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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Sibbes’

Over the last few months I’ve been very struck by a theme in the New Testament that I don’t think I’ve properly recognised before:

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:37)

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me (John 8:42)

If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him (John 14:23 cf. 14:15)

Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15 cf. v16, v17)

…what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor. 2:9)

If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. (1 Cor. 16:22)

Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. (Eph. 6:23)

Though you have not seen him, you love him (1 Peter 1:8)

I hold this against you: you have forsaken the love you had at first (Rev. 2:4)

The most wonderful gospel truth is not that we loved God but that God the Father loved us and gave his Son to be burnt up instead of us (1 John 4:10). And wonderfully, not only the Father, but Jesus himself loved us to death (Gal. 2:20) and loves us still (Rev. 1:5). Jesus loves me this I know…

But there is another, secondary truth which I fear I have downplayed in my concern to lift up the great gospel blessing of God’s love for us. That truth is that there must be a love for the Lord Jesus. Not a love for theology or a love for gospel ministry or a love for what Jesus brings with him, but a love for Jesus himself. This love is not mere emotion – there is an extremely common and tight connection drawn in Scripture between love and obedience – but neither can it be evacuated of feeling and affection. There is in love a desire for the presence of the other and a delight in the presence of the other (SoS 2:3,14; 3:1-2; 5:6-8; Psalm 27:4; 42:1-2). When my love has gone cold then there’s a big problem.

So I’m thinking this year…

How can I increase my love for Christ?

 

  1. Consider how far you have fallen (Rev. 2:5) – This will involve first looking through the spiritual wedding album, remembering the “devotion of your youth” (Jer. 2:2) and then acknowledging the slide – “followed worthless idols and became worthless” (Jer. 2:5) – the stupid double sin – “forsaken the spring of living water, and have dug cisterns, broken cisterns” (Jer. 2:13) – and the disgusting spiritual adultery of forgetting the Bridegroom, giving lip service and pretend-repentance while really loving and running after others (Jer. 2:20-3:10). I need to recognise the tragedy and outrage of this fallen and debased state. As Richard Sibbes puts it, I need”to be first sensible of spiritual wants and misery. The passover lamb was eaten with sour herbs; so Christ crucified, relisheth best to a soul affected with the bitterness of sin.” (Third Sermon on the Song of Songs).
  2. Repent (Rev. 2:5) – As Peter Mead has shown, repentance is a relational thing – it is a turn from God-hating and, crucially, a turn to God himself. In Jeremiah, amazingly, after horrific spiritual adultery, the LORD Bridegroom says:

    “‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord,
        ‘I will frown on you no longer,
    for I am faithful,’ declares the Lord,
        ‘I will not be angry forever.
    Only acknowledge your guilt—
        you have rebelled against the Lord your God,
    you have scattered your favors to foreign gods
        under every spreading tree,
        and have not obeyed me,’” declares the Lord.

    “Return, faithless people,” declares the Lord, “for I am your husband. (Jer. 3:12-14).
    So repentance will mean acknowledging/confessing my guilt and idolatry and adultery and returning to the incredibly forgiving, faithful-to-his-covenant Bridegroom.

  3. Behold Christ in the Word – “Do the things you did at first” (Rev. 2:5). What are those first things? Well it could include a lot (probably most of the points below) but the very first thing we did was to look to Christ. “Behold the Lamb of God!” To put it another way, the first thing we did was to hear the word of Christ (Eph. 1:13; 4:22; 5:14 Col. 1:6). To hear is to see (Gal. 3:1). “Show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely” (SoS 2:14). I need to search the Scriptures to see the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18; 4:6). I need to have that heart burning experience of the Emmaus road disciples as they saw Jesus not physically but in the (OT) Scriptures he opened to them (Luke 24). I need to dwell on awesome portraits of Christ like those in the Book of Revelation. I need to be dazzled by the Scripture pictures of Christ as creator, king, warrior, Holy One, radiance of the glory of God.  Before even considering God’s love towards us, God’s people “first see that God is lovely, and that Christ is excellent and glorious, and their hearts are first captivated with this view” (Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections).
  4. Savour his love – “your love is more delightful than wine.” (SoS 1:2). As Sibbes puts it, “love draws love” (First Sermon on the Song of Songs). This unconditional love which embraces the prodigal and the prostitute and the leper. This covenant love which unites me with the Son of God so that “My beloved is mine and I am his” (SoS 2:16). This sacrificial love with sweated in the garden and endured the searing pain of Godforsakenness. This love which actually, amazingly, genuinely desires and delights in the object of salvation (SoS 1:15; 4:1-14; 5:2; 7:1,10); which sees us as ‘lovely,’ ‘flawless,’ ‘overwhelming,’ ‘captivating’ (4:7; 5:2; 6:5; 7:5; 8:10) and actually wants to be with us for eternity (John 17:24). To the extent that we experience this extravagantly loving forgiving embrace, to that extent we love Christ (Luke 7:47). And we best come to experience this love corporately – “together with all the saints” (Eph. 3:18).
  5. Savour his name – “Your name is like perfume poured out. No wonder the young women love you!” (SoS 1:3) Notice the logic. The reason for the love is the fragrance of the Name. You know how you feel when the name of your best friend comes up in conversation. “The very naming of a good man casts a sweet savour” (Sibbes, First Sermon). How much more so of Christ. How sweet the name of Jesus sounds… As John Newton, that hymn’s author, explains, the ‘name’ stands for the whole person (Rev. 3:4,5). “The name of Christ includes the whole revelation concerning him, who he is, what he has done – all that we read of his love, his power and his offices make a part of his great and glorious name. The soul that is taught by the Word and Spirit of God to understand a little of these things receives such a sense of love and joy that the very sound of his name is sweeter than music to the ears, sweeter than honey to the taste.” (Newton, Sermon on SoS 1:3) So I would do well to return regularly, as many Scripture authors do, to the great declaration of the Name in Exodus 34:6-7. I would do well to delight in this character of our God as it is unfolded in the stories of Scripture. I would do well to meditate on the great ‘names’ of Christ in the Scriptures – The One Who Sees Me, The Shepherd, The Bridegroom, The Friend of Sinners, The Banquet, The Light of the World, The Life. And I would do well to listen most to the supreme declaration of the Name at the Cross. Newton again: “The precious vessel that contained this precious ointment was broken upon the Cross – the savour of his name, his love, his blood, poured out from every wound [in] his sacred body. See from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and love flow mingling down… When we desire a new savour of this ointment, let us turn our eyes, our thoughts to Golgotha. To behold him by faith as he hung bleeding and dying, with outstretched arms inviting our regards and saying, ‘See if any sorrow was like to my sorrow.'”
  6. Sit under Christ-ful preaching – “Everything that bears the name of preaching – if it does not diffuse the knowledge of this good ointment [the fragrance of the name of Christ] – is dry and tedious, unsavoury and unprofitable.” (Newton, Sermon of SoS 1:3). As Sibbes’ says, preachers, as the friend of the Bridegroom (John 3:28), are to “woo for Christ, and open the riches, beauty, honour and all that is lovely in him” (Sibbes, Second Sermon). Often I can’t, on my own, get my heart excited about Christ, but, in the company of God’s people, with a preacher opening the Scriptures and wooing for Christ, jabbing his finger in the Bible and saying “Look at this thing about Jesus; isn’t he amazing?!” – then I get excited about Jesus. And that seems to be the way God wants it to be.
  7. Partake in the Lord’s Supper – This is the other main, regular means of grace alongside the ministry of the Word, whereby I feed on Christ in my heart by faith with thanksgiving. This is where I’m reassured (as I recently read in a reformed confession I think) that as surely as the bread is pressed into my hand, so Christ has been given to me; as surely as I am receiving the wine, so surely Christ’s blood was shed for me and atones for all my sins. As Carl Trueman (if I remember rightly) describes it, just as in our marriage we live together and have a continual love relationship with our spouse but we still make special ‘dates’ where we can meet together and express our love for one another and grow in our love for one another and be reassured of our love for one another, so the Lord’s Supper is the time and place Christ has ordained as our ‘date’ where he promises to specially meet with us and reassure us of his love and inflame our love.
  8. Sing of Christ – As many have noticed through the ages, music and song have a special ability to express and inflame the affections. It is notable that the Song of Songs is… well a song! One of the best things for my soul is to be in the congregation of God’s people as we sing to one another and sing to God true words about Jesus. Let’s make the most of the songs that have been written down the ages and more recently that do what the Song of Songs does – address either ‘the friends’ or the Bridegroom and tell of His goodness. How sweet the name, When I survey, I stand amazed, There’s not a friend, Soon and very soon, Sovereign Grace, Emu
  9. Praise Christ – “We rejoice and delight in you; we praise your love more than wine.” (SoS 1:4) As C.S. Lewis would say, the latter (the praising) completes and increases the former (the rejoicing and delighting). As the beloved enumerates the specific, superlative, wonderful attributes of the Bridegroom (SoS 5:10-16) – her joy and love is increased. This works not only in prayer-praise and in song-praise but also in witnessing-praise to unbelievers. Have you ever had that joy of sharing with someone how wonderful Jesus is and as you do that you start thinking, Yes – this really is true – Jesus really is wonderful! Even if the other person wasn’t helped, I go away with a deeper appreciation of the good things I have in Christ (Philemon 6).
  10. Accept suffering as a means of refining love for Christ – God is sovereignly working to perfect us and the older authors (like Cranmer, Sibbes and Newton) recognise that much of that will be through the painful pruning of difficult circumstances. Through suffering he will work to loosen our grip on and weaken our affections for the passing things of this world that we might reach more for and rejoice more in Christ. What is required of us is an acceptance – a patient endurance (2 Cor. 1:6; Heb. 12:7) rather than an impatient rejection; a trust that this is a means of God inflaming my love for Christ.
  11. Be around people who love Jesus – I find this one of the most helpful ones. You’ll have noticed how the corporate, churchly dimension intersects almost all of the points so far. We grow in love for Christ among others who love Christ. As in the old illustration of a coal placed in the fire with glowing coals – the warmth and burning of others stirs me up to glow. To change the metaphor, the Proverbs speak of one man sharpening another. Often we think of this in terms of critical thinking but it is also true of love for Christ. Sibbes talks of “that which hinders the sharpness of the [spiritual appetite], that dull and flat the edge of it… and take away the savour and desire of heavenly things.” The evil and cold banality of the world and the company of those who have no interest in Christ dampens our love for Christ like a wet blanket. On the other hand the “company… of such as ‘labour for that blessed food that endures to life eternal’ provokes” us to a sharper appetite and greater feasting on Christ. I need this every day (Heb. 3:13) and especially need to make use of the Sabbath pattern to meet with God’s people and delight in him together.
  12. Pray – Perhaps this should be the first point. We need the Spirit of Conviction that we would see how far we have fallen. We need God himself to grant us repentance (Acts 3:26; 11:18). Otherwise, like the people in Jeremiah’s day we will not repent, we cannot repent (Jer. 13:23). We need the Spirit to remove the veil and open our eyes to the glory of God in the face of Christ in the pages of Scripture (2 Cor. 3-4). We need to pray that God would enlarge our hearts, give us new desires and new taste buds to crave and enjoy Christ. Sibbes notes from SoS 4:16 that unless the Spirit of God blows on us we do not even want to pray for more of Christ. So let us pray desperate prayers for greater love for Christ – come to his Word and come to church praying for our love to be inflames – knowing that even that desire to pray is a gracious gift and token of his love.

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“I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse” (Song of Songs 5:1)

Christ is our brother, and the church, and every particular true member thereof, is his sister… He became our brother by incarnation, for all our union is from the first union of two natures in one person. Christ became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, to make us spiritually bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh.

Therefore let us labour to be like to him, who for that purpose became like to us, Immanuel, God with us (Isa. 7:14 ); that we might be like him, and “partake of the divine nature,” (2 Pet. 1:4). Whom should we rather desire to be like than one so great, so gracious, so loving?

Again, “Christ was not ashamed to call us brethren,” (Heb. 2:11) nor abhorred the virgin’s womb,” to be shut up in those dark cells and straits; but took our base nature, when it was at the worst, and not only our nature, but our miserable condition and curse due unto us. Was he not ashamed of us? And shall we be ashamed to own him and his cause?

…Again, it is a point of comfort to know that we have a brother who is a favourite in heaven; who, though he abased himself for us, is yet Lord over all. Unless he had been our brother, he could not have been our husband; for husband and wife should be of one nature. That he might marry us, therefore, he came and took our nature, so to be fitted to fulfil the work of our redemption. But now he is in heaven, set down at the right hand of God: the true Joseph, the high steward of heaven; he hath all power committed unto him; he rules all. What a comfort is this to a poor soul that hath no friends in the world, that yet he hath a friend in heaven that will own him for his brother, in and through whom he may go to the throne of grace boldly and pour out his soul (Heb. 4:15-16).

[Richard Sibbes, Second Sermon on the Song of Songs]

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In this short but rich book, Mike Reeves raises the question ‘What is it that makes the Christian God distinct from any other god- say Allah?’ Our understanding of the Trinity is the key to unlocking this. This doctrine of Trinity has been neglected yet it is core to our Christian belief.

He says “What makes Christianity absolutely distinct is the identity of our God. Which God we worship: that is the article of faith that stands before all others. I can believe in every other aspect of the gospel but if I don’t believe in the triune God, then simply put, I am not a Christian.”

I couldn’t agree more! In our own context, most of us would say we are Christians and we believe in God yet we actually don’t know the God we believe in. If we are to think Christian then we are to start by thinking Trinity! The temptation for us is to sculpt God in our own assumptions; we think He is a single-person God yet the God of the Bible is clearly a triune God- Father, Son and Spirit.

It’s only a clear understanding of the Trinity that will help us not to fall into doctrinal errors such as Arianism: thinking of the Son as being less of the Father and that there was a time when He never existed… or the error of Modalism: we think of God as a single person who takes on different modes or moods- sometimes as Father, other times as Son and still other times as Spirit. The H2O analogy we use is particularly not helpful; “the Father all icy until you warm Him up then He turns into the watery Son, who then vaporizes and becomes the steamy Spirit when you really crank up the heat!!”

What then would be the best way to describe God? Can’t we just say that He is Almighty? Or the Creator? Well, all these are the right attributes of God but in and of themselves are not sufficient. Mike points out that the very first feature is that our God is the Father. This is the God that Jesus, the Son reveals to us. As a Father, He has loved His Son before the creation of the world (John 17:24). This God is love (1 John 4:8). “Before anything else, for all eternity, this God was loving, giving life and delighting in the Son.”

Now, this is some profound truth; that the Father is never without the Son- the Son is the eternal Son, there was never a time when He didn’t exist. The Father loves the Son, the Son is the beloved of the Father and then the Son goes out to be the lover and the head of the Church. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” the Son says (John 15:9).

 

baptismThe Father’s love for the Son is clearly seen at Jesus’ Baptism, the Spirit descends on Him like a dove and then we hear the Father’s voice “This is My Son whom I love; with Him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17). The Spirit stirs up the delight of the Father in the Son and the delight of the Son in the Father. In the very beginning, God creates by His Word (the Word that would later become flesh), and He does so by sending out His Word in the power of His Spirit or Breath.

John Calvin once wrote that if we try to think about God without thinking about the Father, Son and Spirit, then ‘only the bare and empty name of God flits about in our brains, to the exclusion of the true God.’

Functionally, this is how the Trinity operates:

  • In creation, we see the Father’s love overflowing. Richard Sibbes says, “It is not that God needed to create the world in order to satisfy Himself or become Himself… The Father, Son and Spirit ‘were happy in themselves, and enjoyed one another before the world was’. But the Father so enjoyed fellowship with His Son that He wanted to have the goodness of it spread out and communicated or shared with others. The creation was a free choice borne out of nothing but love.”
  • In Salvation, we see the Son sharing what is His. “No-one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side has made Him known.” (John 1:18) The triune God gives us His very self, for the Son is the Word of God; God doesn’t just tell us about Himself, He gives us Himself.
  • The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of life; He gives us new birth into new life. Not only that but He gives us Himself so that we might know and enjoy Him and so enjoy His fellowship with the Father and Son. The Spirit enlightens us to know the love of God by opening our eyes to see the glory of Christ. Thus, in the Christian life, we see the Spirit beautifying it. Though we are sinful creatures, the Spirit cultivates in us a deepening taste for Christ, the epitome of beauty, the Spirit polishes a new humanity who begin to shine with His likeness.

Our personal and relational God is such that the Son is distinct from the Father and yet is of the very being of the Father and is eternally one with Him in the Spirit.

The theologian Karl Barth wrote: “The tri-unity of God is the secret of His beauty. If we deny this, we at once have a God without radiance and without joy (and without humour!); a God without beauty. Losing the dignity and power of real divinity, He also loses His beauty. But if we keep to this… that the one God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we cannot escape the fact either in general or in detail that apart from anything else God is also beautiful.”

The question now remains: which God will we have? Which God will we proclaim?

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