Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
'Our books may come to be seen where ourselves shall never be heard. These may preach where the author cannot, and (which is more) when he is not.' This prediction by one of the great Puritans has had many fulfillments. An ungodly Welsh clergyman, shopping at a fair in the eighteenth century, bought an article which happened to be wrapped in a page torn from an old Puritan folio. The reading of that one page led to his sound conversion. As Luther said, 'Satan hates the use of pens,' and never were pens more powerfully wielded in the cause of God than by the Puritan divines of the seventeenth century. Nor have their books outlived their usefulness. Although the original volumes are worn with age, the truths found in them are as fresh as the new formats in which they are now appearing.
There is no better introduction to the Puritans than the writings of Richard Sibbes, who is, in many ways, a typical Puritan. 'Sibbes never wastes the student's time,' wrote C. H. Spurgeon, 'he scatters pearls and diamonds with both hands.'
The facts concerning Sibbes' life can be briefly stated (there is a full account in Volume 1 of the Banner of Truth Trust edition of his Works). He was born at Tostock, Suffolk, in 1577 and went to school at Bury St Edmunds. His father intended Richard to follow his own trade as a wheelwright, but, with the help of friends, he went up to St John's College, Cambridge, in 1595. Here he was converted under the powerful preaching of Paul Bayne, the successor of William Perkins in the pulpit of Great St Andrew's Church. After earning his B.D. in 1610, he was appointed a lecturer at Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge. He was removed from this post five years later, however, because of his Puritan tendencies. Through the influence of powerful friends, he was chosen to be the preacher at Gray's Inn, London, in 1617, and remained there till 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', on account of both the matter and the manner of his preaching. He continued to exercise his ministry, at Gray's Inn, London, as well as at Holy Trinity, Cambridge, while also remaining Master of St Catherine's, until his death on 6 July 1635, at the age of 58. Of him Izaak Walton later wrote: 'Of this blest man, let this just praise be given: heaven was in him, before he was in heaven.'
'The Lord took him away,' wrote a contemporary, 'that his eyes might not see the great evils which were about to break out upon the land.' These great evils came to a head in the Civil War of the 1640s. Behind that event lay a movement away from the doctrines and practices of the Reformation on the part of a powerful faction in the Church of England, headed by William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, and backed by royal favor. It was the Puritans who stood together to meet these inroads. To them moderation in maintaining the truth of God's Word was but sinful lukewarmness. 'A curse lies upon those', said Sibbes, 'that, when the truth suffers, have not a word to defend it.' For his boldness, Sibbes was reprimanded in 1627, and in 1632, along with eleven other Puritan ministers, he was sentenced to banishment. The sentence was never carried out, but Sibbes lived to see many of his dear friends, such as Samuel Ward, Thomas Goodwin, John Cotton, Thomas Hooker and others, imprisoned or forced into exile in Holland or New England. Concerning the final issue of this conflict Sibbes was in no doubt. Gardiner, in his History of the Puritan Revolution, writes, 'Sibbes is distinguished by his triumphant confidence . . . [while] even Laud and Wentworth acknowledged to themselves that the chances were against them. Eliot in his prison, and Sibbes in his pulpit, are jubilant with exultation.'
Sibbes himself says:
A Christian is an impregnable person. He is a person that never can be conquered. Emmanuel became man to make the church and every Christian to be one with him. Christ's nature is out of danger of all that is hurtful. The sun shall not shine, the wind shall not blow, to the church's hurt. For the church's Head ruleth over all things and hath all things in subjection. Therefore let all the enemies consult together, this king and that power, there is a counsel in heaven which will disturb and dash all their counsels. Emmanuel in heaven laugheth them to scorn. And as Luther said, "Shall we weep and cry when God laugheth?"
Since its first publication in 1630, The Bruised Reed has been remarkably fruitful as a source of spiritual help and comfort. Richard Baxter records: 'A poor peddler came to the door . . . and my father bought of him Sibb's Bruised Reed . . . It suited my state . . . and gave me a livelier apprehension of the mystery of redemption and how much I was beholden to Jesus Christ . . . Without any means but books was God pleased to resolve me to himself.' Such testimonies could be multiplied. Speaking of the preacher's need to suit his reading to the varying conditions he finds within, Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones says in his Preaching and Preachers:
You will find, I think, in general that the Puritans are almost invariably helpful . . . I shall never cease to be grateful to one of them called Richard Sibbes who was balm to my soul at a period in my life when I was overworked and badly overtired, and therefore subject in an unusual manner to the onslaughts of the devil. In that state and condition . . . what you need is some gentle, tender treatment for your soul. 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. His books The Bruised Reed and The Soul's Conflict quietened, soothed, comforted, encouraged and healed me.
The complete works of Sibbes were published in seven volumes in the Nichol Series between 1862 and 1864, and again by the Banner of Truth Trust, between 1973 and 1982. The present book is taken from the first volume in that series and is the first of Sibbes' writings to be published separately in the present series. Some of the language and punctuation of the earlier edition have been modernized and headings have been introduced with the intention of making the work more accessible to present day readers.
Sibbes once said to Thomas Goodwin, 'Young man, if ever you would do good, you must preach the gospel and the free grace of God in Christ Jesus.' The Bruised Reed shows us how Sibbes himself did this. May he, by this work, though dead, yet speak (Heb. 11:4), both to readers who are already familiar with his writings and to those who have still to discover him.
January 1998 The Banner of Truth
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