Monday, January 21, 2008

The Bruised Reed Chapter 5

After reading this chapter, if I were a web designer I would craft a picture of my rear and Richard Sibbes kicking it. Certainly that would be inaccurate because it is not Sibbes that has "cut me to the heart" but the Holy Spirit of God using Sibbes. This chapter has thus far been the most pastoral but also has application for every believer. From the very beginning Sibbes is used by the Spirit of God to cut the heart of prideful meanies like myself. I realized after reading this chapter that I am not as merciful with "smoking flax" as I ought to be.

Quick Outline:

  • Simplicity and Humility
  • Sound Judgment
  • How Those in Authority Should Act
  • We are Debtors to the Weak

The Spirit of Mercy Should Move Us is the title of this chapter and Sibbes makes his point well. From the beginning Sibbes sets forth his point: "Preachers need to take heed therefore how they deal with young believers. Let them be careful not to pitch matters too high, making things necessary evidences of grace which agree not to the experience of many a good Christian, and laying salvation and damnation upon things that are not fit to bear so great a weight."

Part of having a spirit of mercy is being simple and humble. We must be very careful as ministers not to let our pride cause us to speak in lofty speech. We must make certain that the truth is unadorned. We ought to be like Christ in this matter (as in all), that "abased [himself] for the good of the meanest". Part of this simplicity is not laboring over and racking their wits upon things that are non-essential. Yet, even in this point Sibbes advices that sometimes God will allow a shaking up and questionings. Therefore, we ought to be careful not to allow men to go needlessly into error. On the other hand we must be careful to deal with these times of questioning with much grace.

Lest he be misunderstood Sibbes gives a warning concerning these principles and urges us to continue in sound judgment. As we are bearing with others we must make it evident our dislike of evil. Sometimes we are called to be merciful, sometimes severe. This is a difficult task and therefore we must seek the counsel of the "spirit above our own". Often the Spirit of God will lead us into moderation. Yet, even here Sibbes warns us that. Some men are not really pursuing moderation. And others are doing so in pride as if they have wisdom above both parties.

Sibbes then move on to discussing how those in authority should act. His advice is simple. We should "not kill a fly on the forehead with a mallet, nor shut men out of heaven for a trifle". It is important to understand the great esteem held to church discipline in this day. If a man were censured by the church (in Sibbes case Anglican) it meant something. It was as if that man were shut out of heaven itself. Therefore, Sibbes is advising that we execute our authority (that which has been given to us by Christ) with care.

Along these same lines Sibbes reminds us that we are debtors to the weak. Sibbes then gives three lines of advice. 1) We must be careful in our liberties not to offend the weak. 2) Be careful not to misrepresent the actions of another. 3) We must not be quick to censure a brother based out of our ill passions. Sibbes then closes out his chapter by further making his point that mercy should move us because we are debtors. A wonderful quote to sum up this chapter would be, "The Holy Ghost is content to dwell in smoky, offensive souls. Oh, that the Spirit would breathe into our spirits the same merciful disposition".


As discussed earlier this has so far been the most convicting chapter for me. I believe this chapter, if heeded, could be used mightily by God in this generation. We are seeing many young ministers (as well as older men) with a bold passion for the truth of God. We are witnessing the beautiful doctrines of grace being restored. The keys of church discipline are being grasped again by many churches. Sibbes, in this chapter, serves as a reminder that we must not take these to an unhealthy extreme. In our passion for truth we must be careful not to be lofty and continue in humility. In our quest to restore biblical practices such as church discipline we must be cautious that we do not go overboard and "kill a fly on the forehead with a mallet".

Sibbes does a beautiful job in this chapter of following the narrow way. He is quick to speak against foolish moderation and passivity. However, in the same word of thought he cautions against severity. Sibbes says it best when he says, "It is hard to preserve just bounds of mercy and severity without a spirit above our own, by which we ought to desire to be led in all things". Sibbes puts us where we ought to be--in the hands of the Spirit of God. As he does this he reminds us that other believers are there as well.

Pearls and Diamonds:

"The ambassadors of so gentle a Saviour should not be overbearing, setting up themselves in the hearts of people where Christ alone should sit as in his own temple." (p.26)

"When [truth] is most unadorned, it is most lovely and powerful." (p.27)

"Nothing is so certain as that which is certain after doubts." (p.28)

"One man's meat may be another's poison." (p.28)

"Mercy does not rob us of our right judgment, so as to take stinking fire-brands for smoking flax. None will claim mercy more of others than those who deserve due severity." (p.29)

"...not to kill a fly on the forehead with a mallet..." (p.30)

"Misery should be a [magnet] of mercy, not a footstool for pride to trample on." (p.31)

"What would have become of our salvation, if he had stood upon terms, and not stooped thus low unto us? We need not affect to be more holy than Christ." (p.33)

"The Holy Ghost is content to dwell in smoky, offensive souls. Oh, that the Spirit would breathe into our spirits the same merciful disposition." (p.33)

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