The Missing Tears

by Glenn Conjurske

There is power in tears. Tears move the heart. Women know this, and are not afraid to show their tears when occasion calls for them. Yea, children know this, and freely—-often too freely—-employ their tears to move the hearts of their parents. But somehow the men of our day seem to have missed this, and the most of them are afraid to be seen with a tear on their face. If that were all, it were a small problem, but there is something much worse: many of the men of our day are unable to weep—-at least, not under ordinary circumstances. Their hearts are too cold, or too hard. They are too much intellect, and too little emotion, and this, alas, they may regard as a strength or a virtue. But this is no strength, but a great weakness. The God who created the human constitution created within it an invisible link between the heart and the eyes. The feelings—-whether of joy, of sorrow, of love, or of innumerable and undefinable other emotions—-the feelings of a feeling heart naturally open the fountains of tears. This it is which gives power to tears, for as an ancient English proverb says, “What comes from the heart goes to the heart.” Where no tears flow, this is a general (though not infallible) indication of an unfeeling heart. It belongs to human nature—-and among the rest, to manhood—-to weep. “Jesus wept.” Jesus, the man of true masculine strength, who quailed not before any, but fearlessly spoke the truth to every man on every occasion, who overturned the tables of the money-changers, and drove them out of the temple with a scourge of small cords. “Jesus wept.”

And Paul wept. This strong man who could endure prisons and stonings and shipwrecks, who could give his back to the rod and the scourge, who could encourage the desponding sailors in the midst of the raging storm at sea, and who could face the angry mob and speak faithfully for his God—-Paul wept. And Paul wept habitually. His tears gave character (and power) to all of his ministry. To the Ephesians he says, “Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears.” (Acts 20:19). And again, “I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.” (Acts 20:31). To the Philippians he says, “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ.” (Phil. 3:18). To the Corinthians he says, “Out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears.” (II Cor. 2:4). It appears, then, that whether Paul was serving, or writing, or preaching, he was often doing so “with many tears.” And it plainly appears also that he was not ashamed of the fact.

Nor is it anything to be ashamed of. It is not weakness, but strength. It is the dry eyes of which we ought to be ashamed—-the dry eyes which betray the cold heart—-the dry eyes which betray the hard, unfeeling heart, the heart which is too full of self, and too empty of love, the heart which is not broken with “great heaviness and continual sorrow” over the plight of perishing immortal souls—-here is the real and proper cause of shame. John R. Rice relates his own experience thus: “When I first began preaching, I remember how I wept from the beginning to the end of my sermons. I was embarrassed about it. This was wholly unlike the college debating, the commencement addresses and other public speaking to which I had been accustomed. The tears flowed down my cheeks almost continually, and I was so broken up that sometimes I could scarcely talk. Then I grew ashamed of my tears and longed to speak more logically. As I recall, I asked the Lord to give me better control of myself as I preached. My tears soon vanished and I found I had only the dry husk of preaching left. Then I begged God to give me again the broken heart, the concern, even if it meant tears in public, and a trembling voice.”1

Alas, others have lost their tears for worse reasons than being ashamed of them. Intellectual pursuits dry up the hearts of some. Worldliness causes the hearts of others to grow cold. Controversy embitters the spirits of others. The tears cease to flow. The rivers of living water are replaced by dry husks, and the power which was wont to move the hearts of men departs. Christmas Evans tells how the spirit of controversy dried up his tears and robbed him of his power. He says, “The Sandemanian system affected me so far as to quench the spirit of prayer for the conversion of sinners, and it induced in my mind a greater regard for the smaller things of the kingdom of heaven than for the greater. I lost the strength which clothed my mind with zeal, confidence, and earnestness in the pulpit for the conversion of souls to Christ. My heart retrograded, in a manner, and I could not realize the testimony of a good conscience. Sabbath nights, after having been in the day exposing and vilifying with all bitterness the errors that prevailed, my conscience felt as if displeased, and reproached me that I had lost nearness to, and walking with God. It would intimate that something exceedingly precious was now wanting in me; I would reply, that I was acting in obedience to the word; but it continued to accuse me of the want of some precious article. I had been robbed, to a great degree, of the spirit of prayer and of the spirit of preaching.”2

He continued a long time “as dry as Gilboa.” But at length he found his way back to the fountain of living waters, and learned to weep again. Of this he says, “I was weary of a cold heart towards Christ, and his sacrifice, and the work of his Spirit—-of a cold heart in the pulpit, in secret prayer, and in the study. For fifteen years previously, I had felt my heart burning within, as if going to Emmaus with Jesus. On a day ever to be remembered by me, as I was going from Dolgelley to Machynlleth, and climbing up towards Cadair Idris, I considered it to be incumbent upon me to pray, however hard I felt my heart, and however worldly the frame of my spirit was. Having begun in the name of Jesus, I soon felt as it were the fetters loosening, and the old hardness of heart softening, and, as I thought, mountains of frost and snow dissolving and melting within me. This engendered confidence in my soul in the promise of the Holy Ghost. I felt my whole mind relieved from some great bondage: tears flowed copiously, and I was constrained to cry out for the gracious visits of God, by restoring to my soul the joy of his salvation;—-and that he would visit the churches of Angelsea, that were under my care. I embraced in my supplications all the churches of the saints, and nearly all the ministers in the principality by their names. This struggle lasted for three hours: it rose again and again, like one wave after another, or a high flowing tide, driven by a strong wind, until my nature became faint by weeping and crying. Thus I resigned myself to Christ, body and soul, gifts and labors—-all my life—-every day and every hour that remained for me;—-and all my cares I committed to Christ.—-The road was mountainous and lonely, and I was wholly alone, and suffered no interruption in my wrestlings with God.

“From this time, I was made to expect the goodness of God to churches and to myself. Thus the Lord delivered me and the people of Anglesea from being carried away by the flood of Sandemanianism. In the first religious meetings after this, I felt as if I had been removed from the cold and sterile regions of spiritual frost, into the verdant fields of the divine promises.”3

Those who have lost their tears may find them again. It may require some deep searching of soul, and some deep repentance, but they may find again their tears, and the power of them. Alas, those preachers who never had any tears to lose are in a worse way. What shall be done for the cold, dry hearts which have never learned to flow out in tears? And are not these the majority of the preachers of the present day? Yet the Bible says, “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126:5-6). The tearless preaching and praying of the present day is not the normal state of things, nor is it in any way healthy, but only one more indication of the extremely low state to which the church is sunk.

Speaking of the apostle Paul, John Angell James writes, “O those tears, those tears; how they reprove us for our insensibility, and how they prove to us our deficiencies.”4 But Paul was not alone in weeping out the message of God to the souls of his hearers. Look where we will through the recorded history of the church, and scan the names of all the great preachers, and we shall find tears on the faces of all of them. Richard Baxter, Whitefield and the Wesleys, Freeborn Garrettson and Jesse Lee, Charles G. Finney and D. L. Moody, Adoniram Judson and Jonathan Goforth, Sam Hadley and Gipsy Smith—-these all preached with tears.

If we search hard, however, we may find a great preacher who did not weep when he preached. R. A. Torrey was such a one. He did have power, and yet preached without weeping. He was intellectual, and showed little emotion. But who would dare to take Torrey as a pattern, before the apostle Paul, and almost all the great preachers of all the ages? Torrey’s coldness was regarded by himself as a deficiency, and it undoubtedly was so. When he saw a leaflet entitled, “Wanted a baptism with fire,” his response was, “I said: `That is precisely what I do want; if there is anybody on this earth that needs fire it is I,’ for I was born, and had grown up cold as an iceberg.”5 Yet when his heart had been warmed by the love of God, he was no iceberg. He was apparently too sophisticated to show his emotions, but this did not mean that he had none. Though both are lacking something that belongs to true human nature, there is a great difference between a man who does not show his emotions, and a man who has none to show. Torrey was of the former sort, but definitely not of the latter. He had enough emotion to shout for joy, but too much sophistication to do it in public. Of this he says, “I was not brought up to shout in meeting. I was brought up in the Presbyterian and Episcopal churches. I never heard anyone say `Amen’ except where it came in the regular place in the service until after I was in the ministry, and the first time a man said `Amen’ when I was preaching it so upset me that I nearly lost the thread of my discourse. I cannot shout to this day in public, but, oh, when alone with God and His Book sometimes such a joy sweeps into the soul that nothing but a shout will give relief.”6 And elsewhere he says on the same subject, “How often have I reached home at night after a hard day’s labour, completely tired out. But before I go to bed I open my Bible (don’t think that is the only time I study my Bible) get down on my knees, and ask God to give me something out of the Bible as I read, and God opens up His purposes of love, and as I read His wonderful promises my tired heart forgets its weariness, and I fairly shout for joy. I never shout in public—-I wonder that I don’t—-but when I am all alone by myself and with my God, and with my Bible, I shout, I cannot help it.”7 Clearly, the man had some genuine emotion, and after all, who would not much sooner have a man who shouted for joy when he was alone with God, and not in the pulpit, than the other way around? The former is real, the latter a fraud.

And so it is with tears. The man who weeps in public, and not in private, is an actor, not a preacher. Far better that a man should not weep at all, than that he should weep only in the pulpit. In this connection one who knew Gipsy Smith well speaks thus of him:

“When first I watched him in his meetings and saw the tears running down his own cheeks as he told a story that brought tears to the eyes of his hearers, I wondered. It could not be superb acting. No, it was not. The time came when I saw him behaving in exactly the same way when there was no crowd. I saw him weep, when practically alone, in the forest where he was born; in the lane where his mother died. He can no more keep back the tears when he thinks of the past, of those he has loved, of the dying boys to whom he ministered in France, that he could stem the Atlantic ocean.”8 The tears belonged to his nature, and they were too strong an element of his nature to be kept in merely because men were watching him.

But to return to R. A. Torrey. Of his preaching and its effects we are told, “Dr Torrey, it is true, is not an emotional man. He cannot weep with men, as other great preachers have done, as he pleads with them to come to Christ, for he is not built on that plan, and his appeal is more to the intelligence, the common-sense, and the conscience than to the heart. But yet there is a wonderful softness in his nature. Listen to him as he faces a crowd of drunken men and women and tells them of the love of Jesus. No word of reproach falls from his lips. In simple language he speaks of the Saviour’s love in such a manner that the hardest conscience is awakened and the coldest heart touched. Tenderly does he plead with them to quit sin—-so tenderly and lovingly that tears steal down the grimy faces, and miracles of grace are numbered by the hundred.”9

Now this seems a rather strange thing—-that he who sheds no tears himself should draw them from the eyes of those who hear him. But when we look deeper, we may plainly see that the man was neither cold nor hard. When he spoke on “Future Punishment” at the World Conference on Christian Fundamentals, he said, “I cannot tell you the pain I have in my heart every time I speak on that subject. I have lain on my face before God and sobbed as I have thought of what the Bible clearly teaches on the subject, and thought also of what it involves. I believe I would gladly die in agony and shame if thereby I could make it sure that all men would somewhere, sometime, somehow be brought to repentance and thus saved. To me the doctrine of Future Punishment is not a mere matter of speculative theory that I could discuss without emotion in cold intellectuality.”10 There were tears in his heart, and they freely flowed out when he was alone with his God, though some quirk in his nature—-some false shame or social sophistication—-held them back in the presence of others. This was a deficiency in him, no doubt. Yet when he spoke, the tenderness of tears was in his preaching, and that tenderness made its way to the hearts of his hearers. Torrey was something out of the ordinary in this respect, and, with the copious tears of Paul before us, we dare not take him as our pattern. Much less do we dare use him as our excuse, when we do not sob on our faces before God for the souls of men, when that “wonderful softness” of his nature does not pervade our own, or when that loving and tender pleading of his does not flow from our lips, and when those who hear us are not melted to tears as his hearers were. Usually the missing tears are as fatal to the power of a man’s ministry as the missing links are to the theory of evolution. The missing tears are the telltale sign of the coldness and hardness of the heart. There are no tears on the cheek because there are none in the heart. We love the ministry, and even the work of the ministry, but do we love the souls of men? We love the work of the study, and of the pulpit, but we cannot say with the Psalmist, “Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law.” (Psalm 119:136). And onward and downward they go to their doom, still not keeping his law, for our lukewarm, dry-eyed praying cannot move the heart of God, and our cold, tearless preaching cannot move the hearts of men. We desperately need a “water baptism” such as the most of us have never dreamed of—-a baptism of tears. We need a different kind of preaching, and a different kind of praying, and we need to begin with the prayer,

Glenn Conjurske