Richard Sibbes (1577–1635) was born at Tostock, Suffolk, England. About 1602, Paul Bayne at St. Andrews, Cambridge was instrumental in his conversion. He attended school at St. John’s College at Cambridge, earned an MA degree in 1602 and a BD in 1610. He began work at Holy Trinity Church (1610–1615) in Cambridge and but lost his lectureship of Trinity and fellowship because of his Puritan views. Subsequently he was chosen preacher for Gray’s Inn, London, 1616–1635. Gray’s Inn was an illustrious and stately society. In 1625, he was chosen master of Catharine-hall in Cambridge, and proved to be a faithful governor who “left it replenished with scholars, beautified with buildings, better endowed with revenues.” In 1633 he was presented with the vicarage of Trinity in Cambridge by Charles I. He wrote many books and is most noted for “The Bruised Reed.”
Extended Biography of Richard Sibbes
This is grave and solid divine (as Mr. Leigh calls him) was born upon the borders of Suffolk, near Sudbury, and being trained up at school, when he was grown ready for the university, was sent to Cambridge, in 1595, and was admitted into St. John’s College, where he so profited in learning, and approved himself by his blameless conversation, that he was promoted from one degree to another in the college; being chosen first scholar, and then fellow of that house. He also took all the degrees of the university, with general approbation and applause. It pleased God to convert him by the ministry of Mr. Paul Baines, whilst he was lecturer at St. Andrew’s, in Cambridge. And when Mr. Sibbes had been master of arts some time, he entered into the ministry, and shortly after was chosen lecturer at Trinity Church, in Cambridge: To whose ministry, besides the townsmen, many scholars resorted; so that he became the happy instrument of bringing some souls to God, as also of edifying and building up others. He appears, from an archidiaconal register, to have been Vicar of Trinity parish only during the two last years of his life; the famous Dr. Thomas Goodwin having resigned in his favor.
About the year 1625 or 1626, he was chosen master of Katharine-hall in Cambridge, in the government whereof he continued till his dying day; and, like a faithful governor, he was always very careful to procure and advance the good of that little house. For he procured good means and maintenance by his interest in many worthy persons, for the enlargement of the college; and was a means of establishing learned and religious fellows there; insomuch that in his time, it proved a very famous society for piety and learning, both as to fellows and scholars.
But before this, about the year 1618, he was chosen preacher at Gray’s Inn, where his ministry found such general approbation and acceptance, that, besides the learned lawyers of the house, many noble personages and many of the gentry and citizens resorted to hear him; and many had reason to bless God for the benefit which they received by him. Dr. William Gouge, who frequently heard him preach, says, “that he sometimes had a little stammering in the time of his preaching, but then his judicious hearers always expected some rare and excellent notion from him.”
His learning was mixed with much humility, whereby he was always ready to undervalue his own labors, though others judged them to breathe spirit and life, to be strong of heaven, speaking with authority and power to men’s consciences. His care in the course of his ministry was to lay a good foundation in the heads and hearts of his hearers. And though he was a wise master-builder, and that in one of the most eminent auditories for learning and piety which was in the land; yet, according to the grace which was given to him, (which was indeed like that of Elisha, in regard of the other prophets, the elder brother’s privilege, a double portion) he was still taking all occasions to preach the fundamentals to them, and, among the rest, the incarnation of the Son of God. And preaching at several times, and by occasion of so many several texts of Scripture concerning this subject, there is scarce any one of those incomparable benefits, which accrue to us thereby, nor any of those holy impressions, which the meditation hereof ought to work in our hearts, which was not by him unfolded. The truth of this appeared so evident to an eminent divine, upon reading his sermons when in print, that he said, “I less wonder now at the noted humility of the author, finding how often his thoughts dwelt upon the humiliation of Christ.”
Indeed he was thoroughly studied in the Holy Scriptures, which made him a man of God, perfect, thoroughly furnished unto every good work; and, as became a faithful steward of the manifold grace of God, he endeavored to teach it to others, and to store them with knowledge, wisdom, and spiritual understanding. He was a man that enjoyed much communion with God, and, like John the Baptist, was a burning and shining light, wasting and spending himself to enlighten others.
He was upon all occasions very charitable, drawing forth not only his purse in relieving, but his very bowels in commiserating, the wants and necessities of the poor members of Christ. He used sometimes, in the summertime, to go abroad to the houses of some worthy personages, where he was an instrument of much good, not only by his private labors, but by his prudent counsel and advice, that upon every occasion he was ready to minister unto them. And thus having done his work on earth, he was received to heaven, peaceably and comfortably resigning up his spirit unto God, in the year 1635, and in the fifty-eighth year of his age.
His Works. He was “famous (says Mr. Leigh) for the piety, learning, devotion, and politeness [he means polished style] of his two genuine writings, The Bruised Reed, and The Souls Conflict.” These we have seen, and can assure the Christian reader, who is under exercise of spirit, that he will hardly be able to find two books written by man, which are more likely to afford him direction, comfort, and relief, than these most excellent pieces of Dr. Sibbes. We regret that they are out of print; or rather, that the piety of the times does not hasten them into print again. Upon the subject of spiritual distress, there is scarce any book in our language more valuable, except the Bible. At least, the writer has found it so respecting himself. His “Divine Meditations and Holy Contemplations,” were reprinted in 1775, in a small duodecimo, dedicated to the Countess of Huntingdon, and recommended by the honorable and reverend Mr. Walter Shirley. His Sermons on Canticles 5 are so excellent, that the judicious Mr. John Dod, having perused them in manuscript, would not cease soliciting Dr. Sibbes till he had prevailed upon him to print them; and for that end wrote to him as follows: “——I judge it altogether unmeet, (says he) that such precious matter should be concealed from the public use. I judge these Sermons a very profitable and excellent help, both to the understanding of that dark and most divine Scripture, as also to kindle in the heart all heavenly affections towards Jesus Christ: The whole frame whereof is carried with such wisdom, gravity, piety, judgment, and experience, that it commends itself to all that are godly wise: And I doubt not but they shall find their temptations answered, their fainting spirits revived, their understandings enlightened, and their graces confirmed; so that they shall have cause to praise God for the worthy Author’s godly and painful labors.”
Source: Erasmus Middleton. Evangelical Biography; or, an Historical Account of the Lives and Deaths of the Most Eminent and Evangelical Authors and Preachers, etc. Vol. 3. London: W. Baynes, 1816.