Of Trust in God and His Providence

by Richard Sibbes

But to come nearer to the unfolding of this trust in God, which David useth here as a remedy against all distempers. Howsoever confidence and trust be an affection of nature, yet by the Spirit's sanctifying and carrying it to the right object, it becomes a grace of wonderful use. In the things of this life, usually he that hopes most is the most unwise man, he being most deceived that hopes most, because he trusts in that which is uncertain; and therefore deceitful hope is counted but the dream of a waking man. But in religion it is far otherwise; here hope is the main supporting grace of the soul, springing from faith in the promises of God. 

Trust and hope are often taken in the same sense, though a distinction betwixt them hath sometimes its use. Faith looks to the word promising, hope to the thing promised in the word; faith looks to the authority of the promiser, hope especially to the goodness of the promise; faith looks upon things as present, hope as to come hereafter. God as the first truth, is that which faith relies on; but God as the chief good is that which hope rests on. Trust or confidence is nothing else but the strength of hope. If the thing hoped for be deferred, then of necessity it enforces waiting, and waiting is nothing else but hope and trust lengthened. 

Howsoever there may be use of these and such like distinctions, yet usually they are taken promiscuously, especially in the Old Testament. The nature and use of faith is set out by terms of staying, resting, leaning, rolling ourselves upon God, &c., which come all to one, and therefore we forbear any further curious distinction. 

Now, seeing trusting in God is a remedy against all distempers, it is necessary that we should bring the object and the act, God and the soul, together; for effecting of which it is good to know something concerning God and something concerning trust. God only is the fit object of trust. He hath all the properties of that which should be trusted on. A man can be in no condition wherein God is at a loss and cannot help him. If comforts be wanting, he can create comforts, not only out of nothing, but out of discomforts. He made the whale that swallowed up Jonah a means to bring him to the shore, Jonah 1:17. The sea was a wall to the Israelites on both sides, Exod. 14:22. The devouring flames were a great refreshing to the three children in the fiery furnace, Dan. 3. That trouble which we think will swallow us up, may be a means to bring us to our haven; 'so mighty is God in power, and so excellent in working,' Isa. 28:29. God then, and God only, is a fit foundation for the soul to build itself upon, for the firmer the foundation is, the stronger will the building be; therefore those that will build high must dig deep. The higher the tree riseth, the deeper the root spreadeth and fasteneth itself below. So it is in faith: if the foundation thereof be not firm, the soul cannot build itself strongly upon it. Faith hath a double principle to build on, either a principle of being, or a principle of knowing. The principle of being is God himself, the principle of knowing is God's word, whereby God cometh forth 'out of that hidden light which none can attain unto,' 1 Tim. 6:16, and discovereth his meaning towards us for our good. 

This then must, 1, be supposed for a ground, that there is a God, and that God is, that is, hath a full and eternal being, and giveth a being, and an order of being, to all things else. Some things have only a being, some things life and being, some things sense, &c., and some things have a more excellent being, including all the former, as the being of creatures endued with reason. If God had not a being, nothing else could be. In things subordinate one to another, take away the first, and you take away all the rest. Therefore this proposition, God is, is the first truth of all; and if this were not, nothing else should be, as we see if the heavenly bodies do not move, there is no motion here below. 

2. In the divine nature or being, there is a subsisting of three persons, every one so set out unto us, as fitted for us to trust in; the Father as a Creator, the Son as a Redeemer, the Holy Ghost as a Comforter, and all this is in reference to us. God in the first person hath decreed the great work of our salvation, and all things tending to the accomplishment of it. God in the second person hath exactly and fully answered that decree and plot, in the work of our redemption. God in the third person discovers and applies all unto us, and fits us for communion with the Father and the Son, from whom he proceeds. 

3. God cannot be comfortably thought upon out of Christ our Mediator, in whom he was 'reconciling the world to himself,' 2 Cor. 5:19, as being a friend both to God and us, and therefore fit to bring God and the soul together, being a middle person in the Trinity. In Christ, God's nature becomes lovely to us, and ours to God; otherwise there is an utter enmity betwixt his pure and our impure nature. Christ hath made up the vast gulf between God and us. There is nothing more terrible to think on, than an absolute God out of Christ. 

4. Therefore, for the better drawing of us to trust in God, we must conceive of him under the sweet relation of a Father. God's nature is fatherly now unto us, and therefore lovely. 

5. And for further strengthening our faith it is needful to consider what excellencies the Scripture giveth unto God, answerable to all our necessities. What sweet names God is pleased to be known unto us by for our comfort, 'as a merciful, gracious, long-suffering God,' &c. Exod. 34:6. 

When Moses desired to see the glory of God, God thus manifested himself, in the way of goodness: 'I will make all my goodness pass before thee,' Exod. 33:16. 

Whatsoever is good in the creature is first in God as a fountain; and it is in God in a more eminent manner and fuller measure. All grace and holiness, all sweetness of affection, all power and wisdom, &c. as it is in him, so it is from him: and we come to conceive these properties to be in God, 1, by feeling the comfort and power of them in ourselves; 2, by observing these things in their measure to be in the best of the creatures, whence we arise to take notice of what grace and what love, what strength and wisdom, &c., is in God, by the beams of these which we see in his creature, with adding in our thoughts fulness peculiar to God, and abstracting imperfections incident to the creature. For that is in God in the highest degree, the sparkles whereof is but in us. 

6. Therefore it is fit that unto all other eminencies in God, we should strengthen our faith by considering those glorious singularities, which are altogether incommunicable to the creature, and which gives strength to his other properties, as that God is not only gracious and loving, powerful, wise, &c., but that he is infinitely, eternally, and unchangeably so. All which are comprised in and drawn from that one name Jehovah, as being of himself, and giving a being to all things else, of nothing; and able, when it pleaseth him, to turn all things to nothing again. 

7. As God is thus, so he makes it good by answerable actions and dealing towards us, by his continual providence, the consideration whereof is a great stay to our faith; for by this providence God makes use of all his former excellencies for his people's good, for the more comfortable apprehension of which, it is good to know that God's providence is extended as far as his creation. Every creature, in every element and, place whatsoever, receiveth a powerful influence from God, who doth what pleaseth him, both in heaven and earth, in the sea, and all places. But we must know God doth not put things into a frame, and then leave them to their own motion, as we do clocks, after we have once set them right, and ships, after we have once built them, commit them to wind and waves; but as he made all things, and knows all things, so, by a continued kind of creation, he preserves all things in their being and working, and governs them in their ends. He is the first mover that sets all the wheels of the creature aworking. One wheel may move another, but all are moved by the first. If God moves not, the clock of the creature stands. If God should not uphold things, they would presently fall to nothing, from whence they came. If God should not guide things, Satan's malice, and man's weakness, would soon bring all to a confusion. If God did not rule the great family of the world, all would break and fall to pieces, whereas the wise providence of God keepeth everything on its right hinges. All things stand in obedience to this providence of God, and nothing can withdraw itself from under it. If the creature withdraw itself from one order of providence, it falls into another. If man, the most unruly and disordered creature of all, withdraw himself from God's gracious government of him to happiness, he will soon fall under God's just government of him to deserved misery. If he shakes off God's sweet yoke, he puts himself under Satan's heavy yoke, who, as God's executioner, hardens him to destruction. And so, whilst he rushes against God's will, he fulfils it; and whilst he will not willingly do God's will, God's will is done upon him against his will. 

The most casual things fall under providence, yea, the most disordered thing in the world, sin, and, of sins the most horrible that ever the sun beheld, the 'crucifying of the Lord of life,' Acts 3:15, was guided by a hand of providence to the greatest good. For that which is casual in regard of a second cause, is not so in regard of the first, whose providence is most clearly seen in casual events that fall out by accident, for in these the effect cannot be ascribed to the next cause. God is said to kill him who was unwarily slain by the falling of an axe or some instrument of death, Deut. 19:5. 

And though man hath a freedom in working, and of all men the hearts of kings are most free, yet even these are 'guided by an overruling power,' Prov. 21:1, as the rivers of water are carried in their channels whither skilful men list to derive them. 

For settling of our faith the more, God taketh liberty in using weak means to great purposes, and setting aside more likely and able means; yea, sometimes he altogether disableth the greatest means, and worketh often by no means at all. It is not for want of power in God, but from abundance and multiplying of his goodness that he useth any means at all. There is nothing that he doth by means but he is able to do without means. 

Nay, God often bringeth his will to pass by crossing the course and stream of means, to shew his own sovereignty and to exercise our dependence, and maketh his very enemies the accomplishers of his own will, and so to bring about that which they oppose most. Hence it is that we believe under hope against hope, Ps. 135:6. 

But we must know, God's manner of guiding things is without prejudice to the proper working of the things themselves. He guideth them sweetly according to the instincts he hath put into them; for, 

1. He furnishes creatures with a virtue and power to work, and likewise with a manner of working suitable to their own nature; as it is proper for a man, when he works, to work with freedom, and other creatures by natural instinct, &c. 

2. God maintaineth both the power and manner of working, and perfecteth and accomplisheth the same by acting of it, being nearer to us in all we do than we are to ourselves. Intimior intimo nostro. 3. He applies and stirs up our abilities and actions to this or that particular as he seeth best. 4. He suspends or removes the hindrances of all actions, and so powerfully, wisely, and sweetly orders them to his own ends. When any evil is intended, God either puts bars and lets to the execution of it, or else limiteth and boundeth the same, both in regard of time and measure, so that our enemies either shall not do the evil at all, or else not so long a time or not in such a height of mischief as their malice would carry them to. The rod of the wicked may light upon the back of the righteous, Ps. 125:3, but it shall not rest there. God knows how to take our enemies off, sometimes by changing or stopping their wills, by offering considerations of some good or ill, danger or profit, to them; sometimes by taking away and weakening all their strength, or else by opposing an equal or greater strength against it. All the strength our enemies have rests in God, who, if he denies concourse and influence, the arm of their power, as Jeroboam's, when he stretched it out against the prophet, shrinks up presently. 

God is not only the cause of things and actions, but the cause, likewise, of the cessation of them, why they fall not out at all. God is the cause why things are not, as well as why they are. Deus est prima causa cujuscunque non esse. The cause why men favour us not, or, when they do favour us, want present wisdom and ability to help us, is from God's withdrawing the concurrence of his light and strength from them. If a skilful physician doth us no good, it is because it pleaseth God to hide the right way of curing at that time from him. Which should move us to see God in all that befalls us, who hath sufficient reason, as to do what he doth, so not to do what he doth not, to hinder as well as to give way. 

The God of spirits hath an influence into the spirits of men, into the principles and springs of all actions; otherwise he could not so certainly foretell things to come. God had a work in Absalom's heart in that he refused the best counsel. There is nothing independent of him who is the mover of all things, and himself unmoveable. 

Nothing so high, that is above his providence; nothing so low, that is beneath it; nothing so large, but is bounded by it; nothing so confused, but God can order it; nothing so bad, but he can draw good out of it; nothing so wisely plotted, but God can disappoint it, as Ahithophel's counsel; nothing so simply and unpoliticly carried, but he can give a prevailing issue unto it; nothing so freely carried, in regard of the next cause, but God can make it necessary in regard of the event; nothing so natural, but he can suspend it in regard of operation, as heavy bodies from sinking, fire from burning, &c. 

It cannot but bring strong security to the soul, to know that in all variety of changes and intercourse of good and bad events, God, and our God, hath such a disposing hand. Whatsoever befalls us, all serves to bring God's electing love, and our glorification together, God's providence serveth his purpose to save us. All sufferings, all blessings, all ordinances, all graces, all common gifts, nay, our very falls, yea, Satan himself with all his instruments, as over-mastered, and ruled by God, have this injunction upon them, to further God's good intendment to us, and a prohibition to do us no harm. Augustus taxed the world for civil ends, but God's providence used this as a means for Christ to be born at Bethlehem. Ahasuerus could not sleep, and thereupon calls for the chronicles, the reading of which occasioned the Jews' delivery, Esth. 6:1. God oft disposeth little occasions to great purposes. And by those very ways whereby proud men have gone about to withstand God's counsels, they have fulfilled them, as we see in the story of Joseph and Moses, 'in the thing wherein they dealt proudly, he was above them,' Exod. 10:11. Divinum consilium, dum devitatur, impletur; humana sapientia, dum reluctatur, comprehenditur.—Greg. 


From The Soul's Conflict WIth Itself, by RIchard Sibbes

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