In His providence, God has given Christians many godly authors through the centuries to witness and teach through their various writings. We value these works because they share the Gospel, tell us of our Lord, and continually point us back to Scripture. In this new series, we will periodically look at classic Christian literature—old and new—that still encourage and instruct today.
Mention the word “Puritan” today, and what comes to mind for most people is a flint-faced, grumpy individual with no sense of mercy or enjoyment. However, historically, the Puritans (in the general sense, those who wished to “purify” the Church of England) ran the gamut in terms of temperament and disposition, just as we see with present-day Christians.
If your mental picture of the Puritans is to immediately consider them the “Frozen Chosen”, you might be surprised when you read the works of Richard Sibbes. Sibbes, an early 17th-century English pastor and theologian, was known as the “Heavenly Doctor” during his lifetime, due to his godly manner and preaching. He was also known as the “Sweet Dropper” due to his sympathetic, warm, and loving witness in both pulpit and pen. Perhaps his most famous work, The Bruised Reed, is a masterful look at the vulnerability and discouragement all Christians will struggle with in their lives.
The Bruised Reed takes its title from Isaiah 42:1-3, which, speaking of Christ, says, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” Looking at both the opening of this chapter and Matthew 12:18-20, Sibbes examines how perfect the analogies of these struggling, wounded objects are in describing the downcast Christian. It is easy to become despondent over our disobedience and sin that remains as part of our lives as we are on the long road of sanctification. While never encouraging or whitewashing sin, Sibbes reminds us of the keeping power of Christ. Even though at times our flame may sputter and smoke, though we may feel as if we are about to break at any moment, Christ lovingly cares for us.
Sibbes reminds us of our shortfalls, but also states ““There is more mercy in Christ than sin in us”. Throughout his work, he continually references back to the riches of Christ. The entire book centers on the excellence of Jesus, and how our “bruising” should remind us of the value of Christ and His sacrifice. When we see our sin for what it is, the pitiful efforts of moralism and empty self-help fall away, and we are left with seeing the glory of the all-sufficient, exclusive Savior. The beautiful, expansive descriptions Sibbes gives in describing our reliance upon Christ are relieving and refocusing for the soul.
Weighing in at a little over 120 pages in most editions, The Bruised Reed is sometimes challenging in its language, but is a rewarding read for all that (note there is an updated language e-version that I have not read). The ideas therein are important for Christians new and well-seasoned alike. We all struggle, and all sometimes feel as if we simply are overwhelmed by the onslaughts of our own love of sin and the temptations of the enemy. But Christ has overcome, and for those in Him, we have the promise the Good Shepherd will never abandon us or cast us aside, and that He will be with us even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).
If you have ever been interested in the wider world of reading some of the Puritan writings, The Bruised Reed is as good a place to begin as any. The God-honoring works of Richard Sibbes have encouraged Christians for centuries, including such leaders as Charles Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and Mark Dever. This is a time-tested work that rewards taking the time to work through it. While you’re at it, you might come away with a different view of the Puritans, too!
If you’d like to read The Bruised Reed for yourself, Banner of Truth has this as part of their “Puritan Paperbacks” series. It is available from Amazon, Westminster Bookstore, and other online retailers. Also available are an affordable Kindle copy and other free electronic formats. May you be strengthened and reminded of God’s precious Word as you read!