BRUISED REEDS AND SMOKING FLAXES

In “To The General Reader,” at the beginning of The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax, Sibbes begins to lay out his agenda for the following pages of his work.  His main concern is for those people “the chief ground of whose trouble was the want of considering the gracious nature and office of Christ.”[1]  The problem in his mind with many people is that they do not understand how gracious and merciful a Savior Jesus Christ really is.  Furthermore, he adds, “God hath laid up all grace and comfort in Christ for us, and planted a wonderful sweetness of pity and love in his heart towards us.”[2]  From the beginning of this work, Sibbes points his readers to the source of all true comfort, Jesus Christ.  Here is the place God has appointed for sinners to draw near and have their hearts strengthened with grace. 

Sibbes insightfully points out that it is Satan’s goal to skew one’s understanding of Christ.  He says of those so assaulted by the evil one, “These are abused by false presentations of Christ.”[3]  Satan’s aim is to present people with a Christ to whom they will not want to draw near, an angry-judging Christ, but Sibbes would remind them that Christ is gracious and humble. 

God also “setteth himself in the covenant of grace to triumph in Christ over the greatest enemies and evils we fear…that there are heights, and depths, and breaths of mercy in him above all the depths of our sin and misery.”[4]  Christ is not one to whom sinners cannot flee, but one who must triumph by the decree of his father in the covenant of grace.  He must not cast out those who come to him, but display mercy and raise them up on the last day.  There is no depth of sin that can keep us from him or drive his love away from us.  This is how Sibbes introduces his subject.

In the opening of The Bruised Reed, Sibbes divides the text (Matthew 11:20) into two parts: 1) the calling of Jesus and 2) the execution of his calling.  Sibbes says that Jesus came with a mission and he did everything by commission of the father.[5]  Regarding this calling Sibbes says,

“wherein we may see the sweet love of God to us, that counts the work of our salvation by Christ his greatest service; and that he will put his only beloved Son to that service.  He might well prefix Behold, to raise up our thoughts to the highest pitch of attention and admiration.  In the time of temptation, misgiving consciences look so much at the present trouble they are in, that they need be roused up to behold him in whom him in whom they find rest for their distressed souls.  In temptations it is safest to behold nothing, but Christ.”[6]        

Jesus has answered the call of his father to be a servant, to seek and save the lost.  He did so by becoming a sacrifice for sin on the cross.  This work was effectual in that it actually paid the price for the sin of those given to Christ by the Father.  Here Sibbes says we are to fix the eyes of our hearts.  It is to Christ we are to go in times of temptation to behold his love to us.  However, Sibbes’ main point in this collection of sermons is not to focus upon the calling of Christ in the covenant of grace, but rather the execution of this calling.  He comments about this execution saying, “And his coming was so modest, so it was mild, which is set down in these words: The bruised reed shall he not break.”[7]  Jesus coming and fulfillment of his father’s mission was not to rub shoulders with the elite, but to associate with the humble and poor in spirit.  From this division of Matthew 11:20, Sibbes makes three observations, which are three main points of his sermons.  They have already been listed in the introduction.[8]   

Now to begin analyzing the first of these three main points, which is “the condition of men whom he was to deal withal is, that they were bruised reeds.”[9]  Sibbes points out that God uses the illustration of bruised reeds and smoking wicks to describe the type of people Jesus works with.  Sometimes this bruising happens before conversion to humble the sinner’s heart and to bring them to Christ, but then often times afterwards as well to further point the Christian to the gospel that saved them.  In his own words, Sibbes clarifies, “for usually he empties such of themselves, and makes them nothing, before he will use them in any great service.”[10] 

Additionally, what is the purpose of this bruising for the converted?  Sibbes says that after conversion we are in need of bruising.  His reason for this is “(1) reeds may know themselves to be reeds, and not oaks; even reeds need bruising, by reason of the remainder of pride in our nature…(2) that weaker Christians may not be to much discouraged when they see stronger shaken and bruised.”[11]  This is the first of the three focuses of Sibbes; that Christians would know how low and humble the ministry of Christ does reach. 

 


[1] Sibbes, “The Bruised Reed,” 38.   

[2] Ibid., 38.  

[3] Ibid., 38.  

[4] Ibid, 38.   

[5] Ibid., 42.   

[6] Ibid., 42.   

[7] Ibid., 43.   

[8] See p.7.   

[9] Sibbes, “The Bruised Reed,” 43.   

[10] Ibid., 43.   

[11] Ibid., 44.

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