The Soul’s Conflict With Itself is Richard Sibbes meditation on Psalm 42 and the nature of grief and sorrow. It is 34 chapters long.
Sibbes begins with the observation that this Psalm shows “the passionate passages of a broken and troubled spirit.”
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.
From this he Sibbes observes:
He lays open his desire springing from his love; love being the prime and leading affection of the soul, from whence grief springs, from being crossed in that we love….Places and conditions are happy or miserable as God vouchsafeth his gracious presence more or less; and, therefore, ‘When, O when shall it be that I appear before God?’ ver. 2.
His desire thus gives way to his grief. The grief in the Psalm both comes from the loss of God and taunts of his enemies. The memory of his loss and present distress lead him to sorrow.
In this first section, Sibbes begins by making observations about the text. He first observes the nature of the human heart. Indeed, throughout the work, Sibbes uses the text to make detailed observations about the human heart which then inform his application. This is a point at which many preachers and teachers fail (largely because they have not been taught to do so, nor have they seen it much modeled).
He first explains that we must not be too quick to seek to change one with a sorrowful heart; the change may not occur quickly. Thus, we should not be discouraged that change occurs slowly; nor should we expect instant change from others:
Hence in general we may observe that grief gathered to a head will not be quieted at the first. We see here passions intermingled with comforts, and comforts with passions; and what bustling there is before David can get the victory over his own heart. You have some short-spirited Christians that, if they be not comforted at the first, they think all labour with their hearts is in vain, and thereupon give way to their grief. But we see in David, as distemper ariseth upon distemper, so he gives check upon check and charge upon charge to his soul, until at length he brought it to a quiet temper. In physic, if one purge will not carry away the vicious humour, then we add a second; if that will not do it, we take a third. So should we deal with our souls. Perhaps one check, one charge will not do it, then fall upon the soul again; send it to God again, and never give over until our souls be possessed of our souls again.
Biblical Counseling, Grief, Ministry, Mortification, Mortification of Sin, Practical Theology, Quotations, Romans, Romans 6, Romans 7, Romans 8, Satan, Sin, The Believer's Victory Over Satan's Devices, William Parson
“It evidently does come to pass, that many who are hopefully converted to Christ, soon after leaving the depot for their heavenly destination, do strangely leave the track; they fail on the up-grades of duty; (heir movements are irregular; the wheels of their faith slip on the rails of promise; they do not promptly obey the will of the Divine Engineer. It is the sore grief of the ministry and church, and the general complaint and stumbling-block of the world, that professed Christians fall so far below the standard of character presented in the Bible — that they so manifestly fail in running the Christian race. Christ proclaims liberty, and yet many of his people are slaves to the world and their lusts. The gospel professes to open fountains in the desert, and rivers in dry places; and yet we fail to find “the rivers, the floods, the brooks of honey and butter,” of which Zophar the Naamathite writes (Job 20:17), and drink, instead, at those transient streams of which Job himself speaks, which dry up and vanish when the heat comes, and go to nothing (6: 15-18). We lack the “tongue of fire,” the baptism of the Spirit, “the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.” And the worst of all is, that the church is extensively paralyzed with the fatal idea that this state of bondage and spiritual weakness is practically incurable; and, as the inevitable consequence, men abandon themselves to a current of most unsatisfactory and bewildering experiences.”
Excerpt From: William Leonard Parsons. “The believer’s victory over Satan’s devices.” 1876, Nelson & Phillips.
No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep swalloiong.
At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another not to me.
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
How We Must Grieve for Sin:
It was a sweet essay of one, “let a man degree for his sin, and then joy for his grief.” That sorrow for sin that keeps the soul from looking towards the mercy seat, and that keeps Christ and the soul asunder, or that shall render the soul unfit for communion of the saints, is a sinful sorrow (1 Brooks 11).
True repentance for sin entails grief. Yet the grief and sorrow of true repentance drives us to Christ. In Romans 2:4 the Apostle writes, “Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (RSV) that are sorrow for sin we must not stray from our Lord but rather run to our Lord. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes of the nature of true godly repentance, and contrasts that with “worldly grief”:
8 For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. 9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. 12 So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. 13 Therefore we are comforted. 2 Corinthians 7:8–13 (ESV)
A godly sorrow, drives us from sin but towards Christ. A worldly sorrow drives us to ourselves. A godly sorrow drives out of our selves. A godly sorrow does not lack in intensity, for it does produce earnestness and zeal. Yet the zeal is directed toward the sin. A sorrow for sin does not render us unfit for communion, but rather prepares us for love.
Rutherford wrote to the Viscountess of Kenmure on July 27, 1628 to encourage her during a time of “infirmity and sickness with grief”. He begins with an exhortation to obedience and relies upon the response of God to the apostate angels and God’s overwhelming sovereignty to do what is right.
First, sentence, “All dutiful obedience in the Lord remembered.” Of all the exhortations one would expect in a letter written to one who is suffering, this might not be the first which comes to mind. But is it really so different from the self-exhortation in Psalms 42-43 (repeated three times as a refrain):
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
Okay you are down, here is what you need to do. Lloyd-Jones said (paraphrase) that a great problem in our depression is that we listen to ourselves rather than preach to ourselves. Rutherford, in his love and kindness begins by preaching to his friend.
Second, Rutherford acknowledges her sad state and then tells her to hope in God, “It is the Lord, let him do whatsoever seemeth good in his eyes.” Rutherford backs up the proposition with two arguments, one based upon a warning, and the second upon encouragement.
(1) Consider what happened to the apostate angels. They rebelled, but God’s counsel will still stand (Is. 46:10). “It is then best for us, in the obedience of faith and in a holy submission, to give that to God which the law of His almighty and just power will have of us.” In short, if God is sovereign – and he is – and our circumstance is the result of his exercise of sovereignty – and it is – then it is only sane for us to accept and live in light of that truth.
This is a necessary element in any godly response to a severe trial. God is sovereign and this is his doing. David writes in Psalm 39:9:
I am mute; I do not open my mouth,
for it is you who have done it.
(2) Rutherford also anticipates the objection: Yes, but if God is response, then why is this circumstance so dire? He responds by noting that God is wiser and he will give to us that we which most need:
Herein ye shall have comfort, that He, who seeth perfectly through all your evils and knoweth the frame and constitution of yoru nature, and what is most healthful for your soul, holdeth every cup of affliction to your heard, with His own gracious hand. Never believe that your tenderhearted Savoir, who knoweth the strength of your stomach, will mix that cup with one dramweight of poison. Drink then with the patience of the saints, and the God of patience will bless your medicine.
Rutherford then moves to her complaint of spiritual deadness. He explains that her loss of sight of Jesus is only apparent, because “[T]hat Chirst Jesus, whom your soul through forests and mountains is seeking, is within you.”
However, since we can easily take a comfort as a basis for sin (so twisted can be our fleshly thinking and so cunning the Devil may be in his tricks), that he quickly warns her that this comfort is not to be means to stop pursuing after God.
He says this to give her encouragement to strike out harder after God. The fact that she feels so little of God’s presence then is not based upon God’s failure. She knows that God is one of “unchangeable mercy” therefore seek him the harder:
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
He focuses her upon her real and ultimate hope: getting God, “God give you eyes to see through sickness and death, and to see something beyond death….[H]ope that He would come in Himself in the deepest of the river and lend you His hand. Now, I believe your hell is dried up, and ye shall have only these shallow brooks, sickness and death, to pass through; and ye have also a promise that Christ shall more than meet you, even that He shall come himself and go with you foot for foot, yea, and bear you in His arms.”
He then exhorts to perseverance through death, not stopping for sin, but pushing onto Christ.
Rutherford teaches us much about counseling: One’s emotional state is a response based upon an understanding of one circumstances. Therefore, rather than merely trying to buck her emotions, he seeks to change her understanding. He teaches her three things: (1) God is sovereign and good; therefore, this is for your good. (2) God is not absent. Yet, since he seems distant press on all the harder until you get him. (3) Do not fear the worst that this world can throw at you: even death will be transformed to your good.
He carefully considers her objections: For example, he does not merely write that God is sovereign – therefore, you must deal with it. Rather, God is sovereign and is doing this for your good.
He considers how she might misinterpret or misapply his instruction to her hurt: Just because God is near does not mean you should conclude that you do not need to pursue God.
He keeps his eye on the real issue: The only real danger for the believer is sin. Therefore, the great aim of all counseling is to help another believer to see sin, see the effects of sin (whether sin committed against us or sin we commit), and see how to avoid sin. Sin is the real enemy. The emotions and pains which we often seek to palliate are merely the symptoms and results of sin. To ease a conscience without necessary repentance is to give morphine and never treat the cancer.