The next two observations on the text by Sibbes considers the persistence of the Christian life being grounded in the love of God. The first observation, which derives from the imagery of waking and sleeping, is that while the Christian may stumble, the Christian will never completely fall:
Obs.1. ‘My heart waketh.’ God’s children never totally fall from grace.
First, he looks to an image in Isaiah 6:13:
Though they sleep, yet their heart is awake. The prophet Isaiah, speaking of the church and children of God, Isa. 6:13, saith, ‘It shall be as a tree, as an oak whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves.’ Though you see neither fruit nor leaves, yet there is life in the root, ‘the seed remains in them.’
The imagery of Isaiah applies most directly to Israel as a whole. Sibbes notes the context, “speaking of the church and children of God” (here, “church” is being used to refer to the people of God prior to the New Covenant). Thus, he is not misusing the text exegetically but rather using the image as illustrative.
Sibbes next applies the principle to an individual, Peter. (In making a reference the book of First Peter, I am surprised that Sibbes did not also reference 1 Peter. 1:23). Peter denied Jesus on the night of his arrest and trial, and Peter did not utterly fall away (as did Judas, who would not born of a “living hope”):
There is alway a seed remaining. It is an immortal seed that we are begotten by. Peter, when he denied his Master, was like an oak that was weather-beaten; yet there was life still in the root, 1 Pet. 1:3,Mat. 26:32, seq.For, questionless, Peter loved Christ from his heart. Sometimes a Christian may be in such a poor case, as the spiritual life runneth all to the heart, and the outward man is left destitute;
Sibbes then draws an analogy to a city ravaged in war:
as in wars, when the enemy hath conquered the field, the people run into the city, and if they be beaten out of the city, they run into the castle. The grace of God sometimes fails in the outward action, in the field, when yet it retireth to the heart, in which fort it is impregnable. ‘My heart waketh.’
Sibbes then applies the principle more directly to the issue, the outward failure and inward perseverance
When the outward man sleeps, and there are weak, dull performances, and perhaps actions amiss, too, yet notwithstanding ‘the heart waketh.’ As we see in a swoon or great scars, the blood, spirits, and life, though they leave the face and hands, &c., yet they are in the heart.
We have been wounded and appear dead, but our life has not yet left:
It is said in the Scripture of Eutychus, ‘His life is in him still,’ though he seemed to be dead, Acts 20:9. As Christ said of Lazarus, John 11:4, so a man may say of a Christian in his worst state, His life is in him still; he is not dead, but sleeps; ‘his heart waketh.’
This doctrine is contested. There are some who would say that one who falls has “lost his salvation”. There have been questions throughout the church among those who spoke of losing one’s salvation as to whether salvation could ever be regained; or even whether the regained salvation could merit heaven or only a purgatory. Sibbes anticipates that objection and contends this doctrine is consistent with Scripture:
Obs.2. This is a sound doctrine and comfortable, agreeable to Scripture and the experience of God’s people. We must not lose it, therefore, but make use of it against the time of temptation. There are some pulses that discover life in the sickest man, so are there some breathings and spiritual motions of heart that will comfort in such times.
Those who speak of a lost salvation, put the continuance of salvation in human effort. Sibbes rightly places the provision and maintenance of salvation not in the human recipient but in the God who gives salvation:
These two never fail on God’s part, his love, which is unchangeable, and his grace, a fruit of his love; and two on our part, the impression of that love, and the gracious work of the new creature. ‘Christ never dies,’ saith the apostle, Heb. 7:25. As he never dies in himself, after his resurrection, so he never dies in his children. There is always spiritual life.
Sibbes then goes to the “use” of the doctrine. By the way, this insistent reference to the “use” of a doctrine was a hallmark of Puritan preaching. It demonstrates that the purpose of doctrine is not for some hypothetical future theology exam, but rather for living. This particular doctrine brings “comfort”. The doctrine provides a comfort because the our unfailing relationship with God is not based upon us but upon God: God engenders this love which provokes love in us; and love never fails:
This is a secret of God’s sanctuary, only belonging to God’s people. Others have nothing to do with it. They shall ever love God, and God will ever love them. The apostle, 1 Cor. 13:8, saith, ‘Love never fails.’ Gifts, you know, shall be abolished, because the manner of knowing we now use shall cease. ‘We see through a glass,’ &c., ‘but love abideth,’ 1 Cor. 13:12. Doth our love to God abide for ever, and doth not his love to us, whence it cometh? Ours is but a reflection of God’s love.