|Richard Sibbes (1577-1635), The Bruised Reed|
We must acknowledge that in the covenant of grace, God requires the truth of grace, but not in any particular measure; a spark of fire is as much fire as the flame. Therefore we must look to grace in the spark as well as in the flame. All do not have the same strength of grace, though they have the same precious faith (2Pet. 1:1) by which they lay hold of, and put on, the perfect righteousness of Christ. A weak hand may receive a rich jewel. A few grapes will show that the plant is a vine, and not a thorn bush. It is one thing to be deficient in grace, and another thing to lack grace altogether. God knows we have nothing of ourselves; therefore in the covenant of grace, he requires no more than he gives, but gives what he requires, and accepts what he gives: “If she is not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtle doves” (Lev. 12:8). What is the gospel itself but a merciful moderation in which Christ’s obedience is esteemed ours, and our sins are laid upon him? In this, God turns from being a judge and becomes our Father, pardoning our sins and accepting our obedience, even though feeble and blemished. We are now brought to heaven under the covenant of grace by way of love and mercy.
It will prove a special help to distinctly know the difference between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, between Moses and Christ. Moses, without any mercy, breaks all bruised reeds, and quenches all smoking flax. For the law requires personal, perpetual, and perfect obedience from the heart, under threat of a most terrible curse; but it gives no strength. It is a severe task master, like Pharaoh requiring the whole tale of bricks and yet giving no straw. Christ comes with blessing after blessing, even upon those whom Moses cursed, and with healing balm for those wounds which Moses made.
The same duties are required in both covenants, such as to love the Lord with all our hearts and with all our souls (Deut. 6:5). In the covenant of works, this must be fulfilled absolutely; but under the covenant of grace, it must have an evangelical mitigation. A sincere endeavor that is proportionate to the grace we have received is accepted (and so it must be understood of Josiah and others when it is said that they did what was right in the sight of the Lord – 2Kg 22:2).
The law is sweetened by the gospel, and it becomes delightful to the inner man (Rom. 7:22). Under this gracious covenant, sincerity is perfection. This is the death in the pot of the Romish religion, that they confound the two covenants; it deadens the comfort of discouraged ones that they cannot distinguish them. And thus they allow themselves to be held under bondage when Christ has set them free, and to stay in the prison when Christ has opened the doors before them.
We must remember that grace sometimes is so little as to be indiscernible to us. The Spirit sometimes has secret operations in us which we do not know for the present, but Christ knows. Sometimes, in bitterness of temptation, when the spirit struggles with a sense of God’s anger, we are apt to think God is an enemy. A troubled soul is like troubled water: we can see nothing in it, and as long as it is not cleansed, it will cast up mire and dirt. It is full of objections against itself. Yet we may still discern something of the hidden life and of these smothered sparks. Even on a gloomy day, there is enough light to know it is day and not night. In the same way, there is something in a Christian who is under a cloud by which he may be discerned as a true believer, and not a hypocrite. There is not just darkness in the state of grace, but some beam of light by which the kingdom of darkness does not wholly prevail.