For Puritan divine Richard Sibbes (1577-1635, also known as the “Sweet Dropper” for His soul-ravishing Gospel preaching), the work of preaching was a very important and primary aspect of Christ’s ministry to his church. Preaching was a wooing of Christ the Bridegroom to His Bride through the preached word in the power of the Holy Spirit. God uses the word and Spirit together to reveal the beauty and glory of Christ. Although the word and the Spirit must be distinct from one another, they must never be separated. The Spirit works primarily through the word to convict, convert, and sanctify sinners. God has promised to always achieve what He purposes through the word by the Spirit, whether that is blessing or judgment (Isa. 55:7ff; cf. Heb. 4:12-13). The word is the Spirit’s instrument, but the power of the word is always because of the Spirit. Preaching is an event of the Spirit of Christ as He works through His Word.
Believers should “entertain the Spirit” as he works through the word in preaching. Entertaining the Spirit was to gladly welcome Him without hindrance, to hear and receive from Jesus Christ. Believers must come to the preaching event of the ministry of the word and the Spirit with a prayerfully prepared faith. Believers come prayerfully prepared to expectantly receive from God. Richard Sibbes taught that if believers will have the power and comfort of the Holy Spirit, then they must “attend upon the Word”. Godly preaching of the Word of God in the empowerment of the Holy Spirit was the primary means of the Spirit’s activity. Sibbes taught that ministers are Christ’s mouth. Christ speaks through the ministers, and “they use all kind of means that Christ may be entertained into their hearts.” The Spirit of God gives life, and is the “soul of the word” that Christ uses to knock at the doors of men’s hearts (cf. Rev. 3:20). Christ comes into the heart by the Spirit and “it is a special entertainment that he looks for” from his people so that their love and joy may grow, and the believer delight more deeply in Christ.
Sibbes encourages believers to “labor to hold Christ, to entertain him.” He encouraged believers to give the Spirit full reign over them. He wrote: “Let us desire that he would rule in our wills and affections”. Jesus comes to the hearts of believers to spread his treasures in preaching, to “enrich the heart with all grace and strength, to bear all afflictions, to encounter all dangers, to bring peace of consciences, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Sibbes likens the Word and the Spirit to veins and arteries in the body. The veins have arteries, that as the veins carry the blood, the arteries carry the spirits to quicken the blood. Sibbes wrote: “It is a blessed thing when the Spirit in the ordinances (word and sacrament) and the Spirit in our hearts meet together.”
In preaching, the hearts of sinners must be addressed by the power of the Spirit through the Word of God. In fact, faith was a response first of the affections to receive a gracious Savior, and then a motivation to move one’s will toward obedience. For Sibbes, one had to be smitten with Christ’s love for one to properly obey and will what is good (cf. 2 Cor. 5:14-15). For faith to be real in a sinner’s soul, the sinner had to be regenerated and resurrected by a powerful working of God’s Spirit through the Word. The will could not choose or follow Christ where the affections did not lead first. The heart of man had to be made new by God’s grace, and therefore the preacher was to practice wooing the sinner’s heart to God in Christ, showing His love and willingness to forgive sinners to come to Him. To put it in a different way, faith for Sibbes, was not a mere human act-of-the-will but a response to God’s divine wooing” by the Spirit to Christ.
Sibbes referred to faithful gospel preachers as “friends of the Bridegroom” and described their primary calling as a heavenly endeavor and vocation committed “to bringing Christ and his Spouse together”. Sibbes wrote that it is not sufficient to merely preach theological truths about the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, but that to truly preach is to “break open the box [of perfumed ointment] that the fragrance may be perceived by all,” and to make known these truths with an application of them to the use of God’s people, that they may see their interest or need of them in their daily lives. For Sibbes’ the primary goal of the preacher was to allure the sinner to the kindness of God in Christ. As he summarized it in his introduction to his devotional classic A Bruised Reed, “The main scope of [preaching], is, to allure us to the entertainment of Christ’s mild, safe, wise, victorious government (“rule”), and to leave men naked of all pretenses as to why they would not have Christ rule over them, when we see salvation not only strongly wrought, but sweetly dispensed in Him… (my emphasis).”
Sibbes encouraged believers in the covenant, privileged to be exposed to the ministry of the Word, to hear the ministerial voice as the very voice of Christ through his word. “Let us think that God speaks to us in the ministry, that Christ comes to woo us, and win us thereby.” Sibbes wrote that one of the main ends of the calling of the ministry is “to lay open and unfold the unsearchable riches of Christ; to dig up the mine, thereby to draw the affections of those that belong to God to Christ.” Sibbes taught that preachers should preach “as if Christ Himself were here a-preaching”. Sibbes taught that the Minister of the Word in the pulpit and the Spirit of God in the heart together bring the soul to faith in Christ and the pursuit of holiness.
Preaching was also designed by God to capture the imaginations of God’s people. The imagination must be awakened by the Spirit of God through the ministry of the preacher if the understanding is to be properly engaged. Sibbes described preaching colorfully as “The putting of lively colors upon common truths”. The preacher was to seek by the help of the Holy Spirit to bring alive to men’s imaginations the beauties of God’s grace and truth in Christ. Imaginations were to be captured and captivated by God to move the soul’s affections to love God and draw near to Him in Christ. Sibbes wrote: “Now, the reason why imagination works so upon the soul is, because it stirs up the affections answerable to the good or ill which it apprehends…” Sibbes taught that a preacher should through the working of the Spirit, grant hearers a “gospel imagination”: A sanctified “fancy” or imagination will make every created thing or person a ladder up to heaven to gaze at the grace and glory of God in Christ (2 Cor. 3:18).
Sibbes wrote: “…Our best way (to fill our imaginations with truth) is to propound true objects of the mind to work upon [or “to meditate upon”], as:
1. First and foremost to consider the greatness and goodness of Almighty God and his love to us in Christ.
2. To meditate upon the joys of heaven and the torments of hell.
3. To reflect upon the last and strict day of account when we shall stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ as stewards.
4. To see by God’s grace, the vanity of all earthly things.
5. To constantly remind ourselves of the uncertainty and brevity of our lives, etc.
From the meditation on these truths the soul will be prepared to have right conceits of things [proper priorities], and discourse upon true grounds of them, and think with itself that if these things be so indeed, then I must frame my life suitable to these principles. Hence will arise true affections in the soul, true fear of God, true love and desire after the best things, etc. The way to expel wind out of our bodies is to take some wholesome nourishment, and the way to expel windy fancies from the soul is to feed upon serious truths.”
Pray for your pastor of your local congregation that as Minister of the Word He will woo the Bride of Jesus to the Heavenly Bridegroom. Pray for yourself and your congregation that you will attend the preaching with great expectation, ready to entertain the Holy Spirit without hindrance in your hearing and obedience, and to receive the faithful ministry of the Word as the very mouth of your Beloved Jesus. Amen and amen.
In Christ’s love,