What does “poor in spirit” mean

Blessed are the poor in spirit

For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

What then is necessary to come to this place of “poor in spirit”? It begins with an accurate understanding of oneself:

But the deepest reason for a habitual and fixed lowly opinion of ourselves lies in a sadder fact. We are not only recipient nothingnesses; we have something that is our own, and that is our will, and we have lifted it up against God. And if a man’s position as a dependent creature should take all lofty looks and high spirit out of him, his condition as a sinful man before God should lay him flat on his face in the presence of that Majesty; and should make him put his hand on his lips, and say, from behind the covering, “Unclean! unclean!” Oh, brethren, if we would only go down into the depths of our own hearts, every one of us would find there more than enough to make all self-complacency and self-conceit utterly impossible, as it ought to be, for us for ever. I have no wish, and God knows I have no need, to exaggerate about this matter; but we all know that if we were turned inside out, and every foul, creeping thing, and every blotch and spot upon these hearts of ours spread in the light, we could not face one another; we could scarcely face ourselves. If you or I were set, as they used to set criminals, up in a pillory with a board hanging round our necks, telling all the world what we were, and what we had done, there would be no need for rotten eggs to be flung at us; we should abhor ourselves. You know that is so. I know that it is so about myself, “and heart answereth to heart as in a glass.” And are we the people to perk ourselves up amongst our fellows, and say, “I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing”? Do we not know that we are poor and miserable and blind and naked? Oh, brethren, the proud old saying of the Greeks, “Know thyself,” if it were followed out unflinchingly and honestly by the purest saint this side heaven, would result in this profound abnegation of all claims, in this poverty of spirit.

So little has the world been influenced by Christ’s teaching that it uses “poor-spirited creature” as a term of opprobrium and depreciation. It ought to be the very opposite; for only the man who has been down into the dungeons of his own character, and has cried unto God out of the depths, will be able to make the house of his soul a fabric which may be a temple of God, and with its shining apex may pierce the clouds and seem almost to touch the heavens. A great poet has told us that the things which lead life to sovereign power are self-knowledge, self-reverence, and self-control. And in a noble sense it is true, but the deepest self-knowledge will lead to self-abhorrence rather than to self-reverence; and self-control is only possible when, knowing our own inability to cope with our own evil, we cast ourselves on that Lamb of God that beareth away the sin of the world, and ask Him to guide and to keep us. The one attitude for us is, “He did not so much as lift up His eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.” And then, sweeter than angels’ voices fluttering down amid the blue, there will come that gracious word, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Alexander Maclaren, The Beatitudes and Other Sermons (London: Alexander and Shepheard, 1896), 5–7.


The Conclusion of the Apology of Theophilus of Antioch


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The previous post in this series may be found here. 

Theophilus concludes his defense and advocacy of Christianity by an appeal to (1) its historical veracity; and (2) its antiquity.

He begins this section of the argument as follows:

But I wish now to give you a more accurate demonstration, God helping me, of the historical periods, that you may see that our doctrine is not modern nor fabulous, but more ancient and true than all poets and authors who have written in uncertainty. For some, maintaining that the world was uncreated, went into infinity;1 and others, asserting that it was created, said that already 153, 075 years had passed.

1 i.e., tracing back its history through an infinate duration.

 Theophilus of Antioch, “Theophilus to Autolycus,” in Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire), ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Marcus Dods, vol. 2, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 116.

Theophilus then works through the then-current theories on the age of the earth, and various events (he spends much time comparing various understandings of the time of the Flood and also the Israelites in Egypt).  In each case, he contends that the Biblical understanding of the time period and events is correct.

First, he goes the basis for the biblical positions:

It behoved, therefore, that he should the rather become a scholar of God in this matter of legislation, as he himself confessed that in no other way could he gain accurate information than by God’s teaching him through the law. And did not the poets Homer and Hesiod and Orpheus profess that they themselves had been instructed by Divine Providence? Moreover, it is said that among your writers there were prophets and prognosticators, and that those wrote accurately: who were informed by them. How much more, then, shall we know the truth who are instructed by the holy prophets, who were possessed by the Holy Spirit of God! On this account all the prophets spoke harmoniously and in agreement with one another, and foretold the things that would come to pass in all the world.

Theophilus of Antioch,  116. That is, since they demonstrated the divine nature of their speech by means of predictive prophecy and coherence in doctrine, they should be trusted when they speak of other things which are far more debated (the ancient history of the world).

He compares the biblical accounts with the accounts of poets and philosophers; for instance:

From what has already been said, it is evident that they who wrote such things and philosophized to so little purpose are miserable, and very profane and senseless persons. But Moses, our prophet and the servant of God, in giving an account of the genesis of the world, related in what manner the flood came upon the earth, telling us, besides, how the details of the flood came about, and relating no fable of Pyrrha nor of Deucalion or Clymenus; nor, forsooth, that only the plains were submerged, and that those only who escaped to the mountains were saved.

Theophilus of Antioch,  116. He then compares the ages of the events set forth in the Bible with the dates for various Greek law givers and poets; and notes that the Biblical account begins before Greek history. This is a relative sort of argument. He does not try to argue that the Biblical accounts go earlier than every other potential account — just earlier than the Greek accounts:

These periods, then, and all the above-mentioned facts, being viewed collectively, one can see the antiquity of the prophetical writings and the divinity of our doctrine, that the doctrine is not recent, nor our tenets mythical and false, as some think, but very ancient and true.

 Theophilus of Antioch,  120. He concludes thus

But the Greeks make no mention of the histories which give the truth: first, because they themselves only recently became partakers of the knowledge of letters; and they themselves own it, alleging that letters were invented, some say among the Chaldæans, and others with the Egyptians, and others again say that they are derived from the Phœnicians. And secondly, because they sinned, and still sin, in not making mention of God, but of vain and useless matters. For thus they most heartily celebrate Homer and Hesiod, and the rest of the poets, but the glory of the incorruptible and only God they not only omit to mention, but blaspheme; yes, and they persecuted, and do daily persecute, those who worship Him. And not only so, but they even bestow prizes and honours on those who in harmonious language insult God; but of those who are zealous in the pursuit of virtue and practise a holy life, some they stoned, some they put to death, and up to the present time they subject them to savage tortures. Wherefore such men have necessarily lost the wisdom of God, and have not found the truth.

Theophilus of Antioch, 121. The relative argument is appropriate here, because he is merely contending against a particular man in a particular place. He is not attempting to respond to every possible argument, but he is responding to a particular argument. Why would anyone abandon Helenic Religion and Philosophy for Christianity:

Since, then, my friend, you have assailed me with empty words, boasting of your gods of wood and stone, hammered and cast, carved and graven, which neither see nor hear, for they are idols, and the works of men’s hands; and since, besides, you call me a Christian, as if this were a damning name to bear, I, for my part, avow that I am a Christian,1 and bear this name beloved of God, hoping to be serviceable2 to God. For it is not the case, as you suppose, that the name of God is hard to bear; but possibly you entertain this opinion of God, because you are yourself yet unserviceable to Him.

Theophilus of Antioch, 89. His argument has been to clarify what Christians do believe; and to demonstrate the immorality and absurdity of Greek thought; the elevation of Biblical thought; its morality and antiquity. This argument was antiquity was important in apologetics for the early church. For instance, Clement of Alexandria makes a detailed argument based upon the antiquity of Christianity:

On the plagiarizing of the dogmas of the philosophers from the Hebrews, we shall treat a little afterwards. But first, as due order demands, we must now speak of the epoch of Moses, by which the philosophy of the Hebrews will be demonstrated beyond all contradiction to be the most ancient of all wisdom.

 Clement of Alexandria, “The Stromata, or Miscellanies,” in Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire), ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 2, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 324.   The idea that the Bible explains the antiquity of original revelation — and a corruption of that revelation as it spreads throughout human history is not merely an argument of the early church, but is a matter of current concern:

In arguing for a revelatory ‘single-source’ theory as to both the theological and historical origin of religion and the religions, does the Urgeschichte provide us with any more detail or explanatory ‘mechanism’ as to the pattern of religion that begins with an original divine disclosure but that, due to human sin, and without divine preservation, ends in a derivative religious degeneration and decay as God ‘gives people over’ to idolatry?

Strange, Daniel. Their Rock Is Not Like Our Rock: A Theology of Religions (pp. 121-122). Zondervan. Kindle Edition. Tracing out that argument is well beyond this post. For now, we only note that the argument from antiquity — with an implicit element of corruption/derivation (Clement’s “plagiarizing”) is still a current concern.

“Chutzpah” as a legal term of art



It’s Friday:

“Chutzpah” as a legal term of art is analytically similar to “unclean hands,” though not necessarily coterminous with that concept as understood in Chancery. The “classic definition” of chutzpah has been described as “that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court Because he is an orphan.” Leo Rosten, The Joys of Yiddish 92 (1968). Courts in .this Circuit have employed the “classic definition” and contemporary variations where a party’s conduct is especially and brazenly faulty. See, e.g., Thaler v. Second New Haven Bank, Civ. No. B-713, slip op. at 1 (D.Conn. Apr. 10, 1974) (Jon O. Newman, J.) (dismissing a lawsuit brought by Seymour R. Thaler, a former New York State Senator who — while serving a sentence for selling stolen bonds to the Second New Haven Bank — sued the bank for negligence, contending that if a teller had checked that day’s list of stolen bonds, the bonds would not have been accepted and Thaler would not have been convicted); see id. (“When the apocryphal child murdered his parents and then sought mercy as an orphan, he set a standard for courtroom chutzpah that has not been rivaled until the filing of this lawsuit.”). Cf. Scher v. Nat’l Assoc, of Sec. Dealers386 F.Supp.2d 402, 404 (S.D.N.Y. 2005) (Michael B. Mukasey, J.) (quoting the unpublished opinion by then-District Judge Newman); Lawrence Fellows, Judge Rebuffs Thaler Suit As New High in `Chutzpah’, N.Y. Times, Apr. 12, 1974, at A35 (“Judge Newman dismissed the suit in Federal District Court . . . and, in an accompanying memorandum he denounced both the complaint and its author for aspiring to a new `standard for courtroom chutzpah.'”). Although “chutzpah” is, in some respects, “vastly overused,” Yates v. City of New York, No. 04 Civ. 9928, 2006 WL 2239430, at *12006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 54199, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 4, 2006) (Sidney H. Stein, J.), it endures in judicial opinions whenever judges — who have “seen it all” — encounter such flagrant abuses that no single word adequately expresses appropriate disgust. See id. (observing that “chutzpah” was the “most appropriate” term to describe “an individual, [who] after being mauled by the 450-pound Siberian tiger he had been raising inside his fifth-floor apartment along with an alligator, sue[d] the city and the police who entered the apartment in an effort to rescue the animals for doing so without a search warrant”). Such is the case we decide today.

Motorola Credit Corp. v. Uzan, 561 F.3d 123, 129 n.5 (2d Cir. 2009)

Richard Sibbes, Sermons on Canticles, Sermon 1.9 (On God hearing our prayers)


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The question of why does God hear our prayers? There is obviously no obligation in God to hear prayer: God is under no duty to the creature. The creature cannot compel God to hear prayer. The prayers of human beings in the course of history have raised in number of absurd, wicked, hurtful prayers. 

In Psalm 68:18, the Psalmist writes, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the lord will not hear me.” In Proverbs 1, Wisdom warns that the one who will not regard wisdom will not be heard when he prays having suffered the result of refusing wisdom:

Proverbs 1:24–33 (AV)

24 Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; 25 But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: 26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; 27 When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. 28 Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: 29 For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD: 30 They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. 31 Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices. 32 For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them. 33 But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.

So we see that the matter of being heard is not automatic. Why then does God hear prayer?

Sibbes gives two reasons: (1) the good in our prayer has been brought about by the action of the Spirit; and (2) God receives as he has chosen us in election. It is God’s good grace toward us, to choose us and to transform us that is the basis for God hearing us.

First: the operation of God

Now God hears our prayers, First, Because the materials of these holy desires are good in themselves, and from the person from whence they come, his beloved spouse, as it is in Cant. 2:14, where Christ, desiring to hear the voice of his church, saith, ‘Let me see thy countenance, and let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.’ Thus the voice of the Spouse is sweet, because it is stirred up by his own Spirit, which burns the incense, and whence all comes which is savingly good. This offering up of our prayers in the name of Christ, is that which with his sweet odours perfumes all our sacrifices and prayers; because, being in the covenant of grace, God respects whatsoever comes from us, as we do the desires of our near friends, Rev. 8:3.

Second, God receives us in the relationship which He has chosen for us:

And then, again, God hears our prayers, because he looks upon us as we are in election, and choice of God the Father, who hath given us to him. Not only as in the near bond of marriage, husband and wife, but also as he hath given us to Christ; which is his plea unto the Father, John 17:6, ‘Thine they were, thou gavest them me,’ &c. The desires of the church please him, because they are stirred up by his Spirit, and proceed from her that is his; whose voice he delights to hear, and the prayers of others for his church are accepted, because they are for her that is his beloved.

And further:

To confirm this further, see Isa. 58:9. ‘Thou then shalt cry, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt call, and presently he shall say, Here I am,’ &c. So as soon as Daniel had ended that excellent prayer, the angel telleth him, ‘At the beginning of thy supplications the decree came forth,’ &c., Dan. 9:23. So because he knows what to put into our hearts, he knows our desires and thoughts, and therefore accepts of our prayers and hears us, because he loves the voice of his own Spirit in us. So it is said, ‘He fulfils the desires of them that fear him; and he is near to all that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth,’ Ps. 145:18. And our Saviour, he saith, ‘Ask and ye shall receive,’ &c., Mat. 7:7. So we have it, 1 John 5:14, ‘And we know if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us.’


Use 1. Let it therefore be a singular comfort to us, that in all wants, so in that of friends, when we have none to go to, yet we have God, to whom we may freely pour out our hearts. There being no place in the world that can restrain us from his presence, or his Spirit from us, he can hear us and help us in all places. What a blessed estate is this! None can hinder us from driving this trade with Christ in heaven.

I was told by a woman that when she was a child, she was told by an adult, I do not love you. The little girl thought to herself, that is okay. Jesus loves me.

Second, when stop realize what a privilege it is to go to God in prayer, it should stir up our hearts to make use of the privilege:

Use 2. And let us make another use of it likewise, to be a means to stir up our hearts to make use of our privileges. What a prerogative is it for a favourite to have the fare* of his prince! him we account happy. Surely he is much more happy that hath God’s care, him to be his father in the covenant of grace; him reconciled, upon all occasions, to pour out his heart before him, who is merciful and faithful, wise and most able to help us. ‘Why are we discouraged, therefore; and why are we cast down,’ Ps. 42:11, when we have such a powerful and such a gracious God to go to in all our extremities? He that can pray can never be much uncomfortable.

And three: 

Use 3. So likewise, it should stir us up to keep our peace with God, that so we may always have access unto him, and communion with him. 

But this is a privilege which can be lost:

What a pitiful case is it to lose other comforts, and therewith also to be in such a state, that we cannot go to God with any boldness! It is the greatest loss of all when we have lost the spirit of prayer; for, if we lose other things, we may recover them by prayer. But when we have lost this boldness to go to God, and are afraid to look him in the face, as malefactors the judge, this is a woful state.

Sibbes then considers two things which will break the fellowship with God which makes prayer possible. First, there is unrepentant sin:

Now there are diverse cases wherein the soul is not in a state fit for prayer. As that first, Ps. 66:18, ‘If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not regard my prayer.’ If a man hath a naughty heart, that purposeth to live in any sin against God, he takes him for an enemy, and therefore will not regard his prayer. Therefore we must come with a resolute purpose to break off all sinful courses, and to give up ourselves to the guidance of God’s Spirit. And this will be a forcible reason to move us thereunto, because so long as we live in any known sin unrepented of, God neither regards us nor our prayers. What a fearful estate is this, that when we have such need of God’s favour in all estates; in sickness, the hour of death, and in spiritual temptation, to be in such a condition as that we dare not go to God! Though our lives be civil,* yet if we have false hearts that feed themselves with evil imaginations, and with a purpose of sinning, though we act it not, the Lord will not regard the prayers of such a one; they are abominable. The very ‘sacrifice of the wicked is abominable,’ Prov. 15:8.

The second is a refusal to forgive:

Another case is, when we will not forgive others. We know it is directly set down in the Lord’s prayer, ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us,’ Mat. 6:14; and there is further added, ver. 15, ‘If you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you.’ If our hearts tell us we have no disposition to pardon, be at peace and agreement, then we do but take God’s name in vain when we ask him to forgive our sins, and we continue in envy and malice. In this case God will not regard our prayers, as it is said, ‘I care not for your prayers, or for any service you perform to me,’ Isa. 1:15. Why? ‘For your hands are full of blood,’ Isa. 66:1. You are unmerciful, of a cruel, fierce disposition, which cannot appear before God rightly, nor humble itself in prayer. If it doth, its own bloody and cruel disposition will be objected against the prayers, which are not mingled with faith and love, but with wrath and bitterness. Shall I look for mercy, that have no merciful heart myself? Can I hope to find that of God, that others cannot find from me? An unbroken disposition, which counts ‘pride an ornament,’ Ps. 73:6, that is cruel and fierce, it cannot go to God in prayer. For, whosoever would prevail with God in prayer must be humble; for our supplications must come from a loving, peaceable disposition, where there is a resolution against all sin, Ps. 73:1. Neither is it sufficient to avoid grudging and malice against these, but we must look that others have not cause to grudge against us, as it is commanded: ‘If thou bring thy gifts to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift,’ Mat. 5:23. So that if we do not seek reconciliation with men unto whom we have done wrong, God will not be reconciled to us, nor accept any service from us.

There is another reference to the result of a failure to forgive spoken of by Jesus in Matthew 18. In the parable of the unforgiving servant, Jesus tells of a servant who was forgiven much but he himself would not forgive another slave who owed him just a little:

21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? 22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. 23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. 24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. 28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. 29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. 

What then was the result for the one who refused to forgive:

32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: 33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? 34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. 35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.

Matthew 18:21–35 (AV). The man was delivered to tormentors until he would forgive. The lord would not hear the prayer of the servant who would not forgive. This is the most dreadful of states.

Sibbes then finishes with an interesting question: How do I know if God hears my prayer?

Quest. How shall I know whether God regard my prayers or not?

Ans. 1. First, When he grants the thing prayed for, or enlargeth our hearts to pray still. It is a greater gift than the thing itself we beg, to have a spirit of prayer with a heart enlarged; for, as long as the heart is enlarged to prayer, it is a sign that God hath a special regard of us, and will grant our petition in the best and fittest time.

2. When he answers us in a better and higher kind, as Paul when he prayed for the taking away of the prick of the flesh, had promises of sufficient grace, 2 Cor. 12:7–9.

3. When, again, he gives us inward peace, though he gives not the thing, as Phil. 4:6, ‘In nothing be careful, but in all things let your requests be made to God with prayer and thanksgiving.’

Obj. But sometimes he doth not answer our requests.

Ans. It is true he doth not, but ‘the peace of God which passeth all understanding guards our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God,’ Philip. 4:7. So though he answers not our prayers in particular, yet he vouchsafes inward peace unto us, assuring us that it shall go well with us, though not in that particular we beg. And thus in not hearing their prayers, yet they have their hearts’ desire when God’s will is made known. Is not this sufficient for a Christian, either to have the thing, or to have inward peace, with assurance that it shall go better with them than if they had it; with a spirit enlarged to pray, till they have the thing prayed for. If any of these be, God respects our prayers.

Richard Sibbes, Sermons on Canticles 1.8 (Christ loves his bride, and so makes her lovely)


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Having completed his consideration of Canticles 4:16, Awake, O North wind he comes to answer:

Now, upon the church’s invitation for Christ to come into his garden, follows his gracious answer unto the church’s desire, in the first verse of this fifth chapter:

‘I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse: I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved,’ Cant. 5:1.

Having made some introductory observations, Sibbes comes to his exegesis

The first point is that Christ comes into this garden. Although Sibbes does not directly address this point, he seems to have this concept in mind: What would God have to do with sinful men? As it reads in Psalm 5:4 (AV), “For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee.”

God loves his Church and then makes it lovely:

First of all, God makes his church lovely, planteth good things therein, and then stirs up in her good desires: both fitness to pray from an inward gracious disposition, and holy desires; after which, Christ hearing the voice of his own Spirit in her, and regarding his own preparations, he answers them graciously. Whence, in the first place, we may observe, that,

God makes us good, stirs up holy desires in us, and then answers the desires of his holy Spirit in us.

This is paralleled in Paul’s discussion of marriage in Ephesians 5:25-27:

25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

The love of Christ does not leave as we were, but the relentless action of the Holy Spirit works upon us to make more lovely to Christ. Because have been redeemed we are transformed; because of his love, we are made lovely. 

This incidentally, is the place upon which the Protestant and the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox differ, this matter of justification and sanctification. And while this subject is far too great to be handled in three sentences, there is a picture here of the distinction. As Thomas Brooks said, you are wise and know how to apply it.

This transformation of the heart worked by the love of God helps us to understand a wildly misapplied verse :

Psalm 37:4 (AV)

Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.

If I delight myself in the Lord, then he is the desire of my heart. God stirs us up to the best desire and then meets that desire. 

But Sibbes takes the application in a different direction and considers the question of prayer:

A notable place for this we have, Ps. 10:17, which shews how God first prepares the heart to pray, and then hears these desires of the soul stirred up by his own Spirit, ‘Lord, thou hast heard the desires of the humble.’ None are fit to pray but the humble, such as discern their own wants: ‘Thou wilt prepare their hearts, thou wilt make thine ear to hear.’ So Rom. 8:26, it is said, ‘Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us, with groanings which cannot be uttered.’ Thus the Spirit not only stirs up our heart to pray, but also prepares our hearts unto it. 

God must work in our hearts to prepare and deliver our prayer, because we would not have such in ourselves. 

Sibbes then turns to the matter of why God hearing our prayers. But since that is a topic onto itself, it will come next.

Richard Sibbes, Sermons on Canticles 1.7 (An imperfect garden)


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(Photo courtesy of wallboat)

The previous post in this series may be found here

He next comes to a peculiarly encouraging aspect of Christ’s Garden. 

The church desires Christ to come into his garden, ‘to eat his pleasant fruits,’ where we see, the church gives all to Christ. The garden is his, the fruit his, the pleasantness and preciousness of the fruit is his. And as the fruits please him, so the humble acknowledgment that they come from him doth exceedingly please him. It is enough for us to have the comfort, let him have the glory. 

This discussion of Christ’s Garden and Christ’s produce raises a number of biblical allusions to the Garden. Adam was created and placed into a Garden. Jesus was buried in a Garden — and Mary Magdalene found Jesus in the Garden, “supposing he was the gardener” —a second Adam. God compares Israel to a vineyard. Isaiah 14. Jesus picks up on that image in the parable of the wicked tenants. The New Heavens and New Earth are a garden. Solomon sought to re-create Eden as a man-built Garden (Ecclesiastes 2). 

But the most on point use of this imagery is found in John 15:

1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. 2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. 3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. 5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. 6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. 8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.

John 15:1–8 (AV).

Think of this imagery: there is fruit brought forth through us — but it is not from us. We produce, but in a state of dependency. We do not bring forth our own; it is Christ’s work. 

Sibbes helps here, because he underscores an implication of this fact: Since the fruit does not come from us, it is not about us. Thus, our imperfections do not detract from Christ’s pleasure in his own work. We are only to give glory to him for his work in us — despite our weakness:

It came from a good spirit in David when he said, ‘Of thine own, Lord, I give thee,’ &c., 1 Chron. 29:14. God accounts the works and fruits that come from us to be ours, because the judgment and resolution of will, whereby we do them, is ours. This he doth to encourage us; but because the grace whereby we judge and will aright, comes from God, it is our duty to ascribe whatsoever is good in us, or comes from us, unto him; so God shall lose no praise, and we lose no encouragement. The imperfections in well-doing are only ours, and those Christ will pardon, as knowing how to bear with the infirmities of his spouse, being ‘the weaker vessel,’ 1 Pet. 3:7.

A thought on “weaker vessel”: our marriage is merely a metaphor for the true marriage between God and his people. We, however, try to work the metaphor backwards. We try to read our marriage in terms of Christ’s.  Thus, when we come to “weaker vessel” (for instance) we are concerned with the concrete in our own life rather than Christ’s kindness and condescension toward us.

Here then is encouragement:

Use. This therefore should cheer up our spirits in the wants and blemishes of our performances. They are notwithstanding precious fruits in Christ’s acceptance, so that we desire to please him above all things, and to have nearer communion with him. Fruitfulness unto pleasingness may stand with imperfections, so that we be sensible of them, and ashamed for them. Although the fruit be little, yet it is precious, there is a blessing in it. Imperfections help us against temptations to pride, not to be matter of discouragement, which Satan aims at. 

Our imperfections are for our good: God uses our weakness to demonstrate his strength. Our fault comes from falsely thinking ourselves strong. Gladly let us admit our weakness and our reliance upon Christ’s strength & grace.

It is the devil’s work to make us think of ourselves; rather let us think on our Savior:

And as Christ commands the north and south wind to blow for cherishing, so Satan labours to stir up an east pinching wind, to take either from endeavour, or to make us heartless in endeavour. Why should we think basely of that which Christ thinks precious? Why should we think that offensive which he counts as incense? We must not give false witness of the work of grace in our hearts, but bless God that he will work anything in such polluted hearts as ours. What though, as they come from us, they have a relish of the old man, seeing he takes them from us, ‘perfumes them with his own sweet odours,’ Rev. 8:3, and so presents them unto God. He is our High Priest which makes all acceptable, both persons, prayers, and performances, sprinkling them all with his blood, Heb. 9:14.

And our consolation:

To conclude this point, let it be our study to be in such a condition wherein we may please Christ; and whereas we are daily prone to offend him, let us daily renew our covenant with him, and in him: and fetch encouragements of well-doing from this, that what we do is not only well-pleasing unto him, but rewarded of him. And to this end desire him, that he would give command to north and south, to all sort of means, to be effectual for making us more fruitful, that he may delight in us as his pleasant gardens. And then what is in the world that we need much care for or fear?

Biblical Counseling: Compatibility: Is it important and how important is it?

Very good advice

The Domain for Truth

Compatibility: Is it important and how important is it?

Purpose: In this session we will consider the issue of compatibility by understanding the following three points:

  1. Point 1: We need to be aware that sometimes people can over-exaggerate the claim of a couple’s differences as the primary source of their problems.
  2. Point 2: We need to pursue compatibility of biblical belief and practices instead of superficial similarities.
  3. Point 3: We need to pursue biblical solutions for differences in relationship and marriage

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Richard Sibbes, Sermons on Canticles, Sermon 1.6 (Sincerity and Coming to Christ)


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The previous post on this sermon may be found here. 

In this next section, Sibbes makes two related points: (1) If we walk in sincerity, then we may enter into the presence of Christ. (2) We should walk in sincerity (or holiness), because the presence of Christ is the place of our happiness.

It would be easy to the turn of the argument, so let us consider the elements:

A gracious heart is privy to its own grace and sincerity when it is in a right temper, and so far as it is privy is bold with Christ in a sweet and reverend† manner. So much sincerity, so much confidence. 

First, we need to understand that “sincerity” is not “sincerity” on any and every topic. While Jonathan Edwards is from a later generation than Sibbes, he makes this point well:

From what has been said, it is evident that persons’ endeavors, however sincere and real, and however great, and though they do their utmost, unless the will that those endeavors proceed from be truly good and virtuous, can avail to no purposes whatsoever with any moral validity, or as anything in the sight of God morally valuable (and so of weight through any moral value to merit, recommend, satisfy or excuse, or make up for any moral defect), or anything that should abate resentment or render it any way unjust or hard to execute punishment for any moral evil or want of any moral good. Because, if such endeavors have any such value, weight or validity in the sight of God, it must be through something in them that is good and virtuous in his sight.

 Jonathan Edwards, The “Miscellanies”: (Entry Nos. 1153–1360), ed. Douglas A. Sweeney and Harry S. Stout, vol. 23, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2004), 52–53. Sincerity is not virtuous in and of itself; but sincerity in a good thing is critical. Without sincerity, one cannot be right before God.

To think righty of sincerity, we must see it as the opposite of hypocrisy:

13. A godly man is a sincere man, ‘Behold an Israelite indeed, in whose spirit there is no guile.’ The word for sincere signifies without plaits and folds: a godly man is plain hearted, having no subtile subterfuges; religion is the livery a godly man wears, and this livery is lined with sincerity.

Quest. Wherein doth the godly man’s sincerity appear?

Ans. 1. The godly man is that which he seems to be; he is a Jew inwardly. Grace runs through his heart, as silver through the veins of the earth: the hypocrite is not what he seems.

A picture is like a man, but it wants breath: the hypocrite is an effigy, a picture, he doth not breathe forth sanctity: he is but like an angel on a sign-post: a godly man answers to his profession, as a transcript to the original.

 Thomas Watson, “The Godly Man’s Picture Drawn with a Scripture-Pencil,” 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), 468.

Sincerity is necessary for true communion with God:

The third thing required to praying with our spirit, is sincerity. There may be much fervour where there is little or no sincerity; and this is strange fire, not the natural heat of the new creature, which both comes from and acts for God, whereas the other is from, and ends in self. Indeed, the fire which self kindles, serves only to warm the man’s own hands that makes it: ‘Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks,’ Isa. 50:11. The prophet represents them as sitting down about the fire they had made. Self-acting, and self-aiming ever go together; therefore our Saviour with spirit requires truth; ‘the Father seeketh such to worship him,’ as will ‘worship him in spirit and in truth,’ John 4:23, 24.

But wherein consists this sincere fervency? Zeal warms the affections, sincerity directs their end, and shews their purity and incorruption. The affections are often strong when the heart is insincere: therefore the apostle exhorts, that we ‘love one another with a pure heart fervently,’ 1 Peter 1:22; and speaks in another place of sorrowing after a godly sort, that is, sincerely. Now the sincerity of the heart in prayer appears, when a person prays from pure principles to pure ends.

 William Gurnall and John Campbell, The Christian in Complete Armour (London: Thomas Tegg, 1845), 751.

Sibbes lays “sincerity” as a necessary element of coming to God:

If our heart condemn us not of unsincerity, we may in a reverend† manner speak boldly to Christ. 

But in making the statement, Sibbes is paragraph 1 John 3:

19 And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. 20 For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. 21 Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. 22 And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.

1 John 3:19–22 (AV). The condemnation of heart is that we are not of God – that we have not been cleansed.  Sibbes is not using “sincerity” the way many use the word “faith” — as if sincerity were powerful, alone. A sincere idolator is still an idolator.

Sibbes then considers this relationship:

It is not fit there should be strangeness betwixt Christ and his spouse; neither, indeed, will there be, when Christ hath blown upon her, and when she is on the growing hand. But mark the order.

First, Christ blows, and then the church says, ‘Come.’ Christ begins in love, then love draws love. Christ draws the church, and she runs after him, Cant. 1:4. The fire of love melts more than the fire of affliction.

Sibbes then considers this blowing & coming. At this point he turns to holiness. He makes a critical observation here about holiness. It is easy to think of holiness as some abstract duty. But Sibbes makes plan, holiness is relational. In doing this, he provides a basis for Sinclair Ferguson’s observation that legalism and antinomianism are both based in divorcing God’s law from God’s person. Sibbes here ties obedience and holiness to love of God and relationship with God:

1. Oh! let us take the apostle’s counsel, ‘To labour to walk worthy of the Lord, &c., unto all well-pleasing, increasing in knowledge, and fruitfulness in every good work,’ Col. 1:9, 10. And this knowledge must not only be a general wisdom in knowing truths, but a special understanding of his good-will to us, and our special duties again to him.

2. Again, that we may please Christ the better, labour to be cleansed from that which is offensive to him: let the spring be clean. Therefore the psalmist, desiring that the words of his mouth and the meditations of his heart might be acceptable before God, first begs ‘cleansing from his secret sins,’ Ps. 19:12.

3. And still we must remember that he himself must work in us whatsoever is well-pleasing in his sight, that so we may be perfect in every good thing to do his will, having grace whereby we may serve him acceptably. And one prevailing argument with him is, that we desire to be such as he may take delight in: ‘the upright are his delight.’ It cannot but please him when we desire grace for this end that we may please him. If we study to please men in whom there is but little good, should we not much more study to please Christ, the fountain of goodness? Labour therefore to be spiritual; for ‘to be carnally minded is death,’ Rom. 8:6, and ‘those that are in the flesh cannot please God.’