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A Glance of Heaven

Richard 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 believer’s view of heaven through Jesus Christ.

“But, as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” 1 Cor. 2:9.

The holy apostle St Paul, the trumpet of the gospel, ‘the vessel of election,’ was ordained to be a messenger of reconciliation, and to spread the sweet savour of the gospel everywhere. And answerably to his calling, he makes way for the excellency of his embassage into the hearts of those he had to deal with. This he doth by the commendation of his function. And that he might the better prevail, he removes all objections to the contrary. There were some that would debase his office, saying that the gospel he taught – Christ crucified – was no such great matter. Therefore, in the 6th verse of this chapter, he shews that the gospel ‘is wisdom, and that among them that are perfect;’ among the best and ablest to judge. St Paul did not build, as the papists do now, upon the blindness of the people. But it were not Popery if they did not infatuate the people. St Paul saith to this effect: – We dare appeal to those that are the best, and of the best judgement, let them judge whether it be wisdom or no; the more perfect men are, the more able they are to judge of our wisdom.

It might be objected again, You see who cares for your wisdom, neither Herod, nor Pilate, nor the great men and potentates, the scribes and Pharisees, great, learned men, and withal men of innocent lives, notable for carriage. Therefore, saith he, ‘We speak not the wisdom of this world, or the princes of this world, that come to nought.’ Do not tell us of such men’s wisdom, they and their wisdom will come to nought too. We teach wisdom of things that are eternal, to make men eternal. As for the princes of the world, they and all that they know, their thoughts and all their plots and devices, perish. But ‘we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery;’ that is, the wisdom of God’s revealing, a deep wisdom, a mystery that ‘God ordained before the world;’ ancient wisdom, not a yesterday’s knowledge, though lately discovered. The preaching of the gospel is the discovery of that wisdom that was hidden before the world was.

And to invite you, and make you more in love with it, it is a wisdom ‘to your glory.’ God hath a delight to show himself wise in devising a plot to glorify poor wretched man…

…The things here spoken of be especially the graces, and comforts, and privileges to be enjoyed in this life, and the consummation and perfection of them in heaven. Christ brings peace and joy, justification and sanctification, and the like; even in this life. The perfection of these is in heaven, where the soul and the body shall be both glorified, in a glorious place, together with glorious company; the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, innumerable angels and just men. These are those things that ‘eye hath not seen,’ &c.; the beginnings here, and the perfection and consummation of them hereafter. Having thus far unfolded the words, I come to the points considerable.

Doct. First, God hath a company of beloved children in the world, that he means a special good unto.

The second, God hath prepared great matters for them.

1. If great persons prepare great things for those whom they greatly affect [love, choose], shall we not think that the great God will prepare great things for those that he hath affection to, and that have affection to him? If God be a friend to the elect, and they be his friends, surely he will answer friendship to the utmost. Answerable to the great love he bears his children, he hath provided great things for them.

If that be excellent that is long in preparing, then those things which belong to God’s children must needs be excellent; for they were preparing even before the world was. Solomon’s temple was an excellent fabric; it had long preparation, I Chron. xxii. 5. Ahasuerus made a feast to a hundred and twenty-seven provinces, Esther i. 1, seq. It was long in preparing. Great things have great preparation. Now these things that God intends his children have been preparing even from everlasting; and they are from everlasting to everlasting. They must needs be excellent. But before I dwell on any particular point, here is a question to be answered.

Quest. If the things that God hath prepared for his children be secret and excellent, how then come we to know them at all?

We come to know them (1.) By divine revelation. God must reveal them first, as it is in the next verse, ‘God hath revealed them by his Spirit.’

The Spirit reveals them by way of negation, and indefinitely; as also by way of eminence. Whatsoever is excellent in the world, God borrows it to set out the excellency of the things that he hath provided for his children in grace and glory.

A feast is a comfortable thing. They are called a feast. A kingdom is a glorious thing. Marriage is a sweet thing. They are set forth by that; by an inheritance; and adoption of children, and such like. So that all these things are taken to be shadows of those things. And indeed they are but shadows; the reality is the heavenly kingdom of grace and glory, the heavenly riches, the heavenly inheritance, the heavenly sonship. When all these things vanish and come to nothing, then comes in the true kingdom, sonship, and inheritance.

Again (2.) We know them in this world by way of taste. For the things of the life to come there are few of them but God’s children have some experimental taste of them in this world. God reserves not all for the life to come, but he gives a grape of Canaan in this wilderness.

(3.) Thirdly, by arguing from the less to the greater. If peace of conscience be so sweet here, what is eternal peace! If a little joy here be so pleasant and comfortable that it makes us forget ourselves, what will be that eternal joy there! If the delights of a kingdom be such that they fill men’s hearts so full of contentment that ofttimes they know not themselves, what shall we think of that excellent kingdom! So by way of taste and relish we may rise from these petty things to those excellent things, which indeed are scarce a beam, scarce a drop of those excellencies.

If Peter and John, when they were in the mountain, were not their own men, – when they saw but a glimpse, but a little glory of Christ manifested in the mount, Mat. ix. 6, – what shall we think when there is the fulness of that glorious revelation at the right hand of God, where there is ‘fulness of pleasures forever’? Ps. xvi. 11. How shall our souls be filled at that time! Thus by way of rising from the lesser to the greater, by tasting, feeling, and by divine revelation, we may know in some measure the excellency of those things prepared for us. …

… Use 2. Then again, if the things that we have in the Gospel be such divine truths, above nature altogether, then we must not stand to look for reason too much, nor trust the reason or wit of any man, but divine authority especially. For if divine authority cease in the gospel, what were it? Nothing.

The Church of Rome, that is possessed with a spirit of pride and ignorance and tyranny, they will force knowledge on them that be under them from their sole authorities. The church saith so, and we are the church; and it is not for you to know, &c., and Scriptures are so and so. But is the Gospel a supernatural mystery above the capacity of any man? and shall we build upon the authority of the church for these truths? Oh, no! There must be no forcing of evangelical truths from the authority or parts of any man. But these are not things that we stand in so much need of. Therefore I hasten to that which is more useful. ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard,’ &c.

Use 3. Here then we have an use of direction how to carry ourselves in reading and studying holy truths; especially the sacred mysteries of the gospel. How shall we study them? We think to break into them with the engine of our wit, and to understand them, and never come to God for his Spirit. God will curse such proud attempts. ‘Who knows the things of man, but the spirit of a man? and who knows the things of God, but the Spirit of God?’ Therefore in studying the gospel, let us come with a spirit of faith, and a spirit of humility and meekness. There is no breaking into these things with the strength of parts [natural abilities]. That hath been the ground of so many heresies as have been in the church. Only Christ ‘hath the key of David, that shutteth, and no man openeth; and openeth, and no man shutteth,’ Rev. iii. 7. He hath the key of the Scripture, and the key to open the understanding. And to press this point a little. If ‘eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath entered into the heart of man to conceive, the things of the gospel,’ without the revelation of the Spirit, then we must come with this mind when we come to hear the things of the gospel. Lord, without thy Holy Spirit they are all as a clasped book; they are hidden mysteries to me, though they be revealed in the gospel. If my heart be shut to them, they are all hidden to me.

We see men of excellent parts are enemies to that they teach themselves, opposing the power of the gospel. Whence is all this? Because they think only the opening of these things makes them divines, whereas without the Holy Ghost sanctifying and altering the heart in some measure to taste and relish these things, that as they are divine in themselves, so to have somewhat divine in the heart to taste these things, it is impossible but that the heart should rise against them; and so it doth. For when it comes to particulars, you must deny yourself in this honour, in this pleasure, and commodity; now you must venture the displeasure of man for this and that truth. The heart riseth in scorn and loathing of divine truth. When it comes to particulars they know nothing as they should. For when is truth known, but when in particulars we stand for it; and will neither betray it nor do anything that doth not benefit [befit?] a Christian? If we have not the Spirit of God to relish truths in particular, they will do us no good. And except the Spirit sanctify the heart of man first by these truths, the truth will never be understood by the proud natural heart of man.

Therefore the course that God takes with his children is this. Those that he means to save, he first inspires into their hearts some desire to come to hear and attend upon the means of salvation, to understand the gospel; and then under the means of salvation he shines into the understanding by a heavenly light, and inspires into the will and affections some heavenly inclination to this truth of the gospel, to justification, sanctification, self-denial, and the like, and works a new life; and new senses, and upon them, wrought under the means, comes the soul to relish, and to understand these mysteries; and then the ears and the eyes are open to see these things, and never before. A holy man, that hath his heart subdued by the Spirit of God in the use of these means, oh he relisheth the point of forgiveness of sins; he relisheth the point of sanctification; he studies it daily more and more, and nearer communion with God; he relisheth peace of conscience and joy in the Holy Ghost; they are sweet things, and all the duties of Christianity, because he makes it his main business to adorn his profession; and to live here, so as he may live for ever hereafter. And this must be of necessity; for mark out of the text: if the natural eye and ear and heart can never see nor hear, nor conceive the things of God, must there not be a supernatural ear and eye and heart put into the soul? Must not the heart and all be new-moulded again? If the former frame be not sufficient for these things, of necessity it must be so.

Use 4. From hence learn to arm yourselves against all scandals [stumbling-blocks]. When ye see men of all parts and account, and such there may be, men of deep apprehensions and understanding in the Scripture exquisite, and yet to be proud, malicious, haters of sanctity, next to devils, none greater, consider what is the reason. Either they have proud spirits that despise and neglect the means of salvation altogether; or if they do come, they come as judges; they will not submit their proud hearts to the sweet motions of the Spirit. Stumble not at it, if such men be both enemies to that they teach themselves, and those that practise it. The reason is, because their proud hearts were never subdued by the Spirit to understand the things they speak of. For such a teacher understands supernatural things by a natural light, and by human reason; that is, to talk, and discourse, &c., but he sees not supernatural things by a supernatural light, divine things by a divine light. Therefore a poor soul that hears the things published by him, understands them better by the help of the Spirit than he that speaks them; better indeed for his use and comfort. As we see, there are some that can measure land exactly; but the man that owneth the land measured, he knows the use of the ground and delights in it as his own. The other can tell, here is so much ground, &c. So some divines, they can tell there are such points, and so they are raised; and they can be exquisite in this; but what profit have they by it?

The poor soul that hears these things, by the help of the Spirit he can say, These are mine, as the man for whom the ground is measured. As it is with those that come to a feast, the physician comes and says, This is wholesome and good, and this is good for this and that, but eats nothing. Others that know not these things, they eat the meat, and are nourished in the mean time. So when such men discourse of this and that, a poor man that hath the Spirit, he relisheth these things as his own. The other goes away, only discourseth as a philosopher of the meat, and eats nothing.

And therefore when you read and hear these things, content not yourselves with the first degree of revelation. No; that is not enough. When you have done that, desire of God to join his Spirit, to give you spiritual eyes and hearts, that you may close with divine truths, and be divine as the truths are; that there may be a consent of the heart with the truth. Then the word of God will be sweet indeed.

Taken from “The Works of Richard Sibbes,” published by Banner of Truth, 1979. Vol. iv, pp. 155, 157, 159-161.

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