My love, my dove, my undefiled; for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night. I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; and how shall I defile them?—Cant. 5:2, 3.
In this sermon, Sibbes addresses the marvel of the Christian life: the believer is inconstant. Even after coming to true faith, the believer is inconstant. If our place before God were dependent upon us, we would never stand. A touchstone of Sibbes’ preaching is the candor with which he addresses this issue. This is a point which needs to be underscored. There is a strain of preaching which hoping to encourage holiness strikes only the note of condemning sin. Without question sin is a horror. It is a shame when we believers do sin. And yet, by speaking only of the horror and shame of sin, such preachers fail to bring about holiness. By striking on the note of warning they become the voice of guilt and discouragement.
Sibbes candidly raises the weakness of the creature. He does not wink at sin. Rather, Sibbes uses the weakness of the creature to exalt the grace of the Saving Creator. In this sermon, Sibbes lays out the manner in which Christ sustains the church on the basis of love. And by demonstrating such love in Christ, draws out the love in the believer. That love draws us onto holiness.
He first begins the sermon, with looking at the quandary of this verse: the lover has come to the door and yet the beloved will not come:
That the life of a Christian is a perpetual conflicting, appears evidently in this book, the passages whereof, joined with our own experiences, sufficiently declare what combats, trials, and temptations the saints are subject unto, after their new birth and change of life; now up, now down, now full of good resolutions, now again sluggish and slow, not to be waked, nor brought forward by the voice of Christ, as it was with the church here. She will not out of her sleep to open unto Christ, though he call, and knock, and stand waiting for entrance.
The fault in believer lies with the flesh:
The flesh of itself is prone enough to draw back, and make excuses, to hinder the power of grace from its due operation in us. She is laid along, as it were, to rest her; yet is not she so asleep, but she discerns the voice of Christ. But up and rise she will not.
Thus we may see the truth of that speech of our Saviour verified, ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit,’ John 3:6. The flesh pulls her back: the Spirit would raise her up to open to Christ.
Yet, in the wisdom of God, the weakness of the flesh does not thwart the design of the Savior: sin will be exposed, the creature will redeemed and the Savior will be glorified in his love toward the beloved:
He in the meanwhile makes her inexcusable, and prepares her by his knocking, waiting, and departing; as for a state of further humiliation, so for an estate of further exaltation. But how lovingly doth he speak to her!