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About the Bruised Reed:
A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice - Isaiah 42:3
The Bruised Reed is a classic work of Puritan theology by Richard Sibbes, first published in 1630. It is a devotional work that focuses on the comfort and assurance of salvation that is found in Jesus Christ. Sibbes uses the metaphor of a bruised reed to illustrate the tenderness and mercy of God towards sinners.
He argues that God will not break the bruised reed, but instead will heal and restore it. He also emphasizes the importance of faith in the believer’s assurance of salvation.
The book is divided into three parts, each of which focuses on a different aspect of the believer’s assurance of salvation:
- The first part focuses on the assurance of salvation,
- The second part focuses on the assurance of God’s love,
- The third part focuses on the assurance of God’s grace.
The Bruised Reed is a classic work of Puritan theology and is still widely read and studied today. We’ve updated this timeless book into modern, updated English for all to read and enjoy!
The Bruised Reed: In Modern English
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Table of Contents:
- Chapter 1: The Reed and the Bruising
- Chapter 2: Christ Will Not Break the Bruised Reed
- Chapter 3: The Smoking Flax
- Chapter 4: Christ Will Not Quench the Smoking Flax
- Chapter 5: The Spirit of Mercy Should Move Us
- Chapter 6: Marks of the Smoking Flax
- Chapter 7: Help for the Weak
- Chapter 8: Duties and Discouragements
- Chapter 9: Believe Christ, Not Satan
- Chapter 10: Quench Not the Spirit
- Chapter 11: Christ’s Judgement and Victory
- Chapter 12: Christ’s Wise Government
- Chapter 13: Grace Shall Reign
- Chapter 14: Means to Make Christ Victorious
- Chapter 15: Christ’s Public Triumph
- Chapter 16: Through Conflict to Victory
Chapter 1: The Reed and the Bruising
The prophet Isaiah, being inspired by a prophetic spirit, foresaw the coming of Jesus Christ. He presented Christ to others, in the name of God, with these words: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; my chosen one, in whom I delight; I have put my spirit upon him: he will bring justice to the Gentiles. He will not shout or raise his voice in the streets. He will not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick; he will bring justice based on truth” (Isaiah 42:1-3).
Matthew cites these words as being fulfilled in Christ (Matthew 12:18-20). In them, we can see Christ’s calling to his office and the way he carries it out.
God calls Him His servant. Christ was God’s servant in the greatest act of service ever, a chosen and beloved servant who did and suffered all according to the Father’s orders. This shows us God’s great love for us, that He considers the work of our salvation through Christ to be His greatest service, and that He was willing to put His only beloved Son to that task. He could have said “Look” to draw our attention and admiration to the highest level.
When we are in the midst of temptation, our minds are so focused on the trouble we are in that we need to be reminded to look to Christ for rest for our souls. In times of temptation, it is best to focus on nothing but Christ, the true brazen serpent, the true “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). This saving figure brings comfort to the soul, especially if we look not only at Christ, but also at the Father’s authority and love in Him. For in all that Christ did and suffered as Mediator, we must see God in Him, reconciling the world to Himself (2 Cor. 5:19).
What a great source of strength for our faith this is – that God the Father, who was wronged by our sins, is so pleased with the work of redemption! And how comforting it is to know that, since God’s love rests on Christ, we can be sure that He is pleased with us too, if we are in Christ!
His love is for the whole Christ, both natural and mystical, because He loves Him and us with the same love. Let us, then, accept Christ and God’s love through Him, and build our faith on such a Savior who has been given such a high mission. Look here, for our comfort, at the beautiful agreement between all three persons of the Trinity: the Father gave a mission to Christ, the Spirit equipped and sanctified Him for it, and Christ Himself carried out the role of Mediator. Our redemption is based on the joint agreement of all three persons of the Trinity.
How Christ Pursues His Calling
This is said to be done humbly, without any fanfare or grand entrance, as is often the case with royalty. His voice was heard, but what did it say? “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened” (Matthew 11:28). He called out, but how? “Come, all who are thirsty, come to the waters” (Isaiah 55:1). His coming was not only humble, but gentle, as described in these words: “He will not break a bruised reed, and he will not snuff out a smoldering wick” (Isaiah 42:3).
We can see, then, that the people with whom Jesus interacted were in a fragile state. They weren’t strong like trees, but rather like reeds, and not even whole reeds, but broken ones. The church is often compared to the weak and vulnerable: a dove among birds, a vine among plants, sheep among beasts, and a woman, who is the weaker vessel.
God’s children are fragile before they turn to Him and often afterwards too. Before conversion, most people (except those who have been raised in the church and to whom God has chosen to show His grace from a young age) are fragile, but to varying degrees, as God sees fit. And since people have different temperaments, talents, and lifestyles, God has different plans for how He will use them in the future; usually He strips them of their pride and makes them humble before He will entrust them with any great tasks.
What it is to be Bruised
The bruised reed is a person who is generally in some kind of distress. This distress often leads them to recognize sin as the root cause. No matter how much we try to deny it, when we are in pain and broken, the truth is revealed. They become aware of their sin and suffering, and with no hope of finding help within themselves, they search desperately for a solution elsewhere, with a glimmer of hope that leads them to Christ, even if they don’t feel worthy of His mercy. This glimmer of hope being met with doubts and fears stemming from corruption leaves him feeling helpless; so that both of these together, a broken reed and a flickering flame, make up the state of a poor, distressed man. This is someone like what our Savior Christ calls “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3), who recognizes their needs and also realizes they owe a debt to divine justice. They have no way to provide for themselves or to rely on anyone else, and so they mourn, and, with some hope of mercy from the promise and examples of those who have been granted mercy, they are driven to hunger and thirst for it.
The Good Effects of Bruising
This bruising is necessary before conversion so that the Spirit can make their way into our hearts by bringing down any proud or lofty thoughts, and so that we can understand our true nature. We often like to wander away from ourselves and become strangers in our own home until God brings us down with a cross of some kind, and then we start to think and come back to ourselves like the prodigal son (Luke 15:17). It’s very difficult to get a dull and evasive heart to cry out for mercy. Our hearts, like criminals, won’t cry out for the judge’s mercy until they’ve been beaten down and have no more evasions.
Again, this bruising makes us value Christ highly. Then the gospel truly becomes the gospel; then morality won’t do us any good. This makes us more thankful, and from that thankfulness, more productive in our lives; what makes many so cold and barren, if not the fact that they never felt the impact of sin on their lives?
Likewise, this way God deals with us makes us more secure in His ways, having experienced pain and suffering in our own. This is often the cause of people going back to their old ways and apostasy, because they never felt the sting of sin in the first place; they weren’t exposed to the law’s punishment for long enough. Hence, this lesser work of the Spirit in bringing down our pride (2 Cor. 10:5) is necessary before conversion. And, usually, the Holy Spirit, to further the work of conviction, adds some affliction, which, when sanctified, has a healing and purifying effect.
After conversion, we need to be humbled so that we can recognize our own limitations and not think of ourselves as invincible. Even the most humble of us need to be humbled further, due to the pride that still resides in our nature, and to remind us that we are only here because of God’s mercy. This humbling can help weaker Christians not to be too discouraged when they see the strong being shaken and humbled. For example, Peter was humbled when he wept bitterly (Matt. 26:75). Before this humbling, he was more boastful than humble when he said, “Though all forsake thee, I will not” (Matt. 26:33).
The people of God need to be reminded of these examples. The heroic deeds of the great ones do not comfort the church as much as their falls and humblings do. David was humbled until he came to a free confession, without guile of spirit (Psa. 32:35); in fact, his sorrows were so intense that it felt like his bones were being broken (Psa. 51:8). Hezekiah complained that God had “broken his bones” like a lion (Isa. 38:13). Even the chosen vessel Paul needed the messenger of Satan to buffet him so that he would not be too proud (2 Cor. 12:7).
We should not be too hard on ourselves or others when God tests us with difficult times. We must follow the example of Christ, who was “bruised for us” (Isaiah 53:5) and recognize how much we owe him.
Unbelievers may criticize broken-hearted Christians as being miserable, but God is actually doing a wonderful work in them. It is not easy to take someone from their natural state to grace and then to glory, as our hearts are so stubborn and unyielding.
Chapter 2: Christ Will Not Break the Bruised Reed
In following his purpose, Christ will not crush those who are weak or extinguish those who are barely hanging on. This is more than just a figure of speech; he will not only not break or extinguish, but he will nurture those he interacts with.
Christ’s dealings with the bruised reed
Physicians, though they may cause their patients much discomfort, will not go against nature, but instead work to gradually improve it. Surgeons will lance and cut, but not disfigure. A mother with a sick and stubborn child will not abandon it. So why should we think there is more mercy in us than in God, who instills us with the capacity for mercy?
But to further demonstrate Christ’s mercy to all who are broken, consider the roles he has taken on for himself: husband, shepherd, and brother. He will fulfill these roles to the best of his ability. If others can be called to do so by his grace, why not he, who out of love has taken on these roles, which are based on his Father’s assignment and his own voluntary undertaking? He has even borrowed names from the gentlest of creatures, such as lamb and hen, to show his tender care. His very name, Jesus, was given to him by God himself, and it means “Saviour”. His office is to “bind up the broken-hearted” (Isaiah 61:1). At his baptism, the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove, to show that he would be a gentle mediator, like a dove.
See how graciously he carries out his duties. As a prophet, he came with words of blessing, saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3), and he invited those who felt the most guilt to come to him, saying, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden” (Matt. 11:28). His heart ached when he saw the people “as sheep having no shepherd” (Matt. 9:36)! He never turned away anyone who came to him, though some left of their own accord. He came to die as a priest for his enemies. In his earthly life, he taught his disciples a form of prayer and put words of petition to God on their lips, and his Spirit interceded in their hearts. He wept for those who shed his blood, and now he intercedes in heaven for weak Christians, standing between them and God’s wrath. He is a humble king; he welcomes mourners into his presence, a king of the poor and afflicted. He has both majesty and a heart of mercy and compassion. He is the prince of peace (Isa. 9:6). Why was he tempted, but so that he could help those who are tempted (Heb. 2:18)? What mercy can we not expect from such a gracious Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5) who took on our nature to be gracious? He is a good doctor for all ailments, especially for healing a broken heart. He died to heal our souls with a plaster of his own blood, and by that death save us, which we had brought upon ourselves by our own sins. Does he not still have the same heart in heaven? ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ cried the Head in heaven, when the foot on earth was trampled on (Acts 9:4). His ascension has not made him forget his own people. Though it has freed him from passion, it has not taken away his compassion for us. The lion of the tribe of Judah will only tear apart those who will not accept his rule (Luke 19:14). He will not show his strength against those who bow before him.
What can we learn from this? We should come confidently to God’s throne of grace in all our troubles (Hebrews 4:16). Don’t let our sins stop us from approaching Him, since He is there for sinners. If you’re hurting, take comfort in the fact that He is calling you. Don’t hide your wounds, but bring them to Him and don’t listen to Satan’s advice. Even if you’re trembling, go to Christ, just like the woman who said, “If I may but touch his garment” (Matthew 9:21). We will be healed and receive a gracious response. We can go boldly to God in our flesh, since He is flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. Never be afraid to go to God, since we have a Mediator who is not only our friend, but our brother and husband. Well, the angel from heaven could certainly proclaim with confidence, “I bring you good news that will bring you great joy!” (Luke 2:10). The apostle Paul also encouraged us to “always be joyful in the Lord” (Phil. 4:4). He was right to do so, as peace and joy are two of the main benefits of Christ’s kingdom. No matter what the world throws at us, we can still find joy in the Lord. His presence makes any situation more bearable. When his disciples were afraid, as if they had seen a ghost, Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid, it’s me!” (Matt. 14:27). There’s no need to be afraid when he’s around.
Let this thought sustain us when we feel overwhelmed. Christ’s way is to first wound us, then heal us. No perfect soul will ever enter heaven. When we are tempted, remember that Christ was tempted for us; our trials will be matched with grace and comfort. If Christ is so merciful as not to break us, we must not break ourselves by giving into despair, nor give in to the devil’s temptations.
See the stark contrast between Christ and Satan on the one hand and their respective followers on the other. Satan takes advantage of us when we are most vulnerable, just like Simeon and Levi did to the Shechemites when they were in pain (Gen. 34:25). But Christ will make up for all the damage that sin and Satan have caused. He “heals the brokenhearted” (Isa. 61:1). Just like a mother is most compassionate towards her weakest and most ill child, Christ is most merciful towards the weakest. He also instills in the weakest of creatures the instinct to rely on something stronger than themselves for support. The vine clings to the elm, and the weakest of creatures often find the strongest of shelters. The church’s awareness of its own weakness makes it willing to lean on its beloved and hide under His wing.
Who are the Bruised Reeds?
But how can we be sure that we are worthy of mercy?
Answer: 1. By “bruised” here, we don’t just mean those who are brought low by hardships, but those who, through them, come to recognize their sin, which is the most painful of all. When conscience is weighed down by guilt, every judgment brings a reminder of God’s anger, and all other troubles pale in comparison. Just as all bad humours flow to the most damaged part of the body, and creditors come down on a debtor when they have been arrested, so when conscience is stirred, all past sins and current hardships come together to make the bruise even more painful. Now, someone who is thus bruised will accept nothing but mercy from the one who has caused the bruise. He has been hurt, and he must heal (Hos. 6:1). The Lord who has justly punished me for my sins must mend my broken heart. (2) Someone who has been truly hurt realizes that sin is the worst thing and God’s favor is the best. (3) He would rather hear about mercy than a kingdom. (4) He has a low opinion of himself and believes he is not worth the ground he stands on. (5) He is not judgmental towards others, as he is too consumed with his own struggles, but he is full of sympathy and compassion for those who are going through difficult times. (6) He believes those who are blessed with the Spirit of God are the luckiest people in the world. (7) He is in awe of the Word of God (Isa. 66:2) and respects those who bring peace to him (Rom. 10:15). (8) He is more focused on the inner work of a broken heart than on formality, yet he is still careful to use all the appropriate means to find comfort.
But how shall we come to this state of mind?
Answer: We must accept that God may bring us into a state of humility, or that it is our duty to humble ourselves. We should join with God in this process, and not resist him when he humbles us, or else he will increase his efforts. We should accept Christ’s chastisements, understanding that his goal is to bring us back to our true selves. His work of humbling us should lead to us humbling ourselves. We should lament our own stubbornness and ask why we need such drastic measures. We must actively work to soften our hearts and recognize the severity of our sins. We must look to Christ, who suffered for us, and to whom we have caused pain with our sins. But no amount of advice will be effective unless God’s Spirit deeply convinces us, showing us our sins and bringing us to a halt. Then we will plead for mercy. Conviction will lead to sorrow, and this will bring us to humility. So we should ask God to bring a strong and clear light into the depths of our souls, and to give us the strength to humble our hearts.
We cannot prescribe a set amount of self-reflection, but it must be enough that (1) we value Christ above all else and recognize the need for a Savior, and (2) we address any wrongs, even if it means cutting off our right hand or plucking out our right eye. There is a dangerous tendency to downplay the importance of self-reflection, with some using it as an excuse for their lackadaisical attitude towards their own hearts. But they must understand that a sudden fear or brief sorrow is not enough to make us truly reflective; it requires a deep grief that makes us loathe sin more than punishment, until we are willing to fight it with a holy fervor. Otherwise, if we prioritize ourselves, we are creating an opportunity for God to punish us and for us to regret it later. I admit, in some cases, with certain people, it is risky to push this punishment too far and for too long, as they may become overwhelmed and unable to recover.
Therefore, it is beneficial in a group setting to provide comfort so that everyone can receive what they need. But if we keep in mind that there is more mercy in Christ than sin in us, then there is no danger in being thorough. It is better to go to heaven with wounds than to go to hell unscathed. So, let us not give up too soon, or take off the bandage before the healing is complete, but let us stay under this work until sin is the most unpleasant and Christ is the most pleasant of all. When God is punishing us in any way, it is wise to direct our sorrow to the source of it all, which is sin. Let us focus our grief on that, so that as sin caused grief, grief can destroy sin.
Are we not truly hurt unless we feel more sorrow for our sins than we do for the consequences of them?
Answer: At times, our grief from external hardships can weigh more heavily on our souls than grief for God’s displeasure, because in such cases, the grief affects us both inside and out, and we have nothing to lean on but a small spark of faith. This faith is weakened by the intensity of the hardship, and this is especially true in sudden crises that come upon us like a flood, and especially in physical illnesses which, due to the connection between the soul and body, can affect the soul so much that it not only hinders our spiritual, but also our natural actions. Therefore, James encourages us to pray for ourselves in times of distress, but if we are ill, he suggests we “send for the elders” (James 5:14). These elders can offer up prayers to God on behalf of the sick person who is unable to do so themselves. God is sympathetic to such pleas, as we can see in the example of David (Psa. 6). He understands our frailty and remembers that we are only human (Psa. 103:14), and our strength is not that of steel.
God’s faithfulness to us as his creatures is demonstrated in many ways. For example, He promises that He won’t let us be tempted beyond our ability to resist (1 Cor. 10:13). He also gave certain commandments, which the Jews called the ‘hedges of the law’, to protect us from cruelty. For example, He commanded that they should not take the mother bird with the young (Exod. 23:19) or ‘seethe a kid in his mother’s milk’ (Exod. 23:19), or ‘muzzle the mouth of the ox’ (1 Cor. 9:9). Does God take care of animals, and not of his more noble creature? We should be charitable when we hear the complaints of God’s people in such cases. Job was considered a patient man by God, despite his passionate complaints. Faith that is overwhelmed in the present will gain ground again; and grief for sin, although it may not be as intense as grief for misery, will be more consistent. Just like a running stream fed by a spring, it will hold out when a sudden swell fails.
For the conclusion of this point, and to encourage us to do the hard work of enduring God’s discipline, let us all remember that those who feel furthest away from God are the ones who are most in need of comfort. Most people are not aware enough of their own need for a Saviour. A holy despair in ourselves is the foundation of true hope. In God, the fatherless find mercy (Hos. 14:3); if we were more aware of our need for a father, we would feel more of God’s fatherly love from Heaven, for the God who dwells in the highest heavens also dwells in the depths of our souls (Isa. 57:15). Christ’s sheep are weak, and lacking in something or other; he therefore attends to the needs of each one.
He searches for what was lost, brings back what was driven away, repairs what was broken, and strengthens the weak (Ezek. 34:16). He is especially attentive to the most vulnerable. He carries the lambs in his arms (Isa. 40:11). He tells Peter, “Take care of my lambs” (John 21:15).
He was open and welcoming to those who were troubled. He was careful not to overwhelm the apostles with sadness after his resurrection. “Go and tell my disciples, including Peter” (Mark 16:7). Christ knew that their guilt for abandoning him had weighed heavily on them. He was so patient with Thomas’ disbelief and went so far as to let him touch his side.
Chapter 3: The Smoking Flax
In following his purpose, Christ will not extinguish the faint flame, but will fan it until it burns brightly. In a faint flame there is only a small amount of light, and it is weak, unable to burn brightly, and that small amount is mixed with smoke. The lesson here is that in God’s children, especially when they first come to faith, there is only a small measure of grace, and that small amount is mixed with much sin, which, like smoke, is unpleasant; but Christ will not extinguish this faint flame.
Grace is little at first
There are different stages of faith among Christians, from babies to young adults. Faith can be as small as a mustard seed, but it can grow to be incredibly powerful. It takes time for things to reach their full potential, and this is true for humans too. A new Christian is an amazing thing, and it takes time for them to grow and mature, just like an oak tree grows from an acorn. This is similar to Jesus, who came from a humble family but grew to be greater than the heavens.
It’s not the same with the trees of righteousness as it was with the trees of paradise, which were created perfect from the start. All the creatures in the world today were hidden in the chaos of the beginning, and God commanded them to come forth. In the tiny seeds of plants lie the potential for bulk and branches, buds and fruit. In a few principles lie all the comforting truths of holiness. All the glorious passion and holiness of the saints started with just a few sparks.
Let us not be disheartened by our small beginnings in grace, but instead view ourselves as chosen to be “holy and without blame” (Eph. 1:4). We should use our imperfect beginnings to motivate us to strive for perfection and to maintain a humble opinion of ourselves. If we become discouraged, we should remember that Christ looks at us as those He intends to make His own. He values us for who we will become and for what we are chosen for. We call a small plant a tree because it is growing to be one. “Who has despised the day of small things?” (Zech. 4:10). Christ does not want us to look down on the small things.
The angels don’t look down on those who are small in their own eyes and in the eyes of the world. Even a small amount of grace can be powerful and valuable. Christ elevates those who are lowly and insignificant. Bethlehem was a tiny village, but it was important because Jesus was born there. The second temple was not as grand as the first, but it was more glorious because Jesus visited it. The pupil of the eye is tiny, but it can take in a lot of the sky at once. A pearl may be small, but it is highly valued. Nothing in the world is as useful as even the smallest amount of grace.
Grace and corruption are intertwined.
But grace is not only limited, but mixed with sin; therefore a Christian is said to be struggling with sin. So we see that grace does not completely remove sin all at once, but some remains for believers to battle against. Even the most righteous actions of the most righteous people need Christ to make them acceptable; and this is his purpose. When we pray, we need to ask Christ to forgive the shortcomings of our prayers. Consider some examples of this ongoing struggle with sin.
Moses was in a real bind at the Red Sea, not knowing what to do or say. He was in a tough spot and it was a real struggle for him. In times of distress, we don’t know how to pray, but the Spirit intercedes for us with groans that cannot be put into words (Romans 8:26). When our hearts are broken, our prayers are too.
When David was standing before the king of Gath (1 Sam. 21:13) and had disfigured himself in an unappealing way, there was still a spark of hope. You can see this in the excellent psalm he wrote about the experience, Psalm 34, where he says, “The LORD is close to those with a broken heart” (Psa. 34:18). “I said in my haste, I am cut off from your sight” (Psa. 31:22). The disciples cried out, “Lord, save us, we are perishing!” (Matt. 8:25). Even though there was a lack of faith, there was still enough light of faith to motivate them to pray to Christ. “Lord, I believe” (Mark 9:24). There was smoke, but there was also fire.
“Help me overcome my doubts.” There is smoke (Mark 9:24). Jonah cries out, “I am banished from your presence.” There is smoke. “But I will look to your holy temple once more.” There is light (Jon. 2:4).
“Oh, what a miserable person I am!” Paul exclaimed, feeling the weight of his sin. But he quickly shifted to expressing gratitude to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 7:24).
“I’m sleeping,” the church in the Song of Solomon declares, “but my heart is still awake” (Song of Sol. 5:2). Most of the seven churches, which are referred to as “seven golden candlesticks” (Rev. 2 and 3), had a lot of smoke accompanying their light.
The reason for this combination is that we have two sides to us: grace and nature. The purpose of this is to protect us from the two dangerous pitfalls our natures are prone to fall into: complacency and arrogance. We must rely on justification, not sanctification, which, despite its imperfections, still has some good qualities. Our spiritual fire is like the fire we have here on earth: it is a mix. Fire is purest in its natural environment in the sky; likewise, our graces will be purest when we are in our true home, heaven.
From this combination of feelings, it is clear that God’s people have such different opinions of themselves. Sometimes they look at the work of grace in their lives, and other times they focus on the remaining corruption. When they focus on the latter, they feel as if they have no grace. It’s like a candle in a socket, sometimes it shows its light and other times the light is gone. Similarly, sometimes they are confident in themselves, and other times they feel lost.
Chapter 4: Christ Will Not Quench the Smoking Flax
The second point to note about the humble beginnings of grace is that Christ will not extinguish the flickering flame. This is for two main reasons. Firstly, because this spark is from heaven; it is his own, lit by his own Spirit. Secondly, it brings glory to his mighty grace in his children, that he keeps a light alive in the midst of darkness, a spark in the midst of the overwhelming tide of sin.
The Smallest Spark of Grace is Precious
There is a special blessing in that little spark of faith. As the Bible says, “Do not destroy the new wine that is found in the cluster, for a blessing is in it” (Isaiah 65:8). We can see how Jesus was patient with Thomas when he doubted (John 20:27) and with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus who were unsure if Jesus had come to redeem Israel (Luke 24:21). He didn’t extinguish the little light of faith in Peter, even though Peter denied him (Luke 22:61). One man in the Gospel said, “If you want to, you can” (Matthew 8:2) and another said, “If you can do anything” (Mark 9:22). Both were smoking flax. Neither of them was extinguished. If Christ had relied on his own power, he would have turned away the man who asked for help with an “if”. But Christ responded to his “if” with a generous and definite answer, “I will, be thou clean.” The woman who was suffering from a discharge only touched the hem of his garment with a trembling hand, and yet she left healed and comforted. In the seven churches (Rev. 2 and 3), we see that Christ recognizes and values anything that was good in them. Because the disciples were too weak to stay awake, being overwhelmed with sorrow, our Savior Christ made a compassionate excuse for them, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41).
If Christ did not show mercy, he would not be achieving his own goals. As it says in Psalm 130:4, “There is forgiveness with you, so that you may be feared.” Everyone is invited to come under the banner of his love, as Psalm 65:2 states, “All flesh will come to you.” He is careful and moderate, as Isaiah 57:16 says, “Lest the spirit should fail before him, and the souls he has made.” When Jesus saw the people without food, Matthew 15:32 says his heart was moved, “Lest they faint in the way.” He will certainly take care to prevent us from spiritual exhaustion.
Support the Weak
Here we can see the stark contrast between the holy nature of Christ and the impure nature of man. People are often willing to extinguish even the smallest spark of hope for a momentary gain. On the other hand, Christ always nurtured even the slightest glimmer of faith. He was patient with his disciples, even when he had to correct them, it was out of love so they could become even better. We should all strive to follow his example if we hope to be saved. We who are strong should bear the weaknesses of the weak (Romans 15:1). I strive to be all things to all people so that I might save some (1 Corinthians 9:22). If only more people had this attitude of winning and gaining, many more would be saved. See how the Apostle Paul, a faithful fisher of men, works to win over his judge: ‘I know that you believe in the prophets’ (Acts 26:27), and then he wishes Agrippa all the best in terms of salvation, but not imprisonment. He could have added that too, but he didn’t want to discourage someone who had responded positively. He wanted to only give Agrippa something that was good in terms of religion. Our blessed Savior was so careful not to offend the little ones. He defended his disciples from the malicious accusations of the Pharisees. He was careful not to put new wine into old vessels (Matt. 9:17), and not to alienate new believers with the strictness of religion (as some do without thinking). He said, ‘They will have time to fast when I am gone, and strength to fast when the Holy Spirit comes upon them.’
It is not the best approach to overwhelm young beginners with minor details, but rather to show them a better way and teach them the basics. This way, they won’t be easily swayed by other things. It is wise to overlook their shortcomings, forgive their mistakes, praise their accomplishments, encourage their growth, and help them in any way possible to make it easier for them to embrace religion. We often see that Christ instills a love in young beginners, which we call their ‘first love’ (Rev. 2:4), to make their journey through their faith more enjoyable and not expose them to hardships before they have had a chance to grow. We should be merciful to others and be willing to sacrifice our own liberties if it means avoiding offending the weak. It is the ‘little ones’ that are easily hurt (Matt. 18:6). The weakest are most likely to feel overlooked, so we should be extra careful to make sure they are content.
It would be a beneficial challenge for Christians to strive to not give offense, and to strive to not take offense. The best people are hard on themselves and compassionate towards others. However, people should not test the patience of others, nor should the weaker rely on the indulgence of others to excuse their own shortcomings, as this can be detrimental to their own souls and bring shame to the church.
They must not look down on the gifts God has given to others, but rather show respect for them. They should know their place and not try to do anything beyond their capabilities, as this could lead to ridicule. When someone is blind and bold, ignorant and arrogant, weak and willful, it displeases God, makes them a burden to society, and their advice can be dangerous. When Christ shows his grace to the weak, it is to help them understand themselves and foster humility, and to show God’s love for them. He does this to protect against discouragement due to weakness, to bring people closer to grace, and to give those of humble means an advantage over those of higher status and intelligence, which can lead to pride. Christ does not reject anyone because of their lack of intelligence, so that no one should be discouraged, but He also does not accept anyone because of their greatness, so that no one should be overly proud of something that is of so little value to God. It does not matter how slow the student is when Christ is the teacher, as He not only tells them what to learn, but also gives them the understanding to do so, even to the most basic learner.
The church is often hurt by those who are weak in faith, so we can take action to help them, even if it means being firm. The goal of true love is to make the person better, and hiding the truth can prevent that. Some people respond best to gentleness, while others need a firmer approach. Some need to be ‘rescued from the fire’ (Jude 23) with force, and they will be thankful for it later. Our Savior often had to use harsh words when dealing with hypocritical people (Matt. 23:13), since they require a stronger conviction than those who are openly sinful. A difficult problem requires a powerful solution, otherwise we are being cruel by not helping them to find salvation. A stern rebuke can be a valuable gem and a soothing balm. Sweet words won’t heal the wounds of those who are secure in their sin. The Holy Spirit came in both fiery tongues and the form of a dove, and He will grant us wisdom and discretion to season our words and actions. This wisdom will teach us to speak at the right time, both to those who are weary and those who are secure in their sin. We need the tongue of the learned to both encourage and rebuke, but here I’m talking about being gentle with those who are weak and aware of it. We must lead them on gently and drive them slowly, like Jacob did his cattle, according to their pace and what they can handle.
Weak Christians are like delicate glasses that can easily be damaged with even the slightest mishandling, but if treated with care, they can last a long time. We should show respect and gentleness to those who are weaker in faith (1 Pet. 3:7), so that we can both protect them and make them a valuable asset to the church and to ourselves.
In diseased bodies, if all unhealthy elements are removed, you will take away life itself. Therefore, even though God says that he will ‘purify them as silver is purified’ (Zech. 13:9), He also said He had ‘purified you, but not with silver’ (Isa. 48:10), meaning not so thoroughly that no impurities remain, as He takes into account our frailty. Perfect purification is reserved for the afterlife, for the world of perfect souls.
Chapter 5: The Spirit of Mercy Should Move Us
Preachers must be mindful of how they interact with young believers. They should be careful not to set expectations too high, making things necessary evidences of grace that don’t align with the experience of many good Christians, and placing salvation and damnation on things that are not suitable for such a weight. This can lead to people feeling needlessly discouraged and unable to lift themselves up again. The messengers of such a gentle Saviour should not be overbearing, trying to take the place of Christ in people’s hearts. Too much respect for man was one of the causes of popery. As Paul said, ‘Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ’ (1 Cor. 4:1), no more and no less. Paul was very careful not to put a stumbling block in front of any weak conscience.
Simplicity and Humility
Preachers should be careful not to obscure their message with difficult language. Truth has nothing to fear from being openly expressed, and it is at its most beautiful and powerful when it is presented plainly. When Jesus became human, He also adopted our everyday way of speaking, as part of His humble nature. Paul was a wise man, yet he was willing to act like a nurse to those who were less knowledgeable (1 Thess. 2:7).
That spirit of mercy that was in Christ should inspire his followers to be humble and willing to sacrifice for the benefit of those less fortunate. What caused the kingdom of heaven to become so popular after John the Baptist’s time, but the fact that the comforting truths were presented in such a clear and convincing way that people were so moved by them that they were willing to do whatever it took to obtain them?
Christ chose those to preach mercy who had experienced mercy themselves, such as Peter and Paul, so that they could be examples of what they taught. Paul was willing to become all things to all people (1 Cor. 9:22), humbling himself for their benefit. Christ humbly descended from heaven out of love for souls. Shouldn’t we also come down from our pride to help others? We see the servants of Satan changing themselves to ‘make one proselyte’ (Matt. 23:15). We see ambitious people adapting themselves to the whims of those who can help them rise, so shouldn’t we also strive to apply ourselves to Christ, who can help us ascend, and who has already seated us with Him in heavenly places? After we have been won over to Christ, we should work to win others over too. A holy ambition and desire should motivate us to take on the disposition of Christ. But first, we must put aside our own selves.
Again, we should not burden their minds with complex or questionable debates (Romans 14:1), as this will only tire and distract them, and give them an excuse to neglect their spiritual duties. The church’s most productive period in terms of intellectual debates was also its most barren in terms of faith; it makes people think that religion is only a matter of intellectual prowess, in solving and creating puzzles. People who lean towards this way of thinking tend to be more driven by their intellect than their hearts.
Despite the difficulties we may face when questions are raised about important matters, we should strive to be secure in our beliefs. God often allows us to be tested to prove our love and demonstrate our understanding. Nothing is more certain than that which is established after doubts have been raised. In a contentious age, it is wise to be a Christian and to know what to rely on. It is our duty to remove any obstacles and make the path to heaven easier. We must be careful not to let the opposition gain ground on the truth, as this could lead to us betraying both God and people’s souls.
Those who are too strict and deny comfort to those in need are failing in their duty. This can lead to people suppressing their feelings and suffering in silence, as they have no one to turn to and share their troubles with.
We must not overstep God’s boundaries, nor go against His will. We must use the keys wisely and carefully. When we apply them to ourselves or others, we must be extra cautious. Someone may speak the truth, but it may not be the truth for the person they are speaking to. If we say something that causes pain to someone God has not intended to hurt, we may be strengthening the wicked. What is beneficial to one person may be harmful to another.
If we take a look at the overall attitude of the present day, it’s clear that we need to be encouraged and motivated. However, there are many who are feeling discouraged and need to be comforted. Even in the most difficult times, the prophets provided words of hope and comfort for those who remained faithful to God. God has comfort to offer. The prophet was instructed to, “Give my people comfort” (Isaiah 40:1) as well as, “Raise your voice like a trumpet” (Isaiah 58:1).
Here, we must be careful. Mercy does not mean we should ignore our sense of justice. We should not be more merciful to those who do not deserve it. We should not be too lenient with those who need to be held accountable. Serious issues require serious solutions. The church of Ephesus was praised for not tolerating evil (Rev. 2:2). We should also show our disapproval of wrongdoings. Even Jesus, who loved his disciples dearly, was not afraid to reprimand them when necessary. It is a curse to do the Lord’s work dishonestly, even when it involves punishing the enemy. If we allow people to be punished for their sins, they will have every right to curse us one day.
It is difficult to maintain a balance between mercy and severity without relying on a wisdom that is greater than our own. We should strive to be guided by this wisdom in all things, for without it, virtue is not virtue and truth is not truth. We must consider both the rule and the individual case, as failing to do so can lead to mistakes in our judgement. Those who promote their religion through cruelty, such as those in popery, demonstrate that they are unfamiliar with the wisdom from above, which encourages gentleness, peace, and mercy. It is a way of prevailing that is both pleasing to Christ and in line with human nature, to do so with forbearance and moderation.
And yet, we often see a disingenuous attitude in those who call for moderation. They are only doing so to further their own agenda with more force; and if they succeed, they will not show the same moderation to others that they are asking of them. There is also a kind of prideful moderation, when people take it upon themselves to criticize both sides, as if they are wiser than both, even though an impartial observer can see more than those in the midst of the conflict.
How those in Authority should Act
It is important to remember that when it comes to church discipline, it is best to take a gentler approach. We should not be too harsh in our judgments, as if we were killing a fly with a mallet. The purity of our censures should be reflected in the gold snuffers of the tabernacle, which kept the light of the church bright. The power given to the church is meant for building up, not tearing down. Paul was careful to ensure that the Corinthian who had committed incest would not be overwhelmed with grief if they repented.
Civil authorities, for the sake of the state and its needs, must let the law take its course; however, they should follow the example of this kind king and not let their authority, which comes from God, be tainted with bitterness and anger. Authority is a reflection of God’s power and is most effective when it is not influenced by human emotions. It takes a special kind of wisdom to use it correctly. It must not be too strict or too lenient. Justice is a delicate balance. Too much of either extreme can be damaging. We can see how different elements can be kept in balance when they are blended together in the right way. Rigid justice can often be unjust if certain factors should be taken into account, and it is better to err on the side of moderation than strictness.
Insolent behavior towards those in a difficult situation is inappropriate for anyone who hopes to receive mercy themselves. We should show mercy to those in need, not use them as a stepping stone for our own pride. Unfortunately, those who are under the control of others can often be the most damaging with their rebelliousness and harsh criticism, which can discourage those in power from doing what is best for the public. We should be grateful for the small comforts we have in life, and not make things worse by misinterpreting the actions of those in charge. We should try to be understanding of any minor mistakes those above us make. It is often the poor who are the oppressors through their unjust complaints. We should try to give the best interpretation to the actions of those in power that the situation allows.
We are Debtors to the Weak
Finally, we should all be mindful of our obligations to those who are less fortunate than us. We owe them a great deal in many aspects of our lives.
1. Let us be mindful of how we use our freedom and strive to be respectful in our actions, so that our behavior does not influence others negatively. There is a powerful influence in a good example, just as there was with Peter (Gal. 2). Living recklessly is harmful to ourselves and to the souls of others. Even though we cannot save those who are doomed, if we do something that has the potential to destroy the souls of others, their destruction is our responsibility.
2. Let people be careful not to take on Satan’s role of misrepresenting the good deeds of others, like he did with Job’s case, asking “Does Job fear God for nothing?” (Job 1:9) or slandering their character by judging them based on the wickedness in their own hearts. The devil gains more from these discouragements and insults to religion than from fire and faggot. They act like unseasonable frosts, stopping any kind and gracious inclinations in their tracks, and, like Herod, try to kill Christ in young believers. A Christian is a holy and sacred thing, Christ’s temple; and anyone who destroys it will be destroyed by Christ (1 Cor.3:17).
3. Among the things that need to be taken into consideration, there is a tendency among ordinary Christians to be overly critical of others, without taking into account their struggles. Some will quickly disown and reject their fellow believers in a fit of anger. But negative feelings do not change the truth of our relationships; even if a child were to reject their mother in a moment of rage, the mother would still not reject the child.
In these times of judgment, it is wise to heed James’s warning not to be too quick to judge one another, especially when it comes to matters of personal preference. Everyone’s opinion is valid, and both doing and not doing something can be pleasing to the Lord.
Having a holy purpose in matters that are neither clearly right nor wrong makes people’s judgments, even if they appear to be contradictory, not as blameworthy. Christ overlooks any faults in us when He sees our good intentions, so He won’t hold them against us. We shouldn’t be too nosy when it comes to the flaws of others. We should focus on what they have that will last for eternity and try to love them, rather than dwelling on their weaknesses that the Spirit of God will eventually take away. Some people think it’s a sign of strength to not tolerate any flaws in the weaker, but the strongest are usually the most willing to be understanding of the weaknesses of the weak.
Where the highest level of holiness is present, there is usually a great sense of balance and moderation. We can see this in Christ, who was absolutely holy yet also incredibly moderate. What would have happened to our salvation if He had not humbled Himself and come to us? We should not try to be holier than Christ; it is not a compliment to do as He does, as long as it is for the benefit of others.
The Holy Spirit is willing to reside in souls that are smoky and unpleasant. Oh, that the Spirit would instill in us the same compassionate attitude! We consume bitter herbs and plants, only because we know they have some beneficial qualities; why should we reject people with useful skills and qualities, just because they have a disagreeable disposition, which not only bothers us, but also causes them distress?
Grace is something that resides within us, even though we are imperfectly renewed and living in bodies that are prone to various emotions. Bucer was a wise and moderate theologian. After much experience, he decided to accept anyone who showed even a hint of Christ. The best Christians in this imperfect state are like gold that is slightly too light, needing a few allowances to make it work. We must be generous with the best and allow them their allowances.
We must show love and compassion to those who are in need. The Church of Christ is like a hospital, where everyone is suffering from some kind of spiritual illness. Therefore, we must use our wisdom and kindness to help those in need.
So that we may do this better, let us put the Spirit of Christ upon ourselves. There is a certain grandeur to the Spirit of God. It is unlikely that corruption will yield to more corruption. Pride is not something that can be tolerated. The weapons of this battle must not be physical (2 Cor. 10:4). The great apostles would not begin their work in ministry until they were ‘endowed with power from on high’ (Luke 24:49). The Spirit will only work with its own tools. We should consider how Christ would feel about this situation. That great healer, with his keen eye and healing words, also had a gentle hand and a tender heart.
Let us take a moment to consider the situation of those we are dealing with. We may have been, or could be, in the same position. Let us put ourselves in their shoes and remember that, as Christians, we are all brothers and sisters, fellow heirs of salvation. Therefore, we should take special care to ensure their peace of mind. Conscience is a fragile thing and must be treated with care, like a lock that needs to be handled delicately if it is to open properly.