George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling 1.8a

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CHAPTER VIII

A complaint that this trade is so dead, and the world’s trade so quick [lively]

The use which I shall make of this doctrine, shall be either by way of complaint or counsel.

Lament Over the Neglect of Godliness:

First, By way of lamentation. 

I.         INTRODUCTION TO THE LAMENT

If godliness ought to be every one’s principal business, How sadly should it be lamented that this calling is so exceedingly neglected! 

A.        Compare the efforts in trade to effort in godliness

This argument is first laid-out in an A1-B1-A2-Bstructure: Commerce, Christ – Commerce, Christ. This provides a basis for the lamentation: we are so taken with making money and so neglectful of the things of God.

1.         The Loss of Trade

What one man is there of many that doth follow this trade, and exercise himself to godliness? Men generally cry out, trading is dead, their particular callings are gone; they make no considerable returns, they stand in their shops all the day idle. 

But may not God rather complain, the holy heavenly trade is decayed and dead; general callings are left and lost; why stand ye all the day idle, and refuse to work in my vineyard? 

2.         The Abundance of Earthly Trade Contrasted with the Dearth of Heavenly Trade

This return to commerce is interesting: In the first example, he addresses those who lack work. In the second, he addresses those who have abundant work. This is not a contradiction: one always desires more work – even if things are going well at the moment. But here it serves his argument is follows: Are you complaining about no work, then think of the heavenly trade which goes missing. Look at how diligent you are going after worldly trade, when heavenly trade go missing.

The structure of this paragraph is well done: There are three parallel introductory clauses built around alliteration followed by a contrasting four short clauses. The move from alliteration to known also creates another element of contrast. This is extraordinarily fine writing.

a.        The Devil has Droves     

i.         While the devil has whole droves to do his drudgery, 

the flesh [has] vast flocks to flatter its fancies, 

and the world many millions to admire and adore its vanities, 

ii.        ‘The ways of Zion mourn, 

they are unoccupied, 

none come to the solemn feasts, 

all her gates are desolated.’ 

b.        The Lawyer’s Closet

i.         While the lawyer’s closet is filled with clients for counsel about their estates, 

the physician’s chamber with patients about their bodily health, 

and the tradesman’s shop crowded with customers,

ii.        Jesus Christ is left alone; 

though he offereth wares which are of infinite worth, 

and stretcheth out his hand all the day long, 

yet no man regardeth.

B.        We fail in this effort, because we love the wrong things.

Swinnock does not state this matter in terms of love, but does so by means of illustrations.

1.         Too Much Trouble

It is reported of some Spaniards that live near the place where is store of fish, that they will rather go without them than take the pains to catch them. Heaven and happiness, Saviour and salvation, are near men, they are brought to their very doors; and yet men will rather lose than labour for them, rather go sleeping to hell, than sweating to heaven. ‘All seek their own, and none the things of Jesus Christ.’

2.         It is of no use to me

Offer a crust to a dog and he will catch at it, offer him a crown and he will contemn it; offer these men the crusts of vanity, and how greedily are they embraced, while the crown of glory is most unworthily despised; like beastly swine, they trample this pearl under their feet, and love to wallow in the mire.

C.        Answering an Objection

This is an important aspect of making any argument wherein only one person is speaking. When preaching, the auditors has no ability to interrupt and ask a question. Therefore, the preacher (or teacher) should anticipate objections and provide an answer. Spurgeon did this particular skill by combining this work with the introductory phrase “Someone here will be thinking” or “Someone will say”.

This objection is “Maybe you are overstating the case and there actually are many who do this – but you just haven’t noticed”.

But possibly you may say that there are many that make religion their business, only they are so near me that (according to the rule of optics, which requires a due distance between the faculty and the object) I cannot behold them; they abound in every country, parish, family; all are Christians, and make the worship of God their main work.

1.         Answer: the real thing is rare.

I must answer as he did when he saw the vast army of Antiochus, There are many men, but few soldiers; many mouths, but few hands: there are many nominal, but few real Christians; many that flourish like fencers, beating only the air, but few that fight in earnest the good fight of faith. 

a.        They provide only outward show.

Godliness hath many complimental servants, that will give her the cap and the knee, a few good words and outward ceremonies; but godliness hath few faithful friends, that make her the mistress of their affections, that give her the command of their hearts, and that wait upon her, and walk with her all the day long. 

b.        They have no real love or relationship

Pretenders to her service are indeed like the sand of the sea, numerous; but practitioners or faithful servants are like the pearl of the sea, rare and precious; many court her, but few marry her; for indeed men generally deal with godliness as the Germans with the Italians, or the Dutch with the Spaniards, hold a fair outward correspondency, enough to serve for mutual trade and traffic, but enter not into a near familiarity; they have no great intimacy with godliness; it is rather a stranger to them, whom now and then they bestow a visit on for fashion sake, than an indweller or constant inhabitant.

2.         An illustration and diagnosis

This answer begins with an illustration, which is then followed by the argument. This sort of illustration to assertion contains within it an unstated premise: that laziness (not rest, but actual failure to work) is dangerous and defective. He does this by means of using a soldier who wished not to soldier. This would unvirtuous because he would not be what was suitable to his position. Likewise, the Christian who will not seek godliness is also unvirtuous.

Lepidus Major, a loose Roman, when his comrades were exercising themselves in the camp, would lay himself down to sleep in the shade, and cry out, Utinam hoc esset laborare, Would this were all the duty I were to do. 

Such soldiers are many who pretend to fight under Christ’s banner; when they should be watching their souls, and warring with Satan and sin, they are sleeping and snoring, as if that were the way to work out their salvations. 

Reader, I must acquaint thee with the physician’s rule, that Spontaneæ lassitudines morbos loquuntur, Weariness without some apparent cause is a sign of a diseased body; so thy laziness doth speak a very unsound soul.

Edward Taylor, Meditation 33, Stanza Five

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Stanza Five

Life thus abused fled to the golden ark,                                             25

Lay locked up there in mercy’s seat enclosed.

Which did incorporate it whence its sparke

Enlivens all things in this ark enclosed. 

Oh, glorious ark! Life’s store-house full of glee!

Shall not my love safe locked up lie in thee?                          30

Summary: Life, which is something external to the poet, fled from the assault of the “elf” spitting venom. The place of refuge for life was a the “golden ark”, enclosed by the “mercy seat”. And in that place of refuge life flows out as life to all things. This realization turns in a exclamation of the poet that my love should lie locked-up in the very same ark.

The Eternal Power of God At Work - Truth Immutable

Notes:

The Ark of the Covenant (not Noah’s Ark, here) was a golden box in which were placed the two copies of the Ten Commandments, the covenant between God and Israel. On top of that Ark was the Mercy Seat, the place where God would meet Israel and show them mercy:

“The Hebrew word for which “mercy seat” is the translation is technically best rendered as “propitiatory,” a term denoting the removal of wrath by the offering of a gift. The significance of this designation is found in the ceremony performed on the Day of Atonement, held once a year, when blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat to make atonement for the sins of the people of Israel (Lv 16). Because of the importance of this covering on the ark and the ceremony associated with it, the Holy of Holies in which the ark was housed in the temple is termed the “room for the mercy seat” in 1 Chronicles 28:11.” Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Mercy Seat,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1441.

To understand Taylor use of the images of the ark, mercy seat, life, Christ, we need to see how these elements were connected in Puritan writing. Without understanding the connections which would have been obvious to Taylor (but would be obscure to others), the poem seems to go in an incomprehensible direction.

If you look more broadly, the image of the mercy seat is not uncommon in the Lutheran writings. It is in places connected to Christ. The connection of Christ and the mercy-seat is rare in the Ante-Nicene Fathers. When I did a search of Calvin (granted these are all Boolean searches, and thus are limited in that manner), the connection of Christ and the mercy seat was not common. In the Puritan writers, particularly in Thomas Boston (an overlapping contemporary of Taylor), the connection of the two images is quite common. 

The connection between Christ and Life is built into the framework of Christian theology.

Life/ Its sparke/enlivens all things:

Life comes from God:

“He is life itself, has life in himself, and is the fountain of life to all the creatures.” Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: An Illustration of the Doctrines of the Christian Religion, Part 1, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 1 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1848), 131. Life is in Christ, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” John 1:3

The Church (and thus the poet personally) draws its life from Christ: “The mystery of the church drawing her life out of Christ’s sleeping the sleep of death on the cross.”Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: An Illustration of the Doctrines of the Christian Religion, Part 1, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 1 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1848), 179.

“Whatsoever is excellent in nature, either in heaven or earth, it serves to set forth the excellency of Christ. Why? To delight us, that we may be willing and cheerful to think of Christ; that together with the consideration of the excellency of the creature, some sweet meditation of Christ, in whom all those excellencies are knit together, might be presented to the soul. When we see the sun, oft to think of that blessed Sun that quickens and enlivens all things, and scatters the mists of ignorance. When we look on a tree, to think of the Tree of righteousness; on the way, to think of him the Way; of life, of him that is the true Life.” Richard Sibbes and Alexander Balloch Grosart, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, vol. 3 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson, 1862), 391.

Golden Ark:

“The mercy of God is like the ark, which none but the priests were to meddle with; none may touch this golden ark of mercy but such as are ‘priests unto God,’ Rev. 1:6 and have offered up the sacrifice of tears.” Thomas Watson, “Discourses upon Christ’s Sermon on the Mount,” in Discourses on Important and Interesting Subjects, Being the Select Works of the Rev. Thomas Watson, vol. 2 (Edinburgh; Glasgow: Blackie, Fullarton, & Co.; A. Fullarton & Co., 1829), 115.

Mercy Seat:

“In that Lev. 16:13, 14, you read of two things: first, of the cloud of incense that covered the mercy seat; secondly, of the blood of the bullock, that was sprinkled before the mercy-seat. Now that blood typified Christ’s satisfaction, and the cloud of incense his intercession.” Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 2 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1866), 274.

Note further that the mercy-seat is also connected to life:

“in like manner, after our great High Priest had offered himself a sacrifice to God in his bloody death, he entered into heaven, not only with his blood, but with the incense of his prayers, as a cloud about the mercy-seat, to preserve by his life the salvation which he had purchased by his death.” Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: An Illustration of the Doctrines of the Christian Religion, Part 1, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 1 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1848), 473.

Life thus abused fled to the golden ark: How did life “flee” to the ark? The concept here relies upon the concept of covenant. Human life exists in God and is given to us. Without that life, we will die. Following the Fall of Adam, we were without life. Life is made available to us again in the covenant. The New Covenant has replaced the ark and mercy seat with Christ (who is prefigured in these things, see Hebrews 9).

Couplet:

The couplet has two elements. First a praise, “Oh, glorious ark! Life’s store-house full of glee!” One aspect of this praise which sounds out of tune is the use of the word “glee.” In our contemporary use glee is an ironic way to refer to happiness – rather than boundless happiness meant by Taylor 

Second, a prayer, a statement of intention: Shall not my love safe locked up lie in thee?     

The point is the re-integration of love and life which has been parted in the Fall. This is a central theme in Augustine: our sinfulness is built around misdirected love. Before the Fall love was rightly directed toward life: God. 

God then seeks to restore that rupture. Life is made available in the covenant, which was first figured in the Ark and Mercy Seat, then in Christ. The poet, seeing a remember for his misdirected love seeks that his love may be re-directed toward the proper goal: life, i.e., God in Christ.

Edward Taylor, Meditation 33, Stanza Four

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Stanza Four

Glory lined out a paradise in power

Where e’ery seed a royal coach became                                            20

For Life to ride in, to each shining flower.

And made man’s flower with glory all o’re flame.

Hell’s ink-faced elf black venom spit upon

The same and killed it. So that life is gone. 

Summary: The original creation was a well of life: Life was in the seed and would produce into the flower. The glory of humanity was aflame. But this vibrant life was killed by an elf who spat venom into life and brought about death. “So that life is gone”

Notes

Elf: Since Tolkien (at least) elves and fairies are considered popularly to marvelous and good creatures. It was not so with Taylor. Such things would be thought dangerous or “mad”:

“If a man riding in an open country should afar off see men and women dancing together, and should not hear their music according to which they dance and tread out their measures, he would think them to be a company of fairies and madmen, appearing in such various motions and antic postures; but if he came nearer, and heard the musical notes, according to which they exactly dance, he would find that to be art which before he thought madness.”

Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 21 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1874), 107. They were examples of deception and danger:

“The world, as they say of fairies, deprives of true children, and puts changelings in their room; deprives men of true substantial joy, and gives them shadows in the room; but godliness, on the contrary, deprives of painted poisons, and gives them wholesome and real pleasures.”

George Swinnock, The Works of George Swinnock, M.A., vol. 3 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1868), 185. But this does not mean that he would have believed such were real:

“Yet here I cannot but disallow the indoctrinating of children with superstitious notions, which nuzzle them up in vulgar errors that lead unto unbelief; the affrighting of them with silly tales of bugbears, stories of hobgoblins and fairies, &c., “profane and old wives’ fables,” not tending to godliness, (1 Tim. 1:4, 6; 4:7,) which occasion needless and groundless fears, that afterwards, when they should have more brains, are not easily corrected, or not without great difficulty.”

James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 331.

The elf is the Serpent of Genesis 3; that is, the Devil. By “spitting venom”, he tempted the couple to sin which brought about death.

Glory lined out a paradise

The Genesis account describes the earth in three categories. First, there was Eden, which was a place from whence water flowed out and in the Garden. Second, was the Garden where God placed Adam and Eve with instruction to keep this garden. Third, was the field, the world outside the Garden.  That “glory lined out” means that God laid out a garden (“paradise”). 

Seeds and flowerslight and life

Glory lined out a paradise in power

Where e’ery seed a royal coach became                                            20

For Life to ride in, to each shining flower.

And made man’s flower with glory all o’re flame.

In Genesis 1:11, a particular type of plant is note, “plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed.” In verse 29, God says, “Behold I have given you every plant yielding see that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in in its fruit. You shall have them for food.” Seed is thus bound up with living. 

Taylor takes that emphasis in a slightly different direction, speaking of the flower which comes from the seed.

The picking of life riding through seed to flower (to seed) bearing along life like a coach is quite striking. 

The whole discussion of life is filled with light: First, it was “glory” which lines out the Garden. The flowers are “shining” and man’s flower has “glory all o’re flame”. This is a bright burning light of life. 

This combination of light and life comes from the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” John 1:1–5 (AV)

Prosody:

Glory lined out a paradise in power

Where e’ery seed a royal coach became                                            20

For Life to ride in, to each shining flower.

And made man’s flower with glory all o’re flame.

Hell’s ink-faced elf black venom spit upon

The same and killed it. So that life is gone. 

The two major sections of the stanza begin with an accented syllable: Glory in line 19 and Hell’s in line 23. 

Line 23 is difficult to scan because it seems that one could accent every syllable. Certainly, one could not read the line out-loud and read it quickly. 

The final line is such plan speech as to be striking in this poem. The final sentence has a remarkable finality. “So that life is gone.” It is not rhythmic, nor is there much music in it. Typically, such a line would be “bad” poetry, but here it works because of it appearing out of place. (We could say that this line sounds like a line of contemporary poetry in terms of rhythm, but of such Taylor could have no concept._

The repetition of “glory” creates a sort of inclusion: Glory lines out the garden and glory is flaming in the flower. The repetition of “fl” in flower, flower, and “flame” as well as the “L” of life and in “gLory” works well. L’s work well with “m” in “made man’s”

Edward Taylor, Meditation 33, Stanza Three

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Stanza Three

Nature’s amazed, Oh monstrous thing, quoth she,

Not love my life? What violence doth split

True love and life, that they should sundered be?                  15

She doth not lay such eggs, nor on them sit.

How do I sever then my heart with all

It powers whose love scare to my life doth crawl.

Summary:

“Nature” now makes an appearance. “She” is amazed when she looks upon the unnatural love of Taylor of that which is not his life. This leads the poet to a question: How do I stop my heart from loving that which is not his life?

Notes:

Nature’s amazed: this is an interesting personification of nature. The concept of “nature” or “natural” has a few potential meanings, which need to be distinguished here. 

First is “nature” in the sense of being or essence: it is a kind of nature you are: “Since Christ, being a divine Person, did not suffer according to His divine nature but according to His human nature, exaltation as such did not occur according to His divine nature.” Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, ed. Joel R. Beeke, trans. Bartel Elshout, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 1992), 625.

Second, there is nature as opposed to grace: to be “natural” is what one is aside from the work of  the Spirit. “By spiritual Edwards means “sanctified” in opposition to “carnal,” which signifies the natural or unsanctified man.” John E. Smith, “Editor’s Introduction,” in Religious Affections, ed. John E. Smith and Harry S. Stout, Revised edition., vol. 2, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 24.

Third, there is a common grace operation of the Spirit generally, which makes certain considerations “natural” to everyone, “The nature of the work of the Spirit may be learnt from the nature of his work in legal conviction. ’Tis the same common enlightening assistance of both, but only one is of evil, and the other of good. Those legal convictions that natural men have are from the common illuminations of the Spirit of God concerning evil.” Jonathan Edwards, The “Miscellanies”: (Entry Nos. 501–832), ed. Ava Chamberlain and Harry S. Stout, vol. 18, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2000), 357–358. 

But a personified “Nature” is certainly not a common idiom among those of Taylor’s intellectual world. This “nature” is no human being, but rather fulfills the position of say an angel who can look upon and see Taylor, but is not himself God nor another human being. 

But such an understanding immediately runs into a problem in the next line:

Nature’s amazed, Oh monstrous thing, quoth she,

Not love my life?

The “my” of “my life” means that Nature is the one conveying the life to Taylor. But that life is also in God and of God. I can understand what Taylor means by this usage, but this is not Taylor’s most theologically careful usage. 

Perhaps a way to keep this line is as if “Nature” refers to the natural life which Taylor being alive. It would then be his own life speaking to him: Why don’t you cherish your own life? But that is problematic with this line:

She doth not lay such eggs, nor on them sit.

And so we are left with a vaguely personified Nature speaking to him.

Love and life:

The incoherence of sin is here laid out: He loves something which is contrary to his life. Rationally, one’s love should be to one’s own life. As Paul writes, “For no one ever hated his own flesh.” Eph. 5:29 But in sin one loves something not only trivial but also contrary to one’s own good. 

This then justifies the use of “Nature” in the sense of: to love something contrary to one’s own life is certainly “unnatural”.

Finally, the quandary:

How do I sever then my heart with all

It powers whose love scare to my life doth crawl.

This is a Kierkegaardian despair: What do I do? How can I stop this of love of what is not my life? I have a heart which refuses to even seek its own good: It will not even crawl toward life. 

Someone whose body was ravaged would drag and crawl out of a wreck, but his heart will not even make an effort toward it’s own life: Hence, it is unnatural.

Edward Taylor, Meditation 33 Stanza Two

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Stanza Two

Oh! What strange charm encrampt my heart with spite

Making my love gleam upon a toy?

Lay out cartloads of love upon a mite?

Scarce lay a mite of love on thee, my Joy?                             10

Oh, lovely thou, shalt not thou loved be?

Shall I a-shame thee thus? Oh! Shame for me!

Summary: 

The argument of the poem begins to come more in focus here:  The poet demands of himself, why do I so love this thing so unworthy of love, a “toy”.

Notes:

The concept of “toy” here emphasizes unimportance or triviality far more than a plaything which might be precious to a child. For instance, Shakespeare, has Macbeth upon “hearing” that the king has been murdered, say with multiple levels of irony:

Had I but died an hour before this chance,
I had lived a blessed time; for, from this instant,
There ‘s nothing serious in mortality:
All is but toys: renown and grace is dead;
The wine of life is drawn, and the mere lees
Is left this vault to brag of.

That is, “life is meaningless” it is but a toy.

His love “gleams” upon the toy. His love produces a light which makes the toy visible. It is a striking image of love enlightening an object. Coupled with “strange charm” in the first stanza, we have an image of some sort of witchcraft:

Oh! What strange charm encrampt my heart with spite

Making my love gleam upon a toy?

Although not a direct allusion, there seems to be something in the background here of Paul to the Galatians, “Who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth” (Gal. 3:1) Something so inexplicable must be the result of a spell. Remember, that while our public culture has either a bemused or a sort of positive view of such things, Taylor would have found the idea horrifying and wicked. 

Encrampt: His heart is brought under the control of something foreign (the spell) and thus does not function rightly. His heart is unnaturally constrained.

This brings us to the “spite” lying at the source of this spell which constrains his heart to fix its attention upon a pointless object. 

[Midsummer night's dream, IV, 1, Titania adorns Bottom with flowers] [graphic] / [Alexandre Bida ...

Another image from Shakespeare helps, where the Tatiana Queen of the Fairies falls in love the imbecile Bottom whose human head has been replaced with a donkey head. She has fallen in love by means of a spell meant to humble her.

This brings us to the incredulous irony: 

Lay out cartloads of love upon a mite?

Scarce lay a mite of love on thee, my Joy?     

We have here a biblical allusion: Cartloads of treasure were brought to Moses by the leaders of each tribe at the setting up of the tabernacle. A mite reminds us of the widow who could only give a mite. It was an insignificant offering. And so a treasure of love is being loaded upon something meaningless, which his “joy” is being neglected.

The joy is identified in the first line of the poem as “My Lord, my life.” He has fallen profoundly in love with something which is utterly valueless and has in the same moment neglected his Lord and life. The only explanation can be some hideous spell.

We then end with the couplet providing a judgment upon the situation: 

Oh, lovely thou, shalt not thou loved be?

Shall I a-shame thee thus? Oh! Shame for me!

He is shaming the true object of his love by withholding honor to whom honor is due and showering that upon a trifle. It is a shame, because the it is a deliberate dishonor. But in the end, it is the poet who is in shame by loving something so valueless.

Prosody:

Oh! What strange charm encrampt my heart with spite

Making my love gleam upon a toy?

Lay out cartloads of love upon a mite?

Scarce lay a mite of love on thee, my Joy?                             10

Oh, lovely thou, shalt not thou loved be?

Shall I a-shame thee thus? Oh! Shame for me!

An interesting aspect of this stanza is the accent of the first syllable of every line (except the last). Also note the trochees as well as the repeated L alliteration: love/lay

OH what STRANGE CHARM

MAKING my LOVE GLEAM

LAY out CARTloads of LOVE

SCARCE LAY a MITE of LOVE

OH LOVELY thou, shalt not THOU LOVed BE?

There is the fine wordplay in the last line on a-shame/shame which works with the internal rhyme on “thee/me”.

Richard Sibbes, The Backsliding Sinner, 2.4

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

At this point, Sibbes will develop two related points: (1) When the obstacle of sin has been removed, God is full of grace toward us and delights in our seeking grace from him. (2) We are then filled with joy and thankfulness toward the God who gives us grace. Interestingly, the same point was made by De Silva based upon the understanding of “Charis” (grace) in the ancient world. David A. deSilva, “Patronage and Reciprocity: The Context of Grace in the New Testament,” Ashland Theological Journal Volume 31 31 (1999): 32.

Now, having stated his doctrine, Sibbes gives an explanation of what is entailed in God’s forgiveness and grace. He makes a useful comparison here. When we speak of things in God, the relationship to human interactions can only be approximate or comparative. Our love is never God’s love in quality and extent. Since we cannot understand God in an absolute sense, he provides us analogies by which we can begin to understand. Sibbes makes use of that principle by making a negative comparison with human conduct.

For he takes away ill, and doth good. Men may pardon, but withal they think that they have done wondrous bountifully when they have pardoned. But God goes further. He takes away ill, and doth good; takes good out of his fountain, and doth good to us.

The first “use” is for our encouragement. The argument will be as follows: God is infinitely good toward us. When sin is removed as an impediment to our relationship, God’s grace will abound. Knowing this will encourage us. This encouragement then becomes a basis for prayers for further grace.

Use. Therefore, let us make this use of it, to be encouraged, when we have the first blessing of all, forgiveness of sins, to go to him for more and more, and gather upon God further and further still. 

The pray for more from God is to honor God. This may seem to be counterintuitive. In our relationships when someone does us good, we can be hesitant to seek more, because we drawing on a finite resource. But with God, asking glorifies him: “call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you will glorify me.” Ps. 50:15

For because he is a fountain of goodness that can never be drawn dry, he is wondrously pleased with this. We cannot honour him more than by making use of his mercy in the forgiveness of sins; and of his goodness, in going to him for it; and having interested ourselves in his goodness, go to him for more. Lord, thou hast begun: make an end; thou hast forgiven my sins; I want this and that good; together with the pardon of my sins, do me good. ‘Receive us graciously,’ or, ‘do us good.’ 

We are attracted to our own good. When sin is removed between us and God, God will be a fountain of good to us:

Now, good is the loadstone [magnet] of the soul, the attractive that draws it. Therefore, after forgiveness of sins, he saith, ‘do good.’ The petition is easy, God will soon grant it. For nothing else interposeth betwixt God and us, and makes two, but sin, which being removed, he is all goodness and mercy. ‘All his ways are mercy and truth,’ Ps. 25:10. Yea, even his sharpest ways are mercy, all mercy. When sin is forgiven, there is goodness in all, in the greatest cross and affliction. ‘Do good to us.’

What is meant by “good” here:

The soul, we see, desires good, and needs good. It is a transcendent word here, and must be understood according to the taste of God’s people, of a sanctified soul. ‘Do good.’ Especially do spiritual good to us. Together with the forgiveness of sins, give us the righteousness of Jesus Christ, sanctifying grace, such good as may make us good first. 

For the desire must be such as the person is, who makes it. Wicked men, as it is said of Balaam, have good gifts, without the good God; but we must not be so pleased with gifts, unless we be good ourselves, and see God making us good. ‘Can an evil tree bring forth good fruit?’ Mat. 7:18. Therefore, the apostle calls the regenerate person ‘God’s workmanship,’ &c., Eph. 2:10. We are God’s good work, and then we do good works; being made good, good comes from us. 

Here, Sibbes provides both an exposition of “do good to us” and prayer for that good. It is quite a remarkable section:

‘Do good to us.’

It is an acknowledgment of their own emptiness, 

‘Do good to us.’ 

We are blind in our own understandings, enlighten us. 

We are perplexed, set us right. 

We are dull, quicken us. 

We are empty, fill us. 

We are dark, shine upon us. 

We are ready to go out of the way, establish us. 

Every way do good to us suitable to our wants. 

The best that we can bring to thee is emptiness. 

Therefore do thou good to us; fill us with thy fulness. 

Do good to us every way, whereby thou usest to convey spiritual things to thy servants’ souls. 

Give us first thy grace, thy Spirit, which is the spring of all good things; for the Spirit of God is a Spirit of direction, of strength, of comfort, and all. Therefore he who hath the Spirit of God hath the spring of all. 

That is begged in the first place. 

He proceeds with another set of petitions:

And then give us good magistrates, to rule us well, and good ministers, who are the dispensers of grace, instruments of our salvation, the conduit pipes whereby thou fillest and conveyest good to us. 

The prayer “do good to us” is coupled with “take away all iniquity” – which is the first good in a series of good.

When thou hast made us good, continue the means of salvation for our good every way. The church, when she saith, ‘Do good to us,’ hath a large desire. Here be seeds of wondrous large things in these two short petitions, ‘Take away all iniquity,’ and ‘do good to us.’ A bono Deo, &c. From the good God nothing can come but what is good. Therefore do good to us in all spiritual things. The prophet David aims at this excellent good, saying that other men are for corn, wine, and oil, and say, ‘Who will shew us any good? But, Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us,’ Ps. 4:67. Thy lovingkindness is better than life, therefore do good to us. When thou hast forgiven our sins, shine graciously upon us in Jesus Christ.

And this first good leads to all good:

And it extends its limits likewise to outward prosperity, this desire of doing good. Let us have happy days! Sweeten our pilgrimage here! Let our profession of religion be comfortable! Do not lay more crosses upon us than thou wilt give us strength to bear! Do good to us every way! 

In this, God teaches us to pray:

But mark the wisdom of the Holy Ghost in dictating of this prayer to them. He speaks in general, ‘Do good to us;’ not to do this or that good, but he leaves it to the wisdom of God, as they here frame their hearts unto the will of God. 

‘Do good to us,’ spiritual. That needs no limitation, because we cannot more honour God than to depend upon him for all spiritual good things. Thou art wiser, and knowest what is good for us better than we ourselves. Beggars ought to be no choosers. Therefore ‘do good to us,’ for the particulars we leave them to thy wisdom. 

Sibbes then turns to the congregation with a word of direct encouragement:

Oh, beloved, it is a happy and blessed privilege to be under the conduct of so wise and all-sufficient a God, who is good, and as he is good, knows best what is good for us. We would have riches, liberty, and health; aye, but it may be it is not good for us. ‘Do good to us.’ Thou, Lord, knowest what is best. Do in thine own wisdom what is best.

How fiction works

We learn through fiction because we encounter in it the translucent images the writer has cunningly projected out of an intuitively grasped fund of experience not dissimilar to our own, only shaped, defined, ordered, probed in ways we never manage in the muddled and diffuse transactions of our own lives. The figures of fiction need not be verisimilar in an obvious way to embody such truths, for exaggeration or stylization may be a means of exposing what is ordinarily hidden, and fantasy may faithfully represent an inner or suppressed reality.

….What I should like to stress is that fiction is a mode of knowledge not only because it is a certain way of imagining characters and events in their shifting, elusive, revelatory interconnections but also because it possesses a certain repertoire of techniques for telling a story.

Robert Adler

Abraham Kuyper, Common Grace 1.22, Conscience

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CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

CONSCIENCE AND THE COVENANT OF WORKS

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Gen. 2:16-17

Kuyper begins this chapter with a discussion of conscience. In this opening section he presents two very different concepts of conscience and attributes the modern conscience to be a function of the Enlightenment. 

This discussion of conscience begins with the observation that Adam had no conscience, as we know it. This leads to a discussion of two ways of understanding conscience. In one manner, the newer understanding, conscience is a self-executing faculty which can determine whether a course of conduct is morally appropriate. This faculty as an innate knowledge of what God requires and functions as an “oracle” to our mind.

Functioning in this manner, conscience has an authority independent and over God’s Word. Not raised by Kuyper, but proof of his thesis can be found in the many concessions and transformations of Christian moral behavior and opinion in the world after Kuyper. God’s Word is either rejected or nuanced in such a way as to be meaningless. Any number of examples could be given on the evolution of Christian morality in a number of instances. 

The previous Reformed understanding of conscience before “rationalism was busy trampling faith,”  did not understand conscience as an independent “capacity” but rather as a recurrent reflective mode of thinking. Kuyper identifies three elements of this reflective thought: 

First, it knows the external law of God; the knowledge of good and evil. Second, we have a knowledge of ourselves and our actions. Third, there is a reflexive comparison of our conduct with knowledge of God’s law. He refers to this as a “higher impulse” and pursuant to the impulse we continually reflect on our life in comparison to the law. 

In this respect it then differs from the latter concept of conscience as an independent source of knowledge. 

In this understanding, the conscience is dependent upon the content of the external law which informs and forms the conscience. In looking at some pre-Enlightenment sources, it is possible to see an understanding consistent with Kuyper’s model:

False Rule. 3. Conscience. It is, saith one, my conscience. This is no rule for an upright man; the conscience of a sinner is defiled, Tit. 1:15 conscience being defiled may err; an erring conscience cannot be a rule, Acts 26:9. ‘I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus;’ he who is an heretic may plead conscience; admit conscience to be a rule, and we open the door to all mutinies and massacres; if the devil get into a man’s conscience, whither will he not carry him?

Thomas Watson, “The Upright Man’s Character,” in Discourses on Important and Interesting Subjects, Being the Select Works of the Rev. Thomas Watson, vol. 1 (Edinburgh; Glasgow: Blackie, Fullarton, & Co.; A. Fullarton & Co., 1829), 328. Here, he explicitly denies the conscience has any independent moral standard, but it is imported – at the very least one without salvation cannot have a properly functioning conscience. 

There are other uses which are ambiguous on this point, such as Manton’s “That true morality and good conscience cannot be had without the faith of the gospel; so that we are not only better provided, but indeed cannot perform such obedience as is acceptable to God without faith in Christ.” Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 17 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1874), 429. The trouble for the unbeliever is the inability to pacify the conscience because he cannot live right. This raises the question, why does the unbeliever have any pangs of conscience if he is ignorant of the law?

Thomas Boston goes further and writes: “This moral law is found, 1. In the hearts of all men, as to some remains thereof, Rom. 2:15. There are common notions thereof, such as, That there is a God, and that he is to be worshipped; that we should give every one his due, &c. Conscience has that law with which it accuses for the commission of great crimes, Rom. 1 ult. This internal law appears from those laws which are common in all countries for the preserving of human societies, the encouraging of virtue, and the discouraging of vice. What standard else can they have for these laws but common reason? The design of them is to keep men within the bounds of goodness for mutual commerce.”Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: An Illustration of the Doctrines of the Christian Religion, Part 2, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 2 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1848), 61.

And similarly by another, “but God hath given both light streaming forth from the word, and he hath given the eye of conscience, that by both these men might come assuredly to know that they are called out of darkness unto light.” James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, vol. 6 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 389.

In another place we see the conscience being deceived and thus judging wrongly: “Conscience is sometimes deceived through ignorance of what is right, by apprehending a false rule for a true, an error for the will of God: sometimes, through ignorance of the fact, by misapplying a right rule to a wrong action. Conscience, evil informed, takes human traditions and false doctrines, proposed under the show of Divine authority, to be the will of God.” James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 13.

Edwards occupies an interesting middle position, “Thus natural conscience, if the understanding be properly enlightened, and errors and blinding stupifying prejudices are removed, concurs with the law of God, and is of equal extent with it, and joins its voice with it in every article.” Jonathan Edwards, The Works of President Edwards (Worcester: Isaiah Thomas, Jun., 1808), 442–443. There is a natural conscience which would conform to the law of God, were it enlightened. 

And Luther held to a view that conscience can know of sin but not condemn the man as a sinner, “Zachman writes of Luther’s negative view of conscience: “The conscience can recognize sins (acts), but it cannot of itself, even under the external revelation of the law, acknowledge the person as sinner (nature). The subjective ability to feel oneself a sinner and to sense the wrath of God on sinners is thus a gift of God, and not an ability of conscience.” Justification is solely God’s work ex nihilo, not out of any preexistent salvific matters including human accretions, the murmuring of conscience, etc.” Dennis Ngien, Fruit for the Soul: Luther on the Lament Psalms (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2015), 155–156.

And Calvin, “In like manner, when men have an awareness of divine judgment adjoined to them as a witness which does not let them hide their sins but arraigns them as guilty before the judgment seat—this awareness is called “conscience.” It is a certain mean between God and man, for it does not allow man to suppress within himself what he knows, but pursues him to the point of making him acknowledge his guilt. This is what Paul means when he teaches that conscience testifies to men, while their thoughts accuse or excuse them in God’s judgment [Rom. 2:15–16]. A simple awareness could repose in man, bottled up, as it were. Therefore, this feeling, which draws men to God’s judgment, is like a keeper assigned to man, that watches and observes all his secrets so that nothing may remain buried in darkness. Hence that ancient proverb: conscience is a thousand witnesses.11 By like reasoning, Peter also put “the response11a of a good conscience to God” [1 Peter 3:21] as equivalent to peace of mind, when, convinced of Christ’s grace, we fearlessly present ourselves before God. And when the author of The Letter to the Hebrews states that we “no longer have any consciousness of sin” [Heb. 10:2], he means that we are freed or absolved so that sin can no longer accuse us.” 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), 1181–1182.

This brings us on both sides of the Enlightenment. While none of these examples hold the conscience an infallible witness, there is at least a general sense of God’s law.

Oddly, Kuyper’s position in some way is closer to John Locke,  Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Book 1, Chapter 2:

“7. Men’s actions convince us that the rule of virtue is not their internal principle. For, if we will not in civility allow too much sincerity to the professions of most men, but think their actions to be the interpreters of their thoughts, we shall find that they have no such internal veneration for these rules, nor so full a persuasion of their certainty and obligation. The great principle of morality, “To do as one would be done to,” is more commended than practised. But the breach of this rule cannot be a greater vice, than to teach others, that it is no moral rule, nor obligatory, would be thought madness, and contrary to that interest men sacrifice to, when they break it themselves. Perhaps conscience will be urged as checking us for such breaches, and so the internal obligation and establishment of the rule be preserved.

“8. Conscience no proof of any innate moral rule. To which I answer, that I doubt not but, without being written on their hearts, many men may, by the same way that they come to the knowledge of other things, come to assent to several moral rules, and be convinced of their obligation. Others also may come to be of the same mind, from their education, company, and customs of their country; which persuasion, however got, will serve to set conscience on work; which is nothing else but our own opinion or judgment of the moral rectitude or pravity of our own actions; and if conscience be a proof of innate principles, contraries may be innate principles; since some men with the same bent of conscience prosecute what others avoid.

“9. Instances of enormities practised without remorse. But I cannot see how any men should ever transgress those moral rules, with confidence and serenity, were they innate, and stamped upon their minds. View but an army at the sacking of a town, and see what observation or sense of moral principles, or what touch of conscience for all the outrages they do. Robberies, murders, rapes, are the sports of men set at liberty from punishment and censure. Have there not been whole nations, and those of the most civilized people, amongst whom the exposing their children, and leaving them in the fields to perish by want or wild beasts has been the practice; as little condemned or scrupled as the begetting them? Do they not still, in some countries, put them into the same graves with their mothers, if they die in childbirth; or despatch them, if a pretended astrologer declares them to have unhappy stars? And are there not places where, at a certain age, they kill or expose their parents, without any remorse at all?”

This is a very preliminary exercise and I have never really thought the issue through before. I without question concur that the conscience can be informed and deformed, and it is certainly no infallible rule. But I don’t think the issue can settled as easily as before and after the Enlightenment. 

Edward Taylor, Meditation 33

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Meditation 33

My Lord, my life, can envy ever be

A golden virtue? Then would God I were 

Top full thereof until it colors me

With yellow streaks for thy dear sake, most dear

Till I be envious made by’t at myself,                                         5

As scarely loving thee, my life, my health.

Oh! What strange charm encrampt my heart with spite

Making my love gleam upon a toy?

Lay out cartloads of love upon a mite?

Scarce lay a mite of love on thee, my Joy?                                 10

Oh, lovely thou, shalt not thou loved be?

Shall I ashame thee thus? Oh! Shame for me!

Nature’s amazed, Oh monstrous thing, quoth she,

Not love my life? What violence doth split

True love and life, that they should sundered be?                   15

She doth not lay such eggs, nor on them sit.

How do I sever then my heart with all

It powers whose love scare to my life doth crawl.

Goly lined out a paradise in power

Where e’ery seed a royal coach became                                      20

For Life to ride in, to each shining flower.

And made man’s flower with glory all ore flame.

Hell’s ink-faced elf black venom spt upon

The same and killed it. So that life is gone. 

Life thus abused fled to the golden ark,                                    25

Lay locked up there in mercy’s seat enclosed.

Which did incorporate it whence its sparke

Enlivens all things in this ark enclosed. 

Oh, glorious ark! Life’s store-house full of glee!

Shall not my love safe locked up lie in thee?                            30

Lord ark my soule safe in thyself, whereby

I and my life again may joined be.

That I may find what once I did destroy

Again conferred upon my soul in thee.

Thou art this golden ark, this. Living tree                                35

Where life lies treasured up for all in thee.

Oh! Graft me in this tree of life within

The paradise of God, that I may live.

Thy life make live in me. I’ll then begin 

To bear thy living fruits, and them fort give.                                                   40

Give me my life this way; and I’ll bestow

My love on thee, my life, and it shall grow.

Stanza One:

My Lord, my life, can envy ever be

A golden virtue? Then would God I were 

Top full thereof until it colors me

With yellow streaks for thy dear sake, most dear

Till I be envious made by’t at myself,                                         5

As scarely loving thee, my life, my health.

Summary:

This poem beings with an address to God, whom the poet calls, “My Lord, my life”. That theme of life will run through-out the poem. The theme of “envy” will be used ironically, as noted by calling envy – a sin – a “golden virtue”.  He is expressing a desire that he be filled with envy at himself because he “scarcely” love God who is his life.

At this point in the poem, the exact nature of the envy is difficult to ascertain. What do have is a jarring introduction where he wishes (would God I were) to filled with envy against himself.

Notes:

One striking question is the use of the word “yellow” for envy:

The explanation for the use of ‘yellow’ is given thus:

There is a disease in the body, called the yellow jaundice,† which makes the persons look yellow all over: this springs from the overflowing of the gall, which, overspreading the whole man, makes it lifeless, listless. Covetousness is the yellow jaundice of the soul, which arises from the overflowing of the heart with love to yellow gold, by which a Christian is dulled and deadened.

James Nichols, “How May We Get Rid of Spiritual Sloth”, Rev. Mr. Simmons, Puritan Sermons, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 440. Envy being a form of covetousness. 

We are more familiar with envy being “green” from Shakespeare:

Iago:


O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on; that cuckold lives in bliss
Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger;
But, O, what damned minutes tells he o’er
Who dotes, yet doubts, suspects, yet strongly loves!

The concept of envy:

The basic concept is one desiring something. 

“Not to envy the prosperity of the wicked.” John Lightfoot, The Whole Works of the Rev. John Lightfoot, ed. John Rogers Pitman, vol. 7 (London: J. F. Dove, 1822), 349. It arises from discontentment, “thy discontentedness usually breeds envy at it.” Jeremiah Burroughs, “Sermon IX,” in The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (London: W. Bentley, 1651), 112. It also has the sense of being unhappy at the happiness of another, “Pride is impatient of reproof, and envy looketh with an evil eye upon their privileges and advantages in Christ.” Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 10 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1872), 377.

Envy springing from discontentment then creates discontentment in the one on experiencing envy:

Envie is a squint-eyed foole, Job 5:2. Envie slayeth the silly one. James 3:14. If ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts. Envie is a bitter thing, and causes strife, and makes that bitter too: So ver. 16. Where envying and strife is. Gal. 5:20. Hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings. 1 Cor. 3:3. There is among you envying, strife, divisions. Envy made divisions between Angels and men; it was the first sinne, not the first borne of the Devill, but that which turned Angels into Devils. The first heart-division amongst men was between Cain and Abel, and what caused it but envy? Who can stand before Envy? she is subtill, undermining, dares not appeare at the first; but if she cannot be satisfied with her under-workes, then she flings, rends, frets, and fights, uses violence, seeks to raise a contrary faction, falls on any thing in the world so be it mischief may be done

Jeremiah Burroughs, Irenicum, To the Lovers of Truth and Peace (London: Robert Dawlman, 1646), 123.

This then gives us a hint at the ironic use of envy by Taylor. He seeks to stir up a discontentment in himself to not settle for the “toy” (Stanza Two) but seek the better.

Theodore Gericault,

Portrait of a Woman Suffering from Obsessive Envy (1822)

The quality of the desire:

Consider this language of his prayer:

Then would God I were 

Top full thereof until it colors me

With yellow streaks

His desire is that he becoming completely colored by this desire to the point that it is physically manifested: you would look at him and see this desire in him.

The ground of this desire:

until it colors me

With yellow streaks for thy dear sake, most dear

The prayed for envy is grounded in the Lord who is his life. The prayer itself, for the poem is a prayer, is directly addressed to “My Lord, my life”. And it is for the sake of the Lord that he wishes to be branded with this envy.

The paradoxical object of the desire:

Till I be envious made by’t at myself,                                         5

As scarely loving thee, my life, my health.

He seeks to be envious at himself. This presents a puzzle: How can one be envious of oneself?

The rational for the desire:

Because the poet “scarcely” love the Lord, who is his life, his health.

The quandary:

At this point we have a quandary: What does it mean that he wishes to be envious “at” himself because he does not rightly love God?

Prosody:

The stanzas are ten syllable iambic pentameter, with an ABABCC rhyme scheme. This form is known as the Italian sestet, or the sextilla.

The rhythm is regular through out. However, the phrase “by’t at” cannot satisfy the iamb well because the “by’t” must be unaccented from place: which is very difficult to perform in reading. 

The interesting musical effect in this stanza is on the word “my”. The first two phrases are “my Lord, my life”, the last two, “my life, my health.” This also forms an inclusion. 

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.:—

a.

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.