Book Write-Up: Josiah’s Reformation, by Richard Sibbes

Richard Sibbes. Josiah’s Reformation. See here to download the book.

Richard Sibbes (1577-1636) was an English Puritan preacher. This book contains a series of sermons that he preached on II Chronicles 34:26-28, which states regarding King Josiah of Judah:

“[26] And as for the king of Judah, who sent you to enquire of the Lord, so shall ye say unto him, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel concerning the words which thou hast heard; [27] Because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heardest his words against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, and humbledst thyself before me, and didst rend thy clothes, and weep before me; I have even heard thee also, saith the Lord. [28] Behold, I will gather thee to thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace, neither shall thine eyes see all the evil that I will bring upon this place, and upon the inhabitants of the same. So they brought the king word again.”

Here are some thoughts about this book:

A. The book promoted the usual Puritan emotional roller-coaster: people need to be genuinely sad about their sins, then they can receive God’s forgiveness. This is a difficult teaching. I, for one, do not want intense emotions of sadness to inconvenience my life. That was one reason I could not stand Charles Spurgeon’s The Sinner and His Savior when I read it over a decade ago. At the same time, Sibbes does well to highlight the depth and the intensity of emotion that biblical characters felt towards spiritual matters.

B. There is also the Puritan realism, however: the acknowledgment that Christians may have some hardness of heart and may have difficulty arriving at the tender heart that God desires. Sibbes exhorts people in this condition to press forward with the means of grace. But he also cogently addresses the question of how Christian hardness of heart is distinct from the unbelievers’ hardness of heart: if both believers and unbelievers have hardness of heart, how can one tell that he or she is saved?

C. There is an edifying quality to the book, as Sibbes fields questions in a direct manner and systematically lays out points. For example, he lists reasons that Christians can be assured that God desires to answer their prayers, but also reasons that God may choose not to do so.

D. This passage stood out to me: “Christ, as it were, in the sacrament enters through the senses more lively than in the preaching of the word, for there he enters in by the ears, but in the sacrament he is seen, tasted, handled, felt. So that the soul and body have communion together by way of information.” That makes me wonder about the sense in which Puritans believed that Christ was present in the sacraments. My recollection from Roger Olson’s Story of Christian Theology is that Calvin did not go so far as Zwingli in thinking that the sacraments were mere memorials, but he also did not go so far as Luther and the Calvinists in maintaining that Christ was somehow physically present in the sacraments. Calvin thought Christ’s presence was more spiritual.

E. Occasionally, Sibbes offers an insight into the biblical story itself. For example, God let Josiah die before the destruction of Jerusalem, and Sibbes says that was God taking into account Josiah’s tender heart. Josiah had a fierce regard for his people, as evidenced in his rash challenge against Pharaoh Neco. How would he feel were he to see his people defeated and destroyed by a foreign power, the Babylonians?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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