Ron Frost is my friend and colleague as a mentor in Cor Deo. He also serves as a Pastoral Care Consultant to missionaries with Barnabas International. I first met Ron when he was teaching Historical Theology at Multnomah Biblical Seminary. Be sure to check out his blog SpreadingGoodness.org (as well as his posts on Cor Deo’s blog too). Ron loves how some Puritans, especially Richard Sibbes, point his heart toward Christ. So in this entry in the Incarnation Guest Series, Ron takes us to Sibbes with the hope that our hearts will be stirred too:
Richard Sibbes, a 17th century Puritan preacher, invited his listeners to consider both the motivation of Christ’s incarnation and its implications for believers.
“He was born for us; his birth was for us; he became man for us; he was given to death for us. And so likewise, he is ours in his other estate of exaltation. His rising is for our good. He will cause us to rise also, and ascend with him, and sit in heavenly places, judging the world and the angels.” [Works, 2.178]
Sibbes made the point in a sermon series on the Bible’s Song of Songs—with the figures in the book seen to be Christ and the Church. The allegorical reading was strong on mutual marital love, something the unabashed Sibbes wanted to his audience to feel: “Affections have eloquence of their own beyond words.”
Sibbes, it should be said, also drew his marital imagery from other Bible content beyond the Song. He held the Bible to be divided by its testaments, with the Old Testament as a limited starting point that looks ahead to the marital fulfillment of the New Testament. The latter spoke of Christ as the bridegroom coming for his bridal Church.
“In the new covenant God works both parts: his own and our parts too. Our love to him, our fear of him, our faith in him—he works all, even as he shows his own love to us. If God loves us thus, what must we do? Meditate upon his love. Let our hearts be warmed with the consideration of it. Let us bring them to that fire of his love . . .” [2.174]
Many readers today will find Sibbes’ marital familiarity to be over the top. But does he have a point? Do more juridical and disaffected readings of the incarnation actually blind us to God’s motivation? This motivation, Sibbes held, is birthed out of God’s mutual Triune love. In marital love—leaving aside physical intimacy—God gives humanity a glimpse of the mutual devotion and delight of his own eternal bond.
With that caveat in mind let’s return to the lesson Sibbes takes from the incarnation. God sent the Son to stir our response. And this response explains every other feature of genuine spirituality: “our parts” of faith.
Sibbes makes the point. We love God because he first loved us in Christ and we now get to anticipate growing in that love forevermore.