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.
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:
- Our hearts of themselves are reluctant to give up their liberty and are only brought under the yoke of duty with great difficulty. Corruption grows where duty is neglected.
- As we set about duty, God strengthens the influence that he has in us.
- Obedience is most direct when there is nothing else to sweeten the action.
- What is won as a spoil from our corruptions will have as great a degree in comfort afterwards as it has of obstruction for the present (which is to say that reward follows work).
Having affirmed that we are to continue to serve even through discouragements and through times when duty by far overwhelms delight, he offers wisdom on overcoming discouragements. In just a few words he offers great wisdom and comfort:
If God brings us into the trial he will be with us in the trial, and at length bring us out, more refined. We shall lose nothing but dross (Zech. 13:9). From our own strength we cannot bear the least trouble, but by the Spirit’s assistance we can bear the greatest. The Spirit will add his shoulders to help us to bear our infirmities. The Lord will give his hand to heave us up (Psa. 37:24).
He swings briefly to the Lord’s Supper saying “it was ordained not for angels, but for men; and not for perfect men, but for weak men; and not for Christ, who is truth itself, to bind him, but because we are ready, by reason of our guilty and unbelieving hearts, to call truth itself into question. Therefore it was not enough for his goodness to leave us many precious promises, but he gives us confirming tokens to strengthen us.”
Next he turns to the source of discouragements and teaches that discouragements do not come from the Father, the Son or the Spirit. And that being the case, they must “come from ourselves and from Satan, who labors to fasten on us a loathing of duty.” So it is Satan and our corrupt inner man that keep us from performing our Christian duties and, prior to that, even desiring to perform such duties.
After this he teaches what weaknesses can and cannot accomplish in the life of the Christian. He shows that weaknesses do not break covenant with God, that they do not debar the Christian from mercy and that if Christ should not be merciful to our weaknesses, he should not have a people to serve him. And yet he offers an important warning:
But lest we flatter ourselves without good grounds, we must know that weaknesses are to be reckoned either imperfections cleaving to our best actions, or actions proceeding from immaturity in Christ, whilst we are babes, or the effects of want of strength, where ability is small, or sudden unintended breakings out, contrary to our general bent and purpose, whilst our judgment is overcast with the cloud of a sudden temptation, after which we feel our infirmity, grieve for it and from grief, complain, and, with complaining, strive and labour to reform; finally, in laboring, we make some progress against our corruption.
And finally, he seeks to define sins of infirmity. Eventually he writes “Christ counts it his honor to pass by many infirmities, nay, in infirmities he perfects his strength” and “To the extent that we give way to our will in sinning, to that extent we set ourselves at a distant from comfort.”
In the next chapter he encourages the Christian to believe Christ, not Satan. While Christ constantly encourages and strengthens us, Satan is continually whispering at us to disbelieve Christ and to turn from him. “Since Christ is thus comfortably set out to us, let us not believe Satan’s representations of him. When we are troubled in conscience for our sins, Satan’s manner is then to present Christ to the afflicted soul as a most severe judge armed with justice against us.” And yet we are to find our comfort in Christ:
If the sweetness of all flowers were in one, how sweet must that flower be? In Christ all perfections of mercy and love meet. How great then must that mercy be that lodges in so gracious a heart? Whatever tenderness is scattered in husband, father, brother, head, all is but a beam from him; it is in him in the most eminent manner. We are weak, but we are his; we are deformed, but yet carry his image upon us. A father looks not so much at the blemishes of his child as at his own nature in him; so Christ finds matter of love from that which is his own in us. He sees his own nature in us: we are diseased, but yet his members.
As for Satan, “his daily study is to divide between the Son and us by breeding false opinions in us of Christ, as if there were not such tender love in him to such as we are. It was Satan’s art from the beginning to discredit God with man, by calling God’s love into question with our first father Adam. His success then makes him ready at that weapon still.”
And, of course, there is plenty more in these two chapters; this is but a mere overview. Sibbes has packed great truth and great comfort into these chapters. He truly is a physician to the soul.
For next Thursday please read chapters 10 and 11.
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.
More in The Bruised Reed:
- Reading Classics Together: The Bruised Reed (VII)
- Reading Classics Together: The Bruised Reed (VIII)