About Those Smoking Flax – Discussion 2

Previous Discussion:
1.  About Those Bruised Reeds

>> “The best men are severe to themselves, tender over others” (23).


The purpose of this discussion to talk about the smoking flax, and in particular, his discussion about the mixture of nature and grace which constitutes the smoke (corruption) and light (grace).  The key text for this discusssion is the following:

“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” (19). 

I think is would be helpful here to provide a little background to this issue of justification and sanctification.  Sibbes lived in a time during the English Reformation, less than a century that the Church of England had broke away from Rome (RCC).  According to the Roman Catholic Church, justification was not punctiliar (a moment where God declares you righteous) but a process as you partake of the sacraments.  The issues Sibbes was facing was both theological and pastoral; theological in the Protestant understanding of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, and pastoral the relationship of salvation and assurance, especially in dealing with how one comes to experience comfort and peace in the midst of doubt and uncertainty.  One the one hand, Sibbes cautioned people from having a false sense of security; on the other hand, he warned against spiritual pride.  As a smoking flax, Sibbes helps us understand the truth of right standing from God’s perspective in Christ and brings us to examine ourselves rightly–to realize our nature and its corruption and remember our Savior’s gracious invitation and gentle treatment of those with just “a few sparks” (17).  Biblical Christianity does not allow for mere nominalism (superficial Christianity) or pharisaism, and what is great about Sibbes is that in dealing with bruised reed and smoking flax, both are rejected in favor of a genuine, grace-based and gospel-centered faith which creates glory in us as we pursue the humility of Christ in examining ourselves as well as ministering to others.   

One of the things Sibbes is adamant about is to help us see the work of God’s grace in us, the “spark of hope.”  Let me lay out some select phrases he uses throughout the first half of the book:

“spark of hope” (4)
“a little spark of faith” (13)
“a little light” (16)
“a few sparks” (17)
“this spark is from heaven” (20)
“a spark of fire is fire” (36)
“beam of light” (38)
“kindled from heaven” (42)
“a little fire is fire, though it smokes” (52)

Often we hear Christians say, “I want to be ‘on fire’ for God!”  We sing hymns entitled, “Set My Soul Afire.”  And yet, for many Christians, especially new Christians, we are not a flaming fire but “a little spark.”  When these little sparks see such bright flames, there is a tendency to get discouraged and think they have no light at all.  The bright flames look down at such small sparks and think, “What’s wrong with you?  Why can’t you be like me, on fire for God?” 

Sibbes is quick to address both these questions tenderly and beautifully.  He reminds us that, though corruption remains due to our sinful nature, the spark that we have is a true spark, a spark from heaven, lighted by God Himself.  And it is God’s promise to us that he will not quench the smoking flax, but rather fan it into a flame.  What an encouragement this is to us as we pursue to imitate Christ!  How tenderly must we care for new believers who have just come out of darkness and into the light!  We must be careful to not place a yoke upon Christians, especially new Christians, that expects them to be fully mature, overcoming sin, and living the “victorious Christian life.”  If we do that, we will not deal honestly with our sin, deceving ourselves, and pretending to be more righteous before others all the while knowing we are empty inside. 

Whether we are such “sparks” or others who have seemingly “little beginnings,” Christ has left us his promise and his example.   

A.  His Promise

Christ will not quench the smoking flax because “this spark is from heaven; it is his own, it is kindled by his own Spirit,” and “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” (20).

B.  His Example

“Man for a little smoke will quench the light.  Christ, we see, ever cherishes even the least beginning. . . . Can we have a better pattern to follow than this from him by whom we hope to be saved” (21)?

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” (23). 

I can personally attest that there have been many I have led to Christ that I have not tenderly cared for and loved as I should.  I am reminded that Paul, to the Thessalonians, considered himself as “a nursing mother caring take care of her own children” (1 Thess. 2:7) as well as “a father with his children” (1 Thess. 2:11).   Why?  Because they were his “glory and joy” (1 Thess. 2:20).  To the Corinthians, perhaps the best examples of New Testament smoking flax, Paul affectioned stated that he became their “father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:15) and that his heart is “wide open” to them (2 Cor. 6:11).  The Galatians, who were being led astray by “another gospel,” Paul considered himself as someone who is “in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed” in them (Gal. 4:19).  As we all are to some degree, we should “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).  If Christ could care for such smoking flax as Thomas and Peter, and if Paul could exhort us with his life and teaching to love and nurture the smoking flax with our lives, then why can’t we?  Why aren’t we?

Allow me to conclude with this ecnouraging and powerful word by Sibbes: 

“Let us not therefore be discouraged at the small beginnings of grace, but look on ourselves as elected 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.  Otherwise, 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 elected unto” (17).


Sibbes’ talks about the “secure sinners” and “weak Christians” and that we need to have “the tongue of the learned” in order to know when and how to “raise up” (in the case of the weak Christian) or “cast down” (in the case of the secure sinner).  He said that offering sweet words to secure sinners will not heal them but be “cruel pity”; on the other hand, “a sharp reproof sometimes is a “precious pearl” and “seet balm.”  How do you diagnose the “secure sinners” from the “weak Christians”? 

As ministers of mercy, what are some ways we can be pastorally sensitive to the smoking flax in our midst?  Either from Sibbes or in your own words, what principles can we apply as we minister to people today?

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25 Comments on “About Those Smoking Flax – Discussion 2”

  1. The only way I have found to diagnose the “secure sinner” and the “weak Christian” is to observe. It is difficult to completely discern these two in this day of unregenerate church membership, but it can be done with patience and godly wisdom.

    Personally, I look for a broken spirit along with a repentant heart to find the weak Christian. If, however, the same sin requires the same broken spirit and repentant heart, I really begin to question their faith. It is my estimation that a secure sinner is comfortable when the gospel is preached or when confronted with their sin while a weak Christian squirms under the pressure of the convictions of the Holy Spirit.

    As for the smoking flax in our midst, I believe just living the gospel, and actually practicing fellowship, will allow us to deal with the smoking flax. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that he always found that if he “simply preached the text that was next” he would inevitable speak to a persons unspoken needs. I believe it is in this vain that Paul tells us to “Let [our] speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

    I am not much of a theologian nor am I the second coming of John Piper or John MacArthur, but I do believe that if we are in the Word every day and living according to our proffession of Christ as Lord and Savior, then we will be sensitive to the smoking flax all around us. After all, are we not all smoking flax?

  2. What I found intriguing about the smoking flax was that it reminded me so much of the firestarters I learned to use in Boy Scouts. Certain types of firestarters, once they take the spark, have to be constantly blown on or fanned until a flame develops. They may be combustible materials, but they are worthless until brought near a spark.

    I agree with Terry that observation may be the only way to determine who is a “secure sinner” and who is a “weak Christian.” But I’d like to touch on the solution Sibbes seems to provide with his illustration as I’ve expanded it with my firestarters analogy.

    I’d like to suggest that one solution (I don’t want to suggest it is the only solution) for both the “secure sinner” and the “weak Christian” is to use this property of firestarters, that is, the worthlessness of them without a spark. For a “secure sinner” I would suggest a more confrontational approach; after all a rock constantly hit by a sledgehammer will over time either break along its cleavage or be destroyed, will it not? Have you, the secure sinner, taken spark? Take spark, and be fanned into flame, or be destroyed with the rest of the unprofitable trash! It may be this is all we can do for a “secure sinner.”

    For a “weak Christian” I’d want to remind him/her that the spark of Christ is being fanned by the Spirit to consume what worthlessness remains. If one is continuing to struggle with a specific aspect of that worthlessness, why not up the ante by adding more fuel to the spark? That conviction one feels is the wind of the Spirit fanning the flame that will make one righteous. Your Bible readings, your pastor’s sermons, the good books you read are the kindling (and eventually logs) that will create a roaring bonfire that will consume your struggles when the time is right! Until then, be patient and diligent in allowing God to nurture the spark he has created in you. You are not meant to be that roaring bonfire today, tomorrow, or a year from now. You’re meant to be the spark that starts it.

  3. Jerry Says:

    I am not so sure that we should take on the task of trying to distinguish between “secure sinner” and “weak Christian” when it comes to other people. We are admonished to not root out the tares for fear of harming the wheat. We continue to preach the demands of the Gospel and hold up all practice to the light of God’s Word, but we need to leave the “tare rooting” to the providence of God.

    This does not mean, however, that we should not examine ourselves. I am so thankful that His Spirit bears witness with us that we are children of God, even when we are but weak and smoldering smoking flax. We seek His gentle breath to bring about a full blown conflagration in His timing. Yet, if we do not see His spark taking root in our lives we need to throw ourselves on His mercy in repentance.

  4. Jerry,

    I take it from Sibbes that we should understand the difference beteween secure sinners and weak Christians is to know when to give a sharp reproof or a sweet and tender word. In similiar fashion, Jesus commissioned his disciples to be shrewd as serpents and innocent as dovces. With the self-righteous Pharisees and religious people, you will find the sharpest and most stinging words of rebuke and reproof, and yet with bruised reeds or weak Christians, there is the compassionate invitation to “Come unto me.”

    So while I understand your point in not pulling up wheat with the tares, I do think it is helpful to know the state of the person with whom we are dealing, if we want to be a good physician to their soul. As Sibbes stated, we could be offering “cruel pity” to those who need the sweet balm of a sharp reproof. On the other hand, I have witnessed that bruised reeds and weak Christians to be the #1 prospects for evangelists and revivalists who want to bring in more decisions at their services by telling them they need to come “nail it down,” “be 100% sure of their salvation,” and “rededicate their lives” and so on. So while it would be cruel pity to some, in this case it would be cruel rebuke to others. Neither are right, and both are dangerous to the souls of men.

    I don’t want you to think that I am arguing with you, but I want to make the case for Sibbes as he puts it, and yes, I will admit, make the case for myself too! 🙂

  5. D.L. Kane Says:

    Twenty years ago, The Banner of Truth Magazine published a great overview of the very things you are discussing. Good reading that might help clarify what Sibbes was actually saying:


    Highly recommend it. Blessings to You.

  6. D.L. Kane Says:

    Interesting focus of discussion. I feel as though we might be mixing metaphors. This book was more about genuine believers who are in two different states of spiritual growth, not “secure sinners” vs. “weak christians”. It wasn’t really addressing unregenrate souls who have a false assurance. It was about genuine born-again believers who are “bruised” by sin and genuine believers who are so scrupulous about their sin and ignorant in their understanding of grace, that they never experience the blessing of assurance.

    I did not come away with the idea that Sibbes focus (although he touched on it) was to provide a resource for how to diagnosis the condition of others or how to minister to them. I felt that his desire and focus was to minister to us, “the bruised reeds and the smoking flax”.

    Matryn Lloyd-Jones said it best “I shall never cease to be grateful to…Richard Sibbes who was balm to my soul at a period in my life when I was overworked and badly overtired, and therefore subject in an unusual manner to the onslaughts of the devil…I found at that time that Richard Sibbes who was known in London in the early seventeenth century as ‘The Heavenly Doctor Sibbes’ was an unfailing remedy.”

    In a very simplified nut shell: First, we need to remember that bruising is absolutely essential; second, Christ may allow us to feel less than victorious over sin in order to help us have victory over other, more serious sins (the bruising); Third, in order to keep from endless despair (smoking flax), we must treasure the least amount of grace we find in our hearts; Finally, always remember that faith will prevail.

    To address the topic: “As ministers of mercy, what are some ways we can be pastorally sensitive to the smoking flax in our midst? Either from Sibbes or in your own words, what principles can we apply as we minister to people today?”

    I think one of the best ways to minister to a “bruised reed” or “a smoking flax” is to provide them with a copy of Sibbes Book and go from there. I firmly believe God gave these gifts to the church to be used to minister to others.

  7. D.L.,

    I don’t mean to confuse the issue of who the book is addressing; rather, I attempted to bring out an excerpt regarding “secure sinners” and “weak Christians” to discuss the difference in how we deal with each. The excerpt, provided below, can be found on page 24 in the paperback reprint. Just for clarification, here is Sibbes’ words:

    “We see that our Savior multiplies woe upon woe when he has to deal with hard-hearted hypocrites (Matt. 21:13), 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, else, in a cruel pity, 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 the likeness of a dove, and the same Holy Spirit will vouchsafe a spirit of prudence and discretion, which is the salt to season 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’ that shall either raise up or cast down, though in this place I speak of mildness towards those that are weak and are sensible of it. Thse we must bring on gently, and drive softly, as Jacob did with 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 honour of gentle use we are to give to the weaker vessels (1 Pet. 3:7), by which we shall both preserve them and likewise make them useful to the church and ourselves.”

    As I understand Sibbes, he is speaking that there are those bruised reeds and smoking flax (weak Christians) and there are some who are secure in their sinful state who cannot be treated with such sweet and tender words lest we act with ‘cruel pity.’

    I realize that this may be a rather minor point in the entirety of his book, but Sibbes and the Puritans in general were careful to understand the spiritual states of their hearers to know how to speak with wisdom and grace.

    In any case, I appreciate your good words and those proffered by Jerry, Terry, and Stephen. I am edified and encouraged by our conversation and hope it is helpful to you (and others as well).

  8. D.L. Kane Says:

    Bless you Timmy. I think I was probably the only one confused by the metaphors. Words are funny things—for example, I am a “secure sinner”, saved by God’s grace, as opposed to an unregenerate sinner with a false assurance. If a person isn’t certain how Sibbes was using the term “secure sinner” it can become confusing, yes?

    In addition, when Sibbes speaks of “bruising” he refers to both God’s “bruising” process prior to conversion and the bruising which occurs because of disobedience after conversion. So, again it can get confusing if one isn’t able to discern the difference between the two.

    I agree wholeheartedly that we should desire and pray for wisdom and discernment to know how to best minister to everyone in our path. I have found that spending quality one-on-one time with an individual (in meaningful conversation regarding their soul and their struggles) is really the only way to “diagnosis” their condition.

    Please know that I find the discussion very helpful and encouraging and hope to not offend in anyway by my “style” of communication.

    Grace and Peace to you,
    D.L. Kane

  9. Do you smell that? That is the smell of iron sharpening iron. D.L., I love what you had to say and I could see exactly where you were coming from. Matter of fact, I hadn’t really thought in those terms about Timmy’s question. I think it is the different angles of understanding that Timmy is wanting us all to glean from these discussions. I for one, have enjoyed them–it allows me to think outside my little box.

    Timmy, I don’t know if it would even be possible, but have you given any thought to getting those that are able together every now and then to discuss further in person what they are learning from these books? I don’t even know if there would be an interest or how it would work out, but it is an idea I had swimming in the empty space where my brain is supposed to be floating. Also, I had a good thought for next year’s challenge (we both know you will do this next year!). Read biographies of some of the great men of the faith that are lesser known. Again, just an idea swimming.

  10. D.L. Kane Says:

    Terry – Your words brought so much encouragement to my heart. I am relatively new to the world of “blogging” and have discovered that I am often mispreceived and/or misunderstood because of my lack of experience communicating in this environment–or because I am basically insensitve and tactless. :-). Haven’t decided which one is the real cause. Anyway, I was actually feeling very discouraged, as of late, so I thank the Lord for your kind words.

    I am “in” for the “biography challenge” should that materialize. Another idea to consider would be the “Puritan Papers” which were republished in 2000 (paper back) and cover the discussions that took place at the “Puritan Conferences” from 1956-1969. For those not aware of these conferences, 6 papers where read, each about an hour long, over a course of two days. After each paper was read, a discussion followed of about an hour, often a very vigorous exchange of ideas. Lloyd-Jones and JI Packer contributed regularly. No conference was held in 1970 because of Lloyd-Jones objection to some of the ecumencial positions taken by Dr. Packer. Anyway, just an idea – it makes for great reading and promotes understanding and lively conversation.

    Blessings to you all from California
    D.L. Kane

  11. Was that book in which you refer to originally called “The Puritans: Their Origins and Successions”? If so, I have that book. It was published in 1987 as a hard back. The only reason I have it is because I inherited what was left (about 1,000) of a retiring, reformed, baptist pastor’s library. I had bought some of his Lloyd-Jones books and asked if he would set aside the rest of them until I could come up with the money–if he did not sell them at his sale. When I went to pick up the rest of the Lloyd-Jones books, he gave me the rest of his library. I was stunned to have been blessed like that to say the least.

    As for being misunderstood, I completely understand! My wife has told me that tact is not a strong suit. However, I have gotten better thanks to God, but still I am misunderstood on a regular basis. I have been called arrogant, hard-nosed, as well as confrontational. I am excited that God used something I said to encourage you, that is why I love this blogging stuff. I wonder how the apostle Paul would have used this tool?

  12. Dude, don’t say stuff like that. Next thing you know, you’ll be making us all start hitting up old pastors!

  13. D.L. Kane Says:

    Terry – No actually it’s a five volume set previously published as separate annual volumes by Tentmaker Publications. Each volume of the five volume paperbacks published in 2000 contain approx 300 pages each. In 1959, for example: One of the papers read and discussed at the conference was “Andrew Fuller’s conflict with Hypercalvinism”. What makes this an interesting chapter in Volume one is that the concluding reflections of the men at the conference (which are published in this volume) really touch on the discussions happening today regarding what is going on in the SBC. Anyway, very profitable reading.

    From one hard-nosed confrontationalist to another – It’s nice to be understood. I thank the Lord for His grace and I pray to be more yielded to His Spirit and conformed to His image.

  14. There’s good stuff in this discussion…I’ve been listening in, and don’t have that much to add. For me the question Timmy raises is vitally important in pastoral terms, and delicate to say the least. I think the note which Terry highlighted from Lloyd-Jones about simply preaching the next text in Scripture is pretty crucial. It is the Word which does the work, and when applied biblically, tenderly and strongly to the conscience of the hearer it will bring about God’s definition between a ‘secure sinner’ and a ‘weak Christian’. For me this is why preaching is so crucially important, and why an ability to apply it to hearts and minds is indispensible.

    Thanks for the stimulating conversation so far.

  15. D.L. Kane Says:

    Terry – My answer about your book was partially wrong: The “papers” given by Dr D Martyn Lloyd-Jones from 1959 to 1978 (19 addresses) were all republished in The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1987.

    For more details about all of the “papers” this is the source: http://www.westminsterconference.org.uk/pastpapers

    Timmy asked us to consider: “As ministers of mercy, what are some ways we can be pastorally sensitive to the smoking flax in our midst? Either from Sibbes or in your own words, what principles can we apply as we minister to people today?”

    There was one pastoral principal that most of the Puritan pastors (including Sibbes) practiced and that was that they openly encouraged their people to come to them and disclose the state of their hearts so that counsel and advice could be given. In this way, they built up an amazing stock of knowledge, not only of God’s dealings with His children, but also of the Christian’s experience of those dealings. Although, many had large congregations, they were somehow able to find time for this part of their ministry and found it to be one of the most important.

    The knowledge that they gained by ministering in this way has been shared with us in such works as “Directions for Right Comforting”–Bolton, or “A Deserted Soul’s Cause and Cure”-Symonds

    Rather than outline those principles, a great summary of the principles that were used by these pastors has been summed up in “The Puritans Dealings with Troubled Souls – by G.A. Hemming” – which is (you guessed it) Chapter 3- Volume One of the Puritan Papers.

    Profitable reading on this very subject and only 13 pages long. Closinf paragraph from Hemming:

    “These gleanings from the Puritans are offered in all humility in the hope that we ourselves may better understand the varied experiences which are ours as God’s children and Satan’s enemies and that as we are called to be under-shepherds in Christ’s flock, so we may be able to comfort others with the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God, to whose blessed name be Glory. Amen.”

  16. Alright, I have that particular book. However, I did not know there were more papers. Thanks for the link!

  17. DPH Says:


    Thank you so much for your commentary and discussion questions to consider. I am a few chapters away from finishing “The Bruised Reed” and have been blessed beyond words. Even though I don’t understand all that Sibbes wrote, I can now go back and review some of the areas that you and other bloggers who posted comments referred to. Hearing what others have to say helps me understand things better and adds to my overall comprehension of the book and its intent.

    Keep up the great work and once again, I thank you for being willing to include us “puritan novices” in your 2008 Puritan Reading Challenge.

  18. Mike Leake Says:

    I have been very enriched so far in reading this book. Thanks for encouraging us in this challenge. To keep myself involved and interactive with this I have posted on each chapter on my blog. So far I have Chapters 1,2,3,4,and5.

    As far as the questions my experience has been that the preaching of the gospel of justification by grace alone through faith alone is the only way to tell. What I mean by that is that whenever we preach the gospel and then observe its fruits usually we can tell whether we are dealing with a “weak Christian” or a “secure-sinner”. If the dear brother or sister is broken and contrite for their sin and barely even knowing whether God will forgive them it is quite likely that they will go home justified. On the other hand if they are confident and secure and unbroken for their sin it is quite likely that they are secure but wrong in their assurance. It is the difference between the Tax Collector and Pharisee at the temple. How can you tell the difference? Sometime you cannot. But mostly it is by seeing the fruits of Isaiah 66:2. (Trembling at the Word, humble, contrite).

    As far as the second question is concerned I am very much growing in this area. Even through this book the Lord has been teaching me about being more gentle in dealing with the sheep he has given to my charge. One area that I have changed is in my preaching. Rather than preaching the Old Testament and New Testament as if it is Law I have begun preaching everything in light of the Cross. (I know many seasoned veterans are saying ‘duh’). A quote by Bryan Chapell really struck me. “Whether people depart alone or in the Savior’s hand will mark the difference between futility and faith, legalism and true obedience, dogoodism and real godliness”.

    I have been laboring for the past few months to make certain that within every text of Scripture I attempt to show how it points to man’s fallness and Christ’s redemption. Even Paul’s NT exhortations. Because we all screw up on these as well. So, rather than preaching these exhortations like a list that we must acquire. I preach these exhortations as something that is ours through the imputed righteousness of Christ. Yet something that we should still strive and labor to attain, not as a grounds of our justification but because of it. This I believe has helped many smoking flax to rest not on their sanctification but upon the finished work of Jesus Christ.

  19. D.L.,

    Thanks for the clarification and encouragement. I agree that the terms can be confusing, especially if the context is not provided! As far as the bruising before and after conversion, I attempted to bring that out a little in the first discussion which you can find linked at the top of the post.


    Getting those in the Louisville area together would be fun, but I am not sure how that would work out. If you have any ideas, feel free to pass them along. I am, however, out of town for the week as I am spending a little time with the fam before the semester starts (hence, the slow and belated replies!).

  20. D.L.,

    Regarding the Puritan Papers, I am going to post excerpts and summaries when they topics are relevant to the book we are reading. They are great supplementary material. As far as the blogging medium goes, it can be difficult, and I recognize that. Please don’t feel discouraged bro. If I have any questions or am confused, I will do my best to ask for clarification or a further explanation on something said or asked. While I will try my best to keep the conversation from confusion or misunderstanding, I am fully aware of the rough medium on which we discuss and want to give due latitude in giving folks the benefit of the doubt. I sincerely look forward to your helpful and edifying thoughts.


    As far as 2009 Reading Challenge, I am thinking about Jonathan Edwards, but I am open to other ideas. 🙂


    It is my pleasure. I am taking the discussions slow as I hope to bring out some points which we can discuss and specifically apply to our lives and ministries. Your encouragement means a lot, so thanks again!


    Your list line reminds me of a quote I read from Dever’s book on Sibbes’ view of assurance. While I hope to blog on this more soon, Sibbes’ appreciated the Reformed tripartite understanding of assurance, namely, the internal witness of the Spirit, sanctification, and good works. However, he said that there will be times where you will come where you cannot see marks of sanctification in your life. He said to go back to what you know about the gospel, the covenant of grace God has made with you. In other words, go back to justification – “the finished work of Jesus Christ.” In his words, it was “Go back to the blood of Jesus, go back to the blood of Jesus.” Ultimately, it is our faith in Christ our justification who speaks for us when we cannot speak for ourselves. For smoking flax who tend to see more smoke than flax, it is important to remember that truth!

  21. Although this is getting a little ahead of the immediate context, let me provide some principles or counsel from Sibbes for weak Christians or the smoking flax:

    1. “We must not judge of ourselves always according to present feeling, for in temptations we shall see nothing but smoke of distrustful thoughts. Fire may be raked up in the ashes, though not seen. Life in the winter is hid in the root” (35).

    Point: Don’t judge yourself by your present feelings!

    2. “We must beware of false reasoning, such as: because our fire does not blaze out as others, therefore we have no fire at all. By false conclusions we may come to sin against the commandment of bearing false witness against ourselves” (35).

    Point: Don’t judge yourself by others!

    3. “We must neither trust to false evidence, nor deny true; for so we should dishonour the work of God’s Spirit in us, and lose the help of that evidence which would cherish our love to Christ, and arm us against Satan’s discouragements” (35-36).

    Point: Recognize that God is at work in you by His Spirit, so don’t be discouraged!

    4. “We see how our Saviour 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 were 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'” (20-21).

    Point: If Christ does not quench such smoking flax, neither should we!

    5a. “Mercy to others should move us to deny ourselves in our liberties oftentimes, in case of offending weak ones” (23).

    5b. “Let us be watchful in the use of our liberty, and labor to be inoffensive in our behaviour, that our example compel them not. There is commanding force in an example, as there was in Peter (Gal. 2). Looseness of life is cruelty to ourselves and to the souls of others. Though we cannot keep those who will perish from perishing, yet if we do that which is apt of itself to destroy the souls of others their ruin is imputable to us” (31-32).

    Point: If we are ministers of mercy, then we should careful with the use of our Christian liberty!

    6. “In the censures of the church, it is more suitable to the spirit of Christ to incline to milder part, and not to kill a fly on the forehead with a mallet, nor shut men out of heaven for a trifle” (30).

    Point: Don’t abuse authority or seek to bring rebuke or correction over trivial matters!

    There are numerous others I came across in Sibbes’ treatment of weak Christians, but I thought I’d contribute these to the discussion. Got any more to add?

  22. Timmy,

    I thought about Edwards or Owen as well, but I figured because Southern offers classes on Edwards and Calvin, that might not be as “new” to many of your readers. Please don’t think I am trying to step on your toes here. These are just my thoughts and unless I share them, I cannot possibly be of any help to others.

    Anyway, I proposed biographies because I figured many have not been blessed to read of the lives of some of the greatest, lesser known saints. Regardless, I just like the challenge of reading the dead guys!

  23. As I read Sibbes I wonder how much of his thought is driven by a desire to counteract the effects of the Roman Catholic view of righteousness, infused vs. imputed. If one sees righteousness as being infused, or actually making one righteous, then a new believer, actually any believer, can have doubts when they do not act in accordance with the righteousness they are told they have.

    However, Sibbes is relating that ones actual righteousness is not that of Christ’s but it Christ’s righteousness that is credited to us. Thus, while the Holy Sprit works in us to change us, fanning the smoking flax, we are not automatically righteous so we will struggle and it is that struggle that God uses to His glory. It is in this struggle in the midst of community that one deals with the “secure sinner” or “weak Christian” and it is a correct understand of God’s work in the lives of His people that helps this endeavor.

    To discern the difference does take community in the sense that if we simply look for a particular sign we will probably propagate people that show that sign externally regardless of their position with God. But if we truly spend time and know those around us the position they have with God becomes readily apparent and thus how we react to them will be more apparent.

    I am not sure if this really answered your initial question but in the midst of thinking about it I began to wonder how ones view of ones righteousness would affect how we see ourselves relating to God.

    It is good to see the interaction on the reading. I truly love to read the Puritans but have to admit that many times I do not get the full depth of their thought on a first reading and the comments made help me to get a better handle on the writings.

  24. Tony makes a good point. Having grown up in the Catholic church, I found much in the way of rebuking the Catholic church in Sibbes’ writing (as I do with many Puritans). That may be an interesting thing to take note of as we read these 12 (11 now) books this year.

    Good point Tony.

  25. D.L. Kane Says:

    A wonderful Sibbes quote that follows along with Tony’s concluding remark:

    “When men can find no comfort and yet set themselves to teach and encourage weaker Christians, by way of reflection they receive frequently great comfort themselves. So does God reward the conscientious performance of this duty of mutual discourse; that those things we did not so fully understand before, by discourse we come to know and relish far better. This should teach us to be in love with holy conference, for besides the good we do to others we are much profited ourselves. “

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