July 2009


CHRIST’S HEALING AND INFLAMING MINISTRY 

Now, Sibbes’ second point is “Christ will not ‘break the bruised reed,’” nor “quench the smoking flax, or wick, but will blow it up till it flameth.”[1]  To explain the nature of this ministry, Sibbes speaks of the names and offices of Christ.  These names point to the tenderness of his care.  He is a lamb and a hen.  Christ does deal with his people in a gentle and tender way like a hen over her young.  The offices of Christ point to the same.  At his baptism the Holy Spirit descended as a dove “to shew that he should be a dove-like, gentle Mediator.”[2]  As a prophet he spoke words of comfort and consolation, not negating his words of judgment.  Jesus is a great high priest who “never turned any back again that came to him…He came to die as a priest for his enemies.”[3]  Jesus is lastly the true King of Israel.  However, this king, “he is meek king…a king of poor and afflicted persons.”[4] 

Sibbes insightfully shows that these thoughts of Christ were meant to comfort Christians.  Jesus is far more gracious than we would allow him to be.  In one remarkable passage, Sibbes adds, “He is a physician good at all diseases, especially at the binding up of a broken heart; he died that he might heal our souls with the plaster of his blood, and that by death save us.”[5]  Jesus, being infinitely wise and a master at his trade, specializes in healing the broken hearted sinner.  He covers over their wounds and sins like a builder does a hole in a wall.  He does so “with the plaster of his blood.”

Understanding that Jesus is a gentle and gracious Savior, should cause us “‘to come boldly to the throne of grace…in all our grievances.’”[6]  Knowing the nature of Jesus’ ministry to his people aright should not drive us away, but should melt our hearts by his love to come boldly to the throne of grace.  Sibbes says, “Never fear to go to God, since we have such a Mediator with him, that is not only our friend, but our brother and husband.”[7]  After some sin, Satan would depict Jesus to us in an angry way, but all along we should not fear to come to before his throne. 

Those who think themselves to be bruised in some way should remember that it is God’s usual way of workingto first bruise, then to heal.[8]  This truth should bring us comfort and stability in the midst of some trail or sin.  God will often time bring pain into our lives, so that afterward he might comfort us with his love (2 Cor 1:3-7). 

Rightly perceiving the ministry of Jesus should cause us to “See the contrary disposition of Christ, and Satan and his instruments.”[9]  That roaring lion, the devil, does usually attack us when we are at our weakest moment, but Christ is the exact opposite, he “as a mother tendereth most the most diseased and weakest child, so doth Christ most mercifully incline to the weakest.”[10]  Jesus’ bent is to mend and heal the most broken heart.  He cares for the worst of sinners and the smallest of children.  Satan is the converse; he attacks these with fierce anger. 

Christ’s service to his people is not only not to break the bruised reed, but not to quench the smoking flax.  Sibbes elaborates, “That in God’s children, especially in their first conversion, there is but little measure of grace, and that little mixed with corruption, which, as smoke, is offensive.”[11]  Sibbes’ aim here is help believers see the evidences of grace in their lives through the smoke screen of sin, so that they might have assurance and comfort in their salvation. Because there is this mixture within a believer, Sibbes says,

“the people of God have so different judgments of themselves, looking sometimes at the work of grace, sometimes at the remainder of corruption, and when they look upon that, then they think they have no grace; they love Christ in his ordinances and children, yet dare not challenge so near acquaintance as to be his.”[12]  

Sibbes explains that when a Christian begins to be very introspective about their sin, then they loose hope that there is any grace at all at work in their lives.  So, in doing this, they are scared to come to this meek Savior, Jesus Christ.  They picture him as a fierce judge.  They perceive him as an unbeliever should see him.  He instructs them not to ignore their sin, but to focus more upon the small workings of God’s grace to be comforted. 

In some instructions to pastors and civil leaders, Sibbes describes the church as a hospital saying, “The church of Christ is a common hospital, wherein all are in some measure sick of some spiritual disease or other that we should all have ground of exercising mutually the spirit of wisdom and meekness.”[13]  What a comforting word this is; in the church all are sick to some degree.  No one is perfect or glorified.  Jesus being the great physician of souls welcomes the weakest and most diseased of people.  He turns none away that seek healing from him.  Also, by way of application the members of his church should also welcome in others who are sick to find the same remedy they have. 

Towards the end of this second main point, Sibbes lays out some specific instructions for downcast Christians.  The first is not to neglect the means of grace that God has prescribed in his word for our comfort.  Pertaining to this instruction, Sibbes adds, “to keep our hearts closer to God, seasoning them with heavy meditations in the morning, storing up good matter that our heart may be a good treasury, and begging of Christ his Holy Spirit to stop the cursed issue.”[14]  So, here Sibbes would encourage Christians to begin the day with heavy meditation upon the word of God.  This he calls “seasoning the heart.”  To awake to sweet thoughts of God by meditation upon his word is no better way to start the day, since we will enter into a world, which is backward from that word of Christ.  We need this encouragement from God everyday.  We need daily bread from his word to survive this spiritual wasteland. 

Sibbes would also encourage a weak Christian not to give up on duties that God has called us to.  Sin, Satan, and trails should not keep us from using our gifts within the body of Christ.  Therefore, Sibbes explains, “Some are loath to perform good duties, because they feel their hearts rebelling…Christ looketh more at the good in them that he meaneth to cherish, that the ill in them that he meaneth to abolish.[15]  It is the aim of Satan to destroy the work of Christ through the Christian.  So, if he can by guilt drive us away from ministry than he has succeeded, but if by the mercy of God we persevere, God will be glorified.  Additionally, Sibbes says, “That which is won as a spoil from our corruptions will have such a degree afterwards…Feeling and freeness is oft reserved until duty is discharged; reward followeth work.”[16]  Those who have tasted what Sibbes is describing know the truth of his words.  There is immense joy in doing that which God has created you to do, especially when we overcome our flesh, being obedient when the flesh would tempt us with guilt. 

Sibbes reserves the last few pages of this second point of emphasis for those who would reject such a merciful Savior.  Concerning this group, he warns, “Such must know that the Lamb can be angry, and they that will not come under his scepter of mercy, shall be crushed in pieces by his scepter of power.”[17]  Jesus came to seek and save, not to be served, but to serve, but those who reject his service and refuse to be washed, will be swept away under his fierce anger.  He came once to save, next he comes to destroy.  There is nothing to rouse his wrath more “than when kindness is churlishly refused.”[18]

 

 


 [1] Ibid., 45, 49.

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid., 45.   

[4] Ibid., 45.  

[5] Ibid., 45. 

[6] Ibid., 46. 

[7] Ibid., 46. 

[8] Ibid., 46.   

[9] Ibid., 46.  

[10] Ibid., 46.   

[11] Ibid., 49.   

[12] Ibid., 50.   

[13] Ibid., 57.  

[14] Ibid., 64.  

 

[15] Ibid., 65.  

 

[16] Ibid., 67.   

[17]Ibid., 73.   

[18]Ibid., 73.

international-church-planting-1Why should your church be involved in church planting and especially internationally?

The Resurgence says:

Planting Churches Fulfills the Great Commission

In Acts, God’s means of changing the world is through the planting of churches. It is no coincidence that right after God gave his apostles the Great Commission in Acts 1:8, the first thing he did was to plant a church (Acts 2:42-47). The church was to be the operational means of fulfilling the Great Commission.

When a local church was placed in a community, the gospel would be preached from house to house and in the streets, and the generosity, joy, and worship of a local body of believers caused “great fear and awe” to be on everyone, favor to be had with the community, and God to “add to the number daily those that were being saved.” Thus, everywhere the apostles went, they planted churches. They didn’t simply do preaching, miracle crusades, or community ministry. They planted churches that would do preaching, perform miracles, and serve the community. As Tim Keller said, the apostles’ strategy was very simple: go to the most strategic cities in the world and plant churches. The church is the one institution of the New Testament.

To the Ends of the Earth

What we sometimes overlook is that the scope of God’s commission, from the beginning, was to “the ends of the earth.” When God sent the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, the apostles spoke in tongues of every language, a clear sign that the gospel should go to every people of every nation on earth. This gospel was not to be centralized in one city or one culture. God would be glorified by his gospel taking root in every culture.

However in Acts 2-7, despite God’s clear command and signs to go to all the nations, the apostles do not budge from Jerusalem. So in Acts 8:1, God sent persecution on the church, and believers scattered throughout the region. The parallel language of Acts 1:8 and 8:1 is not coincidental. If the apostles weren’t going to obey God’s commission to go to the world, God would make them. In a truly bizarre move, God even beams one of the apostles, Star Trek style, into a place where he can engage a foreigner with the gospel.

On one hand it is refreshing to me that the apostles were not too dissimilar to us, preferring to stay in their own city and culture, and to build a megachurch there. On the other hand, it is a little alarming that God is so determined for his people to plant churches internationally that he will bust them up if he has to and beam a few of them overseas if they won’t obey. While the beaming sounds kind of cool, the busting up does not. So we have decided, from the beginning, to plant churches internationally.

(HT: TR)

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BRUISED REEDS AND SMOKING FLAXES

In “To The General Reader,” at the beginning of The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax, Sibbes begins to lay out his agenda for the following pages of his work.  His main concern is for those people “the chief ground of whose trouble was the want of considering the gracious nature and office of Christ.”[1]  The problem in his mind with many people is that they do not understand how gracious and merciful a Savior Jesus Christ really is.  Furthermore, he adds, “God hath laid up all grace and comfort in Christ for us, and planted a wonderful sweetness of pity and love in his heart towards us.”[2]  From the beginning of this work, Sibbes points his readers to the source of all true comfort, Jesus Christ.  Here is the place God has appointed for sinners to draw near and have their hearts strengthened with grace. 

Sibbes insightfully points out that it is Satan’s goal to skew one’s understanding of Christ.  He says of those so assaulted by the evil one, “These are abused by false presentations of Christ.”[3]  Satan’s aim is to present people with a Christ to whom they will not want to draw near, an angry-judging Christ, but Sibbes would remind them that Christ is gracious and humble. 

God also “setteth himself in the covenant of grace to triumph in Christ over the greatest enemies and evils we fear…that there are heights, and depths, and breaths of mercy in him above all the depths of our sin and misery.”[4]  Christ is not one to whom sinners cannot flee, but one who must triumph by the decree of his father in the covenant of grace.  He must not cast out those who come to him, but display mercy and raise them up on the last day.  There is no depth of sin that can keep us from him or drive his love away from us.  This is how Sibbes introduces his subject.

In the opening of The Bruised Reed, Sibbes divides the text (Matthew 11:20) into two parts: 1) the calling of Jesus and 2) the execution of his calling.  Sibbes says that Jesus came with a mission and he did everything by commission of the father.[5]  Regarding this calling Sibbes says,

“wherein we may see the sweet love of God to us, that counts the work of our salvation by Christ his greatest service; and that he will put his only beloved Son to that service.  He might well prefix Behold, to raise up our thoughts to the highest pitch of attention and admiration.  In the time of temptation, misgiving consciences look so much at the present trouble they are in, that they need be roused up to behold him in whom him in whom they find rest for their distressed souls.  In temptations it is safest to behold nothing, but Christ.”[6]        

Jesus has answered the call of his father to be a servant, to seek and save the lost.  He did so by becoming a sacrifice for sin on the cross.  This work was effectual in that it actually paid the price for the sin of those given to Christ by the Father.  Here Sibbes says we are to fix the eyes of our hearts.  It is to Christ we are to go in times of temptation to behold his love to us.  However, Sibbes’ main point in this collection of sermons is not to focus upon the calling of Christ in the covenant of grace, but rather the execution of this calling.  He comments about this execution saying, “And his coming was so modest, so it was mild, which is set down in these words: The bruised reed shall he not break.”[7]  Jesus coming and fulfillment of his father’s mission was not to rub shoulders with the elite, but to associate with the humble and poor in spirit.  From this division of Matthew 11:20, Sibbes makes three observations, which are three main points of his sermons.  They have already been listed in the introduction.[8]   

Now to begin analyzing the first of these three main points, which is “the condition of men whom he was to deal withal is, that they were bruised reeds.”[9]  Sibbes points out that God uses the illustration of bruised reeds and smoking wicks to describe the type of people Jesus works with.  Sometimes this bruising happens before conversion to humble the sinner’s heart and to bring them to Christ, but then often times afterwards as well to further point the Christian to the gospel that saved them.  In his own words, Sibbes clarifies, “for usually he empties such of themselves, and makes them nothing, before he will use them in any great service.”[10] 

Additionally, what is the purpose of this bruising for the converted?  Sibbes says that after conversion we are in need of bruising.  His reason for this is “(1) reeds may know themselves to be reeds, and not oaks; even reeds need bruising, by reason of the remainder of pride in our nature…(2) that weaker Christians may not be to much discouraged when they see stronger shaken and bruised.”[11]  This is the first of the three focuses of Sibbes; that Christians would know how low and humble the ministry of Christ does reach. 

 


[1] Sibbes, “The Bruised Reed,” 38.   

[2] Ibid., 38.  

[3] Ibid., 38.  

[4] Ibid, 38.   

[5] Ibid., 42.   

[6] Ibid., 42.   

[7] Ibid., 43.   

[8] See p.7.   

[9] Sibbes, “The Bruised Reed,” 43.   

[10] Ibid., 43.   

[11] Ibid., 44.

I thought that I had officially developed a new word “closeted.” However, because of curiosity, I went to Wikapedia41ib+K5fd6L__SS500_ only to have my hopes crushed, seeing the word had already been coined! The actual meaning of closeted in the more general sense is “any behavior that is potentially embarrassing or controversial, and thus kept hidden.”

Now, what in the name of all that is good does this have to do with this post? Well, I have been on this journey of discovery over the past 9 years of learning about the doctrines of a man called John Calvin. I did not begin this journey at college or seminary, but a few months after Jesus saved me, a friend who discipledme, introduced me to the “dreadful” Calvinism. He was pro Calvinism, that is he agreed with this teaching. However, I did not know what to make of it and set out on a journey to see what the Bible said concerning TULIP and what other people had to say about it.  

My conclusion after 9 years is that Calvin has been so controversial, because of his teaching on salvation that few souls have known his life and what the man actually did. Knowing his life, makes him more than an ivory tower theologian! He was a Christian, a Husband, a Pastor, a Church-Planter, a Missionary-Advocate, a Teacher, ect.      

My point is not to convince you of Calvinism, but to show you that Calvin has been “closeted.” His teaching on salvation, which is usually singled out from all his other doctrine, as if he invented this idea (Augustine), has created so much debate that his life has been “closeted.”  Calvin’s life has been “kept hidden” to many people.

 Before graduating, a professor at seminary told our class, “One year at a major meeting (ETS) of evangelical pastors and theologians, there was a survey given, which asked, ‘what author and book have most influenced you?’ The overwhelming majority said, ‘Calvin and Calvin’s Institutes of Christian Religion.” With this encouragement and the fact that 2009 marks the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth, I have made it a goal to read about his life and to read The Institutes of Christian Religion.

I have recently read John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine & Doxology (This book is a great read and was written by many fine pastors and scholars), which has shown me even more clearly that Calvin’s life has been kept hidden. I have talked with Christians from all kinds of different backgrounds and denominations about this topic and have heard some say pretty outrageous things about Calvin and Calvinism. I have heard them call him a heretic, which means he was worthy to be damned to hell for not preaching the gospel! I have heard people say that calvinists don’t and can’t share the gospel.

Well, if this helps to “uncloset” (A new word?) some calvinist and Calvin himself here goes. I want to mention a chapter in John Calvin (book above),  called “The Churchman of the Reformation.” In this chapter, the author Harry L. Reeder provides some great insights into Calvin’s life as a Teacer and Writer, but I want to focus on his section on Calvin as Pastor/Evangelist/Missionary. For instance, Reeder says, “The blessing of God upon the missionary endevours of Calvin and the Geneva churches from 1555 to 1562 was extraordinary-more than one hundred underground churches were planted in France by 1560.” This fact alone is stagerring! 5 years=100 churches! However, Reeder goes to unload even more numbers, saying, “By 1562, the number had increased to 2,150, producing more than three million members. Some of these churches had congregations numbering in the thousands.” Reeder quotes several pastors at these churches whose membership was 5 t0 6 thousand and 8 to 9 thousand. These numbers are humbling! They show us the depth of his labor to see that the gospel would advance and that people would be rescued from Satan and sin through Jesus Christ. Reeder doesn’t stop here. He writes about Calvin’s missionary work beyond the borders of France. Reeder says, “Geneva trained missionaries planted churches in Italy, the Netherlands, Hungary, Poland, Germany, England, Scotland, and the independent states of Rhineland. Even more astonishing was an initiative that sent missionaries to Brazil.”

I hope by writing this I have helped some of you see that Calvin wasn’t concerned about damning people with his pen in his ivory tower, but about the salvation of souls. This was his concern with his pastor training, writing, and missionary work. If you also get a chance, read Calvin, don’t just assume you know about him. I mean its his 500th birthday and all!