Many English (and Dutch) speaking Christians have a particular affection for and connection to that varied and complex movement known as Puritanism, usually described in this space as English Reformed theology. One of the English Reformed theologians to whom my friend Paul Schaefer introduced me was Richard Sibbes (1577–1635). One of his nicknames was “The Sweet Dropper.” The Banner of Truth has a number of good, short biographies of the English Reformed and about Sibbes they write,
Richard Sibbes was born at Tostock, Suffolk, in 1577 and went to school in Bury St Edmunds. His father, ‘a good sound-hearted Christian’, at first intended that Richard should follow his own trade as a wheelwright, but the boy’s ‘strong inclination to his books, and well-profiting therein’ led to his going up to St John’s College, Cambridge in 1595. He was converted around 1602-3 through the powerful ministry of Paul Bayne, the successor of William Perkins in the pulpit of Great St Andrew’s Church.
After earning his B.D. in 1610, Sibbes was appointed a lecturer at Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge. Later, through the influence of friends, he was chosen to be the preacher at Gray’s Inn, London, and he remained there until 1626. In that year he returned to Cambridge as Master of St Catherine’s Hall, and later returned to Holy Trinity, this time as its vicar. He was granted a Doctorate in Divinity in 1627, and was thereafter frequently referred to as ‘the heavenly Doctor Sibbes’. He continued to exercise his ministry at Gray’s Inn, London, and Holy Trinity, Cambridge, until his death on 6 July 1635 at the age of 58.
Like William Perkins,s Sibbes was conforming minister in the Church of England. That means that, rather than withdrawing from the established church like e.g., William Ames, he remained in the established church but taught the same Reformed theology, piety, and practice that we see reflected in the Westminster Standards.
Because of where he ministered and to whom, Sibbes had considerable influence. His ministry was known to be gracious, hence the adjectives “sweet,” and “heavenly.” Sibbes works are a reminder that Reformed theology can be graciously and warmly taught.
His published works are available through the Banner but I just learned about a new devotional drawn from his writings and I wanted to bring it to your attention: David B. MacKinnon, ed., Refreshment for the Soul: A Year of Daily Readings from “The Heavenly Doctor” Richard Sibbes. It is in hardcover and it is $26.40. This is not an advertisement but a public service announcement.
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