The Compassionate Mr Sibbes

16 01 2008

Post No.4 on The Timmy Brister Challenge

“A Puritan is someone who is terribly afraid that somebody somewhere is having a good time.”

Thus goes the famous and (as far as I know) unattributed definition of what makes a Puritan. Amusing as it may seem on the surface, it is woefully inaccurate and misleading to those who might contemplate engaging with the literature and teaching of Puritanism.

The most cursory reading of any Puritan book will reveal an altogether different reality. These were warm hearted pastors, who had an overwhelming concern to see the Gospel applied to all areas of life and experience, and who loved the Lord’s people intensely and practically.

‘The Bruised Reed’ brims over with this loving aspect, as Sibbes seeks to console the hearts of those who may doubt their salvation. He incessantly urges the gentleness and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, as he cherishes and encourages the bruised reed and the smoking flax. Dear to Sibbes’ heart is the need to care for those who are new to the faith, and not to burden them with unneccessary issues and problems. He invites all believers and pastors to nurture such Christians and refuse to encumber them early in the walk of faith.

His words are cautionary and compassionate to the core:

“It is not the best way, to assail young believers with minor matters, but to show them a more excellent way and train them in fundamental points. Then other things will not gain credence with them. It is not amiss to conceal their defects, to excuse some failings, to commend their performances, to encourage their progress, to remove all difficulties out of their way, to help them in every way to bear the yoke of religion with greater ease, to bring them to love God and his service, lest they acquire a distaste for it before they know it’ [22]

I find these words touching from a couple of perspectives.

First of all at a personal level I have been most blessed by those who have taken this approach with me. As I look back over my Christian life I can see that God has repeatedly brought people into my path who have exercised this ministry with me – overlooking my mistakes, tolerating my youthful over-enthusiasm, and forgiving me for the errors common to baby Christians. Those who have made the greatest impact on my own discipleship are those who have embodied this gracious perspective.

Secondly at a pastoral level this challenges me about how I approach and minister to those young in their faith. There can be an expectation within our church cultures that young Christians ought to be rigidly and instantly conformed to an external standard of behaviour, and that one step across any real or imaginined moral line means curtains for them spiritually. Sibbes’ advice is a great corrective to this tendency, reminding us as it does of the grace of Christ to us, and to those younger in their faith.

I experienced a living example of this kind of ministry on Monday night past, when I was invited to speak at a Stauros meeting at Ballyards Castle amongst those whose lives have been touched (and at times ruined) by alcoholism and drug abuse. The workers there are keen to nurture and fan any ember of smouldering faith in those who come to Christ, often having to ‘conceal their defects, to excuse some failings, to commend their performances, to encourage their progress, to remove all difficulties out of their way’. The humble, gracious, and Christ honouring way in which they do this has blessed and challenged me about my own approach to people, both in the past pastorally, and in days to come as a missionary.

May God give me grace to share the grace that He has poured out on me!

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One response

17 01 2008
Boaly

Some sound advice there bro’. Must get a hold of “The Bruised Reed”. Unfortunately I got so many books at Christmas that I decided not to go with this months Puritan Paperback. (This is not really that unfortunate on the bookfront but on the fact that I’m missing out here). Though your Blog is a good way to follow through the theme of this book!I think the quote of “A Puritan is someone who is terribly afraid that somebody somewhere is having a good time.” is from a guy called ‘H.L. Manken’ (I may have spelt his sirname wrong).




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