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Do you have a new heart?

Terry Virgo argues persuasively, and with some controversy, that Christians are not sinners but saints. In this he takes seriously that the believer is a new creation. This is no innovative teaching. Puritan Richard Sibbes wrote in his sermon Josiah's Reformation: The Tender Heart
“It is a supernatural disposition of a true child of God to have a tender, soft, and a melting heart.”
Whereas he argues that naturally the heart is
“a stony heart… say what you will to a hard heart, it will never yield. A hammer will do no good to a stone. It may break it in pieces, but not draw it to any form. So to a stony heart, all the threatenings in the world will do no good. You may break it in pieces, but never work upon it. It must be the almighty power of God. There is nothing in the world as hard as the heart of man..... “
How then do you get a new heart?
“...Tenderness of heart is wrought by an apprehension of tenderness and love in Christ. A soft heart is made soft by the blood of Christ… I am sure nothing will melt the hard heart of man but the blood of Christ, the passion of our blessed Saviour… When a man considers of the love that God has showed him in sending of his Son, and doing such great things as he has done, in giving of Christ to satisfy his justice, in setting us free from hell, Satan and death: the consideration of this, with the persuasion that we have interest in the same, melts the heart, and makes it become tender… because with the preaching of the gospel to broken-hearted sinners cast down, there always goes the Spirit of God, who works an application of the gospel.”
What should we do with a tender heart to keep it soft? Should we treat it with law and tell it how to behave? No, Sibbes goes on to argue that we should:
“be always under the sunshine of the gospel.”
We treat a renewed heart with the gospel of the Lord Jesus. It is the grace of God that teaches us. Those who are converted by the gospel, stay with the gospel. Those who begin with the Spirit, continue with the Spirit. Indeed the only way to live the Christian life, with a new heart, will be to be filled again and again with the Holy Spirit, who alone will produce change. To treat my own sin with law and rules is to fail to take sin seriously, it's to say I can fix myself. The only option for the true child of God is to be changed by the Triune God - to pursue the work of the Holy Spirit whom the Father, who sent his son into the world, has sent into our hearts (Galatians 4:4-6).


  1. "We treat a renewed heart with the gospel of the Lord Jesus."
    Amen Amen.

    And the gospel is for sinners right?


  2. I don't have access to a modern translation, but this seems to run counter your first paragraph:

    Now, ere I proceed, give me leave to answer some cases of conscience, as,

    Quest. 1. First, Whether the children of God may be subject to this hardness of heart, opposed to this tenderness ?

    To the first I answer, that the child of God may be hard-hearted. He may have some degrees of hardness of heart in him. For a Christian is a compounded creature; he hath not only body and soul, but flesh and spirit. He is but in part renewed; and therefore, having in him both flesh and spirit, he is subject to hardness of heart; and it is clear that it may be so."

  3. Glen - Yes and Yes.

    Chris E - No, I think Sibbes is saying we do have a new heart that can be hardened, and we also have our flesh.. That's different to the assumption I've found Christians carrying that they think they still have an utterly deceitful heart.

  4. I think the key has to be the phrase "He is but in part renewed", otherwise you have an odd situation where you have a new heart which God has given you which is - rather strangely - prone to all the same paths to corruption that our old heart was. So you have a bit inside which is completely redeemed, but is still prone to a (fresh) Fall.

  5. ...or a new heart in an old but crucified sinful flesh? We are in part renewed. With a new heart but a body awaiting resurrection...

  6. I think the way Sibbes uses the categories differently. If I read the entire sermon lying alongside his concern call people to a real faith, there is a certain emphasis on the continuity of the body/soul vs flesh/spirit coexisting side by side.

    "...or a new heart in an old but crucified sinful flesh?"

    That's not the entirety of what Sibbes says though he stressed both the incomplete nature of the first and the ongoing existence (and struggle with) the second.

    So I don't think you can claim Sibbes as supporting this view any more than I think you can claim Calvin as supporting this view:

    "Finally, we acknowledge that this regeneration is so effected in us that, until we slough off this mortal body, there remains always in us much imperfection and infirmity, so that we always remain poor and wretched sinners in the presence of God." (Calvin's Geneva Confession)

  7. Hmmm.

    Sibbes definitely realises much, even if quite rightly there is change still required. fwiw I'd rather talk about us being "in Christ" than saints or sinners, but I do tire of people who want to lessen the impact of salvation.

    I'm reading Sibbes on the Matchless Love & InBeing at the moment, which is phenomenal on how we really should experience the love of God, but that's another subject.

  8. "I do tire of people who want to lessen the impact of salvation."

    So then perhaps a more useful way of looking at 'simul justus et peccator' is that it emphasises both the extent of our sin, and our constant need to depend on someone other than ourselves to save us.

    I think it's right to fear antinomianism, but the answer to it is to stress the Gospel rather than creating a set of reasons for why we should be pious [in this vein, I'd thoroughly recommend Bo Giertz's "Hammer of God"].

  9. It's not, as Terry emphasises in his article, a look at my sin that shows my constant need of a saviour, it's every look at the cross and it's accomplishment that does that. The cross shows up my sin, not having to say less has already changed than has...

    "my amazement and huge appreciation for the Cross does not have to be centred around me and be sustained by reflecting on my own personal failure!"

    We admit we walk around in this dying flesh with all it's bad habits - though even that is now crucified - but we also walk around with a new heart in which the Spirit now lives. I'm not yet all that I will be, but at heart - I am new. How much the gospel has accomplished. And any sin I now commit is all the worse for it's not even who I am anymore...

  10. Doesn't make sense to me, Dave, I have to say. Where does the sin come from that I commit? Just my body? Surely my desires, my will, me... heart...?

    I haven't yet worked out exactly what I think the answer is (I'm thinking it through) but I think it must be something closer to the traditional Reformed position than this...

  11. Trying to work this from Sibbes and Galatians really.... it's all a bit now and not yet, but seems like we can be a bit more optimistic thanks to the work of the Spirit than we sometimes allow ourselves to be. Not self-confident, not sin-lite, but nonetheless expectant that there is real change by the gospel...

    Certainly my desires are key - but the two desires at work (in Galatians 5 at least) are those of the sinful flesh (which love "sin" and law), and those of the Spirit...

  12. "It's not, as Terry emphasises in his article, a look at my sin that shows my constant need of a saviour, it's every look at the cross and it's accomplishment that does that. The cross shows up my sin, not having to say less has already changed than has."

    The cross shows us how serious our sin is - it doesn't directly show us how pervasive it is - that's one of the functions of the Law (Romans 7:7-10) to drive us to Christ.

    Emphasising the third use of the Law over the first two uses seems likely to lead to legalism.

  13. I think the cross shows pretty well how pervasive sin is too... if it wasn't such a deep problem we wouldn't need a whole new humanity in Christ.

  14. "I think the cross shows pretty well how pervasive sin is too... if it wasn't such a deep problem we wouldn't need a whole new humanity in Christ."

    Yes, it does show that we need a whole new humanity. It doesn't directly show how much of that old humanity still resides in us though it makes allusions to it - that's down to the one of the uses of the Law (as illustrated in the passage I quote).

    I would re-iterate that the Law as moral exortation or as the key to a christian living, without the Law as a means of driving us back to Christ will end up either crushing us, driving us into antinomianism or legalism.

  15. I guess my struggle is I'm still not sure how the law that was given to Israel functions in that way, to show the depth of my sin.. Can you give some 'concrete' examples of how that would work?

  16. By Law I wasn't talking in terms of the law handed down to Israel but in terms of everything God commands, culminating in Jesus' injunction to "Be ye perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect".

    The verses directly before this one in Matthew 5 are a good illustration of the sort of thing I mean. When examined closely, even what we take to be signs of our progress turn out to be very flawed at the core. As George Whitfield said; "My repentance needs to be repented of, and my prayers need to be washed in the precious blood of the lamb". A realisation of this then drives us back to Christ and out of the gratitude and love the Holy Spirit births in our hearts we are then enabled to do what the Law was unable to command.

    A lot of the Puritan sermons have this general structure, with any exortation coming at the end, and a lot of the more fiery segments need to be understood in this context (not to forget that they were also trying to show the unsaved church-goer the depth of their sin).

  17. Puritans seems to be a broad category, bit like Evangelical. Seems like Sibbes is always trying to apply the gospel to the heart - he doesn't understand sin, and he doesn't not exhort, or not urge action... plenty of Hebrews-style "let us", though each seems driven by the gospel towards trust in Christ...

  18. "Sibbes is always trying to apply the gospel to the heart - he doesn't understand sin"

    Maybe 'understand' is the wrong word. There are plenty of places in which he demonstrates the depth of sin - see his sermons on Hosea

  19. Something went missing from that sentence I think, and I can't quite work out what it was meant to say... "Sibbes doesn't understand sin [as something]"


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