Taken from, “The Soul’s Conflict and Victory Over Itself By Faith”
Written by Richard Sibbes, July 1, 1635, at Grays-Inn.
Edited for thought and sense
It is God himself, who sometimes withdraws the beams of his countenance from his children…
…whereupon the soul even of the strongest Christian is disquieted; when together with the cross, God himself seems to be an enemy unto them. The child of God, when he sees that his troubles are mixed with God’s displeasure, and perhaps his conscience tells him that God hath a just quarrel against him, because he hath not renewed his peace with his God, then this anger of God puts a sting into all other troubles, and adds to the disquiet. There were some ingredients of this divine temptation, (as we call it,) in holy David at this time: though most properly a divine temptation be, when God appears unto us as an enemy, without any special guilt of any particular sin, as in Job’s case.
And no marvel if Christians can feel this spiritual disquiet; for when the Son of God himself, who always before enjoyed sweet communion with his Father, when he was feeling that estrangement so he might be a curse for us complained of nothing else, but My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Matt, 27:46. So it is with the godly in this case, for as with vapors drawn up by the sun, by which (when the extracting force of the sun leaves them,) fall down again to the earth from where they are drawn. Just so when the soul, raised up by the beams of his countenance, is left of God, it presently begins to sink. We see this when there is any thing that comes between God’s gracious countenance and it.
Besides, if we look down to inferior causes, the soul is oft cast down by Satan, who is all for casting us down, and for upsetting us. For being a cursed spirit, cast and tumbled down himself from heaven, where he is never to come again, he is hereupon full of disquiet, carrying a hell about himself, whereupon all that he labors for is to cast down and disquiet others, that they may be (as much as he can procure,) in the same cursed condition with himself. He was not ashamed to set upon Christ himself with this temptation of casting down, and thinks Christ’s members never low enough, till he can bring them as low as himself.
By his envy and subtlety we were driven out of Paradise at the first, and now he envies us the paradise of a good conscience: for that is our paradise until we come to Heaven; into which no serpent shall ever creep to tempt us. When Satan sees a man strongly and comfortably walk with God, he cannot endure that a creature of meaner rank by creation than himself should enjoy such happiness. For the devil when he sees men will to Heaven, and that they have good title to it, then he follows them with all dejecting and uncomfortable temptations that he can; it is his continual trade and course to seek our disquiet.
Again, what Satan cannot do by himself and by immediate suggestions, he labors to work by his instruments, who do the best they can to cast down of those who stand in their light, as those in the Psalm, who cry, Down with him,down with him, even to the ground; a true testimony of the character and stamp of these men’s dispositions. “Mine enemies,” says David, “reproach me.” As sweet and as compassionate a man as he was, to pray and put on sackcloth for them, yet he had enemies, and such enemies, as did not suffer their malice only to boil and concoct in their own breasts, but from the meanness of their hearts, they reproached him in words. There is nothing that man’s nature that makes him more sensitive than that of scornful reproaches; for there is no man so low in life, but thinks himself worthy of some regard, and such a reproachful scorn shows an utter disrespect, and this disrespect issues from the very superfluity of malice.
Malice is an insatiable monster, it will minister words, as rage ministers weapons.
But what was it that they said so reproachfully? What was it that they said daily? Where is now thy God? (verse 3), they reproached him with his singularity, they did not say, “Where is God?” but, “Where is thy God, that thou dost boast so much on,” as if you hadst some special reason to trust Him?
This is where we see that the scope of the devil and wicked men is to shake the godly person’s faith and confidence in God. For as Satan labors to divide between Christ and his Father, so he labours to divide between the Father and Son and us. Here in these men laboured to bring God in jealousy with David, as if God had neglected him, bearing himself so much upon God. They had some sense of this, for God at this time had veiled himself from David, as he does oft from his best children, for the better discovery of the malice of wicked men: and doth not Satan tip the tongues of the enemies of religion now, to insult the Church over how it now lays bleeding? What becomes of their reformation, of their gospel?
Nay, rather what’s become of your eyes, we may say back unto them? For God is nearest to his children when he seems farthest off. In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen. Gen. 22:14, God is with them, and in them, though the wicked be not aware of it.
Where is now thy God?
In heaven, in earth, in me, everywhere but in the heart of such as ask such questions, and yet there they shall find him too in his time, filling their consciences with his wrath; and then, Where is their God? where are their great friends, their riches, their honours, which they set up as a god? What can avail them now ?
But how was David affected with these reproaches? Their words were as swords, as with a “sword in my bones,” ver. 10, they spake daggers to him, they cut him to the quick when they touched him in his God, as if he had neglected his servants, when as the devil himself regards those who serve his turn. True it is, that when you touch a true godly man in his religion, and you touch his life and his best freehold, he lives more in his God than in himself; so that we may see here, there is a murder of the tongue, a wounding tongue, as well as a healing tongue: men think themselves freed from murder, if they kill none, or if they shed no blood, whereas they cut others to the heart with bitter words.
We see David therefore upon this reproach to be presently so moved, as to become upset with himself for it. “Why art thou so cast down and disquieted, O my soul?” This bitter taunt ran so much in his mind, that he expresses it twice in this Psalm; for he was understands that they struck at God through his sides; what they spake in scorn and lightly, he took heavily. And indeed, when religion suffers, if there be any heavenly fire in the heart, it will rather break out, than not discover itself at all. We see by daily experience, that there is a special force in words uttered from a subtle head, a false heart and a smooth tongue, to weaken the hearts of professors, by bringing an evil report upon the strict profession of religion: as the cunning and false spies did upon the good land, Judges 1:24, as if it were not only in vain, but dangerous to appear for Christ in evil times.
But forgetting everyone else, we need not go further than ourselves, to find all sorts of causes for discouragement, there is a whole seminary of discouragements within us. Our flesh, is an enemy so much the worse because it is so much nearer it is to us, and our own heart will always ready to scornfully reproach us within our consciences with the words, “Where is now thy God?”
And how can you stand out with your Christian profession if you don’t have an answer?