Richard Sibbes, The Backsliding Sinner, 2.3


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4. How to know if sins have been forgiven?

Sibbes stops here and asks the question: if these blessings are true, how do I know if God has actually forgiven my sins?

Quest. But may some say, How shall I know whether or no my sins be, forgiven?

1. By something that goes before.

2. By something which follows after.

That is, what we do and the effect thereof.

Ans. There is somewhat which goes before, viz.:—


First, an humble and hearty confession, as, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,’ 1 John 1:9.

Therefore, whether I feel it or not, if I have heartily, fully, and freely confessed, my sins are forgiven. God in wisdom and mercy may suspend the feeling thereof, for our humiliation, and for being over-bold with Satan’s baits; yet I ought to believe it. For I make God a liar else, if I confess heartily, and acknowledge my debt, to think that he hath not cancelled the bond.

Why does he specify humble and hearty? To distinguish confession from bare “lip service” In Isaiah 29:13, the Lord says, “Because this people draws near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Thus, a confession can be mere lip service. In Isaiah 66:2, the Lord says that he will look to “he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” In Psalm 51:17, “a broken spirit and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” 

Thus, the confession of 1 John 1:9 must be read in light of the rest of Scripture speaking of the nature of what constitutes a true approach to God. John himself states that a true confession that Jesus is Lord comes from the Spirit of God. 1 John 4:2. The results of that confession are:

b. There are four post-confession results.

Since Sibbes numbers consecutively from one, these are 2-5 in the original and so I have kept them:

i. Resistance to sin

Secondly, sin is certainly pardoned, when a man finds strength against it; for where God forgives, he gives strength withal: as to the man whom he healed of the palsy, ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee; take up thy bed and walk,’ Mat. 9:26.

Sibbes does not argue that the man taking up his bed proves the point. Rather, he is using the event as an analogy to illustrate the proposition.

When a man hath strength to return to God, to run the way of his commandments, and to go on in a Christian course, his sins are forgiven, because he hath a spirit of faith to go on and lead him forward still. Those who find no strength of grace, may question forgiveness of sins. For God, where he takes away sin, and pardons it, as we see here in this text, after prayer made to take away iniquity, he ‘doth good to us.’

ii. peace of conscience

The third evidence is, some peace of conscience; though not much, perhaps, yet so much as supports us from despair, as, ‘Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,’ Rom. 5:1; that is, being acquitted from our sins by faith, we have peace with God; so much peace, as makes us go boldly to him. 

Richard Sibbes was known as the heavenly doctor, due to his remarkable concern for the peace of conscience. 

So that one may know his bonds are cancelled, and his sins forgiven, when with some boldness he dare look God in the face in Jesus Christ.

He proves this point by the counter example of those who killed themselves in their guilt.

A Judas, an Ahithophel, a Saul, because they are in the guilt of their sins, cannot confess comfortably, and go to God, which, when with some boldness we can do, it is a sign that peace is made for us.

iii. Love toward God

Fourth. Again, where sin is pardoned, our hearts will be much enlarged with love to God; as Christ said to the woman, ‘Her sins, which are many, are forgiven her, because she loved much,’ Luke 7:47. Therefore, when we find our hearts inflamed with love to God, we may know that God hath shined upon our souls in the pardon of sin; and proportionably to our measure of love is our assurance of pardon. 

Here we have again the encouragement:

Therefore we should labour for a greater measure thereof, that our hearts may be the more inflamed in the love of God. 

And then the proof by a negative example: We will not come God if we are unconfessed: our conscience will drive us to true confession.

It is impossible that the soul should at all love God angry, offended, and unappeased; nay, such a soul wisheth that there were no God at all, for the very thoughts thereof terrify him.

iv. forgiveness to others

The effect of true confession and forgiveness changes the way in which we relate to God and the way in which we relate to others. There is a change in our disposition if we understand what we have been forgiven. Moreover, to not forgive is to court serious reprimand. Matt. 18:21-35.

Fifthly. Again, where sin is forgiven, it frames the soul suitably, to be gentle, merciful, and to pardon others. For, usually, those who have peaceable consciences themselves are peaceable unto others; and those who have forgiveness of sins, can also forgive others. Those who have found mercy have merciful hearts, shewing that they have found mercy with God. And, on the contrary, he that is a cruel, merciless man, it is a sign that his heart was never warmed nor melted with the sense of God’s mercy in Christ. Therefore, ‘as the elect of God,’ saith the apostle, ‘put on bowels of compassion,’ 1 Peter 3:8, as you will make it good that you are the elect of God, members of Christ, and God’s children.

C. A Concluding Encouragement

Notice the tone of his call to repentance: Rather than demand repentance, he coaxes the sheep. It is not “you”, it is “us”. Let us repent. 

He has made repentance a beautiful, desirable thing. Don’t you want to repent? Its God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. Rom. 2:4.

Therefore, let us labour for the forgiveness of our sins, that God would remove and subdue the power of them, take them away, and the judgments due to them, 

There is a warning, but what would we seek to be miserable:

or else we are but miserable men, though we enjoyed all the pleasures of the world, which to a worldly man are but like the liberty of the tower to a condemned traitor [the right to walk around in the prison but never go outside], who though he have all wants supplied with all possible attendance, yet when he thinks of his estate, it makes his heart cold, damps his courage, and makes him think the poorest car-man or tankard-bearer, at liberty, happier than he, who would not change estates with him. 

He repeats the sorrow of not repenting:

So it is with a man that hath not sued out his pardon, nor is at peace with God. He hath no comfort, so long as he knows his sins are on the file, that God in heaven is not at peace with him, who can arm all the creatures against him to be revenged of him. In which case, who shall be umpire betwixt God and us, if we take not up the controversy betwixt him and our souls? 

If our confession will bring us with God, then we should not expect peace when we are unrepentant.

Therefore, it being so miserable a case to want assurance of the forgiveness of sins, it should make us be never an hour quiet till we have gotten it, seeing the uncertainty of this life, wherein there is but a step betwixt hell, damnation, and us. Therefore sue unto God, ply him with broken and humble hearts, that he would pardon all the sins of our youth and after-age, known and unknown, that he would pardon all whatsoever. 

He ends this plea with a final repetition of the God which can come: Notice the structure of the plea: Here is the good; here is the negative (why would you lose this good); look at this good:

‘Take away all iniquity.’

Notice how he moves between “good” and “grace”

‘And do good to us.’ For so it is in the original, but it is all one, ‘Receive us graciously, and do good to us.’ 

All the goodness we have from God, it is out of his grace, from his free grace and goodness. 

All grace, every little thing from God is grace.

As we say of favours received of great persons, this is his grace, his favour; so this is a respect which is put upon all things which we receive from God, when we are in covenant, all is gracious. 

Take we the words as they are, the more plain, in the original. 

‘Take good, and do good to us:’ take good out of thy treasure of goodness, and do good to us, bestow upon us thy own good. 

Here he repeats the two elements: take away iniquity and do good. This acts as an inclusio in the final plea and then as a introduction into the next section of the sermon:

First, ‘take away our iniquities,’ 

and then take good out of thy bounty, ‘and do good to us.’ 

Whence we see—

III.      Doct. That God’s mercy to his children is complete and full.

 See note b, vol. I. p. 289.—G.

Richard Sibbes, The Backsliding Sinner 2.2



B.        The second clause of the command, after taking words, “Turn to the Lord.”

‘And turn to the Lord.’ He repeats the exhortation of returning, to shew that words must not be empty, but such as are joined with a purpose of turning to God. 

He provides the rationale for this observation (words must be coupled to action):

For otherwise, to turn to him with a purpose to live in any sin, is the extremity of profane impudence. 

Then he provides an illustration: The illustration works by arguing from a circumstance which one could not contest. Then by analogy, the same principle works when applied to God:

To come to ask a pardon of the king, with a resolution to live still in rebellion against him, what is this but mockery, as if one should come with a dagg* to shoot him? 

The proposition is in then applied:

Such is our case, when we come to ask forgiveness, with a purpose to offend. It is the extremity of profaneness, to come to ask a pardon, to the intent that we may sin still. Therefore he repeats it again, ‘Take unto you words, and turn to the Lord.’ 

1.         Overview of the argument:

The form is—

‘Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously,’ or ‘do good to us:’ ‘so will we render the calves of our lips;’ wherein we have,

a.        The Petition:

1. A petition: (1.) To take away all iniquity; (2.) To receive them graciously.

b.        The Re-stipulation:

2. A re-stipulation, or promise of thankfulness back again to the Lord, ‘So will we render the calves of our lips.’ 

c.         Observations:

So that we may observe, hence—

i.         “What God will grant us.”


He will have us ask of him. ‘Yet for all these things I will be sought unto of the house of Israel,’ Ezek. 20:31, saith God; because he will have us acknowledge our homage and dependence upon him. 

Here he supplies another reason for prayer: It is to acknowledge our dependence upon God. This leads to the application:

Therefore we must ask what he hath purposed to give. ‘Take away all iniquity,’ &c., where there is an implication of a confession of their sins and great iniquities. ‘Take away iniquity,’ and ‘Take away all iniquity,’ that is, our manifold guilt. So, before petition, there must be a free and full confession, as was shewed before.

ii. The confession to God:

Now, this confession here is made to God, and to God only, saith Austin [St. Augustine] in this case. 

At the time of Sibbes’ writing, the question about oral confession to a priest as a necessary element in the forgiveness of sins was a live-issue for many people even in protestant England.

a. Quote from Augustine’s Confessions

Because it is a point in controversy, it is good to hear what the ancients say. There are a curious sort of men, who are busy to search into other men’s lives, and are careless in amending their own. Saith he, ‘What have I to do with men to hear me confess, when I have offended God? We must confess to God, and to God only.’ 

b. When confession should be public; when private:

But in some cases there may be public and private confession to men. 

Public, in public offences, for the satisfaction of the church, and the glory of God; for preventing of scandal. 

Private, to ministers, for the quieting of conscience. But this is only in some cases. Men go not to the chirurgeon, as the papists would have it, for every little prick of their finger. No; but yet in some cases it is good to open the matter to a minister, ‘who hath the tongue of the learned,’ Isa. 1:4. But the sin is toward God, against him, he only being able to forgive sins, as the Pharisees confessed: ‘None can forgive sins but God,’ Mark 2:7. The papists, therefore, herein are worse than the Pharisees.

2.         The first clause of commandment: pray, “Take away inquity.”

The petition is, ‘Take away iniquity,’ and ‘all iniquity.’ Why all?

a.        Love of God is hatred of all sin.

First. Because where there is any true goodness in the heart, that hatred which carries the bent of the soul against one sin, is alike against all, as I shewed; and the devil carries thousands to hell by this partial obedience, because he knows at any time where to have such. God and a purpose to sin will not stand together, nor dwell in a heart that allows itself in any sin, be it never so small. He saith, Take away all, because the Spirit of God works in a man renewed, such a disposition of sincerity to hate all alike.

b.        A desire to like God

Secondly, he saith, ‘Take away all iniquity,’ because the heart, which desires to be at peace with God, desires also to be like God, who hates all sin. Therefore, saith the sanctified soul, forgive all sin. 

He then proves up this point with an eight-fold repetition (with slight variations) of “Take away all iniquity”. Each one of these repetitions places a slightly different variant on the rationale. The effect of this repetition is not merely provide a cogent argument, but also to create an emotional response, as figures of repetition often do (when used well).

Desire to be with the Lord:

‘Take all away,’

that I may have nothing in me displeasing unto thee. I desire to join with the Lord; to hate what he hateth, and as he hateth; to carry a perfect hatred to the whole kind.

Fulfilling the hatred of sin:

‘Take away all iniquity.’ 

Hatred is not satisfied, but with the utter abolishing of the thing hated. Therefore it hath this extent here. 

Cleanse me from all sin:

‘Take away all sin,’ 

both the guilt and the reign of every sin, that none may rule in me; nay, by little and little, purge out all. 

Protection from the penalty of sin:

‘Take away iniquity,’ 

and the train of all which it draws after it—judgments. 

What it is to take away iniquity:

‘Take away iniquity,’ 

that is, forgive the sin, and overcome the power of it by sanctifying grace, and remit the judgments attending it.

Remove the guilt:

‘Take it away.’ That is, take away the guilt of it utterly by pardon, and the remainders thereof by sanctifying grace, so as the Spirit may rule, and be all in all in us. They see sin is an offensive thing, and therefore they say, 

The pain of conscience:

‘Take it away,’ as an offensive, odious thing, and as a burden. For howsoever it be sweet as honey in the committing it, afterwards, when the conscience is thoroughly awaked, it is most offensive and bitter. 

Thomas Brooks wrote, “Till we have sinned, Satan is a parasite; when we have sinned, he is a tyrant.” Hell is often described as including the pain of conscience.

So as in this case, a sinner would gladly run from his own conscience, and from himself; run anywhere from the tormenting and racking thoughts of conscience awaked, and withal hates the place where it was committed, and the company with whom, yea, the thoughts of them. 

As Absalom**[this is an error: Absalom’s sister was Tamar. The perpetrator was Amnon]  hated Tamar after he had lien with her, so a sinner awaked from sin hates what he formerly loved. As good men love the circumstances of anything which puts them in mind of any good they have done, loving both place and person. So it is with a sinner. When his conscience is awaked, he hates all things which puts him in mind of his sins. 


‘Take it away,’ 

forgive it, cast it into the bottom of the sea, blot it out of thy remembrance, cover it, impute it not; all which phrases shew a taking away.

Again Brooks, “Surely if it be such an honour to man, ‘to pass over a transgression,’ it cannot be a dishonour to Christ to pass over the transgressions of his people, he having already buried them in the sea of his blood. Again, saith Solomon, ‘It is the glory of God to conceal a thing,’ Prov. 25:2

Therefore, I beseech you, let us examine ourselves hereby, whether our desire of forgiveness be sound or not. 

c.  How the desire to be freed from sin becomes controls

i. He begins with this observation of human psychology:

If we desire sin should be taken away, we cannot think of it with comfort. 

It is interesting in how Sibbes discusses sin and one’s internal life: it is not the outwar conduct which is determinative, but the inward desire which is determinative – particularly on this point. If the Spirit has worked: “soundly touched with a saving sense of sin”, then the response is a hatred of sin. He is a good enough pastor not to reduce sin to behavior. One may stop some behavior for any number of reasons. 

The cry “take it away” is a sovereign work of God.

For in that many think with delight of their old sins, what do they else, but repeat them over again and again? But where the heart is soundly touched with a saving sense of sin, O then he cries, ‘Take it away;’ take it out of my conscience, that it cause not despair there; and out of thy remembrance, that no advantage be taken against me for it. ‘Take it away.’ 

But it is no otherwise taken away than by satisfying of divine justice. 

ii.  This is a cause for thanksgiving

How much are we beholden to Christ, therefore, who hath borne and taken away our sins, and as the scape-goat, gone away with the burden of all into the wilderness of oblivion. Blessed be God, and the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world! We can never bless God too much, nor sufficiently, for Christ. ‘Blessed be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,’ Eph. 1:3. Now we may think of sin without shame and despair. O blessed state, when a man can think of his former odious, and filthy, loathsome sins, and yet not despair! Because, when he believes in Christ, the blood of Christ purgeth all away, takes away all sin. He hath taken them away.

iii.  The end sought by the prayer, “take away all iniquity”

You see here, in the first place, they pray for the taking away of their iniquity. 

We receive God’s favor:

For, take away this, and all other mercies follow after, because this only is it which stops the current of God’s favours, which removed, the current of his mercies run amain. As when the clouds are gone, the sun shines out; so let our sins be removed, and God’s favour immediately shines upon us. 

Our relationship to God is as loving Father:

Therefore, first ‘Take away all iniquity,’ and then we shall see nothing but thy fatherly face in Christ. You see what the care of God’s children is, to seek mercy and favour in the first place; as David, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord!’ Ps. 51:1. This he begs first of all. 

By commanding our prayer “take away all iniquity” it is as if God “begs” that we should pray to receive his mercy. This is a remarkable thing: God is the offended party in our sin; and here, God is commanding, wooing Ephraim to repent and receive mercy:

Whereas God had threatened other terrible judgments, as that the sword should never depart from his house, &c., yet he neglects all, as it were, and begs only for mercy, ‘to take away iniquity.’ For a sinner is never in such a blessed condition as he should be in, until he prize and desire mercy above all; because, though we be in misery, until then, with sinful Ephraim, Hos. 7:14, we howl upon our beds for corn and wine, preferring earthly, sensual things before all. 

The blessing of repentance: goodness, grace, mercy:

But that soul and conscience which is acquainted with God, and the odiousness of sin, that soul God intends to speak peace unto in the end, desires pardon of sin and mercy above all. For it knows that God is goodness itself, and that, when the interposing clouds are vanished, God cannot shew himself otherwise than in goodness, grace, and mercy. ‘Take away all iniquity.’

3.  How should we think of forgiven sins?

Quest. Before I go further, let me answer one question. Ought we not to think of our former sins? Shall God take them away altogether out of the soul?

Sibbes distinguishes between ways in which we could have knowledge of our sin. First, we could think of sin in terms of being presently guilty for sin. That we should not do: It would be to deny the goodness and fact of God’s forgiveness. While he does not elaborate on this point, it would be sinful toward God because we would deny the truth of God’s promises in this respect.

Second, we do have continual remembrance of our sins that have been forgiven so that we stay in mind of God’s goodness. When we think of God and the work of Christ, we think of such in light of God’s goodness and forgiveness of our sin.

Ans. Oh no! Take them away out of the conscience, O Lord, that it do not accuse for them; but not out of the memory. It is good that sin be remembered, to humble us, to make us more thankful, pitiful, and tender-hearted unto others, to abase us and keep us low all the days of our life, and to make us deal gently and mercifully with others, being sensible of our own frailties. 

As they are naught in the conscience, so they are good to the memory. 

Therefore, let us think often of this, what the chief desire of our souls to God should be for—mercy, to have sin taken away. In all the articles of our creed, that of chiefest comfort is, that of ‘remission of sins.’

Wherefore are all the other articles of Christ, his birth, death, and crucifying, but that he might get the church? and that the privileges thereof might be, ‘forgiveness of sins, resurrection of the body, and life everlasting;’ but forgiveness of sins is in the first place.

* That is, ‘small pistol.’—G

Dylan Thomas, To Be Encompassed by the Brilliant Earth


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To be encompassed by the brilliant earth

Breathing on all sides pungently

Into her vegetation’s lapping mouths

Must feel like such encroachment

As edges off your nerves to mine,

The hemming contact that’s so trammelled

By love or look,

In death or out of death,

Glancing from the yellow nut,

Eyeing from the wax’s tower,

Or, white as milk, out of the seeping dark,

The drooping as you close me in

A world of webs

I touch and break,

I touch and break.             

This is a horrifying poem in many ways. Although written from a profoundly pagan point of view (that life is a sort of force which of its own runs through all living things and our life is ultimately impersonal and not our own), the moral of the poem is as critical of lust as the most passionate turn or burn preacher. 

The poem begins with a phrase which may be an imagining which may be a wish or a fear. 

To be encompassed by the brilliant earth.

I hope to be, I fear to be, I may be; I am fascinated by, or I am in terror of, this encompassing.  The use of the verb “encompassed” provides the ambiguity. For instance, if we change the verb to “buried” or “crushed,” we could easily see the negative. If we read “blanketed” of “cradled,” we could see this as a good. But encompassed denotes a state without providing a connotation to relieve the ambiguity.

Moreover, there is an ambiguity as to whether the poet considers his own, another’s, or the abstracted idea, of the state of encompassing. 

The phrase the brilliant earth is one of the paradoxical turns one finds in Dylan. The earth by nature is not “brilliant”: it does exhibit light. There are a few ways we could take this phrase.

The easiest way to “understand” the phrase would be to reject it as nonsense. If we were to find this phrase in a textbook on dirt we would have to think of the phrase as somehow in error. 

However, since we are reading a work of creative literature, and a poem by Dylan Thomas in particular, we charitably consider this as a deliberately paradoxical phrase; perhaps along the lines of a Zen koan. If this phrase is not to be taken as a deliberate contradiction nor a “literal” description of glowing dirt, what could Dylan’s point be?

It might be there is a sort of “brilliance” in the earth which is not immediately the subject of apprehension. It might be a metaphorical brilliance: The earth is living or active in some sense and exudes something which could be described as “brilliant”. It might be a reference to the effect upon the poet: somehow the earth has made in me the sensation that the earth is brilliant.

We could also conclude that “earth” has reference which is not precisely inert dirt in the field. What this reference could be is unclear at this point. 

Of course, the metaphorical use could entail both elements. 

And thus at the end of the first line, we are in a state of necessary ambivalence. 

The line scans as follows:

to BE encompassed [pause] by the BRILLiant EARTH

The two halves of the line are held together by the alliteration of “B” on either side of the pause: Be Brilliant

The second line

Breathing on all sides pungently

This line connects to the prior line as follows:

The “B” of “Breathing. This point is emphasized by the accent on the first syllable. 

The entire line also functions as an appositive to the “brilliant earth”: The “brilliant earth [is] breathing.”

The description of the earth “breathing” complicates the problem of the first line in describing earth. So we now know the earth is “brilliant” and “breathes”. How this could be so is not yet clear. But by the addition of “breathing” tells us that somehow the earth is alive. The brilliance is just glowing dirt: this living entity.

The prepositional phrase, “on all sides” complements “encompassing”. This does not answer who is encompassed by the earth (the poet or another).

Someone is now on all sides experiencing a living, breathing earth. Moreover, this experience is intimate: the earth is close enough, one can experience this “pungent” breathing.

Into her vegetation’s lapping mouths

Where does the vegetation have a mouth? Does the earth breathe into the roots or the leaves? 

This also changes the tenor of the adverb “pungently”. Rather than emphasizing the earth’s bad breath, it seems to emphasize the pointedness of the earth’s action. 

The vegetation is pictured as an animal lapping at the water: but here, rather than water it is the breathing earth.

At this point, the poem takes a dramatic turn:

Must feel like such encroachment

As edges off your nerves to mine,

The relationship between the mouths and the breathing earth is pictured as an “encroachment”: it is a forcible entrance, or a least an unwelcomed entrance. 

At this point, the metaphorical language of a brilliant, breathing earth becomes another step removed from experience: the earth and the plants mouths are not “your nerves to mine”. 

The first clause, “as edges off” modifies the “encroachment”. 

We have now moved from actual plants and earth to the poet and someone else. Precisely what is taking place here is not exactly clear, but the relationship between this poet and, we can presume at this point, a lover is extraordinarily intimate. 

This also raises a theme which runs through other poems by Thomas such as 

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower 

Drives my green age

This concept of there being a continuous correlation between the life of plants and nature and his own life. Because of this theme, it is perhaps wrong to understand the current poem (To be encompassed ….) is not using the language of earth and plants as merely a conceit: a metaphor to dress-up the relationship between the poet and lover, but rather to express something which Thomas contends is inherent in the relationship.

He is pointing out something which is intimate, but also (he sees) as impersonal. Walt Whitman makes a similar argument in Song of Myself:

Urge and urge and urge, 

Always the procreant urge of the world.

It is as if Thomas is speaking to her and removing the personal him and her from the equation and contending for a deeply impersonal intimacy. He even describes this intimacy as something which “love” or “look” (there knowledge and notice of one-another) as trammeling upon the intimacy:

The hemming contact that’s so trammelled

By love or look,

The contact is not profound, rather it is “hemmed.”  The intimacy of the two is the intimacy of plants in the soil. It is not even animalistic, but rather vegetable. It does not sound passionate or even desirable: breath is pungent, the intimacy an encroachment. The brilliant earth thus comes back not as a joyous brilliance but rather a description of energy: as if life were a thing like gravity which just acted without personality.

The trammeling is further explicated in these lines:

In death or out of death,

Glancing from the yellow nut,

Eyeing from the wax’s tower,

Or, white as milk, out of the seeping dark,

The exact references of these lines are unclear to me. The first line “In death or out of death” make sense, because this force is not something confined to persons, but a force which courses through nature with or without Thomas’s existence. 

I can’t make out the “yellow nut,” unless it is some reference to birth in the way that a wax tower which would melt with heat is a reference to death. That life-death-life movement would make sense of nut and wax, and then white seeping from dark: a force of life which moves through opposites and moves through people without any person being their own life.

USA, TX, Bandera Co.: Bandera Hill Country State Natural Area 9-iv-2016

The poem ends with this horrifying lines:

The drooping as you close me in

A world of webs

I touch and break,

I touch and break.

The lover’s closeness is “drooping” she closes in on him in a manner which he describes as “a world of webs”. This intimacy is no loving relationship, rather it is a black widow coming into the kill the male with whom she mates. This moment of procreation will he is death:

“I touch and break.” 

To touch her is to be destroyed. 

This moment of dispassionate lust, a lust which is independent of either the poet or the woman, results in profound disillusionment. It something forced upon them both, something which love or true intimacy can only ‘trammel’ upon. They are forced into this “encroachment” which overwhelms them. In the end, she comes to him as a spider who destroys him as soon as she touches him. 

Thomas decidedly does not call this lust “sin”: sin would be too volitional an understanding. But the result of this lust is certainly death. 

This then leads us back to the first line of the poem: On the first run through, one lover encompassing the other is the “brilliant earth”. The brilliant earth is the human being made of earth and animated by the “green force”. But here at the end, we return to the earth and now it is a tomb: he has been buried. The procreative act is also the entombing action. Life runs through the human, running the puppet from life to death to life and so on.

So I hated life

Because what is done under the sun is grievous to me

For all is vanity

And a striving after wind.

Eccl. 2:17

Richard Sibbes, The Returning Backslider 2.1


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Take with you words, and turn to the Lord; say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips.—Hos. 14:2.

I.         Introduction

Sibbes begins with a general statement concerning the character of God. This general proposition will be explained in the particular development of this sermon. The sermon itself will end with the assurance that this particular proposition is true:

As we lost ourselves in the first Adam, so the mercy of God, in the covenant of grace, found out a way to restore us again by the ‘second Adam,’ 1 Cor. 15:47, Jesus Christ, in whom all the promises are ‘yea and amen; yesterday and to-day, and the same for ever,’ Heb. 13:8.

And as the wisdom of God did freely find out this way at first, comforting our first parents with it in paradise; so this bowels of incomprehensible love of his hath so gone on from time [to time, repeatedly] in all ages of the church, comforting and raising up the dejected spirits of his church, from time to time, and awakening them out of their drowsiness and sleepy condition. 

The argument runs as follows: When Adam sinned, God makes the promise of the one who will crush the Serpent’s head, the first gospel, in Genesis 3:15. And as God came and gave hope to humanity at this first act of sin, so has God in various other times come to those who were seemingly furthest away grace only to encourage their repentance:

And many times, the greater sinners he dealt with, the greater mercies and tender bowels of compassion were opened unto them, in many sweet and gracious promises tendering forgiveness, and inviting to repentance; as here in this chapter, and whole prophecy, is shewed.

This brings us to the particular instance quoted in Hosea. The prophet was calling upon the wicked Ephraim to come to repentance:

What tribe so wicked, so full of idolatry and rebellion, as Ephraim? and yet here Ephraim and Israel are taught a lesson of repentance. As the tender nurse feeds her child, and puts meat in its mouth, so here the Lord puts words in the mouth of this rebellious people.

II.       The Elements of the Command

‘Take with you words, and turn unto the Lord.’

A.        Objection:

Having set forth the commandment of God, Sibbes addresses an objection. This objection is a common objection to prayer at all: Certainly we cannot be giving God information by means of prayer. Why then pray? The answer, in the very least, is we need the act of prayer for our own good. Prayer is then a means of grace for us – not a means of imparting information to God. 

Obj. What need God words, he knows our hearts before we speak unto him?

Ans. It is true: God needs no words, but we do, to stir up our hearts and affections; and because he will have us take shame unto ourselves, having given us our tongues as an instrument of glorifying him, he will have our ‘glory,’ Ps. 16:9;57:8, used in our petitions and thanksgivings. 

And therefore, in regard of ourselves, he will, as was said, have us take words unto ourselves, for exciting of the graces of God in us by words, blowing up of the affections, and for manifestation of the hidden man of the heart. God will be glorified by the outward, as well as by the inward man.

There is an interesting point in this last sentence, “manifestation of the hidden man of the heart.” Here is authenticity: but it is different than our post-Rousseau authenticity. Rather than starting with whatever is my current emotional state and then confirming that emotional state as my “authentic” self; Sibbes turns it around. The authenticate self, is the inner man of 2 Cor. 4:16: the self which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Col. 3:10. The “old self” of Romans 6, Colossians 3, and Ephesians 4 is the “us” without the renewing work of the Spirit. We are in the process of being renewed (Rom. 12:1-2). Our authenticate self is not the manner of living according to this age: and yet that is often the nature of our immediate response: our renewal being always incomplete in this world. Our authenticity is not the “former manner of life … corrupt through deceitful desires” (Eph. 4:22). What I am saying is that Rousseau “authenticate self” is the precise opposite of the manifestation of the inner man called for by Sibbes. And so, rather than our immediate response being an indication of our authenticity, it is our formed/reformed self made by prayer that is our true authentic self.

Edward Taylor, Meditation 32, Seventh Stanza


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Seventh Stanza

Thou to the cups dost say (that catch this wine)

This liquor, golden pipes, and wine-vats plain,

Whether Paul, Apollos, Cephas, all are thine.

Oh golden word! Lord speak it o’re again

Lord speak it home to me, say these are mine.

My bells shall then thy praises bravely chime.

Summary: The poem ends with the words of God to the poet: This grace you have received and more – “all [these things] are thine”. This final stanza breaks the form of the previous stanzas in that the prayer is found in the fourth & fifth lines, rather than the final couplet: Here he prays that God will repeat the promise, “all are thine.” It then ends with a final promise of future praise.


The image here is of one who bestows the feast: God speaks to the cups which hold this grace and he bids them continually be filled with grace. 

Indeed, the entire stanza is about speaking: And since it is God is speaking the words are efficacious (And God let there be light, etc.)

Thou to the cups dost SAY (that catch this wine)

This liquor, golden pipes, and wine-vats plain,

“Whether Paul, Apollos, Cephas, all are thine.”

Oh golden WORD! Lord SPEAK it o’re again

Lord SPEAK it home to me, SAY these are mine.

My bells shall then thy praises bravely CHIME.

This stanza is a plea for God to speak directly to Taylor, “Say, these are mine.”

But there is an interesting shift in the address of the first three lines of the stanza. Poet speaks to and of God speaking

You, God, say to the cups, “All [these things] are thine.” The cups are not something separate from the poet, he does not take up a cup: he is the cup. God blesses the cup – who is the poet – and says to him: All these things are yours.

So far, the emphasis in the poem has been on grace of salvation. But here the scope and breadth of that salvation is made plain: It is not a bare escape from hell but rather a great promise.

Now, there is something interesting in the section of the promise which Taylor selects, the three names Paul, Apollos, Cephas (Peter). In the passage selected, Paul has been speaking to the Corinthians concerning their fighting one-another under the banner of this or that preacher: Some say they follow Paul, some Apollos, I follow Peter. Paul explains that God does all the work and the ministers are merely those who serve God in his work. Immediately after the passage quoted by Taylor, Paul will go onto state that ministers are “stewards of the mysteries of God.” They are those delivering someone else’s property. 

Thomas Watson, an English Puritan and near contemporary of Taylor, gave this sense of the clause quoted by Taylor:  “Under these words, ‘Paul and Apollos,’ by a figure are comprehended all the ministers of Christ, the weakest as well as the eminentest. ‘Paul and Apollos are yours,’ viz. their labours are for edifying the church. They are the helpers of your faith; the parts of a minister are not given for himself, they are the church’s.” Thomas Watson, The Christian’s Charter of Privileges.

Taylor hiself was a minister. And while I have no idea of how he felt or thought upon the day this poem was drafted (beyond the poem itself), I could see some peculiar encouragement to a pastor in these words. God has redeemed Taylor – God has also given Taylor all things. He has given Taylor the work of other Christian ministers.

But God has also given Taylor for others in this particular capacity. 

And Taylor states that having received this grace from God, he will turn around praise this grace of God, As he hears these words over again, he will in turn chime the praise of God to others. Thus, in a manner, Taylor is taken up into the promise of Paul’s letter. 

This meditation being a preparation for the service which Taylor would lead for his congregation, this promise of “all things are thine” and the promise that he will praise God works out in the fact of Taylor’s ministry.

Moreover, the poem itself answers to this promise to praise God. By writing the poem, Taylor is in fact praising God.


The accents are interesting: I have marked the irregular lines:

THOU to the CUPS dost SAY (that CATCH this WINE)

This liquor, golden pipes, and wine-vats plain,

WHEther Paul, Apollos, Cephas, all are thine.



My bells shall then thy praises bravely chime.

The accents help to direct the attention of the speech. The first line of the stanza accents “Thou”: it gets attention and functions like a greeting. The fourth and fifth lines of the stanza are over-accented. Each word must be said separately and slowly which creates substantial emphasis. This makes sense, because they two lines are the petition of the prayer. The last line is part of the prayer, but it is a promise of future praise, not a request from God. 

The repetition of the phrase, “Lord speak” coupled with the strongly emphasized syllables creates an impassioned plea: Lord, say these words, give me assurance this is true: I know it is so, I just want to hear it again. This is the sort of intensity of the lover saying, “Say you love me again.” Or the pardoned criminal, “Say it again, I can hardly believe I have been freed.”

George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, 1.7


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Thirdly, Godliness must be made our principal business, our main work, because otherwise we shall lose our reward. 

He immediately proves up the point with a proverb. The proverb works because it notices a point which is incontrovertible. You read it and think, “Of course that is true.” He then applies the proverb to the instant situation:

We say, As good never a whit, as never the better. Piety without much pains will redound to little or no profit.

First, a look at the structure of these proverbs (the original and his applied version). The original proverb has two lines of six syllables, each which with begins with a comparative “As”. The word “never” is repeated in both lines. The word “good” is repeated as the comparative “better”. The second line contains a near rhyme: never-better.

As good never a whit

As never the better

The second proverb, coined by Swinnock, is slightly less compact. The two lines are of different length. The first line is seven syllables. The second, 10. The effect of the uneven lengths is to make the second an answer to the first. The primary musical effect comes from the alliterative “P” Piety pains profit, which are the primary points of his argument:

Piety without much pains

Will redound to little or no profit.

He provides a proverb, which although obscure to us would have been instantly understood in the 17th Century. Here are some examples of the same proverb:

William Gurnall (d. 1679)

The foolish virgins made as great a blaze with their lamps, and did expect as good a day when Christ should come, as the wise virgins; but, alas! their lamps are out before he appeared, and as good never a whit as never the better. The stony ground more forward than the best soil; the seed comes up immediately, as if a crop should soon have been reaped, but a few nipping frosts turn its hue, and the day of the harvest proves a day of desperate sorrow. All these instances and many more in Scripture do evince, that nothing short of solid grace, and a principle of divine life in the soul, will persevere. 

William Gurnall and John Campbell, The Christian in Complete Armour (London: Thomas Tegg, 1845), 186.

William Gouge (d 1653)

Unless this inward reverence and due respect of a husband be first placed in the heart of a wife, either no outward reverence and obedience will be performed at all, or if it be performed, it will be very unsound, only in shew, hypocritical and deceitful: so that as good never a whit as never the better. For according to ones inward affection and disposition will the outward action and conversation be framed.

Domestical Duties

Matthew Henry (d. 1714) on Jude 11:

Trees they are, for they are planted in the Lord’s vineyard, yet fruitless ones. Observe, Those whose fruit withereth may be justly said to be without fruit. As good never a whit as never the better. It is a sad thing when men seem to begin in the Spirit and end in the flesh, which is almost as common a case as it is an awful one. The text speaks of such as were twice dead.

He follows up the proverbial statement with an example: Why would you start that which you do not finish:

How foolish is that builder who, in setting up a house, hath been at much cost, and yet loseth all, because he will be at no further charge. Many ‘lose what they have wrought,’ 2 John 8. Their works, because not their business, are not perfect, and so to small purpose. ‘The slothful roasts not what he took in hunting,’ Prov. 12:27. He was at some labour to catch the beast, but was loath to be at any more in dressing it, and so all was lost; laboriousness to godliness is as the soul to the body, which, being separated from it, godliness dieth and quickly becomes unsavoury.

He then changes the course of the argument slightly: rather than the foolishness of stopping before receiving the benefit, he turns to the value of the end: great things are worth great effort. The of godliness is of worth surpassing effort; therefore, we should expend any and all effort to obtain that end. 

The reward of godliness is of infinite worth, the end of holiness (as of hope) is the salvation of the soul, the eternal and immediate enjoyment of God in heaven. Now, who can think to attain the place of such ravishing pleasures without much pains? Iter per angusta ad augusta.

He supports this contention from a number of angles. First, precious things are found only with great effort:

Things that are most delicate cannot be had without the greatest difficulty; they that will enjoy large diadems must run through many deaths and dangers, and use much diligence. Nature herself will not bestow her precious treasure without much unwearied labour. Dust and dirt lie common in streets, but the gold and silver mines are buried in the bowels of the earth, and they must work hard and dig deep that will come at them. Ordinary stones may be had in every quarry, but pearls are secret in the bottom of the sea, and they must dive low, and hazard their lives, that will fetch up the oysters in which they breed, and enjoy them.

Turning from stones to the “secrets” of nature, what we would not refer to as scientific discovery. New information requires new work:

When did we ever find nature so prodigal of her gifts, as to bestow skill and excellency in any art or science, without industry and diligence. Doth she not force her students to beat their brains, to waste their bodies, to break their sleep, to burn up their strength, before she will permit them to pry into her secrets, to pick the lock of her curious cabinet, and gain any considerable knowledge of her wealth and richness? 

Then analogy: if it is so in nature, how much more with God:

And can we think the God of nature will give men to know him, as they are known of him—will bestow on them the unspeakable gift, the pearl of price, the Holy of holies, such things as eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither man’s heart conceived, while they lie lazying on the bed of idleness?

Mountains as symbols of achieving the divine:

Heaven is not unfitly compared to a hill; among heathens to Olympus, among Christians to Mount Zion. They that will climb up to it must pant and blow and sweat for it. 

At this point, Swinnock wishes to make a point about Elijah in a chariot of fire. However, he pauses to make this aside which does not advance his argument. It is a fine paragraph, but would be the sort of thing cut by an editor:

Elijah’s translation to the place of bliss was much more speedy and facile than ordinary. We see no panting heart, no trembling hands, no quivering lips, no ghastly looks to be the forerunners of his passage into eternal life. Where the union is near and natural, there the separation is hard and painful, but behold here the marriage-knot betwixt body and soul is not untied. Those loving relations, like husband and wife, ride triumphantly together in a stately chariot to the heavenly court; yet even in this rapture God would teach us that the virgin inheritance must be ravished: ‘There appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven,’ 2 Kings 2:11

Here is the point which Swinnock wished to raise concerning Elijah, as a word-picture of effort to obtain heavenly ends:

Why a chariot of fire, but to note that heaven must be stormed and taken by force. Fire is the most active inanimate creature; hereby is figured that laborious action is the way to the beatifical vision. The chariot is made of fire, the wheels upon which it runs are a whirlwind. Activeness and violence are the only way to the blessed inheritance. 

Having given his word-picture, Swinnock turns to the proposition. This matter of taking heaven by force was a theme emphasized in 17th Century English Puritans (and it is a matter which I cannot recall being raised in this way except in passing among my contemporaries; I cannot recall preaching on this particular theme myself). Thomas Watson published, The Christian Soldier or Heaven Taken by Taking Storm.

For instance Richard Sibbes preached a sermon “Victorious Violence” which contains this doctrine: “Doct. The violent, and only the violent, and all the violent, do at length certainly obtain what they strive for, the kingdom of heaven.” He then elaborates on that point in a manner which is consistent with Swinnock’s theme here, “And again, Only the violent, because only they can prize it when they have it. They only can prize grace and heaven. They know how they come by it. It cost them their pleasures and profits, it cost them labour, and danger, and loss of favour with men; and this pains, and cost, and loss, it endears the state of grace and glory to them; for God will never bring any man to heaven till he have raised his affections to that pitch, to value grace and glory above all things in the world. Therefore only those shall take it by violence; for only those shew that they set a right price on the best things. They weigh them ‘in the balance of the sanctuary,’ Dan. 5:27. They value things as God would have them valued.”

Many more examples could be given:

Whoever entered into heaven with ease? They that will be knighted must kneel for it; they that will wear the crown must win it. ‘A man is not crowned except he strive lawfully,’ that is, strenuously, 2 Tim. 2:5. He that will be saved must ‘work out his salvation, and that with fear and trembling,’ Phil. 2.

Christ, who first bought the purchase, hath already set the price upon which, and no other, the sons of men may come to the possession. There is, indeed, a twofold price of a thing, a natural price, when so much is laid down as is commensurate or proportionable to the thing bought; so the price of heaven was the blood of Christ, Heb. 10:19.

This point is rather out of step with the purpose-driven life theology, or the (near) universalist theology which forms much of contemporary Christianity:

A pactional price [the price according to contract, a “pact”], when so much is laid down, (though inferior to the commodity,) upon which the seller is contented that you enjoy the thing desired; so labour, knocking, working, is the price of heaven, Isa. 55:3. This price is made of man’s future felicity, and Christ is resolved not to abate the least farthing. 

‘Strive,’ saith he, ‘to enter in at the strait gate; for many will seek to enter in, and shall not be able,’ Luke 13:24. As if he had said, There will be many seekers, many that will both cheapen heaven by a profession, and bid somewhat by performances, but they shall miss the place for want of more pains; ‘they shall not be able.’ If ye, therefore, have any love to your souls, be not only seekers but strivers; do not only cheapen and offer a little, but come up to the price. Put forth all your strength, as wrestlers do that strive for masteries, as ever you would enjoy those eternal pleasures. Men were as good bid nothing, as not come up to the seller’s price.

‘All run in a race, but one receiveth the prize; so run that ye may obtain,’2 1 Cor. 9:24. They that intend for the crown do beforehand diet themselves, breathe their bodies, and when they run for the conquest, strive and stretch themselves to the utmost; he that loitereth, is as sure to lose as if he sat still.

Now a question arises: How does this doctrine of striving square with salvation by grace through faith? Is this merely making a works-righteousness argument? Swinnock solves this by speaking of the nature of faith. He does not articulate this difficulty well, but it is apparent in this explanation: True faith, which lays hold of salvation, is not a vague assent that a thing may be true. To ‘believe’ unto salvation is not come to the conclusion that it is 51% likely that Jesus rose from the dead. True faith is a life-changing event. We can see this when we look at the various groups who “believed” Jesus mentioned in John’s Gospel, who soon went away. True faith flows out in a manner of life (however imperfectly lived). It is not merely putting a bucket down into a well, it is also drawing it up (which would take far more effort):

The lazy world, because Christ sends chapmen [merchant] up and down with his wares, to offer them to every house, to every heart, think to have them at their own ordinary rates: but they shall find that grace, which is many degrees short of glory, is not to be had by sloth and idleness; there must be lifting up the heart, lending the ears, seeking, searching, begging, digging, attention of the outward, intention of the inward man, before men can ‘understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God,’ Prov. 2:3–5. Though it be easy to let the bucket into the well, yet it is hot work and hard labour to draw water out of the well of salvation. The laborious bee only is laden with honey.

Richard Sibbes answers this same question in a slightly different manner:

“Obj. But is not the kingdom of heaven and grace free? Therefore what needs violence to a thing that is free, and freely offered?

Ans. I answer, Because it is free, therefore it is violently taken. For, alas! if it were offered to us upon condition of our exact performing of the law, it might damp the spirits of men, as indeed usually such, if they be not better informed, they end their days in despair. But being freely offered, ‘the publicans and harlots,’ saith Christ, ‘go into the kingdom of God before the proud Pharisees,’ Mat. 21:31. Because it is free, it is free to sinners that feel the burden of their sins. ‘Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden,’ &c., Mat. 11:28. ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: they shall be satisfied,’ Mat. 5:3–6. Thereupon he that hath a guilty conscience, he makes haste, and offers violence, when he hears of free pardon. What makes the condition of the devils so desperate? There is no hope of free pardon to them. What makes men so eagerly to embrace the gospel, notwithstanding their sins? Because it is freely offered. Thereupon it was that the Gentiles were so glad of it, that had been sinners and under Satan’s kingdom before; and that makes miserable persons, that are humbled with afflictions and abasement in the world, glad of it—it being so great a thing, the kingdom of heaven, the favour of God, and freedom from misery, and so freely offered. It is so far from hindering violence because it is free, that therefore the humble afflicted souls that desire grace are the more eager after it. The proud Pharisees thought the kingdom of heaven belonged only to them; and therefore they despised Christ, and despised the gospel, because it was propounded to sinners, and to such mean persons that they thought were viler than themselves. But now when the meaner sort of people, and others that were abased with crosses in the world, saw what a kind of gospel it was, what great matters were offered, and that it was offered freely, they justified wisdom, Mat. 11:19, and the counsel of God which others despised, and pressed for it with violence, Luke 7:29, 30.

“….Therefore when he saith, ‘the violent take it by force,’ it is to encourage us. The violent, eager, strong endeavours of a Christian in the ways of God, in the means of salvation, they are no successless endeavours.”

I remember a song when I was a child, “you can’t get to heaven in a rocking chair.” It’s a silly song, but it at this point makes the same general point which Swinnock makes with more care:

‘The desire of the slothful killeth him, because his hands refuse to labour,’ Prov. 21:5. He is full of wishing, but far from working. As the cat, he would fain have the fish, but is unwilling to wet his feet; his desires are destitute of suitable endeavours, and therefore rather harm him than help him. Like Ishbosheth, he lazieth on his bed till he is deprived of his life. He thinketh to be hurried in haste to heaven, to be carried as passengers in a ship, asleep in their cabins to their haven, but is all the while in a deceitful dream. There is no going to those heavens where Christ is in his glory, as the sick man came to the house where Christ was in his estate of ignominy, let down in a bed.

He now concludes this portion of his argument (that we must exert true effort in godliness if we will receive our end) as he began, with a series of epigrams:

He that will be but almost a Christian, must be content to go but almost to heaven.

Idleness is the burial of our persons, and negligence is the burial of our actions. 

Writing on the sand is easy, but soon worn out, it is marred with a small breath of wind; but writing on marble, as it is more permanent, so it costeth more pains. 

An idle servant is in God’s esteem an evil servant; 

he doth not distinguish betwixt a slothful and an unfaithful man: his word tells us that he hath bonds for those hands that are folded in the bosom, when they should be working for a blessing; 

that he hath fetters for those feet that stand still, and stick fast in the mire and mud of sinful pleasures, when they should be running the way of his precepts; nay, that he hath utter darkness for them that will not walk and work while they enjoy the light, Mat. 25:2630. He that takes his ease in this world must travel in the next.

At this point, he changes the argument slightly and answers the question: What difficulty lies in the way of godliness? Why must we expend such efforts?

Two things shew a necessity that godliness must be made our business, if ever we would make anything of it.

These are (1) the opposition we will meet; and (2) the greatness of the work to be done. First the opposition: the Flesh, the World, and the Devil. In his exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, Peter Abelard wrote, “Tria autem sunt quae nos tentant, caro, mundus, diabolus.” This theological truism lies behind Swinnock’s discussion of the opposition we will meet in this world

First, Because of the opposition we meet with in the way of religion. 

He supports this general proposition with a pair of word-pictures: difficulty at sea and difficulty on land:

When the wind and tide are both with the mariner, he may hoist up his sail and sit still, but when both are against him, he must row hard, or never think to come to his haven. 

The way to heaven is like Jonathan’s passage against the Philistines, betwixt two rocks,—the one Bozez, dirty; the other Seneb, thorny; the men of the world will be ever diligent, either with dirt to bespatter their credits, or with thorns to wound and pierce their consciences, that walk in this path; he must therefore have a mind well resolved to take pains, and his feet well shod with patience, that will go this way to paradise. 

First, the world:

The way of this world is like the vale of Siddim, slimy and slippery, full of lime-pits and stumbling-blocks to maim or mischief us. Saints are princes in all lands; but as princes that pass through a country in disguise meet with many affronts, so do Christians.

Second, the Devil:

The flesh is like bird-lime, which, when the spirit would at any time mount up to heaven with the wings of faith and meditation, hampers and hinders it; it is the holy soul’s prison, wherein it is fettered and fastened, that it cannot, as it would, walk at liberty, and seek God’s precepts. 

Third, the Devil. He will develop this theme at greater length than the first two:

The devil, both a serpent for craft and a lion for cruelty, doth, out of his hatred to God, make it his constant business by his power and policy to hinder godliness. As the panther, because he cannot come at the person, he tears the picture wherever he finds it: ‘We wrestle not with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers,’ Eph. 6:12.

While Satan reigneth in a creature, all may be quiet and calm; but if he be once cast out, he will rage and roar to purpose. 

He then proves up this point with examples from examples from Scripture: Israel, Christ, the Church:

[Israel] While Israel serveth the Egyptians, carrying their crosses, bearing their burdens, doing their drudgery, all is well; but when once they shake off Pharaoh’s yoke, turn their backs upon Egypt, and set out for Canaan, with what force and fury are they pursued to be brought back to their former bondage! 

[Christ] Christ was no sooner baptized than buffeted; he went, as it were, out of the water of baptism into the fire of temptation. And if the prince were all his time persecuted, his subjects must not expect to be wholly privileged. The cross is tied as a tag to the profession of Christianity, Mat. 10:30

When he comes to the Church, he notes that the Church must follow in the suffering of Christ:

One article in the indenture which all apprentices must seal to, that will call Christ master, is to bear the cross daily, Mat. 16. The saints are as vessels floating on the waters of Meribah, where (omne quod flat aquilo est, as Tertullian saith of Pontus) no wind blows but what is sharp and keen. 

The Hebrews were no sooner ‘enlightened’ to their conversion, but they ‘endured a sharp fight of affliction;’ their lightning was accompanied with a grievous storm, Heb. 10:32

Having provided his examples and proofs, Swinnock returns to the general proposition. This is a very effective way to teach: Proposition, illustration, proof, repeat and restate proposition:

Holiness is usually followed with much hatred and hardship. The enemies of man’s salvation are impudent and incessant, ever raging, never resting. 

What the Carthaginian commander said of Marcellus, may be truly spoken by us in regard of them, That we have to do with those who will never be quiet, either conquerors or conquered; but conquerors they will pursue their victory to the utmost, and conquered, labour to recover their loss. 

He then adds a final note on Satan:

Satan especially is both wrathful and watchful to undermine souls.

He is fitly called Beelzebub, the master-fly, because as a fly he quickly returns to the bait from which he was but now beaten. Though emperors may turn Christians, saith Austin, yet the devils will not.

Here he answers an implied question: Will it really be this difficult? Often in Puritan works this would be marked explicitly as an “objection”. Swinnock does not provide a specific title of “objection”, but he does answer the question which someone may have at the end of a section of argument:

Doth not this fully speak the necessity of making godliness our business? Can such difficulties be conquered without much diligence? Who can eat his way, like Hannibal, through such Alps of opposition without hot water and hard work? 

If, like Samson, we would break all these cords of opposition in sunder, we must awake out of sleep, and put forth all our strength. 

He here returns in a related manner to the question of taking heaven by force. But rather than emphasizing storming heaven, he here uses the image to speak of fighting our way through the hazards.

Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress gives this picture:

Then the Interpreter took him, and led him up towards the door of the palace; and behold, at the door stood a great company of men, as desirous to go in, but durst not. There also sat a man at a little distance from the door, at a table-side, with a book and his inkhorn before him, to take the names of them that should enter therein; he saw also that in the doorway stood many men in armor to keep it, being resolved to do to the men that would enter, what hurt and mischief they could. Now was Christian somewhat in amaze. At last, when every man started back for fear of the armed men, Christian saw a man of a very stout countenance come up to the man that sat there to write, saying, “Set down my name, sir;” the which when he had done, he saw the man draw his sword, and put a helmet on his head, and rush towards the door upon the armed men, who laid upon him with deadly force; but the man, not at all discouraged, fell to cutting and hacking most fiercely. So after he had received and given many wounds to those that attempted to keep him out, Matt. 11:12; Acts 14:22; he cut his way through them all, and pressed forward into the palace; at which there was a pleasant voice heard from those that were within, even of those that walked upon the top of the palace, saying,

“Come in, come in,

Eternal glory thou shalt win.”

So he went in, and was clothed with such garments as they. Then Christian smiled, and said, I think verily I know the meaning of this:

Saints are all called to be soldiers; our whole life is a warfare, ‘All the days of my appointed time,’ Job 14:14; an expositor reads it, ‘All the days of my warfare I will wait till my change come.’ 

The soldier’s life is no lazy life; armies are wholly for action, especially when they deal with such subtle strong adversaries, that assault them day and night without ceasing. Who can conquer three such mighty monarchs as flesh, world, and devil are, or force his way through their temptations and suggestions, unless he fight in earnest, and make it his business? 

That fire, if ever any, had need to be hot, that must melt and overcome such hard metal; and that hand, if ever any, had need to work hard, that will remove and level such high mountains. If the silly hare, pursued by such a pack of hounds, offer once to stand still or lie down, she is sure to be torn in pieces and devoured. 

There is a time, saith the holy bishop, when kings go not forth to warfare; our spiritual war admits no intermission, it knows no night, no winter; abides no peace, no truce; this calls us not into garrison, where we may have ease and respite, but into pitched fields continually; we see our enemies in the face always, and are always seen and assaulted; ever resisting, ever defending, receiving, and returning blows; if either we be negligent or weary, we die. 

He gives a final warning:

We can never have safety and peace but in victory; there must our resistance be courageous and constant, where both yielding is death, and all treaties of peace mortal.

The second reason that godliness requires such extraordinary effort: it comprises the whole of life. It would be an easier matter if God required some rite or sacrifice which could be paid and segregated from the remainder of life. But the question of godliness something which can be compartmentalized: it entails the whole of one’s life:

Secondly, There is a necessity of making it our main work, because of the multiplicity of business that is incumbent on every Christian. That stream had need to run freely, and with full force, that must be divided into many channels. That estate had need to be large, that must be parted among many children. 

Note how Swinnock turns the abstraction – duties – into a picture: wading, mocking:

Who can count the variety of works that every Christian must be engaged in? how many dangers he must wade through? how many snares must he avoid? how many taunts and mocks must he abide? how many temptations must he conquer? how many graces must he exercise? how many lusts must he mortify? how many duties must he perform? 

Every relation, every condition calls for answerable duty and diligence; every ordinance must be improved by him, every providence must be sanctified to him. Mercies must, like a ladder, mount him nearer to heaven; misery must, like the famine to the prodigal, force him to hasten to his father’s house. 

Having said that it is every relation, he then specifies relations to make the point clear:

His wife, his children, his servants, his neighbours, his friends, his enemies, his shop, his closets, his visits, his journeys, do all require suitable service; and who can perform it that is not diligent and sedulous?

His “religious” duties:

Consider him in reference to God’s immediate worship; he must pray, hear, read, meditate, watch, fast, sanctify sabbaths, sing psalms, receive the sacrament, and in all walk humbly, reverently, and uprightly with his God. 

The protestant work-ethic entails specific duty to those who have less and have honesty in all his dealings:

Consider him in reference to poor men; he must love mercy, and supply their necessities according to his ability, and not, like a muck-heap, good for nothing till carried forth; whatever men he deals with, he must do justly, love his neighbour as himself, and as God gives him opportunity, provoke them to mind grace and sanctity; as musk, perfume, if possible, all that he comes near. 

Godliness entails one’s internal psychological state:

Consider him in reference to himself; he must live soberly, vigilantly; his heart is like a subtle, sturdy thief, ever seeking to break the jail, and therefore must have a strong guard; his corrupt nature is like fire, and his whole man like thatch, and therefore he must keep a narrow watch; his senses are the outworks, which Satan is ever assaulting, by them to gain the royal fort of the soul, that he must defend them with care and courage day and night. What is said of the husbandman, is true of every Christian. 

It is comprehensive. Notice how he applies godliness to the most mundane, even earthy- of labors: dunging a field, weeding a field:

His work is never at an end; the end of one work is but the beginning of another; he must always be employed, either in dunging, dressing, ploughing, sowing, harrowing, weeding, or reaping his ground; he hath no leisure to be idle and lazy, who hath so much work lying upon his hand. 

He hear turns to two historical examples as illustrations, which he sums up with pithy sayings:

Seneca thought philosophy cut him out so much work, that he was necessitated to spend every day, and part of the nights, in making it up. Christianity, a nobler mistress, as she gives better wages, so she commands greater work; that her servants may say well with the emperor, Let no day pass without a line; and with Solomon’s housewife, not let their candle go out by night, Prov. 30.

The French Duke d’Alva could say, when he was asked by Henry the Fourth whether he had seen the eclipse of the sun, that he had so much business to do upon earth, that he had no time to look up to heaven. 

Sure I am, the Christian may say with more truth and conscience, That he hath so much business to do for heaven, that he hath no time to mind vain or earthly things. 

Here is his final exhortation, which I have broken out into phrase to better see the structure. 

That servant who doth 

ponder the strictness of his master, 

consider the shortness of his time, 

conceive the largeness of his task, 

and believe the weightiness of his work, 

            how it must be done, 

                        or he is undone for ever, 

will be easily convinced 

that it very nearly concerns him, 

that it highly behoves him, 

            to shake off sloth and sluggishness, 

            to gird up the loins of his mind, 

            to give it the precedency in all his actions, 

            to pursue it with industry against all opposition, 

            to persevere in it with constancy to his dissolution, 

and, in a word, 

            to make it

                        his main business, 

                        his principal work.

2 Sic notat diligentiam et celeritatem.—Cor. A Lapid.

Richard Sibbes, The Backsliding Sinner, 1.2


, , ,

The structure of the remaining argument in this sermon runs as follows:

Proposition: You must stop before you can return. What then is it to stop?

A.  What are the basic elements of stopping?

1.  There are three general elements of stopping

a.  Examination

b.  Humiliation

c.  Resolution

2.  How do I know if I have begun the work of repentance?

a. What is the “frame” of your mind?

b. Has you conduct changed?

c.  With whom are you “associated”/

d. Do you treasure heavenly things? 

Proposition: Many fail in this task, because they do not turn toward God. 

A. Implied issue, why would someone turn to God

1. Some fail to return because they think God is being unjust toward them.

2. Some do not see the blessing of turning to God.

3. Some may fear that they will not gain the blessing of returning to God.

Proposition: Pray for Repentance

An objection answered.


A. A rebuke for those who do not repent.

B. The blame of those who do not repent.

C. Consolation to those who will repent.

To make this stop, then (which is always before returning).

1. There must be examination and consideration whither our ways tend. 

What are the reasons to cease a life of sin (as Sibbes writes, “stopping considerations”)?

There be stopping considerations, which both waken a man and likewise put rubs in his way; if a man, upon examination, find his ways displeasing unto God, disagreeing from the rule, and consider what will be the end and issue of them (nothing but death and damnation), and withal consider of the day of judgment, the hour of death, the all-seeing eye of God, and the like. 

Sibbes here restates the “stopping considerations” by making reference to the arguments made earlier in Hosea: God has been good to Israel, despite their sin. God will also bring judgment on an erring Israel to bring it to repentance:

So the consideration of a man’s own ways, and of God’s ways towards him, partly when God meets him with goodness;—I have hitherto been a vile wretch, and God hath been good to me, and spared me;—and partly when God stops a wicked man’s ways with thorns, meets him with crosses and afflictions. These will work upon an ingenious* spirit, to make him have better thoughts and deeper considerations of true happiness, and the way unto it. God puts into the heart of a man, whom he intends to save, serious and sad considerations, what estate he is in, whither his course leads; and withal he lets them feel some displeasure of his, towards them, in those ways, by his ways towards them; whereupon they make a stop.

We must have the right affections to turn: a loathing of sin and a desire for reconciliation: 

2. There must be humiliation, with displeasure against ourselves, judging and taking revenge of ourselves, working and reflecting on our hearts, taking shame to ourselves for our ways and courses; and withal, there must concur some hope of mercy. For so long as there is hue and cry, as we say, after a traitor, he returns not, but flies still and hastes away; but offer a pardon, and he returneth. So, unless there be hope of pardon, to draw a man again to God, as the prodigal was moved to return by hope of mercy and favour from his father, Luke 15:18, we will not, we dare not else return.

We must the will to return:

3. There must be a resolution to overcome impediments. For when a man thinks or resolves to turn to God, Satan will stir up all his instruments, and labour to kill Christ in his infancy, and to quench good while it is in the purpose only. The dragon stood watching for the birth of the child, Rev. 12:4; so doth Satan observe the birth of every good resolution and purpose, so far as he can know them, to destroy them.

How will I know if I have ceased in sin? What is it to stop and return? Four points.

Use. Let it be thought of by us in all our distresses, and in whatsoever other evidences of God’s anger, whether this means have been taken up by us. It will be thus known.

In these things note that the fruit of repentance, the evidence and outworking of it is “good works”. The good works are not performed so that one may obtain pardon, but they come about as the natural outgrowth of true repentance. We could consider this under the parallel consideration that we are justified by faith in Christ not on the basis of works; but that our faith such faith leads necessarily to good works. Faith without works is dead.

[1.] Turning is a change of the posture of the body; so is this of the frame of the mind. By this we know a man is in a state of turning. The look of his intentions, purposes, the whole bent of his soul is set another way, even upon God; and his word is the star of direction towards which he bends all his thoughts.

[2.] His present actions, also, be contrary to his former. There is not only a change of the disposition of his soul, ‘Behold all things are become new;’ not some things, but all; not only ‘new,’ but with a ‘behold’ new, 2 Cor. 5:17. This change undoubtedly sheweth that there is a true conversion and unfeigned.

[3.] By our association. He that turns to God, turns presently to the company of God’s people. Together with the change of his nature and course of life, there is a change of company; that is, of such as we make choice of for amity and friendship, Isa. 11:10seq. Other company, by reason of our callings, and occasionally, may be frequented.

This is an interesting point: If we are truly turned from sin that our relationship to all things will be different. While it is not cited here by Sibbes, the argument of Paul in Philippians three seems apt: I forget what is behind, and I press on to what lies ahead: my goal is beyond here and now.

[4.] It is a sign that one is not only turned, but hath gone backwards from sin a great way, when the things of heaven only are great things in his eyes. For, as the further a man goeth from a place, the lesser the things behind him seem, so the greater the things before, he being nearer to them. The more sublime and high thoughts a man hath of the ways of God, and the meaner thoughts of the world and worldly matters he esteemed so highly of in the days of his vanity, the more he is turned unto God.

Note the insistence: it is not beginning but ending the piligrim which is decisive: 

This returning is further enforced, saying, ‘Return unto the Lord thy God.’

It is very emphatical and significant in the original. Return, usque ad Jehovam, even to Jehovah, as though he should say, Do not only begin to return towards Jehovah, but so return as you never cease coming till you come to Jehovah.

‘Even unto the Lord thy God.’

Proposition: Many fail in this task, because they do not turn toward God. Four points: (a) the example of the prodigal son; (b) the example of Pentecost; (c ) the offer of Christ; and (d) we must be turned to Christ if we are ever to leave off sin.

It is not enough to make a stop, and forbear the practising of our former sins; but we must come home, even unto the Lord our God, to be pardoned and healed of him.

a. The prodigal son had been never a whit the better to see his sin and misery, and to be grieved for his wicked life past, unless he had come unto his father for pardon and comfort, Luke 15:20

b. And when those were pricked in their hearts at Peter’s sermon, asking Peter ‘what they should do?’ he exhorted them, ‘To repent, every one to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and so they should receive the Holy Ghost,’ Acts 2:38.

c. And when Christ invites all those who ‘are weary and heavy laden to come unto him,’ Mat. 11:28, he bids them not now be further humbled and grieved for their sins, but by faith to come unto him to be healed, and so they should find rest and peace to their souls. 

d. It is not sufficient for a wounded man to be sorry for his brawling and fighting, and to say, he will fight no more; but he must come to the surgeon to have his wounds stopped, dressed, and healed, or else it may cost him his life. So it is not enough to be humbled and grieved for sin, and to resolve against it. We shall relapse again, do what we can, unless we come under the wing of Christ, to be healed by his blood.

A. Implied issue, why would someone turn to God

Use. Many think they have repented, and are deceived upon this false ground. They are and have been grieved for their sins and offences; are determined to leave and forsake them, and that is all they do. They never lay hold on Christ, and come home to God.

‘For thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.’

Here divers points might be insisted on.

1. That where there is a falling into sin, there will be a falling into misery and judgment.

This is made good in the experience of all times, ages, persons, and states. Still the more sinful any were, the more fearful judgments fell upon them; and as soon as any man came into a sinful state, he entered into a declining state; as Jacob said of his son Reuben, who had defiled his bed, ‘Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to thy father’s bed,’ Gen. 49:4. So sin still debaseth a man. So much sin, so much loss of excellency.

The use hereof is,

Some may not turn to Christ, because they do not believe God has been fair to them.

First, against those that complain of their troubles and miseries, as though God and men had dealt hardly with them; whereas their own ways, indeed, have brought all these evils upon them, Lam. 3:39

We are not adequate judges of God’s conduct. God is wiser than we are and always does right:

God is a sufficient, wise, and holy disposer and orderer of all the ways of men, and rewarder of good and evil doings. God being wise and just in his disposing of all things, it must needs follow, that it shall go well with those that are good; as the prophet speaks, ‘Say unto the just, that it shall be well with them, for the reward of their works shall be given them,’ Isa. 3:10. And if it fall out otherwise than well with men, the blame must be laid on their own sin. As the church confesseth, and therefore resolveth, ‘I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause, and execute judgment for me; he will bring me forth in the light, and I shall see his righteousness,’ Micah 7:9. If Adam sin, he shall find a hell in a paradise. If Paul return, and return to God, he shall find a heaven in a dungeon.

Some do not repent, because they do not realize the damage of unrepentant sin.

Secondly, It should move us therefore to seek unto God by unfeigned repentance, to have our sins taken away and pardoned; or else, however we may change our plagues, yet they shall not be taken away; nay, we shall still, like Pharoah, change for the worst; who, though he had his judgments changed, yet sin, the cause, remaining, he was never a whit the better, but the worse, for changing, until his final ruin came.

‘The wages of sin is death,’ Rom. 6:23. Sin will cry till it hath its wages. Where iniquity is, there cannot but be falling into judgment. 

Therefore they are cruel to their own souls that walk in evil ways; for undoubtedly God will turn their own ways upon their own heads. 

We should not therefore envy any man, be he what he will, who goeth on in ill courses, seeing some judgment is owing him first or last, unless he stop the current of God’s wrath by repentance. God, in much mercy, hath set up a court in our hearts to this end, that, if we judge ourselves in this inferior court, we may escape, and not be brought up into the higher. 

If first they be judged rightly in the inferior court, then there needs no review. But otherwise, if we by repentance take not up the matter, sin must be judged somewhere, either in the tribunal of the heart and conscience, or else afterwards there must be a reckoning for it.

Some do not repent, because they do not believe that they will obtain the blessing of repentance.

Thirdly, Hence we learn, since the cause of every man’s misery is his own sin, that therefore all the power of the world, and of hell, cannot keep a man in misery, nor hinder him from comfort and happiness, if he will part with his sins by true and unfeigned repentance.

To prove this point he begins with the most notorious King of Judah: Manasseh. 

As we know, Manasseh, as soon as he put away sin, the Lord had mercy upon him, and turned his captivity, 2 Chron. 33:1213. So the people of Israel, in the Judges. Look how often they were humbled and returned to God, still he forgave them all their sins. As soon as they put away sin, God and they met again. So that, if we come to Christ by true repentance, neither sin nor punishment can cleave to us, Ps. 106:4344107:19.

What could possibly cause someone to not see the goodness of God in repentance? Because sin makes one blind:

‘Thou hast fallen,’ &c. Fallen blindly, as it were. Thou couldst not see which way thou wentest, or to what end thy courses did tend. Therefore thou art come into misery before thou knowest where thou art. A sinner is blind, ‘The god of this world hath put out his eyes,’ 2 Cor. 4:4. They see not their way, nor foresee their success. The devil is ever for our falling. That we fall into sin, and then fall into misery, and so fall into despair, and into hell, this pleaseth him. ‘Cast thyself down,’ saith he to Christ, Mat. 4:6. ‘Down with it, down with it,’ saith Edom, Ps. 137:7. Hell is beneath. The devil drives all that way.

Proposition: Pray for Repentance

Use. Take heed of sin! take heed of blindness! Ponder the path of your feet! keep your thoughts heavenward! stop the beginnings, the first stumblings! pray to God to make our way plain before us, and not to lead us into temptation!

He derives a command to pray from the clause, “take words with you.”

‘Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say unto him,’ &c., ver. 2.

These Israelites were but a rude people, and had not so good means to thrive in grace as Judah had. Therefore he prompts them here with such words as they might use to God in their returning. 

This instruction to pray is a gracious act of God:

‘Take with you words,’ whereby we see how gracious God is unto us in using such helps for our recovery, and pitying us more than we pity ourselves. Is not this a sufficient warrant and invitation to return, when the party offended, who is the superior, desires, entreats, and sues unto the offending, guilty inferior, to be reconciled?’ 2 Cor. 5:5.

God not merely gives instruction in prayer, but he also gives help to pray:

But this is not all. He further sheweth his willingness in teaching us, who are ignorant of the way, in what manner and with what expressions we should return to the Lord. He giveth us not only words, and tells us what we shall say, but also giveth his Spirit so effectually therewith, as that they shall not be lifeless and dead words, but ‘with unexpressible sighs and groans unto God,’ Rom. 8:26, who heareth the requests of his own Spirit. Christ likewise teacheth us how to pray. We have words dictated, and a spirit of prayer poured upon us; as if a great person should dictate and frame a petition for one who were afraid to speak unto him. Such is God’s graciousness; and so ready is he in Jesus Christ to receive sinners unto mercy.

Our prayer of repentance is our offering to God:

‘Take unto you words.’ None were to appear empty before the Lord at Jerusalem, but were to bring something. So it is with us. We must not appear empty before our God. If we can bring nothing else, let us bring words; yea, though broken words, yet if out of a broken and contrite heart, it will be a sacrifice acceptable.

Since God has prescribed the remedy of prayer, it must be effective:

This same taking of words or petitions, in all our troubles and afflictions, must needs be a special remedy, it being of God’s own prescription, who is so infinite in knowledge and skill. 

Having made these observations, he draws the following conclusion:

Whence we observe, that

They who would have help and comfort against all sins and sorrows, must come to God with words of prayer.

He gives five examples to prove the point: (a) Jonah, (b) the prodigal son, (c) Hezekiah, (d) Jehoshaphat, (e) Elijah

As we see in Jonah’s case, in a matchless distress, words were inforcive [That is, ‘prevailing, or invested with a power of enforcing.’]  and did him more good than all the world besides could. For after that he had been humbled, and prayed out of the whale’s belly, the whale was forced to cast him out again, Jonah 2:10

So the prodigal son being undone, having neither credit nor coin, but all in a manner against him, yet he had words left him: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants,’ Luke 15:18seq. After which, his father had compassion on him. 

(b) And good Hezekiah, being desperately sick of a desperate disease, yet when he set his faith a-work, and took with him words, which comfort only now was left unto him, we know how after he had turned his face towards the wall, and prayed with words, God not only healed him of that dangerous disease, but also wrought a great miracle for his sake, causing the sun to come back ten degrees, Isa. 38:28.

(c) Thus, when life seemed impossible, yet words, prayers, and tears prevailed with God. Jehoshaphat, also, going to war with Ahab, against God’s commandment, and in the battle, being encompassed with enemies, yet had words with him ready, and after prayer found deliverance, 1 Kings 22:32

(d) Elijah, likewise, after a great drowth and famine, when rain had been three years wanting, and all in a manner out of frame for a long time, ‘took with him words,’ James 5:18; and God sent rain abundantly upon the earth again.

(e) The reason is, because prayer sets God on work; and God, who is able and willing to go through with his works, sets all the creatures on work, Hos. 2:2122. As we heard of Elijah, when he prayed for rain, the creatures were set a-work to effect it, 1 Kings 18:45seq.

He then addresses an objection someone might have to the examples: The implied issue is “what if I repent too late?” I have heard evangelistic sermons which say there is a fit time of repentance, and that if you do not repent right now a future repentance may be ineffective. Sibbes rejects that argument: a true repentance is always timely.

Obj. Where it may be objected, Oh, but rain might come too late in that hot country, where all the roots and herbs might be withered and dried up in three years’ space.

Ans. Yet all was well again. The land brought forth her increase as formerly. For faithful prayer never comes too late, because God can never come too late. If our prayers come to him, we shall find him come to us. Jehoshaphat, we read, was in great distress when three kings came against him; yet when he went to God by unfeigned and hearty fasting and prayer, God heard him, fought for him, and destroyed all his enemies, 2 Chron. 20:3seq. The Scripture sheweth, also, how after Hezekiah’s prayer against Sennacherib’s blasphemies and threatenings, the Lord sent forth his angel, and destroyed in one night a hundred fourscore and five thousand of the Assyrians, 2 Chron. 32:21seq.


Use 1. This is, first, for reproof of those who, in their distresses, set their wit, wealth, friends, and all a-work, but never set God a-work, 

Ponder anew, what the Almighty can do, If with his love he befriend thee. Examples from Hezekiah and Asa:

as Hezekiah did in Sennacherib’s case. The first time he turned him off to his cost, with enduring a heavy taxation, and yet was never a whit the better for it, 2 Kings 18:15seq.; for Sennacherib came shortly after and besieged Jerusalem, until Hezekiah had humbled himself and prayed; and then God chased all away and destroyed them. He had better have done so at first, and so saved his money and pains, too. 

The like weakness we have a proof of in Asa, who, when a greater army came against him of ten hundred thousand men, laid about him, prayed and trusted in God, and so was delivered, with the destruction of his enemies, 2 Chron. 14:11, yet in a lesser danger, 2 Chron. 16:2, against Baasha, king of Israel, distrusted God, and sent out the treasures of the house of God and of his own house unto Benhadad, king of Syria, to have help of him, by a diverting war against Baasha, king of Israel, which his plot, though it prospered, yet was he reproved by the prophet Hanani, and wars thenceforth denounced against him, 2 Chron. 16:7. This Asa, notwithstanding this experiment, afterwards sought unto the physician, before he sought unto God, 2 Chron. 16:12.

To note repent is blameworthy:

Use 2. Secondly. This blameth that barrenness and want of words to go unto God, which, for want of hearts, we often find in ourselves. It were a strange thing to see a wife have words enough for her maids and servants, and yet not to be able to speak to her husband. We all profess to be the spouse of Christ. What a strange thing, then, is it to be full when we speak to men, yet be so empty and want words to speak to him! 

Can’t we at least have the words of a beggar?

A beggar, we know, wants no words, nay, he aboundeth with variety of expressions; and what makes him thus fruitful in words? His necessity, and, in part, his hope of obtaining.

These two make beggars so earnest. So would it be with us. If we found sufficiently our great need of Christ, and therewith had hope, it would embolden us so to go to God in Christ, that we should not want words. But we want this hope, and the feeling of our necessities, which makes us so barren in prayer.

Prepare thyself, therefore, to prayer, by getting unto thee a true sense of thy need, acquaintance with God, and hope to obtain, and it will make thee fervent in prayer, and copious in thy requests.

Finally a consolation and encouragement: a prayer of true repentance will be heard and honored.

* That is, ‘ingenuous.’—G.

Richard Sibbes, The Returning Backslider, 1.1


O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and turn to the Lord; say unto him, Take away all iniquity, &c.Hos. 14:12.

The whole frame of godliness is a mystery, Col. 1:26.

(The italicized sections are comments upon Sibbes’ sermon) And here is the greatest mystery:

the graciousness and abundant tender mercy of God towards miserable, wretched, and sinful creatures; even in the height of their rebellion, appointing such a remedy to heal them. 

This is the subject of Hosea 14. Historical background for the chapter. In a time of apostacy, we read these

many excellent and heavenly encouragements; also many earnest incitements to repentance and returning to the Lord, with free and gracious promises, not only of pardon and acceptance, but of great rewards in things spiritual and temporal to such as should thus return.

‘O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God, for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.’

‘Take with you words, and turn to the Lord; say unto him, Take away all iniquity,’ &c.

At this point, Sibbes lays out the elements of the Lord’s call to repentance. This paying attention to the particular elements of a passage, noting the grammatical, logical, and psychological elements, is a commonplace among Puritan works:

In this chapter we have,

1. An exhortation to repentance, with the motives enforcing the same: ‘O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God,’ ver. 1.

2. The form: ‘Take with you words, and say unto the Lord,’ &c., ver. 2.

3. A restipulation, what they should do: and return back again, having their prayers granted. 1. Thanksgiving: ‘So will we render the calves of our lips.’ 2. Sound reformation of their beloved sin: ‘Ashur shall not save us,’ &c.; with the reason thereof: ‘For in thee the fatherless findeth mercy,’ ver. 3.

4. God’s answer to their petitions. 1. In what he will do for them: ‘Heal their backsliding, love them freely, and be as the dew unto Israel;’ with the reason thereof: ‘For mine anger is turned away from him,’ ver. 4. 2. What he will work in them, a proportionable speedy growth in height, breadth, and depth: ‘He shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon,’ &c.; which mercy is further amplified by a blessing poured out also upon their families: ‘They that dwell under his shadow shall return,’ ver. 5–7.

5. There is set down a further effect of this repentance and gracious work in them, a sound and strong well-rooted indignation against their former darling sins; ‘Ephraim shall say, What have I any more to do with idols?’ backed with a strong consolation: ‘I have heard him and observed him,’ &c., ver. 8.

6. The diverse event and issue of this God’s so gracious dealing, is shewed both in the godly and wicked. 1. The wise and prudent understand and know that the ways of the Lord are right, and shall walk in them; but, 2. ‘The transgressors shall fall therein,’ ver. 9.

Having considered the overall passage, Sibbes now turns to the first sentence:

‘O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God, for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.’

Every word hath his weight, and, in a manner, is an argument to enforce this returning.

Here he breaks out the elements of the sentence. Notice that when he takes the first word “Israel,” he does more than note this is the subject of the sentence. He thinks, why this word here? Why does God begin with the vocative “Israel” to begin his call to repentance. To understand the importance of this, consider the alternative ways God could have begun this call. Or think of an individual: You could address an individual in a number of ways from formal to familiar to affectionate. 

‘O Israel!’ Israel, we know, 1, is a word of covenant. Jacob was Israel, a prince and wrestler with God, as they also ought to be. Therefore he enforceth, You also ought to return, because you are Israel. 

And, 2, It was also an encouragement for them to return, because God so acknowledgeth them to be Israel, and will be gracious unto them, though they were such hideous sinners.

Next element: Return. In this passage, Sibbes alludes to Augustine’s Confessions:

‘Return,’ saith he, ‘unto the Lord Jehovah,’ who is the chief good. For when a man returneth to the creature, which is a particular, changeable good, unsatisfying [to] the soul, he is restless still until he come unto Jehovah, who is the all-sufficient, universal good, who fills and fills the soul abundantly. 

Therefore, ‘return’ to him who is the fountain of all good, and giveth a being unto all things, and not to ‘broken cisterns,’ Jer. 2:13.

He is Jehovah, like himself, and ‘changeth not.’ 

There is another element to this beckoning return:

And then he is thy God. Therefore, return to him who is thy God in covenant, who will make good his gracious covenant unto thee, and did choose thee to be ‘his people before all the nations of the world.’ This, therefore, is also an encouragement to return. 

What is the necessity of this return. Note how the logical elements of the text are laid out: There is a command and a rationale:

And then,

‘Thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.’ Therefore, because thou art fallen by thy iniquities, and thine own inventions have brought these miseries upon thee, and none but God can help thee out of these miseries, seeing he only can, and is willing to forgive thy sins and revive thee, therefore,‘O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God, for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.’

He then comes to a doctrinal observation: 

Now, in that he forewarneth them of the fearful judgments to come, which were to fall upon them unless they were prevented by true repentance, hence in general it is to be observed,

That God comes not as a sudden storm upon his people, but gives them warning before he smites them.

Proof of the point:

This is verified in Scripture. [He here lists Gen. 18:20-21, Ex. 11, Amos 4:12, Matt. 23:37.]

Here Sibbes answers a question: Why does God give warning first? Spurgeon would at this point say, “Someone will ask the question, Why does God give warning after warning before he brings judgment?” Sibbes provides two answers: God’s nature and his care:

The reason hereof is, his own nature. ‘He is a God of long-suffering,’ Exod. 34:6. He made the world in six days, yet hath continued it six thousand years, notwithstanding the many sins and provocations thereof, ‘his mercies being over all his works,’ Ps. 145:9.

2. And partly from a special regard to his own dear children, these terrible threatenings not being killing and wounding, but, like Jonathan’s warning arrows, who, though he shot, yet meant no other harm to David save to forewarn him of harm, 1 Sam. 20:20.

Having raised a doctrinal point, he now brings an application: If God is gracious in warning, then we must be wise in heeding those warnings:

Use. Let us, therefore, observe God’s gracious and mild dealing in so much mercy, who giveth us so many warnings by his servants, and lesser judgments which we have had amongst us; let us take notice and believe, so as belief may stir up fear, and fear may provoke care, and care stir up endeavours to provide us an ark, even a hiding-place betimes, before winter and worse times come upon us.

Hence issueth another general point, that

The best provision for preventing of destruction is spiritual means.

To understand this point, we must understand primary and secondary causes: If I strike a cue ball with a stick and the cue rolls and hits the eight ball: my stick is the primary cause of the cue ball striking the eight ball, it comes first in time. The cue ball is the proximate and immediate cause, but the cue was set in motion earlier. This gives a rough approximation of the manner in which God’s agency stands behind created agencies. Sibbes point is that we concern ourselves with the cue ball and ignore the stick: we concern ourselves with the immediate problem and ignore God.

God himself is a spirit, and spiritual means reach unto him who is the first mover of the great wheel of all the affairs of this world. It is preposterous to begin at the second cause. We trouble ourselves in vain there, when we neglect the first. We should therefore begin the work in heaven, and first of all take up that quarrel which is between God and our souls. If this be done first, we need not fear the carriage of second things, all which God, out of his good providence and gracious care, will frame to work for good to his, Rom. 8:28, for whose sakes, rather than help should fail, he will create new helps, Isa. 4:5. Wherefore, in all things it is best to begin with God.

And so, if I am in distress, my first concern should be with God who has sovereignty over all things in my circumstance. God will work out all things for good.

Edward Taylor, Meditation 32, Sixth Stanza


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Sixth Stanza

Thine ordinances, Grace’s wine-vats where

Thy Spirit walks and Grace’s runs do lie

And angels waiting stand with holy cheer

From Grace’s conduit head, with all supply.

These vessels full of Grace are, and bowls 

In which their taps do run are precious souls.


In this stanza, he pictures the flow from grace which runs into the souls of those who receive the ordinance, the Lord’s Supper. Grace is poured out as wine. 


The entire stanza is a display of the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. The rite is performed with bread and wine, hence the display of wine as the grace of God. 

The praise of the ordinance is not a matter unique to Taylor. Here, is a section from a near contemporary, Thomas Watson:

The gracious soul flies as a dove to an ordinance, upon the wings of delight. The sacrament is his delight. On this day the Lord makes “a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined,” Isa. 25:6. A sacrament day is a soul-festival day; here Christ takes the soul into his banqueting-house, and “displays the banner of love over it,” Cant. 2:4. Here are heavenly delicacies set before us. Christ gives us his body and blood. This is angels’ food, this is the heavenly nectar, here is a cup perfumed with the divine nature; here is wine spiced with the love of God. The Jews at their feasts poured ointment upon their guests; here Christ pours the oil of gladness into the heart. This is the king’s bath where we wash and are cleansed of our leprosy: the withered soul, after the receiving this blessed eucharist, hath been like a watered garden, Isa. 58:11. or like Egyptian fields, after the overflowing of the Nile, fruitful and flourishing; and do you wonder that a child of God delights in holy things? he must needs be a volunteer in religion.

Thomas Watson, A Divine Cordial; The Saint’s Spiritual Delight; The Holy Eucharist; and Other Treatises, The Writings of the Doctrinal Puritans and Divines of the Seventeenth Century. Here we see many of the same elements: wine, love, delight, angels, cups, et cetera.

Here are the particular elements of the scene:

The whole takes place at “Grace’s wine-vats.”  The word in the manuscript is apparently “fat,” but vat makes more sense

He then details what is seen there: 

First, it is the place where, “Thy Spirit walks.”  This is an unusual way to speak of the Spirit. But to have the Spirit here at the head of the understanding of the ordinance is quite understandable for Taylor. As Calvin writes in the Institutes, the Spirit communicates Christ to the recipient:

To summarize: our souls are fed by the flesh and blood of Christ in the same way that bread and wine keep and sustain physical life. For the analogy of the sign applies only if souls find their nourishment in Christ—which cannot happen unless Christ truly grows into one with us, and refreshes us by the eating of his flesh and the drinking of his blood.

Even though it seems unbelievable that Christ’s flesh, separated from us by such great distance, penetrates to us, so that it becomes our food, let us remember how far the secret power of the Holy Spirit towers above all our senses, and how foolish it is to wish to measure his immeasurableness by our measure. What, then, our mind does not comprehend, let faith conceive: that the Spirit truly unites things separated in space

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 1370. And so, the Supper is indeed a place where the Spirits walks (if you will). This point could be further developed, but this suffices to show what Taylor intends by place the Spirit first at these vats of Grace.

Next, he says this is the place where “Grace’s runs do lie.”

This is the place where grace flows, which matches the remainder of the poem’s image of grace flowing from the throne. 

Next, there are angels standing as it were with cups of this heavenly wine, the “holy cheer.” The use of angels is interesting, because angels are not directly associated with the Supper. However, angels are said to be “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit eternal life.” Heb. 1:14. Their mention also identifies this a spiritual or heavenly scene. 

The whole flows from “Grace’s conduit head” – which was identified in the previous stanza as the Father’s throne and the Lord’s heart. 

with all supply: this phrase means it is endless: the source for this grace is full-up.

The use of the word “bowls” in apposition to “vessels” makes it plain these are drinking bowls.

And in the end of the scene we see where the grace flows into “precious souls” – those who receive the supper.

At this point, it should be noted that the understanding of the “grace” received by the recipient differs among the various Christian traditions. And so Taylor would not have the same understanding of either the communication grace from God and the reception of grace by the communicant as would a contemporary Roman Catholic theologian. 


The first line contains an express pause at the comma after ordinance, but also an unmarked pause after vats:

Thine ordinances – pause – Grace’s wine-vats – pause – where

The “where” sets up the following lines; all that follows answer the question of what is there. Since it is an orphaned foot it rushes on to next line. 

The lines scan regularly from thereon. 

Kuyper, Common Grace, 1.21


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The previous post may be found here.

Chapter 21 continues with the consideration of Adam’s original state and the image of God. The first half of the chapter concerns the question of what is meant by Adam’s original righteousness, holiness, and wisdom. First, Adam was simply created in a right relationship with God: he was thus righteous. Adam did not need to acquire this right standing, he was created in this place.

Since Adam was in a right standing with God, Adam by nature of the arrangement must possess original holiness. If had any sense been unholy, that right relationship could not exist (“Strive for … holiness without which no one will see God.” Heb. 12:14.) Our current holiness is of a different nature in this life, for our holiness is in a mediator. We are counted righteous in Christ. In the case of Adam, he stood in holiness by nature of his having been created without sin. 

This brings Kuyper to Adam’s wisdom. Here Kuyper looks to 1 Corinthians 1:30 where Christ is our righteousness, our holiness, and our wisdom (the final element in  1:30 is redemption, which would be unnecessary for Adam). 

Although not developed, Kuyper’s implicit argument seems to be that if we must received righteousness, holiness, and wisdom from Christ, then the triad must have been present with Adam (and in some manner lost). 

As to wisdom, he emphasizes that we know – we do not merely feel—the truth. When Satan comes to Eve, he comes to her with deceptive reasons. He compares these to pearls on a string which all must be present together: wisdom, righteousness, holiness. 

This leads to the question of the image of God: If these three make up the image of God, then when Adam fell whence the image? But we if make these things the image, then there is man and the image is something added to him (because we are human beings after the fall, even if we lack the original righteousness, holiness, and wisdom). 

The Roman theologian solve this problem by dividing between the image and likeness: Image is the essence of a man; likeness, an addition of righteousness, holiness, and wisdom. The likeness then acted like a bridal upon the image. 

Kuyper does not find that argument persuasive. Rather, he speaks of the essence of Adam as the image of God in that by essence, Adam was able to reflect God. There is also the actual display of those qualities in Adam.

This capacity to reflect is inherent in all that we are as human beings, including in the fact being physical creatures. We are organically body and soul; death is the grotesque sundering of the two. Our body is the means by which the spiritual reality of reflecting God physically displays. 

But our capacities for thought, memory, appreciation of joy and beauty go beyond being a bare animal, “and can be explained only on the basis of the reflection of the things of God in our human being.”

Human beings thus exist for God and God’s glory. From this, Kuyper argues to immorality: Since we exist for God and not ourselves: to display the glory of God, the individual (and not merely the race) must always exist, lest God lose that glory.

He does not argue the point further, but our continued existence after death in an eternal state fulfills that point. Even those who are lost display his glory in God’s patient endurance of their rebellion, in the display of his wrath. And a point made by Bray, God’s love continuing as such even toward the lost in that he refuses to utterly destroy even the Devil.