Gospel Meditations: Grace Shall Reign – Richard Sibbes
As Christians with remaining sin, so many of us – all of us even – struggle to live in hope. Our struggles with temptation and sin and conflicts and failures often lead us down a road of doubt and despair. We fear that we may not actually be Christians. Or we fear that we may not win with Christ in the end. We struggle to keep our eyes on Christ, the Champion and Guarantor of our ultimate salvation and victory.
There is a powerful little book that we hope you, our Christian friends, will read. It’s called The Bruised Reed by a Puritan pastor named Richard Sibbes. He lived in the 1500s and 1600s and is remembered as a sweet, gracious, and heavenly man who loved the Gospel and worked diligently to see Christ formed in his hearers. He was not without his own struggles and he provides immense hope and insight into the Christian life. Here, we’d like to provide you with an abridged version of chapter 13. If you struggle to embrace the reality that grace will reign, may these words from Sibbes will encourage you. We know it looks long, but it’s well worth the time. Very rich in Gospel hope!
The Bruised Reed – Chapter 13, Grace Shall Reign
“Christ has conquered all in his own person first, and he is ‘over all, God blessed for ever’ (Rom. 9:5), and therefore over sin, death, hell, Satan and the world. And, as he has overcome them in himself, so he overcomes them in our hearts and consciences…It will undoubtedly prevail, either to make us hold up our heads with itself, by grace, to Christ’s truth, then it boldly faces death, hell, judgment and all spiritual enemies, because then Christ sets up his kingdom in the conscience and makes it a kind of paradise.
The sharpest conflict which the soul has is between the conscience and God’s justice. Now if the conscience, sprinkled with the blood of Christ, has prevailed over assaults fetched from the justice of God, now satisfied by Christ, it will prevail over all other opposition whatsoever…What is spiritual is eternal. Truth is a beam of Christ’s Spirit, both in itself and as it is engrafted into the soul. Therefore it, and the grace wrought by it, through little, will prevail. A little thing in the hand of a giant will do great things. A little faith strengthened by Christ will work wonders…Heaven is ours already, only we strive till we have full possession.
And so, as to the church in general, by Christ it will have its victory. Christ is that little ‘stone cut out without hands’ which broke in pieces the goodly image (Dan. 2:34), that is, all opposite government, until it became ‘a great mountain, and filled the whole earth’ (Dan. 2:35). So that the stone that was cut out of the mountain becomes a mountain itself at length. Who art thou, then, O mountain, that think to stand up against this mountain? All shall lie flat and level before it. He will bring down all mountainous, high, exalted, thoughts, and lay the pride of all flesh low. When chaff strives against the wind, or stubble against the fire, when the heel kicks against the pricks, when the potsherd strives with the potter, when man strives against God, it is easy to know on which side the victory will be. The winds may toss the ship wherein Christ is, but not overturn it. The waves may dash against the rock, but they only break themselves against it.
God often works by contraries: when he means to give victory, he will allow us to be foiled at first; when he means to comfort, he will terrify first; when he means to justify, he will condemn us first; when he means to make us glorious, he will abase us first. A Christian conquers, even when he is conquered. When he is conquered by some sins, he gets victory over others more dangerous, such as spiritual pride and security…Let us assure ourselves that God’s grace, even in this imperfect state, is stronger than man’s free will in the state of original perfection. It is founded now in Christ, who, as he is the author, so will he be the finisher, of our faith (Heb. 12:2). We are under a more gracious covenant.
Failings, with conflict, in sanctification should not weaken the peace of our justification and assurance of salvation. It matters not so much what ill is in us, as what good; not what corruptions, but how we regard them; not what our particular failings are so much as what the thread and tenor of our lives are, for Christ’s dislike of that which is amiss in us turns not to the hatred of our persons but to the victorious subduing of all our infirmities. The first use of this is for the great consolation of poor and weak Christians. Let them know that a spark from heaven, though kindled under greenwood that sobs and smokes, yet it will consume all at last…Grace conquers us first, and we, by it, conquer all else; whether corruptions within us, or temptations outside us.
To make this clearer, and help us in our trial, we must know that there are three degrees of victory: first, when we resist though we are foiled; second, when grace gets the better, though with conflict; and third, when all corruption is perfectly subdued. When we have strength only to resist, we may know Christ’s government in us will be victorious, because what is said of the devil is true of all our spiritual enemies, ‘resist the devil, and he will flee from you’ (James 4:7); because ‘Greater is he that is in you,’ who takes part of his own grace, ‘than he that is in the world’ (1 John 4:4). And if we may hope for victory from bare resistance, what may we not hope for when the Spirit has gained the upper hand? – Richard Sibbes (1577-1635), The Bruised Reed