Puritan Sundays: Richard Sibbes

If you’re on Twitter, and hang around in what is sometimes called ‘Christian Twitter’ I guess, you may have noticed some tension, especially among those who like to engage in theological skirmishes. Words can easily fly from the head to the thumbs and onto the Internet and pretty soon, accusations are made and slander can ensue.

What do the Puritans have to do with Twitter though? A lot actually, if we pay attention. Take Richard Sibbes as an example. Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) was one of the most influential persons in the Puritan movement. Martyn Lloyd-Jones found great comfort in reading the works of this man known as “The Heavenly Doctor Sibbes”. If you’re new to the writings of the Puritans, Sibbes’ book, The Bruised Reed, is a good place to start. The book is based on Isaiah 42:1-3 which says:

“Behold my servant whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.”

The servant in Isaiah is Jesus Christ, and Sibbes begins his book by describing how Christ fulfills this Scripture, this beautiful picture of compassion. He will not break the bruised reed or quench the faintly burning wick. It’s the gentleness of Christ that Sibbes highlights, and how we also should imitate him in how we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Read these excerpts and see how powerfully they apply to us now in our quick-to-assume, quick-to-tweet, social media atmosphere, even in the church. Under the heading We Are Debtors to the Weak, Sibbes makes three points:

“Let us be watchful in the use of our liberty, and labour to be inoffensive in our behaviour, that our example compel them not…Looseness of life is cruelty to ourselves and to the souls of others. Though we cannot keep those who will perish from perishing, yet if we do that which is apt of itself to destroy the souls of others their ruin is imputable to us.”

‘Let men take heed of taking up Satan’s office, in misrepresenting the good actions of others, as he did Job’s case…or slandering their persons, judging of them according to the wickedness that is in their own hearts.

“Among the things that are to be taken heed of, there is among ordinary Christians a bold usurpation of censure towards others, not considering their temptations. Some will unchurch and unbrother in a passion.”

Sibbes’ point here is that if Christ treats his own weak children with mercy and gentleness, then we too should thus incline our own hearts towards our brothers and sisters for whom Christ died.

I’d love to write more about this, especially how to balance gentleness with a zeal for doctrinal purity, but I’ll save that for another post. For now, I encourage you to pick up A Bruised Reed. If you’ve read Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund, you’ll really like this book.

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