Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes
I am offering this two part post to counter the idea that Puritans were so focused on sin, and too ready to make men feel to feel like miserable wretches, or make us all into stuffy boring people afraid to really live. I read this particular Puritan book about ten years ago, and return to my favorite passages from time to time. This book points us to see more clearly the gentleness of God, the faithfulness of God, the greatness of His Mercy, and the glory of His steadfast love. The Bruised Reed was originally published in 1630. 1
All quotes are from the Kindle edition, with electronic locations or pages indicated. From the intro, or letter to Christian Readers:
God knows that we are prone to sin, so when conscience is thoroughly awakened, we are as prone to despair for sin; and therefore He would have us know, that He sets Himself in the covenant of grace to triumph in Christ over the greatest evils and enemies we fear, and that His thoughts are not as our thoughts are; He is God and not man; that there are heights and depths, and breadths of mercy in Him above all the depths of our sin and misery… (Loc 50)
Essentially, he is warning his readers that we need not despair or live in despair, as though God were pleased with our despairing attitude. Rather we ought to run eagerly to the throne of grace expecting to meet with great mercy, infinite mercy.
Though it be a truth clearer than the sunbeam, that a broken-hearted sinner ought to embrace mercy so strongly enforced, yet there is no truth that the heart shuts itself more against than this; especially under a sense of misery, when the soul is fittest for mercy, until the Holy Spirit sprinkles the conscience with the blood of Christ, and sheds His love into the heart, that the blood of Christ in the conscience may cry louder than the guilt of sin; for only God’s Spirit can raise the conscience with comfort above guilt, because He is alone greater than the conscience. (Loc 57)
Chapter one begins with Isaiah 42:1-3, reminding us this passage speaks of Christ:
‘Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgement to the Gentiles. He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench… (Page 1)
Sibbes then teaches a bit about the love between the Father and Son, their mutual delight in this plan of redemption, and of the love directed toward us who are in union with Christ. He lays out how the Trinity is at work together in this grand work of redemption.
What then of bruised reeds?
We see, therefore, that the condition of those with whom he was to deal was that they were bruised reeds and smoking flax, not trees, but reeds; and not whole, but bruised reeds. The church is compared to weak things…God’s children are bruised reeds before their conversion and oftentimes after…We love to wander from our [ true] selves and to be strangers at home, till God bruises us by one cross or other, and then we begin to think, and come home to our [true] selves with the prodigal (Luke 15:17). It is a very hard thing to bring a dull and an evasive heart to cry with feeling for mercy. Our hearts, like criminals, until they be beaten from all evasions, never cry for the mercy of the judge. (Page 2-4 )
Have you ever pondered your trials, and how God has used them to make your more like Christ? Have you ever wondered if any of your suffering was pointless? Have you taken time to think upon God’s sovereignty over all your days, and of how His mercy is greater than any of the sins you might lay at the foot of the cross? This chapter alone will encourage and admonish and lead you to truth that will be balm for your soul.
More on this work of Christ’s next week, when we look into chapter two.