Sibbes begins with a general statement concerning the character of God. This general proposition will be explained in the particular development of this sermon. The sermon itself will end with the assurance that this particular proposition is true:
As we lost ourselves in the first Adam, so the mercy of God, in the covenant of grace, found out a way to restore us again by the ‘second Adam,’ 1 Cor. 15:47, Jesus Christ, in whom all the promises are ‘yea and amen; yesterday and to-day, and the same for ever,’ Heb. 13:8.
And as the wisdom of God did freely find out this way at first, comforting our first parents with it in paradise; so this bowels of incomprehensible love of his hath so gone on from time [to time, repeatedly] in all ages of the church, comforting and raising up the dejected spirits of his church, from time to time, and awakening them out of their drowsiness and sleepy condition.
The argument runs as follows: When Adam sinned, God makes the promise of the one who will crush the Serpent’s head, the first gospel, in Genesis 3:15. And as God came and gave hope to humanity at this first act of sin, so has God in various other times come to those who were seemingly furthest away grace only to encourage their repentance:
And many times, the greater sinners he dealt with, the greater mercies and tender bowels of compassion were opened unto them, in many sweet and gracious promises tendering forgiveness, and inviting to repentance; as here in this chapter, and whole prophecy, is shewed.
This brings us to the particular instance quoted in Hosea. The prophet was calling upon the wicked Ephraim to come to repentance:
What tribe so wicked, so full of idolatry and rebellion, as Ephraim? and yet here Ephraim and Israel are taught a lesson of repentance. As the tender nurse feeds her child, and puts meat in its mouth, so here the Lord puts words in the mouth of this rebellious people.
II. The Elements of the Command
‘Take with you words, and turn unto the Lord.’
Having set forth the commandment of God, Sibbes addresses an objection. This objection is a common objection to prayer at all: Certainly we cannot be giving God information by means of prayer. Why then pray? The answer, in the very least, is we need the act of prayer for our own good. Prayer is then a means of grace for us – not a means of imparting information to God.
Obj. What need God words, he knows our hearts before we speak unto him?
Ans. It is true: God needs no words, but we do, to stir up our hearts and affections; and because he will have us take shame unto ourselves, having given us our tongues as an instrument of glorifying him, he will have our ‘glory,’ Ps. 16:9;57:8, used in our petitions and thanksgivings.
And therefore, in regard of ourselves, he will, as was said, have us take words unto ourselves, for exciting of the graces of God in us by words, blowing up of the affections, and for manifestation of the hidden man of the heart. God will be glorified by the outward, as well as by the inward man.
There is an interesting point in this last sentence, “manifestation of the hidden man of the heart.” Here is authenticity: but it is different than our post-Rousseau authenticity. Rather than starting with whatever is my current emotional state and then confirming that emotional state as my “authentic” self; Sibbes turns it around. The authenticate self, is the inner man of 2 Cor. 4:16: the self which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Col. 3:10. The “old self” of Romans 6, Colossians 3, and Ephesians 4 is the “us” without the renewing work of the Spirit. We are in the process of being renewed (Rom. 12:1-2). Our authenticate self is not the manner of living according to this age: and yet that is often the nature of our immediate response: our renewal being always incomplete in this world. Our authenticity is not the “former manner of life … corrupt through deceitful desires” (Eph. 4:22). What I am saying is that Rousseau “authenticate self” is the precise opposite of the manifestation of the inner man called for by Sibbes. And so, rather than our immediate response being an indication of our authenticity, it is our formed/reformed self made by prayer that is our true authentic self.