III. Doct. That God’s mercy to his children is complete and full.
At this point, Sibbes will develop two related points: (1) When the obstacle of sin has been removed, God is full of grace toward us and delights in our seeking grace from him. (2) We are then filled with joy and thankfulness toward the God who gives us grace. Interestingly, the same point was made by De Silva based upon the understanding of “Charis” (grace) in the ancient world. David A. deSilva, “Patronage and Reciprocity: The Context of Grace in the New Testament,” Ashland Theological Journal Volume 31 31 (1999): 32.
Now, having stated his doctrine, Sibbes gives an explanation of what is entailed in God’s forgiveness and grace. He makes a useful comparison here. When we speak of things in God, the relationship to human interactions can only be approximate or comparative. Our love is never God’s love in quality and extent. Since we cannot understand God in an absolute sense, he provides us analogies by which we can begin to understand. Sibbes makes use of that principle by making a negative comparison with human conduct.
For he takes away ill, and doth good. Men may pardon, but withal they think that they have done wondrous bountifully when they have pardoned. But God goes further. He takes away ill, and doth good; takes good out of his fountain, and doth good to us.
The first “use” is for our encouragement. The argument will be as follows: God is infinitely good toward us. When sin is removed as an impediment to our relationship, God’s grace will abound. Knowing this will encourage us. This encouragement then becomes a basis for prayers for further grace.
Use. Therefore, let us make this use of it, to be encouraged, when we have the first blessing of all, forgiveness of sins, to go to him for more and more, and gather upon God further and further still.
The pray for more from God is to honor God. This may seem to be counterintuitive. In our relationships when someone does us good, we can be hesitant to seek more, because we drawing on a finite resource. But with God, asking glorifies him: “call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you will glorify me.” Ps. 50:15
For because he is a fountain of goodness that can never be drawn dry, he is wondrously pleased with this. We cannot honour him more than by making use of his mercy in the forgiveness of sins; and of his goodness, in going to him for it; and having interested ourselves in his goodness, go to him for more. Lord, thou hast begun: make an end; thou hast forgiven my sins; I want this and that good; together with the pardon of my sins, do me good. ‘Receive us graciously,’ or, ‘do us good.’
We are attracted to our own good. When sin is removed between us and God, God will be a fountain of good to us:
Now, good is the loadstone [magnet] of the soul, the attractive that draws it. Therefore, after forgiveness of sins, he saith, ‘do good.’ The petition is easy, God will soon grant it. For nothing else interposeth betwixt God and us, and makes two, but sin, which being removed, he is all goodness and mercy. ‘All his ways are mercy and truth,’ Ps. 25:10. Yea, even his sharpest ways are mercy, all mercy. When sin is forgiven, there is goodness in all, in the greatest cross and affliction. ‘Do good to us.’
What is meant by “good” here:
The soul, we see, desires good, and needs good. It is a transcendent word here, and must be understood according to the taste of God’s people, of a sanctified soul. ‘Do good.’ Especially do spiritual good to us. Together with the forgiveness of sins, give us the righteousness of Jesus Christ, sanctifying grace, such good as may make us good first.
For the desire must be such as the person is, who makes it. Wicked men, as it is said of Balaam, have good gifts, without the good God; but we must not be so pleased with gifts, unless we be good ourselves, and see God making us good. ‘Can an evil tree bring forth good fruit?’ Mat. 7:18. Therefore, the apostle calls the regenerate person ‘God’s workmanship,’ &c., Eph. 2:10. We are God’s good work, and then we do good works; being made good, good comes from us.
Here, Sibbes provides both an exposition of “do good to us” and prayer for that good. It is quite a remarkable section:
‘Do good to us.’
It is an acknowledgment of their own emptiness,
‘Do good to us.’
We are blind in our own understandings, enlighten us.
We are perplexed, set us right.
We are dull, quicken us.
We are empty, fill us.
We are dark, shine upon us.
We are ready to go out of the way, establish us.
Every way do good to us suitable to our wants.
The best that we can bring to thee is emptiness.
Therefore do thou good to us; fill us with thy fulness.
Do good to us every way, whereby thou usest to convey spiritual things to thy servants’ souls.
Give us first thy grace, thy Spirit, which is the spring of all good things; for the Spirit of God is a Spirit of direction, of strength, of comfort, and all. Therefore he who hath the Spirit of God hath the spring of all.
That is begged in the first place.
He proceeds with another set of petitions:
And then give us good magistrates, to rule us well, and good ministers, who are the dispensers of grace, instruments of our salvation, the conduit pipes whereby thou fillest and conveyest good to us.
The prayer “do good to us” is coupled with “take away all iniquity” – which is the first good in a series of good.
When thou hast made us good, continue the means of salvation for our good every way. The church, when she saith, ‘Do good to us,’ hath a large desire. Here be seeds of wondrous large things in these two short petitions, ‘Take away all iniquity,’ and ‘do good to us.’ A bono Deo, &c. From the good God nothing can come but what is good. Therefore do good to us in all spiritual things. The prophet David aims at this excellent good, saying that other men are for corn, wine, and oil, and say, ‘Who will shew us any good? But, Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us,’ Ps. 4:6, 7. Thy lovingkindness is better than life, therefore do good to us. When thou hast forgiven our sins, shine graciously upon us in Jesus Christ.
And this first good leads to all good:
And it extends its limits likewise to outward prosperity, this desire of doing good. Let us have happy days! Sweeten our pilgrimage here! Let our profession of religion be comfortable! Do not lay more crosses upon us than thou wilt give us strength to bear! Do good to us every way!
In this, God teaches us to pray:
But mark the wisdom of the Holy Ghost in dictating of this prayer to them. He speaks in general, ‘Do good to us;’ not to do this or that good, but he leaves it to the wisdom of God, as they here frame their hearts unto the will of God.
‘Do good to us,’ spiritual. That needs no limitation, because we cannot more honour God than to depend upon him for all spiritual good things. Thou art wiser, and knowest what is good for us better than we ourselves. Beggars ought to be no choosers. Therefore ‘do good to us,’ for the particulars we leave them to thy wisdom.
Sibbes then turns to the congregation with a word of direct encouragement:
Oh, beloved, it is a happy and blessed privilege to be under the conduct of so wise and all-sufficient a God, who is good, and as he is good, knows best what is good for us. We would have riches, liberty, and health; aye, but it may be it is not good for us. ‘Do good to us.’ Thou, Lord, knowest what is best. Do in thine own wisdom what is best.