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January’s Puritan: Richard Sibbes

Richard SibbesThe Puritan we will be reading this month is Richard Sibbes (1577-1635). Much of the following material is taken from Meet the Puritans by Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson, and The Genius of Puritanism by Peter Lewis.

Richard Sibbes was one of the most influential Puritans of his time, after William Perkins (1558-1602). He seems to have escaped the persecution by the English government that characterized the lives of many of his fellow Puritan ministers. Sibbes was known as “the heavenly Doctor” due to his godly preaching and heavenly manner of life, and his preaching and writing was extremely popular; especially the volume we will be reading this month, The Bruised Reed, and its companion, The Soul’s Conflict.

Sibbes was born at Tostock, Suffolk, which Beeke and Pederson call “the Puritan country of old England.” He was baptized as a child. He was a bibliophile; that is, he was a lover of books from an early age. His father, a wheelwright (a person who builds or repairs wheels) and a Christian himself, tried to break his son of his bookish ways by attempting to interest him in the wheelwright’s trade, but Sibbes refused, uninterested. At the age of 18 he was admitted to St. John’s College in Cambridge, where he received a Bachelor of Arts in 1599, a fellowship in 1601, and a Master of Arts in 1602. In 1603 Sibbes was converted through the preaching of Paul Baynes (c. 1573-1617), whom he called his “father in the gospel.” Baynes succeeded William Perkins at the Church of St. Andrews in Cambridge.

It seems Sibbes began to experience the blessings of God almost immediately following his conversion. He was ordained to the ministry in the Church of England in 1608 and the following year was chosen as one of the college preachers. In 1610 he earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree and from 1611 to 1616 served as lecturer at Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge. His preaching brought revival to a Cambridge which had fallen into “spiritual indifference” after the death of Perkins in 1602; and his speaking became so popular a gallery had to be built to accomodate visitors in the church. During this time, he became a major factor in the conversions of such noted Puritans as John Cotton and Hugh Peters, and was a large influence on Thomas Goodwin and John Preston, other notable Puritans.

In 1617 Sibbes went to London as a lecturer for Gray’s Inn, the largest of the four great Inns of Court (which remain to this day one of the most important centers in England for the study and practice of law). In 1626 he became master of St. Catharine’s College at Cambridge and received his Doctor of Divinity during this time. It is while here that he became known as “the heavenly Doctor.” In 1633 King Charles I offered Sibbes the charge of Holy Trinity, Cambridge. He continued to serve as preacher at Gray’s Inn, master of St. Catharine’s Hall, and vicat of Holy Trinity until his death in 1635.

Interestingly, Sibbes never married. He did, however, establish a large network of friendships that included godly ministers, noted lawyers and parliamentary leaders of the early Stuart era. He is quoted as saying, “Godly friends are walking sermons.” As a result, he wrote at least 13 introductions to the writings of his Puritan colleagues.

A Quote from Richard Sibbes

“To preach is to woo….The main scope of all [preaching] is, to allure us to the entertainment of Christ’s mild, safe, wise, victorious government.”

Synopsis of The Bruised Reed
The Bruised Reed by Richard SibbesThis month’s Puritan Paperback is The Bruised Reed, authored obviously by Richard Sibbes. What follows is a brief synopsis from Meet the Puritans.

This treatise on the dejected sinner is one of the best works of its kind. In sixteen chapters, Sibbes expounds Isaiah 42:3, “A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.” Richard Baxter said that God used the reading of this treatise to effect his own conversion. Martin Lloyd-Jones wrote, “I shall never cease to be grateful to Richard Sibbes who was balm to my soul at a period in my life when I was overworked and badly overtired, and therefore subject in an unusual manner to the onslaughts of the devil….I found at that time that Richard Sibbes, who was known in London in the early seventeenth century as the ‘Heavenly Doctor Sibbes’ was an unfailing remedy….The Bruised Reed quieted, soothed, comforted, encouraged and healed me.”

Where to Buy The Bruised Reed
You can get this book from any of the links in my Books page. If you live in Louisville, you can run down to the Southern Seminary campus bookstore or, if you want it at a discount, the Christian Book Nook near the University of Louisville. If you’d like to order directly from the publisher, you may be able to take advantage of a great sale they are having at the Banner of Truth website. Just click on “Book Catalogue” to see the specials. Currently you can get 5 Puritan Paperbacks of your choice for $35. Take that opportunity to get yourself 5 months’ worth of reading in one fell swoop! See the reading schedule in the sidebar to determine which titles to purchase.

Well, that wraps up our first Puritan biography of 2008. I am now off to take a brief nap before reading another chapter of The Bruised Reed and then going to work. I pray you will take up the Puritan Challenge 2008!

  1. January 3, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    Stephen – You are embarking on an incredible journey! I would love to hear how your year through the Puritans goes as you continue through 2008. All of us at Banner’s US office encourage you to press on!
    Steve B.

  2. January 19, 2008 at 8:46 pm

    My wife and I wrote a book Broken Minds Hope for Healing When You Feel Like Your Losing It, c 2005,
    (Bloem Steve and Robyn, Kregel Publications).
    Please see Chapter 18 Reclaiming the Puritan Care of Souls.
    We mention Sibbes a number of times in this chapter.
    We also quote from Baxter, Perkins, Jonathan Edwards, Thomas Manton and Thomas Goodwin.
    Appendix C p.254-271 – Thomas Manton and Thomas Goodwin on Isaiah 50:10. Please check the back cover. We are endorsed by John Rawlison.
    Yes, we take on J. Adams and Nouthetic Counseling in this book. The Puritans did believe in a biological mental illness as well as terrors of the conscience and the law. We lean heavily on Lloyd Jones’s use of the patent remedy concept and how it wreaks havock on pastoral theology. Lloyd Jones in his book Healing and the Scriptures talks about the reality of mental illness and in fact decries Adam’s view as cruel.
    This is not a personal thing but a stand for the truth.

    In Christ,
    Steve Bloem
    Director of Heartfelt Ministries.

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