Canticles, Flame, Garden, Richard Sibbes, Song of Solomon, Spark, Wind
He comes to the next image: the wind blowing upon the garden so that the spice may disburse:
But to what end must these winds blow upon the garden?
‘That the spices thereof may flow out.’
The end of this blowing is, you see, ‘that the spices thereof may flow out.’ Good things in us lie dead and bound up, unless the Spirit let them out. We ebb and flow, open and shut, as the Spirit blows upon us; without blowing, no flowing. There were gracious good things in the church, but they wanted blowing up and further spreading, whence we may observe, that,
On this he makes three observations:
Obs. 1. We need not only grace to put life into us at the first, but likewise grace to quicken and draw forth that grace that we have. This is the difference betwixt man’s blowing and the Spirit’s. Man, when he blows, if grace be not there before, spends all his labour upon a dead coal, which he cannot make take fire. But the Spirit first kindles a holy fire, and then increases the flame.
This image of a flame of grace in the Christian’s soul is a conceit which Sibbes uses elsewhere in his writing. He writes of our love being “enflamed,” “Come what will, all is welcome, when we are inflamed with the love of Christ; and the more we suffer, the more we find his love.” Of the flame of faith, “Prayer is the messenger, the ambassador of faith, the flame of faith.”
True faith has a divine “spark”:
Christ will not quench the smoking flax. First, because this spark is from heaven, it is his own, it* is kindled by his own spirit. And secondly, it tendeth to the glory of his powerful grace in his children, that he preserveth light in the midst of darkness,—a spark in the midst of the swelling waters of corruption.
There is an especial blessing in that little spark; ‘when wine is found in a cluster, one saith, Destroy it not; for there is a blessing in it,’ Isa. 65:8.
This image of true faith and love being a flame or spark is quite common Sibbes and seems to direct his thinking. His sensitivity to the imagery contrasts with the manner in which much contemporary preaching would function in its desire to be “precise”. However, that precision comes at a cost of truncating the text. Yes there is a danger in run-away “allegorization”, but there is also a danger in turning poetical texts in technical manuals.
Obs. 2. Whence we see further, that it is not enough to be good in ourselves, but our goodness must flow out; that is, grow more strong, useful to continue and stream forth for the good of others. We must labour to be, as was said of John, burning and shining Christians, John 5:35. For Christ is not like a box of ointment shut up and not opened, but like that box of ointment that Mary poured out, which perfumes all the whole house with the sweetness thereof. For the Spirit is herein like wind; it carries the sweet savour of grace to others.
And finally, God’s goodness continues with us. I like Sibbes’ image here, “to trade”, to continue in business:
Obs. 3. Hence we see, also, that where once God begins, he goes on, and delights to add encouragement to encouragement, to maintain new setters up in religion, and doth not only give them a stock of grace at the beginning, but also helps them to trade. He is not only Alpha, but Omega, unto them, the beginning and the ending, Rev. 1:8. He doth not only plant graces, but also watereth and cherisheth them. Where the Spirit of Christ is, it is an encouraging Spirit; for not only it infuseth grace, but also stirs it up, that we may be ready prepared for every good work, otherwise we cannot do that which we are able to do. The Spirit must bring all into exercise, else the habits of grace will lie asleep. We need a present Spirit to do every good; not only the power to will, but the will itself; and not only the will, but the deed, is from the Spirit, which should stir us up to go to Christ, that he may stir up his own graces in us, that they may flow out.
This encouragement is necessary and useful, because in the midst of ministry, in the midst of merely trying to continue in this world as a follower of Christ, we think ourselves forgotten, we feel that we are on our in a land without water; but there in that seemingly forbidden place there is help. Let the wind blow upon the Garden.
Sibbes does not merely give doctrine information, but for use:
Use. Let us labour, then, in ourselves to be full of goodness, that so we may be fitted to do good to all. As God is good, and does good to all, so must we strive to be as like him as may be; in which case, for others’ sakes, we must pray that God would make the winds to blow out fully upon us, ‘that our spices may flow out’ for their good. For a Christian in his right temper thinks that he hath nothing good to purpose, but that which does good to others.