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.

The Smoking Flax (Pt 2)

In pursuing his calling, Christ will not quench the smoking flax, or wick, but will blow it up till it flames. In a smoking flax there is but a little light, and that little light is weak, since it’s unable to flame, and what is there is mixed with smoke. The observations from this are that in God’s children, especially in their first conversion, there is but a little measure of grace, and that little grace is mixed with much corruption which, like smoke, is offensive; but that Christ will not quench this smoking flax.

Grace is Mingled With Corruption

But grace is not only little, but mingled with corruption; therefore a Christian is said to be smoking flax. So we do see that grace does not do away with corruption all at once, but some is left for believers to fight with.  The purest actions of the purest men need Christ to perfume them.  And this is his office.  When we pray, we need to pray again for Christ to pardon the defects of our prayers.  Consider some instances of this smoking flax:

  • Moses at the Red Sea, being in a great perplexity, and knowing not what to say, or which way to turn, groaned to God.  No doubt this was a great conflict in him.  In great distress we know not what to pray, but the Spirit makes request with sighs that cannot be expressed (Rom. 8:26). Broken hearts can yield but broken prayers.
  • When David was before the king of Gath (1 Sam. 21:13), and disfigured himself in an uncomely manner, in that smoke there was some fire also.  You may see what an excellent psalm he makes upon that occasion – Psalm 34 – in which, on the basis of experience, he says, “The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart” (Psa. 34:18).
  • “I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes.” There is smoke. “Nevertheless thou heardest the voice of  my supplications” (Psa. 31:22). There is fire.
  • “Lord, save us: we perish” (Matt. 8:25), cry the disciples.  Here is smoke of infidelity, yet so much light of faith as stirred them up to pray to Christ. “Lord, I believe.” There is light.
  • “Help thou mine unbelief.” There is smoke (Mark 9:24). Jonah cries, “I am cast out of thy sight.” There is smoke.  “Yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.” There is light (Jon. 2:4).
  • “O wretched man that I am!” says Paul, with a sense of his corruption.  Yet he breaks out into thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 7:24).
  • “I sleep,” says the church in the Song of Solomon, “but  my heart waketh” (Song of Sol. 5:2).
  • In the seven churches, which for their light are called “seven golden candlesticks” (Rev. 2 and 3), most of them had much smoke with their light.

The reason for 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, has some stains.  Our spiritual fire is like our ordinary fire here below, that is, mixed.  Fire is most pure in its own element above [ed: i.e., the stars] ; so shall our graces be when we would be also in heaven, which is our proper element.

From this mixture arises the fact that the people of God have so different judgments themselves, looking sometimes at the work of grace, sometimes at the remainder of corruption, and when they look upon that, then they think they have no grace.  Though they love Christ in his ordinances and children, yet they dare not claim so near acquaintance as to be his.  Even as a guttering candle sometimes shows its light and sometimes the show of light is lost, so sometimes they are sure about themselves, and sometimes at a loss.

The Smoking Flax

In pursuing his calling, Christ will not quench the smoking flax, or wick, but will blow it up till it flames.  In a smoking flax there is but a little light, and that little light is weak, since it’s unable to flame, and what is there is mixed with smoke.  The observations from this are that in God’s children, especially in their first conversion, there is but a little measure of grace, and that little grace is mixed with much corruption which, like smoke, is offensive; but that Christ will not quench this smoking flax.

Grace is Little at First

There are several ages in Christians – some are babes, some young men.  Faith may be as “a grain of mustard seed” (Matt 17:20).  There is 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 most perfect creature, comes to perfection by little and little; worthless things, such as mushrooms and the like – like Jonah’s gourd, soon spring up, and soon vanish.  A new creature is the most excellent creature in all the world, and therefore it grows up by degrees.  We see in  nature that a mighty oak rises from an acorn.

It is with a Christian as it was with  Christ, who sprang out of the dead stock of Jesse, out of David’s family (Isa. 53:2), when it was at the lowest, but he grew up higher than the heavens.  It is not with the trees of righteousness as it was with the trees off paradise, which were created all perfect at the first.  The seeds of all the creatures in the present goodly frame of the world were hid in the chaos, in that confused mass at the first, out of which God commanded all creatures to arise.  In the small seeds of plants lie hidden both bulk and branches, bud and fruit.  In a few principles lie hidden all comfortable conclusions of holy truth.  All these glorious frameworks of zeal and holiness in the saints had their beginning from a few sparks.

Let us not therefore be discouraged at the small beginnings of grace, but look on ourselves as selected to be “holy and without blame” (Eph. 1:4).  Let us look on our imperfect beginning only to enforce further striving to perfection, and to keep us in a low opinion of ourselves.  On the other hand, in case of discouragement, we must consider ourselves as Christ does, who looks on us as those he intends to fit for himself.  Christ values us by what we shall be, and by what we are selected unto. We call a little plant a tree, because it is growing up to be so.  “Who has despised the day of small things?” (Zech. 4:10).  Christ would not have us despise little things.

The glorious angels disdain not attendance on little ones – little in their own eyes, and little in the eyes of the world.  Grace, though little in quantity, yet is much in vigor and worth.  It is Christ that raises the worth of little and mean places and persons.  Bethlehem was the least (Mic. 5:2; Matt. 2:6), and yet not the least.  It was the least in itself, and not the least in respect that Christ was born there.  The second temple (Hag. 2:9) came short of the outward magnificence of the former; yet it was more glorious than the first because Christ came into it. The Lord of the temple came into his own temple.  The pupil of the eye is very little, yet sees a great part of the heaven at once.  A pearl, though little, yet is of much esteem.  Nothing in the world is of so good use as the least grain of grace.

Christ Will Not Break the Bruised Reed (Pt 4)

In pursuing his calling, Christ will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax, in which more is meant than spoken, for he will not only not break or quench, but he will cherish those with whom he so deals.

But Are We Not Really Bruised Unless We Grieve More For Sin Than We Do For Punishment?

Sometimes our grief from outward grievances may lie heavier on the soul than grief for God’s displeasure. In such cases, the grief works upon the whole man, both outward and inward, and has nothing under it but a little spark of faith. This faith, because of the violent impression of the grievance, is suspended in the throw of it.  This is most felt in sudden distresses that come upon the soul like a torrent or flash flood, and especially in bodily sicknesses which, because of the sympathy between the soul and the body, work on the soul so far as to hinder not only the spiritual, but often natural interventions as well.

Therefore James wishes us in affliction to pray ourselves, but in case of sickness to “send for the elders” (James 5:14). These may, as those in the Gospels, offer up to God in their prayers the sick person who is unable to present his own case.  Thereupon God allows for such a plea because of the sharpness and bitterness of the grievance, as in David (Psalm 6). The Lord knows our frame; he remembers that we are but dust (Psa. 103:14), that our strength is not the strength of steel.

This is a branch of his faithfulness to us as his creatures, where he is called “a faithful creator” (1 Pet. 4:19). “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able” (1 Cor. 10:13).  There were certain commandments which the Jews called the hedges of the law.  So as to fence men off from cruelty, God commanded that they should not take the dame with the young, nor “seethe a kid in his mother’s milk” (Exod. 23:19), nor “muzzle the mouth of the ox” (1 Cor 9:9).

Does God take care of beasts and not of his more noble creature? And therefore we ought to judge charitably of the complaints of God’s people which are wrung from them in such cases.  Job had the esteem with God of a patient man, notwithstanding those passionate complaints.  Faith overborne for the present will gain ground again; and grief for sin, although it come short of grief for misery in terms of violence, yet it goes beyond it in constancy; as a running stream fed with a spring holds out, when a sudden swelling brook fails.

For the concluding of this point, and our encouragement to a thorough work of bruising, and patience under God’s bruising of us, let all know that 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 Savior. A holy despair in ourselves is the ground of true hope. In God, the fatherless find mercy (Hos. 14:3); if men were more fatherless, they should feel more God’s fatherly affection from heaven, for the God who dwells in the highest heavens dwells likewise in the lowest soul (Isa 57:15).

Christ’s sheep are weak sheep, and lacking in something or other; he therefore applies himself to the necessities of every sheep.  He seeks that which was lost, and brings again that which was driven out of the way, and binds up that which was broken, and strengthens the weak (Ezek. 34:16). His tenderest care is over the weakest.  The lambs he carries in his bosom (Isa. 40:11).  He says to Peter, “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15).  He was most familiar and open to troubled souls.  How careful he was that Peter and the rest of the apostles should not be too much dejected after his resurrection! “Go your way, tell his disciples and Peter” (Mark 16:7).  Christ knew that guilt of their unkindness in leaving him had dejected their spirits.  How gently did he endure the unbelief of Thomas and stooped so far unto his weakness, as to allow him to thrust his hand into his side.