Among the most remarkable of the early Puritan leaders was Richard Sibbes (1577-1635), who stands in a line of Puritanism which had a deep interest in pneumatology and piety – running from the Elizabethan preacher Richard Greenham (d.1594) and including men like Thomas Goodwin (d.1680), John Owen (d.1683), and John Howe (d.1705).
For this reason alone – in a Christian world fascinated by both these topics – the reprinting of the complete works of Sibbes is deserving of this late review. The Puritans have much to teach us about these subjects, and Sibbes’ A fountain sealed based on Ephesians 4:30 is probably his most important pneumatological writing (Works, 5:409-456).
Of course, there is more to Sibbes than pneumatology and piety. Like other Puritan pastors, he was an expository preacher, as these volumes demonstrate (see, for instance, vols. 3 and 4 which contain expositions from 2 Corinthians).
Anyone familiar with the contemporary evangelical scene knows that the issue of what kind of pulpit ministry our churches need is very much alive. We can well learn from Puritans like Sibbes that the ongoing exposition of the Word of God, book by book, is essential for a healthy church.
But Puritan preachers could also preach ‘one-off’ sermons and Sibbes is no exception. Volume 7, which contains a good number of such sermons, reveals a Christian preacher who, in C. H. Spurgeon’s apt words, ‘never wastes the student’s time; he scatters pearls and diamonds with both hands’.
Here is one pearl this student found in one of Sibbes’ lesser-known works – Christ’s exaltation purchased by humiliation, published posthumously in 1639, which consists of three sermons on Romans 14:9 relating to the Lord’s Supper.
‘[The word] is the sceptre of [Christ’s] kingdom whereby he rules. The sacrament [of the Lord’s Supper] is the seal of the word. Therefore all good subjects, that submit themselves to the kingdom of Christ, must submit themselves to this sweet ordinance of Christ, that he hath ordained for our good, the word and the sacraments’ (Works, 5:335).
Although, as a Baptist, I disagree with Sibbes on baptism (Sibbes was a paedo-baptist) nevertheless there is rich food here for thought. In the ordinances of baptism (understood as believer’s baptism) and the Lord’s Supper, Christ rules his people. And for me to claim Christ as Lord and King, I must sit under the Word, be baptised, and regularly partake of the Lord’s table. Thereby I show myself to be a loyal subject of King Jesus, and so he seals to me his precious Word.