, , , , , ,

The previous post may be found here

In the third chapter, Sibbes turns to consider discouragements which arise form our own hearts and lives.

Physical Causes
He first mentions physical causes:

But to come to some particular causes within us. There is cause oft in the body of those in whom a melancholy temper prevaileth. Darkness makes men fearful. Melancholy persons are in a perpetual darkness, all things seem black and dark unto them, their spirits, as it were, dyed black. Now to him that is in darkness, all things seem black and dark; the sweetest comforts are not lightsome enough unto those that are deep in melancholy.

The discouragement itself does not take place in the body, even if the body lends a lense to the view of the world. Moreover, Sibbes notes that Satan will take advantage of any weakness in the body to corrupt and discourage the soul.

Sibbes then turns to 12 privatations which lead to discouragement. These could be summarized as a failure to rightly understand God and God’s actings. By a right failure to understand God and God’s means of interacting with us, many fall into despair.

1. False knowledge or ignorance which lead to “false fears”.

2. Forgetfulness of the good we previously received: “We have no more present actual comfort than we than we have remembrance; help a godly man’s memory, and help his comfort.”

3. “Want of setting due price upon comforts.”

4. Those who are peevish and will not be content unless they get all they want.

This peevishness is increased by a too much flattering of their grief, so far as to justify it; like Jonas, ‘I do well to be angry even unto death,’ Jonah 4:9; he would stand to it. Some, with Rachel, are so peremptory, that they ‘will not be comforted,’ Jer. 31:15, as if they were in love with their grievances. Wilful men are most vexed in their crosses. It is not for those to be wilful that have not a great measure of wisdom to guide their wills; for God delights to have his will of those that are wedded to their own wills, as in Pharaoh. No men more subject to discontentments than those who would have all things after their own way.

5. “Again, one main ground is, false reasoning, and error in our discourse, as that we have no grace when we feel none. Feeling is not always a fit rule to judge our states by, that God hath rejected us, because we are crossed in outward things, whenas this issues from God’s wisdom and love.” We must trust God’s good will even when it we cannot “feel” it so.

6. Those whose theology is backwards. This is not currently a common trouble, but it may afflict some. There is a secret election of God of some to salvation. But we cannot know our election except as God calls us. Election is known to the Christian for his comfort: that God will not lose those whom he has called. But some have thrown election into the door as a means to determine who is in and who is out:

This great secret of God’s eternal love to us in Christ is hidden in his breast, and doth not appear to us, until in the use of means God by his Spirit discovereth the same unto us; the Spirit letteth into the soul so much life and sense of God’s love in particular to us, as draweth the soul to Christ, from whom it draweth so much virtue as changeth the frame of it, and quickeneth it to duty, which duties are not grounds of our state in grace, but issues, springing from a good state before; and thus far they help us in judging of our condition, that though they be not to be rested in, yet as streams they lead us to the spring-head of grace from whence they arise.


We know God must love us before we can love him, and yet we oft first know that we love him, 1 John 4:19; the love of God is the cause why we love our brother, and yet we know we love our brother whom we see more clearly, than God whom we do not see, ver. 20.

It is a spiritual peevishness that keeps men in a perplexed condition, that they neglect these helps to judge of their estates by, whereas God takes liberty to help us sometime to a discovery of our estate by the effects, sometimes by the cause, &c

7. “Another cause of disquiet is, that men by a natural kind of popery seek for their comfort too much sanctification, neglecting justification, relying too much upon their own performances. St Paul was of another mind, accounting all but dung and dross, compared to the righteousness of Christ, Philip. 3:8, Philip. 3:9.”

We must know that our salvation is anchored in the free grace of God (sanctification, the growth in holiness is a benefit and blessing of justification; not a ground):

Whereas if we believe in Christ we are as sure to come to heaven as Christ is there. Christ ascending and descending, with all that he hath done, is ours. So that neither height nor depth can separate us from God’s love in Christ, Rom. 8:39.

But we must remember, though the main pillar of our comfort be in the free forgiveness of our sins, yet if there be a neglect in growing in holiness, the soul will never be soundly quiet, because it will be prone to question the truth of justification, and it is as proper for sin to raise doubts and fears in the conscience, as for rotten flesh and wood to breed worms.

8. The failure to maintain a clear conscience. “A Christian is a new creature and walketh by rule, and so far as he walketh according to his rule, peace is upon him, Gal. 6:16. Loose walkers that regard not their way, must think to meet with sorrows instead of peace. Watchfulness is the preserver of peace. It is a deep spiritual judgment to find peace in an ill way.”

9. Conversely, one can load the conscience with fears and rules which God has never imposed nor intended. The law of God is meant for human happiness; to spare us shame, guilt and hurt. But, “Some again reap the fruit of their ignorance of Christian liberty, by unnecessary scruples and doubts. It is both unthankfulness to God and wrong to ourselves, to be ignorant of the extent of Christian liberty. It makes melody to Satan to see Christians troubled with that they neither should or need.”

10. Those who refuse to work will fall into depression: this is a common trouble. “Sometimes also, God suffers men to be disquieted for want of employment, who, in shunning labour, procure trouble to themselves; and by not doing that which is needful, they are troubled with that which is unnecessary. An unemployed life is a burden to itself. ”

11. A failure to do the things which God has given to us, “A Christian life is full of duties, and the peace of it is not maintained without much fruitfulness and looking about us. Debt is a disquieting thing to an honest mind, and duty is debt. Hereupon the apostle layeth the charge, ‘that we should owe nothing to any man but love,’ Rom. 13:8.”

12. Doublemindedness: “Again, one special cause of too much disquiet is, want of firm resolution in good things. The soul cannot but be disquieted when it knows not what to cleave unto, like a ship tossed with contrary winds. Halting is a deformed and troublesome gesture; so halting in religion is not only troublesome to others and odious, but also disquiets ourselves. …Uncertain men are always unquiet men.”

Sibbes then three additional causes which terms “positive” causes of despair. These causes all have in a common an excessive reliance upon something outside one, something in the creation to give life stablity, peace, meaning.

1. “When men lay up their comfort too much on outward things, which, being subject to much inconstancy and change, breed disquiet. Vexation always follows vanity, when vanity is not apprehended to be where it is. …Confidence in vain things make a vain heart, the heart becoming of the nature of the thing it relies upon. It is no wonder, therefore, that worldly men are oft cast down and disquieted when they walk in a vain shadow.”

2. There are those who depend too much upon the opinion of other men. “Even good men many times are too much troubled with the unjust censures of other men, specially in the day of their trouble. It was Job’s case; and it is a heavy thing to have affliction added to affliction.”

3. Those who are too worried about the world, when we know that the world will be a mess: “Here we are at sea, where what can we look for but storms?” Sibbes writes:

It is also a ground of overmuch trouble, when we look too much and too long upon the ill in ourselves and abroad. We may fix our eyes too long even upon sin itself, considering that we have not only a remedy against the hurt by sin, but a commandment to rejoice always in the Lord, Philip. 4:4. Much more may we err in poring too much upon our afflictions; wherein we may find always in ourselves upon search a cause to justify God, and always something left to comfort us; though we naturally mind more one cross than a hundred favours, dwelling over long upon the sore.

So likewise, our minds may be too much taken up in consideration of the miseries of the times at home and abroad, as if Christ did not rule in the midst of his enemies, and would not help all in due time; or as if the condition of the church in this world were not for the most part in an afflicted and conflicted condition. Indeed there is a perfect rest both for the souls and bodies of God’s people, but that not in this world, but is kept for hereafter; here we are in a sea, where what can we look for but storms?


What should we think of all this? Since there are so many things which may drag one to discouragement, we should not be hard upon others or ourselves when we fall into discouragement.