by Richard Sibbes
§ I. But because we are subject to favour, and flatter ourselves, it is wisdom to take the benefit of a second self, that is, a well chosen friend, living or dead, books I mean, which will speak truly, without flattery, of our estates. 'A friend is made for the time of adversity,' Prov. 17:17; and two are better than one, Eccl. 4:9, for, by this means, our troubles are divided, and so more easily borne. The very presence of a true-hearted friend yields often ease to our grief. Of all friends, those that by office are to speak a word to a weary soul are most to be regarded, as speaking to us in Christ's stead. Oftentimes, especially in our own case, we are blinded and benighted with passion, and then the judgment of a friend is clearer. Loving friends have a threefold privilege: 1, Their advice is suitable, and fit to our present occasion, they can meet with our grievance, so cannot books so well; 2, What comes from a living friend, comes lively, as helped by his Spirit; 3, In regard of ourselves, what they say is apprehended with more ease, and less plodding and bent of mind. There is scarce anything wherein we see God more in favour towards us, than in our friends, and their seasonable speeches, our hearts being naturally very false and willingly deceived. God often gives us up to be misled by men, not according to his, but our own naughty hearts. As men are, so are their counsellors, for such they will have, and such God lets them have. Men, whose wills are stronger than their wits, who are wedded to their own ways, are more pleased to hear that which complies with their inclinations, than a harsh truth which crosses them. This presages ruin, because they are not counselable. Wherefore God suffers them to be led through a fool's paradise to a true prison, as men that will neither hear themselves nor others who would do them good against their wills. It was a sign God would destroy Eli's sons when they would hear no counsel, 1 Sam. 2:25. God fills such men with their own ways, Prov. 14:14. Men in great place, often in the abundance of all things else, want the benefit of a true friend, Ideo amicus deest quia nihil deest, because, under pretence of service of them, men carry their own ends. As great men* flatter themselves, so they are flattered by others, and so robbed of the true judgment of themselves. Of all spiritual judgments this is the heaviest, for men to be given up to such a measure of self-willness, and to refuse spiritual balm to heal them. Usually such 'perish without remedy,' Prov. 29:1, because to be wilfully miserable is to be doubly miserable, for it adds to our misery, that we brought it willingly upon ourselves.
It is a course that will have a blessing attending it, for friends to join in league, one to watch over another, and observe each other's ways. It is a usual course for Christians to join together in other holy duties, as hearing, receiving of the sacrament, prayer, &c.; but this fruit of holy communion which ariseth from a mutual observing one another is much wanting. Whence it is that so many droop, so many are so uncheerful in the ways of God, and lie groaning under the burden of many cares, and are battered with so many temptations, &c., because they are left only to their own spirits. What an unworthy thing is it that we should pity a beast overloaden, and yet take no pity of a brother! (f) whereas there is no living member of Christ but hath spiritual love infused into him and some ability to comfort others. Dead stones in an arch uphold one another, and shall not living? It is the work of an angel to comfort; nay, it is the office of the Holy Ghost to be a Comforter, not only immediately, but by breathing comfort into our hearts, together with the comfortable words of others. Thus one friend becomes an angel, nay, a god, to another. And there is a sweet sight of God in the face of a friend; for though the comfort given by God's messengers be ordinarily most effectual, as the blessing of parents, who are in God's room, is more effectual than the blessing of others upon their children, yet God hath promised a blessing to the offices of communion of saints performed by one private man towards another. Can we have a greater encouragement than, under God, to be gainer of a soul, which is as much in God's esteem as if we should gain a world? Spiritual alms are the best alms. Mercy shewed to the souls of men is the greatest mercy, and wisdom in winning of souls is the greatest wisdom in the world, because the soul is especially the man, upon the goodness of which the happiness of the whole man depends. What shining and flourishing Christians should we have if these duties were performed! As we have a portion in the communion of saints, so we should labour to have humility to take good, and wisdom and love to do good. A Christian should have feeding lips and a healing tongue. The leaves, the very words, of the tree of righteousness have a curing virtue in them.
Some will shew a great deal of humanity in comforting others, but little Christianity; for as kind men they will utter some cheerful words, but as Christians they want wisdom from above to speak a gracious word in season, Isa. 1:4, 2 Tim. 4:2. Nay, some there are who hinder the saving working of any affliction upon the hearts of others by unseasonable and unsavoury discourses, either by suggesting false remedies, or else diverting men to false contentments, and so become spiritual traitors rather than friends, taking part with their worst enemies, their lusts and wills. Happy is he that in his way to heaven meeteth with a cheerful and skilful guide and fellow-traveller, that carrieth cordials with him against all faintings of spirit. It is a part of our wisdom to salvation to make choice of such a one as may further us in our way. An indifferency for any company shews a dead heart. Where the life of grace is, it is sensible of all advantages and disadvantages. How many have been refreshed by one short, apt, savoury speech, which hath begotten, as it were, new spirits in them.
In ancient times, as we see in the story of Job, chap. 2:12, it was the custom of friends to meet together to comfort those that were in misery, and Job takes it for granted, that 'to him that is afflicted pity should be shewed from his friends,' chap. 6:14. For besides the presence of a friend, which hath some influence of comfort in it, 1. The discovery of his loving affection hath a cherishing sweetness in it. 2. The expression of love in real comforts and services, by supplying any outward want of the party troubled, prevails much. Thus Christ made way for his comforts to the souls of men by shewing outward kindness to their bodies. Love, with the sensible fruits of it, prepareth for any wholesome counsel. 3. After this, wholesome words carry a special cordial virtue with them, especially when the Spirit of God in the affectionate speaker joins with the word of comfort, and thereby closeth with the heart of a troubled patient. When all these concentre and meet together in one, then is comfort sealed up to the soul. The child in Elizabeth's womb sprang at the presence and salutation of Mary, Luke 1:41. The speech of one hearty friend cannot but revive the spirits of another. Sympathy hath a strange force, as we see in the strings of an instrument, which being played upon, as they say, the strings of another instrument are also moved with it. After love hath once kindled love, then the heart, being melted, is fit to receive any impression. Unless both pieces of the iron be red hot, they will not join together. Two spirits warmed with the same heat will easily solder together.
§ II. In him that shall stay the mind of another there had need to be an excellent temper of many graces, as, 1. Knowledge of the grievance, together with wisdom to speak a word in season, and to conceal that which may set the cure backwards. 2. Faithfulness with liberty, not to conceal anything which may be for his good, though against present liking. The very life and soul of friendship stands in freedom, tempered with wisdom and faithfulness. 3. Love with compassion and patience to bear all, and hope all, and not to be easily provoked by the waywardness of him we deal with. Short-spirited men are not the best comforters. God himself is said to 'bear with the manners of his people in the wilderness,' Acts 13:18. It is one thing to bear with a wise sweet moderation that which may be borne, and another thing to allow or approve that which is not to be approved at all, Non est idem ferre, si quid ferendum non est, et probare si quid probandum non est. Where these graces are in the speaker, and apprehended so to be by the person distempered, his heart will soon embrace whatsoever shall be spoken to rectify his judgment or affection. A good conceit of the spirit of the speaker is of as much force to prevail as his words. Words especially prevail, when they are uttered more from the bowels than the brain, and from our own experience, which made even Christ himself a more compassionate High Priest. When men come to themselves again they will be the deepest censurers of their own miscarriage.
§ III. Moreover to the right comforting of an afflicted person, special care must be had of discerning the true ground of his grievance; the core must be searched out. If the grief ariseth from outward causes, then it must be carried into the right channel, the course of it must turn another way, as in staying of blood. We should grieve for sin in the first place, as being the evil of all evils. If the ground be sin, then it must be drawn to a head, from a confused grief to some more particular sin, that so we may strike the right vein; but if we find the spirit much cast down for particular sins, then comfort is presently to be applied. But if the grief be not fully ripe, then, as we use to help nature in its offers to purge, by physic, till the sick matter be carried away; so when conscience, moved by the spirit, begins to ease itself by confession, it is good to help forward the work of it, till we find the heart low enough for comfort to be laid upon. When Paul found the jailor cast down almost as low as hell, he stands not now upon further hammering, and preparing of him for mercy, that work was done already, but presently stirs him up to 'believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,' Acts 16:31. Here being a fit place for an interpreter to declare unto man his righteousness, and his mercy that belongs unto him, after he hath acknowledged his personal and particular sins, which the natural guilt of the heart is extremely backward to do, and yet cannot receive any sound peace till it be done. If signs of grace be discerned, here likewise is a fit place to declare unto man the saving work of grace in his heart, which Satan labours to hide from him. Men oft are not able to read their own evidences without help.
In case of stiffness and standing out, it is fit the man of God, 1 Tim. 6:11 and 2 Tim. 3:17, should take some authority upon him, and lay a charge upon the souls of men in the name of Christ, to give way to the truth of Christ, and to forbear putting off that mercy which is so kindly offered, when we judge it to be their portion; which course will be successful in hearts awed with a reverend fear of grieving God's Spirit. Sometimes men must be dealt roundly withal, as David here deals with his own soul, that so whilst we ask a reason of their dejection, they may plainly see they have no reason to be so cast down. For oftentimes grievances are irrational, rising from mistakes; and counsel, bringing into the soul a fresh light, dissolves those gross fogs, and setteth the soul at liberty. What grief is contracted by false reason, is by true reason removed.* Thus it pleaseth God to humble men, by letting them see in what need they stand one of another, that so the communion of saints may be endeared. Every relation wherein we stand towards others, are so many bonds and sinews whereby one member is fitted to derive comfort to another, 'through love the bond of perfection,' Col. 3:14; all must be done in this sweet affection. A member out of joint must be tenderly set in again, and bound up, which only men guided by the spirit of love seasoned with discretion are fit to do. They are taught of God to do what they should. The more of Christ is in any man, the more willingness and fitness to this duty; to which this should encourage us, that in strengthening others we strengthen ourselves, and derive upon ourselves the blessing pronounced on those that 'consider the needy,' Ps. 41:1, which will be our comfort here and crown hereafter, that God hath honoured us, to be instruments of spiritual good to others. It is an injunction to 'comfort the feeble-minded,' 1 Thes. 5:14, and there is an heavy imputation on those that 'comforted not the weak,' Ezek. 34:4; when men will not own men in trouble, but estrange themselves as the herd of deer forsakes and pushes away* the wounded deer from them. And those that are any ways cast down, must stoop to those ways which God hath sanctified to convey comfort; for though sometimes the Spirit of God immediately comforts the soul, which is the sweetest, yet for the most part the 'Sun of righteousness that hath healing in his wings,' Mal. 4:2, conveyeth the beams of his comfort by the help of others, in whom he will lave much of our comfort to lie hid; and for this very end it pleaseth God to exercise his children, and ministers especially, with trials and afflictions, that so they, having felt what a troubled spirit is in themselves, might be able to comfort others in their distresses with the same comfort wherewith they have been comforted, 2 Cor. 7:7. God often suspends comfort from us to drive us to make use of our Christian friends, by whom he purposeth to do us good, Si illatas molestias lingua dicat, a conscientia dolor emanat, vulnera enim clausa plus cruciant.—Greg. Oftentimes the very opening of men's grievances bringeth ease, without any further working upon them. The very opening of a vein cools the blood. If God in the state of innocency thought it fit man should have a helper, if God thought it fit to send an angel to comfort Christ in his agonies, shall any man think the comfort of another more than needs? Satan makes every affliction, by reason of our corruption, a temptation to us, whereupon we are to encounter not only with our own corruptions, but with our spiritual wickednesses, Eph. 6:12; and need we not then that others should join forces with us to discover the temptation, and to confirm and comfort us against it? For so reason joining with reason, and affection with affection, we come by uniting of strength to be impregnable. Satan hath most advantage in solitariness, and thereupon sets upon Christ in the wilderness, Mat. 4., and upon Eve single, Gen. 3., and it added to the glory of Christ's victory, that he overcame him in a single combat, and in a place of such disadvantage. Those that will be alone, at such times, do as much as in them lieth to tempt the tempter himself, to tempt them. The preacher gives three reasons why 'two are better than one,' Eccles. 4:9. 1. Because if one fall, the other may lift him up. As that which is stronger shoreth up that which is weaker, so feeble minds are raised and kept up by the stronger; nay, oftentimes he that is weaker in one grace is stronger in another. One may help by his experience and meekness of love, that needs the help of another for knowledge. 2. If two lie together, one may warm another by kindling one another's spirits. Where two meet together upon such holy grounds and aims, there Christ by his Spirit makes up another, and this threefold cable who shall break? Mat. 18:20. While Joash lived, Jehoiada stood upright; while Latimer and Ridley lived, they kept up Cranmer by intercourse of letters and otherwise, from entertaining counsels of revolt. The disciples presently upon Christ's apprehension fainted, notwithstanding he laboured by his heavenly doctrine to put courage and comfort into them. 3. If any give an onset upon them, there is two to withstand it, spirit joining with spirit; and because there is an acquaintance of spirits as well as of persons, those are fittest to lay open our minds unto, in whom upon experience of their fidelity our hearts may most safely rely, Solatium vitæ, habere cui pectus aperias.† We lose much of our strength in the loss of a true friend; which made David bemoan the loss of his friend Jonathan, 'Woe is me for thee, my brother Jonathan!' 2 Sam. 1:20. He lost a piece of himself, by losing him whom his heart so clave unto. St Paul accounted that God had shewed especial mercy to him, in the recovery of Epaphroditus, Phil. 2:27.
§ IV. But there are divers miscarriages in those that are troubled which make the comfort of others of none effect.
1. When the troubled party deals not directly, but doubleth with him that is to help him. Some are ashamed to acknowledge the true ground of their grievance, pretending sorrow for one thing, when their hearts tell them it ariseth from another: like the lapwings, which make greatest noise farthest from their nest, because they would not have it discovered. This deceit moved our blessed Saviour, who knew what was in the hearts of men, to fit his answers many times, rather to the man than to the matter.
2. Some rely too much upon particular men, Oh if they had such a one they should do well, and mislike others, fitter perhaps to deal with them, as having more through knowledge of their estates, because they would have their disease rather covered than cured, or if cured, yet with soft words, whereas no plaster worketh better than that which causes smart. Some out of mere humorous fondness must have that which can hardly be got, or else nothing pleases them. David must needs have the 'waters of Bethlehem,' 2 Sam. 23:15, when others were nearer hand. And oftentimes when men have not only whom they desire, but such also who are fit and dexterous in dealing with a troubled spirit, yet their souls feel no comfort, because they make idols of men; whereas men at the best are but conduits of comfort, and such as God freely conveyeth comfort by, taking liberty oft to deny comfort by them, that so he may be acknowledged the 'God of all comfort,' 2 Cor. 1:3.
3. Some delude themselves, by thinking it sufficient to have a few good words spoken to them, as if that could cure them; not regarding to apprehend the same, and mingle it with faith, without which, good words lose their working, even as wholesome physic in a dead stomach.
Besides miscarriages in comforting, times will often fall out in our lives, that we shall have none either to comfort us, or to be comforted by us, and then what will become of us unless we can comfort ourselves? Men must not think always to live upon alms, but lay up something in store for themselves, and provide oil for their own lamps, and be able to draw out something from the treasury of their own hearts. We must not go to the surgeon for every scratch. No wise traveller but will have some refreshing waters about him. Again, we are often driven to retire home to our own hearts, by uncharitable imputations of other men. Even friends sometimes become miserable comforters. It was Job's case, chap. 2.; his friends had honest intentions to comfort him, but erred in their manner of dealing. If he had found no more comfort by reflecting upon his own sincerity, than he received from them, who laboured to take it from him, he had been doubly miserable. We are most privy to our own intentions and aims, whence comfort must be fetched; let others speak what they can to us, if our own hearts speak not with them, we shall receive no satisfaction. Sometimes it may fall out, that those which should unloose our spirits when they are bound up, mistake; the key misses the right wards, and so we lie bound still. Opening of our estate to another is not good but when it is necessary; and it is not necessary, when we can fetch supply from our own store. God would have us tender of our reputations, except in some special cases, wherein we are to give glory to God, Josh. 7:19, by a free and full confession. Needless discovery of ourselves to others, makes us fear the conscience of another man, as privy to that which we are ashamed he should be privy unto; and it is neither wisdom nor mercy to put men upon the rack of confession, further than they can have no ease any other way. For by this means we raise in them a jealousy towards us, and oft without cause, which weakeneth and tainteth that love which should unite hearts in one.
Of flying to God in disquiets of souls; eight observations out of the text
Quest. What if neither the speech of others to us, nor the rebuke of our own hearts, will quiet the soul? Is there no other remedy left?
Ans. Yes; then look up to God, the father and fountain of comfort, as David doth here; for the more special means whereby he sought to recover himself was by laying a charge upon his soul to trust in God. For having let his soul run out too much, he begins to recollect himself again, and resign up all to God.
§ I. Quest. But how came David to have the command of his own soul, so as to take it off from grief, and to place it upon God? Could he dispose of his own heart himself?
Ans. The child of God hath something in him above a man; he hath the Spirit of God to guide his spirit. This command of David to his soul was under the command of the great commander. God commands David to trust in him, and at the same time infuseth strength into his soul by thinking of God's command, and trusting to God's power, to command itself to trust in God; so that this command is not only by authority, but by virtue likewise of God's command. As the inferior orbs move as they are moved by a higher, so David's spirit here moves as it is moved by God's Spirit, Which inwardly spake to him to speak to himself.
David, in speaking thus to his own soul, was, as every true Christian is, a prophet and an instructor to himself; it is but as if inferior officers should charge in the name and power of the king. God's children have a principle of life in them from the Spirit of God, by which they command themselves. To give charge belongs to a superior. David had a double superior above him, his own spirit as sanctified, and God's Spirit guiding that. Our spirits are the Spirit's agents, and the Holy Spirit is God's agent, maintaining his right in us. As God hath made man a free agent, so he guides him, and preserves that free manner of working which is agreeable to man's nature.
By this it appears that David's moving of himself did not hinder the Spirit's moving of him, neither did the Spirit's moving of him hinder him from moving himself in a free manner; for the Spirit of God moveth according to our principles, it openeth our understandings to see that it is best to trust in God; it moveth so sweetly, as if it were an inbred principle, and all one with our own spirits. If we should hold our will to move itself, and not to be moved by the Spirit, we should make a god of it, whose property is to move other things, and not to be moved by any.*
We are in some sort lords over our own speeches and actions, but yet under a higher lord. David was willing to trust in God, but God wrought that will in him. He first makes our will good, and then works by it. It is a sacrilegious liberty that will acknowledge no dependence upon God. We are wise in his wisdom, and strong in his strength, who saith, 'Without me ye can do nothing,' John 15:5. Both the bud of a good desire, and the blossom of a good resolution, and the fruit of a good action, all comes from God. Indeed, the understanding is ours whereby we know what to do, and the will is ours whereby we make choice of what is best to be done; but the light whereby we know, and the guidance whereby we choose, that is from a higher agent, which is ready to flow into us with present fresh supply, when by virtue of former strength we put ourselves forward in obedience to God.* Let but David say to his soul being charged of God to trust, I charge thee, my soul, to trust in him, and he finds a present strength enabling to it. Therefore, we must both depend upon God as the first mover, and withal set all the inferior wheels of our souls agoing, according as the Spirit of God ministers motion unto us. So shall we be free from self-confidence, and likewise from neglecting that order of working which God hath established. David hearkened what the Lord said, before he said anything to himself,—so should we. God's commands tend to this, that we should command ourselves. God, and the minister under God, bid us trust in him, but all is to no purpose till grace be wrought in the soul, whereby it bids itself. Our speaking to others doth no good, till they, by entertaining what we say, speak the same to their own souls.
In this charge of David upon his own soul, we may see divers passages and privileges of a gracious heart in trouble.
§ II. Obs. 1. As 1. That a Christian, when he is beaten out of all other comforts, yet hath a God to run unto. A wicked man beaten out of earthly comforts, is as a naked man in a storm, and an unarmed man in the field, or as a ship tossed in the sea without an anchor, which presently dashes upon rocks, or falleth upon quicksands; but a Christian, when he is driven out of all comforts below, nay, when God seems to be angry with him, he can appeal from God angry to God appeased, he can wrestle and strive with God by God's own strength, fight with him with his own weapons, and plead with God by his own arguments. What a happy estate is this! Who would not be a Christian, if it were but for this, to have something to rely on when all things else fail? The confusion and unquietness which troubles raise in the soul may drive it from resting in itself, but there can never be any true peace settled, until it sees and resolves what to stay upon.
§ III. 2. We see here that there is a sanctified use of all troubles to God's children. First, they drive them out of themselves, and then draw them nearer to God. Crosses, indeed, of themselves estrange us more from God, but by an overruling work of the Spirit they bring us nearer to him. The soul of itself is ready to misgive, as if God had too many controversies with it, to shew any favour towards it; and Satan helpeth. Because he knows nothing can stand and prevail against God, or a soul that relieth on him, therefore he labours to breed and increase an everlasting division betwixt God and the soul. But let not Christians muse so much upon their trouble, but see whither it carries them, whether it brings them nearer unto God or not. It is a never-failing rule of discerning a man to be in the state of grace, when he finds every condition draw him nearer to God; for thus it appears that such love God, and are called of him, unto whom 'all things work together for the best,' Rom. 8:28.
§ IV. 3. Again, hence we see that the Spirit of God by these inward speeches doth awake the soul, and keep it in a holy exercise, by stirring up the grace of faith to its proper function. It is not so much the having of grace, as grace in exercise, that preserves the soul. Therefore, we should by this and the like means 'stir up the grace of God in us,' 2 Tim. 1:6, that so it may be kept a-working, and in vigour and strength. It was David's manner to awake himself, by bidding both 'heart and harp to awake,' Ps. 57:8. It is the waking Christian, that hath his wit and his grace ready about him, who is the safe Christian. Grace dormant, without the exercise, doth not secure us. It is almost all one, in regard of present exigence, for grace not to be and not to work. The soul without action is like an instrument not played upon, or like a ship always in the haven. Motion is a preservative of the purity of things. Even life itself is made more lively by action. The Spirit of God, whereby his children are led, is compared to things of the quickest and strongest actions, as fire and wind, &c. God himself is a pure act, always in acting; and everything, the nearer it comes to God, the more it hath its perfection in working. The happiness of man consists chiefly in a gracious frame of spirit, and actions suitable sweetly issuing therefrom. The very rest of heavenly bodies is in motion in their proper places. By this stirring up the grace of God in us, sparkles come to be flames, and all graces are kept bright. Troubles stir up David;* David being stirred, stirs up himself.
§ V. 4. We see likewise here a further use of soliloquies or speeches to our own hearts. When the soul by entering into itself sees itself put out of order, then it enjoins this duty of trusting in God upon it. If we look only on ourselves, and not turn to God, the work of the soul is imperfect. Then the soul worketh as it should, whenas by reflecting on itself, it gathers some profitable conclusion, and leaveth itself with God. David, upon reflecting on himself, found nothing but discouragement; but when he looks upward to God, there he finds rest. This is one end why God suffers the soul to tire and beat itself, that, finding no rest in itself, it might seek to him. David yields not so much to his passion as that it should keep him from God. Therefore, let no man truly religious pretend, for an excuse, his temper or provoking occasions, &c., for grace doth raise the soul above nature. Grace doth not only stop the soul in an evil way, but carries it to a contrary good, and raiseth it up to God. Though holy men be subject to 'like passions with others,' James 5:17, as it is said of Elias, yet they are not so enthralled to them, as that they carry them wholly away from their God; but they hear a voice of the Spirit within them, calling them back again to their former communion with God; and so grace takes occasion, even from sin, to exercise itself.
§ VI. 5. Observe further, that distrust is the cause of all disquiet. The soul suffers itself by something here below to be drawn away from God, but can find no rest till it return to him again. As Noah's dove had no place to set her foot upon, Gen. 8:11, till it was received into the ark from whence it came. And it is God's mercy to us, that when we have let go our hold of God, we should find nothing but trouble and unquietness in anything else, that so we might remember from whence we are fallen, and return home again. That is a good trouble which frees us from the greatest trouble, and brings with it the most comfortable rest. It is but an unquiet quiet, and a restless rest which is out of God. It is a deep spiritual judgment for a man to find too much rest in the creature. The soul that hath had a saving work upon it, will be always impatient until it recovers its former sweetness in God. After God's Spirit hath once touched the soul, it will never be quiet until it stands pointed God-ward.
Obj. But conscience may object, upon any offence is God offended, and therefore not to be trusted?
Ans. It is true, where faith is not above natural conscience; but a conscience 'sprinkled with the blood of Christ,' Heb. 10:22, is not scared from God by its infirmities and failings, but as David here is rather stirred up to run unto God by his distemper; and it had been a greater sin than his distemper not to have gone unto God. Those that have the spirit of sons in their hearts, run not further from God after they have a little strayed from him; but, though it be the nature of sinful passions to breed grief and shame, yet they will repair to God again, and their confidence overcomes their guilt, so well are they acquainted with God's gracious disposition.
Yet we see here, David thinks not of trusting in God, till first he had done justice upon his own soul, in rebuking the unruly motions thereof. Censure for sin goeth before favour in pardoning sin or boldness to ask pardon of God. Those that love God must hate ill, Ps. 97:10. If our consciences condemn us of allowing any sin, we cannot have boldness with God, who is light and can abide no darkness, and 'greater than our consciences,' 1 John 3:20.
§ VII. 6. Moreover, hence we see it is no easy thing to bring God and the heart together. David here as he often checks his heart, so he doth often charge his heart. Doubts and troubles are still gathering upon him, and his faith still gathering upon them. As one striving to get the haven, is driven back by the waves, but recovering himself again, gets forward still, and after often beating back, at length obtains the wished haven, and then is at rest, so much ado there is to bring the soul unto God, the harbour of true comfort. It were an easy thing to be a Christian, if religion stood only in a few outward works and duties, but to take the soul to task, and to deal roundly with our own hearts, and to let conscience have its full work, and to bring the soul into spiritual subjection unto God, this is not so easy a matter, because the soul out of self-love is loath to enter into itself, lest it should have other thoughts of itself than it would have. David must bid his soul trust, and trust, and trust again before it will yield. One main ground of this difficulty is, that contrary which is in the soul by reason of contrary principles. The soul so far as it is gracious commands, so far as it is rebellious resists, which drew holy Austin to a kind of astonishment: 'The soul commands the body and it yields,' saith he, 'it commands itself, and is resisted by itself. It commands the hand to move, and it moveth with such an unperceivable quickness that you can discern no distance betwixt the command and the motion. Whence comes this? but because the soul perfectly wills not, and perfectly enjoins not that which is good, and so far forth that it fully wills not, so far it holds back.'* There should be no need of commanding the soul if it were perfect, for then it would be of itself, what it now commandeth. If David had gotten his soul at perfect freedom at the first, he needed not have repeated his charge so often upon it. But the soul naturally sinks downward, and therefore had need often to be wound up.
§ VIII. 7. we should therefore labour to bring our souls, as David doth here, to a firm and peremptory resolution, and not stand wavering, and as it were equally balanced betwixt God and other things; but enforce our souls. We shall get little ground of infidelity else. Drive your souls, therefore, to this issue, either to rely upon God, or else to yield up itself to the present grievance. If by yielding, it resolves to be miserable, there's an end, but if it desires rest, then let it resolve upon this only way, to trust in God. And well may the soul so resolve, because in God there are grounds of quieting the soul, above all that may unsettle it; in him there is both worth to satisfy, and strength to support the soul. The best way to maintain inward peace, is to settle and fix our thoughts upon that which will make us better, till we found our hearts warmed and wrought upon thereby, and then, as the prophet speaks, 'God will keep us in peace, peace,' that is, 'in perfect and abundant peace,' Isa. 26:3. This resolution stayed Job, that though God should kill him, yet he resolved 'to trust in him,' Job 13:15. Answerable to our resolution is our peace, the more resolution the more peace. Irresolution of itself, without any grievance, is full of disquiet. It is an unsafe thing always to begin to live, to be always cheapening and paltering with God; come to this point once, trust God I ought, therefore, trust God I will, come what may or will.
And it is good to renew our resolutions again and again: for every new resolution brings the soul closer to God, and gets further in him, and brings fresh strength from him; which, if we neglect, our corruption joining with outward hindrances will carry us further and further backward, and this will double, yea multiply our trouble and grief to recover ourselves again. We have both wind and tide against us, we are going up the hill, and, therefore, had need to arm ourselves with resolution. Since the fall, the motion of the soul upward, as of heavy bodies, is violent, in regard of corruption which weighs it downward, and, therefore, all enforcement is little enough. Oppose, therefore, with David, an invincible resolution, and then doubt not of prevailing. If we resolve in God's power and not our own, and be 'strong in the Lord,' Eph. 6:10, and not in ourselves, then it matters not what our troubles or temptations be either from within, or without, for trust in God at length will triumph.
Here is a great mercy, that when David had a little let go his hold of God, yet God would not let go his hold of him, but by a spirit of faith draws him back again to himself. God turns us unto him, and then we return. 'Turn us again,' saith the psalmist, 'cause thy face to shine upon us, and we shall be saved,' Ps. 80:19. When the soul leaves God once, it loses its way and itself; and never returns till God recalls it again. Animus æger semper errat. If moral principles, cherished and strengthened by good education, will enable the soul against vicious inclinations, so that, though some influence of the heavens work upon the air, and the air upon the spirits, and the spirits upon the humours, and these incline the temper, and that inclines the soul of a man such and such ways, yet breeding in the refineder sort of civil persons will much prevail to draw them another way. What, then, may we think of this powerful grace of faith which is altogether supernatural? Will not this carry the soul above all natural inclinations whatsoever, though strengthened by outward occasions, if we resolve to put it to it? David was a king of other men, but here he shews that he was a king of himself. What benefit is it for a man to be ruler over all the world, and yet remain a slave to himself?
§ IX. 8. Again, David here doth not only resolve, but presently takes up his soul, before it strayed too far from God. The further and the longer the soul wanders from God, the more it entangles itself, and the thicker darkness will cover the soul, yea, the loather it is to come to God again, being ashamed to look God in the face after discontinuing of acquaintance with him; nay, the stronger the league grows betwixt sin and the soul, and the more there groweth a kind of suitableness betwixt the soul and sin. Too long giving way to base thoughts and affections, discovers too much complacency and liking of sin. If we once give way, a little grief will turn into bitter sorrow, and that into a settled pensiveness and heaviness of spirit; fear will grow into astonishment, and discouragement into despair. If ever we mean to trust God, why not now? How many are taken away in their offers and essays, before they have prepared their hearts to cleave unto God! The sooner we give up ourselves to the Lord, the sooner we know upon what terms we stand, and the sooner we provide for our best security, and have not our grounds of comfort to seek when we shall stand most in need of them. Time will salve up grief in the meanest of men; reason, in those that will suffer themselves to be ruled thereby, will cure, or at least stay the fits of it, sooner; but faith, if we stir it up, will give our souls no rest, until it hath brought us to our true rest, that is, to God. Therefore we should press the heart forward to God presently, that Satan make not the rent greater.
§ X. 9. Lastly, here we see, that though the soul be overborne by passion for a time, yet if grace hath once truly seasoned it, it will work itself into freedom again. Grace, as oil, will be above. The eye when any dust falls into it, is not more tender and unquiet, till it be wrought out again, than a gracious soul is, being once troubled. The spirit, as a spring, will be cleansing of itself more and more. Whereas the heart of a carnal man is like a standing pool, whatsoever is cast into it, there it rests. Trouble and disquietness in him are in their proper place. It is proper for the sea to rage and cast up dirt. God hath set it down for an eternal rule, that vexation and sin shall be inseparable. Happiness and rest were severed from sin in heaven when the angels fell, and in paradise when Adam fell, Gen. 3., and will remain for ever separated, until the breach be made up by faith in Christ. Jussisti Domine, et sic est, ut omnis inordinatus affectus sibi sit pœna.—Aug.
Source: The Soul's Conflict With Itself by Richard Sibbes (eBook)