from "A Glance of Heaven; or, A Precious Taste of a
Richard Sibbes (1577-1635).
“heavenly” Dr Sibbes, was an Anglican
preacher from England who was famous for his sermons, in which he showed the
riches of the promises of God, urging sinners to come to Christ and bringing
great comfort to the hearts of many believers. His sermons are full of
Scriptural assurances for the weary or wounded Christian, pointing him to
Christ crucified for healing and rest. Dr
was a Puritan and believed that the church in England, as elsewhere, needs
visiting and purging by God whenever it has become defiled.
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. II. 9.
holy apostle St
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
First, God hath a company of beloved children in the world, that he means a
special good unto.
second, God hath prepared great matters for them.
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.
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.
If the things that God hath prepared for his children be secret and
excellent, how then come we to know them at all?
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.’
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
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.
(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
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
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?
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
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.
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.
Works of Richard Sibbes,” published by Banner of Truth, 1979. Vol. iv, pp.
155, 157, 159-161