Chapter 4 – Christ Will Not Quench the Smoking Flax
Sibbes examines two reasons why Christ doesn't put out a smoldering wick and hence, why we should follow Him in this. First, we see that the very last spark is precious to Christ. Many Scriptural examples are given of small sparks, even seen in the likes of Peter and Thomas. This was a large part of why Christ came – to show the very mercy of God toward man. If Christ be not merciful, He misses his own end ("But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared." – Psalm 130.4)
Second, we're to support the weak. It seems to be the tendency that men will quench, but Christ cherishes & blows upon the least of sparks so the flame might grow strong. When you consider how many of us need such great encouragement, it's a wonder that we try to quash others. It is the little ones who need mercy:
"The weakest are most ready to think themselves despised; therefore we should be most careful to give them satisfaction." (page 23)
"It would be a good context amongst Christians, one to labour to give no offence, and the other to labour to take none." (page 23)
We must show others this same grace we've shared in from Christ. Christ comes to bring humility and to magnify God's love in us and for us. The church has so many weak ones, we must care for them, even as we are cared for. Sometimes we need be direct, yet merciful mild with them. Yes, there are times a weak brother or sister needs a sharp reproof:
"A hard knot must have an answerable wedge, else, in a cruel pity, we betray their souls. A sharp reproof sometimes is a precious pearl and a sweet balm. The wounds of secure sinners will not be healed with sweet words." (page 24)
Yet always, we ought to see them as a fragile glass and handle them accordingly. It is only in the next life that we will be perfected, so in this life, let us treat others with the care & mercy of Christ.
Chapter 5 – The Spirit of Mercy Should Move Us
Here Sibbes seems to be speaking directly to pastors, but it would be wise for any in a leadership position within the church to take note of his counsel. There are too many young and weak believers among us to hit them hard, to hold the truth too high for them, or to think they are beneath us. We are to be merciful to others, even as Christ was to us.
In simplicity and by humility, we ought to deliver the Word to all. For me, as a pastor, this was a good, solid reminder to preach clearly and plainly, the truth of God's Word. In my preaching I am to show myself a vessel of God's mercy and preach accordingly:
"After we are gained to Christ ourselevs, we should labour to gain others to Christ. Holy ambition and covetousness will move us to put upon ourselves the disposition of Christ. But we must put off ourselves." (page 27)
We live in an age that doesn't know or like truth – singular truth, at least. Yet, even in a postmodern and contentious age, we are to exercise the mercy of Christ:
"In a contentious age, it is a wise thing to be a Christian, and to know what to pitch our souls upon. It is an office of love here to take away the stones, and to smooth the way to heaven." (page 28)
Care should be exercised in dealing with people, in our teaching, in our preaching, in our service:
"We must neither bind where God looses, nor loose where God binds, neither open where God shuts, nor shut where God opens. The right use of keys is always successful." (page 28)
This requires sound judgment: discernment (I believe the "leader" of our discussion here probably knows or has written a thing or two about this matter!). Exercising mercy does not rob us of our discernment. We're not to bear with evil, but neither do we run around smashing things needlessly.
So, how should those in positions of authority act toward the smoldering flax and the bruised reed? Well, we're:
"...not to kill a fly on the forehead with a mallet, nor shut men out of heaven for a trifle." (page 30)
I love Sibbes' earthy description here of how some in the church are disposed to treat others! Authority is not power wielded however we see fit. It is to be used under Christ's own authority:
"Authority is a beam of God's majesty, and prevails most where there is least mixture of that which is man's." (page 30-31)
So, we come to find that we are debtors to the weak. Therefore, we are to guard our own liberty and not abuse it. We ought not play Satan's role, accusing only to tear down. Censuring and casting out through abuse of authority is also wrong and unChristlike.
"The Holy Ghost is content to dwell in smoky, offensive souls." (page 33)
We are not to drive out the Spirit through snuffing out a smoldering wick. Indeed, we must recognize:
"The church of Christ is a common hospital, wherein all are in some measure sick of some spiritual disease or other, so all have occasion to exercise the spirit of wisdom and meekness." (page 34)
The only way we can hope to do this, and treat others like Christ, is to put on the very spirit of Christ Himself. As we see others who are weak and in need, we must remember that we have been, are currently, or may be someday in that position.
What a marvelous admonition to all true believers to be like Christ. Thank you Rev. Sibbes for this kind words.
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