The Soul's Conflict with it self, and victory over itself by faith
Richard Sibbs
1635 AD

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Introduction:

  1. In 1636 AD, Richard Sibbs was a preacher whose views were typical of his day, that mental illness was a spiritual problem that needed a spiritual solution: "a diseases of the soul". The very title of the book says it all! Sibbs viewed that insanity was caused by an inner conflict and cured only by faith in Christ! He recognizes the conflict between good and bad conduct and how the conscience can bring turmoil to the spirit and also physical illness to the body. He echos the battle between the spirit and the flesh in Romans 7:24. "Now the reason why imagination workes so upon the soule, is, because it stirres up the affections answerable to the good or ill which it apprehends, and our affections stir the humors of the body, so that oftentimes both our souls and bodies are troubled hereby." He shows how insanity affects those with bad conscience because of sinful conduct and how a Christian is better equipped to work through common problems without become mad. This is the comfort of a holy man, that though he be troubled with himself, yet by reason of the spirit in him which is his better self, he works out by degrees, what ever is contrary . . . Hee that is at peace in himself, will be peaceable to others, peaceable in his family, peaceable in the Church, peaceable in the State; The soul of a wicked man is in perpetual) sedition; being always troubled in it self, it is no wonder if it be troublesome to others. Unity in our selves is before unity with others." Sibbs gives an exact etiology of one kind of mental illness where cognitive dissonance (bad conscience form sinful conduct) affects first the mind, then the body. "Things work upon the soul in this order. 1. Some object is presented. 2. Then it is apprehended by imagination as good and pleasing, or as evil and hurtful. 3. If good, the desire is carried to it with delight : if evil, it is rejected with distant, and so our affections are stirred up suitably to our apprehension of the object. 4. Affections stir up the spirits. 5. The spirits raise the humours, and so the whole man becomes moved and oftentimes distempered; this falleth out by reason of the Sympathy between the soul and body, whereby what offendeth one redoundeth to the hurt of the other." He also says that hypochondria is beyond dispute because of how clear it was that people became insane over the mere worry of contracting and dying from the plague, which was seen as a judgement of God upon people's sins. "I need bring no Examples for proof: for in every place I hear living witnesses of such as died of the Plague, stricken only with the fear of it". (The Souls Conflict, Richard Sibbs, 1635 AD)
  2. "The ancient idea of conflict in man between good and evil gave rise to the theory that mental illness or 'the soules disquiet' arose within the patient from psychological conflict between his better self and his baser nature or instincts. Sibbs showed how conflict could lead to 'the whole man' becoming 'distempered', in other words insane, and realised that 'conceived troubles' or 'imagination' today called fantasies may 'have the same effect upon us, as true'. This book is representative of a number of similar theological works which contain early psychiatric ideas bearing particularly on psychotherapy. With it may be mentioned The soules miserie and recoverze: or, the grieving of the spirit how it is caused, and how redressed, 1636 by 'Samuel Hoard, B. D. and Parson of Morton in Essex'." (300 years of Psychiatry, Richard Hunter, 1963, p111)

The soules conflict with it selfe, and victory over it self by faith, Richard Sibbs, 1635 AD

Richard Sibbs (1577-1635)

MA, D D Cantab., divine; Preacher at Gray's Inn; Master of St Catharine's Hall, Cambridge

The soules conflict with it selfe, and victory over it self by faith. A treatise of the inward disquietments of distressed spirits, with comfortable remedies to establish them, 1635 London, Dawlman pp. 141-3, 146-7, 151, 233-5

We see, that the soule hath disquiets proper to it selfe, besides those grief's of Sympathy that arise from the body; for here the soule complains of the soule itself, as when it is out of the body it hath torments and joyes of its owne. And if these troubles of the soule bee not well cured, then by way of fellowship and redundance they will affect the outward man, and so the whole man shall be inwrapt in miserie ... If there were no enemie in the world, nor Devil in hell, we carry that within us, that if it be let loose will trouble us more then all the world besides ... Therefore we must conceive in a godly man, a double self, one which must be denied, the other which must deny; one that breeds all the disquiet, and another that stilleth what the other hath raised .. .

That which most troubles a good man in all troubles, is himselfe, so farre as he is unsubdued; he is more disquieted with himselfe, than with all troubles out of himselfe; when hee hath gotten the better once of himselfe, whatsoever falls from without, is light; where the spirit is enlarged, it cares not much for outward bondage; where the spirit is lightsome, it cares not much for outward darkenesse ; where the spirit is setled, it cares not much for outward changes; where the spirit is one with it selfe, it can beare outward breaches; where the spirit is sound, it can beare outward sicknesse. Nothing can bee very ill with us, when all is well within. This is the comfort of a holy man, that though hee bee troubled with himselfe, yet by reason of the spirit in him which is his better self, he workes out by degrees, what ever is contrary . . . Hee that is at peace in himselfe, will be peaceable to others, peaceable in his family, peaceable in the Church, peaceable in the State; The soule of a wicked man is in perpetual) sedition; being alwayes troubled in it selfe, it is no wonder if it be troublesome to others. Unity in our selves is before unity with others .. .

Now the reason why imagination workes so upon the soule, is, because it stirres up the affections answerable to the good or ill which it apprehends, and our affections stir the humors of the body, so that oftentimes both our souls and bodies are troubled hereby.

Things work upon the soul in this order. 1. Some object is presented. 2. Then it is apprehended by imagination as good and pleasing, or as evill and hurtfull. 3. If good, the desire is carried to it with delight : if evil, it is rejected with distant, and so our affections are stirred up sutably to our apprehension of the object. 4. Affections stir up the spirits. 5. The spirits raise the humours, and so the whole man becomes moved and oftentimes distempered; this falleth out by reason of the Sympathy between the soul and body, whereby what offendeth one redoundeth to the hurt of the other.

And we see conceived troubles have the same effect upon us, as true. Jacob was as much troubled with the imagination of his sonnes death, as if hee had been dead indeed; imagination though it bee an empty windy. thing, yet it hath reall effects. Superstitious persons are as much troubled for neglecting any voluntarie service of mans invention, as if they had offended against the direct commandement of God : thus superstition breeds false fears, and false feare brings true vexation.

"Now this Feare did nor arise from danger of Infection, and yet it drew it on. How much more then does the fear of the fame cause work it? I need bring no Examples for proof: for in every place I hear living witnesses of such as died of the Plague, stricken only with the fear of it: And therefore I cannot think any mans ignorance can plead against it. Yet I will give a reason for it; because of all passions, Fear is the most pestilently pernicious. And this it is: Fear enforces the vital Spirits to retire inward to the heart: By which retiring they leave the outward parts infirm, as appears plainly by the paleness and trembling of one in great fear. So that the walls being forsaken (which are continually besieged by the outward ayre) in comes the enemy boldly ; the best spirits that should expelled them having cowardly founded retreat: In which with-drawing, they draw in with them such evil vapours as hang about the outward pores; even as the Sun draws toward it the vapours of the Earth. And hence is it, that Feare brings infection sooner then any other occasion. This therefore; and all other passions must (by a wife watching over our selves) be beaten off, whensoever they but offer so set upon us. But there are diseases of the soul..." p 37

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