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

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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

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