|  June 28, 2024

The following article is part of a series of articles that will traverse church history to examine the preaching of great preachers.

A sermon without application is a mere lecture. Sermons pitched at great intellectual heights often miss the hearts of those seated in the pews. Few have understood the need for meaningful application of biblical truths to their hearers as did Richard Sibbes.

Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) was noted in his day as a leading practical preacher, and he is remembered in history as one of the great “affectionate practical” preachers alongside men like Laurence Chaderton and William Perkins. He played an influential role on preachers of his own day and many subsequent generations. He encouraged a young Thomas Goodwin, “Young man…if ever you would do good, you must preach the gospel of the free grace of God in Christ Jesus.”[1] Charles Spurgeon – often remembered as the “Prince of Preachers” – said of him, “Sibbes never wastes the student’s time…he scatters pearls and diamonds with both hands.”[2] The great Welsh preacher of the 20th century Martyn Lloyd-Jones recounted, “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…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.”[3]

Richard Sibbes was an irenic soul. He was meek in spirit and is said to have stammered a bit in the pulpit. His words, however, were rich and have long outlived him. Like many others in the 17th century, Sibbes was converted at Cambridge. He became a priest in the Church of England in 1608 at 30 years of age. He lived and ministered through a contentious time in English history (both political and ecclesiastical). He remained a minister of the Church of England until his death in 1635

During his ministerial career, Sibbes preached in both Cambridge and London. He was called “the Sweet Dropper by reason of his encouraging sermons.”[4] His most enduring work is The Bruised Reed (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2021), a collection of sermons on Matthew 12:20, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench.” These wonderful sermons illustrate his tender care for his congregation and gentle application of soul-edifying truths. Sibbes wrote, “God’s children are bruised reeds before their conversion and oftentimes after” (3). He cautioned fellow preachers to exercise care towards young believers, “Preachers need to take heed therefore how they deal with young believers. Let them be careful not to pitch matters too high, making things necessary evidences of grace which agree not to the experience of many a good Christian…In this way men are needlessly cast down and may not soon be raised up again by themselves or others” (29). Sibbes knew well the presence of pain and grief in the Christian life, he comforted his hearers with these golden words:

There is never a holy sigh, never a tear we shed, which is lost. And as every grace increases by exercise of itself, so does the grace of prayer. By prayer we learn to pray. So, likewise, we should take heed of a spirit of discouragement in all other holy duties, since we have so gracious a Saviour. Pray as we are able, hear as we are able, strive as we are able, do as we are able, according to the measure of grace received. God in Christ will cast a gracious eye upon that which is his own. (56)

Richard Sibbes is a wonderful model for practical preaching. For those of us who find the exegetical process much easier than the application process, Sibbes remains a wise and gentle mentor in how to care for God’s people.

Further Reading:
Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2021).
Mark Dever, Richard Sibbes: Puritanism and Calvinism in Late Elizabethan and Early Stuart England (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2000).

[1] Cited in J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Crossway: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1990), 56-7, 286.

[2] Cited in “Publisher’s Foreword,” Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2021), ix.

[3] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1971), 175.

[4] J.I. Packer, “Foreword,” in Mark Dever, Richard Sibbes: Puritanism and Calvinism in Late Elizabethan and Early Stuart England (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2000), ix.

Blake McKinney serves as Assistant Professor of History and Humanities at Texas Baptist College in Fort Worth, Texas.

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