In this next section, Sibbes makes two related points: (1) If we walk in sincerity, then we may enter into the presence of Christ. (2) We should walk in sincerity (or holiness), because the presence of Christ is the place of our happiness.
It would be easy to the turn of the argument, so let us consider the elements:
A gracious heart is privy to its own grace and sincerity when it is in a right temper, and so far as it is privy is bold with Christ in a sweet and reverend† manner. So much sincerity, so much confidence.
First, we need to understand that “sincerity” is not “sincerity” on any and every topic. While Jonathan Edwards is from a later generation than Sibbes, he makes this point well:
From what has been said, it is evident that persons’ endeavors, however sincere and real, and however great, and though they do their utmost, unless the will that those endeavors proceed from be truly good and virtuous, can avail to no purposes whatsoever with any moral validity, or as anything in the sight of God morally valuable (and so of weight through any moral value to merit, recommend, satisfy or excuse, or make up for any moral defect), or anything that should abate resentment or render it any way unjust or hard to execute punishment for any moral evil or want of any moral good. Because, if such endeavors have any such value, weight or validity in the sight of God, it must be through something in them that is good and virtuous in his sight.
Jonathan Edwards, The “Miscellanies”: (Entry Nos. 1153–1360), ed. Douglas A. Sweeney and Harry S. Stout, vol. 23, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2004), 52–53. Sincerity is not virtuous in and of itself; but sincerity in a good thing is critical. Without sincerity, one cannot be right before God.
To think righty of sincerity, we must see it as the opposite of hypocrisy:
13. A godly man is a sincere man, ‘Behold an Israelite indeed, in whose spirit there is no guile.’ The word for sincere signifies without plaits and folds: a godly man is plain hearted, having no subtile subterfuges; religion is the livery a godly man wears, and this livery is lined with sincerity.
Quest. Wherein doth the godly man’s sincerity appear?
Ans. 1. The godly man is that which he seems to be; he is a Jew inwardly. Grace runs through his heart, as silver through the veins of the earth: the hypocrite is not what he seems.
A picture is like a man, but it wants breath: the hypocrite is an effigy, a picture, he doth not breathe forth sanctity: he is but like an angel on a sign-post: a godly man answers to his profession, as a transcript to the original.
Thomas Watson, “The Godly Man’s Picture Drawn with a Scripture-Pencil,” in Discourses on Important and Interesting Subjects, Being the Select Works of the Rev. Thomas Watson, vol. 1 (Edinburgh; Glasgow: Blackie, Fullarton, & Co.; A. Fullarton & Co., 1829), 468.
Sincerity is necessary for true communion with God:
The third thing required to praying with our spirit, is sincerity. There may be much fervour where there is little or no sincerity; and this is strange fire, not the natural heat of the new creature, which both comes from and acts for God, whereas the other is from, and ends in self. Indeed, the fire which self kindles, serves only to warm the man’s own hands that makes it: ‘Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks,’ Isa. 50:11. The prophet represents them as sitting down about the fire they had made. Self-acting, and self-aiming ever go together; therefore our Saviour with spirit requires truth; ‘the Father seeketh such to worship him,’ as will ‘worship him in spirit and in truth,’ John 4:23, 24.
But wherein consists this sincere fervency? Zeal warms the affections, sincerity directs their end, and shews their purity and incorruption. The affections are often strong when the heart is insincere: therefore the apostle exhorts, that we ‘love one another with a pure heart fervently,’ 1 Peter 1:22; and speaks in another place of sorrowing after a godly sort, that is, sincerely. Now the sincerity of the heart in prayer appears, when a person prays from pure principles to pure ends.
William Gurnall and John Campbell, The Christian in Complete Armour (London: Thomas Tegg, 1845), 751.
Sibbes lays “sincerity” as a necessary element of coming to God:
If our heart condemn us not of unsincerity, we may in a reverend† manner speak boldly to Christ.
But in making the statement, Sibbes is paragraph 1 John 3:
19 And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. 20 For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. 21 Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. 22 And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.
1 John 3:19–22 (AV). The condemnation of heart is that we are not of God – that we have not been cleansed. Sibbes is not using “sincerity” the way many use the word “faith” — as if sincerity were powerful, alone. A sincere idolator is still an idolator.
Sibbes then considers this relationship:
It is not fit there should be strangeness betwixt Christ and his spouse; neither, indeed, will there be, when Christ hath blown upon her, and when she is on the growing hand. But mark the order.
First, Christ blows, and then the church says, ‘Come.’ Christ begins in love, then love draws love. Christ draws the church, and she runs after him, Cant. 1:4. The fire of love melts more than the fire of affliction.
Sibbes then considers this blowing & coming. At this point he turns to holiness. He makes a critical observation here about holiness. It is easy to think of holiness as some abstract duty. But Sibbes makes plan, holiness is relational. In doing this, he provides a basis for Sinclair Ferguson’s observation that legalism and antinomianism are both based in divorcing God’s law from God’s person. Sibbes here ties obedience and holiness to love of God and relationship with God:
1. Oh! let us take the apostle’s counsel, ‘To labour to walk worthy of the Lord, &c., unto all well-pleasing, increasing in knowledge, and fruitfulness in every good work,’ Col. 1:9, 10. And this knowledge must not only be a general wisdom in knowing truths, but a special understanding of his good-will to us, and our special duties again to him.
2. Again, that we may please Christ the better, labour to be cleansed from that which is offensive to him: let the spring be clean. Therefore the psalmist, desiring that the words of his mouth and the meditations of his heart might be acceptable before God, first begs ‘cleansing from his secret sins,’ Ps. 19:12.
3. And still we must remember that he himself must work in us whatsoever is well-pleasing in his sight, that so we may be perfect in every good thing to do his will, having grace whereby we may serve him acceptably. And one prevailing argument with him is, that we desire to be such as he may take delight in: ‘the upright are his delight.’ It cannot but please him when we desire grace for this end that we may please him. If we study to please men in whom there is but little good, should we not much more study to please Christ, the fountain of goodness? Labour therefore to be spiritual; for ‘to be carnally minded is death,’ Rom. 8:6, and ‘those that are in the flesh cannot please God.’