Friday, August 31, 2012

The Bruised Reed, by Richard Sibbes


This exposition of Isaiah 42:3 ("A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench . . .") is, I believe, Sibbes' best known work. It has been consistently praised by theologians and preachers I respect and seems to be very highly regarded by all who've read it.

Except me, apparently.

Honestly, I found it rather underwhelming. Maybe I've just heard it talked up too much; maybe my expectations were unreasonably high. Whatever the reason, this book was kind of a letdown for me.

A bit about the book:  At 128 pages, the Puritan Paperback (by Banner of Truth Trust) is less intimidating than your average Puritan work. The text is broken up into 16 chapters, all of which address important topics like our view of Christ, Christ's coming judgment, and the importance of not quenching the Spirit/resisting Christ's mercy.

Sibbes starts out by defining his terms, which is quite helpful. To Sibbes,
The bruised reed is a man that for the most part is in some misery, as those were that came to Christ for help, and by misery he is brought to see sin as the cause of it, for, whatever pretences sin makes, they come to an end when we are bruised and broken. He is sensible of sin and misery, even unto bruising [...]
In smoking flax there is but a little light, and that weak, as being unable to flame, and that little mixed with smoke. The observations from this are that, 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.
I got the impression that Sibbes focused more on the smoking flax than the bruised reed, but honestly, I can't swear to it.

Part of the problem I had with this book is that it simply did not hold my attention. I found myself re-reading sentences multiple times, and it wouldn't surprise me in the least if I only really retained maybe ten percent of what Sibbes had to say. I freely confess that this may be entirely my fault--I was reading it first thing in the morning, which can be a challenge with Puritan writers. But I've greatly enjoyed other Puritans like John Flavel, Thomas Watson, and even John Owen (as updated by Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor), so I don't know that that's the issue. I suspect it's more a matter of Sibbes favoring a sentence structure that's just counter-intuitive to me, and thus requires a level of focus and dedication that I'm just not used to. Maybe that's why his writing just didn't sparkle to me. Which is an imprecise way to describe it, I know, but there you have it.

I'm still giving the book three stars--largely because it's so highly recommended by others. My own reading would result in more of a two star rating, but since I'm fairly certain that I'm at least part of the problem, I'm willing to give Sibbes the benefit of the doubt. After all, the Sibbes quotes I've heard have all been concise and artfully worded--crisp and insightful and striking and extremely encouraging.  But the bulk of the writing in this book just didn't live up to those quotes. Which means either I just didn't notice them in the sea of text or they're in his other works. I may end up re-reading it later, when I've got more time and energy to devote to really parsing out his syntax. Or maybe I'll try a different Sibbes work in the hope it'll make a better impression.

Meanwhile, I'll leave you with my favorite Sibbes quote from the book (and my favorite quote of his to date):
There is more mercy in Christ than sin in us.

No comments: