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Reading Classics Together: The Bruised Reed (II)

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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.”


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.”

By way of application, Sibbes teaches that we should be bold to come before the throne of grace, trusting in God’s mercy. We should trust also that “Christ’s way is first to wound, then to heal.” So if we are wounded, we can know that Christ will also bring greater healing. And finally, we ought to “see the contrary disposition of Christ on the one hand and Satan and his instruments on the other.” Satan pounces upon us when we are at our weakest and seeks to destroy us then. Christ, though, mercifully attends on those who are weakest to bind up their wounds. “The consciousness of the church’s weakness makes her willing to lean on her beloved, and to hide herself under his wing.”

Sibbes then asks the reader to see that a bruised reed is one who has been brought low not only by a cross to bear, but by an awareness of his sin, which bruises more than all else. “When conscience is once awakened, all former sins and present crosses join together to make the bruise the more painful.” He also encourages us, in those moments of bruising, to lament our own condition that we should even need such pain in order to mold and shape us into the image of the Savior. “It is better to go bruised to heaven than sound to hell. Therefore let us not take off ourselves too soon, nor pull off the plaster before the cure be wrought, but keep ourselves under this work till sin be the sourest, and Christ the sweetest, of all things.” One last good quote: “none are fitter for comfort than those that think themselves furthest off.”

Sibbes then discusses the term “the smoking flax” saying “in God’s children, especially in their first conversion, there is but a little measure of grace, and that little mixed with much corruption which, as smoke, is offensive; but that Christ will not quench this smoking flax.” Later he says, “Let us not be discouraged at the small beginnings of grace, but look on ourselves as elected to be ‘Holy and without blame.’ Let us look on our imperfect beginning only to enforce further striving to perfection, and to keep us in a low opinion of ourselves.” Showing that grace is mingled with sin and corruption he says, “grace does not go away with corruption all at once, but some is left for believer to fight with. The purest actions of the purest men need Christ to perfume them; and this is his office.” And one last notable quote: “Broken hearts can yield but broken prayers.”

I wonder if we could work together to build a solid definition of “the bruised reed” and “the smoking flax”–definitions better than what I’ve offered. That might prove useful for reference as we continue through the book. Can someone take a stab at that?

Next Week

For next Thursday please read chapters 4 and 5.

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.

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