The previous post in this series may be found here.
God has given us the analogy of marriage not merely as some sort of intellectual exercise, but as a means of coming to understand our relationship with God. Sibbes makes four applications, uses, which are to draw from an understanding the marriage between Christ an the church:
First, Sibbes offers an encouragement to the discouraged. A true saint will be understood not by an apparent perfection, but by a grief for sin. Anyone can appear moral and well-behaved. I imagine the Devil would have impeccable table manners and would offer up the largest gift to charity if it served his purpose. But there is something no Devil can do: repent. When Christian and Pliable are walking along early in Pilgrim’s Progress, they are identical: they both very much desire heaven. The distinction is that Christian feels his sin.
Moreover, a true believer can sin — even sin grievously.
The true distinction of a believer is a sorrow for sin; it is a sickness which never seems to stay away for long. Even are best moments are marred by sin.
And coming near to Christ then seems a terror to a stricken conscience. It is to this one that Sibbes makes the first application:
Use 1. Let us oft think of this nearness between Christ and us, if we have once given our names to him, and not be discouraged for any sin or unworthiness in us. Who sues a wife for debt, when she is married? Uxori lis non intenditur. Therefore answer all accusations thus:—‘Go to Christ.’ If you have anything to say to me, go to my husband.
He then explains this proposition from a different position. If Christ has paid all for our sin, what is left to be paid?
God is just, but he will not have his justice twice satisfied, seeing whatsoever is due thereunto is satisfied by Christ our husband. What a comfort is this to a distressed conscience! If sin cannot dismay us, which is the ill of ills and cause of all evil, what other ill can dismay us?
Sibbes makes another observation from the phrase “a weaker vessel”. This phrase is one of those propositions that seems especially foreign to our culture. But if we consider that the original is with God and the analogy is with us, we can see the purpose of the proposition:
He that exhorts us to bear with the infirmities one of another, and hath enjoined the husband to bear with the wife, as the weaker vessel, 1 Pet. 3:7, will not he bear with his church as the weaker vessel, performing the duty of an husband in all our infirmities?
The second application brings some hope. God does not merely love his weaker wife: he changes her. God does not love us because we are lovely, but he makes us lovely in loving us:
Use 2. Again, his desire is to make her better, and not to cast her away for that which is amiss. And for outward ills, they are but to refine, and make us more conformable to Christ our husband, to fit us for heaven, the same way that he went. They have a blessing in them all, for he takes away all that is hurtful, he pities and keeps us ‘as the apple of his eye,’ Zech. 2:8. Therefore, let us often think of this, since he hath vouchsafed to take us so near to himself. Let us not lose the comfort that this meditation will yield us. We love for goodness, beauty, riches; but Christ loves us to make us so, and then loves us because we are so, in all estates whatsoever.
The third use is to use this grace and goodness of God to draw us off from sin. We are kept from sin by use of means. As contemplate the goodness of this good husband, this perfect God who hates all sin and seeks to rescue us from sin, it transforms us.
Sibbes makes an interesting observation about human nature:
We are, as we affect;† our affections are, as their objects be. If they be set upon better things than ourselves, they are bettered by it.
We become the thing we love. As our affections are set on a thing, we are changed in the direction of that thing:
For the prime love, when it is rightly bestowed, it orders and regulates all other loves whatsoever.
Our love regulates all else. And so, and only when, our love is rightly set upon God in Jesus Christ is will our life be rightly ordered. We must labor to keep our affections in right order and set upon Christ alone. Only then will our life be rightly ordered:
In other things we lose our love, and the things loved; but here we lose not our love, but this is a perfecting love, which draws us to love that which is better than ourselves. We are, as we affect;† our affections are, as their objects be. If they be set upon better things than ourselves, they are bettered by it. They are never rightly bestowed, but when they are set upon Christ; and upon other things as they answer and stand with the love of Christ. For the prime love, when it is rightly bestowed, it orders and regulates all other loves whatsoever. No man knows how to use earthly things, but a Christian, that hath first pitched his love on Christ. Then seeing all things in him, and in all them, a beam of that love of his, intending happiness to him, so he knows how to use everything in order. Therefore let us keep our communion with Christ, and esteem nothing more than his love, because he esteems nothing more than ours.
We will know if Christ is truly our espoused if we submit our will and desires onto his (and you see how this matches with the sorrow a true believer feels when confronted with his own sin).
Finally, this knowledge of Christ as husband of the church should bring joy.
First, consider what a greatness it is to be brought into union with Christ: all things are ours (1 Cor. 3:21-23):
The excellency of this condition to be one with Christ, is, that all things are ours. For he is the King, and the church the Queen of all. All things are serviceable to us. It is a wondrous nearness, to be nearer to Christ, than the angels, who are not his body, but servants that attend upon the church. The bride is nearer to him than the angels, for, ‘he is the head and husband thereof, and not of the angels,’ Heb. 2:16. What an excellent condition is this for poor flesh and blood, that creeps up and down the earth here despised!
Second consider our need for Christ. Sin has created an infinite debt; what would we do without Christ’s provision:
But especially, if we consider the necessity of it. We are all indebted for more than we are worth. To divine justice we owe a debt of obedience, and in want of that we owe a debt of punishment, and we cannot answer one for a thousand. What will become of us if we have not a husband to discharge all our debts, but to be imprisoned for ever?
And let no one think that they have sinned beyond the mercy and grace of God, the merit of Christ’s death:
A person that is a stranger to Christ, though he were an Ahithophel for his brain, a Judas for his profession, a Saul for his place, yet if his sins be set before him, he will be swallowed up of despair, fearing to be shut up eternally under God’s wrath. Therefore, if nothing else move, yet let necessity compel us to take Christ.
Third, knowing the greatness, the goodness, the necessity of receiving from Christ let us be won over by his offer; let us renew our desire and come to him:
Consider not only how suitable and how necessary he is unto us, but what hope there is to have him, whenas he sueth to us by his messengers, and wooeth us, whenas we should rather seek to him; and with other messengers sendeth a privy messenger, his Holy Spirit, to incline our hearts. Let us therefore, as we love our souls, suffer ourselves to be won. But more of this in another place.