The Vexation of Vanity: A Word from Richard Sibbes about New Year’s Resolutions

new years.jpegVexation always follows vanity,
when vanity is not apprehended to be where it is.
— Richard Sibbes —

In his treatise The Soul’s Conflict with Itself, Richard Sibbes, notes many causes of despair. Among them is vainglory, the pursuit of passions which are intended to elevate the soul with earthly things.

On the first day of the year, when New Year’s Resolutions abound—our own family wrote down goals for 2020 this morning—Sibbes words are a good tonic to prevent ascribing too much hope to our earthly abilities and how they might achieve “glory” for ourselves in 2020.

On this first day of the year, I am glad I read Sibbes’ words and I share them with other glory-seekers. He states that one “positive cause” of soul conflict comes from . . .

When men lay up their comfort too much on outward things, which, being subject to much inconstancy and change, breed disquiet. Vexation always follows vanity, when vanity is not apprehended to be where it is. In that measure we are cast down in the disappointing of our hopes, as we were too much lifted up in expectation of good from them. Whence proceed these complaints:

    • Such a friend hath failed me;
    • I never thought to have fallen into this condition;
    • I had settled my joy in this child, in this friend, &c.

But this is to build our comfort upon things that have no firm foundation, to build castles in the air, as we use to say. Therefore it is a good desire of the wise man Agur to desire God ‘to remove from us vanity and lies’ (Prov. 30:8); that is, a vain and false apprehension pitching upon things that are vain and lying, promising that contentment to ourselves from the creature which it cannot yield. Confidence in vain things makes a vain heart, the heart becoming of the nature of the thing it relies on. We may say of all earthly things as the prophet speaketh, ‘here is not our rest’ (Mic. 2:10).

It is no wonder, therefore, that worldly men are oft cast down and disquieted, when they walk in a vain shadow (Ps. 39:6), as likewise that men given much to recreations should be subject to passionate distempers, because here, things fall out otherwise than they looked for; recreations being about matters that are variable, which especially falls out in games of hazard, wherein they oft spare not divine providence itself, but break out into blasphemy.

Likewise men that grasp more businesses than they can discharge [a symptom of vainglory], must needs bear both the blame and the grief of losing or marring many businesses, it being almost impossible to do many things so well as to give content to conscience; hence it is that covetous and busy men trouble both their hearts and their houses. Though some men, from a largeness of parts and a special dexterity in affairs, may turn over much, yet the most capacious heart hath its measure, and when the cup is full, a little drop may cause the rest to spill. There is a spiritual surfeit, when the soul is overcharged with business; it is fit the soul should have its meet burden and no more. (Works of Richard Sibbes 1:140).

Consider his words, ask God to sanctify your ambitions, and have a Happy New Year!

Soli Deo Gloria, ds