In the fourth sermon, Sibbes continues his examination of the nature of the prayer of repentance. He summarizes his previous points as follows:
The Holy Ghost therefore doth prescribe them, together with prayer and thanksgiving, reformation. ‘Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses; neither will we say any more to the works of our hands, Ye are our gods: for in thee the fatherless findeth mercy.’ So that here you have reformation joined with prayer and praise. Whence we observed divers things: that without reformation our prayers are abominable; that in repentance there must be reformation of our special sin; which here they do.
He now adds a further observation, “In reformation, we must go not only to the outward delinquencies, but to the spring of them, which is some breach of the first table.”
Here is the point: All sin, whether adultery, robbery, murder, et cetera, must trace its origin to a rebellion against God. When the relationship toward God is amiss, our relationship to the creation likewise suffers
The root of all sin, is the deficiency of obedience to some command of the first table. When confidence is not pitched aright in God, or when it is misapplied, and misfastened to the creature: when the soul sets up somewhat for a stay and prop unto it, which it should not do, this is a spiritual and subtle sin, and must be repented of,
He then explains that “the spring head” of sin is “false confidence.” This false confidence in the creature is idolatry. And we are “naturally prone to idolatry.”
He explains two species of idolatry:
1. By attributing to the creature that which is proper to God only, investing it with God’s properties; or,
2. By worshipping the true God in a false manner.
A great deal of the sermon then concerns whether images may be used in the worship of God and whether the worship (even under a different term) of angels or saints is permitted. Being a devout Puritan, Sibbes has no room for images or prayers directed to angels or saints.
There is an interesting aside in his argument concerning a national religion. Sibbes rightly says, “Religion, though it cannot be forced.” He then says that the nation should train the child in the proper means of religion; which seems incoherent. If true religion can only be the product of faith and repentance, as opposed to outward behavior divorced from sincere faith and repentance; then religion cannot be forced it very nature. This is a point on which I disagree with the heavenly doctor.
Sibbes then takes up the idol set up in the heart, what one loves or fears is god
But this is not all; we must know that there be other idols than the idols which we make with our hands. Besides these religious idols, there be secular idols in the world, such as men set up to themselves in their own hearts. Whatsoever takes up the heart most, which they attribute more to than to God, that is their idol, their god. A man’s love, a man’s fear, is his god.
Having made the proposition, he then illustrates the point:
If a man fear greatness rather than God, that he had rather displease God than any great person, they are his idols for the time. ‘The fear of a man brings a snare,’ Prov. 29:25, saith the wise man. And those who get the favour of any in place, sacrifice therefore their credit, profession, religion, and souls, it is gross idolatry; dangerous to the party, and dangerous to themselves. It was the ruin of Herod to have that applause given to him, and taken by him, ‘The voice of God, and not of man,’ Acts 12:22. So for any to be blown up with flatterers, that lift them up above their due measure, it is an exceeding wrong to them, prejudiceth their comfort, and will prove ill in the conclusion; indeed, treason against their souls.
This trusting in the creature always debases the man. We are created to have only God as our God: not the opinion of other human beings, or the accumulation of stones and metal. And so we become debased because we become what we worship:
So there is a baser sort of idolaters, who sacrifice their credit and state, whatsoever is good within them, their whole powers, to their base and filthy pleasures. Thus man is degenerate since his fall, that he makes that his god which is meaner than himself. Man, that was ordained for everlasting happiness and communion with God, is now brought to place his happiness and contentment in base pleasures. Whereas it is with the soul of man for good or ill, as it applies itself to that which is greater or meaner than itself. If it apply itself to confidence and affiance in God, then it is better. For it is the happiness of the soul to have communion with the Spring of goodness, as David speaks, ‘It is good for me to draw near to God,’ &c., Ps. 73:28. When we suffer the soul to cleave in affiance to earthly things, it grows in some measure to the nature of the things adhered to. When we love the world and earthly things, we are earthly.
Only God can free us from idolatry:
Till the Spirit of God touch the soul, as the loadstone doth the heavy iron, drawing it up, as it were, it will cleave to the creature, to baser things than itself, and so makes the creature an idol, which is the common idolatry of these times.
And finally, the various idols made by different people are based in the temperament of the idolator:
Some make favour, as the ambitious person; some their pleasures, as baser persons of meaner condition; and some riches. Every man as their temper and as their temptations are.
Finally, the creature will make a god will prove our ruin; the idol rather than saving us, ruins us:
Now, it is not enough to be sound in religion one way in the main; but we must be sound every way, without any touch of idolatry. In a special manner the apostle calls the ‘covetous man an idolater,’ Eph. 5:5, because he makes riches his castle, thinking to carry anything with his wealth. But his riches oftentimes prove his ruin; for whatsoever a man loves more than God, God will make it his bane and ruin; at least, be sure to take it away, if God mean to save the party. Therefore, here they say, ‘Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses; neither will we say any more to the works of our hands, Ye are our gods.’