“When just about everybody went to church, it was entirely undemanding to be nominally Protestant. And, as much as anything else, it was this that the Puritans fought as they urged people to a personal reformation.
However, there was a considerable danger for such a fight…. That is, the desire to have people respond to the gospel could lead to a focus on the response, not the gospel. …
Thus the experience of all too many church-goers was that they heard many a sermon on the Ten Commandments, but yet remained fuzzy on how or if God would ever forgive them. …
The result, said Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680), was that in their concern for their spiritual state, ‘the minds of many are so wholly taken up with their own hearts, that… Christ “is scarce in all their thoughts”.’ Unable to look out and trust in Christ’s free grace, they were forced to a morbid introspection, attempting to see if their own hearts felt good enough, or if there was any faith there that they could trust in (and so trusting, not Christ, but their own faith for their salvation).
It was here that some of the Puritan ministries that are still most refreshing came in with the cure. Richard Sibbes is a glowing example. Sibbes (1577-1635) was trained in Cambridge, became a preacher there at Holy Trinity Church … Known by contemporaries as the ‘honey-mouthed’, the ‘heavenly Dr. Sibbes’, the ‘sweet dropper’, he was the most effective evangelistic preacher of his day, so appealing that hardened sinners were said deliberately to avoid hearing him for fear he would convert them.
Speaking into the culture of introspection and moral self-reliance, Sibbes preached a series of sermons on Matthew 12:20 (itself a citation of Isaiah 42:3), ‘A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory’ (KJV). Aimed at ‘the binding up of a broken heart’, the sermons were published as The Bruised Reed and the Smoking Flax….
The verse Sibbes expounded refers, of course, to Jesus, and it is a striking feature of Sibbes’s preaching how strongly Christ-focused he is. And that is no accident: Sibbes sought to draw his audience’s eyes from their own hearts to the Saviour, for ‘there are heights, and depths, and breadths of mercy in him above all the depths of our sin and misery’. How so? Because, since ‘God’s love resteth on Christ, as well pleased in him, we may gather that he is as well pleased with us, if we be in Christ!’ Thus Christian confidence in our spiritual state rests not on our strength of faith or performance, but upon ‘the joint agreement of all three persons of the Trinity’, that the Father loves the Son, and it is in the Son’s merits and not our own, that Christians are loved. Because God is a loving community, Christians can be confident.
Then, instead of simply laying moral burdens on young and struggling Christians, Sibbes showed them Christ’s attractiveness so that they might love him from the heart. From then, the Christian’s first task is ‘to warm ourselves at this fire of his love and mercy in giving himself for us’. Only when Christians do that do they truly stop sinning from the heart (whereas when they merely alter their behavior it does nothing for the sin of the heart). In other words, Sibbes believed that the solution to sin is not the attempt to live without sin, but the gospel of God’s free grace.
The Bruised Reed is a clarion call for ministers to minister more like Christ, not crushing the weak with burdens, but blowing the oxygen of the gospel onto the smouldering wick of sputtering Christian lives.” (pp. 162-165, emphasis mine)Spirit of God, blow the oxygen of the gospel on us! Draw our eyes off of our sputtering lives and fixing them on our Savior, so we will know his love that surpasses knowledge (Eph . 3:14-19). Amen.