The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth was first published in 1651, and it soon became Thomas Goodwin's (1600-1680) most popular work. It is a fine example of his Christ-centeredness and his mix of theological rigor and pastoral concern. In it he aims to show from Scripture that, in all his heavenly majesty, Christ is not now aloof from believers and unconcerned, but has the strongest affections for them.
Goodwin begins with the beautiful assurances given by Christ to his disciples, taking as an example of that love Christ's washing of his disciples' feet (John 13). The heart of his argument, however, lies in his exposition of Hebrews 4:15, in which Goodwin shows that in all his glorious holiness in heaven, Christ is not sour towards his people; if anything, his capacious heart beats more strongly than ever with tender love for them. And in particular, two things stir his compassion: our afflictions and-almost unbelievably-our sins.
How we need Goodwin and his message today! If we are to be drawn from jaded, anxious thoughts of God and a love of sin, we need such a knowledge of Christ.
About the Author
Thomas Goodwin was born in 1600 in the small village of Rollesby in Norfolk. His parents were God-fearing, and at that time the Norfolk Broads were well-soaked in Puritanism, so unsurprisingly he grew up somewhat religious. That all wore off, though, when he went up to Cambridge as a student. There he divided his time between ‘making merry’ and setting out to become a celebrity preacher. He wanted, he later said, to be known as one of ‘the great wits’ of the pulpit, for his ‘master-lust’ was the love of applause.
Then in 1620—having just been appointed a fellow of Katharine Hall—he heard a funeral sermon that actually moved him, making him deeply concerned for his spiritual state. It started seven grim years of moody introspection as he grubbed around inside himself for signs of grace. Only when he was told to look outwards—not to trust to anything in himself, but to rest on Christ alone—only then was he free.
Soon afterwards he took over from Richard Sibbes’ preaching at Holy Trinity Church. It was an appropriate transition, for while in his navel-gazing days his preaching had been mostly about battering consciences, his appreciation of Christ’s free grace now made him a Christ-centred preacher like Sibbes. Sibbes once told him ‘Young man, if ever you would do good, you must preach the gospel and the free grace of God in Christ Jesus’—and that is just what Goodwin now did. And, like Sibbes, he became an affable preacher. He wouldn’t use his intellectual abilities to patronise his listeners, but to help them. Still today, reading his sermons, it is as if he takes you by the shoulder and walks with you like a brother.
All the while, Archbishop Laud was pressing clergy towards his own ‘high church’ practices. By 1634, Goodwin had had enough: he resigned his post and left Cambridge to become a Separatist preacher. By the end of the decade he was with other Nonconformist exiles in Holland. Then, in 1641, Parliament invited all such Nonconformists to return, and soon Goodwin was leading the ‘dissenting brethren’ at the Westminster Assembly.
‘Dissenting’, ‘Separatist’: it would be easy to see Goodwin as prickly and quarrelsome. In actual fact, though, while he was definite in his views on the church, he was quite extraordinarily charitable to those he disagreed with, and managed to command widespread respect across the theological spectrum of the church. Almost uniquely, in an age of constant and often bitter debate, nobody seems to have spoken ill of Goodwin.
If there was a contemporary Goodwin overlapped with more than any other, it was John Owen. In the Puritan heyday of the 1650s, when Owen was Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, Goodwin was President of Magdalen College. For years they shared a Sunday afternoon pulpit, both were chaplains to Cromwell, together they would co-author the Savoy Declaration.
And both had their own sartorial whimsies: Owen was known for his dandy day-wear, his snake-bands and fancy boots; Goodwin, it was giggled, had such a fondness for nightcaps that he is said to have worn whole collections on his head at once. First and foremost, Goodwin was a pastor at heart. Students at Magdalen College soon found that, should they bump into Goodwin or his nightcaps, they could expect to be asked when they were converted or how they stood with the Lord. And when Charles II returned in 1660 and Goodwin was deprived of his post, it was to pastor a church in London that he went.
The last twenty years of his life he spent pastoring, writing treatises, and studying in London (the study sadly interrupted in 1666 when the Great Fire burned more than half of his voluminous library). Then, at eighty years of age, he was gripped by a fatal fever. With his dying words he captured what had always been his chief concerns: ‘I am going’, he said,
"to the three Persons, with whom I have had communion . . . My bow abides in strength. Is Christ divided? No, I have the whole of his righteousness; I am found in him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but the righteousness which is of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ, who loved me, and gave himself for me. Christ cannot love me better than he doth. I think I cannot love Christ better than I do; I am swallowed up in God . . . Now I shall be ever with the Lord."
[Adapted from Michael Reeves' Introduction to Goodwin’s The Heart of Christ]
About This Series
Incredibly popular, Banner's Puritan Paperback series brings to life some of the most challenging, spiritual works that you will ever read, by men who breathed Christlikeness in ways that each one of us should be powerfully drawn to. Each book is conveniently sized to fit easily into a briefcase or purse.
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Publisher: Banner of Truth
Publication Date: October 2011
ISBN 13: 9781848711464
"In the Presbyterian Church in America we have a number of prominent voices that persistently remind us of the duty to preach Christ (1 Corinthians 2:2). Such reminders must be welcomed, for, “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed” (1 Corinthians 16:22). However, preaching Christ means preaching the whole of Christ, not only with a focus on His humiliation, but also with an emphasis on His heavenly ministry toward sinners on earth. And, here, I've observed, our preaching could be improved. Knowing that Christ died for my sins is of first importance (1 Corinthians 15:3); but knowing that Christ, as a merciful high priest in heaven, pities me—now, while I remain a sinner on earth—flows out of the reality of His death and resurrection. A robust Christology, with an emphasis on the Holy Spirit's relation to Christ Himself, ensures that we preach the whole of Christ's work, including His heavenly ministry.
One theologian who did not forget the importance of Christ's heavenly ministry was Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680), a Puritan who played no little role in the shaping of the Westminster Confession of Faith. Whatever one may think about the Puritans, they certainly did not show a lack of Christological thought. What follows is a basic summary of Goodwin's work The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth, where the author shows us the glories and usefulness of Christ's priestly work in heaven.
In the first place, believers can be assured of Christ's love toward them because of the influence of the Father and the Spirit on the heart of Christ's human nature. The Father has given a perpetual command to Christ to love sinners. As a result, Christ's heart continues the same forever (compare John 6:37-40 with John 10:15-18). In other words, if Christ wishes to continue in the Father's love He must show His love to the Father by perpetually loving those whom the Father has given to Him. This love, however, is not forced but arises freely out of the very nature of Christ Himself. Since God is love, Christ as God's Son morally reflects the character of His Father. So it is only natural for Christ, as the visible image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), to love. Besides the Father, the Holy Spirit influences Christ who was given the Spirit without measure (John 3:34).
Christology only makes sense in light of pneumatology (a doctrine of the Holy Spirit) and vice versa. In Christ's states of humiliation and exaltation, the Holy Spirit rests upon Him and in Him. Whatsoever we receive from Christ He first receives in Himself. So, in the words of Goodwin, “one reason why this oil ran then so plentifully down on the skirts of this our High Priest, that is, on his members the apostles and saints, and so continues to do unto this day, is because our High Priest and Head himself was then afresh anointed with it.” As part of His reward, Christ receives the Holy Spirit “in the utmost measure that the human nature is capable of.” In fact, the Spirit rests upon Him more abundantly in heaven than He did on earth. Because this is so, the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, etc.) in Galatians 5:22 refers not only to Christians, but also to Christ in heaven.
In relation to us, the Holy Spirit persuades us of Christ's love—He prays in us because Christ prays for us. The Spirit is an intercessor on earth because Christ is an intercessor in heaven. The relationship between the Spirit and Christ is organic, and for that reason believers possess “another Christ” (John 14:18; 16:16). Indeed, the ministry of the Spirit in the believer is the ministry of Christ. Because the Spirit indwells us we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:12-16), for the Spirit who dwells in Christ's (human) heart also dwells in our hearts and maintains the loving communion that takes place between believers and their Savior. Thus, because the Spirit dwells in Christ's heart and knows the heart of Christ, we are assured of Christ's love, mercy, and compassion toward us because we possess that same Spirit, the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9).
In spite of these two influences upon Christ, believers may still think that because of Christ's glory and holiness He would have little interest in His people. But Christ's affections are taken up with all of the saints who have been made perfect. By virtue of the mystical, living union between Christ and His bride (Song of Songs 5:1; Ephesians 5) we know that when a member of the family of Christ suffers, so too does Christ (1 Peter 4:13). Christ would have to renounce His priestly office for Him to not be concerned about the sufferings of His people. More than that, Christ receives glory from His people on earth. Christ's happiness and glory increases as His chosen ones reap the benefits of His redemptive work. When their sins are forgiven, their hearts sanctified, and their souls assured of God's love for them, Christ sees the labor and fruit of His work and is Himself pleased—in fact, more pleased than His own children are. Therefore, by bestowing good toward His bride, Christ's own happiness increases. In loving His church Christ actually loves Himself. The more grace He shows to the church the more glory He receives in Himself (Ephesians 5:28; John 17:13, 22-23; cf. 15:9-11).
The importance of recognizing Christ's human affections in His heavenly ministry cannot be overstated. In Hebrews 4:15 we read that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” We should not understand Christ being able to sympathize with our weaknesses as something metaphorical like we do of God who sometimes speaks anthropomorphically. Christ's affections in Hebrews 4:15 refer to His human nature and not His Godhead. What was spoken metaphorically in the Old Testament finds concrete fulfillment in the person of Christ in the New Testament. During Christ's time on earth God brought Him into all sorts of afflictions and miseries in order to prepare His heart for His priestly ministry in glory. We often refer to Christ's obedience as the basis for the imputation of His obedience to believers. And this is true. But, sometimes lost in that truth is anot'her one: namely that Christ's heart is enabled, out of personal experience, to pity those who, like Himself, are tempted and distressed. His human nature in heaven knows and remembers all that had once taken place and now takes place. Christ, as head of the body, is the “fountain of all sense and feeling in the body,” writes Goodwin. God remembers those in adversity, having been in adversity Himself, and so is compassionate toward them. Also, the word “sympathize” signifies to suffer with us until we are relieved. The question may be asked, “How far does this affection extend and how deep does it reach?” The answer: No man in this life can fathom.
To preach the glories of Christ, we must preach about Christ's earthly and heavenly ministries. We must grasp the importance of Christ's person and work in heaven. And we must gain a renewed appreciation of Christ's ministry toward His people on earth—now and perpetually, until He comes again.
Perhaps there is a sense in which Christ looks upon His people with some sadness due to the fact that they fail to realize how concerned He is for them even as He sits in His heavenly glory. May our generation of preachers and teachers leave us in no doubt about the heart of Christ in heaven toward sinners on earth."
- Dr. Mark Jones, Minister of Faith Vancouver (PCA) and a research associate at the University of the Free State (Bloemfontein), South Africa - Review taken from byfaithonline.com