Exegeting the Heart, Noetic Effects of Sin, Pride, Psalm 25:11, Richard Sibbes, Self-Deception, Self-Examination, Sin, Spiritual Disciplines, The Soul's Conflict With Itself
The prior post in this series may be found here
In the fifth chapter, Sibbes begins to consider the “remedies” for a downcast soul. First, he notes that we must “reason the case” and speak to our dejected soul. “Therefore the first way to quiet the soul, is, to ask a reason of the tumult raised, and then many of our distempers for shame will not appear, because though they rage in silent darkness, yet they can say nothing for themselves, being summoned before strength of judgment and reason” (145).
Yet, there are many people who never take the time to sound their own soul. Nor knowing their own heart, “Such men are strangers at home, afraid of nothing more than themselves, and therefore in a fearful condition, because they are reserved for the judgment of the great day, if God doth not before that set upon them in this world. If men, carried away with their own lusts, would give but a little check, and stop themselves in their posting to hell, and ask, What have I done? What am I now about? Whither will this course tend? How will it end? &c., undoubtedly men would begin to be wise” (145).
The reason we shun to know ourselves is that don’t desire to see the effects of sin. Sibbes explains:
But sin is a work of darkness, and therefore shuns not only the light of grace, but even the light of reason. Yet sin seldom wants a seeming reason. Men will not go to hell without a show of reason. But such be sophistical fallacies, not reasons; and, therefore, sinners are said to play the sophisters with themselves. Satan could not deceive us, unless we deceived ourselves first, and are willingly deceived. Wilful sinners are blind, because they put out the light of reason, and so think God, like themselves, blind too, Ps. 50:21, and, therefore, they are deservedly termed madmen and fools (146).
This is certainly true. No one (perhaps there is one) thinks their action truly wrong and warranting punishment and without excuse. We live by rationalization and could not live without it. In this appearance the wonder of true repentance. Repentance has no rationalization; rather it condemns the sin most strongly and prays with David, “Pardon my iniquity for it is great” (Psalm 25:11b).
Sibbes further details the movements of the heart which shun such work. First, we love ourselves and thus will not think ourselves wrong. “but this self-love is but self-hatred in the end” (146).
Second, it is simply hard work to examine one’s own heart truthfully.
Third, “pride also, with a desire of liberty, makes men think it to be a diminishing of greatness and freedom either to be curbed, or to curb ourselves” (146).
Sibbes next explains that when we come to examine and charge (“cite”) our soul, we must not stop there: we press the soul to “give an account” (explain itself). Since our souls will rebel more strongly the longer the sinful passion rages, it is best to press the case as soon as possible.
Now, he moves to the objection: What if my soul refuse to give an account?
Then speak to God, to Jesus Christ by prayer, that as he rebuked the winds and the waves, and went upon the sea, so he would walk upon our souls, and command a calm there. It is no less power to settle a peace in the soul, than to command the seas to be quiet. It is God’s prerogative to rule in the heart, as likewise to give it up to itself, which, next to hell is the greatest judgment; which should draw us to the greater reverence and fear of displeasing God(147-148)