Richard Sibbes on the Doctrine of Election by Andy Hynes

Guest blogger Andy Hynes is a PhD candidate at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Follow him @ABHYNES on Twitter.

Richard Sibbes would not conform to the ideals of the times.  Dewey Wallace considered Sibbes one of the eager pastors who believed that taking the Gospel of Grace to the common folk of England was the greatest urgency.[1]  Making a strong appeal for salvation to the lost described the center of Sibbes’ yearnings. He still held a Christ-only salvation while maintaining the need to promote Christ to the masses.

Sibbes spoke about Psalm 28:4 and a longing for God.  The desire for God did not come from within the individual.  Something had to happen to him.  For Sibbes, this process began in eternity past. He wrote,

To call men out of the wilderness of the world, out of the kingdom of Satan, to be his children! A marvelous love to single us out of the rest of mankind to be Christians, and being Christians, to be professors of the truth, and being so, to be true professors of the truth. What a wondrous love of God was it to call us, and thereby to have the eternal purpose of God opened to us. As when we are drawn to God by His Spirit and by the ministry, then the good pleasure of God, that was hid from eternity, is discovered to the soul. Here is the amiable love of God.[2]

Sibbes permeated his teaching with the doctrinal truths that God had called out certain individuals for salvation.  Not only had God called them out, but also the Holy Spirit perfectly and effectually drew them to the Father.  The wilderness motif described the identity of the sinner.   He also preached concerning the identity of the world from 1 Timothy 3:16, “By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, was vindicated in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Proclaimed among the nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory” (NASB).

Sibbes said,

By ‘world’ especially here in this place, is meant the world taken out of the world, the world of elect. . . . Christ was preached to the whole world of wicked men, that by preaching, a world might be taken out of the world, which is the world of believers Hence we may clear our judgments in that point, that when Christ is said to redeem the world, it must not be understood generally of all mankind.[3]

Sibbes considered the doctrines of Calvin meticulously.  Free Gospel preaching characterized the approach of Calvin.  According to Mark Dever, Sibbes was not trying to push a particular extent or limit to the doctrine of predestination.[4]   However, Sibbes’ greatest contribution to this doctrine came in his exposition of Galatians 2:20.  “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (NASB).  He held a high view of the election of God but also a high view of promoting the Gospel.  In his exposition he alleged,

Obj.  Why doth Christ by the ministry persuade all in the church for to believe in Christ, and for to believe forgiveness of sins, if Christ did not die for them all? Ans.  I answer, that in the church he calls all, that he may cull out his own. The minister speaks promiscuously both to the elect and those that are not, because God will not rob his own children of the benefit, thought they are mingled with others to whom the blessed things do not belong; as it is with the rain, it rains as well upon the rocks and the sea, and upon the barren heath as upon the good ground.[5]

For Sibbes, the doctrine of election was essential, but he did not elevate it to an unscrupulous level.  There was great balance in Sibbes’ preaching.  He was free with the Gospel, trusting that God would call out His elect in an accurate way.

[1] Dewey Wallace, Puritans and Predestination: Grace in English Protestant Theology: 1525-1695 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1982), 55.

[2] Richard Sibbes, A Breathing After God, vol. II of The Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Grosart (1862-64; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2001), 234.

[3] Richard Sibbes, The Fountain Opened, vol. v of The Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Grosart (1862-64; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2001), 516-17.  

[4] Dever, Richard Sibbes, 106.

[5] Richard Sibbes, Salvation Applied, vol. v of The Works of Richard Sibbes, ed.  Alexander Grosart (1862-64; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2001), 388.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 dr. james willingham April 12, 2013 at 11:58 am

Ah! Well, do I remember that day in Amitin’s book store in downtown St. Louis, when I came across two stacks of Nichol’s Standard Divines, discards from Westminster College library of Fulton, Mo. They were all available for $2.00 a volume (if I had known their value then, I would have bought all of them on credit or borrowed from my mother and purchased everything, possibly $3-400/worth of books, and worth every penny of it), and I did not know the value of what I was saying. So I purchased several volumes by Richard Sibbes and all three volumes of the works of David Clarkson. I enjoyed Sibbes, but Clarkson was the one who persuaded me of the truth of the Total Depravity of Man, The year of that purchase was 1962, and I had been called to my first church and ordained without a real understanding of the sinfulness of man. However, within a year of pastoring that church and study of Clarkson on Original Sin, I had come to a conclusion that man’s condition was so bad it needed, reguired, and demanded Supernatural Sovereign Grace to overcome it and transform the nature. I would come to appreciate Sibbes and the Bruised Reed as well as his The Fountain Opened. Later, I would by tremendous amounts of reading become acquainted with the Puritans. I would also take a degree in American Social and Intellectual History, and the first group studied in that field is the Puritans. Six years of research in Church History would also provide me with an acquaintance of the whole era of Church History and appreciation for our Baptist Puritans like Roger Williams, Benjamin and Elias Keach, Hanserd Knollys, John Bunyan, John Gill, and, of course, C.H. Spurgeon. I would come to appreciate the pastor of the church that I had attended in my childhood, the Rev. George Washington Gray, a farmer preacher who so exactly fit William Warren Sweet’s verbal portrait of that worthy model in his The Story of Religion in America that I thought I was reading a description of Brother Gray for the nonce. I also came to appreciate my ordaining pastor, Dr. Ernest R. Campbell, a self-professed supralapsarian Hyper Calvinist, his words in the pulpit and person to person. A gung ho soul winner, an oxymoron so some have said and were totally in error. Dr. Campbell once pleaded with a member of my family to look to Christ until tears ran down the man’s face. He also founded the American Race Track Chaplaincy (cf. Who’s Who in Religion.2nd edn. Chicago: Marquis Pubs., 1977).. Thank God for the Puritans. They made some egregious goofs, but they also had many brilliant successes, and the Intellectual Historians noted them for their resolute determination to complete their tasks undeterred by depression, difficulties, etc.

2 Andy April 12, 2013 at 12:51 pm

Dr. Willingham,

thanks for your personal story. It is neat to see how each of us has something unique to share. Studying these men has changed my thoughts on many things. Their incredible use of Scripture in all they did was second to none.


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