Rev. Christopher Love (1618-1651)
What is grace all about? Are there Christians who have a greater measure of grace than other? Do we have times where we are weak in grace?
Weak Measures of Grace in Christians
by Christopher Love
“Because in him there is found some good thing toward the Lord God of Israel, in the house of Jeroboam.” 1 Kings 14:13
Having dispatched the observations which may be gathered from the circumstances of the text, I come to the main doctrine I intend to handle: God not only exactly takes notice of, but also tenderly cherishes and graciously rewards, the smallest beginnings and weakest measures of grace which He works in the hearts of His own people.
I might produce a cloud of testimonies to confirm this point. Our Savior Christ said that He will not “break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax” (Matthew 12:20). Observe, the bruised reed shall not be broken; not the light and flaming torch, but the smoking flax shall not be quenched. Smoking flax, where there is but little fire, and much smoke of infirmity, yet Christ will not quench it. He will cherish it. Here less is spoken than is intended. He will be so far from quenching that He will cherish the smoking flax, as in another place God says that He “will not despise a broken heart” (Psalm 51:17). Rather, He will highly esteem it.
Solomon speaks of the fig tree putting forth her green figs, and the vine with her tender grapes giving a good smell. That is, the little measure and weak beginnings of grace in young converts please the Lord Jesus
Christ, and are as a sweet smell in His nostrils. Again, Christ said, “Let us see if the vine flourish, whether the tender grapes appear, and the pomegranate bud forth” (Song of Solomon 7:12). The green buds are regarded by Christ as well as the ripe and grown fruit.
In opening the doctrine, I shall endeavor to show these two things: Some of God people have but weak measures and small beginnings of grace. But second, though there is but a little grace, yet God will regard and reward it.
First, some of God’s people have but a little grace~ they have but the beginnings of grace wrought in their souls. In the handling of this there are three things: The truth of the proposition may be made good from the Scriptures. I will lay down notes of discovery to such as have but small measures of grace wrought in them.
And then I will show why God in His wisdom will not suffer His people to be all of an equal strength and stature in grace.
QUESTION. How does it appear that some of God’s people are but weak in grace?
ANSWER 1. By the different names and titles that are given unto Christians in the Holy Scriptures, arguing they are of different measure and growth in grace. Some are called strong men and others weak. Some are called babes in Christ and others grown men. Some are called trees of righteousness, plants of renown, that grow like cedars in Lebanon, and others are but a bruised reed. Some are kids in Christ’s flock and lambs. Others are as the he-goats, that go stately before the flock. Some have grace flaming forth in much zeal and vivacity; they have the spirit of burning; and others are but “smoking flax,” Christians who have much of the smoke of infirmity and but little of the flame of grace.
ANSWER 2. By the analogy that is between spiritual and natural differences of age, strength, and stature in man. The holy Scripture exactly sets down all the different degrees of grace under the similitude of the different ages of men. There is a forming of Christ in the heart, and so a spiritual conception. There are some who are but newborn babes in Christ.
There are some who are advanced from infancy to be young men. There are some who are grown men in Christ, old men. And all this but sets forth the different degrees of grace that are in Christians, some having less and some more.
In the church of Christ, which is His orchard, there are trees of all sorts, spikenard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes (see Song of Solomon 4:14). [Daniel] Brightman, commenting on this Scripture, notes that hereby is meant the several sorts of Christians. Spikenard and saffron are young, weak professors; these are tender plants that scarcely lift up the head above the ground. Calamus and cinnamon, which are shrubs of two cubits high, denote Christians of a middle size; and the other trees denote Christians of a more eminent measure, and growth in grace.
QUESTION. How may a man know himself that he is but of a little measure, and small beginning in grace?
ANSWER 1. To be much in dependence on duties argues you are but weak in grace. A young Christian is
like a young carpenter: he makes many chips, and has many blows, but does not make such smooth work as an experienced carpenter, who will make fewer chips, and at fewer blows better work. So young children are much in the use of duty, but they are apt to rely upon duty. They think duties make them saints, and they are apt to make saviors of their duties and be frequent in their duties. They see not their failings in their duties, and so are apt to rest on their duties. As it is a sign of an apostate professor to call off duty, so it is also a note of a young and weak professor to rest too much upon his duties.
ANSWER 2. A weak Christian does not have clear insight into the close and spiritual failings which cleave to his performances. He sees his gifts, and takes notice of his affections, but he does not see the vanity of his mind, the unsoundness of his ends, his carnal dependence upon his duty, self-love, and vainglory, but in the course of time, a grown Christian takes notice of these things in himself. An experienced Christian will take as much notice of his failing in duty as of his ability in it; and though he discerns an enlargement of gifts and graces in himself at times, yet he still discerns much spiritual pride, popular applause, ostentation of gifts, and too much forwardness in setting out his parts, which a weak Christian seldom perceives.
ANSWER 3. To have a scrupulous conscience about matters of indifference argues a weak Christian; for so the Apostle calls them “weak in the faith,” such as bound conscience when the Scripture left it free. One believer thought he might eat anything, and another doubted the lawfulness of eating sundry things. Now those who doubted, the Apostle called weak; and the weak conscience is apt to be defiled. Not to know our liberty, and to abuse our liberty, is an argument we have but little grace. Young converts call more things sins than ever God did; they perplex and entangle themselves merely in indifferent things. It is true, there ought to be a conscientious tenderness in all Christians; tenderness of conscience is our duty, but a tormenting, entangling scrupulosity is our infirmity. And yet, as a weak Christian is better than no Christian, a weak faith is better than a seared conscience.
ANSWER 4. To be so intently set on the exercises of religion, as to neglect our particular callings is a sign we are but weak in grace. It was a good saying of that famous man of God, Dr. [Richard] Sibbes: “I like that Christian well that will hear much and live much, that will pray much and work much.” In young converts the affections are strong and stirring, and they think they can never hear enough. Many times they neglect the duties of their callings, which argues their weakness and infirmity. An experienced, grown Christian is regular in his general and particular callings, so that the one shall not jostle and hinder the others.
ANSWER 5. To have men’s persons in admiration argues weakness in grace. Such were the Corinthians. The Apostle called them children, babes; though they had the life of Christians, yet they had but little of the strength of Christians. They were carnal; they favored the flesh more than the Spirit. Ignorance is often a cause of admiration. Weak Christians who have but little knowledge are apt to be so taken with men’s persons that one cries, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” and so they fall into sin, condemned of combining the faith of Christ with respect of persons,
so as to cry up one minister and cry down others. To idolize some, and to despise others, argues that you are in weak faith. A solid Christian loves all good ministers and can condemn none.
ANSWER 6. To be easily seduced and led away into error argues weakness in grace. The Apostle Paul calls those children who are “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14). Weakness of head argues that grace is not very strong in your heart. The way not to fall from our steadfastness is to grow in grace, for the Apostle Peter joins these two duties together. Having given caution in 2 Peter 3:17 “not to fall from steadfastness,” in verse 18 he gives counsel “to grow in grace.” Strong Christians are steadfast, whereas weak ones are inconstant; and therefore, as for those professors who have been whirled about with divers opinions, it is an evidence they have but weak grace, if any.
ANSWER 7. Such as are only acquainted with the common principles of religion, without further search into the depths and mysteries of religion, are weak in grace. There are some professors who may be fitly called babes in Christ because they need milk, being unskillful in the word of righteousness, that is, in the more solid doctrines of the gospel concerning Christ who is our righteousness. Thus the disciples and apostles of Christ knew but little of our redemption at first, and were ignorant concerning the passion of Christ of the resurrection, as also of the affection of Christ till the Holy Ghost came and taught them these things, and brought those things to remembrance that Christ had taught them.
ANSWER 8. Weak Christians are strong in affections and not in judgment; they have usually more heat than light. Young Christians are like young horses: they have much mettle, but are not so fit for a journey because they are not so thoroughly trained. There are many Christians who have much zeal and affection, but are not solid in their judgment. This argues much weakness in grace.
ANSWER 9. A weak Christian is one who cannot bear reproof. Sharp weather discovers whether you are of a weak or sound body. So a sharp reproof will discover whether you are of a weak spiritual temper and constitution. When Nathan came to David, he could bear the reproof though the prophet told him to his face that he was the man who had sinned. Asa, though a good man, could not endure the faithful reproof of a prophet, but was wroth with the seer and put him in the prison house.
ANSWER 10. A weak believer is one who can trust God for his soul, but not for his body. So Jesus Christ argued of those who had little faith, who expected heaven and happiness from God their Father, and trusted Him with their souls and eternal concerns, and yet dared not trust Him for food and raiment. There are those who dare trust God for heaven, and yet do not trust Him for earth, but these are of little faith. When the disciples wanted bread, they began to reason among themselves how they should be supplied. “O ye of little faith,” said Christ, “why do you thus reason? Can you trust Me for the bread of eternal life, and dare you not trust Me for the bread of this life?”
Be not then discouraged, you who discern in yourselves but small measures of grace; look on your wants and imperfections so as to grow in grace, and not to be content with any measure, but look not on the small beginnings in grace as discouragement to you. When you see a great oak in a field, you may say this great tree was once but a small acorn. Those Christians who now are but small sprigs may hereafter be tall cedars. Say to your soul, “Though I am but weak, yet I shall be strong.” Grace, where it is true, will be growing; the smoking flax may be a burning and shining lamp in God s candlestick. And therefore, as you may not be content with the greatest measure of grace, so neither be discouraged with the least measure of grace. A grain of mustard seed may grow a great tree. Content not yourselves with small measures of grace. A little of the world will not content you. In the womb a foot contents us, three feet in the cradle, and seven feet in the grave. But between the cradle and the grave, a whole world will not content us; and shall a little grace content us? For wealth and desire of it, you are as the horse leech that cries, “Give, give,” and as the grave that never says, “It is enough,” and for grace, will you be content with a little?