“Struggling With Faith” A Reflection on Richard Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed and the Smoking Flax

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The Christian life is a journey of a life-long struggle. Struggling with your faith; you know what is good, yet you choose the wrong one, or perplexed with your assurance of salvation, and even battling to overcome sin in your life. Many people think struggling is a negative state of being a Christian. But for Richard Sibbes (1577-1635), to struggle is a good start or a positive indication that you are waging war against your sinful desires.[1] It implies a sign that you are not comfortable with sin, hence you try to overcome or mortify your wretchedness.

Moreover, a dead person cannot feel anything. Therefore, a person who struggles entails he is alive. As Christians, we are made alive by the Spirit. For Sibbes, a person who lives within these tensions, either to choose the light or darkness, is in a state of a “smoking flax.”[2] It signifies a person who has a little grace or a weak faith. Mostly, new-found Christians feel this way. Yet, even “spiritual giants” encounter this state. They feel, like, they are not valued, having a confused identity, or lacking assurance of faith.

With God, when it comes to faith, nothing is small or large. Faith is faith. Just as a grain of a mustard seed can move mountains. In the idea of smoking flax, or smoldering wick, it may be a small flame or spark, but in essence, there is still a fire. The fire symbolizes one’s faith, and it is God that causes that fire. Even it is small like smoking flax, God will never quench it as it is His promise. This smoke of faith still goes upward, and God delights smelling the sweet aroma of that faith no matter how small it is.

But this spark does not stay small. It progresses as a person matures in the faith. As one matures, the flame enlarges, and the warmth of faith fills the room of one’s heart. It is through God’s grace that you bear this flame and makes the light in your path. As you see your path, the Spirit illuminates the messiness of your heart and in here you seek more of your Savior, Redeemer, the one that causes your faith.

To that, you feel distressed in your life because you are like a “bruised reed” as how the Word of God illustrates humanity in need of God. And being with Christ and following Christ require bruising. A life-long process of journeying with your Lord and Savior. You suffer with Christ, and He bears your suffering as well. This thought reminds Christians that they are reeds and not oak trees. But despite being a bruised reed, just as He promised to never quench the smoking flax, He promises that He will not break us.[3]

This promise gives comfort to us who are struggling and feeling distressed. We, Christians, can now petition to our God our Father. As Sibbes says, “there is never a holy sigh, never a tear we shed, which is lost.” He hears us, Christ even suffered for us and allowed Himself to be bruised for our sake. Even so, the Spirit intercedes for our prayers.[4]

Lastly, there is the need to treasure Christ and let Him govern our life. Sibbes wrote we need “to keep our hearts closer to God, seasoning them with heavenly meditations in the morning, storing up the good matter, so that our heart may be a good treasury.”

Though His promises are sure and perfect, yet our nature as a human is not. Marred with corruption, there is an indwelling sin that we need to mortify daily. This battle cannot be won through our own might, but only by yielding to the power of the Spirit and the certainty of the victorious work of Christ. You need to let Christ sit on the throne of your heart. Besides, Christ conquers all things, and in your life manifestation of the fruits of the Holy Spirit will be present.

Through this thought, conquering temptations and sin are no longer your lone battle, but you are now together with Christ, by the Spirit. Be assured that His triumph is certain both in your inner and outer life. I urge you to rest, with confidence, on the invitation of Christ to be your all in all, in all His, for all eternity.[5]

Soli Deo Gloria!


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[1] Romans 7:21-25

[2] Isaiah 42:1-3

[3] Matthew 12:20-21

[4] Romans 8:26-27

[5] Deuteronomy 6:4-5; 1 Corinthians 15:28; Colossians 3:11

Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed [and the Smoking Flax] (1630; repr, Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1998).

Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

Published by JP Arceno

A Mere Christian, no other religion, but Christian church, call me a Catholic Christian ~ Richard Baxter

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