Welcome to a year of reading Richard Sibbes together! The reading plan for the entire year can be accessed here. I encourage you to stick with us, allow yourself time to read, and soak in the riches of this gifted and prolific Puritan preacher. You will be edified and encouraged.
If you have trouble with how Sibbes used words, check out the Lexicons of Early Modern English for definitions from the period.
Do you remember what it was like when you first believed in Christ? Think for a minute. Take a break and remember.
Did you have that seemingly insatiable thirst to read the Word of God? Was there a desire to worship with other believers that caused a reprioritization of how you spend your Sundays? Many of us had a zeal for evangelism and our friends and family heard the gospel whether they liked it or not, as the realization of salvation from judgment was fresh in our hearts. The inward realization of our sinfulness before a holy God weighed heavy on our hearts, almost to the point of breaking, until the gravity altering reality of salvation by faith through grace made us lighter than air.
Do you remember that first plunge of faith? For me, it was as though I stood at the door of an airplane, parachute strapped to my back, ready to plunge to what felt like death, because of the promise of life held before me by Christ. The Holy Spirit gave me courage, nudged me out of that plane, and sent me flying. I came to know the Law commanded I fly while knowing I was incapable. The Gospel however.. oh the Gospel!
John Bunyan is attributed as saying;
“Run, John, run, the law commands
But gives us neither feet nor hands,
Far better news the Gospel brings:
It bids us fly and gives us wings!”
Application / Further Discussion
Somewhere along the path of faith many of us can lose that initial burning zeal for God. This is not necessarily a deficiency. When I start a fire in the fireplace, I use news paper, or maybe even some heart wood from a pine. The flames build quickly, burning high and bright and covering the logs I have placed. For a time. Eventually the logs catch and the flames die down a bit, settling in to a slow burn. A bed of coals form, giving off much warmth even though the fire is not as bright as when first kindled.
This is, in many ways, a parable of faith. We come to Christ and burn with zeal and appreciation for what He has done. As we mature, if we are in fact maturing, the zeal is perhaps tempered by virtue, knowledge, and self-control. (2 Peter 1:5-11) The zeal is not lost, it is directed, shaped, and formed with specific purpose. However, it can feel as though we have lost something, and perhaps some of us have lost something if we doubt our assurance.
When we take that plunge we don’t know what assurance is. We take a step for paths unknown because we can no longer bear to be where we’ve always been. As we walk this path, we become assured that He who promised is faithful, (Hebrews 10:23) and are given strength to walk through deep valleys in darkest night. Yet, we can begin to lose that assurance through temptations surrendered to and sins committed.
Despite our doubts, our careless sins and deceitful hearts, Christ is indeed faithful. The Holy Spirit has sealed us until such time as he breaks that seal. We did not save ourselves, which you may roll your eyes at yet another Gospel “platitude,” yet this is truth you must press in to your soul. You did not choose your salvation, God did. God elected you if you are saved. (Read all of Romans 9) God acts, regenerates, calls, and provides the faith with which we respond.
“There is no action that God works upon the soul, but there is a reflect action by the Spirit to God again. If God choose and love us, we choose and love him again. God appropriates us first. We are his and we are Christ’s. We are God’s because he hath given Christ for us. We are Christ’s, because he hath given himself for us.” (Emphasis mine)
Why am I pointing out election and monergistic salvation here? Simply this, if your salvation depends on your intelligence to grasp and understand the Gospel and your will to respond, what assurance do you have at all that you have 1) gotten it right and 2) that you can hold on to it? You don’t have any assurance of either.
“God will not suffer the spirit of his children to fail.”
My assurance rests on the promises of God and not myself. I rest on God because he is faithful and I am not. I boldly come before the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16) by virtue of the blood of Christ shed for me 2000 years ago. Our souls would be fearful at times, but friends, there is no time for fear. God gave you in Christ a salvation that is eternal. It is never referred to as temporary nor spoken of as something that can be lost.
So then, fellow adventurers on the Way of life, step out of the shadows into his marvelous light. Sibbes encourages us, “No opposition shall prevail.” We walk a path already traveled by Jesus Christ. We are empowered to do so by the sealing of the Holy Spirit who has drawn us out of darkness and shame. We walk this path to the glory of God, striving for all holiness and virtue. We walk because we are promised the ending is sure, the warmth of Heaven awaits, and the joy inexpressible of eternity with God (Face to face!) awaits. Do not be timid therefore, but stride boldly in the grace of God, seeking his glory and honor in all things.
“The poor soul oftentimes out of the deep, cries, and in the dark, trusts in God; and this is the bold adventure of faith.”
Last week, we read Part 1 of A Fountain Sealed.
Next week, we finish our year together with A Fountain Opened.