I have been thoroughly enjoying another Puritan Paperback. This time it was “Glorious Freedom” by Richard Sibbes, which is a lengthy (but meaty) exposition of 1 Corinthians 3:18,
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
Sibbes compares the gospel to glass. It is a mirror that changes us. We look into the mirror of God’s Word and see ourselves for who we really are, with all our corruptions. We see ourselves as helpless; we see ourselves as dead. At this point the law can do nothing to help us. It finds us dead and it leaves us dead. But when we look into the gospel we see the glory and mercy of God as well as the gracious promises in Christ and this has a transforming effect upon our souls.
Sibbes spends a great deal of time unpacking this in his book and then in the last section he puts it into practical use, clearly demonstrating how important the Spirit’s work is in the life of the believer and how we would be useless without him, unable to do anything good.
“Do not think that education or plodding can make us good, or bodily exercise, or listening often to sermons, or conferring often, or taking any pains of our own. Certainly these are things that the Spirit will be effectual in, if we use them as we should. But without the Spirit what are they? Indeed, what is the body of Christ without the Spirit? ‘The flesh profits nothing’ (John 6:63). What is the sacrament and the Word? Dead things without the Spirit of the Lord. Nothing, no outward thing in the world can work upon the soul but the Spirit of God. and the Spirit of God works upon the soul by the means of grace, altering and changing it according to the image of Christ, more and more.
And in your daily practice do not trust too much in any outward performance or task, making idols of outward things. When people try to improve, they often take great pains in attending sermons, reading, and praying. All these are necessary, but they are dead without the Spirit of Christ. In using all these outward things, whatever they are, look up to Christ, the quickening Spirit , who sends the Spirit into our hearts.”
O how we all need to be reminded about this! It is the Spirit that must give life to these things – our reading, hearing, praying and our witnessing – otherwise they accomplish nothing.
And so before you set yourself at doing or obtaining some spiritual good, whether it be praying or fasting or studying Scripture or witnessing to your neighbour, ask God that he might enliven that work by his Spirit. Call upon him. Depend on him. Receive from him. For as Jesus Himself testified,
“It is the Spirit who give life; the flesh is of no help at all” (John 6:63)