This week's 'thought' has to do with the attitiude we need to have, and the approach we need to take when dealing with the imperfections of others in the church.
It comes to you from one of my favorite English Puritans - Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) and is found in his well-known work, "The Bruised Reed," which should be required reading for anyone going into the ministry!
Hopefully it will go a long way to dispel commonly held notions about the Puritans, which frequently owe themselves more to the imagination of such author's as Nathaniel Hawthone ("The Scarlet Letter") than anything else (a man who interestingly never knew or met a Puritan and wrote his book over 150 years after the last of the Puritans had died)!
What Sibbes writes in this excerpt is more the norm in terms of Puritan attitudes than the exception -- another reason why its always better to read the Puritans themselves, than to read what people of later generations have written about them (which is where most American's have gotten their twisted view of the Puritans).
I have taken the liberty to update or paraphrase the language while seeking to remain true to the author's intended meaning. I trust you will find it interesting and refreshing. Enjoy.
"Men must not be too curious in prying into the weaknesses of others. We should labor to see what they have that is for eternity, to incline our heart to love them, rather than focusing on some weakness which will estrange us from them and which the Spirit of God will later consume. Some think it a virtue to endure nothing in the immature and struggling Christian, whereas the strongest and most mature Christians are the most willing to bear with the flaws of the weak.
Where the most holiness is, there one finds the most moderation or tolerance... We need not pretend to be more holy than Christ. It is not false or insincere to do as He does, so long as it is done for the purpose of building others up in the faith.
The Holy Spirit is content to dwell in smoky, offensive souls. Oh, that the Spirit would breathe into our spirits the same merciful disposition! We endure the bitterness of certain herbs simply because we experience some wholesome effect from eating them; and why should we reject men of useful parts and graces, simply because they have some harshness of disposition, which, though offensive to us, also grieves them?
Grace, while we live here on earth, is in imperfectly renewed souls, subject to different struggles, and these will incline the soul sometimes to excess in one passion and sometimes to excess in another. Bucer, after long experience, resolved to refuse none in whom he saw something of Christ. The best Christians, in this present state of imperfection, fall so far short as to need to be given allowance. We must supply, out of our love and mercy, grace in regard to that which we see lacking in others. The church of Christ is a common hospital, wherein all are in some measure sick with some spiritual disease or another, so all of us have occasion to exercise a spirit of wisdom and meekness.
So that we may do this better, let us put upon ourselves the Spirit of Christ... We should be mindful of what affection Christ would use in this case. As the great physician, He had a quick eye and healing tongue, and also a gentle hand and a tender heart. And, further, we should remember to take to ourselves the condition of the one with whom we deal. We are, or have been, or may be in that condition ourselves. Let us put ourselves in the other person's place, and also consider in what near relation a Christian stands to us. He is a brother, a fellow-member, and an heir of the same salvation. Therefore let us take upon ourselves a tender care of them in every way and especially in cherishing the peace of their consciences. Conscience is a tender and delicate thing, and must be so treated. It is like a lock: If its inner workings are faulty, it will be troublesome to open."
Though often accused of viewing the "church" as a place where those who thought they were better than others gathered, the Puritans held to no such fanciful misconception! They understood human sinfulness well, and thus, as Sibbes so aptly points out, that the church was, "a common hospital, wherein all are in some measure sick."
Who needs and seeks out a hospital? Those who realize they are sick. Or in terms of the hospital we call the church, those sick with the terminal illness of sin. And how should the "hospital staff" treat them? As Christ would, with "a gentle hand and a tender heart," offering "tender care of them in every way."
Actually, its only when we lose the Puritan mindset of the church as a hospital for sin-sick souls, that we erroneously begin to do what they (as a general rule) did not -- expect it to be a place where everyone is healthy (and holy); become shocked to find true sinners in our midst; and thus try to limit admittance to the well (or those who are good at pretending to be so)!
May it never be so!