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Reading Classics Together

May 27, 2010

I don’t know how many Reading Classics posts I’ve written over the years, but I do know that as time goes on, as we progress through a particular book, fewer and fewer people read along. There is a lot of attrition along the way as people find that they just cannot (or perhaps are not interested in) keeping up with the reading.

Nevertheless for those who remain, let’s carry on and look to this week’s selection from Richard Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed. We’ve got just a couple of readings to go and we need to persevere!

Summary

I was surprised and quite excited to see that the first of this week’s two chapters deals with a subject near and dear to me: spiritual discernment. if I read Sibbes correctly, he is using the word judgment as a synonym for discernment. Sibbes begins by saying “Christ’s government in his church and in his children is a wise and well-ordered government and … it is called judgment, and judgment is the life and soul of wisdom.” If Christians are to be wise, if they are to live as Christ would have them live, they need sound judgment or discernment. Sibbes branches out from this statement in two different ways: first he says that Christ’s spiritual government of us is joined with discernment and wisdom and second, that wherever there is true spiritual wisdom and discernment there is the Spirit of Christ.

May 20, 2010

It’s Thursday again, which means we’re continuing our reading through The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes. We are quickly drawing near to the end of this book—something that happens quickly when reading two chapters at a time. Another two or three weeks and we will be finished.

Summary

For some reason I found both of this week’s chapters more difficult than the ones that had come before. Somehow they seemed just a little bit less clear in their purpose. I’m guessing the fault is with me more than with Sibbes. Nevertheless, I did find it quite tough to orient myself.

In the first chapter Sibbes writes about people who offend Christ by in some way thinking little of his mercy. So he points to those who have a false despair of Christ’s mercy, those who have a false hope of his mercy, those who resist Christ’s mercy, those who presume upon that mercy, those who seek another source of mercy, those who mistreat the heirs of mercy, those who cause strife among the heirs of mercy, those who take advantage of the bruised and, finally, those who despise Christ’s simple means of mercy.

May 13, 2010

Today we continue reading through Richard Sibbes’ classic work The Bruised Reed. This is, of course, part of the Reading Classics Together program in which we read some of the classic books of the Christian faith and discuss them together.

Summary

Our reading for this week comprised two chapters, as usual, with the first of these, “Duties and Discouragements” just packed with great content from beginning to end. In this chapter Sibbes seeks to address whether or not we ought to consider performing Christian duties when our hearts are completely averse to them. Not surprisingly he says that we should and offers several reasons that this is so:

May 06, 2010

A new Thursday brings us to our next reading in Richard Sibbes’ classic The Bruised Reed. This week we were to read chapter 6 (“Marks of the Smoking Flax”) and chapter 7 (“Help for the Weak”).

Summary

Some weeks I like to provide a summary of the content of the chapters we’ve read. Today, though, I think I’ll simply provide a roundup of some of those most quotable quotes. As I’ve said before, Sibbes has that Puritan ability to condense massive amounts of truth into a single and highly memorable statement. He reminds me a little bit of Matthew Henry in that regard. Here are a few of the statements I just had to highlight.

“We must not judge of ourselves always according to present feeling, for in temptations we shall see nothing but smoke of distrustful thoughts.”

April 29, 2010

This morning we come to our third reading in Richard Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed. Though we’re still early in the book, already I’m seeing so much evidence as to why Sibbes was known as a physician of the soul or, to use the title given to him in his day, “The Heavenly Doctor Sibbes.” I don’t know that I’ve ever read a book that is more comforting, more pastoral in its tone. Sibbes has an amazing ability to bring comfort and hope through carefully crafted words.

Summary

Our reading this week included two chapters, the first of which is titled “Christ Will Not Quench the Smoking Flax.” Here he speaks more of the term “the smoking flax” by which he refers to that spark of faith that exists in those who have been newly saved. He assures the reader that Christ will never extinguish such beginnings of faith for two reasons: “First, because this spark is from heaven: it is his own, it is kindled by his own Spirit. And secondly, it tends to the glory of his powerful grace in his children that he preserves light in the midst of darkness, a spark in the midst of the swelling waters of corruption.”

April 22, 2010

Today we come to our second reading in Richard Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed. We are looking at chapters 2 and 3 today, seeing that Christ will not break the bruised reed and learning what God means by “the smoking flax.”

Summary

Sibbes looks first to Christ’s dealing with the bruised reed (and, to reiterate, a bruised reed is a person who is in misery of spirit so either he will come to Christ or be drawn closer to Christ). He points to Christ’s mercy, saying “he will not only not break nor quench, but he will cherish those with whom he so deals. … Shall we think there is more mercy in ourselves than in God, who plants the affection of mercy in us?” Because we know how to show mercy, we can be assured that Christ will show greater mercy to those who have been bruised. Through Christ’s humanity he is able to sympathize with us in our plights. Though he has now ascended to heaven, “His advancement has not made him forget his own flesh. Though it has freed him from passion, yet not from compassion towards us. … He will not show his strength against those who prostrate themselves before him.”

April 15, 2010

Today we begin our journey through Richard Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed. I’m starting a bit late in the day, as it happens, due to some technical issues. Nevertheless, here we go. If you have decided to read this classic with us, you are free to leave a comment below. And if you’re not the commenting sort, that’s just fine. I ask only that you keep reading the book.

Summary

As you might expect, the first chapter of The Bruised Reed is dedicated to explaining the rather odd expression that makes up the title. The words come from Isaiah 42:1-3 and are fulfilled in Christ (Matthew 12:18-20).

Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.

In this chapter Sibbes looks quickly at the calling of Christ to his office and the manner in which he carries it out. There are a few quotes that I found particularly noteworthy.

In speaking of Christ’s calling he says “Christ was God’s servant in the greatest piece of service that ever was, a chosen and a choice servant who did and suffered all by commission from the Father. In this we may see the sweet love of God to us, in that he counts the work of our salvation by Christ his greatest service, and in that he will put his only beloved Son to that service.”

April 10, 2010

Ten days ago I announced the next classic book we’ll be reading together. To refresh your memory, it will be The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes. If you’ve been reading this blog for more than a few months, you know the pattern. Through the week anyone who wishes to participate reads a chapter from the book and on Thursdays we come here and discuss it. It’s that simple, really. The impetus for this project was the simple realization that, though many Christians want to read through the classics of the faith, few of us have the motivation to actually make it happen. I know this was long the case for me. This program allows us to read such classic works together, providing both a level of accountability and the added interest of comparing notes as we read in community. The Bruised Reed is, by all accounts, the kind of book any Christian will benefit from. So please do consider reading it with us.

April 01, 2010

(Note: I know that I owe you an article on how to read a book. It’s coming; it may be tomorrow, it may be next week. But it’s coming.)

Several years ago I introduced a program called Reading Classics Together. The impetus for this project was the simple realization that, though many Christians want to read through the classics of the faith, few of us have the motivation to actually make it happen. I know this was long the case for me. This program allows us to read such classic works together, providing both a level of accountability and the added interest of comparing notes as we read in community. Those who have participated in each of the programs will now have read Holiness by J.C. Ryle, Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen, The Seven Sayings of the Savior on the Cross by A.W. Pink, The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, Real Christianity by William Wilberforce, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs and Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray. That is quite a solid collection of classics! I have benefited immensely from reading these books and know that others have, too. The format is simple: every week we read a chapter or a section of a classic of the Christian faith and then on Thursday we check in at my blog to discuss it. It’s that easy: one chapter per week.

It has been a few weeks now since we finished reading the last classic together. We finished reading Redemption Accomplished and Applied, an excellent book and, by any measure, a true classic. Though I have long been familiar with classic Reformed theology, I learned a great deal from Murray. And now it’s time to move on.

Today I want to announce the next classic we’ll be reading together. We’ll be heading back to the Puritans and reading The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes. First published in 1630, the book has long been a source of spiritual comfort for Christians. Sibbes exposits Isaiah 42:3 and “unfolds the tender ministry of Jesus Christ, who is ‘a physician good at all diseases, especially at the binding up of the broken heart.’” Charles Spurgeon said of Sibbes that he “never wastes the student’s time … he scatters pearls and diamonds with both hands.”

At Puritan Sermons you can read an article from Banner of Truth magazine that provides a useful overview of the book. The author of that article says, “Though well written and reasoned, The Bruised Reed is far from a scholarly treatise. It was originally published as ‘Some Sermons contracted out of the 12. of Matth. 20.’ It was not written in the heat of academic debate, but in the heat of pastoral concern, as the title page continues: ‘At the desire, and for the good of weaker Christians.’ But Sibbes writes armed with more than just a pastor’s concern. He writes with a physician’s skill, for he knows the true cause of his readers’ woes and symptoms, and wastes no time in directing them to the cure.”

February 11, 2010

And here we are, in the last reading from John Murray’s classic book Redemption Accomplished and Applied. This week brings us to the glorious subject of glorification.

Summary
Glorification is the final phase of this long application of the redemption to God’s elect. “It is that which brings to completion the process which begins in effectual calling. Indeed it is the completion of the whole process of redemption.” Glorification is the consummation of the promise that comes with the effectual call. It is not something we experience at the moment of death, though, but something greater than that. It is something we will experience only upon Christ’s return. “The redemption which Christ has secured for his people is redemption not only from sin but also from all its consequences. Death is the wages of sin and the death of believers does not deliver them from death. … Hence glorification has in view the destruction of death itself. … It is the complete and final redemption of the whole person when in the integrity of body and spirit the people of God will be conformed to the image of the risen, exalted, and glorified Redeemer, when the very body of their humiliation will be conformed to the body of Christ’s glory.” These are sweet words to the believer.

This truth that glorification depends upon Christ’s return indicates that it is something all Christians will experience together, at the exact same point in time. Those who died first will be glorified in the same moment as those who are still alive at his return. The whole church will experience this last event in unison. Here Murray offers a succinct understanding of this: “Glorification, then, is the instantaneous change that will take place for the whole company of the redeemed when Christ will come again the second time without sin unto salvation and will descend from heaven with the shout of triumph over the last enemy.”

He offers two important points. First, that glorification is associated and bound up with the coming of Christ in glory. “So indispensable is the coming of the Lord to the hope of glory that glorification for the believer has no meaning without the manifestation of Christ’s glory. Glorification is glorification in Christ. Remove the latter and we have robbed the glorification of believers of the one thing that enables them to look forward to this event with confidence, with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” Second, he wants the reader to know that “the glorification of believers is associated and bound up with the renewal of creation. It is not only believers who are to be delivered from the bondage of corruption but the creation itself also.” At the moment when believers are delivered from their sin, the whole of creation will be delivered from the effects of that sin. “When we think of glorification, then, it is no narrow perspective that we entertain. It is a renewed cosmos, new heavens and new earth, that we must think of as the context of the believers’ glory.” Doesn’t the believer’s heart long for this day?

Before he closes the chapter, Murray dispels modern day myths about the body and soul, myths that say that what is material is the source of our sin. This raises the body over the soul, as if the soul is pure and the body sinful. “This conception can be made to appear very beautiful and ‘spiritual,’ but it is just ‘beautiful paganism.’ It is a straight thrust at the biblical doctrine that God created man with body and soul and that he was very good. It is also aimed at the biblical doctrine of sin which teaches that sin has its origin and seat in the spirit of man, not in the material and fleshly.” This myth, alive in the day of the biblical writers and alive today, perhaps primarily in the influence of the New Age, must be rejected.

Your Turn
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.

Next…
Stay tuned and in a couple of weeks I’ll let you know what classic we’ll be reading next.

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