It is with the soul as with the body

This weekend I’ve been feeling unwell. Under the weather. Poorly. Whatever you call it, it’s not fun. I’ve felt weary but dissatisfied with sleep, wiped out and yet restless. I’ve wanted entertaining, but not company, I’ve lost the taste for all the things I usually enjoy (cups of tea and any kind of food), and instead feel only achy, lethargic, listless and bunged up. Bleurgh!

I’m not writing to wallow in it – honestly! It reminded me of something Richard Sibbes wrote about our spiritual condition. I’ve known I’m not well because I stopped enjoying all the things that I would usually enjoy. I no longer care for the taste of meals or the smell of coffee. I don’t wish to be outside in the fresh air, in fact the thought of being anyway in particular is unappealing to me. Even jobs that I would normally relish are a chore – not just because I don’t want to do them, but because I physically don’t have the strength I need. IMAG0263

I think feeling those sensations keenly has pressed home how fitting a description they make of what our hearts are so prone to catching when we’ve been wandering out in the cold, damp air.

Richard Sibbes writes,

When corruption gets strength, then we find a sick state creeping upon us, and lose our former frame. It is with the soul as with the body. In a certain period of time it gathers ill humours which break out into aguish distempers at length; so the relics of a spiritual disease not carried away, will ripen and gather to a head.
from ‘Bowels Opened’ A Sermon on Gospel Wakefulness

I spot it in my own life – more often than I’d care to admit, really. Particularly when I feel guilty about something… first of all I’ll skip a few quiet times, shirk on Bible reading and prayer generally. Then I’ll end up staying in more, watching TV rather than talking to my housemates, or avoiding spending too much time with other Christians. The prospect of going to church or small group begins to feel like a mounting burden rather than the delight it used to. I lose my temper more and more. Things that usually wouldn’t bother me now get blown up to ridiculous proportions, and I find something to complain about in almost every scenario. Even a good day off, with free time and no pressure on me to do anything in particular, turns out to leave a bitter taste in my mouth because it’s just not quite what I was hoping for…

Anyone else ever feel like this? That frustrating, sickening sense of being slightly out of place and off-colour with the rest of the world? And there’s nothing anyone else can do to take it away – friends try and ‘cheer you up’ but you’re un-cheerable. They eventually give up because you’re a grump. You try and sort yourself out, but by now the sickness has got it’s hooks into you and there’s nothing you can do to shake it off.

Help!

I’ve found that at this point, because the Lord is so very kind, and his love is so much greater and more persistent than my sin and foolishness, the remedy comes. Not, often, as an immediate injection of a magical cure, but usually as a gradual, growing, desperate realisation that things are not as they should be. Just as my body is slowly recovering from illness, and I begin to regain my appetite once more, so my soul wakens (as Sibbes would say) to the state it’s in, and the Lord meets that wakefulness with kindness and hope by the Spirit, until once again I have grasped the greater comfort, peace and privileges there is to be had in Christ, and can feast on him.

The comforts we have from Christ are the best comforts; the peace, the best peace; the privileges, the highest privileges. His flesh, crucified for us, to satisfy divine justice, ‘is meat indeed; his blood, shed for us, is drink indeed,’ John 6:55; that is, the only meat and drink to refresh our souls; because these feed our souls, and that to eternal life. The love of God the Father in giving Christ to death; and Christ’s love in giving himself, together with full contentment to divine justice; this gift it is
that the soul especially feeds on.
What could Christ give, better than himself to feed on?
He thought nothing else worthy for the soul to feed on; and this it daily feeds on, as daily guilt rises from the breakings out of the remainder of corruption. Other dainties are from this; from hence we have the Spirit, and graces of the Spirit. If he gives himself, will he not give all things with himself?

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