Spiritual Formation + Community

The Soul’s Conflict with Itself

Why art thou cast down, O my soul?
–Psalm 42:11

As for crosses, he doth but cast us down to raise us up,
and empty us that he may fill us,
and melt us that we may be vessels of glory,
loving us as well in the furnace as when we are out,
and standing by us all the while.
–Richard Sibbes


It is Christ’s manner to trouble our souls first, and then to come with healing in his wings.…The exercise of religion, as prayer, hearing, reading, etc., is, that “our joy may be full” (2 John 12). The communion of saints is chiefly ordained to comfort the feebleminded and to strengthen the weak (1 Thess. 5:14). God’s government of his church tends to this. Why doth he sweeten our pilgrimage, and let us see so many comfortable days in the world, but that we should serve him with cheerful and good hearts?

As for crosses, he doth but cast us down, to raise us up, and empty us that he may fill us, and melt us that we may be “vessels of glory” (Rom. 9:23), loving us as well in the furnace, as when we are out, and standing by us all the while. “We are troubled, but not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not forsaken” (2 Cor. 4:8). If we consider from what fatherly love afflictions come, how they are not only moderated but sweetened and sanctified in the issue to us, how can it but minister matter of comfort in the greatest seeming discomforts?…

Again, we must go on to add grace to grace. A growing and fruitful Christian is always a comfortable Christian; the oil of grace brings forth the oil of gladness. Christ is first a king of righteousness, and then a king of peace (Heb. 7:2); the righteousness that he works by his Spirit brings a peace of sanctification, whereby though we are not freed from sin, yet we are enabled to combat with it, and to get the victory over it. Some degree of comfort follows every good action, as heat accompanies fire, and as beams and influences issue from the sun; which is so true, that very heathens, upon the discharge of a good conscience, have found comfort and peace answerable; this is a reward before our reward, premium ante premium.

Another thing that hinders the comfort of Christians is that they forget what a gracious and merciful covenant they live under, wherein the perfection that is required is to be found in Christ. Perfection in us is sincerity; what is the end of faith but to bring us to Christ? Now imperfect faith, if sincere, knits us to Christ, in whom our perfection lies.

God’s design in the covenant of grace is to exalt the riches of his mercy above all sin and unworthiness of man; and we yield him more glory of his mercy by believing, than it would be to his justice to destroy us. If we were perfect in ourselves, we should not honour him so much, as when we labour to be found in Christ, having his righteousness upon us (Phil. 3:9).

There is no one portion of Scripture oftener used to fetch up drooping spirits than this: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” It is figurative, and full of rhetoric, and all little enough to persuade the perplexed soul quietly to trust in God; which, without this retiring into ourselves and checking our hearts, will never be brought to pass… As David, therefore, did acquaint himself with this form of dealing with his soul, so let us, demanding a reason of ourselves, Why we are cast down; which will at least check and put a stop to the distress, and make us fit to consider more solid grounds of true comfort.

Of necessity the soul must be something calmed and stayed before it can be comforted. Whilst the humours of the body rage in a great distemper, there is no giving of physic; so when the soul gives way to passion, it is unfit to entertain any counsel, therefore it must be stilled by degrees, that it may hear reason; and sometimes it is fitter to be moved with ordinary reason (as being more familiar unto it), than with higher reasons fetched from our supernatural condition in Christ, as from the condition of man’s nature subject to changes, from the uncomeliness of yielding to passion for that which it is not in our power to mend, etc.; these and such like reasons have some use to stay the fit for a while, but they leave the core untouched, which is sin, the trouble of all troubles. Yet when such considerations are made spiritual by faith on higher grounds, they have some operation upon the soul, as the influence of the moon having the stronger influence of the sun mingled with it becomes more effectual upon these inferior bodies.

A candle light being ready at hand is sometimes as useful as the sun itself.


Excerpt from Richard Sibbes (1577-1635), The Soul’s Conflict with Itself

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