The previous post in this series may be here
In chapter 2, Sibbes begins to consider the various causes for discouragement in a Christian. He begins with discouragements which arise from outside one.
Interestingly , the first cause of discouragement in a Christian is God, Himself:
God himself: who sometimes withdraws the beams of his countenance from his children, whereupon the soul even of the strongest Christian is disquieted; when together with the cross, God himself seems to be an enemy unto them. The child of God, when he seeth that his troubles are mixed with God’s displeasure, and perhaps his conscience tells him that God hath a just quarrel against him, because he hath not renewed his peace with his God, then this anger of God puts a sting into all other troubles, and adds to the disquiet. There were some ingredients of this divine temptation, as we call it, in holy David at this time; though most properly a divine temptation be, when God appears unto us as an enemy, without any special guilt of any particular sin, as in Job’s case.
Sibbes then considers the objection: Is this even possible? He begins with the Son’s cry of dereliction:
And no marvel if Christians be from hence disquieted, whenas the Son of God himself, having always enjoyed the sweet communion with his Father, and now feeling an estrangement, that he might be a curse for us, complained in all his torments of nothing else, but ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Matt. 27:46
The gravest pain came with the inscrutable terror on the cross. The disruption of relationship brought the greatest pain. In a similar manner, the believer feels discouragement when the sunlight of God is hidden by some cloud. How can a believer not feel discouragement when God seems absent or even worse, an enemy?
Descending from God, we come to Satan:
Besides, if we look down to inferior causes, the soul is oft cast down by Satan, who is all for casting down, and for disquieting. For being a cursed spirit, cast and tumbled down himself from heaven, where he is never to come again, [he] is hereupon full of disquiet, carrying a hell about himself; whereupon all that he labours for is to cast down and disquiet others, that they may be, as much as he can procure, in the same cursed condition with himself. He was not ashamed to set upon Christ himself with this temptation of casting down, and thinks Christ’s members never low enough, till he can bring them as low as himself.
By his envy and subtilty we were driven out of paradise at the first, and now he envies us the paradise of a good conscience; for that is our paradise until we come to heaven, into which no serpent shall ever creep to tempt us.
Don’t run past that phrase, “the paradise of a good conscience”.
Third, human beings can disquiet the Christian by taunting — as is seen in the Psalms — “Where is your God?”
Sibbes, again an astute psychologist, notes:
There is nothing the nature of man is more impatient of than of reproaches; for there is no man so mean but thinks himself worthy of some regard, and a reproachful scorn shews an utter disrespect, which issues from the very superfluity of malice.
If we wonder why the enemies do not give up their taunt, Sibbes explains, “Malice is an insatiable monster”.
Is it true that God has actually deserted his people? Sibbes turns to the example of an eclipse:
Nay, rather what’s become of your eyes, we may say unto them? For God is nearest to his children when he seems farthest off. ‘In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen,’ Gen. 22:14; God is with them, and in them, though the wicked be not aware of it; it is all one, as if one should say betwixt the space of the new and old moon, Where is now the moon? whenas it is never nearer the sun than at that time.
Quest. Where is now thy God?
Ans. In heaven, in earth, in me, everywhere but in the heart of such as ask such questions, and yet there they shall find him too in his time, filling their consciences with his wrath; and then, where is their God? where are their great friends, their riches, their honours, which they set up as a god? what can they avail them now?
He ends with the final enemy of our quiet: ourself:
To let others pass, we need not go further than ourselves, for to find causes of discouragement; there is a seminary of them within us. Our flesh, an enemy so much the worse, by how much the nearer, will be ready to upbraid us within us, ‘Where is now thy God?’ why shouldst thou stand out in a profession that finds no better entertainment?
It is to this theme he turns in the next chapter.