Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) loved Jesus. It spilled out in his life and sermons as an infectious joy. And today more and more kindred hearts are hearing of Sibbes.
So what did Sibbes offer?
The records of Gray’s Inn offer a tease. The Inn was an important residence hall and training center in central London, set up to supply England with her next generation of political, legal, and commercial leaders. Sibbes was the chapel preacher at the Inn for much of his adult life.
In the days before Sibbes arrived the records include scolding reminders that chapel attendance was required of all residents. But that ended once he started preaching. In his days the chapel was enlarged and the residents were reminded not to bring guests: space was limited and reserved for those who belonged!
If you’d like to read a bit of Sibbes I recommend starting with his Description of Christ. It was his lead-in sermon series to his signature work, A Bruised Reed. Both are available in the first volume of his collected works. And on the Internet.
In his description of Christ Sibbes knew that most people feel distant from God. The distance, he believed, came mainly from a sense of human sinfulness in the face of God’s holiness; and a sense of human finitude over against God as the unbounded creator. So it was both a moral and an ontological gap.
Sibbes, however, didn’t accept this gap. There is, he believed, a reversal of pride and humility in Christ’s incarnation that opens a way to full communion with God. Jesus humbled himself to address human pride—becoming a man, dying on the cross, and then offering life to all who respond to him.
Sibbes saw the irony of this reversal: Jesus humbled himself even though humility is wholly inappropriate for him! Yet by this humility he draws people away from the arrogant ambition to be like God, and then offers union with the Father through a faith birthed by love.
“Whence comes it that Christ is a servant? It is from the wondrous love of God, and the wondrous love of Christ. To be so abased, it was wondrous love in God to give him to us to be so abased, and the wondrous misery we were in, that we could not otherwise be freed from; for such was the pride of man, that he, being man, would exalt himself to be like God. God became man, he became a servant to expiate our pride in Adam, so that it is wondrous in the spring of it.” [Sibbes, Works, 1.7]
Sibbes, in other words, understood sin to be the default of every soul. And sin consists in pride—self-devotion—so consuming as to be inescapable. Inescapable because the proud heart has no desire to be set free from self-love.
So Jesus, sent by the Father, gave up his life in order to expiate Adam’s sin. This, the man-who-is-God, then shows us the joy of his own humility and invites us to join him at the cross.
An amazing plan that we never expected! At least until we met Jesus and saw him as a servant to all of us who caused his death. All this by way of God’s Triune love.
Thank God for such winsome humility!