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Meditations of Richard Sibbes

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Date September 4, 2017

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.

The Trust publishes the Works of Richard Sibbes in seven volumes, together with a number of his writings in the Puritan Paperbacks and Pocket Puritans series.

His Bruised Reed was a chief means of Richard Baxter’s conversion, and has been many times reprinted. His numerous writings are characterised by solidity of judgment, gentleness of spirit, and a wide range of Christian experience. The following extracts, typical of his writings, are taken from his ‘Divine Meditations and Holy Contemplations’, Works of Richard Sibbes, vol 7 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2001).

‘God bears not in vain the name of a Father; He fills it up to the full. It is a name of indulgence, of hope, of provision, —a name of protection. It argues the mitigation of punishment: a little is enough for a father. In all temptations, oh let us, by prayer, fly to the arms of our heavenly Father, and expect from Him all that a father should do for his child, as provision, protection, indulgence, yea, and seasonable corrections (which are as necessary for us as our daily bread), and when we die we may expect our inheritance, because in Christ He is our Father. But yet we must remember the name of a father is a word of relation; duty is expected from us; we must reverence Him as a father, with fear and love: He is a great God, we ought to fear Him; He is merciful, yea, hath bowels of mercy, we ought to love Him; if we tremble before Him, we forget that He is loving, and if overbold, we also forget that He is a great and holy God; therefore we should always go to the throne of grace with reverence, holy love, and filial confidence in the name of Jesus.

‘God’s children never hate corruption more than when they have been overcome: the best men living have corruptions which they see not till they break out by temptations. When these corruptions are discovered, it stirs up our hatred, and hatred stirs up endeavour, and endeavour revenge; so that God’s children should not even be discouraged by their falls; but, looking to Jesus, run the race set before them.

‘A Christian, in his minority, is not fit to possess all that he hath a title to, but yet so much is allotted to him as will conduct him through life, and to heaven. If therefore in want, he hath contentment, and in suffering he hath patience, etc. All things are his, as well what he wants, as what he enjoys, for he is Christ’s.

‘He must needs be rich, whose poverty and crosses are made riches to him. God never takes away or withholds outward blessings from His children, but He makes it up in better, in inward. They gain by all their losses, and grow rich by all their wants: for how many are there in the world that had not been so rich in grace, if they had had abundance of earthly things! So that, though they be poor in the world, they are rich in God, rich in grace, rich in faith,’ as St James saith: the greatest grievances and ills in the world turn to a Christian’s profit, as sickness, shame, and death. The Spirit of God is like the stone that men talk so of, that turns all into gold: it teacheth us to make a spiritual use, and to extract comfort out of every thing, the worst things we can suffer in the world. ‘All things are ours.’ The Spirit of God helps us to make good use even of Satan’s temptations, to cleave faster to the Fountain of good.

‘Christ chiefly manifests Himself in times of affliction, because then the soul mutes itself most closely by faith to Christ. The soul, in time of prosperity, scatters its affections and loseth itself in the creature; but there is a uniting power in sanctified afflictions, by which a believer (as in rain a hen collects her brood) gathers his best affections unto his Father and his God.

‘There are four things observable in the nature of love: first, an estimation of the party beloved; secondly, a desire to be joined to him; thirdly, a settled contentment; fourthly, a desire to please the party in all things. So there is first in every Christian a high estimation of God in Christ; he makes choice of Him above all things, and speaks largely in His commendation : secondly, he desires to be united to Him; and where this desire is, there is an intercourse, he will open his mind to Him by prayer, and go to Him in all his consultations for counsel: thirdly, he places contentment in Him alone, because in the worst condition he finds peace and comfort when the light of His countenance shines upon him: fourthly, he seeks to please Him; he labours so to act, that God may in Christ delight in him; love stirs up his soul to remove all things distasteful to Him. He asks, as David did, “Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul, that I may shew him kindness for Jonathan’s sake!” How can I honour my God?

‘A woman, when she marries a husband, gives up her will to him: so doth every Christian when he is married to Christ: he gives up his will, and all that he hath, and saith, Lord, I have nothing, but if Thou callest for it, Thou shalt have it again.

‘Our happiness consists in due subordination and conformity to Christ; therefore let us labour to carry ourselves as He did to His Father, to His friends, to His enemies. In the days of His flesh, He prayed whole nights to His Father. How holy and heavenly minded! He took occasion from vines, and stones, and sheep, for heavenly discourse; and when He rose from the dead, He spake only of things concerning the kingdom of God. As for His behaviour towards His friends, “He would not quench the smoking flax, nor break the bruised reed:” He did not reproach Peter with his denial; but was of a winning disposition to all: and as for His conduct to His enemies, He did not call for fire from heaven to destroy them, but dropped many tears for those that shed His blood, “O Jerusalem,” etc.; and upon the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do:” so that to be like minded to Christ, consider how He carried Himself to His Father, to His friends, to His enemies, yea, to the devil himself. Even when he comes to us in wife, children, friends, etc., we must, as Christ did, say to Satan, Get thee hence; and when we deal with those that have the spirit of the devil in them, we must not render reproach for reproach, but answer them, “It is written.”

‘True zeal for God’s glory is joined with true love to men; therefore, all that are violent, injurious, and insolent, need never talk of glorifying God, so long as they despise the meanest of men.

‘A child of God is the greatest freeman, and the best servant, even as Christ Himself was the best Servant, yet none so free; and the greater portion any man hath of Christ’s spirit, the freer disposition he hath, for Christ’s sake, to serve every one in love.

‘Sight is the noblest sense. It is quick—we can look from earth to heaven in a moment; it is large—we can see the hemisphere of the heavens at one view; it is sure and certain—in hearing we may be deceived; and lastly, it is the most affecting sense. Even so, faith is the quickest, the largest, the most certain, the most affecting grace: like an eagle in the clouds, at one view it sees Christ in heaven, and looks down upon the world; it looks backwards and forwards, it sees things past, present, and to come; therefore this grace is said, 2 Cor. 4:18, to behold things unseen and eternal.

‘Where the Spirit dwells largely in any man, there is boldness in God’s cause, a contempt of the world: “He can do all things through Christ that strengthens him;” his mind is content and settled; he can bear with the infirmities of others, and not be offended (for the weak in grace are soonest offended), and is ready to say, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.” But if corruption bears sway, then he says, “O stay a little that I may recover strength;” that is, Stay a while that I may repent: the soul in such a frame not being fit to appear before God, but only when the Spirit imparts grace and divine consolations.

‘The Spirit of God may be known to be in weak Christians, as the soul is known to be in the body by the pulse. Even so the Spirit is discovered by groaning under sin, sighing, complaining, that it is so with them, and no better: so that they are out of love with themselves: this is a happy sign that the Spirit dwells in such souls.

‘Our life here is not for this world only, but for another; we have large capacities, memories, affections, and expectations. God doth not give us such powers for this world only, but for heaven.

‘A sincere heart that is burdened with sin desires not heaven, so much to’ leave pain, as because that is the place where he shall be free from sin, and have the image of God and Christ perfected in his soul: therefore a sincere spirit comes under the word, not so much because an eloquent man preaches, as to hear Divine truths; for the power of the Spirit goes with them to carry on His own work. You cannot satisfy the desires of a Christian but with Divine truths. “The desire of our soul is to thy name, and to the remembrance of thee.”

‘It is a comfort in the hour of death, that we yield up our souls to Christ, who has gone before to provide a place for us: this was one end of His being taken up to heaven, to provide a place for us. Therefore, when we die, we have not a place to seek, our house is provided beforehand; Christ was taken up to glory, to provide glory for us. Even as paradise was provided for Adam before he was made, so we have a heavenly paradise provided for us; we had a place in heaven before we were born. What a comfort is this at the hour of death, and at the death of our friends, that they are gone to Christ and to glory! We were shut out of the first paradise by the first Adam; our comfort is, that now the heavenly paradise in Christ is open. “This day shalt thou be with me in paradise,” saith Christ to the penitent thief.

There was an angel to keep paradise when Adam was shut out; but there is none to keep us out of heaven; nay, the angels are ready to convey our souls to heaven, as they did Lazarus; and as they accompanied Christ in His ascension to heaven, so they do the souls of His children.’

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