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The book was first published in 1630, and is considered one of the classics of the Puritan writings. The title of the book is of course taken from a passage in Isaiah, among the so-called “Servant Songs” which foretell the coming of the promised Messiah, and speak of His role as a suffering servant. Verse 3 of Isaiah 42 says: “A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench; he shall bring forth judgment into truth.” And in Matthew 12: 18-20, right after a healing by Jesus, Matthew said this prophecy had been fulfilled in Christ. The prophecy predicted the manner in which Christ would carry out His ministry during His time in the flesh, i.e. in gentleness and mercy. Sibbes says: “We see therefore, that the condition of those with whom He was to deal was that they were bruised reeds and smoking flax; not trees, but reeds; and not whole, but bruised reeds.”
God’s children are bruised reeds before their conversion and oftentimes after. 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…so that together these, a bruised reed and a smoking flax, make up together the state of a poor, distressed man. This is such an one as our Saviour Christ terms ‘poor in spirit’ (Matthew 5:3), who sees his wants, and also sees himself indebted to divine justice…(with) no means of supply from himself” (pages 3-4). But this bruising is itself a gift of grace, as it is “required before conversion so that the Spirit may make way for himself into the heart by levelling all proud, high thoughts, and that we may understand ourselves to be what we indeed are by nature” (page 4). And even after conversion, “we need bruising so that reeds may know themselves to be reeds, and not oaks. Even reeds need bruising, by reason of the reminder of pride in our nature, and to let us see that we are to live by mercy” (page 5). And so Christ deals with the bruised reeds in a manner fitting their condition: “But for further declaration of Christ’s mercy to all bruised reeds, consider the comfortable relationships he has taken upon himself of husband, shepherd, and brother, which he will discharge to the utmost” (page 7).
This book is highly recommended, for who among us has not at times felt himself to be indeed a “bruised reed”? And what a comfort to know that our Saviour is someone whom we can go to with full assurance that as God’s Servant and our Saviour, His ministry is not to break us, but to show mercy, to heal, and to console. But don’t take my word for it. Listen to the words of Martyn Lloyd-Jones concerning his experience with this book, in a quote which is contained on the book cover:
I shall never cease to be grateful to…Richard Sibbes who was 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…I found at that time that Richard Sibbes, who was known in London in the early seventeenth century as “The Heavenly Doctor Sibbes” was an unfailing remedy… The Bruised Reed…quietened, soothed, comforted, encouraged, and healed me.
So check it out. It is a brief book (128 pages), part of Banner of Truth’s “Puritan Paperback” series, and you will surely profit from spending some time with it.
Reviewed by: Ron Maness