March 21, 2006

Richard Sibbes (1577–1635) on Our Security in Christ

Therefore, we must dwell on the consideration of Christ's love. This must direct and lead our method in this thing. Would we have our hearts to love Christ, to trust in him, and to embrace him, why then think what he is to us. Begin there; nay, and what we are: weak, and in our apprehension, lost. Then go to consider his love, his constant love to his church and children. 'Whom he loves, he loves to the end,' John xiii. 1. We must warm our souls with the consideration of the love of God in him to us, and this will stir up our faith to him back again. For we are more safe in that he is ours, Gal. iv. 9, Philip. iii. 12, than that we give ourselves to him. We are more safe in his comprehending of us, than in our clasping and holding of him. As we say of the mother and the child, both hold, but the safety of the child is that the mother holds him. If Christ once give himself to us, he will make good his own part alway[s]. Our safety is more on his side than on ours. If ever we have felt the love of Christ, we may comfort ourselves with the constancy and perpetuity thereof. Though, perhaps, we find not our affections warmed to him at all times, nor alike, yet the strength of a Christian's comfort lies in this, that first, 'Christ is mine,' and then, in the second place, that 'I am his.'
Richard Sibbes “Bowels Opened: Or, Expository Sermons on Canticles IV. 16, V. VI: Sermon XX,” in The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart (Edinburgh: James Nicol, 1862), 2:184–185. Also here (click).

I recently heard Mark Dever quote the above passage by Richard Sibbes. I decided to do a search on the internet in order to find it. I like the mother/child illustration that Sibbes uses in order to convey the doctrine of our security in Christ. Sometimes Calvinists prefer the phrase "the preservation of the saints" instead of "the perseverance of the saints." While this preference is understandable in our theological climate, they are often not careful in their language. Some tend to make an either/or dilemma out of it, as if it’s a case of either preservation or perseverance. Sibbes sees both as true but chooses to emphasize the cause of our perseverance and safety, namely that God keeps us in Christ by his Spirit. He is careful not to make an either/or false dilemma when he stresses the significance of God's preserving power. We do persevere and grasp the Lord by faith, but only because he sustains us graciously. It's not a case of either preservation or perseverance, but that we persevere because he preserves.

Human responsibility is just as important as Divine sovereignty according to the bible. If I am talking to a non-Calvinist, I would stress the idea of the "preservation of the saints." If I was talking to a high or hyper-Calvininst, I would want to stress the idea of the "perseverance of the saints." The former group tend to think to little of God's power to keep us, while the latter tend to think too little of man's responsibility. Sibbes used careful language in order to convey the truth with precision. We should be just as careful in our teaching, even as we rejoice in the fact that we are secure in Christ.

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