding Paul Cook's 1980 Westminster Conference paper, Thomas Goodwin: Mystic?' (see here) helpful in exploring the theme. Cook devotes careful attention to the title under review. Having read his piece I intended to look up the Puritan preacher's work for myself, but I'd never got round to it. The prospect of preaching on Hebrews 4:15 provided just the stimulus I needed to make that good. 

It really is a remarkable little work. Goodwin reflects on the heart of Christ towards his people as set out in Hebrews 4:15 biblically, theologically and pastorally. 

Biblically he reasons from expressions of Christ's heart towards his people during his earthly life and ministry, especially as found in the Farewell Discourse of the Gospel According to John, chapters 13-17.

Theologically Goodwin shows how each person of the Trinity is involved in fitting the person of Christ to act as our sympathetic High Priest. In addition he points out that the human nature of the exalted Son of God is endued with heightened intellectual, emotional and bodily powers. That makes him all the more able to sympathise with his suffering people.

Goodwin argues that during the 'days of his flesh' (Hebrews 5:7) the emotional life of the incarnate Son was subject to imperfection, This is not to deny that he was 'without sin' (Hebrews 4:15), but that during Christ's earthly ministry he suffered frailty of body and soul and knew what it was to be disquieted and perturbed (Hebrews 5:7). The glorified Jesus knows nothing of such emotional weaknesses, but that does not mean we should conceive of him as unemotional. "His perfection destroys not his affections, but only corrects and amends the imperfection of them." [Goodwin, Thomas (2015-06-04). The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth (Kindle Locations 1810-1811). Blue Letter Bible. Kindle Edition.]

In another sense Goodwin posits that even in his current glorified state Christ's emotional life remains in an imperfect state so long as his people are subjected to suffering in the world. He will only be perfectly happy when they are, "until he has filled them with all happiness and delivered them from all misery, himself remains under some kind of imperfection and answerably his affections also, which are suited to this his relation, have some want of imperfection in them, while they lie under misery, in comparison of what his heart shall have when they receive this fullness." [Goodwin, Thomas (2015-06-04). The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth (Kindle Locations 1855-1858). Blue Letter Bible. Kindle Edition.] Jesus will only know the totality of the fullness of the joy set before him for which he endured the cross when the last of God's many sons have been brought to glory.

Pastorally Goowdin  assures his readers that our sympathetic High Priest is able to do more than say, 'there, there' to his suffering people. His pity is joined with power (Hebrews 4:15, 7:25). "Come boldly (says the text), μετὰ   παῤῥησίας, even with open mouth, to lay open your complaints, and you shall find grace and mercy to help in time of need. Men love to see themselves pitied by friends, though they cannot help them; Christ can and will do both." [Goodwin, Thomas (2015-06-04). The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth (Kindle Locations 1971-1973). Blue Letter Bible. Kindle Edition.]

A gem of Puritan pastoral theology that points God's suffering people to the sympathetic, love-filled heart of Christ. 

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