What Shall We Say Then? – Discussion 3

There are numerous places that I would like to continue the discussion regarding The Bruised Reed, but time is running out and February is right around the corner. I would like to post one more, however, from Sibbes’ chapter on “Quench Not the Spirit.”

Excerpt from Sibbes

Instead of putting a detailed outline, I would like to quote Sibbes at length to set the stage for the discussion. Below is a portion of his section dealing with “Presuming on Christ’s Mercy.” Sibbes writes (emphasis mine):

“You know the apostle’s prohibition, notwithstanding, `Quench not the Spirit’ (1 Thess. 5:19). Such cautions of not quenching are sanctified by the Spirit as a means of not quenching. Christ performs his office in not quenching by stirring up suitable endeavors in us; and there are none more solicitous in the use of the means than those that are most certain of their good success. The reason is this: the means that God has set apart for the effecting of any thing are included in the purpose that he has to bring that thing to pass. And this is a principle taken for granted, even in civil matters; for who, if he knew before that it would be a fruitful year, would therefore hang up his plough and neglect tillage?

Hence the apostle stirs us up from the certain expectation of a blessing (1 Cor. 15:57-58), and this encouragement from the good issue of victory is intended to stir us up, and not to put us off. If we are negligent in the exercise of grace received and the use of the means prescribed, suffering our spirits to be oppressed with many and various cares of this life, and take not heed of the discouragements of the times, for this kind of neglect God in his wise care suffers us often to fall into a worse condition in our feelings than those that were never so much enlightened. Yet in mercy he will not suffer us to be so far enemies to ourselves as wholly to neglect these sparks once kindled. Were it possible that we should be given up to abandon all endeavor wholly, then we could look for no other issue but quenching; but Christ will tend this spark and cherish this small seed, so that he will always preserve in the soul some degree of care.

. . . As we look, therefore, for the comfort of this doctrine, let us not favor our natural sloth but exercise ourselves rather to godliness (1 Tim. 4:7), and labour to keep this fire always burning upon the altar of our hearts. Let us dress our lamps daily, and put in fresh oil, and wind up our souls higher and higher still. Resting in a good condition is contrary to grace, which cannot but promote itself to a further measure. Let none turn this grace `into lasciviousness’ (Jude 4). Infirmities are a ground of humility, not a plea for negligence, nor an encouragement to presumption. We should be so far from being evil because Christ is good that those coals of love should melt us. Therefore those may well suspect themselves in whom the consideration of this mildness of Christ does not work that way” (69-72).

I find this passage in The Bruised Reed to be one of the most important parts of his treatise, because it is here that Christ’s offices and promises could be taken advantage of and the promises of God presumed upon in a deadly way. Let me set the table for discussion.

Personal Commentary

Sibbes present the person of Christ as a gentle Savior with tender words–a Savior who is meek and mild in heart. If there is mercy to be found anywhere, Sibbes rightly argues, it is found in Jesus Christ. To be sure, there is more mercy in Christ than there is sin in us (13). Perhaps Sibbes was thinking of Paul, when speaking to the Romans, stated,

“Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:20-21).

Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more! Is that not a wondrous comfort to those who are bruised by the misery of their sin? Yet, consider how some may twist such sweet sayings to rationalize their own sinful pursuits:

“I can go ahead and do it because God will forgive me anyway.”
“God loves me no matter what, so _____________ .”
“If God’s love towards me is unconditional, then it does not matter that I _____________ .”

Do you see where I am getting? If there is more mercy in Christ than sin in us, then someone might argue that we can be great sinners, and Christ’s mercy will be greater still! Or, in Paul’s quote, we can increase in sin because grace will abound all the more!

Paul recognized this line of thinking, and the very next verse following Romans 5:21, he writes,

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:1-2)

What Paul was arguing regarding our right response to God’s grace, Sibbes was arguing in our right response in not quenching the Holy Spirit in presuming upon the mercy that is in Christ. Rather than thinking that such a mild and tender Savior as a license or loose living, Sibbes affectionately tells us that such tenderness should stir us up to “suitable endeavors,” to “exercise ourselves for the purpose of godliness,” to give ourselves to the “right use of means,” and to “labour to keep the fire burning always upon the altar of our hearts.”

The mercy found in Christ should never encourage us to be slothful in pursuing holiness, but quite the contrary. For in Romans 12:1, it says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” It should be the mercies of God, when in full view, that should lead us to offer ourselves entirely to God as a sacrifice. The mercy we found when we first saw Christ our Redeemer brought about genuine repentance and faith as a response to such richness of mercy and greatness of love, and such a response of repentance and faith never ceases until we are perfected in glory.

Because we know that Christ will cherish the little spark in us does not give us freedom to live in a contrary manner. In the words of Paul, “May it never be!” Instead of presuming upon God’s mercy with indifference or apathy, we are to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12-13), knowing that such a working is brought about both by God’s will and working within us and by the uniting of our affections and will to walk in obedience to God’s commands which have been sweetened by grace. When we labor and grow in Christ, we confess with the apostle Paul that we are what we are by the grace of God, for it was not us, but the grace of God that is with us (1 Cor. 15:10). Such grace does not merely provide a free ticket to heaven and the freedom to live as you choose; rather, such grace works with such perseverance to carry us upward and onward into deeper humility, greater dependence, and higher affections for treasuring Jesus Christ until that day.


1. Sibbes several times mentioned the use of means in this excerpt. What are some examples of such means that are prescribed to prevent us (and others) from presuming upon God’s mercy and grace?

2. What would you say to the person who views salvation as a “Get out of hell free” ticket? How would you counsel the unconverted sinner who simply wants to be “left off the hook” and adopt a minimalist attitude to the Christian life? (Feel free to use Sibbes’ quotes if you like.)

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2 Comments on “What Shall We Say Then? – Discussion 3”

  1. D.L. Kane Says:

    This is such a deep and all encompassing topic. Thank you, Timmy, for taking the time to so beautifully present it to us: For me, I guess I don’t struggle with focusing on whether I am a bruised reed or a smoking flax, although I have great sympathy and compassion for those that are genuinely saved who never experience the joy, peace, assurance and freedom, that comes from truly understanding God’s grace and mercy.

    I suppose I have never focused much on my own salvation. I have simply trusted God and put my soul into His almighty and sovereign hands. When I first read what Paul said in Romans 9:1-3, “I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers” It made a huge impact on me. It made me realize that it is not about me or my salvation.

    It made me ask myself why I follow Christ. Why am I obedient? Why do I desire to grow in the grace and knowledge of my Lord and Savior? Is it to “feel” better about my position in Christ? Is it to assure myself that I am in Christ? I suppose I came to the realization that it’s not about me! It’s about Him. It’s about desiring so deeply that my short pathetic life will somehow bring Him glory; that somehow everyone I encounter, everyone who knows that I am a follower of Christ, will see His reality and His power, and His beauty, in and through me.

    I know this is a little off topic, and my heart breaks for those who struggle with sin and with doubt; and I am thankful for Sibbes ministry to those believers. But, for me, my motivation for experiencing increased grace in my life is not born out of a desire to gain fuller assurance of my position in Christ; but to better represent His reality and His Glory to a lost world.

    I once said to someone who seemed to have received Christ based on a watered down gospel, (fire insurance) “I would rather me a genuine “born-again” believer who doubts their salvation, then an unregenerate sinner with false assurance”. I still feel that way.

    I hope this makes sense!

  2. David Says:

    It does to me, D.L. – but I’m not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing!

    The second question for me is a good one. The fact is that in speaking with the unconverted, if they were to say to me “You Christians! Salvation is nothing more than a “Get out of Hell free” card!”, then I would wholeheartedly agree. It IS a get out of Hell free card. In effect, Christ takes our ‘Admit One’ stamped with Hell as the destination and makes it His own – replacing the destination with Heaven. That is exactly the ‘bad news – good news’ of the Gospel.

    But if it is a believer, a convert, a Christian who sees salvation as a licence to licentious living – or the unconverted that thinks that this salvation is like Roman Catholic confession but with the added convenience of being always open and portable, then we need to shake up that assumption.

    1 John 3:4-10 really brings us to the heart of the matter. I think the ESV really shows the true sense of the greek poiew verbs which are, as you doubtless know, in the present tense, when they translate this as “keeps on sinning” or “practicing righteousness.”

    A pianist, to hone his craft, will spend many, many hours in the sound booth just practicing. Joshua Bell, a gifted violinist, can practice up to three hours every day. You would not watch him at work and say “What a fine carpenter. Look how well he manipulates the wood of that violin. See how fine his sawing motion is with the bow.” No! You would see and say that he was a very gifted musician.

    So too, John tells us, that if as Christians we practice lawlessness, we do not know Christ. We cannot make the inclination of our days run contrary to righteousness and expect that people will see us and think us righteous. Or that God will see us as truly having been seized by Christ.

    So there is no easy believism. Whilst God is gracious beyond our sinfullness (pg 13) – there is a firm sense that we are saved UNTO good works (no, Virginia, not BY good works). By their fruit shall we know those grafted into the stem of Christ. We know that to truly take Christ is not to be let off the hook – but to take the hook and embrace it – and accept sourges whilst we are suspending from it. If you want ease in this life – look elsewhere. (and this is the putresence of the Joyce Myers and Billy Hinns and Joel Osteens of this world. That they call their shuckster feelgoodism Christianity. No wonder people think that Jesus is a cheap panacea, cosmic life insurance. No wonder we have to answer questions on easy believism. I pray that they would be truly converted or truly silenced.)

    “You are what you eat” is an old saying. It is also a british TV show about flabby, obese folk who are confronted with their habits. At one point in the show, their weekly food consumption is recorded – and then laid out on a table. The hapless porky is brought in and confronted with the reality of what they consume in a week. Aside from the obvious attempts to deal with the shock by covering it with “Ooo – that looks nice” comments – the almost universal response is one of disgust; shock; disbelief at the true nature of what is laid out visibly before them – all in a fatty, sugary, alcohol rinsed pile of putrifaction. The scene shifts from pasty-faced english folk, aghast at the reality of their diet, to a table laden with greens, fruits, vegetables and healthsome goodness. The person is led back in and shown their new weekly intake and there is much hilarity as they come to grips with all sorts of pulses and whatnot they could not even identify – let alone find in a supermarket and bring home to cook.

    As Christians, ‘you are what you do.’ If a pastor or a brother or a spouse could take your choices for a week and lay them out on a table to show you the contents of your life – would it be a disgusting, congealed morass of goop – with the occasional pea or apple thrown in – or would it be a table of fruit, perhaps with the odd pie, sweety or hamburger messing up the whole. Would we look at the first table and say “Ah – this person who makes a habit of filling themselves with horrible things must know Christ?” Or would we say that they would not know Him?

    John makes it clear – you are what you eat. You are what you practice to be. Eating a donut does not rob your salvation. Eating only vegetables does not grant it. But the ‘meals’ we consume, the ‘menu’ we produce is a clear indication of the ‘diet’ we are truly following – despite anything we say with our mouths about how healthy we are eating.

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