Earlier this week I found myself reading parts of Richard Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed. It is always interesting to go back through a book I’ve read before to see what I highlighted. As it happens, I highlighted a lot. I wanted to share one section that really stood out to me this week. Sibbes is bringing encouragement to the Christian and he does so beautifully. I took the liberty of bolding a few favorite sentences for you. Because the language is just a little bit old-fashioned you may find it beneficial to read it aloud.
Some are loath to do good because they feel their hearts rebelling, and duties turn out badly. We should not avoid good actions because of the infirmities attending them. Christ looks more at the good in them which he means to cherish than the ill in them which he means to abolish. Though eating increases a disease, a sick man will still eat, so that nature may gain strength against the disease. So, though sin cleaves to what we do, yet let us do it, since we have to deal with so good a Lord, and the more strife we meet with, the more acceptance we shall have. Christ loves to taste of the good fruits that come from us, even though they will always savor of our old nature.
A Christian complains he cannot pray. "Oh, I am troubled with so many distracting thoughts, and never more than now!" But has he put into your heart a desire to pray? Then he will hear the desires of his own Spirit in you. "We do not know what to pray for as we ought" (nor how to do anything else as we ought), but the Spirit helps our infirmities with "groanings too deep for words" (Rom. 8:26), which are not hid from God. "My sighing is not hidden from you" (Psa. 38:9). God can pick sense out of a confused prayer. These desires cry louder in his ears than your sins. Sometimes a Christian has such confused thoughts that he can say nothing but, as a child, cries, "O Father", not able to express what he needs, like Moses at the Red Sea. These stirrings of spirit touch the heart of God and melt him into compassion towards us, when they come from the Spirit of adoption, and from a striving to be better.
"Oh, but is it possible", thinks the misgiving heart, "that so holy a God should accept such a prayer?" Yes, he will accept that which is his own, and pardon that which is ours. Jonah prayed in the fish’s belly (Jon. 2:1), being burdened with the guilt of sin, yet God heard him. Let not, therefore, infirmities discourage us. James takes away this objection (James 5:17). Some might object, "If I were as holy as Elijah, then my prayers might be regarded." "But," says he, "Elijah was a man with a nature like ours." He had his passions as well as we, or do we think that God heard him because he was without fault? Surely not. But look at the promises: "Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver you" (Psa. 50:15). "Ask, and it shall be given to you" (Matt. 7:7) and others like these. God accepts our prayers, though weak, because we are his own children, and they come from his own Spirit; because they are according to his own will; and because they are offered in Christ’s mediation, and he takes them, and mingles them with his own incense (Rev. 8:3).
There is never a holy sigh, never a tear we shed, which is lost. And as every grace increases by exercise of itself, so does the grace of prayer. By prayer we learn to pray. So, likewise, we should take heed of a spirit of discouragement in all other holy duties, since we have so gracious a Saviour. Pray as we are able, hear as we are able, strive as we are able, do as we are able, according to the measure of grace received. God in Christ will cast a gracious eye upon that which is his own.
Would Paul do nothing because he could not do the good that he would? No, he "pressed on toward the goal".
Let us not be cruel to ourselves when Christ is thus gracious. There is a certain meekness of spirit whereby we yield thanks to God for any ability at all, and rest quiet with the measure of grace received, seeing it is God’s good pleasure it should be so, who gives the will and the deed, yet not so as to rest from further endeavors. But when, with faithful endeavor, we come short of what we would be, and short of what others are, then know for our comfort, Christ will not quench the smoking flax, and that sincerity and truth, with endeavor of growth, is our perfection.
What God says of Jeroboam’s son is comforting, "He only shall come to the grave, because in him there is found something pleasing to the LORD, the God of Israel" (1 Kings 14:13), though only "some good thing". "Lord, I believe" (Mark 9:24), with a weak faith, yet with faith; love thee with a faint love, yet with love; endeavor in a feeble manner, yet endeavor. A little fire is fire, though it smokes. Since thou hast taken me into thy covenant to be thine from being an enemy, wilt thou cast me off for these infirmities, which, as they displease thee, so are they the grief of my own heart?