I can’t remember exactly when I came across The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes, but it’s a book I return to often.
Sibbes was a lecturer at Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge, England in the early 1600s. Preachers like Charles Spurgeon and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones loved him. “Sibbes never wastes the student’s time,” wrote Spurgeon, “he scatters pearls and diamonds with both hands.” Lloyd-Jones describes him as “warmer and more direct and more experimental,” and found him to be “balm to my soul at a period in my life when I was overworked and badly overtired, and therefore subject in an unusual manner to the onslaughts of the devil.” The Bruised Reed, as well as another book by Sibbes, “quietened, soothed, comforted, encouraged, and healed me.”
Lloyd-Jones advises us to prepare remedies for the difficult moods, states, and conditions that we’ll inevitably experience.
The Bruised Reed is based on Isaiah’s prophecy: “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice” (Isaiah 42:3).
Even if we’re not suffering now, we need to absorb three truths about suffering that Sibbes teaches us.
Our Bruising is Purposeful
It’s common when we suffer to ask why. Sibbes reminds us that our suffering is purposeful. It’s never wasted.
We need bruising before our salvation. “This bruising is required before conversion, that so the Spirit may make way for itself into the heart by leveling all proud, high thoughts, and that we may understand ourselves to be what indeed we are by nature.” He wants us to “come home to ourselves with the prodigal (Luke 15: 17).”
We also need bruising after our salvation “that reeds may know themselves to be reeds, and not oaks; even reeds need bruising, by reason of the remainder of pride in our nature, and to let us see that we live by mercy.” Also, “weaker Christians may not be too much discouraged when they see stronger shaken and bruised.”
We will not always understand why we suffer, but we can know that God uses our suffering to accomplish his purposes in our lives. Our bruising is purposeful.
Jesus Is Tender Toward Us in Our Weakness
We need more than the knowledge that our bruising is purposeful. We also need to know Jesus’ inclination toward us when we suffer. It’s here that Sibbes provides the greatest help and comfort.
“As a mother tendereth most the most diseased and weakest child,” he writes, “so doth Christ most mercifully incline to the weakest.”
Our weakness is not an obstacle or surprise to Jesus. He is not exasperated toward us. He is tender and compassionate to us. We can always run to him knowing that he’s favorably inclined to us even when we’re at our weakest.
When we suffer, we sometimes wonder if God really cares. Sibbes reassures us that Jesus really cares. He’s tender toward us in our weakness.
Jesus Will Accomplish His Purposes
The third truth that Sibbes teaches us doesn’t seem to have much to do with suffering at first. “He hath set up such an absolute government in us, which shall prevail over all corruptions.” Sibbes writes extensively about Jesus’ government. Jesus is mild to us in our weakness, but make no mistake: he is powerful and will accomplish his purposes both in our lives and in the world. This gives us hope. Things aren’t out of control; Jesus’ government is sure; his purposes will prevail no matter what’s happening in our lives.
Nobody else but Jesus is so strong and tender at the same time. “No spiritual force arrayed against us stands a chance of surviving,” writes Sam Allberry. “And yet he is unspeakably delicate and careful with us. There is no wound or vulnerability he doesn’t understand or handle with the utmost care.”
I could soak in any one of these truths for weeks.
I’ve suffered, and been around other sufferers, enough to know we need more than trite answers. We need rock-solid truths we can cling to for the seasons in which suffering will come.
Sibbes provides such truths in The Bruised Reed, and I can’t think of a believer who wouldn’t benefit from absorbing these truths deep in the soul. Our bruising is purposeful. Jesus is tender toward us in our weakness. He will accomplish his purposes in our lives and in the world. These truths won’t completely remove our pain, but they will help to sustain in the times of suffering that we’ll inevitably experience.