I don’t know how many Reading Classics posts I’ve written over the years, but I do know that as time goes on, as we progress through a particular book, fewer and fewer people read along. There is a lot of attrition along the way as people find that they just cannot (or perhaps are not interested in) keeping up with the reading.
Nevertheless for those who remain, let’s carry on and look to this week’s selection from Richard Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed. We’ve got just a couple of readings to go and we need to persevere!
I was surprised and quite excited to see that the first of this week’s two chapters deals with a subject near and dear to me: spiritual discernment. if I read Sibbes correctly, he is using the word judgment as a synonym for discernment. Sibbes begins by saying “Christ’s government in his church and in his children is a wise and well-ordered government and … it is called judgment, and judgment is the life and soul of wisdom.” If Christians are to be wise, if they are to live as Christ would have them live, they need sound judgment or discernment. Sibbes branches out from this statement in two different ways: first he says that Christ’s spiritual government of us is joined with discernment and wisdom and second, that wherever there is true spiritual wisdom and discernment there is the Spirit of Christ.
“A well-guided life by the rule of Christ stands with the strongest and highest reason of all.” The Christian is given the ability, by the grace of God, to see things as they really are. “As things are in themselves,” says Sibbes, “so they are in his judgment.” This judgment, this discernment, serves as a kind of spiritual lens that allows the Christian to see outside the bounds of his depravity, his own spiritual darkness, to see things as God sees them, which is to say, to see them as they really are. If this is the case, then the judgment of a spiritual men is inherently superior to the judgment of an unbeliever. Says Sibbes, “the judgment of one holy wise man [is] to be preferred before a thousand others.”
And if it is the case that sound spiritual judgment allows us to see things as they really are, it stands to reason that Satan would be committed to ensuring that we do not see things in this way. “Satan has a spite at the eye of the soul, the judgment, to put it out by ignorance and false reason, for he cannot rule in any until either he has taken away or perverted judgment. He is a prince of darkness, and rules in darkness out of the understanding. … Those, therefore, that are enemies of knowledge help Satan and antichrist, whose kingdom, like Satan’s, is a kingdom of darkness, to erect their throne.” While Christ seeks a kingdom of light, Satan seeks a kingdom of darkness; while Christ seeks to show us the world as it truly is, Satan seeks to keep our eyes blinded. Christ gives discernment, Satan desires to snatch it away.
Sibbes wants the reader to understand how knowledge and wisdom function in the Christian’s life. “The whole conduct of a Christian,” he says, “is nothing else but knowledge reduced to will, affection and practice.” We can only practice in our lives what we first know and understand. So the will, the affection and the praxis all stem from a right knowledge. And this knowledge requires discernment. Without sound judgment we will not and cannot know what is right and what is wrong.
Having discussed things from this angle, Sibbes turns to his second point–that discernment is a necessary indicator of spiritual life. Where there is right judgment, there is the Holy Spirit. “Wherever true wisdom and judgment are, there Christ has set up his government, because where wisdom is it direct us, not only to understand, but to order our ways aright. Where Christ as a prophet teaches by his Spirit, he likewise as a king subdues the heart by his Spirit to obedience to what is taught.” And then, in an important word about sanctification he says, “[Christians] are not only taught that they should love, fear and obey, but they are taught love itself, and fear and obedience themselves. Christ sets up his throne in the very heart and alters its direction, so making his subjects good, together with teaching them to be good. Other princes can make good laws, but they cannot write them in their people’s hearts.”
And finally, a word about application. “Begin with judgment, and then beg of God, together with illumination, holy inclinations of our will and affections, that so a perfect government may be set up in our hearts, and that our knowledge may be ‘in all judgment,’ that is with experience and feeling.”
In all my studies of discernment years ago I never ran into Sibbes and his teaching on judgment. And while I wish I had, it was great to see how much similarity there was between my conclusions and his. That’s strangely affirming!
For next Thursday please read chapters 14 and 15.
The purpose of this program is to read classics together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Feel free to post a comment below or to link to your blog if you’ve chosen to write about this on your own site.