**I see Richard Sibbes, and his camp — The Spiritual Brethren — as very closely tied to their Scottish counterparts, also known as Evangelical Calvinist** — Let me just add, if you’re going to comment make sure it’s on point to this post; if you are going to say its wrong then show me how Perkins, for example is being misrepresented. Don’t give me these anecdotal assertions like: “well, that’s not what Federal Theology really teaches,” or whatever other red herrings you want to use. I’m dealing with the “history” of Federal Calvinism, not what you “think” it entails in your comfortable, insulated “Calvinist” environs.**
Richard Sibbes, English Puritan and pastor, according to Ron Frost, believed that the “law” was not the mechanism for determining if a person was one of the elect of God. This is contrary to the federal, or covenantal view forwarded by William Perkins and others. In fact, it was by keeping the law, by the Spirits’ enablement, according to Perkins, that a person ultimately would ‘realize’ their justification. Notice:
. . . In England John Bradford, Thomas Wilcox, and Richard Greenham all pointed to the law for the same purpose. Tipson links these men to Perkins’ theology in arguing that they all represented a model in which conversion is a process rather than a dramatic event. . . . (Ron Frost, “Richard Sibbes’ Theology of Grace and the Division of English Reformed Theology,” 28)
Of course none of these men, as good Protestants, would be asserting that any of these good works, or “law-keeping”, would be anything other than Christ’s good works flowing through them — albeit as they cooperate with the Holy Spirit or Grace.
This position has been labeled, “Nomist”, or in English, “Law-ist”, someone who places a high premium on the Mosaic law, and its function in the appropriation of salvation (of course this all needs to caveated with the fact that this “keeping of the Law,” is what defines Christ’s “active obedience,” but the real problem here is how the Federalist understands “union with Christ”). This emphasis, known as Federal theology, is being revivified today by some. Contrary to Perkins, Richard Sibbes forwarded an anti-nomist position which emphasized the immediacy and direct work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the elect — which both served as the means of salvation, which immediately resulted in “real” spiritual union with Christ.
Sibbes offered his more characteristic view of the law in The Hidden Life in which he argued that a persons’ affections are drawn to Christ in the regenerated life so that a Christian becomes functionally dead to the law. A person is not to look for salvation or even “comfort” from the use of the “moral law”. In his making the point that salvation is not found in keeping the moral, Sibbes was simply repeating an orthodoxy shared by the nomists. The context in which he placed the point is the distinctive element. He held that Christ’s communion with a believer is in some sense perceptible. Such experiences of communion, generally regarded as spontaneous increases of affection for Christ, transcend the law as a guide for behavior. As in marriage, the mutual commitment of love, rather than rule-driven behaviors, was seen to be the point of spiritual union. The Christian’s behavior is increasingly shaped by a devotion to Christ as accomplished by the Spirit. . . .
. . . While the nomist model emphasized the continuity of the law in the old and new Testaments, seeing it as God’s chief tool in producing sanctification, Sibbes came to view the law as obsolete in the presence of Christ’s self-revelation. Sibbes spelled out the fundamental discontinuity of the two Testaments in his aptly-titled sermon series, The Excellency of the Gospel Above the Law. It is this principle, that the Old Testament law is inferior to the Spirit’s work in the New, that most characterize the antinomists. Sibbes, it seems, was not so much influenced by the law-grace polarity of Luther (Sibbes, as all the early Reformers did, continued to honor the law as revealing something of God’s character), as much as he was shaped by a very literal exegesis of 2 Corinthians 3: 17-18. This was the crux interpretum for antinomists and the text on which the exposition of the Excellency of the Gospel rested. It released Sibbes from a primary orientation to Old Testament law in describing the life of faith. (Ron Frost, “Richard Sibbes’ Theology of Grace and the Division of English Reformed Theology,” 37-38)
Obviously Sibbes emphasized the immediate work of the Spirit, which resulted in a real union with Christ. This is contrary to Perkins, who believed in an ad hoc union with Christ; which one could only “really” realize as he or she persevered in good works (i.e. practical syllogism, to be discussed later). In other words, for Perkins, certainty of election was a mediated reality, determined by one’s behavior relative to their cooperation with grace. This framework, for people who followed Perkins (which was the majority of Puritan England), resulted in an inward/introspective spirituality; since this perspective was very individuated and obsessed with personal holiness — for all the wrong reasons. Perkins in many ways serves as a forerunner for the later developed, Pietism, which climaxed with Schleiermacher (fodder for another post).
Sibbes’ emphasis on the immediacy of the Spirit, instead of promoting an incipient Pietism, allows the person to be obsessed and consumed by the beauty and majesty of Christ. This approach emphasizes a Trinitarian approach to salvation, which has a high pneumatology, leading to an even higher Christology — as the person of Christ and his works are magnified in the bride/bridegroom relationship, between Christ and his Church. I think this is much more fruitful than the approach offered by Perkins, and anyone who might fit his soteriological paradigm.