Thursday, April 15, 2010

Reading the Classics with Challies - The Bruised Reed

It is time again for Reading the Classics with Challies, or, RCC for short. This time around Challies has decided to read a book by Puritan Richard Sibbes. Here is a brief biography from
Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) a Puritan cleric and divine, "was born in Tostock, Suffolk, the first-born son of a wheelwright. In 1595, against his father's wishes that he carry on the family trade, Sibbes joined St John's College, Cambridge. Though of his own spiritual progress we know little, we do know that he undoubtedly heard the preaching of William Perkins in Cambridge, and that he was ultimately converted under the ministry of Perkins' successor, Paul Baynes.

"After earning his B.D. in 1610, he was appointed as a lecturer at Holy Trinity in Cambridge, a position from which he was relieved five years later because of his Puritan tendencies. Sibbes, however, had by then become widely known for his preaching, and through the influence of some powerful friends, in 1617 he was chosen to be the preacher at Gray's Inn, one of the most influential pulpits in London. At Gray's Inn, Sibbes' eminence and influence as a preacher continued to grow, to the extent that his foes did not dare move against him.

"In 1626, he came back to Cambridge as Master of St Catherine's Hall, while retaining his position at Gray's Inn. And in 1633, he returned to Holy Trinity, this time by crown appointment "to its perpetual curacy." Sibbes continued his preaching ministry both there and at Gray's Inn, as well as maintaining his duties at St Catherine's. until his death on 5th July 1635, at the age of 58.

"During his lifetime, Sibbes authorised the publishing of only three volumes of his work. One is a treatise entitled The Soul's Conflict with Itself and Victory over itself by Faith, and the other two are collections of sermons under the titles The Saint's Safety in Evil Times and The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax. Both The Soul's Conflict and The Saint's Safety are able works, exposing their author as a master at the practical application of Scripture and theology. But it is in The Bruised Reed that we find crystallised the foundation and essence of Sibbes' own ministry and preaching."
It is the book referred to in the last line of the biography above that Challies has decided to read; The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax. You can read along at; thay have an online copy of the book.

As opposed to giving summaries as I did for Redemption Accomplished and Applied, the last book we looked at for RCC, this time I will try and focus on a quote or passage that grabs my attention.

In the first chapter, I came across this line:
In time of temptation, apprehensive consciences look so much to the present trouble they are in that they need to be roused up to behold him in whom they may find rest for their distressed souls.

This line was quite intriguing, and the first thing that caught my attention was the whiff of paradox it contains. Whether it be Chesterton on bravery, "It means a strong desire to live taking the form of readiness to die"; or Shakespeare, as in "Fair is foul and foul is fair"; or Christ, "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it"; paradox is an interesting and attention-grabbing literary device.

Sibbes puts this device to use when he suggests that those with apprehensive consciences need to be "roused" to "find rest". How does being roused help one find rest? This paradoxical statement, I would suggest, was intentional and it draws our attention to the rousing. Sibbes suggests that those in temptation need to be roused so that they can look to "him in whom they may find rest."

It seems that, from the start, this Puritan author will have our gaze Christ-centered, cross-centered, and gospel-centered. In the first chapter alone we read of service, salvation, sacrifice, reconciliation, redemption, mediation, and grace. This loving, graceful response of Christ is necessary since we are bruised reed and the smoldering flax:
The bruised reed is a man that for the most part is in some misery, as those were that came to Christ for help, and by misery he is brought to see sin as the cause of it, for, whatever pretences sin makes, they come to an end when we are bruised and broken. He is sensible of sin and misery, even unto bruising; and, seeing no help in himself, is carried with restless desire to have supply from another, with some hope, which a little raises him out of himself to Christ, though he dare not claim any present interest of mercy. This spark of hope being opposed by doubtings and fears rising from corruption makes him as smoking flax; so that both these together, a bruised reed and smoking flax, make up the state of a poor distressed man.


  1. I'm ashamed to say that while I marked that very quote myself, I failed to catch the "whiff of paradox" in it. Thanks for pointing that out. That's why we read the classics TOGETHER, huh? I need all the help I can get. Good to see you reading along again.

  2. It may be asked, "Why do men fall?" so that it may be answered, "That men may see they have need to be held."