Letter from Australia 82 – A Big Country and Spiritual Mourning
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I guess the title of this week’s letter is hardly ‘click bait’. Who wants to read about mourning – never mind spiritual mourning?! I hope you do – or at least will benefit from it. I got the title and inspiration from a couple of sermons by Richard Sibbes on Matthew 5:4 “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
But before I do there are a couple of things going on here that I want to mention. Firstly, I am really proud of Australia standing up to Big Tech – even though at a personal level Facebook’s ban means that it is unlikely you can link to this letter from them! Google has already given in and I suspect Facebook will have to compromise as well. Australia leading the way. Also have a look at this map – to me it is amazing just how big this country is.
Anyway let’s return to the issue of happiness and mourning. I won’t go into details but this week I was profoundly upset by the sins of the nations, the sins of the church and my own personal sin. And then, in the midst of that, I read Sibbes ( I am working my way a few pages at a time through the seven volumes of his works). The answer to the question is according to Jesus quite counter intuitive and one that I suspect even in the Church we struggle to articulate. We would much rather speak of a God who gives us a hug and makes us feel comfortable, than the God who uses sorrow to bring us real joy. My own personal question is simply – is my mourning spiritual or just selfish? It’s not an easy question to answer, but Sibbes has been really helpful as he enables me to look more at my own heart through the mirror of God’s word.
“He is a happy man that is a good mourner. He that can mourn for his sins is in a happy case.”
“The more a man can mourn for his sins, the less he will mourn for other matters, the more heavy sin lies upon his soul, the more lightly he can bear other losses and crosses.”
We are desperate to turn our mourning into laughter – so when any grief comes upon us, we run away from it and we seek to be diverted by company, sports, entertainment – anything that will drown the noise of sorrow.
I loved this description of unhelpful mourning.“We mourn not for sin, but for sorrow; we mourn not for corruption, but for crosses; not because we have dealt unkindly with God but because others have dealt unkindly with us. This is not a blessed mourning, and therefore it is that we find no comfort in it.
I also found these comments to be helpful in the light of our enforced absence from public worship. I think that far too many churches, including ‘Reformed’, have given the impression that the loss of public gathering is not that big a deal. There is no mourning over that. “He mourns because he is kept away from the house of God, where he used to taste of the fat things of God’s house, and where he used to see him in his beauty and in his glory.”
I was also encouraged by this breakdown that Sibbes gives – not least because it helped me to see that mourning for one’s own sins is not the only thing. “So when a man mourns for sin, that he takes to heart the sins of his family, the sins of the state and of the church that he lives in, this is spiritual mourning.”
The State? – “ Even as I type I am listening to the news from Scotland, the UK, America and Australia – everything from rape in high places, to lies, greed and sexual immorality.
The Church? – Sibbes speaks of Prague, France and the afflictions that Christians face there. Do we mourn for our brothers and sisters who face persecution in Nigeria, North Korea, China, Nepal and many other situations? Do we even know? How can the love of Christ be in us?!
What about sins within the church? We are like Joshua to ‘rend our garments, and cast ourselves before the Lord?” (Joshua 7:8). What I see in the church, at home and abroad, is not great – and I don’t want to see it. But there is such weakness – whilst we profess to be strong. There were a couple of situations that I heard about – that made me respond ‘Lord, I thank you that I am not there’ – but that is the coward’s way out. I wonder if we would have the humility to genuinely ask the Lord to show us our sins – or are even more in love with the idea of the comfortable God than the world?
“One tear spent for sin is worth rivers of tears for outward sorrows.”
My own sin ? “One tear spent for sin is worth rivers of tears for outward sorrows.” Sibbes points out that amongst all of us there is always a mixture of chaff and gold. Sometimes I am more aware of the chaff – usually I think I want to go for the beige…”I’m no angel, but I’m not that bad’. Maybe if I was more aware of my own sin, I would also be more aware of the gold that Christ has brought and will bring.
How do we get this? “First, he must have a heart capable of grief and sorrow that is spiritual, a tender and soft heart’?I loved that insight. How many of us are orthodox but hard hearted? Or ‘progressive’ but hard hearted. Cynicism is not a mark of grace. Orthodox and cold should be an oxymoron.
I love what he says about sorrow not being an end in itself – but a means to an end. The end is joy. “Hatred is servant to love; fear does service to confidence; so likewise does sorrow to joy”.
Sibbes goes on to give a beautiful description of spiritual joy as being safe and sure. “But now, the joy of a Christian man, is a spiritual joy, it is a safe joy. It hurts no man, but does a man good; it settles a man’s mind, it strengthens his thoughts, it perfects his wits and understanding. It makes him to have a sound judgement; it makes for the health of his body; it makes for the preservation of his life; it does a man good in every way. There is no provocation in it, there is no danger in it.”
I can’t really convey how deeply moved I was by Sibbes’s two sermons. They were a balm for my soul, and they have really helped in a practical way. It was like an oasis in the desert, the finest steak in the midst of a fast-food food court! I leave you with this lovely plea,
“Let us here give way to mourning, and say with the prophet, Oh that I could weep! ‘Oh, that my head were a fountain of tears!’ and with David, “I shed rivers of tears, because men kept not your law.” (Psalm 119:136. Thus, my brethren, let us labour to be much in spiritual mourning, to mourn for the loss and for the absence of holy things, and to mourn for the presence and confluence of sinful persons and sinful things, to mourn for the sins of our land, for the sins of the church abroad, for the sins of our neighbours; mourn for the sins of our towns, mourn for the sins of our own families, mourn for the sins of our yoke-fellows, mourn for the sins of our children, mourn for our own sins. Oh, happy is that man that can put forth himself in godly tears. The more he mourns thus, the more he shall be comforted.”
See you next week,
Your brother in Christ,