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

On Not Burdening New Christians (Sibbes)

The Bruised Reed (Puritan Paperbacks) Sibbes, Richard cover image When discipling and teaching new Christians it can be tempting to instruct them in our personal preferences, spiritual habits, and religious opinions.  For example, if someone really likes a certain translation of the Bible, she might want the person she’s discipling to really like that translation too.  Or, if a person is very passionate about a certain type of schooling for children, he might want the person he’s discipling to be passionate about that type of schooling as well.  One other example would be political opinions.  Sometimes Christians impose their political views on newer Christians they are discipling them.

I appreciate Richard Sibbes’ (d. 1635) wisdom on this issue:

It is not the best way to assail young beginners with minor matters, but to show them a more excellent way and train them in fundamental points. Then other things will not gain credence with them. It is not amiss to conceal their defects, to excuse some failings, to commend their performances, to encourage their progress, to remove all difficulties out of their way, to help them in every way to bear the yoke of religion with greater ease, to bring them to love God and his service, lest they acquire a distaste for it before they know it.

In other words, when discipling Christians we should focus on the clear truths of Scripture instead of our personal preferences and opinions – things that Sibbes rightly calls “minor matters.”  If we add our own opinions and preferences to discipleship training, it will probably either give the disciple a “distaste” for religion like Sibbes wrote, or it will make him or her a proud legalist.

From a different angle, this is the Reformation principle of “Sola Scriptura” applied to discipleship!

The above Sibbes quote is found in The Bruised Reed, p. 20.

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

God Has Many Keys [or: The Lord Opened Her Heart] (Sibbes)

I’ve always loved the story in Acts about Lydia coming to faith in Christ when Paul was telling her about Jesus by the side of a river near Philippi.  Here’s how Luke summarized it: “A God-fearing woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, was listening. The Lord opened her heart to respond to what Paul was saying” (Acts 16:14, CSB).  Here’s a helpful commentary – and I especially like that last paragraph:

…Observe then in the ‘opening of the heart’ these things.

1. First, The heart is naturally shut and closed up, as indeed it is to spiritual things. It is open enough to the world, and to base contentments here; but it is shut to heaven and heavenly things. Naturally it is clean locked up – partly in its own nature, being corrupt and earthly; partly because Satan he besiegeth all the senses, and shuts up all. There is a spirit of deafness and blindness, and a spirit of darkness and deafness in people, before God hath brought them by the powerful work of the gospel from the kingdom of Satan, that possesseth every man naturally. Naturally therefore our hearts are not open, but locked and shut up. That is supposed here. So that except God be merciful to break the prison, as it were, whereby by unbelief and the wickedness of our nature we are shut up, there is no hope of salvation at all. God opens the heart.

2. The second thing is this, that as our hearts are shut and closed up naturally, so God, and God alone, opens the heart, by his Spirit in the use of the means. God opened Lydia’s heart.

God hath many keys. He hath the key of heaven to command the rain to come down. He hath the key of the womb; the key of hell and the grave; and the key of the heart especially. ‘He opens, and no man shuts; and shuts and no man opens,’ Rev. 3:7. He hath the key of the heart to open the understanding, the memory, the will, and affections. God, and God only, hath the key of the heart to open that. It is his prerogative. He made the heart, and he only hath to do with the heart. He can unmake it, and make it new again, as those that make locks can do. And if the heart be in ill temper, he can take it in pieces, and bring it to nothing as it were, as it must be before conversion; and he can make it a new heart again. It is God that opens the heart, and God only. All the angels in heaven cannot give one grace, not the least grace. Grace comes merely [altogether] from God. It is merely from God. All the creatures in the world cannot open the heart, but God only by his Holy Spirit. For nature cannot do above its sphere, as we say, above its own power. Natural things can do but natural things. For nature to raise itself up to believe heavenly things, it cannot be. Therefore as you see vapours go as high as the sun draws them up, and no higher, so the soul of man is lift up to heavenly things by the power of God’s Spirit. God draws us and then we follow. God, I say, only openeth the heart.

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), 523–524.

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

Losing God’s Love? (Sibbes)

The Works of Richard Sibbes, vol. 7 There are times in the Christian life when, for various reasons, we don’t feel God’s love.  Sometimes the Christian doesn’t feel loved by God because of certain sins committed, because of a brutal affliction that weighs heavy, or because of something else.  Andrew Peterson put it this way in his song “Just As I Am”:

“All of my life I’ve held on to this fear / these thistles and vines ensnare and entwine / what flowers appear / it’s the fear that I’ll fall / one too many times / it’s the fear that His love / is no better than mine.”

In a sermon on Micah 7:18-20 Richard Sibbes (d. 1635) answered this fear as he reflected on God’s great mercy (the sermon is called “The Matchless Mercy”).  Below is the part of the sermon where Sibbes comments on the phrase in verse 19, “He will again have compassion on us”:

The use hereof is, first, reproof unto such who say, that if their peace be once lost, oh! they shall never have it again, they shall never have comfort, favour, or feeling of God’s love.

But mark our error: we in this case judge God to be like unto a man, who will say, Oh! I will never again love this man, who hath deceived me.

But let us remember that God did foresee all our errors and sins that ever we should commit, before we did commit the same. Now if these our sins, before our calling, which in the course of our life we were to commit, being all before God’s face, could not hinder his love unto us, what folly is it to think that now, after our effectual calling, our sins which he foresaw can stay his mercies from us.

This the apostle aimeth at, Rom. 5:10, ‘For if, whilst we were enemies, we were reconciled unto God by the death of his son; much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.’ So that most certain it is he will turn again and have compassion.

 Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 7 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson, 1864), 161.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
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

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