Sibbes has been arguing that it is ultimately irrational to put our trust in the creature. To this extent, he has been making an objective argument. At this point, he makes an observation of the subjective nature of repentance. The one who is repentant will naturally (if you ) not put trust in the creature. He argues that means of repentace, the relationship to God has changed and therefore, the relationship to the creature likewise changes.
So we see the second point made good, that these outward things of themselves cannot help. Therefore comes this in the third place:—
Obs. That when God alters and changes and mouldeth anew the heart of a man to repentance, he altereth his confidence in the creature.
A Christian State will not trust in Asshur, nor in horses. It is true both of State and persons.
The relationship to God changes:
The reason will follow after in the end of the verse, ‘For in thee the fatherless findeth mercy.’ Because, when a man hath once repented, there is a closing between God and him, and he seeth an all-sufficiency in God to satisfy all his desires. Therefore he will use all other things as helps, and as far as it may stand with his favour.
This new relationship to God causes a new understanding of God:
For he hath Moses’s eye put in him, a new eye to see him that is invisible, Heb. 11:27, to see God in his greatness, and other things in their right estimate as vain things. What is repentance but a change of the mind, when a man comes to be wise and judicious, as indeed repentant men are the only wise men?
We understand God as constant and able in a manner that the creature cannot be:
Then a man hath an esteem of God to be El-shadai, all-sufficient, and all other things to be as they are, uncertain; that is, they are so today, as that they may be otherwise to-morrow, for that is the nature of the creatures. They are in potentia, in a possibility to be other things than they are. God is alway ‘I am,’ alway the same. There is not so much as a shadow of changing in him.
This sight of God then leads to a change in the way the creature is understood. Before looking here, consider the matter. The way in which we know and understand a thing depends upon its context. We know things in some sort of relationship. Consider some trinket which bears a sentimental attachment: This trinket was my mother’s and so it is valuable to me. I have never seen this trinket before and so it is worthless to me. The same item has different meaning due to its relationship to us.
As we know things in their relationship to God and us, our valuation of the thing will change. You could understand repentance as in part a continual revaluation of the creature (and Creator).
Wherefore, when the soul hath attained unto this spiritual eyesight and wisdom, if it be a sinful association with Egypt or Asshur, with this idolater or that, he will not meddle; and as for other helps, he will not use them further than as subordinate means. When a man is converted, he hath not a double, not a divided heart, to trust partly to God and partly to the creature. If God fail him,* he hath Asshur and horses enough, and association with all round about. But a Christian he will use all helps, as they may stand with the favour of God, and are subordinate under him. Now for trial.
By “trial” Sibbes means let us consider this matter in our own lives:
Quest. How shall we know whether we exceed in this confidence in the creature or not?
Sibbes provides two tests: First: We can know that we have placed excess trust in the creature when the creature fails us. Second: How do we think, act, and speak about the relationship to the creature? Are we conscious that this is a means to be used by God and not a means which is effacious in itself?
Sol. 1. We may know it by adventuring on ill courses and causes, thinking to bear them out with Asshur and with horses. But all the mercenary soldiers in the world, and all the horses at home and abroad, what can they do when God is angry? Now, when there is such confidence in these things as for to out-dare God, then there is too much trust in them. That trust will end in confusion, if it be not repented of, for that lifts up the heart in the creature. And as the heathen man observes, ‘God delights to make great little, and little great.’ It is his daily work to ‘cast down mountains, and exalt the valleys,’ Isa. 40:4. Those that are great, and boast in their greatness, as if they would command heaven and earth, God delights to make their greatness little, and at length nothing, and to raise up the day of small things. Therefore the apostle saith, ‘If I rejoice, it shall be in my infirmities,’ 2 Cor. 12:9, in nothing else; for God delights to shew strength in weakness.
2. By security and resting of the soul in meaner things, never seeking to divine and religious helps when we are supplied with those that are outward. For these people, when they trusted to Assyria and Egypt, those false supports and sandy foundations, they were careless of God, and therefore must trust in somewhat else. Wherefore, if we see a man secure and careless, certainly he trusts too much to uncertain riches, to Asshur, to Egypt, to friends, or to outward helps. His security bewrays that.
He restates this test in a positive manner. What would it look like to use the creature in the proper manner?
If a man trust God in the use of the means, his care will be to keep God his friend by repentance and daily exercises of religion, by making conscience of his duty. But if he trust the means and not God, he will be careless and weak in good duties, dull and slow, and, out of the atheism of his heart, cry, Tush! if God do not help me, I shall have help from friends abroad, and be supported with this and that at home, horses and the like, and shall be well.