The Illustrative Mr Sibbes

10 01 2008

Post No.3 on the Timmy Brister Challenge

I love illustrations in preaching. Not the kind which ramble on at length and obscure the meaning of the message, but those which stand as clarifying elements in the explanation of God’s Word, and which allow the truth of God to stick in the mind. To me the best preaching is economical and thoughtful in its use of illustration; illustrations which are common and clear to the understanding of the hearer. Richard Sibbes is a preacher who loves illustration, and ‘The Bruised Reed’ is a prime example of this skill put to the best of use.

Here are a couple of my favourite illustrations from the book:

Raked Fires and Winter Wildlife
In seeking to assure believers about their standing with the Lord, and how that this is not dictated by feelings or emotions, Sibbes uses the following illustration.
‘We must not judge of ourselves always according to present feeling, for in temptations we shall see nothing but smoke of distrustful thoughts. Fire may be raked up in the ashes, though not seen. Life in the winter is hid in the root’ [p.35]

The Garlic Crush

I like cooking with garlic, but I don’t enjoy the lingering aroma it leaves on your hands for days to follow. Anyone who has used it will know exactly what I’m talking about. It is this phenomenon that Sibbes uses to great effect in speaking of our old nature.
‘The mortar wherein garlic had been stamped will always smell of it; so all our actions will savour something of the old man’ [p.45].

Singing in Tune

In writing of splits and division within the Church Sibbes states:
‘What a joyful spectacle is this to Satan and his faction, to see those that are separated from the world fall in pieces among themselves! our discord is the enemy’s melody’. [p.74]

Digestion and Construction
Sibbes is concerned that his reader apprehend the link between good thinking and good practice as a Christian. His illustrative work is powerful:
‘The whole conduct of a Christian is nothing else but knowledge reduced to will, affection and practice. If the digestion of food in the stomach is not good, the working of the liver cannot be good; so if there is error in the judgement it mars the whole of practice, as the error in the foundation does a building’. [p.86]

How instructive is such wise use of illustration, and how helpful in bringing us to an understanding of how God deals with us as bruised reeds and smoking flaxes.

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