The Other Missing Tears

by Glenn Conjurske

More than five years ago we published an article on “The Missing Tears.” We spoke then of the tears which characterized the pulpit in better days of the church, and of the general absence of those tears in the present day. The missing tears in the pulpit, however, are but one facet of the deficiencies of the modern church. We also look in vain for tears in the pew.

But what do we want with tears? Is there any value in them? Does their absence indicate some serious deficiency? We have no doubt that it does. Tears are the mark of feeling, of emotion as such, and the absence of tears marks the absence of emotion—-at any rate, of deep emotion. We all know that women, in general, weep more easily and freely than men do. The reason for this lies in the constitution of femininity. The things which belong to the spirit predominate in the masculine constitution, and masculinity therefore excels in reason, determination, and action. The things of the soul predominate in the feminine constitution, and femininity therefore excels in emotion. Women therefore weep more easily than men do. Men of little understanding, or little feeling, have despised woman’s tears, and a proverb was once current among such men which affirmed, “It is as great a pity to see a woman weep as a goose to go barefoot.” But this is a great mistake. A woman weeps because she feels. Such is the marvellous connection between our bodies and our souls, that when the soul is moved, the tear-drops flow. This is involuntary and unavoidable, as are all the motions of the soul in general. The lack of tears is a deficiency. It is the mark of a deficiency in the soul.

We know right well that emotion without reason is seldom worth much, but reason without emotion is no better, if indeed it be not worse. We suppose a woman who doesn’t think a better creature than a man who doesn’t feel. But modern Christianity has made it a virtue not to feel. Intellectualism reigns, and feeling is feared. Men are ashamed to weep, where they ought to be ashamed not to.

Now I believe this general absence of tears is one of the most telling symptoms of the poverty of the modern church. It bespeaks the general coldness of the religion of the present day, in which a dry intellectualism prevails, and heart feeling is either shunned or unknown. It bespeaks the shallowness of modern religion. It bespeaks the lukewarm state of Christians in general.

But more specifically, the absence of tears in the pew is one of the most telling indications of the poverty of what comes from the pulpit. An old proverb tells us, “What comes from the heart goes to the heart.” What fails to go to the heart has probably not come from the heart. The preaching which draws no tears has evidently not gone to the heart. At any rate, it has not gone very deeply into the heart. The coldest and most indifferent hearts can be made to feel, by an earnest preacher, who feels himself. The motions of the soul are involuntary, and men may be made to feel, and therefore to weep, quite against their own inclinations. I recall an incident which took place nearly twenty years ago, when I was speaking to men about their souls’ salvation on the campus of the University of Wisconsin in Madison. I spoke with an old penniless drunk, who I learned was living on a park bench, and begging for a living. After speaking with him for a while I began to tell him of the love of Christ for his sinful soul. The tears began to flow down his cheeks, quite against his will. He admonished me, “Don’t talk to me like that. You make me cry.” The fact is, he was made to feel, and therefore to weep, though he was ashamed of his tears.

On another occasion I was knocking on doors preaching the gospel. I came to a house where there were four young people, evidently students, three young men, and one girl. I talked to them for some time, but it was a dreary argument, the girl especially strongly opposing all that I said. At length we fell upon the subject of persecution, and she said, “If you want to see persecution, look at the history of the Jews.” I looked her in the eye, and asked, what I suspected, “Are you a Jew?” She replied that she was. I said, “I know the history of the Jews, and when I read it I weep.” The tears began to run down my cheeks, but I continued to look her in the eye, and said, “I love Jews. And Christ loves Jews.” She immediately burst into tears herself, and covered her face with both of her hands to hide them, while she ran from the room. Now the fact is, she was made to weep quite against her will. Till that moment she had repeatedly spoken disdainfully of Christ. She was unwilling that I should see her tears. Yet she wept, and could not help it. She was made to weep because she was made to feel, and both of them quite against her will.

The fact then, that churches in the present day may go through their weekly routine for years and decades together, and never see a tear in the pew, is one of the surest indications of the weakness and unprofitableness of the pulpit. Christianity without emotion can scarcely be supposed to be Christianity at all. The Bible says, “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness,” though the modern church has turned what it calls “saving faith” into nothing more than an operation of the intellect. But the dry-eyed and emotionless Christianity of the present day is only a skeleton, or a shadow, of “the old-time religion.” Look where we will in the history of the church, and we see abundance of tears, not only in the pulpit, but also in the pew. In looking over the notes which I have taken in my reading over the years, I find several hundreds of references to such weeping congregations, so that it is hard to know where to begin to make a selection. The thing was indeed so commonplace in former times, that I have long ceased to make note of many of the instances which I meet with in my reading. It were an easy matter to quote scores of examples from the most prominent preachers of the past, but it might defeat my purpose to do so. My readers would likely say, We cannot all be Whitefields and Finneys and Moodys. I am therefore careful to include examples from the lesser preachers of the past, whose names are less known in the church of God, or perhaps altogether unknown.

I turn back five centuries, to one of those “Reformers before the Reformation,” Girolamo Savonarola. His biographer writes,

“Words fail to describe it; he was, as it were, swept onwards by a might beyond his own, and carried his audience with him. Men and women of every age and condition, workmen, poets, and philosophers, would burst into passionate tears, while the church re-echoed with their sobs. The reporter taking notes of the sermon was obliged to write: ‘At this point I was overcome by weeping and could not go on.””’The amanuensis subjoined this note to many of these sermons.”

Nor was this mere empty emotion. “Never was a multitude so entirely dominated by pious emotion, so easily plunged in tears! By the end of Lent, Savonarola had won almost a greater victory than the political triumph achieved by his sermons on Haggai.

“The aspect of the city was completely changed. The women threw aside their jewels and finery, dressed plainly, bore themselves demurely; licentious young Florentines were transformed, as by magic, into sober, religious men; pious hymns took the place of Lorenzo’s Carnival songs. The townsfolk passed their leisure hours seated quietly in their shops reading either the Bible or Savonarola’s works. All prayed frequently, flocked to the churches, and gave largely to the poor. Most wonderful of all, bankers and tradesmen were impelled by scruples of conscience to restore ill-gotten gains, amounting to many thousand florins.”

Of the preaching of John Bunyan we are told, “His friend, Charles Doe, says, ‘Thousands of Christians, in country and town, can testify that their comforts under his ministry have been to an admiration, so that their joy showed itself by much weeping.”’

Cotton Mather wrote in his diary in 1698, “…after our afternoon Exercises were over, I visited the Prison. There I pray’d with the poor Creatures, and preach’d unto them, on Psal. 142.7. Bring my Soul out of Prison. They heard mee, with Floods of Tears.”

The following is a description of the effects of a sermon of Jonathan Edwards “at Enfield, at a time of great religious indifference there”: “When they went into the meeting house, the appearance of the assembly was thoughtless and vain. The people hardly conducted themselves with common decency. The Rev. Mr. Edwards, of Northampton, preached; and before the sermon was ended, the assembly appeared deeply impressed, and bowed down with an awful conviction of their sin and danger. There was such a breathing of distress and weeping, that the preacher was obliged to speak to the people and desire silence, that he might be heard.”

From the great George Whitefield we might cite dozens of such accounts as this one: “Perhaps the auditory consisted of near fifteen thousand. Tears flowed like water from the stony rock.”

Thomas Rankin describes the first time he heard Whitefield: “He preached in the field adjoining the Orphan House yard. His text was Isaiah xxxiii. 13—-17. The sermon exceeded all the sermons I ever heard. About the middle of it, I ventured to look up, and saw all the crowds around Mr. Whitefield bathed in tears.”

It was regarded as something unusual and unaccountable if the people did not weep under Whitefield’s preaching.

William Grimshaw was wont to move his hearers to tears by both his preaching and his praying. J. C. Ryle writes of him, “The manner in which he conducted public worship at Haworth seems to have been as remarkable as his preaching. There was a life, and fire, and reality, and earnestness about it, which made it seem a totally different thing from what it was in other churches. The Prayer-Book seemed like a new book; and the reading-desk was almost as arresting to the congregation as the pulpit. Middleton, in his life of him, says: ‘In performance of divine service, and especially at the communion, he was at times like a man with his feet on earth and his soul in heaven. In prayer, before sermon, he would indeed “take hold (as he used to say) of the very horns of the altar,” which, he added, “he could not, he would not, let go till God had given the blessing.” And his fervency often was such, and attended with such heartfelt and melting expressions, that scarcely a dry eye was to be seen in his numerous congregations.”’

Of Spurgeon we are told, “In his preaching and speaking he was witty, so as to interest souls; but he was wise to win them too. Tears were seen on the cheeks of penitents far more often than smiles on delighted listeners.”

From among numerous such accounts which might be related concerning D. L. Moody, I offer a couple:

“Many were evidently struck to the heart; some whom we heard scoffing at the commencement, were in tears at the conclusion of his address.”

“Mr. Moody seldom preaches a sermon that fails to move a large part of his audience to tears.”

A newspaper account of the preaching of William Booth says, “The speaker talks like a plain man to plain people. Everybody listens enthralled as he tells of his life’s work, of the unbounded love with which he would like to surround and lead to Salvation every one who lives and moves. One gets to understand how this man could gather around him such masses of disciples, and why, right and left, many a lady deeply touched puts her handkerchief to her eyes and many a man wipes a tear from his cheek.”

Of Archibald Alexander we read, “It was a common thing for his hearers to be melted to tears.”

Again, “As he proceeded in describing the successive scenes of our Saviour’s sufferings, his hearers became deeply and almost universally affected. Feelings which could scarcely be suppressed were manifest in every part of the house: and tears were seen rolling down the cheeks of many but little accustomed to weep.”

I may insert here by contrast that some twenty years ago I heard a sermon on the same theme, called “Watching Jesus Die,” by the prominent Independent Baptist, Jack Van Impe, preached in the large Civic Auditorium in Grand Rapids, but the whole thing was so cold and empty that no one could have wept under it, though they had been accustomed to weeping.

In the journal of John Colby we read, “I felt the love of God like fire shut up in my bones; and the Lord enabled me to give every one his portion of meat in due season. Before I had done speaking, a number were melted into tears, and some began to cry for mercy.” Observe the power behind these effects: “I felt the love of God,” &c.

He writes elsewhere, “I spoke from Gen. xxiv.49: ‘And now if you will deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, that I may turn to the right hand or to the left.’ I thought by the attention and tears of the assembly, that a number answered in the affirmative.”

Again, preaching when exhausted with sickness and pain, “The Spirit helped my infirmities, and I was enabled to speak near an hour and a half. The people paid good attention, and many of them sat in tears through the meeting.”

Another says of the preaching of David Marks, “I had read his ‘Narrative,’ and regarded many of the statements contained in it, respecting the effect which almost always attended his preaching, as utterly unaccountable; but when I heard him the first time, which was but eighteen months since, [at Lagrange, Ohio. ED.] my incredulity entirely vanished. It was a communion season, and his subject was the Lord’s Supper. It seemed that my soul was but a vessel of tears. I stifled my sobs, until I could not refrain from weeping aloud. It was so with many.”

James Murphy, an unknown Baptist preacher, wrote in 1804, “I preached 3 miles lower down the river Macadovick (formerly called St. Croix). This was also a powerful time; every heart melted, and every eye let fall the grateful or penitential tear.”

David Irish, another unknown Baptist, on a preaching tour in Canada, says, “Lord’s day I preached with them again, and a joyful season we had: almost every countenance expressed their joy in having a preacher come to visit them; while many of their eyes were flowing with tears.”

Again, “After sermon we went to the water, and I delivered a discourse in defence of believers’ baptism by immersion. The whole scene appeared to be attended with tokens of divine goodness. The people not only appeared solemn, but many of them were in tears.”

Jason Livermore, another unknown Baptist preacher, wrote in 1809, “Two persons who had previously received evidence of a change of heart, came forward and told what the Lord had done for their souls, and manifested a desire to be baptized. Accordingly the next morning, I baptized them, after preaching again to a solemn assembly, the greater part of which was in tears.”

Of the preaching of Adoniram Judson to the sailors on shipboard we read, “His manner of address was of the most touching description, and seldom failed in making the big tear roll down the weather-beaten cheeks of his hardy auditors.”

Under the preaching of George Brealey (Open Brethren), “There was a solemn awe on the company, and many found vent for their sorrow in sobs and tears.”

Again, “In the evening some two hundred came together to hear the Word, and a very deep feeling prevailed. Many cheeks were wet with tears.”

Daniel Baker, a little known Presbyterian evangelist, writes in his journal, “Preached in the morning from Mark xv.34. Had something of an unction. At the close of the sermon there was almost universal weeping.”

Again, “At night I preached my last sermon. At the close there was much tender feeling; there seemed to be weeping all over the house.”

Duncan Wright, one of hundreds of the ordinary sort of Methodist preachers, writes, “…it was delightful to see hundreds attending to my blundering preaching, with streaming eyes, and attention still as night.”

J. B. Finley, Methodist itinerant on the American frontier, says, “When I came round at the appointed time, I found all the men, women, and children of the settlements, within four miles, collected to hear me preach. I had great freedom, and during the discourse there was much weeping.”

Finley records of John Collins, “…when the period arrived for him to preach at Hillsboro we were there, and for the first time heard him preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to weeping multitudes gathered from all parts of the country.”

Benjamin Abbott, another simple Methodist itinerant, writes, “I went to my next appointment, where they had threatened to tar and feather me. Some advised me to go some other way; but when I arrived at the place, I found a large congregation assembled, to whom I preached, and God attended the word with power—-many shed tears in abundance. One young woman stood by the fire, and leaned her head against the mantel piece, and wept to that degree that the tears dropped on the hearth until they made a small puddle.”

From many such narratives which I might give from the life of Abbott, I select the following. He had ridden to his appointment, incognito, in company with a constable who “swore by all the gods he had, good and bad, that he would lose his right arm from his body if the Methodist preacher did not go to jail that day.” Abbott says, “I took my saddle bags and went to the house; the man took me into a private room, and desired I would preach in favor of the war, as I was in a Presbyterian settlement. I replied, I should preach as God should direct me. He appeared very uneasy and left me, and just before preaching, he came in again and renewed his request that I would preach up for war; I replied as before, and then followed him out among the people, where he made proclamation as follows:—-Gentlemen, this house is my own, and no gentleman shall be interrupted in my house in time of his discourse, but after he has done you may do as you please. Thank God, said I softly, that I have liberty once more to warn sinners before I die. I then took my stand, and the house was so crowded that no one could sit down. Some hundreds were round about the door. I stood about two or three feet from the constable who had sworn so bitterly. When he saw that I was the man, that he had so abused on the way, with so many threats and oaths, his countenance fell and he turned pale. I gave out a hymn, but no one offered to sing; I sung four lines, and kneeled down and prayed. When I arose, I preached with great liberty. I felt such power from God rest upon me, that I was above the fear of either men or devils, not regarding whether death or jail should be my lot. Looking forward I saw a decent looking man trembling, and tears flowed in abundance, which I soon discovered was the case with many others. After preaching, I told them I expected they wanted to know by what authority I had come into that country to preach. I then told them my conviction and conversion, the place of my nativity and place of residence; also, my call to the ministry, and that seven years I had labored in God’s vineyard; that I spent my own money and found and wore my own clothes, and that it was the love that I had for their precious souls for whom Christ died, that had induced me to come among them at the risk of my life; and then exhorted them to fly to Jesus, the ark of safety—- that all things were ready—-to seek, and they should find, to knock, and it should be opened unto them. By this time the people were generally melted into tears.”

Such scenes were common in the life of Benjamin Abbott, and of the Methodist preachers generally.

Of the simple and unknown Moravian missionaries in Greenland we are told, “With great propriety, on the last day of the year, the missionaries read their diary, and reviewed with thankfulness all the mercies shown to them and their flock. They commenced their vigil with a homily on the resolution of St. Paul, ‘for I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified;’ and then reminded the Greenlanders of what their Saviour had done for them, particularly during the last year. The streaming eyes and expressive looks of the congregation spoke their thankfulness.”

About the same time, though nearly at the other end of the globe, Robert Moffat writes of the South Africans, “The moral wilderness was now about to blossom. Sable cheeks bedewed with tears attracted our observation. To see females weep was nothing extraordinary; it was, according to Bechuana notions, their province, and theirs alone. Men would not weep. After having, by the rite of circumcision, become men, they scorned to shed a tear. In family or national afflictions, it was the woman’s work to weep and wail; the man’s to sit in sullen silence, often brooding deeds of revenge and death. The simple Gospel now melted their flinty hearts; and eyes now wept, which never before shed the tear of hallowed sorrow. Notwithstanding our earnest desires and fervent prayers, we were taken by surprise. We had so long been accustomed to indifference, that we felt unprepared to look on a scene which perfectly overwhelmed our minds. Our temporary little chapel became a Bochim—-a place of weeping; and the sympathy of feeling spread from heart to heart, so that even infants wept.”

Kah-ge-ga-gah-bowh, a converted Indian, and missionary to his own people, writes thus of a sermon which he interpreted when a young convert:

“One Sabbath, in January, 1835, Brother Chandler preached from these words, ‘And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.’ He spoke with unusual liberty; I caught some of the same fire with which the sermon was delivered; and interpreted it with much ardor. O what a melting season it was! The anxious and expressive looks of the Indians; the tears streaming down their cheeks, all tended to add to the occasion.”

Such scenes were common. Kah-ge-ga-gah-bowh quotes the testimony of another Indian convert as follows: “John Sunday’s brother (Big Jacob), said, ‘When the Methodists were preaching to our people, I heard that the chiefs and warriors were frequently in tears. I then said, I would not shed tears were I to hear them. Still, I wished to understand for myself. I went, with a full determination not to behave myself like a woman, I mean by crying. I sat near the door. The preacher was speaking about the Saviour’s dying on the cross, while the Indians all around were sobbing. I began to feel serious, and then the tears fell involuntarily. Frequently, I wiped my eyes, but still the tears would flow. I asked myself, am I crying too? Brethren, I was ashamed to exhibit tears; but now [here he raised his hand to heaven], it is not through cowardice that I cry, for I never shed a tear on the battle field, nor even when my children or my friends lay dead before me. No! I never dropped a tear.”

But it is necessary to stop somewhere. I see from my footnotes that I have given but thirty-seven of such examples—-only about a tenth of what I might give from the notes I have taken in my own reading. But the time would fail me to tell of Richard Baxter, of John and Charles Wesley, of Rowland Hill, of Howell Harris, of Daniel Rowlands, of Francis Asbury, of Freeborn Garrettson, of Valentine Cook, of Enoch George, of Jesse Lee, of James Caughey and a whole host of unlearned Methodist itinerants, of Lorenzo Dow, of Finis Ewing and a host of Cumberland Presbyterians, of Jabez Swan, of Robert Murray M’Cheyne.

These all moved their hearers to tears. They made them weep, because they made them feel. But how little of this is to be found in the twentieth century! We might name a few such preachers, such as Jonathan Goforth and Gipsy Smith, but these were carry-overs from the last century. Where are the weeping congregations today? We have heard of a “laughing revival,” whatever that may be, but never of a weeping revival. The plain fact is, the Christianity of the present day is of a different sort from that “old-time religion” which once flourished upon this groaning earth. The preaching is of a different sort. All the great preachers of the past have been men who moved the hearts of men. Now they only inform the intellect, and do precious little even of that.

Glenn Conjurske