In Spite of Ourselves…

January 30, 2011

Christian Life, Meditation

Diary:  Goats have odd eyes.  Piercing, indifferent, detached.  The horns only add to their cynical demeanor.  So this one goat is staring at me.  I stopped the car because he wouldn’t move.  Yellow lines and my car’s grill are at one time reflected by its steely glare.  He’s sizing me up and playing it cool.  But, something was different.  Its companions (or rather, fellow jailbreakers), off to the side, were almost jovial, quizzically amused by the situation.  Like friends at a coffee house sipping java and musing over their cohort’s latest social predicament, these goats were chewing the cud and wondering how Billy was going to get out of this one.  Feeling peer pressure, the situation began to get the better of Billy.  First a turn to the left, then the right, then a baahhhh and a tail wag and he knew the only way to save face was to save his hide.  No sense in trying to butt his way out of this situation.  So off he went, looking more like a sheep than a goat.

So much for perceived personifications.  So much for putting myself in the goat’s hoofs.  Of course, this goat didn’t know he had a reputation to live up to.  He didn’t know he had the driver’s life experiences to overcome.  In reality there was no peer pressure.  In some ways maybe he’s smarter than the driver that stalled his car.  Billy had a good sense of his limitations; and he never has had a sense of falling short.

Musings:  I was re-reading through some of Richard Sibbes book “The Bruised Reed” recently.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Richard Sibbes, he was a 17th century pastor, author, and scholar par excellence.  The book is based on the passage in Isaiah that says that the messiah won’t break a bruised reed or quench a smoking flax.  References to those with faith challenges; Christ will be gentle with us; He will see us through until the completion of our sanctification; He won’t ever give up on us as Christians.  Soothing concepts, indeed, for those of us still in our bodies and groaning under the weight of a sin nature,…which is all of us.

Pastors of his era were typically very engaged with the people under their charge.  Sibbes was no exception.  He had a depth of perspective and a way of offering practical comfort to those who are struggling.  Below is a passage from chapter seven, Help for the Weak:

…let me add something to help [Christian] over some few ordinary objections and secret thoughts against themselves which, getting within the heart, oftentimes keep them low.

Temptations which hinder comfort

1. Some think they have no faith at all because they have no full assurance, whereas the fairest fire that can be will have some smoke.  The best actions will smell fo the smoke.  The mortar where in garlic has been stamped will always smell of it; so all our actions will savour something of the old man.

2. In weakness of body some think grace dies, because their performances are feeble, their spirits, which are the instruments of their souls’ actions, being weakened.  But they do not consider that God regards the hidden sighs of those that lack abilities to express them outwardly.  He that pronounces those blessed that consider the poor will have a merciful consideration of such himself.

3. Some again are haunted with hideous representations to their imaginations, and with vile and unworthy thoughts of God, of Christ, of the Word, which, as busy flies, disquiet and molest their peace.  These are cast in like wildfire by Satan, as may be discerned by the strangeness, the strength and violence, and the horribleness of them even to corrupt nature.  A pious soul is no more guilty of them than Benjamin was when Joseph’s cup was put into his sack.  Among other helps recommended by godly writers, such as detestation of them and diversion from them to other things, let this be one, to complain to Christ against them, and to fly under the wings of his protection, and to desire him to take our part against his and our enemy.  Shall every sin and blasphemy of man be forgiven, and not these blasphemous thoughts, which have the devil for their father, when Christ himself was molested in this way so that he might succour all poor souls in this condition?

But there is a difference between Christ and us in this case.  Because Satan had nothing of his own in christ his suggestions left no impression at all in his holy nature, but, as sparks falling into the sea, were presently quenched.  satan’s temptations of Christ were only suggestions on Satan’s part, and apprehensions of the vileness of them on Christ’s part.  To apprehend ill suggested by another is not ill.  It was Christ’s grievance, but Satan’s sin.  But thus he yielded himself to be tempted, that he might both pity us in our conflicts, and train us up to manage our spiritual weapons as he did.  Christ could have overcome him by power, but he did it by argument.  But when Satan comes to us, he finds something of his own in us, which holds correspondence and has intelligence with him.  There is the same enmity in our nature to god and goodness, in some degree, that is in Satan himself.  Therefore this temptation fasten, for the most part,some taint upon us.  And if there were no devil to suggest, yet sinful thoughts would arise from within us, though none were cast in from without.  We have a mint of them within.  These thoughts, if the soul dwell on them so long as to suck or draw from and by guilt upon the soul, hinder our sweet communion with God, interrupt our peace, and put a contrary relish into the soul,disposing it to greater sins.  All scandalous actions are only thoughts at the first.  Ill thoughts are as little thieves, which, creeping in at the window, open the door to greater.  Thought are seeds of actions.  These, especially when they are helped forward by Satan, make the life of many good Christians almost a martyrdom.  In this case it is an unsound comfort that some minister, that ill thoughts arise from nature, and that is natural is excusable.  We must know that nature, as it came out of god’s hands in the beginning, had no such risings out of it.  The soul, as inspired of god, had no such unsavoury breathings.  But since it betrayed itself by sin it is, in some sort, natural to it to forge sinful imaginations, and to be a furnace of such sparks.  And this is an aggravation of the sinfulness of natural corruption, that it is so deeply rooted and so generally spread in our nature.

…Our chief comfort is that our blessed Saviour, as he bade satan depart from him, after he had given way awhile to his insolence, so he will command him to be gone from us, when it shall be good for us.  He must be gone at a word.  And Christ can and will likewise, in his own time, rebuke the rebellious and extravagant stirrings of our hearts and bring all the thoughts of the inner man into subjection to himself.

4. Some think, when they become more troubled with the smoke of corruption than they were before, therefore they are worse than they were.  It is true that corruptions appear now more than before, but they are less.  For, first, the more sin is seen, the more it is hated, and therefore it is less.  Dust particles are in a room before the sun shines, but they only appear then.  Secondly, the nearer contraries are one to another, the sharper is the conflict between them.  Now, of all enemies the spirit and the flesh are nearest one to another, being both in the soul of a regenerate man, in the faculties of the soul, and in every action that springs from those faculties, and in every action that springs from those faculties, and therefore it is no marvel that the soul, the seat of this battle, thus divided within itself, is as smoking flax.  Thirdly, the more grace, the more spiritual life, and the more spiritual life, the more antipathy to the contrary.  Therefore none are so aware of corruption as those whose souls are most alive.

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