The Measured Mr Sibbes

25 01 2008

Post No.7 in the Timmy Brister Challenge.

How can we know if we fit into the category of being a ‘smoking flax’? How can we be sure that we truly belong to God, and that we need encouragement to look to the mercy of God in Christ, rather than the judgement of God through Christ? This is a tricky question, and one which the folks over at Timmy Brister’s site have been wrestling with in his discussion of Sibbes over the past few days.

Thankfully Sibbes’ book answers this question for us, and in practical, identifiable terms. Sibbes spells out ten markers against which we can measure whether we truly have the fire of God’s salvation within, regardless of the smoke of our corruption which we are only too conscious of. His definitions are quite lengthy, so I’ve condensed them a little – hopefully without losing the flavour of what he has to say.

1. If there be any holy fire in us, it is kindled from heaven.

2. The least divine light has heat with it in some measure. Light in the understanding produces heat of love in the affections.

3. Where this heavenly light is kindled, it directs in the right way.

4. Where this fire is, it will sever things of diverse natures, and show a difference between such things as gold and dross. It will sever between flesh and spirit, and show that this is of nature, this of grace. All is not ill in a bad action, or good in a good action. There is gold in ore, which God and his Spirit in us can distinguish.

5. So far as a man is spiritual, so far is light delightful to him. He is willing to see anything amiss that he may reform, and any further service discovered that he may perform, because he truly hates ill and loves good.

6. Fire, where it is present, is in some degree active. So the least measure of grace works, as springing from the Spirit of God, who, from his operations, is compared to fire.

7. Fire makes metals pliable and malleable. So grace, where it is given, makes the heart pliable and ready to receive all good impressions. Obstinate spirits show that they are not so much as smoking flax.

8. Fire, as much as it can, sets everything on fire. So grace labours to produce a gracious impression in others, and make as many good as it can.

9. Sparks by nature fly upwards. So the Spirit of grace carries the soul heavenward and sets before us holy and heavenly aims. As it was kindled from heaven, so it carries us back to heaven.

10. Fire, if it has any matter to feed on, enlarges itself higher, and the higher it rises, the purer the flame. So where true grace is, it grows in measure and purity. Smoking flax will grow to a flame; and, as it increases, so it discards what is contrary to itself and refines itself more and more.

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