Election, Providence, and “All Things for Good” (Sibbes)

  When God says he will safely bring his children to their heavenly home, he means it!  Sometimes the way home is rough and rocky, but the Lord will carry them through everything and safely bring them to his kingdom (2 Tim. 4:18). In theological terms, this means that God orders his providence for the good of his elect.  We’ve heard Paul’s words before: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Rom 8:28 NLT).  Whether he gives to us or takes from us, it all works towards our eternal salvation.  Here’s a great commentary on this truth by Richard Sibbes (I’ve edited it slightly):

Observation: Providence is serviceable to predestination and election

God in election has a purpose to call us out of the world and to save our souls. Providence is a general government of all things in the world. Election is in order to salvation; he has chosen us to a supernatural end and fits us for it by calling and sanctification.

Now, how does providence serve the decree of election? This way: whom God purposes to save he directs providence so that all things shall serve for that end.  Therefore he encourages them with outward things or takes outward things from them in his providence, as may serve his purpose in election to save their souls. He has a purpose to save them, therefore providence works all things for their good, Rom. 8:28. All things, by the overruling providence of God, are serviceable to a higher degree of love that God has for his children, to serve his purpose to bring them to heaven. Thereupon comes the dispensation of riches or poverty, honor or abasement. He takes liberty for outward things concerning this life, to give or take them as they may serve the spiritual and best good of his children.

Use/Application. Therefore God’s children, when they see God intends their good in taking away the things of this life, in letting them bleed, as it were, for their health, they should bless God as well for taking as for giving, as Job did, Job 1:21. And there is as great mercy and love hid in taking away blessings as in conveying of them. …Poverty of estate and poverty of spirit (the disposition of soul) come almost in one word, and indeed in God’s children they are joined together. For he sanctifies all situations and disposes himself towards them. When God has a purpose to save a man, everything shall help him homeward. And it is not a better outward argument to know a man’s state in grace than to see how the carriage of things serve God’s purpose to do good to his soul, when we ourselves are bettered in our inward man by whatsoever befalls us…. God’s children are as gold refined. Those that find themselves refined and bettered, it is evidence that they are God’s; because there is a providence serving their spiritual good, directing all things to that end.

 Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 6 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson, 1863), 241.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002