Puritan writings are an acquired taste. I loved them while I was a Believer, and was growing an impressive library of Puritan Paperbacks. As my faith began to deconstruct, I went through a misguided minimalistic phase and purged nearly all my books. I regretted it almost immediately. Then I found Richard Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed in a thrift shop last year.
Puritan spirituality is rigorous, promising great reward for those who walk the path and predicting serious trouble for those who won’t. The Bruised Reed is full of beautiful, comforting words. But there’s a lot I can’t resonate with anymore. Reading it was a bitter and beautiful reminder of the complex and rigorous spirituality I loved, devoted to “the constant progress of Christ’s gracious power, until he has set up an absolute government in us which shall prevail over all corruptions” (77).
If you’re a Believer, consider the Puritans. They had many of blind spots, and sometimes great ignorance. But nuggets of wisdom are almost everywhere you look, and the Puritans were keen on growing wisdom. Despite some serious problems (you’ll see them if you read them) the Puritans plowed a fertile field for spiritual gleanings.
This book speaks to me from the strangest place; in a form I love, Sibbes presents a path I cannot follow. I read it with a pen in hand (because that’s how you have to read the Puritans), so I’ll share a few lines that struck me, without comment or context.
Truth fears nothing so much as concealment, and desires nothing so much as clearly to be laid open to the view of all. (27)
Let men take heed of taking up Satan’s office, in misrepresenting the good actions of others. (32)
Men must not be too curious in prying into the weaknesses of others. …The strongest are readiest to bear with the infirmities of the weak. … The Holy Ghost is content to dwell in smoky, offensive souls. (33)
What is the gospel itself but a merciful moderation, in which Christ’s obedience is esteemed ours, and our sins laid upon him, wherein God, from being a judge, becomes our Father, pardoning our sins and accepting our obedience, though feeble and blemished? (36)
Under this gracious covenant, sincerity is perfection. (37)
It is better that the water should run somewhat muddily than not run at all. (42)
It is better to enjoy the benefit of light, though with smoke, than to be altogether in the dark. (49)
Sin against conscience is as a thief in the candle, which spoils our joy, and thereby weakens our strength. (61)
Again, remember this, that Christ rules us by a spirit of love, from a sense of his love, whereby his commandments are easy to us. He leads us by his free Spirit, a Spirit of liberty. His subjects are voluntaries. (81)
Those, therefore, that are enemies of knowledge help Satan and antichrist, whose kingdom, like Satan’s, is a kingdom of darkness. (85)
No wicked man can be a wise man. (90)
Love once kindled is strong as death. (97)
What the heart likes best, the mind studies most. (103)
It has been a successful way of corrupting the judgment, to begin by withdrawing love. (103)
See a flame in a spark, a tree in a seed. See great things in little beginnings. (124)