From Your Pastor: Richard Sibbes on “Entertaining the Holy Spirit”

There is nothing good in man by nature (Rom. 3:10-23). The Holy Spirit is sent from the risen-ascended Christ to make believing men good (Acts 2:33-36). The Holy Spirit’s ministry is to come and live within believers and to conform them to Christ’s likeness (Rom. 8:29). The Holy Spirit is particularly the “Spirit of Holiness” (cf. Rom. 1:4); Christ’s Spirit is the cause of all holiness in the believer.

Richared Sibbes (1577-1635) wrote “That attribute the Spirit delights in is that of holiness, which our corrupt nature least delights in and most opposeth.”[1] Man was created by God with a desire by nature for holiness, and a desire for happiness. After the fall of man into sin and rebellion against God man still seeks after happiness, but the desire for holiness has been extinguished.[2] The Spirit of Christ comes to dwell in believers to oppose the flesh and fallen nature of man to produce Christ-likeness that brings deep and lasting happiness to the believer.

Sibbes wrote, “Let us labor to be in Christ that we may get the Spirit. It is of great necessity that we should have it (“Him”). Above all things next to redemption by Christ, labor for the Spirit of Christ, Sibbes persuaded believers.”[3] Sibbes taught that the primary ministry of the Spirit of Christ was to enlighten believer’s minds, to soften their hearts, to quicken their wills to faith and action, and to sanctify God’s people.[4] The Spirit’s ministry is a sanctifying ministry, but wonderfully relational as well. God communicates Himself to believers, and believers through the Spirit communicate their hearts back to Him. Without Christ, there could be no Holy Spirit for the believer; without the Spirit there could be no union with Christ and enjoyment of His benefits. Without the Spirit, there could be no real communion with God in Christ.

All the communion that Christ as man had with God was by the Holy Ghost; and all the communion that God hath with us, and we with God, is by the Holy Ghost: for the Spirit is the bond of union between Christ and us, and between God and us.[5]

Sibbes wrote that “God communicates Himself to us by His Spirit, and we communicate with God by His Spirit. God does all in us by His Spirit, and we do all back again to God by His Spirit.[6] Sibbes wrote: “There is nothing in the world so great and sweet a friend that will do us so much good as the Spirit, if we give Him entertainment.”[7]

The Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son to conform believers to the obedience of Christ as a Holy friend with whom to walk and talk in fellowship together. So for Sibbes, “entertaining the Spirit” is being careful and cautious not to grieve the Spirit of God (cf. Eph. 4:30). To put it positively, “entertaining the Spirit” is to subject ourselves to Christ as Lord and kind king as believers. It is treating the Spirit as a kind friend as well as a king (cf. Malachi 1:6) who has brought glorious and holy fellowship from the Father and the Son to redeemed sinners (cf. 2 Cor. 13:14). Sibbes wrote summarizing his understanding of entertaining the Spirit:

…There is the obedience of faith, and the obedience of life. When the soul is wrought to obedience, to believe, and to be directed by God, then the Holy Spirit is given in a farther measure still. The Holy Ghost is given to them that obey, to them that do not resist the Spirit of God….the Spirit is given to them that obey the sweet motions of it…If we have the Spirit of Christ, let us labor to subject ourselves unto it. When we have any good motion by the ministry of the Word, or by conference, or by reading good things (as holy things have a savor in them…)…Oh, give way to the motions of God’s Spirit! (my emphasis)[8]

The obedience that the Holy Spirit equips believers with is no mere morality, or outward show of behavior resulting in hypocrisy, but an inward disposition of particularly “cheerful obedience”. The believer is to be stirred up by the Spirit, motivated by the love of God in Christ that will encourage her to obey the Savior who has loved them and laid down His life for them. Sibbes was cautious to avoid bare moralism that was an unbiblical error of his time. Sibbes emphasized that believers’ love because they have first been loved by God in Christ (cf. 1 John 4:11-19). Sibbes wrote pastorally for believers to understand that the love of God must be the believer’s motivation in all that they do for God if it be true, Christian obedience:

Whatsoever we do else, if it be not stirred by the Spirit, apprehending the love of God in Christ, it is but morality…What are all our performances if they be not out of love to God? And how shall we love God except we be persuaded that he loves us first? …The gospel breeds love in us to God…working a blessed frame of sanctification, whereby we are disposed to every good duty.[9]

“Let the Spirit dwell and rule in us,” captures in summary what it mean for Sibbes for believers to entertain the Spirit of God.[10] Sibbes sweetly called the Spirit the “Blessed Lodger that ever we entertained in all of our lives.”[11] For Sibbes, that entertaining meant to welcome with hospitality and nurture our friendship with the indwelling Spirit.” This relationship with the Holy Spirit as the believer’s holy guest was subject to a deepening and ever-intensifying growth in the love and peace of God. The more the believer seeks to let the Spirit guide, comfort, conform, edify, and guard the soul from sinning, Christ will desire by His Spirit to develop the believer’s soul more maturely and deeply (Eph. 3:17-19). Sibbes wrote, “Christ desires further entertainment in his church’s heart and affection, that he might lodge and dwell there.”[12]

Entertaining the Holy Spirit also meant for Sibbes a further subduing of sinful corruption in the soul, and an enlarging of God’s grace and comfort in the heart:

Let us remember that grace is increased, in the exercise of it, not by virtue of the exercise itself, but as Christ by his Spirit flows into the soul and brings us nearer to himself, the fountain, so instilling such comfort that the heart is further enlarged. The heart of a Christian is Christ’s garden, and his graces are as so many sweet spices and flowers which, when his Spirit blows upon them, send forth a sweet savor…Therefore keep the soul open to entertain the Holy Ghost , for he will bring in continually fresh forces to subdue corruption, and this most of all on the Lord’s day (my emphasis).[13]

Because the souls of believers are still contaminated by sin (Rom. 7:7-25), they are to trust Christ to further subdue the corruption, thus enlarging the believer’s heart, and making the soul a more pleasant and holy place for Christ to dwell. This is to be obtained by prayer to God in Jesus’ name. Entertaining the Spirit meant for Sibbes never to grieve the Holy Spirit of Christ (cf. Eph. 4:30). Sibbes plead with God’s people: “Oh give him entrance and way to come into his own chamber, as it were to provide a room for himself.”[14] Believers can grieve the Spirit when they resist his teaching, direction, strengthening, and/or comfort from Him.[15] When believers receive the delight and comfort brought to them by the Spirit, they entertain his motions of grace and comfort toward them, but when they refuse Him, they grieve Him, and sin against Him.[16] Sibbes taught realistically that the best of believers are prone to grieve the Spirit. Believers who have the Spirit of God within them know experientially that there is an enmity within and without against the workings of the Spirit.[17]

Sibbes taught that believers should remember that the Spirit is a Spirit of Holiness and so he “is grieved with unclean courses, with unclean motions and words and actions.”[18] The Spirit is a Spirit of Love and so he is grieved when believers cherish malice or corruption against other Christians. “He will not rest in a malicious heart who is the Spirit of Love.”[19] There must not be any rottenness or malice that is practiced and performed in the hearts of believers. The Spirit is a Spirit of Humility and wheresover He is, there is humility. Those that are filled with vain and high thoughts, proud conceits, and self-centeredness grieve the Spirit of God (cf. James 4:6-8).[20] The Spirit of God is especially grieved by spiritual wicked sins such as pride and high-mindedness, perhaps even more so offended than by sins against the body, Sibbes taught. Grieving the Spirit can also be a disregard of a well-informed, Biblically-enriched conscience. Sins against conscience can grieve this wonderful Spirit if Christ, and “lay a clog upon Him” as Sibbes says colorfully.[21]

The primary goal of the Christian life is to please Christ (2 Cor. 5:9-10), and to enjoy comfort in Him, being equipped with gifts for loving service by the Holy Spirit.[22] We can grieve the Spirit and not properly entertain His sweet and comforting work in and through us when we are distracted by worldly things, and prefer creaturely, created things, more than “His motions leading us to holiness and happiness”.[23] When the mind is troubled with much (as Martha in Luke 10:38-42), then the Spirit is grieved. Especially in our time, believers ought to heed the wisdom of Sibbes here:

…When the soul is like a mill [or loud industrial warehouse], where one cannot hear another, the noise is such as takes away all intercourse. It diminishes of our respect to the Holy Spirit when we give way to a multitude of business (what we would call “busyness”); for multitude of business (“busyness”) begets multitude of passions and distractions; that when God’s Spirit dictates the best things that tend to our comfort and peace, we have no time to heed what the Spirit advises. Therefore we should so moderate our occasions and affairs, that we may be always ready for good suggestions. If a man will be lost, let him lose himself in Christ and in the things of heaven…(my emphasis).[24]

Because the primary office of the Spirit is to “set out Christ, and the favor and mercy of God in Christ,”[25] let believers never slight the good news of Christ in the Gospel. Let God’s people receive God’s grace in Christ as He is held out to them, especially in preaching. Sibbes counseled that eagerness to hear God’s Word preached by God’s called, gifted and ordained ambassadors was a primary way to make “way for God in the heart” and so he said: “Give [the preachers] entertainment.”[26] Sibbes emphasized not only the work of the Spirit within the believer, but the Spirit’s work through the means appointed by God, particularly preaching.

More on Richard Sibbes in the weeks to come… More on preaching and the Spirit of God…

Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) was affectionately known as the “Sweet Dropper” as a Puritan preacher.[27] He has been distinguished among the Puritans as the “Heavenly” Dr. Sibbes because he was famous for his affective spirituality.[28] Affective spirituality is a focus on the affections or the desires as they are transformed by the Spirit of God motivating believers to joyful obedience in Christ.

In Christ’s love,

Pastor Biggs



[1] Sibbes, A Fountain Sealed in Works, V:412

[2] Sibbes, A Fountain Sealed in Works, V:413

[3] Sibbes, Excellency of the Gospel in Works, IV:212

[4] Sibbes, A Fountain Sealed in Works, V:413

[5] Sibbes, A Description of Christ in Works, I:17

[6] Sibbes, A Description of Christ in Works, I:17-18

[7] Sibbes, A Fountain Sealed in Works, V:431

[8] Sibbes, A Description of Christ in Works, I:24-25

[9] Sibbes, A Description of Christ in Works, I:24

[10] Sibbes, A Description of Christ in Works, I:25

[11] Sibbes, A Description of Christ in Works, I:25

[12] Sibbes, Bowels Opened in Works, II:58

[13] Sibbes, The Bruised Reed in Works, I:75

[14] Sibbes, Excellency of the Gospel in Works, IV:236

[15] Sibbes, A Fountain Sealed in Works, V:415; Sibbes gave advice on specifically how to avoid the grieving of the Spirit. 1. Let believers submit our souls entirely to the Spirit of God as Divine Governor. 2. Let believers walk perfectly (“precisely”) in obeying the Spirit in all things.

[16] Sibbes, A Fountain Sealed in Works, V:415

[17] Sibbes, A Fountain Sealed in Works, V:414

[18] Sibbes, Excellency of the Gospel in Works, IV:236

[19] Sibbes, Excellency of the Gospel in Works, IV:237

[20] Sibbes, Excellency of the Gospel in Works, IV:237

[21] Sibbes, Excellency of the Gospel in Works, IV:237

[22] Sibbes, A Fountain Sealed in Works, V:414

[23] Sibbes, A Fountain Sealed in Works, V:416

[24] Sibbes, A Fountain Sealed in Works, V:422

[25] Sibbes, A Fountain Sealed in Works, V:420

[26] Sibbes, A Fountain Sealed in Works, V:426

[27] Packer, J. I. A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990), 179.

[28] Kapic, Kelly M. and Gleason, Randall C., Edited. The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 79.