CHRIST AND THE CHRISTIAN: Both as a bruised reed.

Taken and adapted from, “The Bruised Reed”
Written by Richard Sibbes

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The Reed and the Bruising

The prophet Isaiah, being lifted up and carried with the wing of a prophetical spirit, passes over all the time between him and the appearing of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Seeing with the eye of prophecy, and with the eye of faith, Christ as present, he presents him, in the name of God, to the spiritual eye of others, in these words: `Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth’ (Isaiah 42:1 3). These words are alleged by Matthew as fulfilled now in Christ (Matthew 12:18 20). In them are propounded, first, the calling of Christ to his office; secondly, the manner in which he carries it out.

CHRIST’S CALLING

God calls him here his servant. Christ was God’s servant in the greatest piece of service that ever was, a chosen and a choice servant who did and suffered all by commission from the Father. In this we may see the sweet love of God to us, in that he counts the work of our salvation by Christ his greatest service, and in that he will put his only beloved Son to that service. He might well prefix it with ‘Behold’ to raise up our thoughts to the highest pitch of attention and admiration. In time of temptation, apprehensive consciences look so much to the present trouble they are in that they need to be roused up to behold him in whom they may find rest for their distressed souls. In temptations it is safest to behold nothing but Christ the true brazen serpent, the true `Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world’, (John 1:29). This saving object has a special influence of comfort to the soul, especially if we look not only on Christ, but upon the Father’s authority and love in him. For in all that Christ did and suffered as Mediator, we must see God in him reconciling the world unto himself (2 Corinthian 5:19).

What a support to our faith is this, that God the Father, the party offended by our sins, is so well pleased with the work of redemption! And what a comfort is this, that, seeing God’s love rests on Christ, as well pleased in him, we may gather that he is as well pleased with us, if we be in Christ! For his love rests in a whole Christ, in Christ mystical, as well as Christ natural, because he loves him and us with one love. Let us, therefore, embrace Christ, and in him God’s love, and build our faith safely on such a Savior that is furnished with so high a commission.

See here, for our comfort, a sweet agreement of all three persons: the Father gives a commission to Christ; the Spirit furnishes and sanctifies to it, and Christ himself executes the office of a Mediator. Our redemption is founded upon the joint agreement of all three persons of the Trinity.

HOW CHRIST PURSUES HIS CALLING

This is here said to be done modestly, without making a noise, or raising dust by any pompous coming, as princes are accustomed to do. `His voice shall not be heard.’ His voice indeed was heard, but what voice? `Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden’ (Matthew 11:28). He cried, but how? `Ho, every one that thirsts, come ye to the waters’ (Isaiah 55:1). And as his coming was modest, so it was mild, which is set down in these words: `A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench.’

We see, therefore, that the condition of those with whom he was to deal was that they were bruised reeds and smoking flax; not trees, but reeds; and not whole, but bruised reeds. The church is compared to weak things: to a dove among the fowls; to a vine among the plants; to sheep among the beasts; to a woman, which is the weaker vessel.

God’s children are bruised reeds before their conversion and oftentimes after.

Before conversion all (except such as, being brought up in the church, God has delighted to show himself gracious to from their childhood) are bruised reeds, yet in different degrees, as God sees fit. And as there are differences with regard to temperament, gifts and manner of life, so there are in God’s intention to use men in the time to come; for usually he empties such of themselves, and makes them nothing, before he will use them in any great services.

WHAT IT IS TO BE BRUISED

The bruised reed is a man that for the most part is in some misery, as those were that came to Christ for help, and by misery he is brought to see sin as the cause of it, for, whatever pretenses sin makes, they come to an end when we are bruised and broken. He is sensible of sin and misery, even unto bruising; and, seeing no help in himself, is carried with restless desire to have supply from another, with some hope, which a little raises him out of himself to Christ, though he dare not claim any present interest of mercy. This spark of hope being opposed by doubtings and fears rising from corruption makes him as smoking flax; so that both these together, a bruised reed and smoking flax, make up the state of a poor distressed man. This is such a one as our Savior Christ terms `poor in spirit’ (Matthew 5:3), who sees his wants, and also sees himself indebted to divine justice. He has no means of supply from himself or the creature, and thereupon mourns, and, upon some hope of mercy from the promise and examples of those that have obtained mercy, is stirred up to hunger and thirst after it.

THE GOOD EFFECTS OF BRUISING

This bruising is required before conversion that so the Spirit may make way for himself into the heart by leveling all proud, high thoughts, and that we may understand ourselves to be what indeed we are by nature. We love to wander from ourselves and to be strangers at home, till God bruises us by one cross or other, and then we `begin to think’, and come home to ourselves with the prodigal (Luke 15:17). It is a very hard thing to bring a dull and an evasive heart to cry with feeling for mercy. Our hearts, like criminals, until they be beaten from all evasions, never cry for the mercy of the judge.

Again, this bruising makes us set a high price upon Christ. Then the gospel becomes the gospel indeed; then the fig leaves of morality will do us no good. And it makes us more thankful, and, from thankfulness, more fruitful in our lives; for what makes many so cold and barren, but that bruising for sin never endeared God’s grace to them?

Likewise this dealing of God establishes us the more in his ways, having had knocks and bruisings in our own ways. This is often the cause of relapses and apostasy, because men never smarted for sin at the first; they were not long enough under the lash of the law. Hence this inferior work of the Spirit in bringing down high thoughts (2 Corinthians 10:5) is necessary before conversion. And, for the most part, the Holy Spirit, to further the work of conviction, joins with it some affliction, which, when sanctified, has a healing and purging power.

After conversion we need bruising so that reeds may know themselves to be reeds, and not oaks.

Even reeds need bruising, by reason of the remainder of pride in our nature, and to let us see that we live by mercy. Such bruising may help weaker Christians not to be too much discouraged, when they see stronger ones shaken and bruised. Thus Peter was bruised when he wept bitterly (Matthew 26:75). This reed, till he met with this bruise, had more wind in him than pith when he said, `Though all forsake thee, I will not’ (Matthew 26:33). The people of God cannot be without these examples. The heroic deeds of those great worthies do not comfort the church so much as their falls and bruises do. Thus David was bruised until he came to a free confession, without guile of spirit (Psalms 32:3 5); nay, his sorrows did rise in his own feeling unto the exquisite pain of breaking of bones (Psalms 51:8). Thus Hezekiah complains that God had `broken his bones’ as a lion (Isaiah 38:13). Thus the chosen vessel Paul needed the messenger of Satan to buffet him lest he should be lifted up above measure (2 Corinthians 12:7).

Hence we learn that we must not pass too harsh judgment upon ourselves or others when God exercises us with bruising upon bruising. There must be a conformity to our head, Christ, who `was bruised for us’ (Isaiah 53:5) that we may know how much we are bound unto him.

Ungodly spirits, ignorant of God’s ways in bringing his children to heaven, censure broken-hearted Christians as miserable persons, whereas God is doing a gracious, good work with them. It is no easy matter to bring a man from nature to grace, and from grace to glory, so unyielding and intractable are our hearts.

Christ Will Not Break the Bruised Reed

In pursuing his calling, Christ will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax, in which more is meant than spoken, for he will not only not break nor quench, but he will cherish those with whom he so deals.

On Returning to God

Taken and adapted from, “THE RETURNING BACKSLIDER” A Commentary upon the whole X. Chapter of the Prophecy of the Prophet HOSEA.
Written by Richard Sibbes,

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Take words with you and return to the LORD. Say to him: “Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips. 3 Assyria cannot save us; we will not mount war-horses. We will never again say ‘Our gods’ to what our own hands have made, for in you the fatherless find compassion.” —Hosea 14:2-3.

THE words, as we heard heretofore, contain a most sweet and excellent form of returning unto God,

…for miserable, lost, and forlorn sinners; wherein so far God discovers his willingness to have his people return unto him, that he dictates unto them a form of prayer, ‘Take with you words, and turn to the Lord; say unto him, Take away iniquity.’ Wherein we see how detestation of sin must be as general as the desire of pardon, and that none heartily pray to God to ‘take away all iniquity’ who have not grace truly to hate all iniquity. ‘And do good to us,’ or do graciously to us; for there is no good to us till sin be removed. Though God be goodness itself, there is no provoking or meriting cause of mercy in us. But he finds cause from his own gracious nature and bowels of mercy to pity his poor people and servants. It is his nature to shew mercy, as the fire to burn, a spring to run, the sun to shine. Therefore, it is easily done. As the prophet speaks, ‘Who is a God like unto thee?’ Micah 7:18.

Where we come to speak of the re-stipulation, that we may offer the fruit of our lips.’ Where God’s favor shines, there will be a reflection. Love is not idle, but a working thing. It must render or die. And what doth it render? Divers sacrifices of the New Testament, which I spoke of; that of a broken heart; of Christ offered to the Father, to stand betwixt God’s wrath and us; ourselves as a living sacrifice; alms-deeds and praise, which must be with the whole inward powers of the soul.

‘Praise is not comely in the mouth of a fool,’ saith the wise man, nor of a wicked man. Saith God to such, ‘What hast thou to do to take my words in thy mouth, since thou hatest to be reformed, and hast cast my words behind thee?’ Ps. 50:16, 17. There are a company who are ordinary swearers and filthy speakers. For them to praise God, James tells them that these contrary streams cannot flow out of a good heart, James 3:10, 11. Oh, no; God requires not the praise of such fools.

I gave you also some directions how to praise God, and to stir up yourselves to this most excellent duty, which I will not insist on now, but add a little unto that I then delivered, which is, that we must watch all advantages of praising God from our dispositions. ‘Is any merry? Let him sing,’ saith James, 5:13. Oh! it is a great point of wisdom to take advantages with the stream of our temper to praise God. When he doth encourage us by his favors and blessings, and enlarge our spirits, then we are in a right temper to bless him. Let us not lose the occasion. This is one branch of redeeming of time, to observe what state and temper of soul we are in, and to take advantage from thence. Is any man in heaviness? He is fit to mourn for sin. Let him take the opportunity of that temper. Is any disposed to cheerfulness? Let him sacrifice that marrow, oil, and sweetness of spirit to God. We see the poor birds in the spring-time, when those little spirits they have are cherished with the sunbeams, how they express it in singing. So when God warms us with his favors, let him have the praise of all.

And here I cannot but take up a lamentation of the horrible ingratitude of men, who are so far from taking advantage by God’s blessings to praise him, that they fight like rebels against him with his own favors. Those tongues which he hath given them for his glory, they abuse to pierce him with blasphemy; and those other benefits of his, lent them to honor him with, they turn to his dishonor; like children who importunately ask for different things, which, when they have, they throw them to the dog. So favors they will have, which, when they have obtained, they give them to the devil; unto whom they sacrifice their strength and cheerfulness, and cannot be merry, unless they be mad and sinful. Are these things to be tolerated in these days of light? How few shall we find, who, in a temper of mirth, turn it the right way?

  1. But to add some encouragements to incite us to praise God unto the former, I beseech you let this be one, that we honor God by it. It is a well-pleasing sacrifice to him. If we would study to please him, we cannot do it better than by praising him.
  2. And it is a gainful trading with God. For in bestowing his seed, where he finds there is improvement in a good soil, with such a sanctified disposition as to bless him upon all occasions, that there comes not a good thought, a good motion in the mind, but we bless God who hath injected such a good thought in our heart; there, I say, God delights to shower down more and more blessings, making us fruitful in every good work to the praise of his name. Sometimes we shall have holy and gracious persons make a law that no good or holy motion shall come into their hearts, which they will not be thankful for. Oh! When God sees a heart so excellently disposed, how doth it enrich the soul! It is a gainful trade. As we delight to bestow our seed in soils of great increase, which yield sixty and an hundredfold, if possible, so God delights in a disposition inclined to bless him upon all occasions, on whom he multiplies his favors.
  3. And then, in itself, it is a most noble act of religion, it being a more base thing to be always begging of God; but it argues a more noble, raised, and elevated spirit, to be disposed to praise God. And it is an argument of less self-love and respect, being therefore more gainful to us. Yea, it is a more noble and royal disposition, fit for spiritual kings and priests thus to sacrifice.
  4. Again, indeed, we have more cause to praise God than to pray; having many things to praise him for, which we never prayed for. Whoever prayed for his election, care of parents in our infancy, their affection to us, care to breed and train us to years of discretion, besides those many favors daily heaped upon us, above all that we are able to think or speak? Therefore, praise being a more large sacrifice than prayer, we ought to be abundant in it. For those that begin not heaven upon earth, of which this praise is a main function, they shall never come to heaven, after they are taken from the earth; for there is no heavenly action, but it is begun upon earth, especially this main one, of joining with angels, seraphim, and cherubim, in lauding God. Shall they praise him on our behalf, and shall not we for our own? We see the choir of angels, when Christ was born, sang, ‘Glory be to God on high, on earth peace, and goodwill towards men,’ Luke 2:14. What was this for? Because Christ the Savior of the world was born; whereby they shew that we have more benefit, by it than they. Therefore, if we would ever join with them in heaven, let us join with them upon earth. For this is one of the great privileges mentioned by the author to the Hebrews, unto which we be come to, ‘communion with the spirits of just men made perfect, and to the company of innumerable angels,’ Heb. 12:22, 23. We cannot better shew that we are come to that blessed estate and society spoken of, than by praising God.
  5. And lastly, if we be much in praising God, we shall be much in joy, which eases misery. For a man can never be miserable that can be joyful; and a man is always joyful when he is thankful. When one is joyful and cheerful, what misery can lie upon him? Therefore, it is a wondrous help in misery to stir up the heart to this spiritual sacrifice of thanksgiving by all arguments, means, and occasions. Our hearts are temples, and we are priests. We should always, therefore, have this light and incense burning in our hearts, as the fire did always burn on the altar in Moses’s time, that we may have these spiritual sacrifices to offer continually. Where this is not, the heart of that man or woman is like ‘the abomination of desolation,’ Dan. 12:11, which, when the daily sacrifice was taken away, was set up in the temple. And certainly where there is not praising of God, the heart is ‘an abomination of desolation,’ having nothing in it save monsters of base lusts and earthly affections.

Question. But how shall we know that God accepts these sacrifices of praise?

Answer. How did he witness the acceptation of those sacrifices under the old law? ‘By fire from heaven,’ Judges 6:21; 1 Kings 18:24, et seq. This was ordinary with them. So, if we find our hearts warm, cheered and encouraged with joy, peace, and comfort in praising God; this is as it were a witness by fire from heaven that our sacrifices are accepted. Let this now said be effectual to stir you up to this excellent and useful duty of thanksgiving, without multiplying of more arguments, save to put you in mind of this, that as we are exhorted to ‘delight ourselves in the Lord,’ Ps. 37:4, one way, among the rest, to do it, is to ‘serve him with cheerfulness.’ It is an excellent thing to make us delight in God, who loves a cheerful giver and thanksgiver. ‘That we may offer the fruit of our lips.’ But to proceed.

After this their solemn covenant and promise of yielding praise to God, that if he would forgive all their sins, and do good to them, then he should have the best they could do to him again: praise here is a promise of new obedience, which hath two branches,

  1. A renunciation of the ill courses they took before. ‘Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses; neither will we say any more to the works of our hands, Ye are our gods.’
  1. Then there is a positive duty implied in these words, ‘For in thee the fatherless finds mercy.’ Whereof, the one springs from the other; ‘Assyria shall not save us, we will not ride upon horses; neither will we say any more to the works of our hands, Ye are our gods.’ Whence comes all these? ‘For in thee the fatherless finds mercy.’ Thou shalt be our rock, our trust, our confidence for ever. What will follow upon this? ‘Assyria shall not save us any longer; we will not ride upon horses,’ etc. For we have pitched and placed our confidence better; on him in whom ‘the fatherless finds mercy.’

‘Assyria shall not save us.’ The confidence which this people had placed partly in Assyria, their friends and associates, and partly in their own strength at home, now promising repentance, they renounce all such confidence in Assyria, horses and idols. ‘Assyria shall not save us,’ etc.

First, for this, ‘Assyria shall not save us,’ that is, the Assyrians, whom they had on the one side, and the Egyptians on the other: it being, as we see in the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah, ordinary with God’s people, in any distress, to have recourse to the Assyrians, or Egyptians, as if God had not been sufficient to be their rock and their shield. We see how often the Lord complains of this manner of dealing. ‘Woe unto them that go down into Egypt for help, and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many,’ etc., Isa. 30:2, and 31:1. The prophets, and so this prophet, are very full of such complaints: it being one of the chief arguments he presses, their falseness in this, that in any fear or peril, they ran to the shelter of other nations, especially these two, Egypt and Assyria, as you have it, ‘Ephraim feeds on wind, and follows after the east wind; he daily increases lies and desolation, and they do make a covenant with the Assyrians, and oil is carried into Egypt,’ Hosea 12:1, that is, balm, who had this privilege above all other nations, to abound in precious balms; which balm and oil they carried into Egypt, to win their favor against the Assyrians. Sometimes they relied on the one, and sometimes on the other, the story and causes whereof were too tedious to relate. Wherefore I come to the useful points arising hence. ‘Assyria cannot save us’

  1. That man, naturally, is prone to put confidence in the creature.
  2. That the creature is insufficient and unable to yield us this prop to uphold our confidence.
  3. That God’s people, when they are endowed with light supernatural to discern and be convinced hereof, are of that mind to say, ‘Assyria shall not save us.’

But, to make way to these things, we must first observe two things for a preparative.

Doctrine. First, That reformation of life must be joined with prayer and praise. There was prayer before, and a promise of praise; but, as here, there must be joined reformation of their sin. That it must be so, it appears, first, for prayer. It is said, ‘If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear my prayer,’ Ps. 66:18. And for praise, ‘The very sacrifice of the wicked (who reforms not his ways) is abominable,’ Prov. 15:8. So that, without reformation, prayer and praise is to no purpose. Therefore it is brought here after a promise of praise. Lord, as we mean to praise thee, so we intend a thorough reformation of former sins, whereof we were guilty. We will renounce Assyria, and confidence in horses, idols, and the like. Therefore let us, when we come to God with prayer and praise, think also of reforming what is amiss. Out with Achan, Josh. 7:19. If there be any dead fly, Eccles. 10:1, or Achan uncast out, prayer and praise is in vain. ‘Will you steal, lie, commit adultery, swear falsely, and come and stand before me,’ saith the Lord, by the prophet Jeremiah, Jer. 7:9. Will you offer to pray to me, and praise me, living in these and these sins? No; God will abhor both that prayer and praise, where there is no reformation. ‘What hast thou to do to take my name in thy mouth, since thou hatest to be reformed, and hast cast my words behind thee, saith God,’ Ps. 50:16, where he pleads with the hypocrite for this audacious boldness in severing things conjoined by God. Therefore, as we would not have our prayers turned back from heaven, which should bring a blessing upon all other things else: as we would not have our sacrifices abominable to God, labor to reform what is amiss, amend all, or else never think our lip-service will prove anything but a lost labor without this reformation.

A second thing, which I observe in general, before I come to the particulars, is,

Doctrine. That true repentance is, of the particular sin which we are most addicted to, and most guilty of. The particular sin of this people, whom God so instructs here, was their confidence in Assyria, horses, and idols. Now therefore repenting, they repent of the particular, main sins they were most guilty of; which being stricken down, all the lesser will be easy to conquer. As when Goliath himself was stricken down, all the host of the Philistines ran away, 1 Sam. 17:51. So when Goliath shall be slain in us, the reigning, ruling, domineering sin, and the rest will easily be conquered.

Use. Therefore let us make a use of examination and trial of our repentance. If it be sound, it draws with it a reformation; as in general, so especially of our particular sins. As those confess and say, ‘Above all other things we have sinned in this, in asking a king,’ 1 Sam. 12:8. We were naught, and had offended God many ways before; but herein we have been exceeding sinful, in seeking another governor, being weary of God’s gracious government over us. So a gracious heart will say, I have been a wretch in all other things, but in this and that sin above all other. Thus it was with the woman of Samaria, when she was put in mind by Christ of her particular grand sin, that she had been a light woman, and had had many husbands, he whom she lived with now not being her husband, John 4:18. This discovery, when Christ touched the galled part, did so work upon her conscience that it occasioned a general repentance of all her other sins whatsoever. And, indeed, sound repentance of one main sin will draw with it all the rest. And, for the most part, when God brings any man home to him, he so carries our repentance, that, discovering unto us our sinfulness, he especially shews us our Delilah, Isaac, Herodias, our particular sin; which being cast out, we prevail easily against the rest. As the charge was given by the king of Aram against Ahab, ‘Fight neither against great nor small, but only against the king of Israel,’ 2 Chron. 18:30; kill him, and then there will be an end of the battle. So let us not stand striking at this and that sin (which we are not so much tempted to), if we will indeed prove our repentance to be sound; but at that main sin which by nature, calling, or custom we are most prone unto. Repentance for this causes repentance for all the rest; as here the church saith, ‘Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses,’ etc.

It is a grand imposture, which carries many to hell; they will cherish themselves in some gross main sin, which pleases corrupt nature, and is advantageous to them; and by way of compensation with God, they will do many other things well, but leave a dead fly to mar all; whereas they should begin here especially. 

Doctrine. That naturally we are apt and prone to confidence in outward helps and present things. This came to our nature from the first fall. What was our fall at first? A turning from the all-sufficient, unchangeable God, to the creature. If I should describe sin, it is nothing but a turning from God to one creature or other. When we find not contentment and sufficiency in one creature, we run to another. As the bird flies from one tree and bough to another, so we seek variety of contentments from one thing to another. Such is the depravity of our nature since the fall. This is a fundamental conclusion. Man naturally will, and must, have somewhat to rely on. The soul must have a bottom, a foundation to rest on, either such as the world affords, or a better. Weak things must have their supports. As we see, the vine being a weak thing, is commonly supported by the elm, or the like supply. So is it with the soul since the fall. Because it is weak, and cannot uphold nor satisfy itself with itself, therefore it looks out of itself. Look to God it cannot, till it be in the state of grace; for being his enemy, it loves not to look to him or his ways, or have dealing with him. Therefore it looks unto the creature, that next hand unto itself. This being naturally since the fall, that what we had in God before when we stood, we now labor to have in the creature.

Reason

  1. Because, as was said, having lost communion with God, somewhat we must have to stay the soul.
  2. Secondly, Because Satan joins with our sense and fancy, by which we are naturally prone to live, esteeming of things not by faith and by deeper grounds, but by fancy. Now, fancy having communion with sense, what it discovers and presents for good and great, fancy makes it greater. And the devil, above all, having communion with that faculty of fancy, and so a spirit of error being mixed therewith, to make our fancy think the riches of the world to be the only riches; the greatness and goodness of the creature to be the only greatness and goodness; and the strength thereof the only strength. This spirit of error joining with our own spirits, and with the deceit of our natures, makes us set a higher value on the creature, enlarges and enrages the fancy, making it spiritually drunk, so as to conceive amiss of things.

Use. Briefly, let us take notice of our corruption herein, and be humbled for it; taking in good part those afflictions and crosses which God sends us, to convince and let us see that there is no such thing in the creature as we imagined; because naturally, we are desperately given to think that there is somewhat more therein than there is. Now affliction helps this sickness of fancy, embittering unto us all confidence in the creature. Therefore it is a happy and a blessed thing to be crossed in that which we over-value, as these Israelites here did the Assyrians and the Egyptians: for being enemies, they trusted in a ‘broken reed,’ 2 Kings 18:21, as we shall see further in the second point.

Doctrine. How these outward things cannot help us. How so prone we are to rely upon them, they are in effect nothing. They cannot help us, and so are not to be relied upon. ‘Assyria shall not save us.’ Indeed it will not, it cannot. These things cannot aid us at our most need. So that that which we most pitch upon, fails us when we should especially have help. Some present vanishing supply they yield, but little to purpose. They have not that in them which should support the soul at a strait, or great pinch, as we say.

Reason. The reason is largely given by Solomon in the whole book of Ecclesiastes, ‘All is vanity and vexation of spirit,’ Eccles. 1:14. There is a vanity in all the creatures, being empty and not able to support the soul. They are vain in their continuance, and empty in regard of their strength. They are gone when we have need of them. Riches, as the wise man saith, are gone, and have wings to fly away, in our most need, Prov. 23:5. So friends are fugitive good things, being like to the brooks mentioned in Job, 6:15: which when in summer there is need of, then they are dried up, and yet run over-brimming in winter, when there is no need of them. So, earthly supports, when there is no need of them, then they are at hand; but when we have most need of them, are gone. ‘They are broken cisterns,’ as the prophet calls them, Jer. 2:13. Cisterns, that is, they have a limited capacity. A cistern is not a spring. So all their support, at the best, is but a bounded and a mixed sufficiency; and that also which will quickly fail: like water in a cistern, which if it be not fed with a continual spring, fails or putrefies presently. Likewise these outward things are not sufficient for the grievance; for being limited and bounded, the grievance will be above the strength of the creature; which though sometime it be present and do not fail, yet the trouble is such, that it is above the strength of the creature to help. So that for these and the like respects, there is no sufficiency, nor help to be expected from the creature. ‘Assyria shall not save us.’ He is not a sufficient ground of trust. Why?

  1. He is but a creature.
  2. He is an enemy.
  3. He is an idolater.

So that, take him in all these three relations, he is not to be trusted.

  1. He is a creature. What is a creature? Nothing, as it were. Saith the prophet, ‘All creatures before him are as nothing, and as a very little thing.’ And what it is, when he pleases, he can dissolve it into nothing, turn it into dust. Man’s breath is in his nostrils, Isa. 2:22. ‘All flesh is grass, and all his glory as the flower of grass,’ Ps. 103:15. If a man trust the creature, he may outlive his trust. His prop may be taken from him, and down he falls. Assyria must not be trusted, therefore, as a creature, nor as a man, for that brings us within the curse. Thus saith the Lord, ‘Cursed be the man that trusts in man, and makes flesh his arm,’ etc., Jer. 17:5. So trusting in the creature not only deceives us, but brings us within the curse. In that respect, Assyria must not be trusted.
  2. But Assyria likewise was an enemy, and a secret enemy. For howsoever the ten tribes unto whom Hosea prophesied were great idolaters, yet they were somewhat better than Assyria, who was without the pale of the church, and a wholly corrupted church. Therefore, they were enemies to the ten tribes, and, amongst other reasons, because they were not so bad as they, nor deeply enough dyed with idolatry.

Many think they may comply with popery in some few things, to gain their love, and that there may be joining with them in this and that; but do we think that they will ever trust us for all this? No; they will always hate us, till we be as bad as they, and then they will despise us, and secure themselves of us. Therefore, there is no trusting of papists, as papists; not only creatures, but as false, and as enemies. For this is the nature of wicked men. They will never trust better than themselves, till they become as bad as they are, after which they despise them. Say they, Now we may trust such and such a one; he is as bad as we, he has become one of us. Which is the reason why some of a naughty disposition take away the chastity and virginity of men’s consciences, making them take this and that evil course, and then they think they have such safe, being as bad as themselves. Wherein they deal as Ahithophel’s politic, devilish counsel was, that Absalom should do that which was naught, and then he should be sure that David and he should never agree after that, 2 Sam. 16:21; and that then by this discovery the wicked Jews, set on mischief, might secure themselves of Absalom. So they, now that they join with us, God will forsake them; we shall have them our instruments for anything. First, they would have the ten tribes as bad as they, and then give them the slip whensoever they trusted them.

  1. Again, neither were they to be trusted as idolaters, to have league and society with them. There may be some commerce and traffic with them, but amity and trust, none. Assyria and Egypt were horrible idolaters, and therefore not to be trusted in that respect. As we see the prophet in this case reproved good Jehoshaphat, when he had joined with wicked Ahab, king of the ten tribes, ‘Shouldst thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? Therefore wrath is upon thee from before the Lord,’ 2 Chron. 19:2. So we see it is a dangerous thing to be in league with idolaters, even such as the ten tribes were, who had some religion amongst them. This good king was chidden for it.

‘We will not ride upon horses.’ What kind of creature a horse is, it is worth the seeing. What a description God gives of him, that we may see what reason the Spirit of God hath to instance in the horse. Saith God to Job, ‘Hast thou given the horse strength? Hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? The glory of his nostrils is terrible. He paws in the valley, and rejoices in his strength: he goes on to meet the armed men. He mocks at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turns he back from the sword. The quiver rattles against him, the glittering spear and the shield. He swallows the ground with fierceness and rage: neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet. He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smells the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting,’ Job 39:19–21. A notable and excellent description of this warlike creature. And yet for all this excellency, so described by the Spirit of God, in another place the psalmist saith, ‘A horse is a vain thing for safety, neither shall he deliver any by his great strength,’ Ps. 33:17. ‘Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God,’ Ps. 20:7. So in another place, ‘The horse is prepared against the day of battle, but victory is of the Lord,’ Prov. 21:31.

How oft have you in the Psalms that proud warlike creature disparaged, because naturally men are more bewitched with that than with any other creature. If they have store of horses, then they think they are strong. Therefore God forbids the king ‘to multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end he should multiply horses,’ etc., Deut. 17:16, because God is the strength of his church, when there is no multitude of horses. You see it is a bewitching creature, and yet a vain help. A place like this we have, Isa. 2:7, complaining there of the naughty people which were among the Jews, at that time as bad as the Israelites. Saith he, ‘Their land also is full of silver and gold; neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots.’ What, is there a fault in that? No. Luther saith, ‘Good works are good, but the confidence in them is damnable.’ So gold and silver, horses and chariots, are good creatures of God. But this was their sin, confidence in these things. ‘There is no end of their treasures.’ If they had treasure enough, they should do well enough. ‘Their land also was full of horses.’ Was this a fault? No; but their confidence in them. They thought they were a wise people to have such furniture and provision of munition for war. But God was their king, and the chief governor of his people; and for them to heap up these things, to trust over-much in them, it was a matter of complaint. ‘Their land also is full of idols.’

Thus you see there is no confidence to be put neither in the one nor the other, neither in the association of foreign friends, who will prove deceitful, ‘reeds of Egypt,’ that not only deceive, but the splinters thereof fly about, and may run up into the hand. Such are idolaters and false friends, deceitful and hurtful. Nor in home. There is no trust in horses, munition, or such like. What doth this imply? That to war and have provision in that kind is unlawful and unnecessary, because he finds fault here with horses and the like? No; take heed of that; for John Baptist, if the soldier’s profession had been unlawful, he would have bid them cast away their weapons; but he bids them ‘do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely,’ etc., Luke 3:14. And God would never style himself ‘the Lord of hosts, and a man of war,’ Isa. 42:13, and ‘he that teaches our hands to war, and our fingers to fight,’ Ps. 18:34, unless it were good in the season. Therefore war is lawful, seeing in the way to heaven we live in the midst of enemies.

Therefore it is but an anabaptistical fancy to judge war to be unlawful. No, no; it is clean another thing which the Holy Ghost aims at: to beat back carnal confidence. For it is an equal fault to multiply help and to neglect them. Either of both are fatal many times: to multiply horses, trusting in them, or to spoil horses and other helps vainly, so to weaken a kingdom. Therefore there is a middle way for all outward things, a fit care to serve God’s providence, and when we have done, trust in God without tempting of him; for to neglect these helps is to tempt him, and to trust in them, when we have them, is to commit idolatry with them. Beware of both these extremes, for God will have his providence served in the use of lawful means. When there is this great care in a Christian commonwealth, there is a promise of good success, because God is with us. Otherwise, what is all, if he be our enemy? So we see the second point made good, that these outward things of themselves cannot help. Therefore comes this in the third place:—

Obs. That when God alters and changes and moulds anew the heart of a man to repentance, he alters his confidence in the creature. A Christian State will not trust in Assyria, nor in horses. It is true both of State and persons. The reason will follow after in the end of the verse, ‘For in thee the fatherless finds mercy.’ Because, when a man hath once repented, there is a closing between God and him, and he sees an all-sufficiency in God to satisfy all his desires. Therefore he will use all other things as helps, and as far as it may stand with his favor. For he hath Moses’s eye put in him, a new eye to see him that is invisible, Heb. 11:27, to see God in his greatness, and other things in their right estimate as vain things. What is repentance but a change of the mind, when a man comes to be wise and judicious, as indeed repentant men are the only wise men? Then a man hath an esteem of God to be El-Shadai, all-sufficient, and all other things to be as they are, uncertain; that is, they are so today, as that they may be otherwise to-morrow, for that is the nature of the creatures. They are in potentia, that is in a possibility to be other things than they are. God is always, ‘I AM,’ always the same. There is not so much as a shadow of changing in him. Wherefore, when the soul hath attained unto this spiritual eyesight and wisdom, if it be a sinful association with Egypt or Assyria, with this idolater or that, he will not meddle; and as for other helps, he will not use them further than as subordinate means. When a man is converted, he hath not a double, not a divided heart, to trust partly to God and partly to the creature. If God fail him,* he hath Assyria and horses enough, and association with all round about. But a Christian he will use all helps, as they may stand with the favor of God, and are subordinate under him. Now for trial.

Quest. How shall we know whether we exceed in this confidence in the creature or not?

Sol. 1. We may know it by adventuring on ill courses and causes, thinking to bear them out with Assyria and with horses. But all the mercenary soldiers in the world, and all the horses at home and abroad, what can they do when God is angry? Now, when there is such confidence in these things as for to out-dare God, then there is too much trust in them. That trust will end in confusion, if it be not repented of, for that lifts up the heart in the creature. And as the heathen man observes, ‘God delights to make great little, and little great.’ It is his daily work to ‘cast down mountains, and exalt the valleys,’ Isa. 40:4. Those that are great, and boast in their greatness, as if they would command heaven and earth, God delights to make their greatness little, and at length nothing, and to raise up the day of small things. Therefore the apostle saith, ‘If I rejoice, it shall be in my infirmities,’ 2 Cor. 12:9, in nothing else; for God delights to shew strength in weakness.

Sol. 2. By security and resting of the soul in meaner things, never seeking to divine and religious helps when we are supplied with those that are outward. For these people, when they trusted to Assyria and Egypt, those false supports and sandy foundations, they were careless of God, and therefore must trust in somewhat else. Wherefore, if we see a man secure and careless, certainly he trusts too much to uncertain riches, to Assyria, to Egypt, to friends, or to outward helps. His security betrays that. If a man trust God in the use of the means, his care will be to keep God his friend by repentance and daily exercises of religion, by making conscience of his duty. But if he trust the means and not God, he will be careless and weak in good duties, dull and slow, and, out of the atheism of his heart, cry, Hush! If God dos not help me, I shall have help from friends abroad, and be supported with this and that at home, horses and the like, and shall be well.

Use 1. Let us therefore enter into our own souls, and examine ourselves, how far forth we are guilty of this sin, and think we come so far short of repentance. For the ten tribes here, the people of God, when they repented, say, ‘Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses.’ He speaks comparatively, as trusted in. Therefore, let us take heed of that boasting, vain-glorious disposition, arising from the supply of the creature. Saith God, ‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom; neither let the mighty man glory in his might: let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth, glory in this, that he understands and knows this, that I am the Lord, which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth,’ etc., Jer. 9:23, 24. Let a man glory that he knows God in Christ to be his God in the covenant of grace; that he hath the God of all strength, the King of kings and Lord of lords to be his: who hath all other things at his command, who is independent and all-sufficient. If a man will boast, let him go out of himself to God, and plant himself there; and for other things, take heed the heart be not lift up with them.

  1. Consider what kind of thing boasting is. It is idolatry, for it sets the creature in the place and room of God.
  2. And it is also spiritual adultery, whereby we fix our affections upon the creature, which should be placed on God; as it is in James, ‘Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?’ etc., James 4:4.
  3. Habakkuk calls it drunkennness, Hab. 2:4, 5, for it makes the soul drunk with cattishness and conceitedness, so as a man in this case is never sober, until God strip him of all.
  4. And then again, it puts out the eye of the soul. It is a kind of white, that mars the sight. When a man looks to Assyria, horses, and to outward strength, where is God all this while? These are so many clouds, that they cannot see God, but altogether pore upon the creature. He sees so much greatness there, that God seems nothing. But when a man sees God in his greatness and almightiness, then the creature is nothing, Job 42:6. But until this be, there is a mist and blindness in the eye of the soul.

And when we have seen our guiltiness this way (as who of us in this case may not be confounded and ashamed of relying too much on outward helps?), then let us labor to take off our souls from these outward things, whether it be strength abroad or at home. Which that we may do, we must labor for that obedience which our Savior Christ exhorts us unto in self-denial, Mat. 16:24, not to trust to our own devices, policy, or strength, wit, will, or conceits, that this or that may help us, nor anything. Make it general; for when conversion is wrought, and the heart is turned to God, it turns from the creature, only using it as subordinate to God. We see, usually, men that exalt themselves in confidence, either of strength, of wit, or whatsoever, they are success less in their issue. For God delights to confound them, and go beyond their wit, as we have it, Isa. 30:3. They thought to go beyond God with their policy, they would have help out of Egypt, this and that way. Oh, saith the prophet, but for all this, God is wise to see through all your devices; secretly hereby touching them to the quick, as sottish persons, who thought by their shallow brains to go beyond God. You think religious courses, and the obedience God prescribes to you, to be idle, needless courses; but, notwithstanding, God is wise. He will go beyond you, and catch you in your own craft. ‘Therefore, the strength of Pharaoh shall be your shame, and the trust in the shadow of Egypt your confusion,’ Isa. 30:3. Thus God loves to scatter Babel’s fabrics, Gen. 11:8, and holds that are erected in confidence of human strength against him. He delights to catch the wise in their own craft, to beat all down, lay all high imaginations and things flat before him, that no flesh may glory in his sight. There is to this purpose a notable place in Isaiah: ‘Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks,’ Isa. 50:11. For they kindled a fire, and had a light of their own, and would not borrow light from God: ‘Walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled.’ But what is the conclusion of all? ‘This shall ye have of mine hand.’ I dare assure you of this, saith the prophet. ‘You shall lie down in sorrow.’ Those that walk by the light and spark of their own fire, this they shall have at God’s hands: ‘they shall lie down in sorrow.’

Let us therefore take heed of carnal confidence. You have a number who love to sleep in a whole skin, and will be sure to take the safest courses, as they think, not consulting with God, but with ‘flesh and blood.’ It might be instanced in stories of former times, how God hath crossed emperors, and great men in this kind, were it not too tedious. But for present instance, you have many who will be of no settled religion. Oh, they cannot tell, there may be a change. Therefore they will be sure to offend neither part. This is their policy, and if they be in place, they will reform nothing. Oh, I shall lay myself open to advantages, and stir up enemies against me. And so they will not trust God, but have carnal devices to turn off all duty whatsoever. It is an ordinary speech, but very true, policy overthrows policy. It is true of carnal policy. When a man goes by carnal rules to be governed by God’s enemy and his own, with his own wit and understanding, which leads him to outward things, this kind of policy overthrows all policy, and outward government at length. Those that walk religiously and by rule, they walk most confidently and securely, as the issue will shew. Therefore, consider that, set God aside, all is but vanity. And that,

First. In regard they do not yield that which we expect they should yield. There is a falsehood in the things. They promise this and that in shows, but when we possess them, they yield it not. As they have no strength indeed, so they deceive.

Second. Then, also, there is a mutability in them; for there is nothing in the world but changes. There is a vanity of corruption in them. All things at last come to an end, save God, who is unchangeable.

Third. Then again, besides the intrinsic vanity in all outward things, and whatsoever carnal reason leads unto, they are snares and baits unto us, to draw us away from God, by reason of the vanity of our nature, vainer than the things themselves. Therefore take heed of confidence in anything, or else this will be the issue: we shall be worse than the things we trust. ‘Vanity of vanities, all things are vanity,’ Eccles. 1:1; and man himself is lighter than vanity, saith the psalmist, Ps. 62:9. He that trusts to vanity, is worse than vanity. A man cannot stand on a thing that cannot stand itself,—stare non stante. A man cannot stand on a thing that is mutable and changeable. If he doth, he is vain with the thing. Even as a picture drawn upon ice, as the ice dissolves, so the picture vanishes away. So it is with all confidence in the creature whatsoever. It is like a picture upon ice, which vanished with the things themselves. He that stands upon a slippery thing, slips with the thing he stands on. If there were no word of God against it, yet thus much may be sufficient out of the principles of reason, to shew the folly of trusting to Assyria, and horses, and the like.

Let this be the end of all, then, touching this carnal confidence: to beware that we do not fasten our affections too much upon any earthly thing, at home or abroad, within or without ourselves. For ‘God will destroy the wisdom of the wise,’ 1 Cor. 1:19. Let us take heed, therefore, of all false confidence whatsoever. Let us use all outward helps, yet so as to rely upon God for his blessing in the use of all. And when they all fail, be of Jehoshaphat’s mind: ‘Lord, we know not what to do,’ 2 Chron. 20:12. The creature fails us, our helps fail us; ‘but our eyes are upon thee.’ So when all outward Assyrias, and horses, and helps fail, despair not; for the less help there is in the creature, the more there is in God. As Gideon with his army, when he thought to carry it away with multitudes, God told him there were too many of them to get the victory by, lest Israel should vaunt themselves of their number, and so lessened the army to three hundred, Jud. 7:2; so it is not the means, but the blessing on the means which helps us. If we be never so low, despair not. Let us make God ours, who is all-sufficient and almighty, and then if we were brought a hundred times lower than we are, God will help and raise us. Those who labor not to have God, the Lord of hosts, to go out with their armies, if they had all the Assyrias and horses in the world, all were in vain. It was therefore a good resolution of Moses. Saith he to God, ‘If thy presence go not with us, carry us not hence,’ Exod. 33:15. He would not go one step forward without God. So, if we cannot make God our friend to go out before us, in vain it is to go one step forward. Let us therefore double our care in holy duties, renewing our covenant with God, before the decree come out against us. The more religious, the more secure we shall be. If we had all the creatures in the world to help us, what are they but vanity and nothing, if God be our enemy! These things we know well enough for notion; but let us labor to bring them home for use, in these dangerous times abroad. Let us begin where we should, that our work may be especially in heaven. Let us reform our lives, being moderately careful, as Christians should, without tempting God’s providence, using rightly all civil supports and helps seasonably, and to the best advantage; for, as was said, the carelessness herein for defense may prove as dangerous and fatal to a State, as the too much confidence and trust in them.

Thoughts on Josiah, and when death is a blessing…

Taken, adapted and condensed from, “Josiah’s Reformation, Laid Open in Four Sermons”
Sermon IV, Published in 1637,
Written by Richard Sibbes.

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Behold, I will gather thee to your fathers, and thou shalt be gathered to your grave in peace, neither shall thine eyes see all the evil that I will bring upon this place, and upon the inhabitants of the same. So they brought the king word again.
—2 Chronicles 34:28.

IT is for the most part the privilege of a Christian…

…that his last days are his best; and ‘though weeping be in the evening, yet joy comes in the morning,’ Ps. 30:5; though he do begin in darkness, yet he ends in light. Whereas, on the contrary, the wicked begin in jollity and light, but end in darkness; yea, such a darkness as is ‘utter darkness,’ Mat. 8:12—by Peter called the ‘blackness of darkness,’ 2 Pet. 2:17—the preparations whereunto are, God’s outward judgments in this life inflicted upon the impenitent and rebellious, wherein God many times puts a sensible, visible difference betwixt the godly and the wicked; as betwixt Lot and the Sodom-mites, Noah and the adulterous world, Moses and the Israelites with him, from Korah, Dathan, and his company, the Egyptians and the Israelites at the Red Sea; and in this text, betwixt this good king and his people. He must not see all the evil that God was to bring upon his wicked and rebellious subjects. Oh the happiness of holiness, which is sure to speed well in all storms whatsoever; because on all the glory there is a defense, as Isaiah speaks, Isa. 4:5. Light is sown for the righteous, Ps. 97:11; and whatsoever his troubles be, yet his last end shall be blessed. ‘Let me die,’ saith Balaam, ‘the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his,’ Num. 23:10. Such honor have all his saints, such honor had this good king Josiah; being removed from hence that he might not see the evil to come. Though he were taken from earth, yet it was for his good, that he might be gathered into heaven, and make a royal exchange.

The words contain a promise of a reward, and great favor unto good king Josiah, that he should die, and be gathered unto his fathers; and that which is more, the manner considered, that he should ‘die in peace;’ the ground whereof is showed unto him: ‘Because thine eyes shall not see all the evil that I will bring upon this place, and upon the inhabitants of the same.’ God’s promises are of three sorts. First, Such as he made upon condition of legal obedience: ‘Do this and thou shall live.’ Secondly, When we are humbled upon sight of our sins, then he propounds another way, and promises that if we believe in Jesus Christ our surety, who hath made satisfaction for us, then we shall live. This is the grand promise of all, the promise of life everlasting, and pardon of sin. Thirdly, There are promises of encouragement unto us, when we are in the state of grace. As a father, who means to make his son an heir, does give him many promises of encouragement, so God deals with his children, when they are in the covenant of grace.

There are, I say, promises of particular rewards to encourage them, as they are sure of the main and great reward, namely, everlasting life. Therefore Josiah being an heir of heaven, God did propound a promise of encouragement unto him, by way of favor, to show that his good works were not unregarded.

In general here,

First, We may observe God’s gracious dealing with his children, that he takes notice of every good thing they do, and does reward them for it, yea, in this life. There is not a sigh but God hears it, not a tear but he hath a bottle for it. Most men spare God a labor in this kind. He promises ‘to wipe away all tears from our eyes,’ Rev. 21:4, but they will shed none. Yet the least tear shed, and word spoken in a good cause, goes not without a reward from God; not so much as a cup of cold water, but he rewards. Which must needs be so: Because God looks upon the good things we do, being his own works in us, as upon lovely objects, with a love unto them; for though Josiah had said nothing, yet his deep humiliation itself, was as it were a prayer, that cried strongly in the ears of God, that he could not but reward it. So that partly because God looks upon us as lovely objects, he loving the work of his own Spirit, and partly because they cry unto God, as it were, and pluck down a blessing from heaven, they cannot go unrewarded.

This is matter of comfort, that God will not only reward us with heaven, but will also recompense good thing we do, even in this world; yea, such is his bounty, he rewards hypocrites. Because he will not be beholding to them for any good thing they do, nor have them die unrewarded, he recompenses them with some outward favors, which is all they desire. Ahab did but act counterfeit humiliation, and he was rewarded for it, 1 Kings 21:27–29. So the Scribes and Pharisees did many good things, and had that they looked for. They looked not for heaven, but for the praise of men. This they had, as Christ tells them, ‘Verily, I say unto you, you have your reward,’ Mat. 6:5. God will be beholding to none; but whosoever do anything that is good, they shall have some reward, whether they be good or bad. If the conscience of a man did judge well, he might come to God with boldness, not to brag of good works, but out of a humble heart saying, ‘Remember me, O Lord, as I have dealt with thee.’ So good Hezekiah did: ‘Remember, Lord, how I have walked before thee in truth,’ Isa. 38:3. When we labor in all our actions to please God, we may with boldness approach to the throne of grace, and say with Peter, Remember, Lord, ‘you knowest that I love thee,’ John 21:15. If there were no other reward but this, that we have a privilege to go to God with boldness, our conscience not accusing us, it were enough. What a shame is it, then, that we should be so barren in good works, seeing our labor shall not be unrewarded of the Lord! Oh then let us take counsel of the apostle: ‘Finally, my brethren, be ye stedfast and unmoveable, abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord,’ 1 Cor. 15:58. He hath a reward for every cup of cold water, for every tear. Every good deed we do hath the force of a prayer to beg a blessing; yea, our very tears speak loud to God, although we say nothing. But to come to particulars.

‘Behold, I will gather thee to your fathers,’ 

Here we see this word behold, a word serving to stir up attention, set before the promise, which was formerly set before a threatening, ‘Behold, I will bring evil upon this place,’ &c. Behold is as necessary before promises as threatenings. For the soul is ready to behold that which is evil, and by nature is prone to dejection, and to cast down itself. Therefore there need be a ‘behold’ put before the promise, to raise up the dejected soul of Josiah or others, and all little enough. Christians should have two eyes, one to look upon the ill, the other upon the good, and the grace of God that is in them, that so we may be thankful. But they for the most part look only upon the ill that is in them, and so God wants his glory and we our comfort.

‘Behold, I will gather thee to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace.’

Therefore it is that the Holy Ghost sweetens death with a phrase of ‘gathering.’ Instead of saying, you shall die, he saith, ‘you shall be gathered.’ How many phrases have we in Scripture that have comfort wrapped in them, as there is in this phrase, ‘you shall be gathered to your grave in peace.’ I will not speak how many ways peace is taken in Scripture. ‘You shall die in peace;’ that is, you shall die quietly, honorably, and peaceably. And you shall not see the misery that I will bring upon the state and kingdom. You shall be gathered to your fathers, which is meant to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to all the faithful patriarchs.

Only observe, it is a very sweet word, and imports unto us, that death is nothing but a gathering, and presupposes that God’s children are all scattered in this world amongst wicked men, in a forlorn place, where they are used untowardly, as pilgrims use to be in a strange land. Therefore we had need be gathered, and it is a comfort to be gathered. But from whence shall he be gathered? He shall be gathered from a wicked, confused world; and to whom shall he go? To his Father. His soul shall go to their souls, his body shall be laid in the grave with theirs. As if he had said, you shall leave some company, but go to better; you shall leave a kingly estate, but you shall go to a better kingdom.

The changes of God’s children are for the better. Death to them is but a gathering. This gathering does show the preciousness of the thing gathered; for God does not use to gather things of no value. Josiah was a pearl worth the gathering. He was one of high esteem, very precious. So every Christian is dearly bought, with the blood of Christ. Therefore God will not suffer him to perish, but will gather him before the evil days come. As men use to gather jewels before fire comes into their houses; or as husbandmen will be sure to gather their corn, before they will let the beasts come into the field; so saith God to him, I will be sure to gather thee before I bring destruction upon the land. We are all by nature lost in Adam, and scattered from God, therefore we must be gathered again in Christ. For all gathering that is good is in him; for he is the head of all union that is good. And this is to be wrought by the ordinances of God, by the means of the ministry, which is appointed unto that end, to gather us, as Mat. 23:37, Christ speaks to Jerusalem, ‘How often would I have gathered you together, as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, but you would not.’ Christ would have gathered them unto himself, by his word, but they refused.

All the gathering of a Christian in this life is a gathering to Christ by faith, and to the communion of saints by love, 1 Thes. 4:17; and the more he does grow in grace, the more near communion he hath with Christ. Then after this gathering by grace, there comes by death a gathering to Christ in glory. For the soul goes forever and ever to be with the Lord. After this comes a higher degree of gathering at the Day of Judgment, when there shall be a great meeting of all saints, and the soul and body shall be reunited together, to remain forever with the Lord. Let us then think of this, that whatsoever befalls us in the world, we shall be sure to be gathered, for death is but a gathering. For from whence goes Josiah? From a sinful world, a sinful estate, a wretched people, unto his fathers, who are all good, nay, to God his Father. We are all here as Daniel in the lion’s den, as sheep among wolves; but at death we shall be gathered to our fathers. It is a gathering to a better place, to heaven; and to better persons, to fathers, where we shall be forever praising the Lord, never offending him, loving and pleasing one another. Here Christians displease one another, and cannot be gathered together in love and affection, but there they shall be gathered in unity of love forever.

This serves, first of all, to comfort us in departure of friends, to render their souls up with comfort into the hands of God. We know they are not lost, but sent before us. We shall be gathered to them, they cannot come to us. Therefore why should we grieve? They are gathered in quietness and rest to their fathers. This should also make us render our souls to God, as into the hands of a faithful Creator and Redeemer. From whence go we? From a sinful world and place of tears, to a place of happiness above expression. Why should we be afraid of death? It is but a gathering to our fathers. What a comfort is it to us in this world, that we shall go to a place where all is good, where we shall be perfectly renewed, made in the image of God, and shall have nothing defaced? Let this raise up our dead and drowsy souls. Thus we shall be one day gathered. The wicked shall be gathered together, but a woeful gathering is it. They shall be gathered like a bundle of tares, to be thrown into hell, there forever to burn. They are dross and chaff, never gathered to Christ by faith, nor to the body of the church by love; and therefore they are as dross and chaff, which the wind scatters here, and shall forever be scattered hereafter, Ps. 1:4. They are, as Cain, vagabonds in regard of the life of grace here; and therefore shall be forever scattered from the life of glory hereafter. They shall be gathered to those whom they delighted in, and kept company with, whilst they were in this world. They loved to keep company with the wicked here, therefore they shall be gathered to them in hell hereafter. This is sure, you shall live in heaven or hell afterwards, with those whom you live with here. Do you live only delighted in evil company now? It is pity you should be severed from them hereafter. If you be gathered to them in love and affection here, you shall be gathered to them in hell and destruction hereafter. It is a comfortable evidence to those that delight in good company, that they shall be with them in heaven forever. ‘Hereby we know that we are translated from death to life, because we love the brethren,’ 1 John 3:14. And on the contrary, those that are brethren in evil here, may read in their own wicked courses and conversation what will become of them hereafter. They are all tares, and shall be gathered together in a bundle, and cast into hell fire forever.

‘And you shall be gathered to your grave in peace.’

Here is a reward, not only to die, but to die in peace. Josiah goes the way of all flesh; he must die though he be a king. This statute binds all. All are liable to death. ‘And you shall be gathered, or put in your grave in peace.’ This declares that he should be buried; the ground whereof is out of Gen. 3:19, ‘Dust you art, and to dust you shall return.’ From earth we came, and to earth we shall return. The earth we carry and the earth we tread on shall both meet together. In that God here promises it to Josiah as a blessing.

‘And you shall be gathered to your grave in peace.’

Obj. How is this? for we read, in the succeeding chapter of Josiah, that he died a violent death; he was slain by the hands of his enemies. Is this to die in peace?

Sol. I answer, the next words do expound it. He died in peace, ‘because his eyes should not see the evil that God would bring upon the land afterwards;’ as if he had said, you shall not see the ruin of the church and commonwealth. So, though Josiah were slain by idolaters, by Pharaoh and his chariots, yet he died in peace comparatively with a worse state of life. For though he died a bloody death by the hands of his enemies, yet he died in peace, because he was prevented by death from seeing that which was worse than death. For God may reserve a man in this life to worse miseries than death itself.

From hence we learn this instruction,

That death may be less miserable than the ill which a man may live to see in this life; or, that the miseries of this life may be such as that death may be much better than life, and far rather to be chosen. We may fall into such miseries whilst we do live, that we may desire death, they being greater than it. The reason hereof is, because that a sudden death, in some respects, is better than a lingering one. One death is better than many deaths, for how many deaths did Josiah escape by this one death! It would have been a death to him if he had lived to see the ruin of the commonwealth, the church of God, and his own sons carried into captivity, to have seen them slain, their eyes plucked out, the temple of God plucked down, and idolatry set up.

‘Behold, I will gather thee to your fathers, and you shall be put in your grave in peace.’ The Lord saith, he ‘will gather.’ So we see,

Our times are in God’s hand; as David saith, ‘My time is in your hand,’ Ps. 31:15. Our times of coming into the world, continuing in it, and going out of it, are in God’s hand. Therefore he saith, ‘you shall be put in your grave in peace.’ God hath power of death. Our going and coming is from God; he is the Lord of life and death.

This is a comfort unto us while we live in this world, that whilst we live we are not in our own hands, we shall not die in our own time; neither is it in our enemies’ hands, but in God’s hand. He hath appointed a certain time of our being here in this world. This should tie us to obedience, and to die in hope and faith; because when we die we are but gathered to our fathers, to better company and place than we leave behind us.

Again we see here that men may outlive their own happiness, that at last life may be a judgment unto them, because they may see that which is worse than death. How many parents live to see the ruin of their own families! the undoing of their children by their own miscarriage! We see God takes away Josiah, because he will not have him live, as it were, beyond his happiness. We see how tenderly affected God is for the good of his children. He pities them when they are in misery, knows what they are able to bear, and will lay no more upon them than he gives them strength to endure. God knew that Josiah was tender-hearted, and melted at the very threatenings, which if he could not endure to hear against his country, could he ever have endured to have seen the miseries upon his people and country? Surely no. Therefore God will rather gather him to his fathers.

Now this is a wonderful comfort, that many times God will not let us see too great matter of grief. Let us then imitate God, and deal so one with another as God deals with us—the husband with the wife, and the wife with the husband, and the like. Let us not acquaint them with such things as may make them more grieve than is fitting, or they are able to bear. God would not have Josiah to see the misery he brought upon his country, because he knew that he was tenderly disposed, that a little grief would soon overcome him. So let us beware of causing any to grieve, or to let them know things which they are not able to bear.

Again, Seeing this is a grief to a kind and loving father, yea, worse than death, to see the ruin of his child, this should teach all those that are young, to take care that they give no occasion of offence to those that are over them, for to grieve; which will be worse than death unto them. It would have been worse than a death unto Josiah to have seen the ruin of his children. So for those children which have been cherished by their parents in their young age, it will be worse than death to them in their age to see their children lewd and come to ruin, whereby they bring so much sooner the grey head of their father to the grave in sorrow. These offend against the sixth commandment, which saith, ‘you shall not kill.’ Let us then rather revive and comfort the heart of those that have been good unto us, and not kill them, or do that which is worse than death unto them.

‘Neither shall your eyes see the misery I will bring upon this people.’

Here we learn again that it is the sight of misery which works the deepest impression. It is not the hearing of a thing, but the sight of it, which affecteth most deeply; as in the sacrament, the seeing of the bread broken, and the wine poured out, works a deep impression; and because God knew Josiah’s heart would break at the sight of the misery, therefore he tells him, ‘Thine eyes shall not see the evil that I will bring upon this place.’ The sight is a most working sense, to make the deepest impression upon the soul. What shall be our great joy and happiness in heaven, but that we shall see God forevermore? Sight is a blessing upon earth, both the eyes of the body wherewith we see, and the eyes of the soul—that is, faith—which makes us see afar off, till in heaven we shall see him face to face. So that sight makes us both happy and miserable.

How wretched, then, is the estate of them that shall see themselves, with their own wicked eyes, sent to hell, with the creature they delighted in. That which the eyes see, the heart feels. There are many atheists, whose whole care is to preserve life. They would live, although they live the life of a dog. But the time will come, that you wilt more earnestly desire death than life. Thy eyes shall see, and your body feel, and your conscience too, that which is worse than a thousand deaths. You shall then die a living death. The worm of your conscience shall gnaw thee forever, and shall see and feel the tormenting fire which shall never be quenched. That which the wicked nourish now to follow their humor, never caring to please God, the day will be when they shall desire to avoid it; and that which they labor to avoid most now, the time will come when they shall most desire it. Death is the king of fears. It is terrible. But then look beyond death: what is behind that? You shall see at the heels of it hell and eternal damnation.

This should teach us also how to understand the promise of long life. It is a promise and a favor of God to be desired. It is a prayer with condition, if God see it good; else God may give us long life, to see and feel a world of misery. Therefore such promises are to be desired conditionally: if God see it good for us.

Again, The Holy Ghost saith here, ‘Thy eyes shall not see the evil I will bring upon this place.’ Hence we learn, that those which be dead in the Lord, are freed from seeing of any evil or misery. The godly shall see no misery after death. If this be so, then they do not go into purgatory after death, as the papists hold. The Holy Ghost saith, Josiah is taken away from seeing any evil to come. Then sure they do not fall into such misery after death, which is worse than death. True, say the papists, such excellent men as Josiah do go to heaven immediately. Ay, but the Holy Ghost saith by Isaiah, 57:1, that ‘the righteous are taken away from the evil to come.’ It is spoken of the whole generation of righteous men. Therefore it is a sottish thing for them to hold that any of them shall see purgatory, when God saith the righteous are taken away from seeing any evil to come.

‘You shall be put in your grave in peace, neither shall your eyes see all, the evil that I will bring upon this place.’

Let us learn here a mystery of divine providence in his death; for there is a mystery of providence, not only in great matters, as election and predestination, but in ordering of the common things of the world. How many excellent mysteries are here wrapped together in this death of Josiah! As, first, it is said that he died in peace, whereas he died a violent death, and was slain by the hands of his enemies. His death was both a mercy and a correction: a correction for his error in being so hasty in going to war with Pharaoh, king of Egypt; and yet it was a mercy, because it prevented him from seeing the evil to come, and so likewise brought him sooner to heaven. It is a strange thing to see how the wisdom of heaven can mingle crosses and favors, corrections and mercies together; that the same thing should be both a mercy to Josiah to be taken away, and yet a correction also for his error, in going to fight against Necho, king of Egypt, as we see 2 Chron. 35:23. We may have mercies and afflictions upon us at the same time, as God, by the same death, corrected Josiah’s folly, and rewarded his humility.

Mark here again another mystery, in the carriage of divine providence: how he brings his promises to pass strangely above the reach of man; as here, he having promised Josiah that he should die in peace, one would have thought that Josiah should have died in pomp and state. No. you shall die in peace, although you be slain by the hand of your enemies; you shall come to heaven, although it be by a strange way. Thus God brings his children to heaven by strange ways, yea, by contrary ways, [by] afflictions and persecutions. Paul knew he should come to Rome, although it were by a strange way; though he suffered shipwreck, and was in great danger, as we may see Acts 27:2, seq. God hath strange ways to bring his counsels to pass, which he does so strangely, as we may see his own hand in it.

Again, Here we may see another mystery in divine providence, concerning the death of Josiah, in that he was taken away being a young man, but thirty-nine years old, who was the flower of his kingdom, and one upon whom the flourishing estate of such a kingdom did depend. Now, for such a gracious prince to be taken away in such a time, and at such an age, when he might have done much good, a man would hardly believe this mystery in divine providence. But ‘our times are in God’s hand,’ Ps. 31:15. His time is better than ours. And therefore he, seeing the sins of the people to be so great, that he could not bear with them longer,—for it was the sins of the people that deprived them of Josiah. It was not the king of Egypt who was the cause of his death, but the sins of the land—those caused God to make this way, to take away their gracious king.

Here we may admire the wisdom of God, who does not give an account unto us of his doings, why he suffers some to live, and takes away others; why he suffers the wicked to live, and takes away his own. We can give little reason for it, because it is a mystery; but God best knows the time when to reap his own corn.

‘Neither shall your eyes see all the evil I will bring upon this place, and upon the inhabitants of the land.’

Here the Holy Ghost does insinuate unto us that whilst Josiah was alive, God would not bring this judgment upon the land, but after his death, then it should come upon them. So here we learn this comfortable point of instruction, that the lives of God’s children do keep back judgment and evil from the place where they live, and their death is a forerunner of judgment. Their life keeps back ill, and their death plucks down ill. While you art alive, I will bring no evil upon this place, but when you are gone, then I will bring it down, saith God. The reasons of this are,

Reason 1. Because gracious men do make the times and the places good where they live. It is a world of good that is done by their example and help. While they live the times are the better for them.

Reason 2. And again, they keep back ill, because gracious men do bind God by their prayers. They force, as it were, a necessity upon God, that he must let the world alone. They bind his hands, that he will do nothing while they are in it; as to Lot in Sodom, ‘I can do nothing while you are gone, saith the angel,’ Gen. 19:22. They stand in the gap, and keep God from pouring down the vials of his wrath. But when they are gone, there is nothing to hinder or stop the current of divine justice, but that it must needs have his course. As when men have gathered their corn into their barns, then let their beasts, or whatsoever else go into the field, they care not; and as when the jewels are taken out of a rotten house, though the fire then seize upon it, men regard not. So when God’s jewels are gathered to himself, then woe to the wicked world, for then God will break forth in wrath upon them. Woe to the old world when Noah goes into the ark, for then follows the flood. Woe to Sodom when Lot goes out of it, for then it is sure to be burned. Luther prayed that God would not bring war upon the people in Germany during his time, but when he died, the whole land was overspread with war. So, before the destruction of Jerusalem, God did gather the Christians to a little city called Pella, near Jerusalem, then came Titus and Vespasian and destroyed the city of Jerusalem. So there are many gracious parents that die, after whose death comes some miserable end to their wicked children, but not before. God takes away the parents out of the world, that they might not see the ruin of their children. So then we see that it is clear, that good men keep back judgment from the places where they live.

The Art of Self-Humbling

Taken, adapted and condensed from, “Josiah’s Reformation, Laid Open in Four Sermons”
Sermon II, Published in 1637,
Written by Richard Sibbes.

The-Scribe-Shaphan-Reading-The-Book-Of-Law-To-King-Josiah

“Because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heard his words against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, and humblest thyself before me, and didst rend thy clothes, and weep before me….”—2 Chron. 34:27.

Tenderness of heart and humbling a man’s self go both together…

…for things that are hard will not yield nor bow. A great iron bar will not bow, a hard stony heart will not yield. Now, therefore, humbling of ourselves, the making of us as low as the ground itself, is added unto tenderness; for the soul being once tender and melting, is fit to be humbled, yea, cares not how low it be abased, so mercy may follow.

‘Thou didst humble thyself.’ He was both the agent and the patient, the worker and the object of his work: it came from him, and ended in him. Humiliation is a reflected action: Josiah humbled himself. And certainly this is that true humiliation, the humbling of ourselves; for it is no thanks for a man to be humbled by God, as Pharaoh was; for God can humble and pull down the proudest that do oppose his church. God by this gets himself glory. But here is the glory of a Christian, that he hath got grace from God to humble himself; which humbling is, from our own judgment, and upon discerning of good grounds, to bring our affections to stoop unto God; to humble ourselves. Many are humbled that are not humble; many are cast down that have proud hearts still, as Pharaoh had. It is said, ‘Thou humblest thyself.’ Then we learn,

The actions of grace are reflected actions. They begin from a man’s self, and end in a man’s self; yet we must not exclude the Spirit of God; for he doth not say, thou from thyself didst humble thyself, but ‘thou didst humble thyself.’ We have grace from God to humble ourselves. So that the Spirit of God doth work upon us as upon fit subjects, in which grace doth work. Though such works be the works of God, yet they are said to be ours, because God doth work them in us and by us. We are said to humble ourselves, because we are temples wherein he works, seeing he uses the parts of our soul, as the understanding, the will, and the affections, in the work. Therefore it is foolish for the papists to say, good works be our own, as from ourselves. No; good works, say we, are ours, as effects of the Spirit in us.

And true humiliation is of spiritual respects, when we judge aright how base and vile we are in regard of our natural corruption, that we are by nature not only guilty of Adam’s sin, but that we have, besides that, wrapt ourselves in a thousand more guilts by our sinful course of life, and that we have nothing of our own, no, not power to do the least good thing. When we look upon any vile person, we may see our own image. So that if God had not been gracious unto us, we should have been as bad as they. In a word, inward conviction of our natural frailty and misery, in regard of the filthy and foul stain of sin in our nature and actions, and of the many guilts of spiritual and temporal plagues in this life and that which is to come, is that inward humiliation in the judgment or understanding.

Again, Inward humiliation, besides spiritual conviction, is when there are affections of humiliation. And what be those? Shame, sorrow, fear, and such like penal afflictive affections. For, upon a right conviction of the understanding, the soul comes to be stricken with shame that we are in such a case as we are; especially when we consider God’s goodness to us, and our dealing with him. This will breed shame and abasement, as it did in Daniel. Shame and sorrow ever follow sin, first or last, as the apostle demands, Rom. 6:21, ‘What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?’ After conviction of judgment there is always shame; and likewise there is sorrow and grief. For God hath made the inward faculties of the soul so, that upon the apprehension of the understanding, the heart comes to be stricken through with grief, which works upon our souls. Therefore we are said in Scripture to afflict ourselves; that is, when we set ourselves upon meditation of our deserts. Hereupon we cannot but be affected inwardly, for these sorrows are so many daggers to pierce through the heart.

There is also a fear and trembling before God’s judgments and his threatenings, a fear of the majesty of God, whom we have offended, which is able to send us to hell if his mercies were not beyond our deserts. But his mercy it is, that we are not consumed. A fear of this great God is a part of this inward humiliation. So we see what inward humiliation is: first, a conviction of the judgment; and then it proceeds to inward afflictive affections, as grief, shame, fear, which, when upon good ground and fit objects, they are wrought in us by the Holy Ghost, they are parts of inward humiliation. But as for the wicked, they drown themselves in their profaneness, because they would not be ashamed, nor fear, nor grieve for them. But this makes way for terrible shame, sorrow, and fear afterwards; for those that will not shame, grieve, and fear here, shall be ashamed before God and his angels at the day of judgment, and shall be tormented in hell for ever.

If we would have humble spirits, let us bring ourselves into the presence of the great God: set ourselves in his presence, and consider of his attributes, his works of justice abroad in the world, and open ourselves in particular.

Consider his wisdom, holiness, power, and strength, with our own. It will make us abhor ourselves, and repent in dust and ashes. Let us bring ourselves into God’s presence, be under the means, under his word, that there we may see ourselves ripped up, and see what we are. As Job, when he brought himself into God’s presence, said, ‘I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes,’ Job 42:6. Job thought himself somebody before; but when God comes to examine him, and upon examination found that he could not give a reason of the creature, much less of the Lord’s, afflicting his children, then he saith, ‘I abhor myself.’ So Abraham, the more he talked with God, the more he did see himself but dust and ashes. This is the language of the holy men in Scripture, when they have to deal or think of God. ‘I am not worthy,’ says John Baptist, John 1:27. So Paul: ‘I am not worthy to be called an apostle,’ 1 Cor. 15:9. So the centurion: ‘I am not worthy thou shouldst come into my house,’ Mat. 8:8. ‘I am less than the least of thy blessings,’ saith Jacob, Gen. 32:10. Thus let us come into the presence of God, under the means of his word, and then we shall see our own vileness, which will work humiliation; for, as the apostle saith, when a poor simple man doth come, and hears the prophecy that is, the word of God, with application unto himself, laying open his particular sins, doubtless he will say, God is in you, 1 Cor. 14:24, 25.

That we may humble ourselves, let us be content to hear of our sins and baseness by others. Let us be content that others should acquaint us with anything that may humble us. Proud men are the devil’s pipes, and flatterers the musicians to blow these pipes. Therefore it is, that though men have nothing of their own, yet they love to give heed to flatterers, to blow their bladder full, which do rob them of themselves; whereas a true, wise man, will be content to hear of anything that may humble him before God.

That we may humble ourselves, look to the time to come, what we shall be earth and dust; and at the day of judgment we must be stripped of all. What should puff us up in this world? All our glory shall end in shame, all magnificence in confusion, all riches in poverty. It is a strange thing that the devil should raise men to be proud of that which they have not of their own, but of such things which they have borrowed and begged; as for men to be proud of themselves in regard of their parents. So, many there are who think the better of themselves for their apparel, when yet they are clothed with nothing of their own, and so are proud of the very creature. But thus the devil hath besotted our nature, to make us glory in that which should abase us, and to think the better of ourselves, for that which is none of our own. Nay, many in the church of God, are so far from humbling themselves, that they come to manifest their pride, to shew themselves, to see and to be seen. Thus the devil has inflicted many thousand silly creatures, that come in vainglory into the house of God; that whereas they should humble themselves before him, they are puffed up with a base empty pride, even before God. Therefore let us take notice of our wonderful proneness to have a conceit of ourselves; for if a man have a new fashion, or some new thing, which nobody else knows besides himself, how wonderful conceited will he be of himself! Let us take notice, I say, of our proneness to this sin of pride; for the best are prone to it. Consider, it is a wonderful hateful sin, a sin of sins, that God most hates.

If we would humble ourselves, let us set before us the example of our blessed Saviour; for we must be conformable to him, by whom we hope to be saved. He left heaven, took our base nature, and humbled himself to the death of the cross, yea, to the washing of his disciples’ feet, and among the rest, washed Judas’s feet, and so suffered himself to be killed as a traitor, Philip, 2:5–7; and all this to satisfy the wrath of God for us, and that he might be a pattern for us to be like-minded. Therefore, if we would humble ourselves by pattern, here is a pattern without all exception. Let us be transformed into the likeness of him; yea, the more we think of him, the more we shall be humbled. For it is impossible for a man to dwell upon this meditation of Christ in humility, and with faith to apply it to himself, that he is his particular Saviour, but this faith will abase the heart, and bring it to be like Christ in all spiritual representation. A heart that believeth in Christ will be humbled like Christ. It will be turned from all fleshly conceit of excellency, to be like him. Is it possible, if a man consider he is to be saved by an abased and humble Saviour, that was pliable to every base service, that had not a house to hide himself; I say, is it possible that he which considers of this, should ever be willingly or wilfully proud?

Do we hope to be saved by Christ, and will we not be like him? When we were firebrands of hell, he humbled himself to the death of the cross, left heaven and happiness a-while, and took our shame, to be a pattern to us. We know that Christ was brought into the world by a humble virgin. So the heart wherein he dwells must be a humble heart. If we have true faith in Christ, it will cast us down, and make us to be humbled. For it is impossible that a man should have faith to challenge any part in Christ, except he be conformed to the image of Christ in humility.

Further, There is an order, method, and agreement in these reflected actions, when we turn the edge of our own souls upon ourselves and examine ourselves; for the way that leads to rest is by the examination of ourselves. We must examine ourselves strictly, and then bring ourselves before God, judge and condemn ourselves; for humiliation is a kind of execution. Examination leads to all the rest. So, then, this is the order of our actions; there is:

1. Examination of ourselves strictly before God,
2. Then indicting ourselves,

3.  After that comes judging of ourselves.

Oh that we could be brought to these inward reflected actions, to examine indict, judge, and condemn ourselves, that so we might spare God a labour, and so all things might go well with us!

A humble heart is a vessel of all graces. It is a grace itself, and a vessel of grace. It doth better the soul and make it holy, for the soul is never fitter for God than when it is humbled. It is a fundamental grace that gives strength to all other graces. So much humility, so much grace. For according to the measure of humiliation is the measure of other grace, because a humble heart hath in it a spiritual emptiness. Humility empties the heart for God to fill it. If the heart be emptied of temporal things, then it must needs be filled with spiritual things; for nature abhors emptiness; grace much more. When the heart is made low, there is a spiritual emptiness, and what fills this up but the Spirit of God? In that measure we empty ourselves, in that measure we are filled with the fulness of God. When a man is humbled, he is fit for all good; but when he is proud, he is fit for all ill, and beats back all good. God hath but two heavens to dwell in; the heaven of heavens, and the heart of a poor humble man. The proud swelling heart, that is full of ambition, high conceits, and self-dependence, will not endure to have God to enter; but he dwells largely and easily in the heart of a humble man. If we will dwell in heaven hereafter, let us humble ourselves now. The rich in themselves are sent ’empty away;’ the humble soul is a rich soul, rich in God; and therefore God regards the lowly and resists the proud. As all the water that is upon the hills runs into the valleys, so all grace goes to the humble.

How may we know holy from hypocritical humiliation? 

First, Holy humiliation is voluntary; for it is a reflected action, which comes from a man’s self. It ends where it begins. Therefore Josiah is said to humble himself. But, on the contrary, the humiliation of other men is against their will. False humiliation is not voluntary, but by force it is extorted from them. God is fain to break, crush, and deal hardly with them, which they grieve and murmur at. But the children of God have the Spirit of God, which is a free Spirit, that sets their hearts at liberty. For God’s Spirit is a working Spirit, that works upon their hearts, and hereby they willingly humble themselves, whereas the wicked, wanting this Spirit of God, cannot humble themselves willingly, but are cast down against their wills. For God can pluck down the proudest. He can break Pharaoh’s courage, who, though he was humbled, yet he did not humble himself. A man may be humbled, and yet not humble. But the children of God are to humble themselves, not that the grace whereby we humble ourselves is from ourselves; but we are said to humble ourselves, when God doth rule the parts he hath given us, when he sets our wits and understanding on work to see our misery, and then our will and affection to work upon these. Thus we are said to humble ourselves when God works in us. A hypocrite God may humble and work by him. He may work by graceless persons, but he doth not work in them. But God’s children have God’s Spirit in them, not only working in* them his own works, as he doth by hypocrites and sinful persons, but his Spirit works in them. So that here is the main difference between true humiliation and that which is counterfeit. The one is voluntary, being a reflected action, to work upon and to humble ourselves; but the other is a forced humiliation.

True humiliation is ever joined with reformation. Humble thyself and walk with thy God, saith the prophet: Micah 6:8, ‘He hath shewed thee, O man, what he doth require of thee, to humble thyself, and walk with thy God.’ Now the humiliation of wicked men is never joined with reformation. There is no walking with God.

Sin must appear bitter to the soul, else we shall never be truly humbled for it. There is in every renewed soul a secret hatred and loathing of evil, which manifests the soundness both of true humiliation and reformation.

There must be a constant endeavour to avoid the occasions and allurements of sin. Thus Job made a covenant with his eyes, that ‘he would not look upon a maid,’ Job 31:1; and thus every unclean and filthy person should make a covenant with themselves against the sins which they are most addicted unto.

There must be a hatred and loathing of sin in our confessions. We must confess it with all the circumstances, the time when, and place where.

Sin is the bane of all comfort. That which we love more than our souls undoes us. It embitters every comfort, and makes that we cannot perform duties with spiritual life. Our very prayers are abominable to God so long as we live in known sin. What makes the hour of death and the day of judgment terrible but this?

Another difference between true humiliation and false is, that with true humiliation is joined hope, to raise up our souls with some comfort, else it is a desperation, not a humiliation. The devils do chafe, vex, and fret themselves, in regard of their desperate estate, because they have no hope. If there be no hope, it is impossible there should be true and sound humiliation; but true humiliation doth carry us to God, that what we have taken out of ourselves by humiliation, we may recover it in God. Therefore humility is such a grace, that though it make us nothing in ourselves, yet doth it carry us to God, who is all in all.

Hypocrites are also sorrowful for the judgment that is upon them; but not for that which is the cause of the judgment, which is sin; but the child of God, he is humbled for sin, which is the cause of all judgments. As good Josiah, when he heard read out of Deuteronomy the curses threatened for sin, and comparing the sins of his people with the sins against which the curses were threatened, he humbled himself for his sin and the sins of his people. For God’s children know, if there were no iniquity in them, there should no adversity hurt them; and therefore they run to the cause, and are humbled for that. Whereas the wicked, they humble themselves only because of the smart and trouble which they do endure.

When we have wrought our souls to a hearty grief that we have offended God, when we have a perfect and inward hatred of all sin, and when thou dost shew the truth of thy grief by leaving off thy sinful courses. So then, do thou hate and leave thy sinful course? Then thou art sufficiently humbled. Go away with peace and comfort, thy sins are forgiven thee.

Therefore it is not a slight humiliation that will serve the turn, but our hearts must be wrought unto a perfect hatred and leaving of all sins; for if this be not, we are not sufficiently humbled as yet. And when we find ourselves to hate and leave sin in some measure, then fasten our souls by faith, as much as may be, upon the mercy of God in Jesus Christ. For the soul hath two eyes, the one to look upon itself and our vileness, to humble us the more; the other, to fasten upon the mercy of God in Christ, to raise up our souls.

Let this be a rule of discerning true religion; for surely that is true religion which doth make us go out of ourselves; that takes away all from ourselves and gives all the glory to God; which makes us to plead for salvation by the mercy of God through the merits of Christ. But our religion doth teach us thus. Therefore it is the true religion, and will yield us sound comfort at the last. Thus much for inward humiliation, the humbling of ourselves, as Josiah did.

Why art thou cast down, O my soul? Discouragements from Within. Part 4

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

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Let us now look at some of the particular causes for discouragements within us.

There is often cause in the body of those with whom a melancholy temper prevails; this causes a darkness which makes them fearful. For with melancholy persons they are in a perpetual darkness, –all things seem black and dark unto them. Their spirits as it were seems to be as though dyed black.

Now to him that is in darkness, all things seem black and dark, the sweetest comforts are never sweet enough for those who are deep in melancholy.

It is, with great the watchfulness that Satan’s uses with his own weapons to hurt the soul, which by reason of its closeness and sympathy with the body is subject to be misled. As we see where there is a darkening of the mind’s eye by reason of depression and melancholy of the spirit, for whatsoever is presented to a melancholy person, comes in through a dark way to the soul. From there, corrupted by their perspective, they judge amiss, even of the plainest things. Often, they are
sick of such and such a disease,or subject to such and such a danger, when it is nothing of the sort. So, how fit are they then to judge of things removed from senses, in particular, as of their spiritual estate in Christ?

To come to causes more near the soul itself, as when there is want of that which should be in it, as of knowledge in the understanding, etc. Ignorance (being darkness) is full of false fears. In the night time men think every bush a thief; our forefathers in time of ignorance were frighted with every thing; therefore it is the policy of popish tyrants, to teach them from the prince of darkness, in order to keep the people in darkness, that so they might make them fearful, and then abuse that fearfulness to superstition; that they might the better rule in their consciences for their own ends: and that so having entangled them with false fears, they might heal them again with false cures.

Again, though the soul be not ignorant, yet if it be forgetful and mindless, as the Apostle says in Hebrews 12, “You have forgotten the consolation that speaks unto you…” so then, we have no present actual comfort. However we do have a memory: help a godly man’s memory, and you help his comfort; for a memory is like charcoal which having once been kindled, is the more easy to take fire. He that hath formerly known things, takes ready acquaintance of them again, as old friends: things are not strange to him.

But beware of setting a price upon your comfort; as the Israelites were afflicted for discounting Canaan. This was a great fault,when (as when they said to Job the consolation of the Almighty seem light, and small unto us, Job 14: 11,) unless we have some physical comfort which we are seeking after.

And also beware of a childish kind of peevishness: when they could not have immediately what they wanted, they like children, throw away everything; an action which was very offensive to God. Yet, this is a problem which often happens to men otherwise gracious. Even Abraham himself, wanting children (See Genesis 16) undervalued all his other blessings. Jonah, because he was aggravated with of his dead gourd, was weary of his life. The like may be said of Elijah, fleeing from Jezebel. This peevishness is increased by paying too much attention to their grief; which many go so far as to justify their attitudes; like Jonah, who would do well to he angry even unto death. Jonah :9.

Willful men are most vexed when they are crossed: it is not for those to be willful that have not a great measure of wisdom to guide their wills; for God delights to impose his will of those that are wedded to their own wills: as in Pharaoh. No man more is more subject to discontentment than those who would have all things their own way.

Again, one main ground for our discontentment is false reasoning, and error in our discourse, as when we are lacking grace and feeling none.

However, feeling is not always a fit rule to judge our spiritual state. Some believe that God has rejected them because they have messed up in outward things, and believe that this rejection stems from God’s wisdom and love. How many imagine their failings to he fallings, and their fallings, to be fallings away? They feel their infirmities to be presumptions, and they believe that their every sin against conscience, to be the sin against the Holy Ghost. Thus unto misapprehensions, these weak and dark spirits are subject. And Satan, as a cunning rhetorician, here enlarges their fancy, to apprehend things bigger than what they are. Satan also abuses confident spirits in another contrary way; that is to apprehend great sins as little sins, and little sins as none at all. Some also think that they have no grace, because they have not grown so much as Christians: though they have grown several ages in Christ.

Likewise, some people are much troubled, because they calculate by a false method their spiritual estates. These people will begin with questioning the doctrine of election, which is the highest step of the ladder; whereas they should begin from a work of grace wrought within their hearts, from God’s calling them by his Spirit, and their answer to his call, and so raise themselves upwards to know their election by their answer to God’s calling. Give all diligence, says Peter, to make your calling and election sure (2 Pet. 1): that is, making your election sure by your calling. God descends down unto us from election to calling: and so to sanctification : we must ascend to him beginning where he ends. Otherwise it is as great folly as in removing of a pile of wood, to begin at the lowest first, and so, besides the needless trouble, to be in danger to have the rest to fall upon our heads. Which besides ignorance argues pride,appearing in this, that they would bring God to their conceits, and therefore be at an end of their work before they begin.

This great secret of God’s eternal love to us is Christ. And the Spirit brings to the soul so much life and sense of God’s love to us, that it draws the soul to Christ, and from Christ, the soul draws so much virtue that it changes the character, and makes the soul alive to its duty. But these duties are not in themselves the grounds of our spiritual state in grace, but these duties issue, springing from a regenerated state, and thus they help us, in the judging of our condition, that though they be not to be rested in, yet as streams they lead us to the spring-head of grace from whence they arise.

Why art thou cast down, O my soul? Dealing With Discouragements from Without. Part 3

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

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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?

Why art thou cast down, O my soul? Dealing With the Soul’s Grief. Part 2

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.

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Why art thou cast down, O my soul? 
And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God. –Psalm 42
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In general we may observe; that Grief when it comes to a head will not be quieted at the first.

We see here passions intermingled with comforts, and what bustling and hurting there is in his spirit before David can get the victory over his own heart: you have some short spirited Christians, for if they are not comforted at the beginning, they think all the spiritual labor with their hearts is in vain, and thereupon give way to their grief. But we see in David, as unhappiness builds upon unhappiness, so he gives check upon check, and charge upon charge to his soul, until at length he brought it to a quiet temper.

Again: In general observe in David’s spirit, that here is a gracious and living soul feeling most acutely the necessity of spiritual support. The reason is because the spiritual life desires after spiritual support.

We see in nature, that those things which press hardest on our spirits, are those things which touch upon the necessities of our life, rather than just upon everyday delights, for these further only our comfortable being; but the necessities uphold life itself: We see how famine forced the patriarchs to go into Egypt: where we begin to see how to judge those who willingly excommunicate themselves from the assemblies of God’s people, where the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are present, where the prayers of holy men meet together in one, and as it were to bind God, and pull down God’s blessing. No private devotion hath that report of acceptance from Heaven.

Another point is, that a godly soul, by reason of the inner life of grace, knows when it is well with it, and when it is ill, when it is a good day with it, and when a bad; and when God shines in support then the soul is as it were in heaven; when God withdraws himself, then it is in darkness for a time. Where there is no spiritual life, but only a principle of nature without sanctifying grace, there men go plodding on and keep their rounds, and they are at the end lives where they were at the beginning; not troubled with changes, because there was nothing within them to be troubled; therefore dead methods, living spiritual approaches, or no spiritual support at all, is the same with them, For their perspective is that of a dead soul.

Let us we come more particularly and directly to the words. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me?”

The words imply, 1. The sad state that David found himself; and 2. The words express his dejection in that state. His state was such that in regard of outward condition, he was in variety of troubles; and of an inward disposition of spirit, that he was first cast down, and then disquieted.

Now for his disposition in this condition, he deals strongly with himself: Here, David reasons the case with David, and first he checks himself for being too much cast down, and then chides himself for being too distressed and too anxious. Then David lays a command upon himself to trust in God; because we have the duty he to trust in God. And what are the grounds of this duty? First, it comes from a confidence of better times to come, which will restore to him to a place of praising God. And then from a standpoint of seeing God, as a saving God in all troubles, including, as salvation itself. And then in view of everything that he had gone through to see God as an open glorious Savior: The salvation of my countenance, and all this coming from and reinforced from David’s concentration in God, “He is my God.”

From this observe, from the state he was now in, that since guilt and corruption hath been derived by the fall, into the nature of man, it hath been subjected to misery and sorrow, and to men and women in all walks of life, from the kings that sit on the throne to him that grinds at the mill. None ever hath been so good or so great, as could raise themselves so high as to be above the reach of troubles.

And that the choice part of mankind, that is, the first fruits of mankind, (which we call the Church,) which includes the head, the body, and members of the Church. For the head Christ, he took our flesh as it was subject to misery after the fall, and was, in regard of what he endured, both in life and death, a man of sorrows. For the body the Church, may say from first to last as in Psalm 129, “From my youth up they have afflicted me.” The Church begun in blood, hath grown up by blood, and shall end in blood, as it was redeemed by blood.

For the members, they are all predestinated to a conformity to Christ their Head, as in grace and glory, so in abasement, Rom. 8: 29. Neither is it a wonder for those who are born soldiers to meet with conflicts, and for travellers to meet with hard usage, for seamen to meet with storms, for strangers in a strange country, (especially amongst their enemies,) to meet with strange entertainment.

A Christian is a man of another world, and here from home, which he would forget (if he were not trained here), and would take his passage for his country. But though all Christians agree and meet in this, that through many afflictions we must enter into heaven. Acts 14: 22; yet according to the diversity of place, parts, and grace, there is a different cup measured to everyone. And therefore it is but a plea of the flesh, to ask to be without a cross. You have heard it said, “Never was poor creature distressed as I am”: this is but self-love. For every person in the church; both of head, body, and members, goes through distresses, as we see here in David, and wasn’t he a principal member in the body of believers? When he was brought to this case, he had to reason the matter within himself,

“Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me?”

From the frame of David’s spirit under these troubles, we may observe, that the case is the same with all God’s people, that we are all to be trained with troubles. We all feel them, often times, even to getting down and discouraged. And the reason is, all of us are flesh and blood, subject to the same passions, and made of the same mold, subject to the same impressions from without as other men; and our nature is upheld with the same supports and considerations as others, including the withdrawing of friendships and the needs and want which also affect others. And besides, those troubles we suffer in common with other men, by reason of our new advancement, and our new disposition we have in and from Christ our head, makes us feel more deeply in a peculiar way any of those troubles which touch upon our blessed condition, which from a new life we have in and from Christ.