Next Sibbes asks
Quest. But, why is the church compared to a garden?
His general answer draws upon a principle which is at use in Jesus’ parables. When Jesus came to provide an example, an illustration of a proposition, he draws on what is available: a sower, a bird, grass, flowers, fishing. In Luke 12:24, Jesus says, “Consider the ravens”. In Matthew 6:26, they are “birds” to consider.
And so Sibbes says that God here uses “garden” so that when we are in a garden, we can think about heavenly things. And when we are in a field, the same. When we think of a spouse or sister, a father or son, there are things to draw out our meditation.
He then gives a series of 8 reasons why ‘garden’ in particular has been chosen:
First, “Because a garden is taken out of the common waste ground, to be appropriated to a more particular use. So the church of Christ is taken out of the wilderness of this waste world, to a particular use.” The true value of the church is that it has been chose by Christ.
Second, a garden depends upon what is planted — otherwise it will only be weeds (and having a garden I will attest to this truth). “So weeds and passions grow too rank naturally, but nothing grows in the church of itself, but as it is set by the hand of Christ, who is the author, dresser, and pruner of his garden.”
Third, a garden is curated: what is present has been chose for use and delight. “So there is no grace in the heart of a Christian, but it is useful, as occasion serves, both to God and man.”
Fourth, many different things will grow in a garden, a variety of flowers and spices. The Spirit of God raises up many different graces in the heart of a Christian.
Fifth, a garden is a delightful place to be: and the church is a delight to Christ.
Sixth, “as in gardens there had wont to have fountains and streams which run through their gardens, (as paradise had four streams which ran through it); so the church is Christ’s paradise; and his Spirit is a spring in the midst of it, to refresh the souls of his upon all their faintings, and so the soul of a Christian becomes as a watered garden.”
Seventh, “So also, ‘their fountains were sealed up,’ Cant. 4:12; so the joys of the church and particular Christians are, as it were, sealed, up. A stranger, it is said, ‘shall not meddle with this joy of the church,’ Prov. 14:10.” Sibbes has also provided sermons “A Fountain Sealed” and “The Fountain Opened”
Eighth, a garden takes attention “weeding and dressing.” The Church needs the constant of Christ.
Knowing these things, we have some direction on how to live. If a garden is kept separated from a common field and is tended by the gardener, our lives should reflect this separation onto the gardener. We should you labor to produce those things which are most delightful to the gardener.
The third application is quite interesting in light of ethnic contention which seems to be part of the Christian church in America, “And then, let us learn hence, not to despise any nation or person, seeing God can take out of the waste wilderness whom he will, and make the desert an Eden.”
Fourth, we should be thankful that Christ has taken an interest in us, to tend us so.
Fifth, “For it is the greatest honour in this world, for God to dignify us with such a condition, as to make us fruitful.” And as we meditate upon the image of being fruitful, we recall the vast use of this image and the application of it throughout Scripture: from Eden to the vine John 15. The field burned in Hebrews 6 and the tree cut down in Matthew 3.
Finally, if the church is the garden of God, we can rest secure knowing that God will care for his garden. Since the grace which grows in us is of God, we can rest knowing that God will tend to his own. This will bring us comfort and hope.
In the mean time, let us labour to keep our hearts as a garden, that nothing that defileth may enter. In which respects the church is compared to a garden, upon which Christ commands the north and south wind, all the means of grace, to blow.
Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 2 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet And Co.; W. Robertson, 1862), 10–12.