The prior post in this series may be found here.
At this point, Sibbes moves onto the image of the Church as the bride, the spouse. He begins this with a consideration of the Church’s nobility. As the Bride of Christ, the Church is a queen to Christ’s King; the Church is nobility.
At this point, Sibbes makes an important observation when it comes to analogy of heavenly and earthly things. The Scripture everywhere provides us with analogies between our world and heavenly realities. Without analogies, there would be no means for us to understand anything concerning God.
Take the proposition: God is love. If there were no love in human existence, if we lived as animals, reproduction without commitment and affection; then the statement that God loves would utterly incomprehensible. God created a mechanism of human love so that we would have an analogy to understand God’s love.
The problem with analogy, is that we can run the analogy in the wrong direction. A great many errors take place, because we begin with the metaphor — the creation — and then try to force the original to conform and be limited by the metaphor. Thus, Sibbes writes:
Riches, beauty, marriage, nobility, &c., are scarce worthy of their names. These are but titles and empty things. Though our base nature make great matters of them, yet the reality and substance of all these are in heavenly things.
There is some similarity to the Platonic concepts of forms, where an original in the higher realm becomes the basis for what we experience in this realm. While not any sort of Platonic expert, I see a fundamental difference between the Christian understanding of analogy and Plato’s forms. There are aspects of this world which have been created for the purpose of functioning as analogies; however, not everything in this world must be considered an analogy. Moreover, the things in the creation do not pre-exist in some fashion prior to our creation: the relational categories, how God relates to his creation did not exist in practice prior to the creation. Love does pre-exist creation, but love of spouse does not.
Back to the concept of analogy. When considering an analogy between creation and God we must be careful in how we handle the analogy:
True riches are the heavenly graces; true nobility is to be born of God, to be the sister and spouse of Christ; true pleasures are those of the Spirit, which endure for ever, and will stand by us when all outward comforts will vanish.
That mystical union and sweet communion is set down with such variety of expressions, to shew that whatsoever is scattered in the creature severally is in him entirely. He is both a friend and a brother, a head and a husband, to us; therefore he takes the names of all. Whence we may observe further,
How then do we go about understanding the nature of the analogy of marriage. To properly read the analogy, Sibbes takes his cue not directly from his observation of human marriage in 17th century England, but from how the Scripture develops the analogy. He is the matter of the first marriage: a sort of birth of Eve (a sister and a spouse in a fashion:
That the church is the spouse of Christ. It springs out of him; even as Eve taken out of Adam’s rib, so the spouse of Christ was taken out of his side. When it was pierced, the church rose out of his blood and death; for he redeemed it, by satisfying divine justice; we being in such a condition that Christ must redeem us before he would wed us. First, he must be incarnate in our nature before he could be a fit husband; and then, because we were in bondage and captivity, we must be redeemed before he could marry us: ‘he purchased his church with his own blood,’ Acts 20:28. Christ hath right to us, he bought us dearly.
Next, he considers the matter of consent in marriage: this is what I will do. This is important aspect of Augustinian theology where faith is preceded by the work of the Spirit. Faith is true faith, but it is wrought faith. Our consent to the marriage is true consent, but it is Spirit-wrought consent:
Again, another foundation of this marriage between Christ and us, is consent. He works us by his Spirit to yield to him. There must be consent on our part, which is not in us by nature, but wrought by his Spirit, &c. We yield to take him upon his own terms; that is, that we shall leave our father’s house, all our former carnal acquaintance, when he hath wrought our consent. Then the marriage between him and us is struck up.
Sibbes then notes some additional elements of comparison: the wife takes the husband name — the Church is called by the name of Christ. The Church comes with her debt, which is paid by the husband. Moreover, the husband conveys to the spouse all of his wealth and honor. Third, there are friends of the bride who extol the beauty and desirability of the husband (Christ).
Sibbes makes an interesting observation from a provision in the Law: Deuteronomy 21:12 (AV), “Then thou shalt bring her home to thine house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails”. A woman who was brought in as a wife from a foreign nature conquered by Israel would be married, but before she comes in there is a cutting off of her former life:
Before she should be taken into the church, there must be an alteration; so before the church, which is not heathenish, but indeed hellish by nature, and led by the spirit of the world, be fit to be the spouse of Christ, there must be an alteration and a change of nature, Is. 11:6–8; John 3:3. Christ must alter, renew, purge, and fit us for himself. The apostle saith, Eph. 5:24, it was the end of his death, not only to take us to heaven, but to sanctify us on earth, and prepare us that we might be fit spouses for himself.