Tuesday, 9 June 2009

What grounds of assurance?

After a busy couple of weeks, I've returned to The Bruised Reed to finish it off. Having discussed the justice that shall be sent forth to victory (see Matt. 12:20) under the title 'Grace shall reign', Sibbes concludes in true Puritan fashion with evidences I can look for in my own life that this is true of me.

My question is this: are these the best evidences to looks for? They're generally very inward-looking and subjective rather than outward-looking and Christ-focused. Now, I don't doubt that Sibbes believes that the work of Christ is the ground of our assurance and that in a different context that would have come out - I don't expect him to say everything every time! And it must also be said that he does qualify his evidences by laying out three stages of experiencing them, starting when we resist but fail - but what about those times when the emphasis seems to be on the failing rather than the resisting?

Must I be able to 'justify all Christ's ways' all the time? What about if I doubt? What about the many times when 'reasons of religion' are not the strongest reasons at work in me? What about when Christ's will comes into conflict with others within me and loses very, very quickly? And so on.

I don't think Sibbes is wrong per se, particularly in view of his qualification, but is this balanced advice? Don't we need at least a pointer to the fixed, never-failing realities of the gospel to keep the anchor held firm? I'm not entirely sure what I make of what he says here - I've got more questions than answers.

But I'll end with my favourite 'evidence' - which seems spot on to me. If you can't even find a glimmer of this, then you're in for real difficulties:

'If we had liberty to choose under whose government we would live, out of a delight in the inner man to Christ's government, making choice of him only to rule us before any other. This argues that we are like-minded to Christ, a free and a willing people, and not compelled to Christ's service otherwise than by the sweet constraint of love. When we are so far satisfied with the government of Christ's Spirit that we are willing to resign up ourselves to him in all things, then his kingdom is come in us, and our wills are brought to his will. It is the bent of our wills that makes us good or ill.'

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