Richard Sibbes, The Backsliding Sinner 3.4


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(The previous post on these sermons may be found here)

Thus much in general, which things premised, I come to the forenamed particulars. 


Doct. That naturally we are apt and prone to confidence in outward helps and present things.

He develops this point using a conception from Augustine, that with the Fall the love of humanity turns inward and away from God. It creates a defect in the functioning of the creature. This is an idea which even more importantly derives from Paul, particularly Romans 1, particularly 1:25, “they worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” If you couple that with 2 Cor. 3:18, you can see that proper functioning of the human creature takes place when the creature is rightfully reflecting the Creator. In Col. 3:10 Paul writes that we are “being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” This is the “new self”.

This came to our nature from the first fall. 

What was the most basic event of the Fall?

What was our fall at first? A turning from the all-sufficient, unchangeable God, to the creature. 

Thus, sin is relational:

If I should describe sin, it is nothing but a turning from God to one creature or other. When we find not contentment and sufficiency in one creature, we run to another. 

The proposition is then illustrated by something familiar to all. A note on the illustration, the point is not to demonstrate the preacher’s brilliance, but to make it easier for the listener to grasp and retain the abstract principle:

As the bird flies from one tree and bough to another, so we seek variety of contentments from one thing to another. Such is the pravity of our nature since the fall. This is a fundamental conclusion. 

He here provides some evidence: we must have external support to function correctly. He considers the matter at a “psychological” proposition. He states and elaborates the proposition, then provides a brief illustration. The illustration is common and easy to understand. Remember the hearer of a sermon does not have the ability to re-wind or underscore or ponder during the sermon:

Man naturally will, and must, have somewhat to rely on. The soul must have a bottom, a foundation to rest on, either such as the world affords, or a better. Weak things must have their supports. As we see, the vine being a weak thing, is commonly supported by the elm, or the like supply. 

He then reiterates the evidentiary argument, but this time he substitutes “soul” for “man” and explains the same state as a “spiritual” matter (rather than a bare “psychological”) proposition:

So is it with the soul since the fall. Because it is weak, and cannot uphold nor satisfy itself with itself, therefore it looks out of itself. Look to God it cannot, till it be in the state of grace; for being his enemy, it loves not to look to him or his ways, or have dealing with him. 

He has stated the proposition, provided some evidence for the proposition and then concludes:

Therefore it looks unto the creature, that next hand unto itself. This being naturally since the fall, that what we had in God before when we stood, we now labour to have in the creature.

Having established the observation, then gives the reason why such takes place. The first “reason” is given briefly because it is primarily a summary of above. 

Reason 1. Because, as was said, having lost communion with God, somewhat we must have to stay the soul.

The second “reason” brings in a new element: the ability of Satan to deceive. This is an interesting explanation, he puts Satan’s work at the level of “fancy.” By “fancy” he means something like “imagination”. The basic understanding of the psychology here is that something is observed and recognized. Next, the fancy operates upon the thing seen to provide understanding of it. We see things, and then the fancy, which has been influenced, will mis-value the thing seen. This is not a passive process of being solely acted upon, because this “spirit of error join[s] with our own spirit[], and with the deceit of our nature[]”.

2. Secondly, Because Satan joins with our sense and fancy, by which we are naturally prone to live, esteeming of things not by faith and by deeper grounds, but by fancy. Now, fancy having communion with sense, what it discovers and presents for good and great, fancy makes it greater. And the devil, above all, having communion with that faculty of fancy, and so a spirit of error being mixed therewith, to make our fancy think the riches of the world to be the only riches; the greatness and goodness of the creature to be the only greatness and goodness; and the strength thereof the only strength. This spirit of error joining with our own spirits, and with the deceit of our natures, makes us set a higher value on the creature, enlargeth and enrageth the fancy, making it spiritually drunk, so as to conceive amiss of things.

What then do we do with this information? When we are injured by reliance upon the creature, it is a good gift of God: we are being taught that we are trusting in the wrong things (the creature) rather than the Creator.

Use. Briefly for use hereof, it being but a directing point to others. Let us take notice of our corruption herein, and be humbled for it; taking in good part those afflictions and crosses which God sends us, to convince and let us see that there is no such thing in the creature as we imagined; because naturally, we are desperately given to think that there is somewhat more therein than there is. Now affliction helps this sickness of fancy, embittering unto us all confidence in the creature. Therefore it is a happy and a blessed thing to be crossed in that which we over-value, as these Israelites here did the Assyrians and the Egyptians: for being enemies, they trusted in a ‘broken reed,’ 2 Kings 18:21, as we shall see further in the second point.

T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton, Part II.a


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We come to the second division of the poem. The first 15 lines which comprise a stanza and certainly must be understood together read:


Garlic and sapphires in the mud

Clot the bedded axle-tree.

The trilling wire in the blood

Sings below inveterate scars

Appeasing long forgotten wars.

The dance along the artery

The circulation of the lymph

Are figured in the drift of stars

Ascend to summer in the tree

We move above the moving tree

In light upon the figured leaf

And hear upon the sodden floor

Below, the boarhound and the boar

Pursue their pattern as before

But reconciled among the stars.

Garlic and sapphires in the mud

Clot the bedded axle-tree.

The mud thrown-up by the wagon as it plunges along spray up, unto the axle and would “clot” it. That makes plain sense. Yet is not the mud which is send to clot the wagon but the “garlic and sapphires.” This is a striking and strange phrase. Why would there be garlic or sapphires in the mud. Certainly one wouldn’t leave them there – certainly not sapphires. And then to have them merely muck thrown-up to the underside of a wagon. The world is certainly mixed up. But to what end is not apparent in these lines.

The trilling wire in the blood

Sings below inveterate scars

Appeasing long forgotten wars.

The precise nature of the “trilling wire” is not exactly clear. I certainly don’t think he intends any precise physiology on this point. Then what do we have: I take this as something similar to Whitman’s “I sing the body electric” or perhaps Thomas’ “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower.” It is some sort of live force that runs through all things. I think he means some sort of force in all living things (even all moving things) and more than just human life. 

The “scars” above the blood here will become stars above all the rest. The combination of scars and wars works well: The war brought about the scar. The scar will never be removed, it is “inveterate”. And this life at work even beneath the scars of war appease the wars. But how so appease? To appease is to bring to rest some anger. There is a life which runs through and under even wars

Eliot writing after WWI and written during at least the first part of WW2 would not have a dim idea of war. But here the wars are “long-forgotten.” In saying this, he seems to be moving in a dim history. He is not speaking of his own life, but something of life. There is a history written in the life and in the scars. This present is not sharply marked-off from the past. The present bears the scars of the long forgotten wars and the same life sings beneath.

The dance along the artery

The circulation of the lymph

Are figured in the drift of stars

Ascend to summer in the tree

The distinctions between the life of his body and the life of nature also become lost. The life in his body is the life of the movement of the stars. The parts are mysteriously linked together. My pulse is tied up with the movement of stars (and visa-versa). 

The effect is quite pagan, where gods become animals or have human lovers and humans have half-god children and humans may find themselves transformed into something quite different. (For a less poetic and more philosophical consideration, see Peter Jones, The Other Worldview)

What is important here for the overall theme of the poem is that it is not just time as an abstraction, but the all things which are bound up together in this moment which is present. 

Next, it is the movement above and below which are reconciled and coordinated. The sky above and the mud below:

We move above the moving tree

In light upon the figured leaf

And hear upon the sodden floor

Below, the boarhound and the boar

Pursue their pattern as before

But reconciled among the stars.

The chase of animals on the ground is the chase of animals in the stars. The music of the spheres is transported to what we “hear upon the sodden floor.”

But there is something else here than bare correlation of opposites or even all things are one: The verb “reconciled” is interesting. What is reconciled? Most directly the chase of the boar and the boarhound. Their conflict and fight is “reconciled” above. 

This moves us in a somewhat different mood than bare pagan all is one and inter-vesting each the other. The conflict upon the earth is not merely reflected in the heaven, it is reconciled. This introduces a Christian tone which moves beyond Greek or Norse mythology. Everything is telling one story, but there is a way to understand this story, if you will, in a higher key.

Johann Christof Merck, 1705

Do I Really Need to Concern Myself With the Law



I am finishing up what will be a book on “intersection” of legal issues and pastoral counseling. One question I have received has been the extent to which government may seek to regulate biblical counseling, whether by state mandate or by private lawsuit (which is in effect a petition to the government to exercise its power in a particular instance). Below, is a draft Preface to answer that question.

Yes. If you do not, you will not be able to minister well to others. Some counselees will be involved in legal disputes, divorces, criminal proceedings; you will need to understand their circumstance to help them.

But you also need to concern yourself with the law because the culture is changing: And as the culture changes, so does the law. The relatively amicable relationship Christian ministry in general and Christian counseling in particular had with the culture and law is changing: quickly and fundamentally. 

The first thing we need to understand about the law is that the law is an expression of culture. If we return a few decades in our history, homosexual conduct was a crime in the United States. In Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186 (1986), the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a law prohibiting sodomy. Yet, less than 20 years later in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), the same Court found such laws to be unconstitutional. 

The words of the Constitution did not change between 1986 and 2003, but the culture did change.  When we think about the law, we need to realize that the law is an expression of the culture. If the culture changes, the laws will change. 

So, when we think about the law, we need to think about the law as it relates to the broader culture. We need to understand where the law stands today, but we also need to be prepared for the where the law will be tomorrow. 

A detailed consideration of the culture and the legal system would be well-beyond the scope of this work. Yet, there are some things we must consider. In 2013, Albert Mohler wrote of “A Moral Revolution at Warp Speed.” (Albert Mohler, Jr., “A Moral Revolution at Warp Speed,” Albert Mohler, December 11, 2013, That moral revolution has been moving steadily through the legislatures and courts. 

As this book is being finalized, decisions in the federal courts and decisions in legislatures are finding that “erotic liberty” (to use Dr. Mohler’s phrase) is of more social value than First Amendment rights to speech or religion. I have spoken with some of the most well-informed attorneys as to First Amendment law who are dumbstruck at what has been said and done. 

There are well-known cases of Christian wedding photographers who have asked to be exhibited from being coerced to participate in same-sex weddings. A wedding (as opposed to a bare marriage license) for a Christian is a religious rite which serious theological consequences. In the recent decision of 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, et al, _____ F.3rd _____ (10th Cir. 2021) the appellate court found that the law which prohibited a Christian wedding photographer from refusing to photograph a same-sex wedding was a content-based restriction on speech and that compelled speech by the photographer.

Only in the most extraordinary circumstances have the courts permitted such laws to stand. Under the law, the most-vile racist speech and pornography is protected. But in this decision, the 10th Circuit held that erotic liberty of same-sex couples was such remarkable importance that the state could compel the speech of a Christian to approve of the marriage, “we hold that CADA satisfies strict scrutiny, and thus permissibly compels Appellants’ speech.”

Think for a moment. We allow “conscientious objectors” to avoid war – which can entail the very existence of the nation – to refuse on the ground of a religious objection. We cannot compel a Nazi to speak well of Jews. But the government can compel someone to approve same-sex marriage. 

You may think, “Yes, but the government will not try to concern itself with what is done in a church.” In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School (6th Cir. 2010) 597 F.3d 769, the appellate court found that an ordained minister had the right to make a complaint to the EEOC and the church which fired the plaintiff was not permitted to rely upon the “ministerial exception.” When the church appealed the decision, the United States government argued that the state had the power to determine whether there really was a proper basis to fire the minister. The Supreme Court overturned the Sixth Circuit, but the federal government was on the other side. 

There are well-publicized instances of the state taking a child away from a parent who wished to protect their child from what is called “transition,” but is sterilization and amputation of healthy body-parts, the poor child believes the body to not be who they “really” are.

You may think, “Yes, but I am a biblical counselor in a church, not a photographer at wedding, I’m not making a hiring decision, I’m not a parent who has lost her child to sterilization.”  If this begins to sound like Martin Niemöller’s famous lines, “First they came for the Communists …,” you should realize that they are not that-far from you.

Consider this: There are state laws which prohibit licensed therapists from counseling minors against same sex attraction and behavior.

As will be discussed below in chapter 2, the activity which you undertake in providing counsel is functionally identical to conduct of a licensed counselor. I want you to imagine that a high school student, the child of a family in the church is brought to you, unwillingly, by the parents of a child. The parents ask you to “fix” their child. You gently and patiently explain to child that the Scripture has very clear instructions on sexual behavior. You explain that a very strong desire to do something, even an inability to not understand how one could not desire to do a thing, does not make a thing right in the eyes of God. You sympathize with the difficulty this will be for them, but counsel against this sin.

This teenager, who already resents his parents, goes to the local “human rights” attorney, who then sues you for (1) practicing psychotherapy without a license, and (2) violating the fundamental policy of the state. You will be brought before a judge, who must be re-elected to maintain her pension, and a jury who belongs to the culture at large and which thinks you at best outdated. Your scriptural counsel will be called hate speech. 

Wait, you will say, the government will not concern itself with what a pastor says to his congregation! This would ignore instances, such as the mayor of Houston (through an outside group) subpoenaing the texts of sermons of local pastors to look for “troublesome” language.

And so, you lose at the trial court. You then bring your case to the 10th Circuit, say (who already believes Christians must be compelled to approve of same-sex marriage). 

We need to understand where the law is today, and where the law will likely be tomorrow. There are many fine attorneys who have advocated on behalf of the freedom of religion. Some of those attorneys have contributed to this book. We know that God is sovereign. 

However, we also know that God expects us to exercise wisdom. “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.” (Prov. 22:3) This book is not meant to cause fear, but rather is a call for the exercise of wisdom. Since most biblical counselors will not have legal experience, we written this book to give what we have experience.

T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton.7


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Finally, the poem moves to a loss of the phantoms and the perpetual possibility and a recapitulation of the first movement:

There they were as our guests, accepted and accepting.
So we moved, and they, in a formal pattern,
Along the empty alley, into the box circle,
To look down into the drained pool.
Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,
And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.
Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.
Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.

Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

With these spectres, the “we” of the poem moves in “formal pattern” (the dance perhaps, some sort of joint enterprise).

This dream scene moves into “the empty alley”. And with this movement, it seems we have moved into the world of Eliot’s earlier poems, Prufrock, Preludes, and Rhapsody on a Windy Night, the grim modern city rather than the still garden with unheard music.

The imagery at this point becomes deathly (I had not thought death an undone so many):

                        into the box circle,
To look down into the drained pool.
Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,

A “box circle”: using google n-gram, I believe that Eliot has coined a phrase. This is perhaps a paradox: a circle cannot be squared. The impossible “squaring a circle”. A trap, a box canyon? I take it for an impossible place.

And in this into this impossible place we have a scene of death: the pool is drained, dry, rotting (brown edged). In his poem The Waste Land in the section, “What the Thunder Said” the dry rock is the image of a dead land. And so the ghostly band has come into a city-scape, and to an impossible place of death. Where there should be water (a pool) there is none.

At this point, we come to a series of images which I cannot help but relate to Wallace Stevens. In “The Glass of Water” we read the lines


Is the lion that comes down to drink. There

And in that state, the glass is a pool.

Ruddy are his eye and ruddy are his claws

When light comes down to wet his frothy jaws.

I am not saying that Eliot was thinking of Stevens (Eliot’s poem was earlier that Parts of the World), just that it resonates. The lines of Eliot read:

And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.

Photo by Marné Lierman

Here in the midst of a dead land (a dry pool) sunlight entered and produced light. Living in a very sunny place all year round, sunlight would make me think of a dry land, but living in England, I imagine sunlight would be associated with the production of life. A lotus would be exotic to one in England. The whole scene then seems like a wonder of life exploding.

This spectral world is becoming quite real and full: the “they” are there looking into the world, too. It seems that the whole is on the verge of becoming not merely a possibility but real. And then

Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.

The cloud interrupts the revelry. It is whatever prevents the imagination from persisting. I don’t know that it has any particular “outside” reference: if the sunlight is the imaginative work of creating the scene, then the cloud is that which interrupts.

Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.

This is curious: the bird says go! Why? Because the leaves are full of children (just as the shrubs were filled with music). Are the children dangerous in some way? Why? It seems the children are again the intrusion of something more intense. In the parallel lines it is reality. By means of the parallelism I take the children to be the intrusion of reality.

Human kind

Cannot bear very much reality

This speculation and possibility of the past is on the verge of becoming real. 

Or is it that this revelry is disclosing something about reality which has not yet known? What is the reality which we cannot bear?

Having comes to this point, we return to the inevitable present:

Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

There is a greater will of some sort which always bears upon reality and which determines the present.

When I come to this point, I wonder if more than a meditation upon time and imagination and regret, it is also a meditation upon freedom and what must be.

He has brought me to think about these things, but not as in an essay or argument. Rather than telling me about them, as a poet, he is calling me to look at them. Whether he receives a clearer resolution will depend upon what comes next.

T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton.6 (Phantoms Dancing)


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Having come through the door we meet the “them” promised by the thrush. Here is what was lurking in the poet’s “first world”

There they were, dignified, invisible,

Moving without pressure, over the dead leaves,

In the autumn heat, through the vibrant air,

And the bird called, in response to

The unheard music hidden in the shrubbery,

And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses

Had the look of flowers that are looked at.

There they were as our guests, accepted and accepting.

The inhabitants are described as follows:

Dignified. That is a curious word to begin. We could just dismiss this as Eliot being proper. But something more seems here. Something which is unreal could easily be ridiculous: but there is an honor here of sorts.

Invisible: How then are known? Imagination. They cannot be remembered, because this is the world which has never been. And so we enter into the imaginary world somehow shared (whether Eliot with someone else, or perhaps with us the reader is unclear). 

Moving: The idea of moving is coupled with the “unheard music” compels me to think of a dance. These phantoms (I don’t think “ghost” or “spirit” is right) are dancing over “dead leaves” but they break nothing. They “mov[e] without pressure.” 

I’m not sure what to do with the “autumn heat” beyond notice that the whole has the feel of being stifling. There are phantoms, but nothing is stirring. It is hot, but there is no breeze. When this is coupled with the language from earlier about unstirred dust on rose leaves, there is a feeling of an utterly closed-up world. 

This was a choice Eliot has made: while this old, closed up world is one way to imagine the never-has-been past, it is also the case that he could have produced a chaotic and vibrant never-have-been. This was a choice. 

Notice the environment: the air is “vibrant” but like the dancers without pressure, the vibration is of a music which is not heard. Everything is it seems potential: this is what could have been: dancing, music. But not there.

The bird is here: it is the guide into this imaginary space. The bird calls to the unheard music: it is in the shrubbery, it is off-camera, coming from some place ou cannot see. 

The eyebeam crossed: This is an idea as far back as Plato in Timeaus who explained that the fire made within us can cross through the eye and shine upon things to give sight:

“And of the organs they first contrived the eyes to give light, and the principle according to which they were inserted was as follows: So much of fire as would not burn, but gave a gentle light, they formed into a substance akin to the light of every-day life; and the pure fire which is within us and related thereto they made to flow through the eyes in a stream smooth and dense, compressing the whole eye, and especially the centre part, so that it kept out everything of a coarser nature, and allowed to pass only this pure element. When the light of day surrounds the stream of vision, then like falls upon like, and they coalesce, and one body is formed by natural affinity in the line of vision, wherever the light that falls from within meets with an external object. And the whole stream of vision, being similarly affected in virtue of similarity, diffuses the motions of what it touches or what touches it over the whole body, until they reach the soul, causing that perception which we call sight.”

The idea had various uses in science and art thereafter. Eliot certainly was not proposing this as a real effect (no one believed such in the 20th century). So why then this reference here?

Eliot was influenced by the metaphysical poet John Donne (if you are interested, here is a paper on the topic, and perhaps these lines from Donne’s poem the Extasie were alluded to by Eliot

Our eye-beams twisted, and did thred

Our eyes, upon one double string;

If there is allusion to regret and love in the poem, then the reference to Donne would be appropriate and ironic.

Next comes a line which has always delighted me:

                                                for the roses

Had the look of flowers that are looked at.

for the roses

Had the look of flowers that are looked at

This speculative space of what has never been is inhabited and it effects and affects. The eyebeams of the phantoms (?) have seen the roses – which calls back to rose leaves above. The roses disclose the presence of the lovers seeing one-another. The roses evidence the crossed gazed. The reality of this love played out in the unseen world.

And finally:

There they were as our guests, accepted and accepting.

This raises a question: Is this imaginary space the poet’s own life? Are these true third parties. Or is this some alternative to himself: this is me if the world had been different?

And how then are they here as guests? They are not recriminating: accepted and accepting. 

He never quite defines these phantoms. I think they must be poet and someone else (again a lover, the reader, is this written to a particular person and we are overhearing?) are the ones at issue. The “they” is not someone else but rather a who Eliot could have been.

The reference to the “eyebeams crossed” makes this intimacy a moment of lovers. And the prove of their presence is shown in the roses. 

And for a moment, there is peace. We are permitted in; and we are at peace with this other self.

In the next movement, this equipoise will be dissolved.

Richard Sibbes, The Backsliding Sinner, 3.3


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The previous post on this work is found here:

At this point, Sibbes makes two general observations about the nature of repentance itself. The first is that repentance takes place within the whole of our relationship to God: If we are truly repentant, that will be reflected by the expression of prayer and praise toward. And, conversely, if we do not repent and yet seek to enter into this intimate relationship with God, our prayer and praise will be not accepted. Second, he stress the particularness of repentance. 

But, to make way to these things, we must first observe two things for a preparative.

Doctrine. First, That reformation of life must be joined with prayer and praise. 

There was prayer before, and a promise of praise; but, as here, there must be joined reformation of their sin. 

This observation comes from the text of the passage. Hosea 14:1 contains the command to repent. Verse 2 provides, 

Take with you words and return to the LORD;

Say to him, Take away all iniquity

Accept what is good,

And we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips.

Verse 3 containes the details of the repentance (which will be discussed, below). Notice something here about the nature of his exegesis: He is not merely looking at the text of the passage and saying, this means this. He is thinking about the context of the passage: not merely to understand the words, but to understand the reason why these matters are placed together. The passage does not expressly state the doctrine proposed by Sibbes. But, by thinking carefully about the passage, Sibbes has seen what the passage does: It contains a command, but it also provides a model. 

And, so that his understanding does not become fanciful, he is able to anchor individual elements of the chain with other passages which are explicit about the relationship:

That it must be so, it appears, first, for prayer. It is said, ‘If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear my prayer,’ Ps. 66:18. And for praise, ‘The very sacrifice of the wicked (who reforms not his ways) is abominable,’ Prov. 15:8. So that, without reformation, prayer and praise is to no purpose. 

Therefore, it is brought here after a promise of praise. Lord, as we mean to praise thee, so we intend a thorough reformation of former sins, whereof we were guilty. We will renounce Asshur, and confidence in horses, idols, and the like. 

Notice how he does not delay application to the end of the sermon, but makes the application in his exegesis. Moreover, note the tone of the application: it is not bare command, but rather it is exhortation “let us.”

Therefore, let us, when we come to God with prayer and praise, think also of reforming what is amiss. Out with Achan, Josh. 7:19. If there be any dead fly, Eccles. 10:1, or Achan uncast out, prayer and praise is in vain. 

Achan coveted gold and sinned against God’s explicit command. Eccl. 10:1 is the source of the proverbial “fly in the ointment.” Our prayer or praised mixed with unrepentant sin is nauseous. He then proves this point by citing to two other passages which are consistent with his observation:

‘Will you steal, lie, commit adultery, swear falsely, and come and stand before me,’ saith the Lord, by the prophet Jeremiah, Jer. 7:9. Will you offer to pray to me, and praise me, living in these and these sins? No; God will abhor both that prayer and praise, where there is no reformation. ‘What hast thou to do to take my name in thy mouth, since thou hatest to be reformed, and hast cast my words behind thee, saith God,’ Ps. 50:16, where he pleads with the hypocrite for this audacious boldness in severing things conjoined by God. 

He returns to the original point in much the manner of a recapitulation which restates the original them but also makes use of the “development”.

Therefore, as we would not have our prayers turned back from heaven, which should bring a blessing upon all other things else: as we would not have our sacrifices abominable to God, labour to reform what is amiss, amend all, or else never think our lip-labour will prove anything but a lost labour without this reformation.

Here he makes an observation about the nature of repentance: In this he makes an interesting psychological observation. It is a common that you must repent of all sin. Sibbes unpacks what is so easily done: to reserve one sin:

A second thing, which I observe in general, before I come to the particulars, is,

Doctrine. That true repentance is, of the particular sin which we are most addicted to, and most guilty of.

The “particular” sin he takes directly from the text. If time permitted, we could tie these particular sins to their development throughout the Scripture. What strikes me at this moment is the degree to which these particular sins could be charged against contemporary Christians in N.A. There is an excessive trust in and reliance upon political means, various forms of power (on right and left). There is a commensurate lack of trust in the power of “normal means of grace,” the providence of God, the wisdom of God to the point that politics and power become idolatrous (and the idols were seen as means to obtain and expend supernatural power, which is often the way in which we view God as a charging station for our political position). 

The particular sin of this people, whom God so instructs here, was their confidence in Assyria, horses, and idols. 

Note the connection between the particular and the many (note also the structure of this paragraph proposition and illustration/application:

Now therefore repenting, they repent of the particular, main sins they were most guilty of; which being stricken down, all the lesser will be easy to conquer. As when Goliath himself was stricken down, all the host of the Philistines ran away, 1 Sam. 17:51. So when Goliath shall be slain in us, the reigning, ruling, domineering sin, the rest will easily be conquered.

Here, he develops the application of repenting of the particular:

Use. Therefore let us make an use of examination and trial of our repentance.

Stop and ask yourself, am I truly repentant of the particular sin(s) which most beset me? “If it be sound”: if you are truly repentant for the particular;

 If it be sound, it draws with it a reformation; as in general, so especially of our particular sins. As those confess and say, ‘Above all other things we have sinned in this, in asking a king,’ 1 Sam. 12:8. We were naught, and had offended God many ways before; but herein we have been exceeding sinful, in seeking another governor, being weary of God’s gracious government over us. 

True repentance of the particular sin will bring about a general reformation of the soul before God.  He now makes this point with a precise description and then an illustration:

So a gracious heart will say, I have been a wretch in all other things, but in this and that sin above all other. Thus it was with the woman of Samaria, when she was put in mind by Christ of her particular grand sin, that she had been a light woman, and had had many husbands, he whom she lived with now not being her husband, John 4:18. This discovery, when Christ touched the galled part, did so work upon her conscience that it occasioned a general repentance of all her other sins whatsoever. 

This exposing to us our particular sin is a great part of the work which the Spirit does when he brings conviction:

And, indeed, sound repentance of one main sin will draw with it all the rest. And, for the most part, when God brings any man home to him, he so carries our repentance, that, discovering unto us our sinfulness, he especially shews us our Delilah, Isaac, Herodias, our particular sin; which being cast out, we prevail easily against the rest. 

Repentance can actually be a dodge and a cover for sin: If X is my great sin, I will happily repent of Y that I may retain X.

As the charge was given by the king of Aram against Ahab, ‘Fight neither against great nor small, but only against the king of Israel,’ 2 Chron. 18:30; kill him, and then there will be an end of the battle. So let us not stand striking at this and that sin (which we are not so much tempted to), if we will indeed prove our repentance to be sound; but at that main sin which by nature, calling, or custom we are most prone unto. Repentance for this causes repentance for all the rest; as here the church saith, ‘Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses,’ &c.

Here is something interesting: The one who retains a sin may be in the place of putting a great show of work as a means of atonement or payment for the sin which is kept. 

It is a grand imposture, which carries many to hell; they will cherish themselves in some gross main sin, which pleases corrupt nature, and is advantageous to them; and by way of compensation with God, they will do many other things well, but leave a dead fly to mar all; whereas they should begin here especially. 

Thus much in general, which things premised, I come to the forenamed particulars. 

We are not ignorant of his devices



Paul writing to the church at Corinth wishes to warn them to not be taken advantage by Satan: Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.—2 Cor. 2:11

Of this verse Thomas Brooks writes

Lest Satan should get an advantage of us; lest Satan over-reach us. The Greek word πλεονεχτηθῶμεν, signifieth to have more than belongs to one. The comparison is taken from the greedy merchant, that seeketh and taketh all opportunities to beguile and deceive others. Satan is that wily merchant, that devoureth, not widows houses, but most men’s souls.

‘We are not ignorant of Satan’s devices,’ or plots, or machinations, or stratagems, Νοήματα. He is but a titular Christian that hath not personal experience of Satan’s stratagems, his set and composed machinations, his artificially moulded methods, his plots, darts, depths, whereby he outwitted our first parents, and fits us a pennyworth still, as he sees reason.

The main observation that I shall draw from these words is this:

Doct. That Satan hath his several devices to deceive, entangle, and undo the souls of men.

In Precious Remedies for Satan’s Devices he lays out may ways we can be led to sin. When we think of Satan’s devices we have taught to think of ghostly supernatural effects. But as Brooks makes clear, these are things which appear mundane, human: thinking of sin as a small thing, presuming upon grace, toying with temptation.

But one device he does not discuss is the sin of refusing to forgive, which Graham Cole in Against the Darkness does set forth as a device of Satan to destroy a church

Eighth, another avenue for Satan’s malevolence to express itself is when forgiveness is withheld. Such a withholding appears to provide a devilish opportunity to work harm. This seems to be Paul’s concern in 2 Corinthians 2:5–11, where he encourages the Corinthians to be forgiving toward a repentant congregational member (vv. 10–11): “Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.” Paul Barnett comments, “Satan, who is ever ready to destroy churches, will, in the absence of love and forgiveness, quickly bring bitterness and division. Now that the man has turned from his evil ways it is important that he, and the group who support him, be reconciled through forgiveness with the main body of the congregation.”

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; Heb12.15

T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton.5


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            Other echoes

Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?

Quick, said the bird, find them, find them,

Round the corner. Through the first gate,  (20)

Into our first world, shall we follow 

The deception of the thrush? Into our first world.

To put these lines into their context, here are the lines already considered. I have also added an underscore to the word “echo”.

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable. (5)
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present. (10)
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.                                   (15)
                              But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
                        Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
Quick, said the bird, find them, find them,
Round the corner. Through the first gate, (20)
Into our first world, shall we follow
The deception of the thrush? Into our first world.

Looking back we can a major shift in line 11 with the first “echo”. The first ten lines are philosophical and distant. But at line 11 we enter into some sort of memory and that memory is an “echo”. The echo is of “footfalls” and so of some movement which never happened (down the passage which we did not take). At line 15 there is a bit of a pause, should we follow after this memory?

Then in middle of line 17, someone else intrudes and pulls the “we” toward the door which was never opened. Here there are “other echoes”. We will meet these phantoms in a bit, but here are just sounds. 

So why this word “echo”. It is not a sound but the echo of the sound; it is not the original but the copy. By using the word “echo”, Eliot increases the dream quality. Also, these sounds are “echoes” because the original happened (or did not happen) in the past, but they are being experienced in the present. 

We also learn what is on the otherside of the door which was never opened, “the garden.” 

Raising the image of a “garden” holds all sorts of allusions, particularly in the hands of someone like Eliot. There is archetypal garden of Eden. There are also all of the wall, specially kept places as gardens. 

Here the garden is “an abstraction” and a “perpetual possibility” which exists “only in a world of speculation.” To enter through this door in the memory is to enter into this “world of speculation.” 

The image of the rose-leaves now comes into focus for we know where the roses came from: the garden in this memory. 

But how could there be “other echoes” in this space? If the first echoes were the hurried steps to the door, who is on the other side of this door. But the “reality” (if you will) of the echoes beckon: 

He then turns to the reader (?) “Shall we follow?” We could be overhearing his conversation with someone, or we could be the one spoken to: This would mean that in reading the poem, you are being addressed in the lines, “My words echo/Thus, in your mind.”  And even if the poem is addressed to a particular “you” and “we”, the fact remains that the reader of the poem is the one who is following down the path toward the garden.

There is something quite mythical about a speaking bird leading one toward a garden. I feel there must be a particular allusion here, but I do not know what it is. It might be an allusion to the Norse god of poetry, Bragi. Whatever the allusion, the image is charming. 

This bird calls “us” on quickly, and now we are hurrying down the pathway through the door, through the gate.

In lines 20-22 we have the word “first” used three times: It is the “first gate” and then twice “our first world.” When we couple this with the “garden” we have our first world is the garden: this points toward Eden – at least some pre-Fall world.

Now, Eliot will not actually place in the primeval garden, but there is a deliberate prelapsarian element: The fall may not be the fall of all humanity, but rather a much more personal “fall”. This is “our first world.”

Shall you (the reader, someone in particular to Eliot) and I (Eliot) open this gate in the memory and proceed to the world which didn’t happen and yet is this real to us?

There is one more point to consider, “The deception of the thrush.” What precisely is the thrush’s deception? That there is this “first world”? That we can enter it?  If I am being called into something which is abstraction and possibility, is the call to consider that at all a deception? 

Is it a deception to consider a world which never happened as a reality now?

And as we know from the first lines: this world which did not happen “point[s] to one end, which is always present.” This first world which did not happen brought about this present: a present where I am being deceived to enter a the garden of our first world.

It is fascinating because it allusive and difficult, but not muddled. He is describing something which cannot easily articulated: it is the vision out of the corner of your eye, the thought which startles and then slips away before you can focus. It is real and a deception; present and only a speculation.

Analysis of the Decision in 303 Creative


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The decision of the 10th Circuit in 303 Creative LLC, et al. v. Elenis, et al. is a remarkable decision for its rejection what should be undisputed constitutional principles. As Ed Whelan wrote in Bonkers Tenth Circuit Ruling Against Free Speech, “It is difficult to imagine a ruling more hostile to free speech.”  The case involved a Christian web developer who said she was unwilling to make a webpage which celebrated a same-sex wedding.

This was not the case of someone who refused to serve a gay customer. The designer specifically stated that it was not the identity of the customer but the content of the message which was the issue: “303 Creative is a for-profit, graphic and website design company; Ms. Smith is its founder and sole member-owner. Appellants are willing to work with all people regardless of sexual orientation. Appellants are also generally willing to create graphics or websites for lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (“LGBT”) customers. Ms. Smith sincerely believes, however, that same-sex marriage conflicts with God’s will.”

The court found that the creation of the website was “speech,” “Appellants’ creation of wedding websites is pure speech.” This is important because in cases such those involving a baker or a florist, there was an issue as to whether the work itself (decorating a cake, arranging flowers) constitutes speech for purposes of the First Amendment. Thus, the speech clause of the First Amendment was unquestionably in play.

Second, the court found that speech at issue also entailed the plaintiff’s religious convictions,  “Ms. Smith holds a sincere religious belief that prevents her from creating websites that celebrate same-sex marriages.”

Free exercise of religion and freedom of speech are guaranteed in First Amendment. Having found speech and religion, it seems that the plaintiff should have easily prevailed. But here, the court found the government could compel speech (and also religious practice).

The First Amendment prohibits compelled speech. (United States v. United Foods, Inc., 533 U.S. 405, 410 (2001); see, Wooley v. Maynard 430 U.S. 705, 714-15, supra) The act of government compulsion as to speech is always demeaning and always wrong. (Janus v. Am. Fed’n of State, Cnty., & Mun. Emps., Council 31 (2018) 138 S. Ct. 2448, 2464 (2018) [“When speech is compelled, however, additional damage is done. In that situation, individuals are coerced into betraying their convictions. Forcing free and independent individuals to endorse ideas they find objectionable is always demeaning, and for this reason, one of our landmark free speech cases said that a law commanding “involuntary affirmation” of objected-to beliefs would require “even more immediate and urgent grounds” than a law demanding silence. Barnette, supra, at 633, 63 S.Ct. 1178; see also Riley, supra, at 796–797, 108 S.Ct. 2667 (rejecting “deferential test” for compelled speech claims).”])

Since this case involves compelled speech, it seems she should have won, but she did not.

The court found that the law was a content-based restriction on speech, meaning that it prohibited certain speech based upon the content of that speech. With few very narrow exceptions (such as a true threats), content based restrictions are simply struck down.

And yet, the 303 court found the State of Colorado could compel Ms. Smith to publicly approve same sex marriage (or be barred from being a web-designer in the state), “We hold that CADA [the law at issue] satisfies strict scrutiny, and thus permissibly compels Appellants’ speech.” The decision also compels Ms. Smith to contradict her religious beliefs and participate in a religious rite if she wants to conduct any business in Colorado.

How did this happen? How could a court find that the government can compel speech, forbid other speech and compel religious practice as the cost of doing business in the State of Colorado?

First, Ms. Smith’s solo operation had to be designated as a “public accommodation.”  The statute defines a public accommodation as a business which is open to the public, “any place of business engaged in any sales to the public and any place offering services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations to the public.” Such a definition runs contrary to the history of the meaning of the phrase “public accommodation.” Public accommodations entail public carriers (like a bus line), public accommodations (like a hotel on the interstate). The concept has a long history in American law and then English common law before that. And it is only recently that solo operators have become “public accommodations.”

But the court did more than turn her into a public accommodation, it actually turned her into a special sort of public accommodation: the monopoly, which by virtue of being a monopoly must be open to the public.

The nature of “public accommodations” and the way in which Ms. Smith became a monopoly will be discussed next.