Canticles, Creation, Encouragement, Fathers World, Grace, joy, providence, Rejoice, Richard Sibbes, Song of Solomon
The previous post on this sermon may be found here
He then concludes with the use of this doctrine that the graces, the worship of the Church is accepted (“Christ’s acceptation”).
First, as it common in Sibbes he notes the comfort and encouragement this brings:
Use 1. If so be that God accepts the performances and graces, especially the prayers of his children, let it be an argument to encourage us to be much in all holy duties.
Sibbes then makes an interesting observation about human psychology and motivation:
It would dead the heart of any man to perform service where it should not be accepted, and the eye turned aside, not vouchsafing a gracious look upon it. This would be a killing of all comfortable endeavours.
As I consider this observation, it may be that a tacit belief that our prayer has been valueless weakens our resolve to pray. And that, perhaps, stems from a defective theology and understanding of prayer:
James 4:3 (AV)
Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.
Sibbes makes a related observation about why our prayers misfire:
But when all that is good is accepted, and what is amiss is pardoned, when a broken desire, a cup of cold water shall not go unrespected, nay, unrewarded, Mat. 10:42, what can we desire more? It is infidelity which is dishonourable to God and uncomfortable to ourselves, that makes us so barren and cold in duties.
Sibbes then comes to the second observation — which is related to his questioning of why our worship may “fail.” If we do hope to have our worship acceptable, then our lives must be kept clear of sin:
Use 2. Only let our care be to approve our hearts unto Christ. When our hearts are right, we cannot but think comfortably of Christ. Those that have offended some great persons are afraid, when they hear from them, because they think they are in a state displeasing to them. So a soul that is under the guilt of any sin is so far from thinking that God accepts of it, that it looks to hear nothing from him but some message of anger and displeasure. But one that preserves acquaintance, due distance, and respect to a great person, hears from him with comfort. Before he breaks open a letter, or sees anything, he supposes it comes from a friend, one that loves him. So, as we would desire to hear nothing but good news from heaven, and acceptation of all that we do, let us be careful to preserve ourselves in a good estate, or else our souls will tremble upon any discovery of God’s wrath. The guilty conscience argues, what can God shew to me, being such a wretch? The heart of such an one cannot but misgive, as, where peace is made, it will speak comfort. It is said of Daniel that he was a man of God’s desires, Dan. 9:23; 10:11, 19; and of St John, that Christ so loved him that he leaned on his breast, John 21:20. Every one cannot be a Daniel, nor one that leans on Christ’s bosom. There are degrees of favour and love; but there is no child of God but he is beloved and accepted of him in some degree.
In the worship of the temple, there were various rules which dealt with “uncleanness”, those things which kept one from being able to come worship. When one was unclean, there were rituals prescribed which permitted the worship to be cleaned and thus come into the fellowship of worship.
In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul writes about coming to the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner:
1 Corinthians 11:27–34 (AV)
27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. 29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. 33 Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another. 34 And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come.
But with Christ there is always the offer of pardon and being made clean to enter into his presence:
1 John 1:5–10 (AV)
5 This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
At this point, Sibbes but cannot help offer more encouragement to come to Christ. He does this by referring to something from the previous chapter:
But something of this before in the former chapter.
‘I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey,’ &c.
God not only accepts us, but delights in us:
That is, I have taken contentment in thy graces, together with acceptation. There is a delight, and God not only accepts, but he delights in the graces of his children. ‘All my delight,’ saith David, ‘is in those that are excellent,’ Ps. 16:3. But this is not all, Christ comes with an enlargement of what he finds.
He explains that Christ is the means by which the believer receives the blessing of God. All spiritual blessing is in Christ. The Spirit then communicates that blessing to those in union with Christ. And as that communion takes place, the capacity for the communion increases:
Those that have communion with Christ, therefore, have a comfortable communion, being sure to have it enlarged, for ‘to him that hath shall be given,’ Mat. 25:29.
And then there is the promise of future good when Christ comes at last:
It is not only true of his last coming, when he shall come to judge the quick and the dead, ‘I come, and my reward is with me,’ Rev. 22:12, but also of all his intermediate comings that are between.
Here is the real wonder: Christ accepts us and then lavishes good upon us. If we were permitted to visit the president or a king or queen or some other “important” person, we would think the honor of being accepted into their company honor enough. But when we come to Christ, he gives us his company and showers good upon us — and increases our capacity to receive the good:
When he comes to the soul, he comes not only to accept what is there, but still with his reward with him, the increase of grace, to recompense all that is good with the increase thereof. This made his presence so desired in the gospel with those that had gracious hearts. They knew all was the better for Christ, the company the better, for he never left any house or table where he was, but there was an increase of comfort, and of grace. And as it was in his personal, so it is in his spiritual presence. He never comes, but he increases grace and comfort.
What do we do with such information? We use it as encouragement to come to Christ:
Therefore, let us be stirred up to have communion with Christ, by this motive, that thus we shall have an increase of a further measure of grace. Let us labour to be such as Christ may delight in, for our graces are honey and spices to him, and where he tastes sweetness he will bring more with him.
Our present communion then fits us for future communion with him:
For, except there be a mutual joy in one another, there is not communion. Therefore Christ furnisheth his church with so much grace as is necessary for a state of absence here, that may fit her for communion with him for ever in heaven.
If we are receiving such good and comfort from Christ, how then should we respond? Joy. Paul says that we are to rejoice always. In what, that our name is written in the book of Life:
We ought to rejoice in the comforts and graces of others, and of ourselves.
He makes a subtle observation here: There are benefits we receive from the Spirit: (1) the grace he gives; and (2) the understanding, the realization of the grace he gives. It would be very disappointing to receive a great treasure and then never know that it was present. We become like Little-Faith of Pilgrim’s Progress who possessed a great jewel and yet lived in poverty, unless the Spirit give us knowledge of what we have:
He had need to stir her up to enjoy the comfort of her own grace; for they are two distinct benefits, to have grace, and to know that we have it, though one Spirit work both, 1 Cor. 2:12. The Spirit works grace, and shews us the things that God hath given us, yet sometimes it doth the one, and not the other. In the time of desertion and of temptation, we have grace, but we know it not; right to comfort, but we feel it not. There is no comfort of a secret, unknown treasure; but so it is with the church, she doth not always take notice of her own graces, and the right she hath to comfort.
We have need to have Christ’s Spirit to help us to know what good is in us.
At this point, Sibbes gives instruction which saves us from morbid introspection. We must examine ourselves. Some fail in this duty altogether. Others inspect, but only to find sorrow and sores, infection and failing. Sibbes gives different counsel:
And indeed a Christian should not only examine his heart for the evil that is in him, to be humbled; but what good there is, that he may joy and be thankful. And since Christ accepts the very first fruits, the earnest, and delights in them, we should know what he delights in, that we may go boldly to him; considering that it is not of ourselves, but of Christ, whatsoever is graciously good. Therefore we ought to know our own graces; for Christ, when he will have us comfortable indeed, will discover to us what cause we have to rejoice, and shew us what is the work of his own Spirit, and our right to all comfort.
An introspection which can both see the need of repentance and the good grace of the Spirit’s work will improve rather than become discouraged.
And then we should look around and rejoice in the good work of God in other people, in other circumstances. We should look in Creation and rejoice and praise God for his good work. We should look to providence and give God glory for his provision and protection, There is a wealth of good lying about us in which we could rejoice, if we were to only look.
Look then at those around you. Give God glory for the repentance of our own sins and the sins of others; of the growing in grace in our heart and in others. Look to the sky and the sea and ground and rejoice at all that God has done. It is the Devil’s work to be discontented. It is the work of children to rejoice in their Father’s World.