We Stand by the Power of God

Calvin’s Commentaries (46 vols.)The truth that God never forsakes his people but always preserves and protects them is one of those biblical teachings that is the source of deep comfort.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ (Rom. 8:39). No one can rip us out of the strong and loving arms of the Lord (John 10:28).  Or, like Peter wrote, God’s elect have a certain inheritance in heaven that God is keeping for them (1 Peter 1:1-4).  In addition, God is keeping the elect for that inheritance (1 Peter 1:5).  It’s a twin gospel truth.  Here are some of John Calvin’s comments on the reality that we are being kept by the power of God (1 Peter 1:5):

We are to notice the connexion when he says, that we are kept while in the world, and at the same time our inheritance is reserved in heaven; otherwise this thought would immediately creep in, “What does it avail us that our salvation is laid up in heaven, when we are tossed here and there in this world as in a turbulent sea? What can it avail us that our salvation is secured in a quiet harbour, when we are driven to and fro amidst thousand shipwrecks?”

The apostle, therefore, anticipates objections of this kind, when he shews, that though we are in the world exposed to dangers, we are yet kept by faith; and that though we are thus nigh to death, we are yet safe under the guardianship of faith. But as faith itself, through the infirmity of the flesh, often quails [flinches], we might be always anxious about the morrow, were not the Lord to aid us.

And, indeed, we see that under the Papacy a diabolical opinion prevails, that we ought to doubt our final perseverance, because we are uncertain whether we shall be tomorrow in the same state of grace. But Peter did not thus leave us in suspense; for he testifies that we stand by the power of God, lest any doubt arising from a consciousness of our own infirmity, should disquiet us. How weak soever we may then be, yet our salvation is not uncertain, because it is sustained by God’s power. As, then, we are begotten by faith, so faith itself receives its stability from God’s power. Hence is its security, not only for the present, but also for the future.

 John Calvin and John Owen, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 30.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Art of Faith; or A Holy Defiance (Sibbes)

The Works of Richard Sibbes (7 vols.) Psalm 27:1 says this: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread?” (NASB).  Richard Sibbes preached an outstanding sermon on this text around 1630.  Sibbes noted that in the first part of this Psalm, David explained his comfort, his courage, and his care.  Here’s part of what Sibbes wrote on David’s comfort:

His comfort. It was altogether in the Lord, whom he sets out in all the beauties and excellency of speech he can. He propounds the Lord to himself in borrowed terms. ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation, the strength of my life’ (Ps. 27:1). So he fetcheth comfort from God, the spring of comfort, ‘the Father of all comfort’ (2 Cor. 1:4). He labors to present God to him in the sweetest manner that may be. He opposeth him to every difficulty and distress. In darkness, he is ‘my light;’ in danger, he is ‘my salvation;’ in weakness, he is ‘my strength;’ in all my afflictions and straits, he is the ‘strength of my life.’

Here is the art of faith in all perplexities whatsoever, to be able to set somewhat [something] in God against every malady in ourselves. And this is not simply set out, but likewise with a holy defiance. ‘The Lord is my light and salvation; whom shall I fear?’ Ps. 27:1. It is a question proceeding from a holy defiance, and daring of all other things. ‘The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?’ That is one branch of his comfort.

In other words, the art of faith is to take an attribute or characteristic of God and put it against troubles, calamities, or difficulties that arise in our lives.  It means to do so in the way of holy defiance, knowing that (for example) if God is for us, who can be against us?  What can separate us from his love?  Faith trusts in God and finds comfort in his attributes.

 Sibbes, Richard. The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes. Ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart. Vol. 2. Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet And Co.; W. Robertson, 1862. Print.

Shane Lems

The Answerable Comfort of God (Sibbes)

The Works of Richard Sibbes, vol. 7 In Christ, we know our heavenly Father as the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3).  The Heidelberg Catechism puts it so well: our only comfort is that we are not our own, but belong, body and soul, in life and in death to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ.  There is abundant comfort in Christian truth.  Richard Sibbes (d.1635) explained it nicely:

Know that the same love of God that brings thee to everlasting life will give thee daily bread. Therefore trust in God for provision, for protection, and for whatsoever thou dost want. For the first thing that a troubled soul doth look unto is for mercy, salvation, and comfort; and therefore in every troubled estate we have one thing or other still from God to comfort us.

I say, if we be in trouble, there is answerable comfort given us of God. Are we sick? He is our health. Are we weak? He is our strength. Are we dead? He is our life. So that it is not possible that we should be in any state, though never so miserable, but there is something in God to comfort us. Therefore is God called in Scripture a rock, a castle, a shield. A rock to build upon, a castle wherein we may be safe, a shield to defend us in all times of danger, shewing that if such helps sometimes succour us, how much more can God. I beseech you, consider God is our ‘exceeding great reward,’ Gen. 15:1.

God is bread to strengthen us, and a Spirit of all comfort; and indeed there is but a beam in the creature, the strength is in God. And if all these were taken away, yet God is able to do much more, and to raise up the soul. What! can a castle or a shield keep a man safe in the time of danger? How much more can God! I beseech you, consider how safe was Noah when the ark was afloat, Gen. 7:16. And why? Because God shut the door upon him and kept him there. Thus you see there is something in God for every malady, and something in the world for every trouble; then ‘trust in God.’ This is the way to quiet our souls.

For as heavy bodies do rest when they come to the centre of the earth, so the soul, for joy, and for care, for trust, doth find rest in God when it comes to him and makes him her stay. The needle rests when it comes to the North Pole, and the ark rested when it came to the mount Ararat, Gen. 8:4, so the soul rests safe when it comes to God, and till that time, it moves as the ark upon the waters. Therefore our blessed Savior saith in Matthew, ‘Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and you shall find rest for your souls,’ Mat. 11:28.

 Sibbes, R. (1864). The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes. (A. B. Grosart, Ed.) (Vol. 7, pp. 59–60). Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Your Judge is also Your Advocate and Savior (Toplady)

 One of the most difficult struggles in the Christian life is the constant struggle with sin and guilt.  We aren’t perfect; we still have remnants of the old man in us.  This world is no friend of grace, and Satan won’t leave us alone.  But Jesus is our Savior.  He died, rose again, and is now constantly interceding for us.  I love how Augustus Toplady wrote about this in a letter to a friend on March 6, 1767:

…Satan, no doubt, will be ever ready to bring in the indictment, and conscience cannot help pleading guilty to a great part of the charge: but remember, that your judge is, at the very same time, your advocate and Savior. He is a lover of your soul, and was the propitiation for your sins; they cannot be too numerous, nor too heinous, for mercy like his to pardon, nor for merit like his to cover.

Only flee to him for refuge, fly to the hiding place of his righteousness, death and intercession; and then, the enemy can have no final advantage over you, nor the son of wickedness approach to hurt you, in your everlasting interest. Assault you he may, in your way to the kingdom of God; overcome you he cannot, if you look, or desire to look, to Jesus for safety; lie at his blessed feet for protection; lay hold on his victorious cross for salvation; and then you shall find him gracious to relieve, mighty to deliver, and faithful to uphold. Cast [your] anchor on his love, and be happy, rely on his omnipotence, and be safe.

 Toplady, A. M. (1825). The Works of Augustus M. Toplady (Vol. 6, pp. 136–137). London; Edinburgh: William Baynes and Son; H. S. Baynes.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The “Admirable Method” of God’s Providence (Calvin)

Tracts and Treatises of John Calvin (8 vols.) Around 1560 John Calvin wrote “A Brief Confession of Faith” which was probably meant to be a shorter version of his larger confession for French Reformed churches.  Like other Protestant confessions of faith, it gives a good summary of the main teachings of Scripture – summaries which date back to the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds.  Below I’ve posted a paragraph on providence from “A Brief Confession of Faith.”  God’s sovereign providence is a comforting reality for the Christian.  As we face trials and hardships in life, we pray for submission to the good providence of our good God:

I confess that God once created the world to be its perpetual Governor, but in such manner that nothing can be done or happen without his counsel and providence. And though Satan and the reprobate plot the confusion of all things, and even believers themselves pervert right order by their sins, yet I acknowledge that the Lord, as the Sovereign Prince and ruler of all, brings good out of evil; in short, [he] directs all things as by a kind of secret reins, and overrules them by a certain admirable method, which it becomes us to adore with all submissiveness of mind, since we cannot embrace it in thought.

Calvin, J., & Beveridge, H. (1849). Tracts Relating to the Reformation (Vol. 2, pp. 130–131). Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church, OPC
Hammond, WI, 54015

Justified Today, Damned Tomorrow? Never! (Sibbes)

 We are weak.  Our faith is often feeble and barely flickering.  We have doubts; despair sometimes is a dark cloud in the Christian life.  “Prone to wander” is an understatement at times!  I appreciate how Richard Sibbes discussed this hard reality in the Christian life.  He met it with the gospel, with the comforting truths of the doctrines of grace:

Objection: “Oh… says the poor soul, I am a poor weak creature, and ready to fall away every day.”

Answer: “Yes, but Christ’s love is constant.  ‘Whom he loves, he loves to the end.’  What does the apostle say (Rom. 8:38-39)? ‘Neither things present, nor things to come, shall be able to separate us from the love of Christ.’  Therefore be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might; do not trust yourselves, nor trouble yourselves for things to come.  If you be free from guilt of former sins, never question time to come.  God is unchangeable in his nature, unchangeable in his love.  He is ‘Yahweh I AM’, always – not ‘I was or will be’, but ‘I am always.’  If ever he loved you, he will love you forever.”

“You see the constancy of Christ’s love when he told Mary, ‘Go tell my brothers’ (John 20:17).  Now when they had most deeply offended him, they were renegades, having all left him even then when he had most need of their comfort, being in greatest extremity – yet he called them brothers when he said, ‘Go tell my brothers.'”

“Beloved, let us not lose the comfort of the constancy and immutability of Christ’s love. Let us conceive that all the sweet links of salvation are held on God’s part strong, not on ours; the firmness is on God’s part, not on ours. Election is firm on God’s part, not on ours. We choose indeed as he chooses us, but the firmness is of his choosing; so he calles us, we answer, but the firmness is of his action. He justifies; we are made righteous, but the firmness is of his imputation. Will he forgive sins today, and bring us into court and damn us tomorrow? No. The firmness is of his action. We are ready to run into new debts every day, but whom he justifies he will glorify. The whole chain so holds, that all the creatures in heaven and earth cannot break a link of it. Whom he calls he will justify and glorify. Therefore never doubt of continuance, for it holds firm on God’s part, not thine.”

Richard Sibbes, A Heavenly Conference, p. 53.

(Note: the above quotes have been slightly edited for readability.)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Providence and Confession of Faith (Bavinck)

 The truth of God’s providence is a source of great comfort in the Christian life.  We believe from Scripture that God is sovereign over all things, from the stars in the skies to the cattle on a thousand hills to the birds in the trees to the hairs on our heads.  Nothing happens by chance, but according to his divine providence (cf. Ps 93:1, 104:19-20, 148:8, 1 Cor. 15:24, Rev. 12:10, etc. etc.).  Herman Bavinck explained this comfort well in the closing statements of his discussion on God’s providence.  Note at the end how Bavinck alludes to the Heidelberg Catechism’s great summary of providence in Lord’s Day 10:

In this consoling fashion Scripture deals with the providence of God. Plenty of riddles remain, both in the life of individuals and in the history of the world and humankind…. But God lets the light of his Word shine over all these enigmas and mysteries, not to solve them, but that “by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).

The doctrine of providence is not a philosophical system but a confession of faith, the confession that, notwithstanding appearances, neither Satan nor a human being nor any other creature, but God and he alone—by his almighty and everywhere present power—preserves and governs all things. Such a confession can save us both from a superficial optimism that denies the riddles of life, and from a presumptuous pessimism that despairs of this world and human destiny.

For the providence of God encompasses all things, not only the good but also sin and suffering, sorrow and death. For if these realities were removed from God’s guidance, then what in the world would there be left for him to rule? God’s providence is manifest not only, nor primarily, in the extraordinary events of life and in miracles but equally as much in the stable order of nature and the ordinary occurrences of daily life. What an impoverished faith it would be if it saw God’s hand and counsel from afar in a few momentous events but did not discern it in a person’s own life and lot? It leads all these things toward their final goal, not against but agreeably to their nature, not apart from but through the regular means; for what power would there be in a faith that recommended stoical indifference or fatalistic acquiescence as true godliness?

But so, as the almighty and everywhere present power of God, it makes us grateful when things go well and patient when things go against us, prompts us to rest with childlike submission in the guidance of the Lord and at the same time arouses us from our inertia to the highest levels of activity. In all circumstances of life, it gives us good confidence in our faithful God and Father that he will provide whatever we need for body and soul and that he will turn to our good whatever adversity he sends us in this sad world, since he is able to do this as almighty God and desires to do this as a faithful Father.

 Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 618–619.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015