Brothers and Sisters,
As the son of hard-working parents who grew up in the Portuguese countryside, I come from very self-sufficient stock. This has been a great blessing to me, but my ingrained penchant for hard work has also made it difficult for me to receive support. When you’re used to making things happen for yourself, it’s hard to let others help carry your burdens.
No matter our background, our national creed very much inspires the virtues of diligence and self-sufficiency. That makes it hard for us to grasp the utterly gratuitous grace of God. Surely, there must be something we can do to commend ourselves before God. If we can climb the ladder at work, then we ought to be able to do the same at church.
But, when it comes to the unmerited favor of God that renews our hearts (Ezek 36:26) and draws us to Christ (John 5:44), we are wholly passive. It is something we receive, and the paradoxical nature of grace is such that the more we try to earn it, the less of it we enjoy.
I was struck this morning while reading Richard Sibbes’ The Glorious Feast of the Gospel, specifically by what he had to say about Isaiah 25:6, “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” Ever the Puritan, Sibbes unpacks this passage in great and glorious detail, waxing eloquent about the sheer abundance that is ours in Christ.
Having laid out the riches of our heavenly inheritance, Sibbes goes on to say this (p. 33):
Let us therefore labor with all labor to open our hearts to entertain these joys, for we cannot honor God more than of his bounty to receive thankfully what he freely offers. To taste plentifully in the covenant of grace, of these riches, and joy, and hope of things to come, glorious above all that we are able to think of; I say, this is the way to honor God under the gospel of hope. Of things that are infinite, the more we take, the more we may take, and the more we honor him that gives. Let us therefore enter deeply into our special sins, there is no fear of despair. Think of all thy wants, and of all thy sins; let them be never so many, yet there is more to be had in Christ than there can be wanting in thee. The soul that thinks itself full of wants is the richest soul, and that that apprehends no want at all, no need of grace or Christ, is always sent empty away. Grieve therefore for thy sins, and then joy that thou hast grieved, and go to God for the supply of all thy wants. The seeds of joy and of comfort are sown in tears and grief in this world; but yet we know we shall reap in joy in the world to come.
When it comes to partaking of God’s bounty, we’re not called to be polite. We’re called to be ravenous. Because God is infinite and the feast to which He invites us is boundless, we honor Him by stuffing our faces full. The soul that holds back is the one that already fancies itself fat and happy. In its prideful self-sufficiency, it goes away empty. It thought it could set its own table but, stacked up against God’s spread, that “feast” looks more like a TV dinner.
What encourages me most is when Sibbes invites us to grieve over our sins and then rejoice in the grieving. The Pharisee who judges himself righteous in God’s sight has no sense of his need (Luke 18:9-14). But the wretched tax collector who beats his breast in sorrow knows his lack. The more he acknowledges his spiritual need, the more grace he enjoys. As he loads up his plate, Jesus does not judge him. He just smiles and hands him a bigger one.
I encourage you to labor to receive all that God has given you in Christ. Don’t hide your lack from Him. Don’t try to summon your inner Pharisee and “deal with” your sin on your own. Don’t go dirty yourself in the fields all day, laboring to set a table of meager scraps.
You’ve already been washed clean (Ti 3:4-7). Now, get up, put on your wedding garment (Matt 22:11-14; cf. Isa 61:10), sit down at the Father’s table (Eph 1:3; 2:6), and stuff your face.
Your Brother in Christ,