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|The Thirsty Theologian| |Sola Gratia| |Sola Fide| |Solus Christus| |Sola Scriptura| |Soli Deo Gloria| |Semper Reformanda|

Works of Richard Sibbes

(38 posts)

Undiscernibly Wrought

It���s always fun to see signs of divine providence in the unplanned convergence of events. What most would call coincidence or serendipity, I call small graces, sometimes given only for my pleasure, that I might give thanks. Today brought another such morsel when, having written this Monday of my own rebirth and its indiscernible timing, I was led by Iain Murray to the following passage from Richard Sibbes: [T]he dew doth fall insensibly and invisibly. So the grace of God. We feel the comfort, sweetness, and operation of it, but it falls insensibly without observation. Inferior things here feel the sweet and comfortable influence of the heavens, but who sees the active influence upon them? which, how it is derived from superior bodies to the inferior, is not observable. As our Saviour speaks of the beginnings of grace and workings of it, ���The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit,��� John iii. 8. It works we know not how. We feel the work, but the manner of working is unknown to us. Grace, therefore, is wrought undiscernibly. No man can see the conversion of another; nay, no man almost can discern his own conversion at first.* Therefore, this question should not much trouble you, Shew us the first hour, the first time of your conversion and entrance into the state of grace. Grace, to many, falls like the dew, by little and little, drop and drop, line upon line. It falls sweetly and undiscernibly upon them at the first. Therefore, it is hard to set down the first time, seeing, as our blessed Saviour speaks, grace at the first is wondrous little, likened to a grain of mustard-seed; but though it be small at first, yet nothing is more glorious and beautiful afterwards, for from a small seed it grows to overspread and be great, shooting our branches, Mark iv. 31, 32. And as the root of Jesse was a despised stock, and in show a dead root, yet thence Christ rose, a branch as high as heaven; so the beginning of a Christian is despised and little, like a dead stock, as it were; but they grow upward and upward still, till they come to heaven itself, Prov. iv. 18. Thus we see there is nothing in the world more undiscernible in the beginning than the work of grace, which must make us not over-curious to examine exactly the first beginnings thereof, because it is as the falling of the dew, or ���the blowing of the wind.��� ���The Works of Richard Sibbes (Banner of Truth, 2001), 2:331���332. If Jesus, then, was telling Nicodemas the truth���which we cannot doubt���it isn���t just confused folks like me who can���t mark a conversion date on the calendar. * Iain Murray says, ���The latter statement is probably too strong��� (The Old Evangelicalism, 19), and he is no doubt correct.
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He Was A Servant

And then he was a servant to us; for the Son of man came to minister, not to be ministered unto, Matt. xx. 28. He washed his disciples’ feet. He was a servant to us, because he did our work and suffered our punishment; we made him serve by our sins, as the prophet saith, Isa. xliii. 24. He is a servant that bears another man’s burden. There was a double burden of obedience active, and obedience passive. He bore them both. He came under the law for us, both doing what we should have done, and indeed far more acceptably, and suffering that we should have suffered, and far more acceptably. He being our surety, being a more excellent person, he did bear our burden, and did our work, therefore he was God’s servant, and our servant; and God’s servant, because he was our servant, because he came to do a work behoveful to us. Herein appears the admirable love and care of God to us wretched creatures, here is matter of wonderment. If we look to him that was a servant; If we look to that in God and him, that made him stoop to be a servant; If we look to the manner of the performance of this service; If we look to the fruit of that service; they are all matter of wonderment. If we look to the person that was this servant; the apostle, in Philip. ii. 6, will tell you, he thought it not robbery to be equal with God, yet he took upon him the shape of a servant. Was not this wonderful, for God to become man, the glorious God to abase himself, to be a servant? God-man, glorious God, and base servant; for the living God to die, for the incomprehensible God to be enclosed in the womb of a virgin, for glory itself to be abased, for riches to become poor, what matter of wonderment is here! The very angels stand at a gaze and wonder, they pry into these things, 1 Peter i. 12; his name may well be wonderful. —Richard Sibbes, A Description of Christ, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:6.
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Worthy of Admiration

Our culture and the current state of the arts prove it: people prefer silly over serious. It would be nice to say that this was a worldly problem unseen among believers, but Christian best-seller lists tell us otherwise. And every blogger knows that a frivolously entertaining post will receive more attention than one that is theologically deep or gospel-rich. As long as we live in the flesh, this tendency is inescapable. Therefore, we need to be reminded of that which should command our attention and give us the greatest pleasure. Richard Sibbes does so: It is the baseness of our nature we can wonder at shallow things. There cannot be foolery, but there will be many about it presently, and stand admiring every empty idle thing that the nature of man is carried away with; whereas indeed there is nothing worthy of admiration but the wonderful love of God. O how wonderful are thy works, saith David, of the works of creation, Ps. viii. 1. The work of creation and of providence whereby God guides the world are wonderful, and the psalmist cries out of the folly of men, that do not regard the work of the Lord, ‘Fools regard not this’ Ps. Xiv. 1; ‘The works of the Lord are worthy to be considered, they are known of all that delight in them,’ Ps. cxi. 2. But if these things be so wonderful, and to be regarded and delighted in, alas! what is all the work of redemption! Great is the mystery of godliness, God manifested in the flesh, &c., 1 Tim. iii. 16. There are mysteries, matters of admiration, but carnal men think these trival matters, they can hear matters of more rarity; and when they speak of these things, alas! they are too wise to wonder, tush, they know the gospel well enough, whereas indeed, as we see here, they are things that deserve the admiration of angels; and as they deserve it, so the angels pry into these excellent secrets in Jesus Christ, 1 Pet. i. 12. —Richard Sibbes, A Description of Christ, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:8.
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With the Same Love

The depth of God’s love for his chosen people can only be understood as we understand our position in Christ. Is it possible that he should delight in the head, and refuse the members? that he should love the husband, and mislike the spouse? no; with the same love that God loves Christ, he loves all his. He delights in Christ and all his, with the same delight. There is some difference in the degree, ‘that Christ in all things may have the pre-eminence,’ Col. i. 18, but it is the same love; therefore our Saviour sets it down excellently in his own prayer, he desires ‘that the same love wherewith his Father loved him may be in them that are his,’ John xvii. 20, that they may feel the love wherewith his Father loves him, for he loved him and his members, him and his spouse, with all one love. This is our comfort and our confidence, that God accepts us, because he accepts his beloved; and when he shall cease to love Christ, he shall cease to love the members of Christ. They and Christ make one mystical Christ. This is our comfort in dejection for sin. We are so and so indeed, but Christ is the chosen servant of God, ‘in whom he delighteth,’ and delights in us in him. It is no matter what we are in ourselves, but what we are in Christ when we are once in him and continue in him. God loves us with that inseparable love wherewith he loves his own Son. Therefore St Paul triumphs, Rom. viii. 35, ‘What shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus?’ This love, it is founded in Christ, ‘therefore neither things present, nor things to come (as he goes on there gloriously), shall be able to separate us.’ You see what a wondrous confidence and comfort we have hence, if we labour to be in Christ, that then God loves and delights in us, because he loves and delights in Christ Jesus. And here is a wondrous comfort, that God must needs love our salvation and redemption when he loves Christ, because he poured out his soul to death to save us. Doth not God delight that we should be saved, and our sins should be forgiven, when he loves Christ because he abased himself for that purpose? What a prop and foundation of comfort is this, when the devil shall present God to us in a terrible hideous manner, as an avenging God, ‘and consuming fire,’ &c., Heb. xii. 29; indeed out of Christ he is so. Let us present to ourselves thoughts of God as the Scripture sets forth God to us; and as God sets forth himself, not only in that sweet relation as a Father to Christ, but our father, ‘I go to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God,’ John xx. 17, having both one God, and love and care. There is none of us all but the devil will have a saying to us, either in the time of our life, in some terrible temptation, especially when any outward abasement comes, or at the hour of death; and all the cordials we have gathered out of the word will then be little enough to support the drooping soul, especially in the hour of temptation. O beloved, what a wondrous stay and satisfaction to a distressed conscience doth this yield, that Christ in all that he hath wrought for us is God’s chosen servant, ‘whom he loves and delights in,’ and delights in him for I this very work, that he abased himself and gave himself for us, that he wrought God’s work, because he wrought reconciliation for us! If we can believe in Christ, we see here what ground of comfort we have, that God loves and delights in us, as he doth in his own Son. —Richard Sibbes, A Description of Christ, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:12–13. Related: WLC Q57: Ephesians 1:3–14.
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More Excellent

What Adam could not do, Christ has done. How much better, how much fuller and more secure is the believer’s position in Christ, the second Adam. Christ is God-man. His nature was sanctified by the Spirit; he was a more excellent person, he gives and sends the Spirit. Adam was only a mere man, and therefore his goodness could not be so derived to his posterity; for, however the Holy Ghost was in Adam, yet the Holy Ghost did not so fill him, he was not so in him as in Christ. The Holy Ghost is in Christ in a more excellent manner; for Christ being equal with God, he gave the Holy Ghost; the Holy Ghost comes from Christ as God. Now the second Adam being a more excellent person, we being in Christ the second Adam, we are in a more excellent, and in a more safe estate; we have a better keeper of our happiness than Adam. He being a mere man, he could not keep his own happiness, but lost himself and all his posterity. Though he were created after the image of God, yet being but a mere man, he shewed himself to be a man that is, a changeable creature; but Christ being God and man, having his nature sanctified by the Spirit, now our happiness is in a better keeping, for our grace hath a better spring. The grace and sanctification we have, it is not in our own keeping, it distils into us answerable to our necessities; but the spring is indeficient, it never fails, the spring is in Christ. So the favour that God bears us, it is not first in us but it is first in Christ; God loves him, and then he loves us; he gives him the Spirit, and us in him. Now, Christ is the keeper both of the love of God towards us and the grace of God; and whatsoever is good he keeps all for us, he receives all for himself and for us; he receives not only the Spirit for himself, but he receives it as Mediator, as head: for ‘we all of his fulness receive grace for grace.’ He receives it as a fountain to diffuse it, I say. This shews us our happy and blessed condition in Jesus Christ, that now the grace and love of God and our happiness, and the grace whereby we are sanctified and fitted for it, it is not in our own keeping originally, but in our head Christ Jesus. —Richard Sibbes, A Description of Christ, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:19.
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The Fulness of Christ

I am not a Roman Catholic, and if you’re reading this blog, you most likely are not, either. But while we may not be guilty of “popish idolatries,” we still may, as Sibbes writes, “conceive not aright of the fulness of Christ” when we fail to see Christ as sufficient for all things. What is the ground of popish idolatries and abominations? They conceive not aright of the fulness of Christ, wherefore he was ordained, and sent of God; for if they did, they would not go to idols and saints, and leave Christ. Therefore let us make this use of it, go out of Christ for nothing. If we want favour, go not to saints, if we want instruction, go not to traditions of men. He is a prophet wise enough, and a priest full enough to make us accepted of God. If we want any grace, he is a king able enough, rich enough, and strong enough to subdue all our rebellions in us, and he will in time by his Spirit overcome all ‘Stronger is he that is in us than he that is in the world,’ 1 John iv. 4. The spirit in the world, the devil and devilish-minded men, they are not so strong as the Spirit of Christ; for by little and little the Spirit of Christ will subdue all. Christ is a king, go not out of him therefore for anything. ‘Babes, keep your selves from idols,’ 1 John v. 21. You may well enough, you know whom to go to. —Richard Sibbes, A Description of Christ, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:21.
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Living Branches

Richard Sibbes responds to so-called “Free Grace” theology: At the least, whosoever hath the Spirit of Christ, he shall find that Spirit in him striving against that which is contrary, and by little and little getting ground. Where there is no conflict, there is no Spirit of Christ at all. I will not be large in the point, only I speak this by way of trial, to know whether we have the Spirit of Christ in us or no. If not, we have nothing to do with Christ; for Christ saves us not as he is out of us only. Christ was to do something of himself that we have no share in, only the good of it is ours. He was to redeem us by his blood, to be a sacrifice. The title to heaven and salvation was wrought by Christ out of us. But there is somewhat that he doth not only for us, but he works in us by his Spirit, that is, the fitting of us for that he hath given us title to, and the applying of that that he hath done for us. Whosoever therefore hath any benefit by Christ, he hath the Spirit to apply that to himself and to fit and qualify him to be a member of such a head, and an heir of such a kingdom. Whosoever Christ works anything for, he doth also work in them. There is a Spirit of application, and that Spirit of application, if it be true, it is a Spirit of sanctification and renovation fitting us every way for our condition. Let us not abuse ourselves, as the world commonly doth, concerning Christ. They think God is merciful, and Christ is a Saviour. It is true, but what hath he wrought in thee by his Spirit? hast thou the Spirit of Christ? or ‘else thou art none of his,’ Rom. viii. 9. Wherever Christ is, he goes with his Spirit to teach us to apply what Christ hath done for us, and to fit us to be like him. Therefore, let those that live in any sins against con science, think it a diabolical illusion to think God and Christ is merciful. Aye, but where is the work of the Spirit? All the hope thou hast is only that thou art not in hell as yet, [only] for the time to come; but for the present I dare not say thou hast anything to do with Christ, when there is nothing of the Spirit in thee. The Spirit of Christ conforms the spouse to be like the husband, and the members to be like the head. Therefore, beg of Christ that he would anoint himself king in our hearts, and prophet and priest in our hearts, to do that that he did, to know his will as a prophet, to rule in us as a king, and to stir up prayers in us as a priest, to do in some proportion that that he doth, though it be in never so little a measure, for we receive it in measure, but Christ beyond measure. We must labour for so much as may manifest to us the truth of our estate in Christ, that we are not dead but living branches. —Richard Sibbes, A Description of Christ, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:22–23.
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Committing Our Fame to God

I like to get credit for all the wonderful things I do. I think I deserve credit, and sometimes am annoyed when I don’t receive it. I’m guessing you feel the same. Sibbes has a message for us: And let us commit the fame and credit of what we are or do to God. He will take care of that. Let us take care to be and to do as we should, and then for noise and report, let it be good or ill as God will send it. We know ofttimes it falls out that that which is precious in man’s eye is abominable in God’s. If we seek to be in the mouths of men, to dwell in the talk and speech of men, God will abhor us, and at the hour of death it will not comfort us what men speak or know of us, but sound comfort must be from our own conscience and the judgment of God. Therefore, let us labour to be good in secret. Christians should be as minerals, rich in the depth of the earth. That which is least seen is his riches. We should have our treasure deep. For the discovery of it we should be ready when we are called to it, and for all other accidental things, let them fall out as God in his wisdom sees good. So let us look through good report and bad report to heaven; let us do the duties that are pleasing to God and our own conscience, and God will be careful enough to get us applause. Was it not sufficient for Abel, that though there was no great notice taken what faith he had, and how good a man he was, yet that God knew it and discovered it? God sees our sincerity and the truth of our hearts, and the graces of our inward man, he sees all these, and he values us by these, as he did Abel. As for outward things there may be a great deal of deceit in them, and the more a man grows in grace, the less he cares for them. As much reputation as is fit for a man will follow him in being and doing what he should. God will look to that. Therefore we should not set up sails to our own meditations, that unless we be carried with the wind of applause, to be becalmed and not go a whit forward; but we should be carried with the Spirit of God and with a holy desire to serve God, and our brethren, and to do all the good we can, and never care for the speeches of the world, as St Paul saith of himself: ‘I care not what ye judge of me, I care not what the world judgeth, I care not for man’s judgment,’ 1 Cor. iv. 3. This is man’s day. We should, from the example of Christ, labour to subdue this infirmity which we are sick of naturally. Christ concealed himself till he saw a fitter time. We shall have glory enough, and be known enough to devils, to angels, and men ere long. Therefore, as Christ lived a hidden life, that is, he was not known what he was, that so he might work our salvation, so let us be content to be hidden men. A true Christian is hidden to the world till the time of manifestation comes. When the time came, Christ then gloriously discovered [i.e., revealed] what he was; so we shall be discovered what we are. In the mean time, let us be careful to do our duty that may please the Spirit of God, and satisfy our own conscience, and leave all the rest to God. Let us meditate, in the fear of God, upon these directions for the guidance of our lives in this particular. —Richard Sibbes, A Description of Christ, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:30–31.
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Trinitarian Gospel

See here, for our comfort, a sweet agreement of all three persons: the Father giveth a commission to Christ; the Spirit furnisheth and sanctifieth to it; Christ himself executeth the office of a Mediator. Our redemption is founded upon the joint agreement of all three persons of the Trinity. —Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:43.
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The Endearing Bruise

No sinner will ever come to Christ without first feeling the pain of sin, nor will any saint be sanctified without continual bruising. Therefore, Christians should bear up under suffering with gratitude for the gracious work God is doing, and not hastily judge ourselves or others when suffering comes. This bruising is required before conversion, that so the Spirit may make way for itself into the heart by levelling all proud, high thoughts, and that we may understand ourselves to be what indeed we are by nature. We love to wander from ourselves and to be strangers at home, till God bruiseth us by one cross or other, and then we bethink ourselves, and come home to ourselves with the prodigal (Luke xv. 17.) A marvellous hard thing it is to bring a dull and a shifting heart to cry with feeling for mercy. Our hearts, like malefactors, until they be beaten from all shifts, never cry for the mercy of the Judge. Again, this bruising maketh us set a high price upon Christ. The gospel is the gospel indeed then; then the fig-leaves of morality will do us no good. And it maketh us more thankful, and from thankfulness more fruitful in our lives; for what maketh many so cold and barren, but that bruising for sin never endeared God’s grace unto them? Likewise, this dealing of God doth establish us the more in his ways, having had knocks and bruisings in our own ways. This is the cause oft of relapses and apostasies, because men never smarted for sin at the first; they were not long enough under the lash of the law. Hence this inferior work of the Spirit in bringing down high thoughts, 2 Cor. x. 5, is necessary before conversion. And, for the most part, the Holy Spirit, to further the work of conviction, joineth, some affliction, which, sanctified, hath a healing and purging power. Nay, after conversion we need bruising, that reeds may know; themselves to be reeds, and not oaks; even reeds need bruising, by reason of the remainder of pride in our nature, and to let us see that we live by mercy. And that weaker Christians may not be too much discouraged when they see stronger shaken and bruised. Thus Peter was bruised where he wept bitterly, Matt. xxvi. 75. This reed, till he met with this bruise, had more wind in him than pith. ‘Though all forsake thee, I will not,’ &c., Matt. xxvi. 35. The people of God cannot be without these examples; The heroical deeds of those great worthies do not comfort the church so much as their falls and bruises do. Thus David was bruised, Ps. xxxii. 3–5, until he came to a free confession, without guile of spirit; nay, his sorrows did rise in his own feeling unto the exquisite pain of breaking of bones, Ps. li. 8. Thus Hezekiah complains that God had ‘broken his bones’ as a lion, Isa. xxxviii. 13. Thus the chosen vessel St Paul needed the messenger of Satan to buffet him, lest he should be lifted up above measure, 2 Cor. xii. 7. Hence we learn that we must not pass too harsh judgment upon ourselves or others when God doth exercise us with bruising upon bruising; there must be a conformity to our head, Christ, who ‘was bruised for us,’ Isa. liii. 5, that we may know how much we are bound unto him. Profane spirits, ignorant of God’s ways in bringing his children to heaven, censure broken-hearted Christians for desperate persons, whenas God is about a gracious good work with them. It is no easy matter to bring man from nature to grace, and from grace to glory, so unyielding and untractable are our hearts. —Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:44–45.
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Despair Is Comfort

The desperate may take comfort in a savior. The secure never will. [L]et all know that none are fitter for comfort than those that think themselves furthest off. Men, for the most part, are not lost enough in their own feeling for a Saviour.* A holy despair in ourselves is the ground of true hope, Hos. xiv. 3. In God the fatherless find mercy: if men were more fatherless, they should feel more God’s fatherly affection from heaven; for God that dwelleth in highest heavens, Isa. lxvi. 2, dwelleth likewise in the lowest soul. Christ’s sheep are weak sheep, and wanting in something or other; he therefore applieth himself to the necessities of every sheep. ‘He seeks that which was lost, and brings again that which was driven out of the way, and binds up that which was broken, and strengthens the weak,’ Ezek. xxxiv. 16; his tenderest care is over the weakest. The lambs he carrieth in his bosom, Isa. xl. 11; ‘Peter, feed my lambs,’ John xxi. 15. He was most familiar and open to the troubled souls. How careful was he that Peter and the rest of the apostles should not be too much dejected, after his resurrection! ‘Go, tell the disciples, and tell Peter,’ Mark xvi. 7. Christ knew that guilt of their unkindness in leaving of him had dejected their spirits. How gently did he endure Thomas his unbelief! and stooped so far unto his weakness, as to suffer him to thrust his hand into his side. —Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:48–49. * That is, do not feel enough how far off they really are, and how great their need for a savior.
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By What We Shall Be

There are several ages in Christians, some babes, some young men . . . Let us not therefore be discouraged at the small beginnings of grace, but look on ourselves, as ‘elected to be blameless and without spot,’ Eph. i. 4. Let us only look on our imperfect beginning to enforce further strife to perfection, and to keep us in a low conceit. Otherwise, in case of discouragement, we must consider ourselves, as Christ doth, who looks on us as such as he intendeth to fit for himself. Christ valueth us by what we shall be, and by that we are elected unto. —Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:49.
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“Shaking settles and roots.”

We must not be too eager to avoid controversy. Challenges to our opinions serve to strengthen—or correct—them, whereas unchallenged opinions, having weak roots, are themselves weak. Furthermore, we fail to love when we allow error to pass unchallenged. Sibbes writes: [W]hen we are cast into times and places wherein doubts are raised about main points, here people ought to labour to be established. God suffereth questions oftentimes to arise for trial of our love and exercise of our parts. Nothing is so certain as that which is certain after doubts. . . . Shaking settles and roots. In a contentious age, it is a witty thing to be a Christian, and to know what to pitch their souls upon; it is an office of love here to take away the stones, and to smooth the way to heaven. Therefore, we must take heed that, under pretence of avoidance of disputes, we do not suffer an adverse party to get ground upon the truth; for thus may we easily betray both the truth of God and souls of men. —Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:54.

Out of Our Love and Mercy

Sibbes exhorts us, in short, to bear with, as much as possible, the flaws of others, knowing that the best of us have faults that others must tolerate. Men must not be too curious in prying into the weaknesses of others. We should labour rather to see what they have that is for eternity, to incline our heart to love them, than into that weakness which the Spirit of God will in time consume, to estrange us. Some think it strength of grace to endure nothing in the weaker, whereas the strongest are readiest to bear with the infirmities of the weak. Where most holiness is, there is most moderation, where it may be with out prejudice of piety to God and the good of others. We see in Christ a marvellous temper of absolute holiness, with great moderation, in this text. What had become of our salvation, if he had stood upon terms, and not stooped thus low unto us? We need not affect to be more holy than Christ; it is no flattery to do as he doth, so it be to edification. The Holy Ghost is content to dwell in smoky, offensive souls. That that Spirit would breathe into our spirits the like merciful disposition! We endure the bittemess of wormwood, and other distasteful plants and herbs, only because we have some experience of some wholesome quality in them; and why should we reject men of useful parts and graces, only for some harshness of disposition, which, as it is offensive to us, so grieveth them selves? Grace whilst we live here is in souls, which as they are unperfectly renewed, so they dwell in bodies subject to several humours, which will incline the soul sometimes to excess in one passion, sometimes to excess in another. Bucer was a deep and a moderate divine; upon long experience he resolved to refuse none in whom he saw, aliquid Christi, something of Christ. The best Christians in this state of imperfection are like gold that is a little too light, which needs some grains of allowance to make it pass. You must grant the best their allowance. We must supply out of our love and mercy, that which we see wanting in them. —Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:57.
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Little Thieves

That Satan is a great enemy, we cannot deny. He “prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Yet he is not the primary cause of our troubles. That cause lies within us. Sibbes writes: When Satan cometh to us, he findeth something of his own in us, which holdeth correspondency and hath intelligence with him; there is the same enmity in our nature to God and goodness in some degree, that is in Satan himself; whereupon his temptations fasten for the most part some taint upon us. And if there wanted a devil to suggest, yet sinful thoughts would arise from within us; though none were cast in from without, we have a mint of them within: these thoughts, if the soul dwell on them so long as to suck or draw from and by them any sinful delight, then they leave a more heavy guilt upon the soul, and hinder our sweet communion with God, and interrupt our peace, and put a contrary relish into the soul, disposing of it to greater sins. All scandalous breakings out are but thoughts at the first. Ill thoughts are as little thieves, which, creeping in at the window, open the door to greater; thoughts are seeds of actions. These, especially when they are helped forward by Satan, make the life of many good Christians almost a martyrdom. In this case it is an unsound comfort that some minister, that ill thoughts arise from nature, and what is natural is excusable; but we must know, that nature, as it came out of God’s hands at the first, had no such risings out of it: the soul, as inspired of God, had no such unsavoury breathings; but since that by sin it betrayed itself, it is in some sort natural to it to forge sinful imaginations, and to be a furnace of such sparks; and this is an aggravation of the sinfulness of natural corruption, that it is so deeply rooted, and so generally spread in our nature. —Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:63–64.
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Suspending the Sense of His Love

Grace may not seem gracious when it comes in the form of a conscience, but it is part of God’s means of preservation. Sibbes writes: Christ counteth it his honour to pass by many infirmities, nay, in infirmities he perfecteth his strength. There be some almost invincible infirmities, as forgetfulness, heaviness of spirit, sudden passions, fears, &c., which though natural, yet are for the most part tainted with sin; of these, if the life of Christ be in us, we are weary, and would fain shake them off, as a sick man his ague; otherwise it is not to be esteemed weakness so much as wilfulness, and the more will, the more sin; and little sins, when God shall awake the conscience, and ‘set them in order before us,’ Ps. 1. 21, will prove great burdens, and not only bruise a reed, but shake a cedar. Yet God’s children never sin with full will, because there is a contrary law of the mind, whereby the dominion of sin is broken, which always hath some secret working against the law of sin. Notwithstanding there may be so much will in a sinful action, as may wonderfully waste our comfort afterward, and keep us long upon the rack of a disquieted conscience, God in his fatherly dispensation suspending the sense of his love. So much as we give way to our will in sinning, in such a measure of distance we set ourselves from comfort. Sin against conscience is as a thief in the candle, which wasteth our joy, and thereby weakeneth our strength. We must know, therefore, that wilful breeches in sanctification will much hinder the sense of our justification. —Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:70.

The Great Mercy of a Gracious Heart

One of Satan’s strategies is to convince us that God, because of our sin, is against us. But sinners whose consciences are burdened by sin need not be afraid. God’s love and mercy are for just such as they. Sibbes writes: [L]et us not believe Satan’s representations of [Christ]. When we are troubled in conscience for our sins, his manner is then to present him to the afflicted soul as a most severe judge armed with justice against us. But then let us present him to our souls, as thus offered to our view by God himself, as holding out a sceptre of mercy, and spreading his arms to receive us. When we think of Joseph, Daniel, John the Evangelist, &c., we frame conceits of them with delight, as of mild and sweet persons; much more when we think of Christ, we should conceive of him as a mirror of all meekness. If the sweetness of all flowers were in one, how sweet must that flower needs be? In Christ all perfections of mercy and love meet; how great then must that mercy be that lodgeth in so gracious a heart? whatsoever tenderness is scattered in husband, father, brother, head, all is but a beam from him, it is in him in the most eminent manner. We are weak, but we are his; we are deformed, but yet carry his image upon us. A father looks not so much at the blemishes of his child, as at his own nature in him; so Christ finds matter of love from that which is his own in us. He sees his own nature in us: we are diseased, but yet his members. Who ever neglected his own members because they were sick or weak? none ever hated his own flesh. Can the head forget the members? can Christ forget himself? we are his fulness, as he is ours. He was love itself clothed with man’s nature, which he united so near to himself, that he might communicate his goodness the more freely unto us; and took not our nature when it was at the best, but when it was abased, with all natural and common infirmities it was subject unto. Let us therefore abhor all suspicious thoughts, as either cast in or cherished by that damned spirit, who as he laboured to divide between the Father and the Son by jealousies, ‘If thou be the Son of God,’ &c., Matt. iv. 6, so his daily study is, to divide betwixt the Son and us, by breeding mispersuasions in us of Christ, as if there were not such tender love in him to such as we are. It was his art from the beginning to discredit God with man, by calling God’s love into question, with our first father Adam; his success then makes him ready at that weapon still. —Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:71.

For the Helpless

A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory. —Matthew 12:20 This passage is not written for the proud and self-sufficient, nor the complacent. Its comfort is for the self-consciously helpless. Sibbes writes: The comfort in this text intended is for those that would fain do better, but find their corruptions clog them; that are in such a mist, that ofttimes they cannot tell what to think of themselves; that fain would believe, and yet oft fear they do not believe, and think that it cannot be that God should be so good to such sinful wretches as they are; and yet they allow not themselves in these fears and doubts. —Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:75.
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Strength by Weakness Discovered

Nothing is out of God’s control. He has a purpose for everything, including our weakness, and even our sin. Indeed, he works all things for the good of those who love him. Christ’s work, both in the church and in the hearts of Christians, often goeth backward, that it may go the better forward. As seed rots in the ground in the winter time, but after comes better up, and the harder the winter the more flourishing the spring, so we learn to stand by falls, and get strength by weakness discovered . . . we take deeper root by shaking; and, as torches flame brighter by moving, thus it pleaseth Christ, out of his freedom, in this manner to maintain his government in us. Let us herein labour to exercise our faith, that it may answer Christ’s manner of carriage towards us; when we are foiled, let us believe we shall overcome; when we are fallen, let us believe we shall rise again. Jacob, after he had a ‘blow upon which he halted, yet would not give over wrestling,’ Gen. xxxii. 24, till he had gotten the blessing; so let us never give over, but in our thoughts knit the beginning, progress, and end together, and then we shall see ourselves in heaven out of the reach of all enemies. Let us assure ourselves that God’s grace, even in this imperfect estate, is stronger than man’s free will in the state of first perfection, being founded now in Christ, who, as he is the author, so will be ‘the finisher, of our faith,’ Heb. xii. 2; we are under a more gracious covenant. That which some say of faith rooted, that it continueth, but weak faith may come to nothing, seemeth to be crossed by this Scripture; for, as the strongest faith may be shaken, so the weakest where truth is, is so far rooted, that it will prevail. Weakness with watchfulness will stand out, when strength with too much confidence faileth. Weakness, with acknowledging of it, is the fittest seat and subject for God to perfect his strength in; for consciousness of our infirmities driveth us out of ourselves to him in whom our strength lieth. Hereupon it followeth that weakness may stand with the assurance of salvation; the disciples, notwithstanding all their weaknesses, are bidden to rejoice, Luke x. 20, that their names are written in heaven. Failings, with conflict, in sanctification should not weaken the peace of our justification, and assurance of salvation. It mattereth not so much what ill is in us, as what good; not what corruptions, but how we stand affected to them; not what our particular failings be, so much as what is the thread and tenor of our lives; for Christ’s mislike of that which is amiss in us, redounds not to the hatred of our persons, but to the victorious subduing of all our infirmities. Some have, after conflict, wondered at the goodness of God, that so little and shaking faith should have upheld them in so great combats, when Satan had almost catched them. And, indeed, it is to be wondered how much a little grace will prevail with God for acceptance, and over our enemies for victory, if the heart be upright. Such is the goodness of our sweet Saviour, that he delighteth still to shew his strength in our weakness. —Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:85–86.

Nothing Stronger than Humility, Weaker than Pride

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. —John 15:1–5 It is dangerous to look for that from ourselves which we must have from Christ. Since the fall, all our strength lies in him, as Samson’s in his hair, Judges xvi. 17; we are but subordinate agents, moving as we are moved, and working as we are first wrought upon, free so far forth as we are freed, no wiser nor stronger than he makes us to be for the present in anything we undertake. It is his Spirit that actuates and enliveneth, and applieth that knowledge and strength we have, or else it faileth and lieth as useless in us; we work when we work upon a present strength; therefore dependent spirits are the wisest and the ablest. Nothing is stronger than humility, that goeth out of itself; or weaker than pride, that resteth upon its own bottom, Frustra nititur qui non innititur; and this should the rather be observed, because naturally we affect a kind of divinity, affectatio divinitatis, in setting upon actions in the strength of our own parts; whereas Christ saith, ‘Without me you,’ apostles that are in a state of grace, ‘can do nothing,’ John xv. 5, he doth not say you can do a little, but nothing. Of ourselves, how easily are we overcome! how weak to resist! we are as reeds shaken with every wind; we shake at the very noise and thought of poverty, disgrace, losses, &c., we give in presently, we have no power over our eyes, tongues, thoughts, affections, but let sin pass in and out. How soon are we overcome of evil! whereas we should overcome evil with good. How many good purposes stick in the birth, and have no strength to come forth! all which shews how nothing we are without the Spirit of Christ. We see how weak the apostles themselves were, till they were endued with strength from above, Matt. xxvi. 69. Peter was blasted with the speech of a damsel, but after the Spirit of Christ fell upon them, the more they suffered, the more they were encouraged to suffer; their comforts grew with their troubles; therefore in all, especially difficult encounters, let us lift up our hearts to Christ, who hath Spirit enough for us all, in all our exigencies, and say with good Jehoshaphat, ‘Lord, we know not what to do, but our eyes are towards thee,’ 2 Chron. xx. 12; the battle we fight is thine, and the strength whereby we fight must be thine. If thou goest not out with us, we are sure to be foiled. Satan knows nothing can prevail against Christ, or those that rely upon his power; therefore his study is, how to keep us in ourselves, and in the creature: but we must carry this always in our minds, that that which is begun in self-confidence will end in shame. —Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:94.

Christ Will Be No Underling

A sobering warning for any of us who willingly accommodate sin: Carnal men would fain bring Christ and the flesh together, and could be content with some reservation to submit to Christ; but Christ will be no underling to any base affection; and therefore, where there is allowance of ourselves in any sinful lust, it is a sign the keys were never given up to Christ to rule us. —Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:96.
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When Liberty Is Bondage

To resist Christ’s government is to yield to the most severe bondage. Sibbes writes: Thus the desperate madness of men is laid open, that they had rather be under the guidance of their own lusts, and by consequence of Satan himself, to their endless destruction, than put their feet into Christ’s fetters, and their necks under his yoke; whereas, indeed, Christ’s service is the only true liberty. His yoke is an easy yoke, his burden but as the burden of wings to a bird, that maketh her fly the higher. Satan’s government is rather a bondage than a government, unto which Christ giveth up those that shake off his own, for then he giveth Satan and his factors power over them, since they will not ‘receive the truth in love,’ 2 Thess. ii. 20: take him, Jesuit, take him, Satan, blind him and bind him and lead him to perdition. Those that take the most liberty to sin are the most perfect slaves, because most voluntary slaves. The will in everything is either the best or the worst; the further men go on in a wilful course, the deeper they sink in rebellion; and the more they cross Christ, doing what they will, the more they shall one day suffer what they would not. In the mean time, they are prisoners in their own souls, bound over in their consciences to the judgment of him after death, whose judgment they would none of in their lives. And is it not equal that they should feel him a severe judge to condemn them, whom they would not have a mild judge to rule them? —Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:97.
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A Flame in a Spark, a Tree in a Seed

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. —1 Corinthians 15:56–57 Let us oft try what God hath wrought in us, search our good as well as our ill, and be thankful to God for the least measure of grace, more than for any outward thing; it will be of more use and comfort than all this world, which passeth away and cometh to nothing. Yea, let us be thankful for that promised and assured victory, which we may rely on without presumption, as St Paul doth; ‘thanks be to God, that hath given us victory in Jesus Christ,’ 1 Cor. xv. 57. See a flame in a spark, a tree in a seed; see great things in little beginnings; look not so much to the beginning, as to the perfection, and so we shall be in some degree joyful in ourselves, and thankful unto Christ. —Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:98–99.

God is with his children always

As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me, While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” —Psalm 42:10 God is a God, as the prophet saith, ofttimes hiding himself, Isa. xlv. 15, that God vails himself ofttimes to his children. Not only from the eyes of wicked men, that they think godly men deserted of God, but sometimes from the very sense and feeling of God’s children themselves. They are in such desertions that they are fain to complain that God hath hid himself, and is as a stranger to them. This is the state of God’s children in this world. Though God love them dearly, ‘as the apple of his eye, and as the signet on his hand,’ Zech. ii. 8, and Jer. xxii. 24, yet notwithstanding his carriage to them is ofttimes so strange, that those that look upon their estate in this world think they are men, as it were, forlorn and destitute of God. And this estate must needs be, because of necessity there must be a conformity between us and our Saviour. It was so with our Saviour, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ Matt. xxvii. 46. God was never nearer him in all his life than then, and yet he cries out, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ And as he spake, so the rest thought of him, as if he had been a man forsaken; and so here they say to this holy man, Where is thy God? Therefore let us lay up this likewise for the strengthening of our faith in the like case, that we be not overmuch discouraged. If God hide himself, if others think our estates miserable, and ourselves think ourselves so, it is no strange matter. It was thus with David. He was so neglected of God that they thought God had clean forsaken him. Where is thy God? Our life is now hid with Christ, as the apostle saith, Col. iii. 3. We have a blessed and glorious life, but it is hid in our Head. Even as in winter time the trees have a life, but it is hid in the root, so a Christian hath a blessed condition at all times, but his glory and happiness is hid in his Head, and there is a cloud between him and his happiness. Therefore let us support ourselves with this in all times, was God gone from David indeed when they said, ‘Where is thy God?’ Oh no; God was as near David now as ever he was, nay, rather nearer. God was never nearer Moses than when he was sprawling upon the water in that ark they had made for him, Ex. ii. 3. He was never nearer Daniel than when he was in the lion’s den, Dan. vi. 19. God came between the lion’s teeth and Daniel. And, as I said, he was never nearer our Saviour than when he was on the cross. And he was never nearer to David than when they said, ‘Where is thy God?’ When trouble is near, God is never far off. That is an argument to make God near, Lord, be not far off, for trouble is near. And extremity and danger and trouble, it is God’s best opportunity to be with his children, however he do not help for the present ofttimes. ‘Where is thy God?’ David might rather have said to them, Where are your eyes? where is your sight? for God is not only in heaven, but in me. Though David was shut from the sanctuary, yet David’s soul was a sanctuary for God; for God is not tied to a sanctuary made with hands. God hath two sanctuaries, he hath two heavens: the heaven of heavens and a broken spirit. God dwelt in David as in his temple. God was with David and in him; and he was never more with him, nor never more in him, than in his greatest afflictions. They wanted eyes, he wanted not God. Though sometimes God hide himself, not only from the world, but from his own children, yet he is there; howsoever their sorrow is such that it dims their sight (as we see in Hagar), so that they cannot see him for the present, Gen. xxi. 19. He sometimes looks in their face, as we see Mary. She could not see Christ distinctly, but thought him to be the gardener. There is a kind of concealment a while in heavenly wisdom, yet, notwithstanding, God is with his children always, and they know it by faith, though not by feeling always. As we know what Jacob said, ‘God was in this place, and I was not aware,’ Gen. xxviii. 16, when he slept upon the stone, and had that heavenly vision; so it is with God’s people in their trouble. God is with his church and children, and wicked men are not aware of it. Christ is in them, and they are not aware of it. —Richard Sibbes, The Sword of the Wicked, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:111–113

Misplaced Faith

It is not uncommon for Christians to lack peace about the state of their souls. At times, the cause is legitimate: a guilty conscience should provoke self-examination. Often, however, we suffer from a misplaced faith. While justification unfailingly produces sanctification, our sanctification is not the ground on which our salvation rests. Another cause of disquiet is, that men by a natural kind of popery seek for their comfort too much sanctification, neglecting justification, relying too much upon their own performances. St Paul was of another mind, accounting all but dung and dross, compared to the righteousness of Christ, Philip. iii. 8, 9. This is that garment, wherewith being decked, we please our husband, and wherein we get the blessing. This giveth satisfaction to the conscience, as satisfying God himself, being performed by God the Son, and approved therefore by God the Father. Hereupon the soul is quieted, and faith holdeth out this as a shield against the displeasure of God and temptations of Satan. Why did the apostles in their prefaces join grace and peace together, but that we should seek for our peace in the free grace and favour of God in Christ? No wonder why papists maintain doubting, who hold salvation by works, because Satan joining together with our consciences will always find some flaw even in our best performances; hereupon the doubting and misgiving soul comes to make this absurd demand, as, Who shall ascend to heaven? Ps. xxiv. 3, which is all one as to fetch Christ from heaven, and so bring him down to suffer on the cross again. Whereas if we believe in Christ we are as sure to come to heaven as Christ is there. Christ ascending and descending, with all that he hath done, is ours. So that neither height nor depth can separate us from God’s love in Christ, Rom. viii. 39. —Richard Sibbes, The Soul’s Conflict with Itself, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:138–139
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Sin, Neglected, Kills Assurance

In the previous post, Richard Sibbes listed seeking too much comfort from our sanctification as a cause of spiritual unease. Next, he presents a neglect of growth in holiness. While apparent spiritual fruit is no ground of assurance, a lack thereof is surely a warning sign. Where there is no fruit, the life must be doubted. We must remember, though the main pillar of our comfort be in the free forgiveness of our sins, yet if there be a neglect in growing in holiness, the soul will never be soundly quiet, because it will be prone to question the truth of justification, and it is as proper for sin to raise doubts and fears in the conscience, as for rotten flesh and wood to breed worms. And therefore we may well join this as a cause of disquietness, the neglect of keeping a clear conscience. Sin, like Achan, or Jonah in the ship, is that which causeth storms within and without. Where there is not a pure conscience, there is not a pacified conscience; and therefore though some, thinking to save themselves whole in justification, neglect the cleansing of their natures and ordering of their lives, yet in time of temptation they will find it more troublesome than they think. For a conscience guilty of many neglects, of allowing itself in any sin, to lay claim to God’s mercy . . . God will let us see what it is to make wounds to try the preciousness of his balm; such may go mourning to their graves. And though, perhaps, with much wrestling with God they may get assurance of the pardon of their sins, yet their conscience will be still trembling, like-as David’s, though Nathan had pronounced unto him the forgiveness of his sin, Ps. li., till God at length speaks further peace, even as the water of the sea after a storm is not presently still, but moves and trembles a good while after the storm is over. A Christian is a new creature and walketh by rule, and so far as he walketh according to his rule, peace is upon him, Gal. vi. 16. Loose walkers that regard not their way, must think to meet with sorrows instead of peace. Watchfulness is the preserver of peace. —Richard Sibbes, The Soul’s Conflict with Itself, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:139

“See that all be well within”

Is it not a vanity to prefer the casket before the jewel, the shell before the pearl, the gilded potsherd before the treasure? and is it not much more vanity to prefer the outward condition before the inward? The soul is that which Satan and his hath most spite at, for in troubling our bodies or estates, he aims at the vexation of our souls. As in Job (ch. i.) his aim was to abuse that power God had given him over his children, body, and goods, to make him, out of a disquieted spirit, blaspheme God. It is an ill method to begin our care in other things, and neglect the soul, as Ahithophel, who set his house in order, when he should have set his soul in order first, 2 Sam. xvii. 23. Wisdom begins at the right end. If all be well at home, it comforts a man, though he meets with troubles abroad. Oh, saith he, I shall have rest at home; I have a loving wife and dutiful children: so whatsoever we meet withal abroad, if the soul be quiet, thither we can retire with comfort. See that all be well within, and then all troubles from without cannot much annoy us. —Richard Sibbes, The Soul’s Conflict with Itself, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:150–151

With Christ Is Best

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. —Philippians 1:21–24 The Apostle Paul had no fear of death. On the contrary, as expressed in the text above, he anticipated it with great joy. How did he—or, more to the point, how can we—“attain this sanctified sweet desire that Paul had, to die, and be with Christ?” Richard Sibbes answers as follows: Let us carry ourselves as Paul did, and then we shall have the same desires. St Paul, before death, in his lifetime, ‘had his conversation in heaven,’ Phil. iii. 1. His mind was there, and his soul followed after. There is no man’s soul comes into heaven, but his mind is there first. It was an easy matter for him to desire to be with Christ, having his conversation in heaven already. Paul in meditation was, where he was not, and he was not where he was. He was in heaven when his body was on earth. Again, St Paul had loosed his affections from all earthly things; therefore it was an easy matter for him to desire to be with Christ. ‘I am crucified to the world, and the world is crucified to me,’ &c., Gal. vi. 14. If once a Christian comes to this pass, death will be welcome to him. Those whose hearts are fastened to the world, cannot easily desire Christ. Again, holy St Paul laboured to keep a good conscience in all things. ‘Herein I exercise myself, to have a good conscience towards God and men,’ &c., Acts xxiv. 16. It is easy for him to desire to be dissolved, that hath his conscience sprinkled with the blood of Christ, Heb. x. 22, free from a purpose of living in any sin. . . . A guilty conscience trembles at the mention of death. . . . Oh, beloved, the exercising of the heart to keep a clear conscience, can only breed this desire in us to depart, and to be with Christ. . . . Oh, therefore let us walk holily with our God, and maintain inward peace all we can, if we desire to depart hence with comfort. Again, Paul had got assurance that he was in Christ, by his union with him. ‘I live not,’ saith he, ‘but Christ lives in me,’ Gal. ii. 19. Therefore labour for assurance of salvation, that you may feel the Spirit of Christ in you, sanctifying and altering your carnal dispositions to be like his. ‘I know whom I have trusted,’ 2 Tim. i. 12, saith he. He was as sure of his salvation, as if he had had it already.* . . . Therefore, if we would come to Paul’s desire, labour to come to the frame of the holy apostle’s spirit. He knew whom he had believed; he was assured that nothing could separate him from the love of God, neither life, nor death, nor anything whatsoever that could befall him, Rom. viii. 38, 39. Paul had an art of sweetening the thoughts of death. He considered it only as a departure from earth to heaven. When death was presented unto him as a passage to Christ, it was an easy matter to desire the same; therefore it should be the art of Christians to present death as a passage to a better life, to labour to bring our souls into such a condition, as to think death not to be a death to us, but the death of itself. Death dies when I die, and I begin to live when I die. It is a sweet passage to life. We never live till we die. This was Paul’s art. He had a care to look beyond death, to heaven; and when he looked upon death, he looked on it but as a passage to Christ: so let it be our art and skill. Would we cherish a desire to die, let us look on death as a passage to Christ, and look beyond it to heaven. All of us must go through this dark passage to Christ, which when we consider as Paul did, it will be an easy matter to die. —Richard Sibbes, Christ Is Best; Or, St Paul’s Strait., Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:341–343 * Sibbes does not mean to say that Paul’s salvation was not entirely secure. We have the promise from Christ himself that all who are his will be kept to the end: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:37–40). He means that Paul was as sure of his salvation as if he had already been raised on that last day.
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To Remain Is Necessary

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. —Philippians 1:21–24 Having professed his greatest desire be at home with the Lord, what made Paul so willing to forego that “very much better” hope for the benefit of others? Sibbes writes, Holy and gracious men, that are led by the Spirit of God, can deny themselves and their own best good for the church’s benefit. They know that God hath appointed them as instruments to convey good to others; and knowing this, they labour to come to Paul’s spirit here, to desire to live, to have life in patience, and death in desire in regard of themselves; for it were much better for a good man to be in heaven, out of misery, out of this conflicting condition with the devil and devilish-minded men. The reason is, because a good man, as soon as he is a good man, hath the spirit of love in him, and love seeketh not its own,’ 1 Cor. xiii. 5, but the good of another; and as the love of Christ and the love of God possesseth and seizeth upon the soul, so self-love decays. What is gracious love but a decay of self-love? The more self-love decays, the more we deny ourselves. Again, God’s people have the Spirit of Christ in them, who minded not his own things, 1 Cor. x. 24. If Christ had minded his own things, where had our salvation been? Christ was content to leave heaven, and to take our nature upon him, to be Emmanuel, God with us, that we might be with God for ever in heaven. He was content, not only to leave heaven, but to be born in the womb of a virgin. He was content to stoop to the grave. He stooped as low as hell in love to us. Now, where Christ’s Spirit is, it will bring men from their altitudes and excellencies, and make them to stoop to serve the church, and account it an honour to be an instrument to do good. Christ was content to be accounted, not only a servant of God, but of the church. ’My righteous servant,’ &c., Isa. liii. 11. Those that have the Spirit of Christ have a spirit of self-denial of their own. We see the blessed angels are content to be ministering spirits for us, and it is thought to be the sin of the devil, pride, when he scorned to stoop to the keeping of man, an inferior creature to himself. The blessed angels do not scorn to attend upon a poor child, ’little ones.’ A Christian is a consecrated person, and he is none of his own. He is a sacrifice as soon as he is a Christian. He is Christ’s. He gives himself to Christ; and as he gives himself, so he gives his life and all to Christ, as Paul saith of the Corinthians, they gave themselves and their goods to him, 2 Cor. viii. 5. When a Christian gives himself to Christ, he gives all to Christ; all his labour and pains, and whatsoever he knows that Christ can serve himself of him for his church’s good and his glory. He knows that Christ is wiser than he; therefore he resigns himself to his disposal, resolving, if he live, he lives to the Lord; and if he die, he dies to the Lord, Rom. xiv. 8; that so, whether he live or die, he may be the Lord’s. —Richard Sibbes, Christ Is Best; Or, St Paul’s Strait., Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:344–345 May God give us the same motivation as we “remain on in the flesh,” serving our families, churches, and communities.
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Do you wonder why God so much hates sin, that men so little regard, not only the lewd sort of the world, but common dead-hearted persons, that set so little by it, that they regard not spiritual sins at all, especially hatred, malice, pride, &c., clothing themselves with these things as a comely garment? Certainly you would not wonder that God hates sin, if you did but consider how sin hates God? What is sin but a setting of itself in God’s room, a setting the devil in God’s place? for when we sin we leave God, and set up the creature, and by consequence Satan, that brings the temptation to us; setting him in our hearts before God. Beloved, God is very jealous, and cannot endure that filthy thing sin, to be in his room. Sin is such a thing as desires to take away God himself. Ask a sinner when he is about to sin, Could you not wish that there were no God at all, that there were no eye of heaven to take vengeance on you? Oh aye, with all my heart. And can you then wonder that God hates sin so, when it hates him so, as to wish the not being of God? —Richard Sibbes, Christ’s Suffering for Man’s Sin, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:359
continue reading Sin Hates God

The Most Heinous Sin

What sins are most offensive to God? In one fundamental way, all sins are the same: They are all acts of sedition against the King of kings and Lord of lords—“cosmic treason,” as R. C. Sproul puts it—and demand the same divine justice. At the same time, Scripture clearly names some sins as particularly abhorrent. But sin is not only distinguished by its kind. It is not only what is done that matters, but who does it. Sibbes explains. The sins of the godly more heinous than others. The sins of God’s house admit of a greater aggravation than the sins of others; for, (1) they are committed against more light; (2) against more benefits and favours; (3) their sins in a manner are sacrilege. What! to make ‘the temple of God a den of thieves,’ to defile their bodies and souls, that are bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ, is this a small matter? Again, (4) their sins are idolatry; for they are not only the house of God, but the spouse of God. Now, for a spouse to be false and adulterous, this is greater than fornication, because the bond is nearer; so the nearer any come to God in profession, the higher is the aggravation of their sin, and as their sin grows, so must their punishment grow answerable and proportionable. They, therefore that know God’s will most of all others, must look for most stripes if they do it not, Luke xii. 47, 48. —Richard Sibbes, The Church’s Visitation, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:379.
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Evangelical Righteousness

And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner? —1 Peter 4:18 There is only one kind of righteous man, one kind of righteousness, that is, the righteousness of God himself. All righteousness comes from him; none has its origin in man, no matter how good and godly he may be. He will be godly, though imperfectly so, because the righteousness received from God through Christ is not fruitless. What is meant here by righteousness, to wit, a man endued with evangelical righteousness. By ‘righteous’ here, is meant that evangelical righteousness which we have in the state of the gospel, namely, the righteousness of Christ imputed to us; for Christ himself being ours, his obedience and all that he hath becomes ours also; and whosoever partaketh of this righteousness which is by faith, hath also a righteousness of sanctification accompanying the same, wrought in his soul by the Spirit of God, whereby his sinful nature is changed and made holy; for ‘if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature,’ 2 Cor. v. 17. The same Spirit that assures us of our interest in Christ, purifies and cleanseth our hearts, and worketh a new life in us, opposite to our life in the first Adam; from whence flows new works of holiness and obedience throughout our whole conversation. There must be an inward inherent righteousness, before there can be any works of righteousness. An instrument must be set in tune before it will make music; so the Spirit of God must first work a holy frame and disposition of heart in us, before we can bring forth any fruits of holiness in our lives. For we commend not the works of grace as we do the works of art, but refer them to the worker. All that flows from the Spirit of righteousness are works of righteousness. When the soul submits itself to the spirit, and the body to the soul, then things come off kindly. Take a man that is righteous by the Spirit of God: he is righteous in all relations; he gives every one his due; he gives God his due; spiritual worship is set up in his heart above all; he gives Christ his due by affiance in him; he gives the holy angels their due, by considering he is always in their presence, that their eye is upon him in every action he doth, and every duty he performs; the poor have their due from him; those that are in authority have their due. If he be under any, he gives them reverence and obedience, &c.; ‘he will owe nothing to any man but love,’ Rom. xiii. 8; he is righteous in all his conversation; he is a vessel prepared for every good work. I deny not but he may err in some particular; that is nothing to the purpose. I speak of a man as he is in the disposition and bent of his heart to God and goodness, and so there is a thread of a righteous course, that runs along through his whole conversation. The constant tenure of his life is righteous. He hungers and thirsts after righteousness, and labours to be more and more righteous still, every way, both in justification, that he may have a clearer evidence of that, as also in sanctification, that he may have more of the ‘new creature’ formed in him, that so he may serve God better and better all his days. —Richard Sibbes, The Difficulty of Salvation, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:395–396.
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The Righteous Is Saved

And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner? —1 Peter 4:18 This phrase, “it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved,” is, at first, confusing. The “righteous” are, by definition, those who have been born again by the Holy Spirit, or, in theological terms, regenerated. Regeneration is a miracle whereby God raises the (spiritually) dead to life. Just as he spoke the universe into being with a word, so he breathes life into dead souls. It is not difficult. But regeneration is not the end of salvation. Salvation, ultimately, is realized in heaven when we are glorified with Christ; only then is our salvation complete. It is the time in between that is difficult; it is the “endur[ance] to the end” (Matthew 10:22, cf. Mark 13:13; Matthew 24:13). Endurance is difficult, but it is also assured. While our salvation is not yet fully realized, we need not doubt its final fulfillment. The righteous are saved. What do I say? the righteous shall be saved? He is saved already. ‘This day is salvation come to thine house,’ saith Christ to Zaccheus, Luke xix. 9. ‘We are saved by faith, and are now set in heavenly places together with him,’ Eph. ii. 6. We have a title and interest to happiness already. There remains only a passage to the crown by good works. We do not, as the papists do, work to merit that we have not, but we do that we do in thankfulness for what we have. Because we know we are in the state of salvation; therefore we will shew our thankfulness to God in the course of our lives. How can we miss of salvation when we are saved already? Christ our head being in heaven, will draw his body after him. What should hinder us? The world? We have that faith in us, ‘which overcometh the world,’ 1 John v. 4. As for the flesh, you know what the apostle saith, We are not under the law, but under grace,’ Rom. vi. 14. The spirit in us always lusteth against the flesh, and subdues it by little and little; neither can Satan nor the gates of hell prevail against us; for the grace we have is stronger than all enemies against us. God the Father is our Father in Christ, and his love and gifts are without repentance, Rom. xi. 29. When once we are in the state of salvation, ‘he will preserve us by faith to salvation,’ 1 Pet. i. 5; and we are knit to God the Son, who will lose none of his members. The marriage with Christ is an everlasting union; whom he loves, ‘he loves to the end,’ John xiii. 1. As for God the Holy Ghost, saith Christ, ‘I will send the Comforter, and he shall be with you to the end,’ John vi. 14, 16. The blessed Spirit of God never departs where he once takes up his lodging. There is no question, therefore, of the salvation of the righteous; they are, as it were, saved already. Let this teach us thus much, that in all the changes and alterations which the faith of man is subject unto, he is sure of one thing: all the troubles, and all the enemies of the world shall not hinder his salvation. ‘If it be possible the elect should be deceived,’ Mat. xxiv. 24; but it is not possible. O what a comfort is this, that in the midst of all the oppositions and plottings of men and devils, yet notwithstanding, somewhat we have, that is not in the power of any enemy to take from us, nor in our own power to lose, namely, our salvation. Set this against any evil whatsoever, and it swallows up all. Put case a man were subject to an hundred deaths, one after another, what are all these to salvation? Put case a man were in such grief, that he wept tears of blood; in the day of salvation all tears shall be wiped from his eyes. Set this, I shall be saved, against any misery you can imagine, and it will unspeakably comfort and revive the soul beyond all. —Richard Sibbes, The Difficulty of Salvation, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:396–397.
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Ready to Do and Suffer

Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right. —1 Peter 4:19 Considering all our sufferings are by the appointment and will of God, let us bring our souls to an holy resignation unto his Majesty, not looking so much to the grievance we are under as to the hand that sent it. We should with one eye consider the thing, with another eye the will of God in the same. When a man considers, I suffer now, but it is by the will of God!; he puts me upon it, how cheerfully will such an one commit his soul to the Lord! It is as hard a matter to suffer God's will as to do his will. Passive obedience is as hard as active. In the active we labour that what we do may please God; in the passive we must endeavour that what he doth may please us. Our hearts are as untoward to the one as to the other. Therefore, let us beg of God to bring our wills to the obedience of his blessed will in everything. Would you have a pattern of this? Look upon our blessed Saviour, to whom we must be conformable in obedience if ever we will be conformable in glory. ‘Lo, I come,' saith he; ‘I am ready to do thy will, Lord,' Heb. x. 9. What was the whole life of Christ but a doing and a suffering of God's will? ‘Behold, it is written in the volume of thy book that I should do thy will,' ver. 7, and here I am ready pressed for it. It should be, therefore, the disposition of all those that are led by the Spirit of Christ, as all must be that hope to reign with him, to be willing to suffer with Christ here, and say with him, Lord, I am here ready to do and suffer whatsoever thou requirest! When once we are brought to this, all the quarrel is ended between God and us. —Richard Sibbes, The Saint's Hiding-Place in the Evil Day, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:403–404.
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Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right. —1 Peter 4:19 If anything overcome, this will do it, to suffer well. The church of God is a company of men that gain and overcome by suffering in doing good. Thus the dove overcomes the eagle, the sheep overcomes the wolf, the lamb overcomes the lion, &c. It hath been so from the beginning of the world. Meek Christians, by suffering quietly, have at length overcome those that are malicious, and have gained even their very enemies to the love of the truth. —Richard Sibbes, The Saint's Hiding-Place in the Evil Day, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:406.
continue reading Suffer Well

Our Chief Care

Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right. —1 Peter 4:19 All that God has given us is a trust that we are to steward, to the best of our abilities, for his glory. We do not want to be like the Gnostics, who consider the material to be of no account. Our possessions, families, bodies—all that has been entrusted to our care—is to be managed responsibly. In doing so, we must recognize that we are inadequate for the task. We must, therefore, entrust all that God has given us back to him. And, while rejecting Gnosticism, we must give our spiritual beings priority, even at the cost of all else. Sibbes writes, Our chief care must be over our souls. We must desire God to preserve our souls, whatsoever becomes of these; our principal care must be that that be not blemished in the least kind; for, alas! other things must be parted with first or last. This body of ours, or whatsoever is dear in the world, must be stripped from us, and laid in the dust ere long. But here is our comfort, though our body be dead, yet our souls are themselves still; dead St Paul is Paul still. Our body is but the case or tabernacle wherein our soul dwells; especially a man's self is his soul; keep that and keep all. I beseech you, therefore, as things are in worth and excellency in God's account, let our esteem be answerable. You have many compliments in the world, how doth your body, &c., mere compliments indeed, but how few will inquire how our souls do? alas! that is in poor case. The body perhaps is well looked unto, that is clothed, and care taken that nothing be wanting to it, but the poor soul is ragged and wounded, and naked. Oh that men were sensible of that miserable condition their poor souls are in. Beloved, the soul is the better part of a man, and if that miscarries, all miscarries. If the soul be not well, the body will not continue long in a good estate. Bernard saith sweetly, ‘Oh, body, thou hast a noble guest dwelling in thee, a soul of such inestimable worth that it makes thee truly noble.' Whatsoever goodness and excellency is in the body, is communicated from the soul; when that once departs, the body is an unlovely thing, without life or sense. The very sight of it cannot be endured of the dearest, friends. What an incredible baseness is it therefore, that so precious a thing as the soul is, should serve these vile bodies of ours! Let the body stay its leisure; the time of the resurrection is the time of the body. In this life it should be serviceable to our souls in suffering and doing whatsoever God calls us unto. Let our bodies serve our souls now, and then body and soul shall for ever after be happy; whereas, if we, to gratify our bodies, do betray our souls, both are undone. —Richard Sibbes, The Saint's Hiding-Place in the Evil Day, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:408.
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The Foundation of Religion

Faith is no unthinking thing. We are created as thinking, reasoning beings, and it is not without reason that we believe and trust in God. That the soul of man being an understanding essence, will not be satisfied and settled without sound reasons. Comfort is nothing else but reasons stronger than the evil which doth afflict us; when the reasons are more forcible to ease the mind than the grievance is to trouble it. It is no difficult matter to commit our souls to God when we are once persuaded that he is a faithful Creator. A man commits himself to another man, and hath no other reason for it, but only he is persuaded of his ability and credit in the world; that he is a man of estate and power to do him good. So it is in this business of religion. Our souls are carried to anything strongly when they are carried by strong reasons, as in this particular of trusting God with our souls. When we see sufficient reasons inducing thereto, we easily resign them into his hands. This shews that popery is an uncomfortable religion, which brings men to despair. They have no reason for what they maintain. What reason can they give for their doctrine of doubting, transubstantiation, perfect obedience to the law, &c.? These are unreasonable things. The soul cannot yield to such absurdities. It must have strong reasons to stablish it, as here, to consider God as a faithful Creator, &c. There is something in God to answer all the doubts and fears of the soul, and to satisfy it in any condition whatsoever. This is the very foundation of religion; not that any worth can accrue to the Creator from the creature, but that there is an all-sufficiency in the Creator to relieve the poor creature. If a man consider in what order God created him, it will make him trust God. —Richard Sibbes, The Saint's Hiding-Place in the Evil Day, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:409.
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God Is the Same

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. —Philippians 1:6 Remember that God is the same still; he hath not forgot his old art of creating, but is as able to help now as ever, and can create comforts for thee in thy greatest troubles. As in the first creation he made light out of darkness, order out of confusion, so still he is able out of thy confused and perplexed estate to create peace and comfort. Thou knowest not what to do perhaps, thy mind is so troubled and disquieted; why, commit thy soul to God; he can raise an excellent frame out of the chaos of thy thoughts. Therefore be not dismayed; consider thou hast God in covenant with thee, and hast to deal with an almighty Creator, who can send present help in time of need. Dost thou want any grace? dost thou want spiritual life? Go to this Creator, he will put a new life into thee; he that made all things of nothing can raise light out of thy dark mind, and can make fleshy thy stony heart, though it be as hard as a rock. Therefore never despair, but frequent the means of grace, and still think of God under this relation of a Creator; and when he hath begun any good work of grace in thee, go confidently to His Majesty, and desire him to promote and increase the same in thy heart and life. Lord, I am thy poor creature, thou hast in mercy begun a blessed work in me, and where thou hast begun thou hast said thou wilt make an end. When thou createdst the world, thou didst not leave it till all was done; and when thou createdst man thou madest an end. Now, I beseech thee, perfect the new creature in my soul. As thou hast begun to enlighten mine understanding and to direct my affections to the best things, so I commit my soul unto thee for further guidance and direction to full happiness. —Richard Sibbes, The Saint's Hiding-Place in the Evil Day, Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:410.
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