Calvary Road Baptist Church


Luke 13.24


In the brief years that I have been privileged to minister to many of you, including those of you who strived to enter in at the strait gate and are now wonderful Christians, I have observations I would like to relate to you so you will know what benefit your unsaved loved ones will experience by striving. First, with respect to this matter of faith, we know from Hebrews 11.6 that faith understands that God “is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” I am here to tell you that striving is diligently seeking God by all the available use of means to come to Christ. The sinner who strives accepts God’s good intentions as declared in the Bible and knows that Christ’s goal in prescribing striving was not to harm the sinner, but to prescribe potent measures useful to clearing away that which stubbornness and resistance has accumulated in order to make the sinner more tender to things of God in order to save the sinner through simple faith in Christ. Second, since the mind has become so muddled by stubbornness and resistance with respect to spiritual thinking, striving can be very useful as a means of clearing the mind and bringing understanding. Striving is obedient to Christ and obedience is always a prerequisite for understanding. So many lost people insist on understanding everything as a prerequisite to trusting Christ, while ignoring the precedents throughout life that clearly show the requirement of obedience being necessary before understanding is attained. By determined striving, the sinner will experience insights that clear away his ignorance and he will find that the application of truth concerning his own sinfulness will clear away much confusion. Of course, the use of means includes the use of the gospel minister, Hebrews 13.7: “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.” On his part, the gospel minister’s role when the sinner is striving is described in Second Corinthians 10.4-6:

 4      (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)

5      Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;

6      And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.

 Since stubbornness and rebellion results in a seared conscience, striving is very useful to the Spirit of God to make the conscience tender and sensitive once more. You can see from Paul’s comments we have just read how the gospel minister addresses matters related to stubbornness and rebellion by confronting and rebuking the sinner, warning of the dangers of pride and the benefits of humility, James 4.6 and First Peter 5.5: “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.” As well, keep in mind what the prophet Samuel said to the willful and headstrong King Saul, in First Samuel 15.23: “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” Additionally, the heart that is so hardened will be softened and a real willingness to yield to God and a desire to become a Christian will develop with proper striving. On the Day of Pentecost, it pleased God to use Peter’s anointed preaching to suddenly prick the hearts of thousands of hardhearted sinners, Acts 2.37: “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart.” With other sinners, what is required is a season of striving before the hard heart is tender enough to be torn by gospel truth. How long does striving take? It is not for me to say. How intensely must one strive? Intensely enough. Certainly, a halfhearted approach is not advisable, as Revelation 3.15-16 suggests:

15     I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

16     So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

I am not suggesting that this passage deals with the matter of striving, though it does reflect the Savior’s opinion of any halfhearted approach to spiritual concerns. The most remarkable result from striving is that the soul, so long uncaring about its sinfulness and deadness to the things of God, will be shown its sinfulness in a persuasive fashion.

Enough from me on this aspect of our topic when we have the words of a renowned physician of souls to reflect on. Among those most well-known and prominent men at the height of the Puritan era in England and Scotland was a man named Richard Sibbes.[1] Biographer and historian Erroll Hulse writes, “Sibbes is one of the best-known Puritans and his influence pervaded every part of the Puritan movement.”[2] Allow me to lift from one of his most famous works, The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax, an extraordinary exposition of Matthew 12.20: “A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory.” He maintains, “Those that Christ hath to do withal are Bruised.” Sibbes asserts that only bruised sinners end up knowing Christ, and lists in his observations five requirements that are produced by what Isaiah first predicted and Matthew in this verse applies to this preparation called bruising. “This bruising is required [1] before conversion. . . .”[3] I paraphrase and interpret Sibbes’ remarks to explain why bruising is necessary:

First, so the Spirit in various ways will prepare the sinner’s heart. At this point Sibbes does not suggest by what ways the sinner’s heart is prepared by the Spirit of God, but refers to the parable of the prodigal son, Luke 15.17. In the parable, the prodigal son “came to himself” and approached his father in very humble fashion, willing to serve as his father’s servant. Thus, in the parable the Spirit of God prepared the sinner’s heart by means of providential experiences. Striving is also useful so a prodigal will come to himself and evidence a humble approach to Christ.

Next, bruising is necessary so the sinner’s estimation of Christ will improve. One who is self-sufficient perceives no need of a Savior, reckons no requirement for grace, and acknowledges no uncertainty about the future and his eternal destiny. He does not see himself as a lawbreaker or as deficient in any way. However, once bruised, the sinner’s self-perception becomes more accurate and less self-congratulatory. He begins to feel vulnerable as well as weak. Therefore, whether the bruising of the reed comes by providence, by preaching, or by striving, an important effect of bruising is a reappraisal of Christ so that the gospel is properly seen to be good news. No longer will the fig leaves of religion or morality be thought to be sufficient. A Savior is seen to be needful for the bruised reed, causing him to consider or reconsider Christ. When Jesus Christ is rightly considered one’s estimation of Him begins to dramatically improve.

Third, bruising is necessary so the sinner’s sense of gratitude will improve. One who is not bruised has a sense of entitlement and believes that he has a right to sunshine and air, the cool breeze and the rain. Little does he realize that the Father “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust,” Matthew 5.45. Bruising, however, and the pain that results in the reed being bruised, addresses one’s sense of entitlement, and results in a far greater appreciation of the many little blessings of life that are routinely taken for granted. When bruised one begins to feel gratitude for things formerly taken for granted. Once gratitude is felt, one then looks for the one to whom gratitude should be expressed. How foolish that so many thank Mother Nature for the cooling rain and the warming rays of light. How appropriate it is to thank God for His mercies.

Fourth, Sibbes declares that the sinner’s gratitude will lead to fruitfulness. He asks, “for what maketh many so cold and barren, but that bruising for sin never endeared God’s grace unto them?”[4] Many sinners suffer consequences for sins in their lives, but they seem to learn little from their painful experiences. The man going through a divorce will blame his wife for leaving him, neglecting to consider his own lack of spiritual leadership, his own refusal of the gospel, his own wicked lifestyle, his own emphasis on fleshly appetites and lusts, and his unwillingness to provide spiritual leadership. Oh, he will certainly a better husband for his second wife, and perhaps a more devoted father for his second batch of children, but it will be caused by an aversion to pain and a fear of failure rather than any awareness of his need of God’s grace in his life. Had he considered the spiritual dimension, had he looked outside himself to God’s provision for his soul, he would then have sought first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things would have been added to him.

Finally, Sibbes points out that the sinner’s experiences will make him more established in God’s ways, after he has experienced knocks and bruisings from going his own way. A sinner should ask himself how his wisdom benefits him, and how his own direction in life helps him achieve what is meaningful and of lasting benefit. Sometimes false hopes are related to sinners not feeling the pain associated with sins. Sometimes false hopes are related to the sinner not being a sufficiently bruised reed. Sometimes false hopes are related to the conviction of sins brought on by the Spirit of God not being deep enough so that along with the bruisings that come from providence the strong holds of the sinner’s mind are not properly breached, imaginations are not cast down along with every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and every thought is not brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, Second Corinthians 10.5-6.

Allow me to take you once again to the physical description in order to make a spiritual application. The reed in its unaffected state is stiff and rigid. To become flexible so that it will be able to conform to the workman’s bending will without breaking, the reed must be bruised. Only a bruised reed is a flexible reed. This is the picture Isaiah gives us in his prophecy and Matthew applied to our Lord’s dealings with sinners. The reed must be bruised for the Master to work with it. Some reeds are quite young and inexperienced and need but little bruising. Other reeds are stiff and rigid from repeated refusals of Christ and rejections of the gospel. This second kind of reed will need bruising, but where will the bruising come from? Sometimes it comes via providence, God working through circumstances to bruise the reed. Sometimes bruising comes via preaching, with the Spirit of God powerfully convicting the sinner. With those who are particularly hard and resistant, it seems that the Savior prescribes striving. In each case, of course, the ministry of the Word is of paramount importance, since James 1.18 declares, “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth.” Somehow and in some way, the Word of God must be brought to bear on the sinner for there to be any possibility hope of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. For me, it was a Bible story, a gospel tract, another gospel tract, and then reading the books of Genesis and the first twelve chapters of Exodus. For Brother Ibrahim, it was reading the first twelve chapters of the gospel according to Matthew. The point I seek to make is that Jesus saves no one apart from the ministry of God’s Word.

[1] Erroll Hulse, Who Are The Puritans?, (Darlington, England: 2000), page 64.

[2] Ibid., page 84.

[3] Richard Sibbes, Works of Richard Sibbes, Volume 1, (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust reprint 1973), page 44.

[4] Ibid.

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