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

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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

No Harbor In My Own Righteousness (Sibbes)

One of the greatest things about being a Christian is knowing that Jesus loves me despite my sin and sinful struggles.  I know I’m sinful but I also know I have a great Savior in whose righteousness I stand accepted by God.  I appreciate how Richard Sibbes (d. 1635) wrote about this:

“[The love of Christ] should teach us not to wrong ourselves with false judgement.  We should have a double eye: one to see that which is amiss in us, our own imperfections, thereby to carry ourselves in a perpetual humility; but another eye of faith to see what we have in Christ, our perfection in him, so to account of ourselves, and glory in this our best being, that in him we have a glorious being – such a one whereby God esteems us perfect, and undefiled in him only.

Sibbes is saying that on the one hand, we need to understand our sin and be humble because of it.  On the other hand, we need to understand our Savior and realize that in him God sees us as perfect, forgiven, justified.  Speaking of knowing, these two things (our sin and our Savior),

The one of which sights should enforce us to the other, which is one reason why God in this world leaves corruption in his children.  Oh, since I am thus undefiled, shall I rest in myself?  Is there any harbor for me to rest in mine own righteousness?  Oh no – it drives a man out of all harbor.  No, I will rest in that righteousness which God has wrought by Christ, who is the God-man.  That will endure the sight of God, being clothed with which, I can endure the presence of God.  So, this sight of our own unworthiness and wants should not be a ground of our discouragement, but a ground to drive us perfectly out of ourselves, that by faith we might renew our title to that righteousness, wherein is our especial glory.  Why should we not judge of ourselves as Christ does?  Can we see more in ourselves than he does?  Yet notwithstanding all he sees, he accounts us as undefiled.”

As the Apostle said, “…not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil. 3:9 NIV).

Richard Sibbes, The Love of Christ, p. 150-151.

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

The Whole Chain Holdeth (Sibbes)

The unbreakable, unchanging love of God for his children is one of the most comforting truths in Christianity.  God’s love for us in Christ is a free love.  This means it is not dependent upon something in us or something we have done or left undone.  He knew we were ungodly sinners, yet he loved us and gave his Son to die for us (cf. Rom. 5:8).  He loves his people with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3).  When we stumble and fall, his grip of love does not waver. His love for us is firm and constant. Richard Sibbes explained the comforting aspect of God’s love very well in A Heavenly Conference.  Here’s an excerpt; notice how the love of the Lord is very much related to the perseverance of the saints:

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 chooseth us, but the firmness is of his choosing; so he calleth us, we answer, but the firmness is of his action. He justifieth; 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 justifieth he will glorify. The whole chain so holdeth, that all the creatures in heaven and earth cannot break a link of it. Whom he calleth he will justify and glorify. Therefore never doubt of continuance, for it holds firm on God’s part, not thine.

God embraceth us in the arms of his everlasting love, not that we embraced him first. When the child falleth not, it is from the mother’s holding the child, and not from the child’s holding the mother. So it is God’s holding of us, knowing of us, embracing of us, and justifying of us that maketh the state firm, and not ours; for ours is but a reflection and result of his, which is unvariable. The sight of the sun varieth, but the sun in the firmament keepeth always his constant course. So God’s love is as the sun, invariable, and forever the same.

Richard Sibbes, A Heavenly Conference, p. 53-54.

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

God Crowns Grace with Grace (Sibbes)

Josiah's Reformation I’m finally reading Richard Sibbes’ Josiah’s Reformation – a book which was originally a four-part sermon series on 2 Chronicles 34:26-28.  So far so good!  Today I came across this great paragraph on how God crowns his grace with grace:

God hath set down this order in things, that where there is a broken heart there shall be a freedom from judgment; not that tenderness of heart deserves anything at God’s hand, as the papists gather, but because God hath decreed it so, that where tenderness of heart is, there mercy shall follow; as here there was a tender heart in Josiah, therefore mercy did follow. God’s promises are made conditionally; not that the condition on our part deserves anything at God’s hand, but when God hath given the condition, he gives the thing promised. So that this is an order which God hath set down, that where there is grace, mercy shall follow. For where God intends to do any good, he first works in them a gracious disposition: after which he looks upon his own work as upon a lovely object, and so doth give them other blessings. God crowns grace with grace.

(As a side, I noticed that the WTS bookstore is kicking off the new look of their website with a $5 coupon and free shipping.  Use this promo code at checkout: WTSNEW.  Hurry, because I doubt it will last long!)

The above quote is found in 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), 31.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Lord Opened Her Heart (Acts 16:14)

One of the places in Scripture that teaches effectual calling (irresistible grace) and the sovereignty of God in regeneration is Acts 16:14, where Luke writes this about Lydia: “The Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul (NASB).”  I appreciate Richard Sibbes’ comments on this text:

“…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 (only) from God. It is merely (only) 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 vapors 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
Hammond, WI

The Grounds of Perseverance

Chapter 38 of A Puritan Theology is titled, “The Puritans on Perseverance of the Saints.”  In this chapter the authors list four grounds or foundations of the perseverance of the saints as taught by the Puritans.  To state it as a question: “What are the grounds of the perseverance of the saints?” (I’ve edited the following to keep it brief – though I do recommend the entire section.)

Ground One: The Father’s electing love.  The Puritans stressed that our perseverance in faith is based on God’s preservation of us in grace.  Watson said, ‘It is not your holding God, but his holding us, that preserves us.  When a boat is tied to a rock, it is secure; so, when we are fast tied to the Rock of Ages, we are impregnable.’

Ground Two: Christ’s merit and intercession.  The Puritans said our union with Christ cannot be dissolved.  Christ will not let his people be sundered from him, any more than a head will willingly be cut off from its body or a husband from his wife.  The Puritans taught that the merit or value of the sacrifice Christ made at the cross guarantees that for those whom he died will be eternally saved.  The Puritans also viewed the intercessory work of Christ as our high priest as integral to the believer’s perseverance in faith.

Ground Three: The indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Richard Sibbes said, “There are none that hold out but those that have the Spirit of God to be their teacher and persuader.”  The ground of perseverance is closely connected with the Word of God which abides in us, for the Word of God and the Spirit of God are always closely connected.  Owen wrote, “…The Father gives the elect in to the hands of Christ to be redeemed; having redeemed them, in due time they are called by the Spirit, and marked for God, and so give up themselves to the hands of the Father.”

Ground Four: The Covenant of Grace.  The agreement of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit from all eternity is intimately connected with God’s covenant mercies to us because in the covenant God revealed the order of the cooperative work of the Trinity through the incarnate Mediator.  The covenant promises that God will be faithful to his people, and he will ensure their faithfulness to him.  True believers may be assured that they will have heaven because they already have the Lord as their covenant God, and that is the essence of heaven on earth.

Standing upon these four grounds, the Puritans said, the Christian’s hope is solid, substantial, and certain.

Joel Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 607ff.

rev shane lems
hammond, wi