Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Books that have Impacted My Christian Walk (Part 2 - When You Pass Through the Fire)

The Christian walk is neither random nor rosy; unless you consider that roses have thorns.  Like roses, the Christian walk is sometimes sweet and sometimes marked with sorrows.  In his farewell discourse recorded in the Gospel of John, Jesus reminded his disciples that their lot in this world would be no different than his own when he said, "In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).  Along with this warning and word of comfort, Jesus commanded his disciples "Be on your guard!" (Mark 13:9, 23, 33).  I am thankful for a handful of books that speak clearly and aptly to my need for comfort and encouragement during the low and trying times of life.

What Watson summarizes in seventeen pages concerning the compassion of Christ for the weak and the distressed disciples (see previous post regarding The Godly Man's Picture, Richard Sibbes drew out in brilliant detail in his The Bruised Reed some 36 years earlier. This is the second book that I would like to recommend to you. This book represents a particular aspect of discipleship, mainly the low points, the slough of despond, or even the passing through the fires. Watson and Sibbes are surely among the easiest to read of the Puritans. Others would understandably include Matthew Henry and John Bunyan. 

Sibbes differed from many of his Puritan friends in that he never departed from the Church of England. Rather, he fought for the same reforms from within. For an excellent biography of Richard Sibbes, I recommend Mark Dever's Richard Sibbes (Mercer University Press, 2000). A great source to learn more about the lives and major writings of the Puritans is Joel Beeke and Randall Peterson's Meet the Puritans (Reformation Heritage Books, 2007).  It is a treasure-trove of information.

Of Sibbes, C. H. Spurgeon wrote: "Sibbes never wastes the student’s time, he scatters pearls and diamonds with both hands." One seventeenth century author praised Sibbes with the words: "Heaven was in him, before he was in heaven."

The reading of this book supplied Richard Baxter with “a livelier apprehension of the mystery of redemption.” Baxter goes on to indicate that the reading of the book was instrumental in his conversion to faith in Jesus Christ.

D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones wrote,
I shall never cease to be grateful to one of them [the Puritans] called 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. His books The Bruised Reed and The Soul’s Conflict quietened, soothed, comforted, encouraged and healed me.

The Bruised Reed is a treatise based upon Isa. 42:1-3 and Matt. 12:18-20 which states that these words are fulfilled in Christ. Permit me to offer a few highlights:

What It Is To Be Bruised 
The bruised reed is a man that for the most part is in some misery, as those were that came to Christ for help, and by misery he is brought to see sin as the cause of it…. 
He is sensible of sin and misery, even unto bruising; and, seeing no help in himself, is carried with restless desire to have supply from another, with some hope, which a little raises him out of himself to Christ, though he dare not claim any present interest in mercy. This spark of hope being opposed by doubtings and fears rising from corruption makes him as smoking flax; so that both these together, a bruised reed and smoking flax, make up the state of a poor distressed man. 
He has no means of supply from himself or the creature, and therefore mourns, and, upon some hope of mercy from the promise and examples of those that have obtained mercy, is stirred up to hunger and thirst after it. 
A portion that spoke to me in particular (and still challenges me) is chapter 5, The Spirit of Mercy Should Move Us, which addresses preachers and fellow Christians within the Church. Sibbes writes:
Preachers need to take heed therefore how they deal with young believers. Let them be careful not to pitch matters too high, making things necessary evidences of grace which agree not to the experience of many a good Christian, and laying salvation and damnation upon things that are not fit to bear so great a weight. In this way men are needlessly cast down and may not soon be raised up again by themselves or others. The ambassadors of so gentle a Saviour should not be overbearing, setting up themselves in the hearts of people where Christ alone should sit as in his own Temple. (26) 
This is applicable to all…but directed to spiritual leaders. 
And likewise those are failing that, by overmuch austerity, drive back troubled souls from having comfort by them, for, as a result of this, many smother their temptations, and burn inwardly, because they have none into whose bosom they may vent their grief and ease their souls. 
We must neither bind where God looses, nor loose where God binds, neither open where God shuts, nor shut where God opens. (28) 
Particularly to private Christians, Sibbes calls us to note that “we are debtors to the weak in many things.” 

  1. Let us be watchful in the use of our liberty, and labour to be inoffensive in our behaviour, that our example compel them not. 
  2. Let men take heed of taking up Satan’s office, in misrepresenting the good actions of others, as he did Job’s case…, or slandering their persons, judging of them according to the wickedness that is in their own hearts. 
  3. Some will unchurch and unbrother in a passion. But ill humours do not alter true relations; though the child in a fit should disclaim the mother, yet the mother will not disclaim the child. … Where most holiness is, there is most moderation, where it may be without prejudice to God and the good of others. … The Holy Ghost is content to dwell in smoky, offensive souls. Oh, that that Spirit would breathe into our spirits the same merciful disposition!

The church of Christ is a common hospital, wherein all are in some measure sick of some spiritual disease of other, so all have occasion to exercise the spirit of wisdom and meekness. (34) 
Let us take to ourselves the condition of him with whom we deal. We are, or have been, or may be in that condition ourselves. Let us make the case our own, and also consider in what near relation a Christian stands to us, even as a brother, a fellow-member, heir of the same salvation. And therefore let us take upon ourselves a tender care of them in every way; and especially in cherishing the peace of their consciences. (34) 
Supplemental Reading 
Finally, permit me to suggest a few other titles that are similarly helpful along the lines of comfort and help for the week and lowly.  First, a recently published book that should be read by every pastor is Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb.  Please see my review posted here.  Second, another book along similar lines as the first but from a victims perspective is No Place to Cry by Dorris VanStone.  I found a reference to this book one Saturday morning, found it available to be purchased and read via my Kindle, purchased it and read it before the day was finished.  I rarely read books in one sitting but this one captivated my attention, broke my heart, and then displayed God's compassionate grace in a breathtaking way. Praise God, we have such a gentle Savior! Finally, a book that was introduced to me years ago that, no doubt, was influenced by writings of Richard Sibbes (see Lloyd-Jones's comment above) is Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  This, too, is gospel-filled help for Christians who find themselves "in the doldrums" or, at the least, lacking Christian joy.

Read the introductory post to this series: Thoughts on Christian Reading
Part 1 - Discipleship
Part 3 - Learning to Pray