Some choice extracts from this precious work by Richard Sibbes (1577-1635)
In time of temptation, misgiving consciences look so much to the present trouble they are in, that they need be roused up to behold him in whom they may find rest for their distressed souls.
What a support to our faith is this, that God the Father, the part offended by our sins, is so well pleased with the work of redemption! And what a comfort is this, that seeing God’s love resteth on Christ, as we pleased in him, we may gather that he is as well pleased with us, if we be in Christ!
The church is compared to weak things; to a dove amongst the fowls; to a vine amongst the plants; to sheep amongst the beasts; to a woman, which is the weaker vessel: and here God’s children are compared to bruised reeds and smoking flax. First,† we will speak of them as they are bruised reeds, and then as smoking flax.
We love to wander from ourselves and to be strangers at home, till God bruiseth us by one cross or other, and then we bethink ourselves, and come home to ourselves with the prodigal (Luke 15:17.)
This bruising maketh us set a high price upon Christ. The gospel is the gospel indeed then; then the fig-leaves of morality will do us no good.
Shall we think there is more mercy in ourselves than in God, who planteth the affection of mercy in us?
Christ his course is first to wound, then to heal.
A set measure of bruising ourselves cannot be prescribed; yet it must be so far, as 1, we may prize Christ above all, and see that a Saviour must be had; and 2, until we reform that which is amiss, though it be to the cutting off our right hand, or pulling out our right eye.
It is dangerous, I confess, in some cases with some spirits, to press too much and too long this bruising, because they may die under the wound and burden before they be raised up again. Therefore it is good in mixed assemblies to mingle comfort, that every soul may have its due portion. But if we lay this for a ground, that there is more mercy in Christ than sin in us, there can be no danger in thorough dealing. It is better to go bruised to heaven than sound to hell.
None are fitter for comfort than those that think themselves furthest off. Men, for the most part, are not lost enough in their own feeling for a Saviour. A holy despair in ourselves is the ground of true hope, Hos. 14:3. In God the fatherless find mercy: if men were more fatherless, they should feel more God’s fatherly affection from heaven.
Grace is little at the first. There are several ages in Christians, some babes, some young men: grace is as ‘a grain of mustard seed,’ Matt. 17:20. Nothing so little as grace at first, and nothing more glorious afterward: things of greatest perfection are longest in coming to their growth. Man, the perfectest creature, comes to perfection by little and little; worthless things, as mushrooms and the like, like Jonah’s gourd, soon spring up, and soon vanish.
The ground of this mixture is, that we carry about us a double principle, grace and nature. The end of it is especially to preserve us from those two dangerous rocks which our natures are prone to dash upon, security and pride; and to force us to pitch our rest on justification, not sanctification, which, besides imperfection, hath some soil.
It is not the best way to fall foul presently with young beginners for some lesser vanities, but shew them a more excellent way, and breed them up in positive grounds, and other things will be quickly out of credit with them. It is not amiss to conceal their wants, to excuse some failings, to commend their performances, to cherish their towardness, to remove all rubs out of their way, to help them every way to bear the yoke of religion with greater ease, to bring them in love with God and his service, lest they distaste it before they know it. For the most part we see Christ planteth in young beginners a love which we call ‘the first love,’ Rev. 2:4, to carry them through their profession with more delight, and doth not expose them to crosses before they have gathered strength; as we breed up young plants, and fence them from the weather, until they be rooted. Mercy to others should move us to deny ourselves in our lawful liberties oftentimes, in case of offence of weak ones.
It were a good strife amongst Christians, one to labour to give no offence, and the other to labour to take none. The best men are severe to themselves, tender over others.
Yet people should not tire and wear out the patience of others: nor should the weaker so far exact moderation from others, as to bear out themselves upon their indulgence, and so to rest in their own infirmities, with danger to their own souls, and scandal to the church.
With some a spirit of meekness prevaileth most, but with some a rod. Some must be ‘pulled out of the fire,’ Jude 23, with violence, and they will bless God for us in the day of their visitation. We see our Saviour multiplies woe upon woe when he was to deal with hard-hearted hypocrites, Mat. 23:13, for hypocrites need* stronger conviction than gross sinners, because their will is nought, and thereupon usually their conversion is violent.
A sharp reproof sometimes is a precious pearl, and a sweet balm. The wounds of secure sinners will not be healed with sweet words. The Holy Ghost came as well in fiery tongues, as in the likeness of a dove, and the same Holy Spirit will vouchsafe a spirit of prudence and discretion, which is the salt to season all our words and actions. And such wisdom will teach us ‘to speak a word in season,’ Isa. 50:4, both to the weary, and likewise to the secure soul. And, indeed, he had need have ‘the tongue of the learned,’ Isa. 50:4, that shall either raise up or cast down.
Weak Christians are like glasses which are hurt with the least violent usage, otherwise if gently handled will continue a long time. This honour of gentle use we are to give to ‘the weaker vessels,’ 1 Pet. 3:7, by which we shall both preserve them, and likewise make them useful to the church and ourselves.
That age of the church which was most fertile in nice questions, was most barren in religion: for it makes people think religion to be only a matter of wit, in tying and untying of knots; the brains of men given that way are hotter usually than their hearts.
Yet notwithstanding, when we are cast into times and places wherein doubts are raised about main points, here people ought to labour to be established. God suffereth questions oftentimes to arise for trial of our love and exercise of our parts. Nothing is so certain as that which is certain after doubts.
We must take heed that, under pretence of avoidance of disputes, we do not suffer an adverse party to get ground upon the truth; for thus may we easily betray both the truth of God and souls of men.
If we look to the general temper of these times, rousing and waking Scriptures are fittest; yet there be many broken spirits need soft and oily words. Even in the worst time the prophets mingled sweet comfort for the hidden remnant of faithful people. God hath comfort; ‘Comfort ye my people,’ Isa. 40:1, as well as ‘lift up thy voice as a trumpet,’ Isa. 58:1.
In the censures of the church, it is more suitable to the spirit of Christ to incline to the milder part, and not to kill a fly on the forehead with a beetle [mallet], nor shut men out of heaven for a trifle.
Men must not be too curious in prying into the weaknesses of others. We should labour rather to see what they have that is for eternity, to incline our heart to love them, than into that weakness which the Spirit of God will in time consume, to estrange us. Some think it strength of grace to endure nothing in the weaker, whereas the strongest are readiest to bear with the infirmities of the weak.
Where most holiness is, there is most moderation, where it may be without prejudice of piety to God and the good of others. We see in Christ a marvellous temper of absolute holiness, with great moderation, in this text. What had 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; it is no flattery to do as he doth, so it be to edification.
Bucer was a deep and a moderate divine; upon long experience he resolved to refuse none in whom he saw, aliquid Christi, something of Christ.
The church of Christ is a common hospital, wherein all are in some measure sick of some spiritual disease or other; that we should all have ground of exercising mutually the spirit of wisdom and meekness.
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.
A weak hand may receive a rich jewel; a few grapes will shew that the plant is a vine, and not a thorn. It is one thing to be wanting in grace, and another thing to want grace altogether.
It will prove a special help to know distinctly the difference between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, between Moses and Christ; Moses without all mercy breaketh all bruised reeds, and quencheth all smoking flax. For the law requireth, 1, personal; 2, perpetual; 3, perfect obedience; 4, and from a perfect heart; and that under a most terrible curse, and giveth no strength, a severe task-master, like Pharaoh’s requiring the whole tale, and yet giving no straw. Christ cometh with blessing after blessing even upon those whom Moses had cursed, and with healing palm for those wounds which Moses had made.
The same duties are required in both covenants; as, ‘to love the Lord with all our hearts, with all our souls,’ &c., Deut. 6:5. In the covenant of works, this must be taken in the rigour; but under the covenant of grace, as it is a sincere endeavour proportionable to grace received…, it must have an evangelical mitigation.
In a gloomy day there is so much light whereby we may know it to be day, and not night; so there is something in a Christian under a cloud, whereby he may be discerned to be a true believer, and not a hypocrite. There is no mere darkness in the state of grace, but some beam of light, whereby the kingdom of darkness wholly prevaileth not.
Heavenly truths must have a heavenly light to discern them. Natural men see heavenly things, but not in their own proper light, but by an inferior light. God in every converted man putteth a light into the eye of his soul, proportionable to the light of truths revealed unto him. A carnal eye will never see spiritual things.
Some are loath to perform good duties, because they feel their hearts rebelling, and duties come off untowardly. We should not avoid good actions for the infirmities cleaving unto them. Christ looketh more at the good in them that he meaneth to cherish, than the ill in them that he meaneth to abolish.
It is† not unworthy of the remembering that which Saint Augustine speaketh of a silly man in his time, destitute almost altogether of the use of reason, who when he was most patient of all injuries done to himself, yet from a reverence of religion he would not endure any injury done to the name of Christ; insomuch that he would cast stones at those that blasphemed, and would not in that case spare his own governors; which sheweth that the parts of none are so low, as that they are beneath the gracious regard of Christ; where it pleaseth him to make his choice, and to exalt his mercy, he passeth by no degree of wit, though never so plain.
It is not sufficient that we have motives and encouragements to love and obey Christ from that love of his, whereby he gave himself for us to justify us; but Christ’s Spirit must likewise subdue our hearts, and sanctify them to love him, without which all motives would be ineffectual. Our disposition must be changed, we must be new creatures; they seek for heaven in hell that seek for spiritual love in an unchanged heart.
Truth is truth, and error, error, and that which is unlawful is unlawful, whether men think so or no. God hath put an eternal difference betwixt light and darkness, good and ill, which no creature’s conceit can alter; and therefore no man’s judgment is the measure of things further than it agrees to truth stamped upon things themselves by God.
There will be more glorious times when ‘the kingdoms of the earth shall be the Lord Jesus Christ’s,’ Rev. 11:10, and he shall reign for ever; then shall judgment and truth have its victory; then Christ will plead his own cause; truth shall no longer be called heresy and schism, nor heresy catholic doctrine; wickedness shall no longer go masked and disguised; goodness shall appear in its own lustre, and shine in its own beams; things shall be what they are, ‘nothing is hidden but shall be laid open,’ Matt. 10:26; iniquity shall not be carried in a mystery any longer; deep dissemblers that think to hide their counsels from the Lord shall walk no longer invisible as in the clouds. As Christ will not quench the least spark kindled by himself, so will he damp the fairest blaze of goodly appearances which are not from above.
If we look to the present state of the church of Christ, it is as Daniel in the midst of lions, as a lily amongst thorns, as a ship not only tossed, but almost covered with waves. It is so low, that the enemies think they have buried Christ, in regard of his gospel, in the grave, and there they think to keep him from rising; but Christ as he rose in his person, so he will roll away all stones, and rise again in his church. How little support hath the church and cause of Christ at this day! how strong a conspiracy is against it! the spirit of antichrist is now lifted up, and marcheth furiously; things Seem to hang on a small and invisible thread. But our comfort is, that Christ liveth and reigneth and standeth on Mount Sion in defence of them that stand for him, Rev. 14:1; and when States and kingdoms shall dash One against another, Christ will have care of his own children and cause, seeing there is nothing else in the world that he much esteemeth. At this very time the delivery of his church, and the ruin of his enemies, is in working; we see no things in motion till Christ hath done his work, and then We shall see that the Lord reigneth.
Christ and his church, when they are at the lowest, are nearest rising: his enemies at the highest are nearest a downfall.
Sibbes, R. (1862). The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes. (A. B. Grosart, Ed.) (Vol. 1). Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson. Exported from Logos Bible Software.