The Spirit of Mercy Should Move Us (Pt 7)

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.

How Those in Authority Should Act

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 mallet, not shut men out of heaven for a trifle.  The very snuffers [wick trimmers] of the tabernacle were made of pure gold, to show the purity of those censures whereby the light of the church is kept bright. The power that is given to the church is given for edification, not destruction.

How careful was Paul that the incestuous Corinthian (2 Cor. 2:7), if he repented, should not be swallowed up with too much grief.  Civil magistrates, for civil exigencies and reasons of state, must let the law have its course; yet thus far they should imitate this mild king, as not to mingle bitterness and passion with authority derived from God.

Authority is a beam of God’s majesty, and prevails most where there is the least mixture of that which is man’s. It requires more than ordinary wisdom to manage it aright.  This string must not be too tight, nor too loose.  Justice is a harmonious thing.  Herbs hot or cold beyond a certain degree, kill.  We see even contrary elements preserved in one body by wisely tempering them together.  Justice in rigor is often extreme injustice, where some considerable circumstances should incline to moderation; and the reckoning will be easier for bending rather to moderation than rigor.

Insolent behavior toward miserable persons, if humbled, is unseemly in any who look for mercy themselves.  Misery should be a magnet for mercy, not a footstool for pride to trample on.  Sometimes it falls out that those who are under the government of others are most injurious by waywardness and harsh censures, so disparaging and discouraging the endeavors of their superiors for public good.

In so great weakness of man’s nature, and especially in this crazy age of the world, we ought to take in good part any moderate happiness we enjoy by government, and not be altogether as a nail in the wound, exasperating things by misconstruction.  Here love should have a mantle to cast upon lessor errors of those above us.  Oftentimes the poor man is the oppressor by unjust clamors.  We should labor to give the best interpretation to the actions of governments that the nature of the actions will possibly bear.

The Spirit of Mercy Should Move Us (Pt 5)

Preachers need to take heed therefore, how they deal with young believers.  Let them be careful not to pitch matters too high,

Sound Judgment

And here likewise there needs to be a caveat.  Mercy does not rob us of our right judgment, so as to take stinking firebrands for smoking flax.  None will claim mercy more of others than those who deserve due severity.  This example does not countenance lukewarmness, nor too much indulgence to those that need quickening.  Cold diseases must have hot remedies

It made for the just commendation of the church of Ephesus that it could not bear with them which were evil (Rev. 2:2).  We should so bear with others as to manifest also a dislike of evil.  Our Savior Christ would not forbear sharp reproof where he saw dangerous infirmities in his most beloved disciples.  It brings us under a curse to do the work of the Lord deceitfully (Jer 48:10), even where it is a work of just severity, as when it is sheathing the sword in the bowels of the enemy.  And those whom we suffer to be betrayed by their worst enemies, their sins, will have just cause to curse us one day.

 

The Spirit of Mercy Should Move Us (Pt 4)

Preachers need to take heed therefore, how they deal with young believers.  Let them be careful not to pitch matters too high,

Simplicity and Humility

And likewise those are failing that, by too much austerity, drive back troubled souls from having comfort.  As a result of this, many smother their temptations, and burn inwardly, because they have none into whose bosom they may vent their grief and ease their souls

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 the keys is always successful.  In personal application, there must be great heed taken: for a man may be a false prophet, and yet speak the truth.  If it isn’t a truth to the person to whom he speaks, if he grieves those whom God has not grieved by unseasonable truths, or by comforts in an ill way, the hearts of the wicked may be strengthened.  One man’s meat may be another’s poison.

If we look to the general temper of these times, rousing and waking scriptures are fittest, yet there are many broken spirits who need soft and comforting words.  Even in the worst time the prophets mingled sweet comfort for the hidden remnant of faithful people.  God has comfort.  The prophet is told, “Comfort ye my people” (Isa. 40:1), as well as, “Lift up thy voice as a trumpet” (Isa. 58:1)

The Spirit of Mercy Should Move Us (Pt 3)

Preachers need to take heed therefore, how they deal with young believers.  Let them be careful not to pitch matters too high,

Simplicity and Humility

Again, we should not rack their wits with curious or “doubtful disputations” (Rom. 14:1), for so we shall distract and tire them, and give occasion to make them cast off the care of all.  That age of the church which was most fertile in subtle questions was most barren in religion; for it makes people think religion to be only a matter of cleverness, in tying and untying knots.  The brains of men inclining that way are hotter usually than their hearts.

Yet notwithstanding, when we are cast into times and places wherein doubts are raised about principle points, here people ought to labor to be established. God suffers questions oftentimes to arise for trial of our love and exercise of our abilities.  Nothing is so certain as that which is certain after doubts.  Shaking settles and roots.

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.  Therefore, we must take heed that, under pretense 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.

 

The Spirit of Mercy Should Move Us (Pt 2)

Preachers need to take heed therefore, how they deal with young believers.  Let them be careful not to pitch matters too high,

Simplicity and Humility

Preachers should take heed likewise that they don’t hide their meaning in dark speeches, speaking in the clouds.  Truth fears nothing so much as concealment, and desires nothing so much as clearly to be laid open to the view of all.  When it is most unadorned, it is most lovely and powerful.  Our blessed Savior, as he took our nature upon him, so he took upon him our familiar manner of speech, which was part of his voluntary abasement.  Paul was a profound man, yet he became as a nurse to the weaker sort (1 Thess. 2:7)

That spirit of mercy that was in Christ should move his servants to be content to abase themselves for the good of the meanest.  What made the kingdom of heaven “suffer violence” (Matt. 11:12) after John the Baptist’s time, but that comfortable truths were laid open with such plainness and evidence as to offer a holy violence to obtain them?

Christ chose those to preach mercy felt most mercy, as Peter and Paul, that they might be examples of what they taught.  Paul became all things to all men (1 Cor. 9:22), stooping unto them for their good.  Christ came down from heaven and emptied himself of majesty in tender love to souls.  Shall we not come down from our high conceits to do any poor soul good?  Shall man be proud after God has been humble?

We see the ministers of Satan turn themselves into all shapes to “make one proselyte” (Matt 23:15).  We see ambitious men study accommodation of themselves to the humors of those by whom they hope to be raised, and shall not we study application of ourselves to Christ, by whom we hope to be advanced, nay are already sitting with him in heavenly places?  After we are gained to Christ ourselves, we should labor 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 first.

The Spirit of Mercy Should Move Us

Preachers need to take heed therefore, how they deal with young believers.  Let them be careful not to pitch matters too high, and make things required evidences of grace which don’t agree with the experience of many good Christians.  Let them not lay salvation and damnation upon things that aren’t fit to bear that weight.  This is how men are needlessly cast down, and they aren’t soon raised up again by themselves or others.

The ambassadors of so gentle a Savior should not be overbearing, setting up themselves in the hearts of people where Christ alone should sit in his temple.  Too much respect to man was one of the inlets of popery. “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ” (1 Cor. 4:1), neither more nor less, just so much.  How careful was Paul in cases of conscience not to lay a snare upon any weak conscience?

 

Christ Will Not Quench the Smoking Flax

The second observation concerning the weak and small beginnings of grace is that Christ will not quench the smoking flax.  This is so for two principal reasons.  First, because this spark is from heaven: it is his own, it is kindled by his own Spirit.  And secondly, it tends to the glory of his powerful grace in his children that he preserves light in the midst of darkness, a spark in the midst of the swelling waters of corruption.

The Least Spark of Grace is Precious

There is an especial blessing in that little spark.  “As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one saith, Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it: so will I do for my servants’ sakes” (Isa. 65:8).  We see how our Savior Christ bore with Thomas in his doubting (John 20:27), and with the two disciples that went to Emmaus, who wavered as to whether he came to redeem Israel or not (Luke 24:21).  He quenched not that little light in Peter, which was smothered:  Peter denied him, but he denied not Peter (Luke 22:61).  “If thou wilt, thou canst,” said one poor man in the Gospel (Matt 8:2). “If thou canst do anything,” said another (Mark 9:22).  Both were smoking flax.  Neither of them was quenched.

If Christ has stood upon his own greatness, he would have rejected him that came with his “if”. But Christ answers his “if” with a gracious and absolute grant, “I will, be thou clean.”  The woman that was diseased with an issue did but touch, with a trembling hand, and but the hem of his garment, and yet she went away both healed and comforted.  In the seven churches (Rev. 2 and 3), we see that Christ acknowledges and cherishes anything that was good in them.  Because the disciples slept due to infirmity, being oppressed with grief, our Savior Christ frames a comfortable excuse for them, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41).

Support the Weak

Here see the opposite dispositions in the holy nature of Christ and the nature of man.  Man for a little smoke will quench the light.  Christ, we wee, ever cherishes even the least beginnings.  How he bore with the many imperfections of his poor disciples!  If he did sharply check them, it was in love, and that they  might shine the brighter.  Can we have a better pattern to follow than this from him by whom we hope to be saved? “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak” (Rom 15:1).  “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22).

Oh, that this gaining and winning disposition were more in many!  Many, so far as in us lies, are lost for want of encouragement.  See how that faithful fisher of men, the Apostle Paul, labors to catch his judge: “I know that thou believest the prophets” (Acts 26:27), and then wishes him all saving good, but not bonds.  He might have added them too, but he would not discourage one that responded.  He would therefore with Agrippa only that which was good in religion.

How careful our blessed Savior of little ones, that they might not be offended!  How he defends his disciples from malicious imputations of the Pharisees!  How careful not to put new wine into old vessels (Matt. 9:17), not to alienate new beginners with the austerities of religion (as some do indiscreetly).  Oh, says he, they shall have time to fast when I am gone, and strength to fast when the Holy Ghost is come upon them.

It is not the best way, to assail young beginners with minor matters, but to show them a more excellent way and train them in fundamental points.  Then other things will not gain credence with them.  It is not amiss to conceal their defects, to excuse some failings, to commend their performances, to encourage their progress, to remove all difficulties out of their way, to help them in every way to bear the yoke of religion with greater ease, to bring them to love God and his service, lest they acquire a distaste for it before they know it.

For the most part, we see that Christ plants in young beginners a love which we call their “first love” (Rev 2:4), to carry them to crosses before they have gathered strength; as we bring on young plants and fence them from the weather until they are rooted.  Mercy to others should move us to deny ourselves in liberties oftentimes, in case of offending weak ones.  It is the “little ones” that are offended (Matt 18:6).  The weakest are most ready to think themselves despised; therefore we should be most careful to give them satisfaction.

It would be a good contest among Christians, one to labor to give no offense, and the other to labor 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 demand moderation from others as to rely upon their indulgence adn so to rest in their own infirmities, with danger to their own souls and scandal to the church.

Neither must they despise the gifts of God in others, which grace teaches to honor wheresoever they are found, but know their parts and place, and not undertake anything above their measure, which may make their persons and their case obnoxious to scorn.  When blindness and boldness, ignorance and arrogance, weakness and willfulness, meet together in men, it renders them odious to God, burdensome in society, dangerous in their counsels, disturbers of better purposes, intractable and incapable of better direction, miserable in the issue.

Where Christ shows his gracious power in weakness, he does it by letting men understand themselves so far as to breed humility, and magnify God’s love to such as they are.  He does it as a preservative against discouragements from weakness, to bring men into a less distance from grace, as an advantage to poverty of spirit, rather than greatness of condition and parts, which yield fuel for pride to a corrupt nature .

Christ refuses none for weakness of parts, that none should be discouraged, but accepts none for greatness, that none should be lifted up with that which is of so little reckoning with God.  It is no great matter how dull the scholar is when Christ takes upon him to be the teacher.  As he prescribes what to understand, so he gives understanding itself, even to the simplest.

The church suffers much from weak ones, therefore we may assert our liberty to deal with them, though mildly, yet oftentimes directly.  The scope of true love is to make the party better, and concealment oftentimes hinders that.  With some, a spirit of meekness prevails most, but with some a rod is necessary.  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 that our Savior multiplies woe upon woe when he has to deal with hard hearted hypocrites (Matt. 23:13), for hypocrites need stronger conviction than gross sinners, because their will is bad, and therefore usually their conversion is violent.  A hard knot must have an answerable wedge, otherwise, in a cruel mercy, 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.  The Holy Ghost came as well in fiery tongues as in 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 has need of “the tongue of the learned,” who shall either raise up or cast down, though in this place I speak of mildness towards those that are weak and are aware of it.  These we must bring on gently, and drive softly, as Jacob did his cattle (Gen 33:14), according to their pace, and as his children were able to endure.

Weak Christians are like glasses which are hurt with the least violent usage, but if gently handled will continue a long time. This honor 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.

In diseased bodies, if all ill humors are purged out, you will purge life and all away.  Therefore, though God says that he will “refine them as silver is refined” (Zech. 13:9), yet he said the had “refined thee, but not with silver” (Isa. 48:10), that is, not so exactly as that no dross remains, for he has respect to our weakness.  Perfect refining is for another world, for the world of the souls of perfect men.