Puritan Memoirs - Mr. Richard SibbsPuritan Memoirs - The Life and Death of Some Reformed Ministers
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THIS most worthy divine was born at Sudburyin Suffolk, in 1577, and educated in St. John’s college, Cambridge, where his learning and amiable deportment soon procured him promotion. He took his several degrees with great applause, and was first chosen scholar, then fellow of his college. While his literary fame was thus rapidly progressing, it pleased God to awaken him to a sense of his sins, and bring him to the knowledge of Christ, the Saviour of sinners, by the preaching of Mr. Paul Baynes, then lecturer at St. Andrew’s church. Having discovered the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and obtained mercy, he resolved to devote himself to Christ in the work of the gospel, and was soon after chosen lecturer at Trinity church. Here his preaching was numerously attended, both by scholars and townsmen, and became instrumental in the conversion, edification, and establishment of many. He appears ‘to have been vicar of said church during the two last years of his life only, Mr. (afterwards Dr.) Goodman having resigned in his favor. His fame having gone abroad, and reached the metropolis, he was chosen preacher at Gray’s Inn, London, in 1618, where he became remarkably popular and useful. Besides the learned lawyers, many of the nobility, as well as the gentry and citizens, flocked to hear him, and many had abundant cause to bless God for the benefit they derived from his ministry. He continued in this situation to the end of his days. Dr. William Gouge, who some times heard him, says “He had a little stammering in his speech in the time of his preaching; but his judicious hearers always expected some rare notions from him.” About the year 1652 he was chosen master of Katherine hall, Cambridge; which place, though a puritan, he was enabled to keep till his death. He was charged, however, with the sin of nonconformity before the high commission, and deprived of his fellowship and lecture. His matchless erudition, his piety and usefulness, were no security against the intolerant rage of the times. On his entrance as master of Katherine hall, he found the society in a very declining state. Through his great influence, and strenuous exertions, however, it was soon restored, and even greatly enlarged, filled with learned and religious fellows, and became famous for genuine piety and solid learning. Some short time after this, Dr. Sibbs was chosen one of the fellows for buying impropriations; for which, at the instigation of Laud, he was prosecuted in the starchamber, together with all those concerned with him in this generous undertaking. But the prosecution was so notoriously invidious, that it was afterwards relinquished, to the no small disgrace of the bishop, who was the sole instigator and promoter of this persecution. He was again convened before the high commission as a notorious delinquent, only for promoting a private subscription for the relief of the poor and suffering ministers of the Palatinate; the result of which we have not been able to learn,
Dr. Sibbs was a dutiful pastor of the flock committed to his care. His great concern was, during the whole course of his ministry, to lay a good foundation, both in the heads and hearts ‘ of his hearers. Among people of understanding and piety, he chiefly preached on the fundamental doctrines of the gospel, and particularly on the incarnation of the Son of God. He labored so much on this divine subject, that there can scarcely be one benefit arising there from, or one holy affection it is calculated to excite, which he has not sweetly unfolded in these sermons, and applied to the various cases of his hearers. His thoughts and his discourses were so much directed to, and conversant about, the sufferings of Christ, and his state of humiliation, that it seemed to produce, in his own soul, the deepest reverence and humility, both before God and men. He greatly excelled in his knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, was a faithful steward of the manifold grace of God, and accounted one of the best preachers of his time; and though a staunch nonconformist, he was of so meek and peaceable a spirit, that he was ever careful not to give offence, where it could, consistent with a good conscience, by any means be avoided. A burning and a shining light, who cheerfully spent himself for the edification and spiritual advantage of others; nor were the temporal necessities of the poor of the flock of Christ overlooked. His purse, on all occasions, was open to their bodily wants; and his very soul commiserated their spiritual indigence. During the summer season he used to visit many of the wealthy families in his neighborhood, with whom he was always projecting plans for the relief of the poor, and other useful purposes. He was beloved and highly respected by men of real worth, and intimate with many persons of, distinguished; eminence, among whom was the celebrated archbishop Usher., whom he frequently visited in London. He died on the 5th July 1635, aged fifty-seven years. He was a grave and solid divine, famous for learning, piety, and politeness.
His last will and testament breathes the spirit of genuine piety and generosity. Therein he first bequeaths his soul to his gracious Saviour, who redeemed it with his precious blood, and now appears in heaven to receive it to himself. Then he gives grateful and hearty thanks to God for having vouchsafed him to live in the blessed times of the gospel, and granted him an interest in, and a participation of, its manifold comforts, and honored him to publish it with some degree of faithfulness. He ordered his body to be buried according to the pleasure of his executors, and bequeathed his real and personal estates to his only brother, and other near relations, with numerous legacies to his friends and connections. The peaceable disposition of this holy man will partly appear from the following anecdote: A fellowship being vacant at Magdalene college, archbishop Laud recommended his bell ringer at Lambeth for the place, with the obvious design of quarrelling with the fellows if they refused, or placing a spy over them if they accepted. Dr. Sibbs, who was ever unwilling to provoke his superiors, told the fellows that Lambeth house would be obeyed; and as the person was young, he might in time prove hopeful. To which view the fellows assenting, he was, without further objection, admitted.
Dr . Sibbs has also rendered his name famous, among the friends of evangelical religion, by his numerous and excellent publications. His works breathe the warmest strains of, piety and devotion, and will transmit his! honored memorial to the latest posterity. In his Bruised Reed, he says, “When struggling against the corruptions of our own hearts, buffeted by temptations, and mourning over the weakness of our faith, and the coldness of our love, let us still remember, that Christ will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax. As Captain of our salvation, he combats and conquers our rebellious inclinations, as well as our outward and spiritual adversaries, and hath furnished us with the shield of faith, wherewithal to defend ourselves, and enable us to repel the fiery darts of the devil. Satan, however, will sometimes endeavor to persuade us, that we have no faith, that we are destitute of love to Christ, that we are great sinners, and that the mercy of God, and the love and compassion of Christ, are blessings we have forever forfeited. To all these suggestions of the enemy of mankind, we are warranted and encouraged to reply: That albeit we are great sinners, Christ is an almighty Saviour; and though our faith be weak, and our love cold, Christ will not quench the smoking flax, but fan it into a flame that shall never be extinguished. Abimelech could not endure the thought, that it should be said concerning him, after his death, that he died by the hands of a woman; and how mortifying must it be to Satan, to find that all his arts have been unavailing, his threatenings vain, and his power inadequate to the task of extinguishing an almost imperceptible spark. To find that the soul, influenced by the grace of God, stands secure as an impregnable fortress: that the wiles of Satan cannot sap the foundation, nor all the artillery of hell batter down the walls of her defense; and that a weak child, a silly woman, or a decrepit old man, should, by the exercise of faith, force all his veteran legions to a shameful and precipitant retreat. Let us therefore rejoice in the promise—’My grace is sufficient for you;’ and let the assurance, of an ultimate triumph, invigorate our resolution to fight the good fight, and lay hold on eternal life. For though the warfare be arduous, if we strive, Christ will help us. If we faint, he will cherish, animate, and support us. If we follow the directions of our Leader, we shall assuredly overcome; and, overcoming, the crown of unfading glory awaits our reception.
“ It is with the true church of Christ, as with its individual members, dangers are without, and fears within. We see her present forlorn condition. She is like Daniel in the lion’s den; like a lily amongst thorns; or as a ship tossed on the tempestuous ocean, the waves passing over her. A strong conspiracy has been raised against her, the spirit of antichrist is now • lifted up, and though we cannot see what is a doing, and what will be the end ,of these dark dispensations, let us comfort ourselves with the consideration, that Christ lives, that our Redeemer reigns, that he is the shield of her salvation, and though states and kingdoms should dash one another to pieces, he will take care of his own church, and all her members. When Christ and his church are apparently at the lowest, then are they nearest the rising., The wicked are not so; but when at the height of their power and presumption, they stand on the brink of a fearful precipice, whence they shall experience a terrible downfall.
“The course of the gospel, like that of the sun, has heretofore been from east to west. The occurrences of our time indicate, that its progress still continues in the same direction, and the enemies of Christ and his church might as well at tempt to arrest the sun, repel the rising tides, or bind up the winds of heaven, as overcome the power, and prevent the progress of divine truth; which, in despite of every opposition, will yet force its way into the remotest corners of the world, till all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God’; till Christ shall have brought his whole church under one shepherd, and into one sheepfold, when he will present them to his Father, without spot or blemish, saying, ‘Lo, these are the children thou hast given me, they have taken me for their leader, they fought under my banner, they have suffered in my cause—I will therefore that they likewise reign with me, and that where I am, there they may be also.”
Mr. John Dod, having perused the manuscript of his sermons on Canticles, chap, v., says, “I judge it altogether improper to conceal, from the public eye, the precious matter comprised in these sermons. I consider them excellent helps to the understanding of that dark and divine scripture, as well as to warm the heart with all heavenly affections toward Jesus Christ. The whole is composed with so much wisdom, piety, judgment, and experience, that the work commends itself to all who are wise for their own souls; and I doubt not but they will find their understanding enlightened, their temptations answered, their fainting spirits revived, their graces confirmed, and will have cause to bless God .for the author’s godly and painful labors.”
His works are, 1. The Bruised Reed.—2. The Saint’s Safety in Evil Times.—3. The Church’s Visitation.—4. The Fountain Sealed.—5. Divine Meditations.—6. Emanuel, God with us.— 7. Light from Heaven.—8. Spiritual Jubilee.—9. Yea and Amen.—10. The Spiritual Man’s Aim, and the Christian’s Portion and Charter.—11. The Returning Backslider.—12. The Hidden Life.—13. Beams of Divine Light.—14. The Excellence of the Gospel above the Law.—15. Christ Exalted.— 16. Evangelical Sacrifices.—17. Union betwixt Christ and his Church,—18. Commentary on Phil. chap. iii.—19. The Glorious Feast of the Gospel.—20. A Commentary on 2 Cor. chap. i.—21. An Exposition of 2 Cor. chap. iv.—22. The Soul’s Conflict.—23. The Saint’s Cordial.—24. Christ’s Conference with Mary. —25. The Key of Heaven, or the Lord’* Prayer Opened.—26. Sermons on Canticles, chap. v.