And just like that we’ve come to the end of another classic. Looking back on The Bruised Reed I feel like I got the most benefit from the beginning and the end, which likely means that I allowed my attention to drift somewhere around the middle of the book. There is value in reading a book in this kind of weekly format, and yet it is also a little artificial. Those week-long gaps draw out the reading experience in such a way that it is easy to lose some of the flow of the book.
Nevertheless, The Bruised Reed has proven in my mind that its status as a classic is well-earned. I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone.
Sibbes wraps up the book which a chapter titled “Through Conflict to Victory” and in his parting words he wants the Christian to know that all of God’s work and all of his progress in the world will necessarily be opposed. And yet he wants the Christian to know and trust that in the end Christ will have the victory. Here is how he describes the battles necessary to bring Christ into the heart:
It takes much trouble to bring Christ into the heart, and to set up a tribunal for him to judge there. There is an army of lusts in mutiny against him. The utmost strength of most men’s endeavors and abilities is directed to keeping Christ from ruling in the soul. The flesh still labors to maintain its own government, and therefore it cries down the credit of whatever crosses it, such as God’s blessed ordinances, and highly prizes anything, though never so dead and empty, if it allows the liberty of the flesh.
He offers three reasons that Christ’s government is opposed. First, because it is a government “and that limits the course of the will and casts a bridle on its wanderings.” The heart resists any kind of authority. Second, because it is a spiritual government. “Christ’s government brings the very thoughts and desires, which are the most immediate and free issue of the soul, into obedience.” And third, because it involves judgment “and men do not like to be judged and censured. Now Christ, in his truth, arraigns them, gives sentence against them, and binds them over to the latter judgment of the great day, and therefore they take upon them to judge that truth which must judge them. But truth will be too strong for them.”
He also teaches that we must expect opposition in all spiritual endeavors. Here he speaks of the kind of heart that would reject such wise and good government: “Thus the desperate madness of men is laid open, that they would rather be under the guidance of their own lusts, and in consequence of Satan himself, to their endless destruction, than put their feet into Christ’s fetters and their necks under his yoke; though, indeed, Christ’s service is the only true liberty. His yoke is an easy yoke, his burden but as the burden of wings to a bird which make her fly the higher.” He provides one of his great, short, punchy quotes: “Those that take the most liberty to sin are the greatest slaves, because [they are] the most voluntary slaves.”
Yet though the Christian must expect opposition, his victory in Christ is certain. Here is how he tells us to throw ourselves upon the Lord’s mercy:
A good opinion of the physician, we say, is half the cure. Let us make use of this mercy and power of his every day in our daily combats: ‘Lord Jesus, thou hast promised not to quench the smoking flax, nor to break the bruised reed. Cherish thy grace in me; leave me not to myself; the glory shall be thine.’ Let us not allow Satan to transform Christ to us, to make him other than he is to those that are his. Christ will not leave us till he has made us like himself, all glorious within and without, and presented us blameless before his Father (Jude 24).
We have no reason to fear Satan, for his power is as nothing before God. “Oh, what a confusion is this to Satan, that he should labour to blow out a poor spark and yet should not be able to quench it; that a grain of mustard seed should be stronger than the gates of hell; that it should be able to remove mountains of oppositions and temptations cast up by Satan and our rebellious hearts between God and us.”
Among Sibbes’ final encouragements is that we are to treasure even the least spark of grace. Wherever and whenever we see the Lord doing his work, wherever we see even the least evidence of his grace, we are to rejoice; we are to treasure it. “See a flame in a spark, a tree in a seed. See great things in little beginnings. Look not so much to the beginning as to the perfection, and so we shall be, in some degree, joyful in ourselves, and thankful to Christ.”
Those are good words. Far too often I am prone to see what is lacking rather than what is there. Sibbes has taught me to treasure even the least spark, to treasure that smoking flax, and to see even there and perhaps especially there the work of God.
The purpose of this program is to read classics together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Feel free to post a comment below or to link to your blog if you’ve chosen to write about this on your own site.
The Next Classic
I will announce the next book very soon. I think we may try something a little bit different next time around, so stay tuned…