Here is how Richard Sibbes, according to Ron Frost, thought about the relationship between thinking spiritually and reasonably [Richard Sibbes was a 17th Century Puritan who oft-times was accused of being less than “powerful” as a theologian — this charge stemmed from Sibbes’ refusal to engage in scholastic-systematic theology and his constant practice of engaging biblical theology instead]:

. . . Sibbes, however, was not anti-intellectual. He valued natural reason as part of the image of God within humanity. It serves “as a candle in the dark night of this world, to lead us in civil and in common actions.” But in matters of faith, natural reason continues to distance a person from God when the person is already separated from him: “‘All things are impure to him that is impure, even his very light is darkness,’ Tit. 1:15; Mat. 6:23.” The problem, Sibbes held, is in the autonomous use of reason, not reason itself. In his exposition of Paul’s discussion of spiritual and ‘carnal’ wisdom in 1 Corinthians 1, Sibbes cited Luther to make his point.

Not that the light of nature and that reason which is part of the image of God is in itself evil. It is good in itself, but the vessel taints it. Those that have great parts of learning, that have great wits, and helps of learning as much as may be, what do they? They trust in them, and so they stain them. Therefore, Luther was wont to say, “Good works are good, but to trust in good works is damnable”.

So while autonomous intellectualism carries a devilish unreliability, reliable knowledge is to be found in “the word of God . . . the Spirit of God . . . [and] the grace of God”. Believers “are wise still, but they are wise by a supernatural light, they are wise in supernatural things.” Reason must always be informed and redirected by grace. (Ronald N. Frost, “Richard Sibbes’ Theology of Grace and the Division of English Reformed Theology” [Unpublished PhD Dissertation, King’s College University of London, 1996], 36-7)

I think this is a good word. If we are going to think “spiritual thoughts,” then we need the “Spirit.” If we are going to try and think “spiritual thoughts,” decoupled from the Spirit, then we are prone towards developing theologies of glory which magnify the self; instead of the Christ. Not only that, if we are going to speak “spiritual words,” apart from being motivated and driven by the Spirit, then our attitudes will undercut anything not shaped or motivated by Christ’s love.

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