Desiring God (Before Piper, there was Sibbes)

Before John Piper wrote Desiring God, and before Jonathan Edwards wrote The Religious Affections, a little known Puritan named Richard Sibbes, wrote A Breathing After God. It was an extended meditation on Psalm 27:4: "One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple" (KJV). This short book was one of the first Puritan books I read - and with great relish! It can be found in Volume 2 of his Works, published by The Banner of Truth.

Here are few sample quotations:

"He desired to dwell in the house of God, because it was the house of God, and to see the beauty of God, the sweet, alluring beauty of God, that appeared in his ordinances; and then his desire was to dwell in the house of God, that he might inquire more and more of the meaning of God still, because there is an unfathomed bottom, and an endless depth of excellency in divine things, that the more we know, the more we may know, and the more we seek, the more we may seek. They are beyond our capacity; they do not only satisfy, but transcend it. Therefore, he desires still further and further to wade deeper into these things, 'to inquire in God's temple.'" - p. 215

"The first work of grace is to set the soul in order, to subdue base affections, to sanctify the judgment; and when it hath set the soul in tune and order, then it is fitted to set a right price on things, to rank and order them as it should." - p. 218

"Desires are the issues of the heart. Thoughts and desires are the two primitive issues of the heart, the births of the heart. Thoughts breed desires. Thoughts in the mind or brain, the brain strikes the heart presently. It goes from the understanding to the will and affections. What we think of, that we desire, if it be good. So thoughts and desires, they immediately spring from the soul; and where they are in any efficacy and strength, they stir up motion in the outward man. The desires of the soul, being the inward motion, they stir up outward motion, till there be an attaining of the thing desired, and then there is rest." - p. 218

"The Spirit of God in the hearts of his children is effectual in stirring up holy desires." - p. 219

"There is nothing that characteriseth and sets a stamp upon a Christian as much as desires. All other things may be counterfeit. Words and actions may be counterfeit, but the desires and affections cannot, because they are the immediate issues and productions of the soul . . . A man may ask his desires what he is? According to the pulse of the desires, so is the temper of the man. Desires are better than actions a great deal; for a man may do a good action, that he doth not love, and he may abstain from an ill action, that he hates not. But God is a Spirit, and looks to the spirit especially. It is a good character of a Christian, that his desire, for the most part, is to good; the tenor and sway and bent of his desire is to good." - p. 219

"Let us examine what our desires are, what our bent is. Desires issue from the will and affections, and they shew the frame of the soul more than anything in the world. As the springs in low places are discovered by the steams and vapours that come out of the place . . . so the vapouring out of these desires shew that there is a spring of grace in the heart; they discover that there is a spring within." - p. 220

"How shall I know whether my desire be strong enough and ripe enough . . . to give me comfort? I answer, if the desire of grace be above the desire of any earthly thing, that a man may say with David, 'One thing have I desired,' I desire to be free from sin, as a greater blessing to my soul, than to be free from any calamity, Oh! it is a good sign. And surely a man can never have comfort of his desire till his desires be raised to that pitch. For none ever shall come to heaven that do not desire the things that tend to heaven, above all earthly things; nor none shall ever escape hell that do not think it worse and more terrible than all earthly miseries. God brings no fools to heaven that cannot discern the difference of things. Therefore, let us know, that our desires are to little purpose if we have some desire to be good . . . but we have a greater desire to be rich and great in the world. . . If the desire of that be greater than to be gracious with God, if hate poverty, and disgrace, and want, and this and that more than sin and hell, to which sin leads, it is a sign that our judgments are rotten and corrupt, and that our desire is no pure spiritual desire." - p. 221

"When we have holy desires stirred up by God, turn them to prayers. A prayer is more than a desire. It is a desire put up to God. Let us turn our desires into prayers. This is the way to have them speed . . . The reason why we should, in all our desires, make our desires known to God, is to keep our acquaintance continually with God. We have continued use of desires of grace, and desires of mortification of corruption, and of freedom from this and that evil that is upon us. As many desires as we have, let them be so many prayers; turn our desires into prayers to God, and so maintain our acquaintance with God. And we shall never come from God without a blessing and comfort. He never sends any out of his presence empty, that come with a gracious heart, that know that they desire . . . Therefore I say, let us turn all our desires into prayers, to maintain perpetual communion and acquaintance with God." - p. 222-223


Micah Tillman said...

Two comments:

(1) I like the talk of getting things in order with regard to the desires. Reminds me of the Aristotelian/Scholastic virtues. The Greeks would be proud on that point, I think.

(2) The last place I encountered so many occurrences of the word "desire" was in Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus. Strange, strange book. They take desire to be something like a metaphysical fundamental.

Jeffrey A. Norris said...

Sibbes is my favorite puritan author. I've only read vol 1, dipping slightly into the others. But, what nourishment to my soul!
Makes me want to dive into vol 2!

Jacob said...

Thank you for these quotes