A Broken Spirit; A Broken and a Contrite Heart

The following excerpt from John Bunyan’s book, The Acceptable Sacrifice, contrasts the difference between how God and the world receive a broken spirit and a contrite heart.

If you, dear reader, are suffering this day with a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, I pray that this short excerpt would encourage you during this difficult time.



This psalm is David’s penitential psalm. It may be fitly so called, because it is a psalm by which is manifest the unfeigned sorrow which he had for his horrible sin, in defiling of Bathsheba, and slaying Uriah her husband; a relation at large of which you have in the 11th and 12th of the Second of Samuel.

Many workings of heart, as this psalm shows, this poor man had, so soon as conviction did fall upon his spirit. One while he cries for mercy, then he confesses his heinous offences, then he bewails the depravity of his nature; sometimes he cries out to be washed and sanctified, and then again he is afraid that God will cast him away from his presence, and take his Holy Spirit utterly from him.

And thus he goes on till he comes to the text, and there he stays his mind, finding in himself that heart and spirit which God did not dislike; ‘The sacrifices of God,’ says he, ‘are a broken spirit’; as if he should say, I thank God I have that. ‘A broken and a contrite heart,’ says he, ‘O God, thou wilt not despise’; as if he should say, I thank God I have that.

The words consist of two parts. FIRST. An assertion. SECOND. A demonstration of that assertion.

The assertion is this, ‘The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit.’

The demonstration is this, ‘Because a broken and a contrite heart God will not despise.’

In the assertion we have two things present themselves to our consideration. First. That a broken spirit is to God a sacrifice. Second. That it is to God, as that which answers to, or goes beyond, all sacrifices. ‘The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit.’ The demonstration of this is plain: for that heart God will not despise it. ‘A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.’

Whence I draw this conclusion: That a spirit rightly broken, a heart truly contrite, is to God an excellent thing. That is, a thing that goes beyond all external duties whatever; for that is intended by this saying, The sacrifices, because it answers to all sacrifices which we can offer to God; yea it serves in the room of all: all our sacrifices without this are nothing; this alone is all.

There are four things that are very acceptable to God.

The First is the sacrifice of the body of Christ for our sins. Of this you read (Heb 10) for there you have it preferred to all burnt-offerings and sacrifices; it is this that pleases God; it is this that sanctifies, and so sets the people acceptable in the sight of God.

Second. Unfeigned love to God is counted better than all sacrifices, or external parts of worship. ‘And to love him [the Lord thy God] with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbor as himself, is more than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices’ (Mark 12:33).

Third. To walk holily and humbly, and obediently, towards and before God, is another. Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?—’Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice; and to hearken than the fat of rams’ (Micah 6:6-8; 1 Sam 15:22).

Fourth. And this in our text is the fourth: ‘The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.’

But note by the way, that this broken, this broken and contrite heart, is thus excellent only to God: ‘O God,’ saith he, ‘THOU wilt not despise it.’ By which is implied, the world have not this esteem or respect for such a heart, or for one that is of a broken and a contrite spirit.

No, no, a man, a woman, that is blessed with a broken heart, is so far off from getting by that esteem with the world, that they are but burdens and trouble houses wherever they are or go.

Such people carry with them [trouble] and [restlessness]: they are in carnal families as David was to the king of Gath, troublers of the house (1 Sam 21). Their sighs, their tears, their day and night groans, their cries and prayers, and solitary carriages, put all the carnal family out of order. Hence you have them brow-beaten by some, condemned by others, yea, and their company fled from and deserted by others. But mark the text, ‘A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise,’ but rather accept; for not to despise is with God to esteem and set a high price upon.

Bunyan, John (2011-03-24). Works of John Bunyan — Complete (Kindle Locations 28989-28993). . Kindle Edition.