One of my favorite quotes is this gem by Richard Sibbes: “…there is more mercy in Christ than sin in us…” If you have time do a Google search for that quote and you will notice that I am not alone in my love of this precious gospel statement. But it is even more beneficial to understand what Sibbes is saying in the larger context:
“It is dangerous, I confess, in some cases, with some spirits, to press too much and too long this bruising, because they may die under the wound and burden before they be raised up again. Therefore it is good in mixed assemblies to mingle comfort that every soul may have its due portion. But if we have this for a foundation truth, that there is more mercy in Christ than sin in us, there can be no danger in thorough dealing. It is better to go bruised to heaven than sound to hell. Therefore let us not take off ourselves too soon, nor pull off the plaster before the cure be wrought, but keep ourselves under the work till sin be the sourest, and Christ the sweetest, of all things.”
Sibbes is saying that because there is more mercy in Christ than sin in us we cannot dig so deep as to find sin that is not covered by grace. For Sibbes the more that sin is exposed the more we begin to realize what Christ has delivered us from.
Now, some of the Puritans (as we can as well) had a tendency toward a morbid introspection. That can be very dangerous to go on a quest, turning over every rock, trying to find sin only for the sake of discovering sin. That is not what Sibbes is referencing. The “bruising” that Sibbes is talking about is actually akin to a deep conviction of the Spirit. He is encouraging us not to undercut the Spirit’s work but to cooperate in such a way that we really deal thoroughly with sin.
Often when the Lord begins to bring conviction we want to move quickly to the warm fuzzy experience of forgiveness. And many times this robs us of substantial healing. This is why Sibbes says, “nor pull of the plaster before the cure is wrought”. He is comparing our tendency to move quickly through repentance to our common tendency to take the cast off a broken arm before healing has been complete.
Now because there is more mercy in Christ than sin in us we are able to endure this season of bruising with a profound joy, because we know that it only leads to healing. Repentance becomes sweet when you know that you cannot out sin God’s mercy. It is also sweet when you come to realize that the reason the Lord brings conviction is because He aims to heal and to further our experience of joy and delight in Him.