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Richard Sibbes

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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June 17, 2024 12:01 am

Richard Sibbes

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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June 17, 2024 12:01 am

Unlike the stereotypical notion of the Puritan who lays heavy burdens on struggling Christians, Richard Sibbes sought to warm weary hearts at the fire of Christ's mercy. Today, Michael Reeves considers the pastoral heart of this influential figure.

Get Michael Reeves' Teaching Series 'The English Reformation and the Puritans' on DVD and the Digital Study Guide for Your Gift of Any Amount:

Meet Today's Teacher:

Michael Reeves is president and professor of theology at Union School of Theology in the United Kingdom. He is the featured teacher for the Ligonier teaching series The English Reformation and the Puritans. He is author of many books, including The Unquenchable Flame, Delighting in the Trinity, and Rejoice and Tremble.

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Nathan W. Bingham is vice president of ministry engagement for Ligonier Ministries, executive producer and host of Renewing Your Mind, host of the Ask Ligonier podcast, and a graduate of Presbyterian Theological College in Melbourne, Australia. Nathan joined Ligonier in 2012 and lives in Central Florida with his wife and four children.

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Renewing Your Mind
R.C. Sproul

A phrase Sibbes often repeated in his sermons was, there is more grace in Christ than there is sin in us.

And knowing that, he always sought in his preaching to win the hearts of his listeners to Christ. And it was said, hardened sinners would deliberately avoid going to hear Sibbes for fear he would convert them. What image comes to mind when you think of the Puritans? Preaching that was cold? A focus on external morals and less of a focus on the gospel and Christ?

Perhaps this unfair caricature has made you hesitant to read the Puritans. Well this week you'll be introduced to several Puritans and we'll get a taste of the treasure trove of gospel riches that can be found in many Puritans preaching and teaching. This is the Monday edition of Renewing Your Mind.

I'm your host, Nathan W Bingham. Michael Reeves, the President and Professor of Theology at Union School of Theology is our guest teacher this week. And I commend his 12 message series to you, the English Reformation and the Puritans.

After you hear today's message, I'm sure you'll want to own the series yourself and you can request your copy at To introduce you to his favorite Puritan, the one who was often called Honey-Mouthed or the Sweet Dropper, here's Dr. Reeves. We're going to look in this lecture at Richard Sibbes. Richard Sibbes, the Heavenly Doctor, as he came to be called. His dates, if you want to know, he was a rough contemporary of William Shakespeare, 1577 to 1635. If that helps.

Don't worry about the dates if you don't care about that sort of thing. Richard Sibbes, he was a man who clearly enjoyed knowing God. And so much so, you read his sermons today and his relish is still infectious after all those years. He would speak of the living God as a life-giving warming sun who, he said, delights to spread his beams and his influence in things to make all things fruitful. Such a goodness is in God as is in a fountain or in the breast that loves to ease itself of milk. And knowing God to be such an overflowing fountain of goodness made Sibbes a very attractive model of God-likeness. For, he said, those who are led by the Spirit of God, they have such a diffusive goodness that loves to spread itself like him. In other words, knowing God's love, Sibbes became loving. And his understanding of who God is transformed him into a man, a preacher. And his sermons were recorded so a writer of really magnetic geniality. Now, Sibbes was never married, but it's quite clear that he had a truly remarkable ability to form warm and lasting friendships. Charles Spurgeon once told his students that he loved the sort of minister whose face invites you to be their friend, the sort of face on which you read the sign, welcome, and not beware of the dog.

Well, that welcome sign is exactly what you get to see on Sibbes. Spurgeon could have been describing Sibbes. Born to a wheelwright, a wheel maker in a rather obscure little village in Suffolk, few could have expected how influential young Sibbes was going to be. But it soon became clear that he was remarkably capable. He sailed through his studies at Cambridge, and he became a tutor at St. John's College, aged just 24. But it was really his abilities as a preacher that marked him out as extraordinary. Before long, he was appointed to be a lecturer. Now, a lecturer is not the pastor, it's someone really invited in to do regular preaching. He had that role at Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge, and you can still go there today.

And it's had a remarkable history itself, quite apart from him. A few years later, he was also appointed to be a preacher at Gray's Inn, one of the influential London inns of court, where Sibbes would preach to many of the men who would become significant Puritan movers and shakers in the generation to come. A phrase Sibbes often repeated in his sermons was, there is more grace in Christ than there is sin in us. And knowing that, he always sought in his preaching to win the hearts of his listeners to Christ. And this, he believed, was the special duty of ministers, not to perform sacrifice on their behalf, not to take them through some external religion. But he said, ministers woo for Christ. They open up the riches, beauty, honor, all that is lovely in him.

One main end of our calling, the ministry, is to lay open and unfold the unsearchable riches of Christ, to dig up the mine so as to draw the affections of those that belong to God to Christ. The result was preaching that was so winsome that struggling believers began to call him the honeymouthed, the sweet dropper. And it was said, hardened sinners would deliberately avoid going to hear Sibbes for fear he would convert them. One listener, Humphrey Mills, records his experience of Sibbes' ministry, and it seems to have been fairly typical.

Here's what Mills says. I was for three years wounded for sins and under a sense of my corruptions, which were many. And I followed sermons of pursuing the means I was constant in duties and doing, looking for heaven that way by doing.

And then I was so precise for outward formalities, I censored all to be reprobates that wore their hair long, or not short above their ears, or that wore great ruffs and gorgets and fashions and follies. The amusement here is that Sibbes was known for wearing an enormous great ruff, the stick out collar, the sort of lacy things. Yet, Mills said, I was distracted in my mind, wounded in conscience. I wept often and bitterly and prayed earnestly, but had no comfort until I heard that sweet Saint Dr Sibbes, by whose means and ministry I was brought to peace and joy in my spirit. His sweet soul-melting gospel sermons won my heart and refreshed me much, for by Sibbes I saw I had much of God and was confident in Christ and could overlook the world.

My heart now held firm, resolved, my desires now were heavenward. In 1626, Sibbes was appointed master of Catherine Hall Cambridge, and for the last decade of his life he would use his considerable influence to put trusted young Puritan preachers into church teaching posts around the country. He personally nurtured a number of key young ministers, men such as Thomas Goodwin, who we'll meet later, John Cotton, Jeremiah Burroughs, John Preston, Philip Nye, and through his printed sermons he affected countless more.

He even affected me. Richard Sibbes wasn't the first Puritan I read. The first Puritan I read was John Owen. But ever since the day when, as a student, I read Sibbes, the bruised reed.

I'll introduce you to that in a moment. Sibbes, I think, has been my favourite and is, I think, the place to start as an introduction to the Puritans. Charles Spurgeon, the Baptist's 19th century preacher, said, Sibbes never wastes your time.

He scatters pearls and diamonds with both hands. And reading him really is like sitting in the sunshine. He gets into your heart and warms it to Christ because he holds out the glory of Christ so well. Let me introduce you to the bruised reed then, perhaps his most famous work. Now, speaking into what we've looked at, this culture of introspection, moral self-reliance, Sibbes preached a series of sermons based on the text Matthew 12, verse 20. And that itself is a quotation from Isaiah 42, a bruised reed he will not break and a smouldering wick he will not quench, or a smoking flax, as in the version that Sibbes used. And these sermons in this series were put together as a book titled The Bruised Reed and the Smoking Flax.

It's usually shortened today just to be called The Bruised Reed, aimed at the binding up of a broken heart. And they were instrumental in the conversion of at least one other major Puritan figure, Richard Baxter. Now, that verse that Sibbes was expounding, a bruised reed he will not break, is referring to Jesus. And it is a striking feature of Sibbes' preaching just how Christ-focused he is. And that's no accident because Sibbes sought to draw the eyes of his listeners from their hearts to the Savior. For he said, there are heights and depths and breaths of mercy in him above all the depths of our sin and misery.

How so, Sibbes? Well, he said, since God's love rests on Christ as well pleased with him, we may gather he's well pleased with us, even us, if we be in Christ. You see, Christian confidence does not lie in the strength of our faith or performance. No, it lies upon, he said, the joint agreement of all three persons of the Trinity, that the Father loves and is pleased with the Son. And as the Spirit unites us to the Son, we enjoy the Son's own blessed status before the Father.

Not some generic far off distance status, the Son's own status. Because God is a Trinity, Christians can have assurance. And then instead of simply laying moral burdens on weak and struggling Christians, Sibbes sought to show them Christ's attractiveness so that they might actually love Christ from their hearts. And from then, he said, the Christian's first task is to warm ourselves at the fire of his love and mercy. And only when Christians do that, he said, do they actually start to avoid sin heartily. Then they stop sinning from the heart, whereas if they're not actually brought to love Christ, then they might change their behavior, but their behavioral change has done nothing for that fundamental problem of the heart. In other words, Sibbes believed the solution to sin was not the attempt to live without sin. The solution to sin was a gospel of God's free grace, which changes hearts so that we might want Christ and begin to not want sin.

As we find our eyes opened to Christ, we love him and grow in our distaste for sin, not just knowing it's wrong, feeling its wrongness. And so the bruised reed is really a clarion call. It's a great invitation to all Christians, but it's particularly a clarion call for ministers to minister more like Christ.

Not crushing the weak with burdens, but blowing the oxygen of the gospel onto the sputtering wick of young Christian lives. And significantly, Sibbes ends the bruised reed with a reference to Luther, who, he said, kindled that fire which all the world will never be able to quench. And I think his point is this, speaking to fellow Puritan ministers, he's saying, even in this reforming of the Reformation, the real spirit of the Reformation can be lost.

And all the doubts and anxieties of medieval Roman Catholicism can come streaming in through the back door of a zealous Christian moralism that has lost sight of the grace of God. And it was to maintain this essence of the Reformation that Sibbes and Puritans like him sought to, as he put it, proclaim the gracious nature and office of Christ, the right understanding of which is the spring of all service to him and comfort from him. There's the bruised reed, and I would thoroughly recommend going to read it. But let me introduce one other work of Sibbes's.

It's a much shorter one. The bruised reed is about a hundred pages long. A much shorter one is a single sermon called The Tender Heart, which you can get hold of quite easily. This was a sermon that Sibbes preached based on the text 2 Chronicles 34, where God is said to have answered young King Josiah because his heart was tender. Now, The Tender Heart is a sermon that goes pretty deep into what Sibbes was about. And in his ministry, Sibbes always sought to get underneath the superficial layer of his listeners' behavior and deal with the desires, the inclinations, the affections, the things that drive behavior, the things that motivate us.

And for Sibbes, this was no secondary matter. He believed that dealing with the heart would preserve one of the profound insights of the Reformation. In Roman Catholicism, you would have quite an external understanding of the problem of sin. You've done wrong things. You need to start doing right things.

And you think, no, you must plumb deeper. There is a more radical problem that we have that we desire wrongly. And our hearts must be changed. And so again and again in his sermons, Sibbes speaks of, interestingly, both Catholic priests and Protestant pastors, both, who, whatever their professed theology, act as though the root of our problem lies simply in our behavior. We've done wrong things.

We need to start doing right things. Sibbes wanted to plumb deeper. He knew that those outward acts of sin are simply manifestations of the inner desires of the heart. How you act, even if it shocks you, is simply manifesting what you're like deep down. And simply to change behavior without dealing with the heart would cultivate hypocrisy, the self-righteous cloak for a cold and vicious heart. And Sibbes would note ministries that worked like that simply to change the behavior without doing anything deeper were invariably cruel. Interestingly, forcing people to change against where their hearts were at and not recognizing their incapacity to change without the deep work of the spirit in their hearts. And he saw no hearts must be turned, evil desires eclipsed by stronger ones for Christ. Well, let's see how he proclaims the love of Christ so that we might be one to love him. Let me read you something from this sermon on King Josiah's tender heart. Sibbes says this. He said, It is not enough to have the heart broken.

A pot may be broken in pieces and be good for nothing. And so may a heart be through terrors, sense of judgment, and still not be like wax, pliable. No, the heart must be not broken, melting. Tenderness of heart, he said, is brought about by an understanding of the tenderness and love that is in Christ. A soft heart is made soft by the blood of Christ. And he refers here to a mythical metal called adamantine, which is this metal that simply cannot be melted unless it's stuck in blood. Extraordinary mythological idea. And he says this. Many say that an adamant cannot be melted by fire, but only by blood.

I cannot tell whether this be true or no. No, because it's mythology. But I'm sure nothing will melt the hard heart of man, but the blood of Christ, the passion of our blessed Savior. When a man considers the love that God has showed in sending his son, doing such great things as he's done, giving of Christ to satisfy his justice, setting us free from hell, Satan, death, the consideration of all this with the persuasion that we have an interest in this melts the heart and makes it become tender. You see, he's saying sin is about a coldness or hardness of heart. It can be so hard it doesn't even feel the weight of sin on it.

And it might be dutiful, but not delighting in God. The work of the gospel is to warm our hearts, to soften them towards God. So he says, as when things are cold, we bring them to the fire to heat and melt. So bring we our cold hearts to the fire of the love of Christ. Consider we our sins against Christ and Christ's love towards us. Well on this, think what great love Christ has showed unto us, how little we've deserved. And this will make our hearts to melt and be as pliable as wax before the sun. If thou wilt have this tender and melting heart, be always under the sunshine of the gospel. Isn't that a great way of putting it? This beautiful visual way with words.

Now a couple of observations here. Doesn't Sibbes capture the warmth and joy of hearty holiness here? Not a mere external dutifulness, but a delight in God, a pleasure in him.

But he's also making a very significant point. He says that we are sanctified, we grow in holiness, just as we were first saved. That it is through believing in Christ that we are first saved, and that is how we grow in holiness, through turning to Christ. What the Spirit does is by revealing Christ to me, the Spirit opens my eyes to see what Christ is like and so wins my heart towards a sincere love for God. And only through that can my heart be made tender towards God. And so Sibbes believed 2 Corinthians 3.18 is the secret of sanctification.

2 Corinthians 3.18, where Paul talks about Moses talking with the Lord at Mount Sinai. And in the presence of the Lord, his face begins to shine with the very glory of the Lord. And Sibbes is saying this is what Paul's talking about, that as we gaze upon the Lord, we are transformed into his image from glory to glory. He said the very beholding of Christ is a transforming sight. If we look at him with the eye of faith, we are changed from glory to glory. How can we see Christ but see how God hates sin?

That will transform us to hate it as God does, who hates it so much it could not be expiated but with the blood of Christ. Sibbes once said to one of the great preachers of the next generation, Young man, if ever you would do good, you must preach the gospel and the free grace of God in Christ Jesus. Sibbes meant that with every fiber of his being. For he saw the free grace of God in Christ Jesus is the means by which the hearts of sinners are first turned to God. And that same message is the means by which we continue to grow in our love for God. I don't think I can exaggerate the importance of Sibbes' message for today.

True reformation begins in the heart with love for Christ, and that can only come when the free grace of God in Christ Jesus is proclaimed. That was Michael Reeves on the Puritan Richard Sibbes. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind, a listener-supported outreach of Ligonier Ministries, a ministry founded by R.C.

Sproul in 1971 and now serves a global audience of Christians every single day. Today's message is one of twelve in Dr. Reeves' series, The English Reformation and the Puritans. You can own this series on DVD, plus have lifetime digital access to the messages and study guide when you give a gift of any amount at or by calling us at 800 435 4343. Dr. Reeves will unpack the drama of The English Reformation and introduce you to significant Puritan figures, men used by God to fan the flames of reformation and encourage believers today. So visit or click the link in the podcast show notes. Tomorrow Michael Reeves will zoom out and show us what was happening in the world of Richard Sibbes, picking up at the end of Elizabeth's reign. So don't miss the next instalment here on Renewing Your Mind. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-06-17 02:31:48 / 2024-06-17 02:40:14 / 8

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