There is much in Coventry Patmore that is superficial or wrong or even abominable, but from time to time there is a good remark as well. Here is one such, from the “Magna Moralia” section XXXII in The Rod, the Root, and the Flower:

The world is not scandalised by anything so much as by the inconsistencies of believers, which it attributes to hypocrisy. But a great deal of ‘inconsistency’ and shortcoming is consistent with an entire absence of hypocrisy. The world having to do only with objects of the senses, discerns and believes a thing fully or not at all, and acts accordingly; and expects that Christians should do the same. But God and the truths of faith are ‘infinitely visible and infinitely credible’; and discernment and belief vary infinitely in degree, from the obscure longing which cries, ‘O God, if Thou be a God, save my Soul, if I have a Soul’, to that of the Saint who sees God, as it were, face to face; and as faith thus varies, so varies the life which comes of it.

Heaven upon earth begun

April 25th, 2010

Richard Sibbes shows that in the Christian life, grace comes first subjectively as well as objectively.

Again, if we would be thankful, as Paul here, and begin heaven upon earth, labour to be assured of salvation, and perseverance in the Christian course. The papists, that speak against assurance and perseverance, kill prayer and praising of God. Shall a man praise God for that which he doubts of? I cannot tell whether God will damn me or not; perhaps I am but fitted as a sheep to the slaughter, &c. How shall a man praise God for any blessing he enjoys, when these thoughts are still with him? How shall a man praise God for salvation, when perhaps he shall not come to it? How shall a man praise God for that which perhaps he may fall from before he die? when perhaps he is God’s to-day, and may be the devil’s to-morrow? How can there be a hearty thanks, but when a man can say, ‘The Lord will deliver me from every evil work,’ that by mine own weakness and Satan’s malice, I may occasionally fall into, betwixt this and heaven? Therefore, if we would praise God as we should, let us work our hearts to labour after assurance of God’s favour; let us redeem our precious time, and every day set some time apart to strengthen our evidences for heaven, which will set us in a continual frame to every good work.

Richard Sibbes, The Saints’ Safety in Evil Times, Manifested by St. Paul, from his Experience of God’s Goodness in Greatest Distress (Works, v.1)

Despair confers no holiness

April 11th, 2010

Stephen Charnock on the grace of God:

It presents us with the strongest motives to obedience. ‘The grace of God teacheth us to deny ungodliness.’ What chains bind faster and closer than love? Here is love to our nature in his incarnation, love to us, though enemies, in his death and passion: encouragements to obedience by the proffers of pardon for former rebellions. By the disobedience of man God introduces his redeeming grace, and engages his creature to more ingenuous and excellent returns than his innocent state could oblige him to. In his created state he had goodness to move him, he hath the same goodness now to oblige him as a creature, and a greater love and mercy to oblige him as a repaired creature; and the terror of justice is taken off, which might envenom his heart as a criminal. In his revolted state he had misery to discourage him; in his redeemed state he hath love to attract him. Without such a way, black despair had seized upon the creature exposed to a remediless misery, and God would have hail no returns of love from the best of his earthly works; but if any sparks of ingenuity be left, they will be excited by the efficacy of this argument.

God the Comforter

March 28th, 2010

Martin Luther, speaking of John 14:16, shows that the true God is the God of comfort:

What are the devil, death, and all things over against the eternal, almighty majesty of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who want to be and are our Comforter? For if He who is sent is called a Comforter, then both He who sent Him and He by whom He is sent must be the same Comforter. Then there is surely no God besides Him who is a Comforter. And henceforth he who wants to know God aright and name Him appropriately must call Him “Comforter” or, as St. Paul terms Him in Rom. 15:5, “the God of Comfort,” namely, for those who are frightened and have no other comfort. They must not conceive of God otherwise than as a Comforter of the wretched and troubled. They must give the lie both to the devil, who threatens with God’s wrath and with hell, and to their own heart, and say to the devil: “You are a false spirit of lies!” and to their heart: “You are a false, foolish heart!”

(From Sermons on the Gospel of St. John Chapters 14-16, which is v.24 of the 55-volume Works edited by Jaroslav Pelikan.)

The weak know God’s power

March 4th, 2010

Thomas Manton, “Sermons Upon Mark 10:17-27” in Works, v.17

The less power we have in ourselves, the more experience we have of God’s power: Isa. 40:29, ‘He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.’ So Deut. 32:36, ‘The Lord shall judge his people, and repent himself for his servants, when he seeth that their power is gone, and there is none shut up or left.’ When human help begins to fail and is spent, then God’s power is seen. The lean cheeks, and the faint voice, and the pale colour of a hunger-starved beggar moves more than all the canting entreaties of a sturdy one. When we are sufficiently humbled in the sense of our own unworthiness, and can entirely cast ourselves upon God, out of a confidence of his power, help will not be far off, for he really pities those that are indeed miserable, and have a sense of it, and sets his power on work for their relief.

A Frequent Thought

February 27th, 2010

I’ve seen this thought elsewhere, but I wonder if this is the first instance of its appearing.

Let us therefore abide in the things which we believed, in righteousness and holiness, that we may with boldness ask of God who saith, Whiles thou art still speaking I will say, Behold I am here. For this word is the token of a great promise: for the Lord saith of Himself that He is more ready to give than he that asketh to ask.

An Ancient Homily by an Unknown Author (otherwise known as 2nd Clement), 15 (from Lightfoot’s Apostolic Fathers)

Valuing Christ Alone

November 27th, 2009

John Calvin, Harmony of the Gospels, V.2 on Matthew 17:8

They saw no man but Jesus only. When it is said that in the end they saw Christ alone, this means that the Law and the Prophets had a temporary glory, that Christ alone might remain fully in view. If we would properly avail ourselves of the aid of Moses, we must not stop with him, but must endeavor to be conducted by his hand to Christ, of whom both he and all the rest are ministers. This passage may also be applied to condemn the superstitions of those who confound Christ not only with prophets and apostles, but with saints of the lowest rank, in such a manner as to make him nothing more than one of their number. But when the saints of God are eminent in graces, it is for a totally different purpose than that they should defraud Christ of a part of his honor, and appropriate it to themselves. In the disciples themselves we may see the origin of the mistake; for so long as they were terrified by the majesty of God, their minds wandered in search of men, but when Christ gently raised them up, they saw him alone. If we are made to experience that consolation by which Christ relieves us of our fears, all those foolish affections, which distract us on every hand, will vanish away.

It’s obvious that being seized by prejudice against Calvin is simply a way to deprive yourself of great blessing.

Once and again

December 22nd, 2008

Bernard of Clairvaux, On Loving God


In the first creation He gave me myself; but in His new creation He gave me
Himself, and by that gift restored to me the self that I had lost. Created first
and then restored, I owe Him myself twice over in return for myself.

Richard Sibbes and John Davenport, To the Christian Reader
(prefixed to John Preston’s The Saints’ Qualification)
-cited in A.B. Grosart, Memoir of Richard Sibbes, D.D., in v.1 of the BOT reprint of Sibbes’ works.

The foundation of Christianity is laid very low; and therefore the treatise of ‘Humiliation’ is well premised before that of the ‘New Creature.’ God will build upon nothing in us. We must be nothing in ourselves before we be raised up for a fit temple for God to dwell in, whose course is to pull down before he build. Old things must be out of request before all become new; and without this newness of the whole man from union with Christ, no interest in the new heavens can be hoped for, whereinto no defiled thing shall enter, as altogether unsuitable to that condition and place. Nothing is in request with God but this new creature, all things else are adjudged to the fire; and without this it had better be no creature at all.

Where is the lamb?

September 21st, 2008

Matthew Henry, on Isaac’s question in Genesis 22 “Where is the lamb?”

It was a very affecting question that Isaac asked him, as they were going together: My father, said Isaac; it was a melting word, which, one would think, would strike deeper into the breast of Abraham than his knife could into the breast of Isaac. He might have said, or thought, at least, “Call me not thy father who am now to be thy murderer; can a father be so barbarous, so perfectly lost to all the tenderness of a father?” Yet he keeps his temper, and keeps his countenance, to admiration; he calmly waits for his son’s question, and this is it: Behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb? See how expert Isaac was in the law and custom of sacrifices. This it is to be well-catechised: this is,
[1.] A trying question to Abraham. How could he endure to think that Isaac was himself the lamb? So it is, but Abraham, as yet, dares not tell him so. Where God knows the faith to be armour of proof, he will laugh at the trial of the innocent, Job 9:23.
[2.] It is a teaching question to us all, that, when we are going to worship God, we should seriously consider whether we have every thing ready, especially the lamb for a burnt-offering. Behold, the fire is ready, the Spirit’s assistance and God’s acceptance; the wood is ready, the instituted ordinances designed to kindle our affections (which indeed, without the Spirit, are but like wood without fire, but the Spirit works by them); all things are now ready, but where is the lamb? Where is the heart? Is that ready to be offered up to God, to ascend to him as a burnt-offering?