Christ's Public TriumphRichard Sibbes (1577-1635) - One of the most eloquent and deep puritans.
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“Those that look to be happy must first look to be holy.”
The triumph of Jesus and of grace given to believers.
It is not only said that judgment shall be victorious, but that Christ will bring it forth openly to victory. From this we observe that grace will become glory, and come forth into the sight of all. Now Christ conquers, and achieves his own ends, but he does so to some extent invisibly. His enemies in us and outside us seem to prevail. But he will bring forth judgment unto victory, in full view of all. The wicked that now shut their eyes to this shall see it to their torment. It shall not be in the power of subtle men to see or not see what they wish. Christ will have power over their hearts; and as his wrath shall immediately seize upon their souls against their wills, so will he have power over the eyes of their souls, that they may see and know what will increase their misery. Grief shall be fastened to all their senses, and their senses to grief.
Then all the false glosses which they put upon things shall be wiped off. Men are desirous to have the reputation of good, and yet the sweetness of ill; nothing is so cordially opposed by them as that truth which lays them open to themselves and to the eyes of others, their chief care being how to deceive the world and their own consciences. But the time will come when they shall be driven out of this fools’ paradise, and the more subtle their manipulation of things has been, the more shall be their shame.
THE OPEN GLORY OF CHRIST IN HIS MEMBERS
Christ, whom God has chosen to set forth the chief glory of his excellencies, is now veiled in relation to his body the church, but he will come before long to be glorious in his saints (2 Thess. 1:10), and not lose the clear manifestation of any of his attributes. He will declare to all the world what he is, and then there shall be no glory but that of Christ and his spouse. Those that are as smoking flax now shall then shine as the sun in the firmament (Matt. 13:43), and their judgment shall be brought forth as the noonday (Psa. 37:6).
The image of God in Adam had a commanding majesty in it, so that all creatures reverenced him. Much more shall the image of God in its perfection command respect from all. Even now there is a secret awe put into the hearts of the greatest towards those in whom they see any grace to shine. So it was that Herod feared John the Baptist; but what will this be in the day of their bringing forth, which is called ‘the manifestation of the sons of God’ (Rom. 8:19)?
There will be more glorious times when the kingdoms of this world shall be the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ (Rev. I 1: 1 5), and he shall reign forever. Then shall judgment and truth have their victory. Then Christ will plead his own cause. Truth shall no longer be called heresy and schism, nor heresy catholic doctrine. Wickedness shall no longer go masked and disguised. Goodness shall appear in its own luster, and shine in its own beams. Things shall be what they are, ‘for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed’ (Matt. 10:26).
Iniquity shall not be carried on in a mystery any longer. Deep dissemblers that think to hide their counsels from the Lord shall walk no longer invisible as in the clouds. As Christ will not quench the least spark kindled by himself, so will he damp the fairest blaze of goodly appearances which are not from above.
FOLLOW SINCERITY AND TRUTH
If this were believed, men would make more account of sincerity, which alone will give us boldness, and not seek for covers for their shame, confidence in which, as it makes men now more presumptuous, so it will expose them hereafter to the greater shame.
If judgment shall be brought forth to victory, then those that have been ruled by their own deceitful hearts and a spirit of error shall be brought forth to disgrace. The God that has joined grace and truth with honor has joined sin and shame together at last. All the wit and power of man will never be able to sever what God has coupled together. Truth and piety may be trampled upon for a time, but as the two witnesses (Rev. 11:11), after they were slain, rose again, and stood upon their feet, so whatever is of God shall at length stand upon its own foundation. There shall be a resurrection, not only of bodies but of reputations. Can we think that he that threw the angels out of heaven will suffer dust and worms’ meat to run a contrary course, and to continue always so? No, as truly as Christ is ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’ (Rev. 19:16), so will he dash all those pieces of earth which rise up against him, ‘as a potter’s vessel’ (Psa. 2:9). Was there ever anyone fierce against God and prospered (Job 9:4)? No, doubtless the wrath of man shall turn to Christ’s praise (Psa. 76:10).What was said of Pharaoh shall be said of all heady enemies, who would rather lose their souls than their wills, that they are but raised up for Christ to get himself glory in their confusion.
Let us, then, take heed that we follow not the ways of those men whose ends we shall tremble at. There is not a more fearful judgment which can befall the nature of man than to be given up to a reprobate judgment of persons and things, because it comes under a woe: ‘Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil’ (Isa. 5:20).
How will those be laden with curses another day who abuse the judgment of others by sophistry and flattery, ‘deceiving and being deceived’ (2 Tim. 3:13)? Then the complaint of our first mother Eve will be taken up, but fruitlessly: ‘The serpent beguiled me’ (Gen. 3:13); Satan has deceived me in such and such; sin has deceived me; a foolish heart has deceived me. It is one of the highest points of wisdom to consider on what grounds we venture our souls. Happy men will they be who have, by Christ’s light, a right judgment of things, and suffer that judgment to prevail over their hearts.
The souls of most men are drowned in their senses, and carried away with weak opinions, raised from vulgar mistakes and shadows of things. And Satan is ready to enlarge the imagination of outward good and outward ill, and make it greater than it is, and spiritual things less, presenting them through false glasses. And so men, trusting in vanity, vanquish themselves in their own apprehensions. A woeful condition, when both we and that which we highly esteem shall vanish together. And this will be, as truly as Christ’s judgement will come to victory and in the measure that the vain heart of man has been enlarged to conceive a greater good in the things of this world than there is, by so much the soul shall be enlarged to be more aware of misery when it sees its error. This is the difference between a godly, wise man and a deluded worldling: that which the one now judges to be vain the other shall hereafter feel to be so when it is too late. But this is the vanity of our natures, that though we shun above all things to be deceived and mistaken in present things, yet in the greatest matters of all we are willingly ignorant and misled.
CHRIST ALONE ADVANCES THIS GOVERNMENT
A further conclusion is this: that this government is set up and advanced by Christ alone. He brings judgment to victory. We both fight and prevail ‘in the power of his might’ (Eph. 6:10). We overcome by the Spirit, obtained by ‘the blood of the Lamb’ (Rev. 12:11).
It is he alone who teaches our hands to war and our fingers to fight (Psa. 144:1). Nature, as corrupted, favors its own being, and will maintain itself against Christ’s government. Nature, simply considered, cannot raise itself above itself to actions which are spiritual and of a higher order and nature. Therefore the divine power of Christ is necessary to carry us above all our own strength, especially in duties in which we meet with greater opposition; for there, not only nature will fail us, but ordinary grace, unless there is a stronger and a new supply. In taking up a burden that is weightier than ordinary, if there is not a greater proportion of strength than weight, the one who undertakes it will lie under the burden; so for every strong encounter there must be a new supply of strength, as in the case of Peter, who, when He was assaulted with a stronger temptation, being not upheld and shored up with a mightier hand, notwithstanding former strength, foully fell (Matt. 26:69-74). And being fallen, in our rising up again, it is Christ that must do the work, by (1) removing, or (2) weakening, or (3) suspending opposite hindrances; and (4) by advancing the power of his grace in us, to a further degree than we had before we fell. Therefore when we have fallen, and by falls have been bruised, let us go to Christ immediately to bind us up again.
WE MUST NOT LOOK TO OURSELVES
Let us know, therefore, that it is dangerous to look for that from ourselves which we must have from Christ. Since the fall, all our strength lies in him, as Samson’s in his hair (Judg. 16:17). We are but subordinate agents, moving as we are moved, and working as we are first wrought upon, free in so far as we are freed, no wiser nor stronger than he makes us to be for the present in anything we undertake. It is his Spirit who actuates and enlivens, and applies that knowledge and strength we have, or else it fails and lies useless in us. We work when we work from a present strength; therefore dependent spirits are the wisest and the ablest. Nothing is stronger than humility, which goes out of itself, or weaker than ‘de, which rests on its own foundation. Frustra nititir qui non innititur (He strives in vain who is not dependent). And this should be particularly observed because naturally we aspire to a kind of divinity, in setting about actions in the strength of our own abilities; whereas Christ says, ‘Without me ye’, the apostles, who were in a state of grace, ‘can do nothing’ (John 15:5). He does not say, you can do a little, but nothing. Of ourselves, how easily are we overcome! How weak we are to resist! We are as reeds shaken with every wind. We shake at the very noise and thought of poverty, disgrace or losses. We give in immediately. We have no power over our eyes, tongues, thoughts or affections, but let sin pass in and out. How soon we are overcome by evil, whereas we should overcome evil with good. How many good purposes stick in the birth, and have no strength to come forth—all which shows that we are nothing without the Spirit of Christ. We see how weak the apostles themselves were, till they were endued with strength from above. Peter was blasted with the speech of a damsel (Matt. 20:69), but after the Spirit of Christ fell upon them, the more they suffered, the more they were encouraged to suffer. Their comforts grew with their troubles. Therefore in all, especially difficult encounters, let us lift up our hearts to Christ, who has Spirit enough for us all, in all our exigencies, and say with good Jehoshaphat, ‘We have no might…neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon thee’ (2 Chron. 20:12); the battle we fight is thine, and the strength whereby we fight must be thine. If thou goest not out with us, we are sure to be foiled. Satan knows that nothing can prevail against Christ, or those that rely upon his power. Therefore his study is how to keep us in ourselves, and in the creature. But we must carry this always in our minds, that that which is begun in self-confidence ends in shame.
CHRIST MAKES US FEEL OUR DEPENDENCE
The manner of Christ’s bringing forth judgment to victory is by letting us see a necessity of dependence on him. Hence proceed those spiritual desertions in which he often leaves us to ourselves, in regard to both grace and comfort, that we may know the spring-head of these to be outside ourselves. Hence it is that in the mount, that is, in extremities, God is most seen (Gen. 22:14). Hence it is that we are saved by the grace of faith which carries us out of ourselves to rely upon another; and faith works best alone, when it has least outward support. Hence it is that we often fail in lesser conflicts and stand firm in greater, because in the lesser we rest more in ourselves, in the greater we fly to the rock of our salvation, which is higher than we (Psa. 61:2). Hence also it is that we are stronger after defeats, because hidden corruption, undiscerned before, is now discovered, and thence we are brought to make use of mercy pardoning and power supporting.
One main reason for this dispensation is that we should know it is Christ that gives both the will and the deed, and that as a voluntary work according to his own good pleasure. And therefore we should work out our salvation in a jealous fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12), lest by irreverent and presumptuous conduct we give him cause to suspend his gracious influence and leave us to the darkness of our own hearts.
THE TRIUMPH OF GRACE
Those that are under Christ’s government have the spirit of revelation, whereby they see and feel a divine power sweetly and strongly enabling them to preserve faith when they feel the contrary, and hope in a state which is hopeless, and love to God under signs of his displeasure, and heavenly-mindedness in the midst of worldly affairs and allurements which draw a contrary way. They feel a power preserving patience, nay joy, in the midst of causes of mourning, inward peace in the midst of assaults. Whence is it that, when assaulted with temptation and compassed with troubles, we have stood firm, but from a secret strength upholding us? To make so little grace so victorious over so great a mass of corruption, this requires a spirit more than human. This is like preserving fire in the sea, and a part of heaven even, as it were, in hell. Here we know where to obtain this power, and to whom to return the praise of it. And it is our happiness that it is so safely hid in Christ for us, in one so near to God and us. Since the fall, God will not trust us with our own salvation, but it is both purchased and kept by Christ for us, and we for it through faith, wrought by the power of God, which we lay hold of. This power is gloriously set forth by Paul: it is (1) a great power; (2) an exceeding power; (3) a working and a mighty power; (4) such a power as was wrought in raising Christ from the dead (Eph. 1: 19-20). That grace which is but a persuasive offer and in our power to receive or refuse is not the grace which brings us to heaven. But God’s people feel a powerful work of the Spirit, not only revealing to us our misery and deliverance through Christ, but emptying us of ourselves, as being redeemed from ourselves, and infusing new life into us, and afterwards strengthening us and quickening us when we droop and hang the wing, never leaving us till the conquest is perfect.