I’ve been digging into Richard Sibbes, Volume 1 recently which contains many of his published books, including The Bruised Reed and The Souls Conflict with itself. These are simply wonderful books that have helped me at more than one point of difficulty in my life. Frankly, I think they should be given out to every student at Bible college and possibly during GP training as well (ok, that wouldn’t be possible.) The reality is that Sibbes understood the human heart in a way that very few do today. He saw that the Scripture was medicine to heal the sick mind and soul and earned himself the name of ‘the heavenly doctor Sibbes’ in his own lifetime. Today we struggle with this, because as ministers we have lost the category of counsellor. Warded off by warnings to leave it to the ‘professionals’ we no longer see ourselves as having manna for the distressed soul or person who finds themselves hard pressed, but Sibbes did. Yes, we know the gospel is good, but we aren’t confident to unpick the mental, psychological and associated physiological problems that come with getting confused over the gospel– or simply the effects of living with fallen hearts, bodies and minds.
But consider this. It is now widely acknowledge that how we think affects how we feel and act (so Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). Doesn’t what we think about Jesus and the gospel have a bearing on this Christians? So what does the Bible say to the believer who is feeling crushed and poor in spirit and who perhaps despairs of life itself? Enter the heavenly doctor Sibbes.
I have found that despite many fellow Christians being hungry for these things, they often struggle to read Sibbes for themselves due to the antiquity of the language and also the puritan style. So for a bit of fun today, I have tried to modernise the language of the first two pages (not a great deal then) just to see how it flows and if it helps make sense for folk. I am no Eugene Peterson, but here it is.
1. The reed and the bruising
The prophet Isaiah refers to the time between himself and when Christ appeared in the incarnation. With the eyes of faith he sees that Christ is present in Isaiah’s writings. So he presents him on behalf of God to others who have spiritual eyes. He writes: ‘“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice’ (Isaiah 42:1-3). Matthew claims that these words are now fulfilled in Christ (Matthew 12:18-20). In Isaiah’s words the calling of Christ and the way in which he is called are set out for us.
God calls Christ his servant. Christ was God’s servant in the greatest event that has ever taken place. He was chosen as a servant by none other than God the Father. Through this we can see the sweet love of God towards us. Christ’s saving work is his greatest aim and he will send his only beloved son to do it. He begins by saying ‘Here is my servant’ to get our attention and to stir up our hearts to think about him. In times of temptation, timid people can look so much at the trouble they are in, that they need to be awakened to look at him, so that their souls can find rest. In times of temptation, it is safest to look only at Christ the true serpent who was lifted up and who is the ‘lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). He is a special comfort for the soul, especially if we don’t just look on him. Think also about the Father’s authority and love in him. Because in all that Christ did and suffered as our go between, we must see God in him, bringing the world back to himself (2 Cor 5:19).
It should build up our faith, that God the Father is so pleased with this work of buying us back. After all, it was he who was originally offended by our sin. And what a great comfort that God’s love rests on Christ and he is well pleased with him. Because it means he is well pleased with us if we are in Christ. [sentence I don’t understand here.] So let’s embrace Christ. In him we embrace God’s love and build our faith securely on the one who is God’s choice.
Look and see our comfort. There is a sweet agreement between the three persons of the Trinity. The Father gives a commission to Christ. The Spirit supplies and sanctifies it. And Christ himself does the job of go between. Our salvation is based on all three persons of the Trinity jointly agreeing to save.
HOW CHRIST PERSUES HIS CALLING
In Isaiah we are told that it is done without making a big noise, as princes can do. ‘He will not shout or cry out.’ His voice was heard, but what kind of voice? ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened’ (Matthew 11:28). He cried out, but how? ‘Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters’ (Isaiah 55:1). His coming was low key and gentle, which is shown in these words: ‘A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.’
So we can see that the state of those he was sent to deal with, was that they were bruised reeds and smouldering wicks. They were not trees, but reeds. And they were not whole, but bruised reeds. The church is compared to weak things: to a dove amongst the birds, to a vine among the plants, sheep among the wolves, to a woman, who is the weaker partner.
God’s children are bruised reeds before their conversion and often afterwards. Before their conversion, people are bruised reeds to different degrees, as God sees fit. Except those who have grown up in the church and so have experienced his grace from childhood. And as there are differences in temperaments of people, spiritual gifts and lifestyle, so there are differences in God’s intentions to use people. He usually empties the people he will use of themselves and makes them nothing, before he will use them in any great way to serve.