Thursday, May 13, 2010

Reading the Classics with Challies - The Bruised Reed - Post 5

This is, as the title mentions, the fifth post of this series of Reading the Classics with Challies. We are reading The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes and this post concerns itself with chapters 9 and 10. More specifically, this post concerns itself with a short section of chapter 9 though this week's reading included both 9 and 10.

The section with which I and this post am concerned is introduced by Sibbes as such, "From what has been said it will not be difficult, with a little further discussion, to resolve that question which some require help in, namely, whether we ought to perform duties when our hearts are altogether averse to them." This question, of whether or not to perform duties if we don't feel like it, is a question that I have often thought about. My inclination has usually been to do the duty and work the details out later. Well, perhaps Sibbes can help me work out some of the details.

Sibbes declares that we should persist in our duties and gives us 4 reasons why he believes thus. The first reason he explains by writing, "Our hearts of themselves are reluctant to give up their liberty, and are only with difficulty brought under the yoke of duty. The more spiritual the duty is, the more reluctance there is. Corruption gains ground, for the most part, in every neglect." Basically, according to this puritan author, our heart are corrupt and will always be reluctant to fulfill duties and we should therefore lean towards persisting in them. He adds that neglect of duties can only lead to corruption increasing. Pretty straightforward counsel if you ask me. Sibbes concludes, "therefore it is good to keep our hearts close to duty, and not to listen to the excuses they are ready to frame"

Sibbes second point is framed, "As we set about duty, God strengthens the influence that he has in us." the act of persisting in our duties avails ourselves to God's gracious influence. This may be particularly true when we don't feel like it: "God often delights to take advantage of our averseness, that he may manifest his work the more clearly, and that all the glory of the work may be his, as all the strength is his."

Third, Sibbes suggests that obedience without the benefit of feeling good about it indicates true obedience. "Obedience is most direct when there a nothing else to sweeten the action. Although the sacrifice is imperfect, yet the obedience with which it is offered is accepted." A duty done in obedience despite an unwilling heart is not frowned upon by God.

Fourthly and finally, Sibbes writes, "What is won as a spoil from our corruptions will have as great a degree of comfort afterwards as it has of obstruction for the present." Though we may inwardly resist the continuing in our duties, the rewards in persisting will recompense the difficulty in performing. sibbes goes on, "Feeling and freeness of spirit are often reserved until duty is discharged. Reward follows work. In and after duty we find that experience of God's presence which, without obedience, we may long wait for, and yet go without." Sibbes finishes this point with an analogy, "As in sailing the hand must be to the helm and the eye to the star, so here we must put forth that little strength we have to duty and look up for assistance, which the Spirit, as freely as seasonably, will afford." The Spirit will help us with our meager attempts at persisting in our duties.

According to this puritan, we should persist in our duties despite our heart's aversion to them because: our hearts will always resist them and if we succumb where would we be left; God can work on us as we obey him in the performance of our duties; obedience is direct when we don't feel like doing our duties but do them anyway; and there will be reward for persevering.

This has brought some clarity to the question we started with. At least, it has for me.


  1. This brought clarity to me, too. I think it is an age-old question: whether or not to do something when we don't feel like it. I like the straightforward way that Sibbes answered it: an easy yes! And then backed it up with reasons. You did a great job laying those out for me even clearer than when I first read them in the book. Thanks.

  2. Good stuff, Jude. Piper does a great job talking more in depth about this question in his little book called The Dangerous Duty of Delight(which I think is a summarized version of his massive classic Desiring God). You should've seen people shudder in our Sunday school class years ago when I suggested that we ought to do the right thing even when we didn't feel like it. It's like many in the church have somehow bought into the world's MO of only doing things we feel are completely backed by some emotional charge, at all times. sad.

    Thanks for your thoughts here and good to see you reading with us on Challies! Have a great weekend in the Lord.