The "Sweet Dropper," as the heavenly Doctor Sibbes has been called, will live up to his name in this finely written and meticulously researched book. Mark Dever himself may well deserve such a moniker, being one of the few scholars (this is his PhD. dissertation from Cambridge) who can speak as eloquently as he writes. Anyone who has had to crawl through the desert of arid scholastic tomes, or swim the oceans of pedantic language, will find Dever's work a delightful exception.
The book is divided into two parts.
Part one is biographical material. While the writing itself is lively enough, sadly, the subject matter is not. Alas Sibbes was no Bunyan. But Dever does the historical reader a favor by revealing a couple of overlooked facts, correcting repeated mistakes of former historians. Sibbes was neither the disenfranchised preacher of lore, who lived out the remainder of his life in obscurity, nor was he a rebel-rousing nonconformist, but rather a moderate Puritan, more the reformer rather than a revolutionary.
Part two explores the theology of Sibbes, appropriately distinguishing him as one of the last of the great English reformers. The author highlights several salient features of Sibbes as a Reformed theologian. Of special interest, Dever adroitly dispels the misconception that Sibbes was an irrational or even an a-rational mystic. The "Sweet Dropper" was nothing of the kind but rather an affectionate theologian, scrupulously concerned with the centrality of the heart and the proper role of the conscience, specifically an educated one.
This reader came away with three specific encouragements:
1. Sibbes believed that godly preaching was the salvation of the Church of England. So should it is for any church in any generation.
2. Sibbes was a reforming conformist. He was a hesitator and a questioner but not a dissenter. Rather than separate from the established church, he elected to remain, attempting to bring reform from within. For those pastors and church leaders who labor in non-Reformed churches or denominations, his example will be of encouragement. Although history may show that his endeavor was actually an idle venture, such warm-hearted commitment will loom as a grand and noble gesture in the light of today's rabid transience and hyper-individualism.
3. Many voices today are clamoring for a new Reformation. As great as the need may be, much is cool, calculating, and highly polemical. Sibbes was a doctor of the heart. His tender, warm-heartedness needs to be rediscovered. Sibbes was the England of his day, what Jonathan Edwards was to America, both sharing a mutual concern for true religious affections.
A fresh look at the life of Richard Sibbes may well rekindle a warm-hearted passion for the gospel, based upon the great doctrines of the Protestant Reformation. This truth on fire was the hallmark of English Puritanism. Mark Dever has done a great service in reminding his readers of this fact.