This is the third post concerning itself with the classic work by puritan Richard Sibbes called The Bruised Reed. This is part of the online program called Reading the Classics with Challies.
In chapter 5 of The Bruised Reed, Sibbes addresses how the church should deal with the weak brother. For Sibbes, there is no set formula for how the weaker brother should be dealt with. Much depends on their heart, whether they are mild or wild.
Regardless of where along that spectrum the weaker brother is to be found, Sibbes makes it clear that the church must deal with them. "The church suffers much from weak ones, therefore we may assert our liberty to deal with them, though mildly, yet oftentimes directly." Not addressing them, helping them, or directing them, is not an acceptable option.
Sibbes indicates that 'weaker vessels' need to be handled gently saying, "Weak Christians are like glasses which are hurt with the least violent usage, but if gently handled will continue a long time. This honor of gentle use we are to give to the weaker vessels (1 Pet. 3:7), by which we shall both preserve them and likewise make them useful to the church and ourselves."
Gentleness, however, does not indicate frailty or impotence; "Some must be `pulled out of the fire' (Jude 23) with violence, and they will bless God for us in the day of their visitation. We see that our Saviour multiplies woe upon woe when he has to deal with hard hearted hypocrites (Matt. 23:13), for hypocrites need stronger conviction than gross sinners, because their will is bad, and therefore usually their conversion is violent." Some will require a more direct and forceful correction, or, as Sibbes puts it, "A hard knot must have an answerable wedge".
Sibbes is suggesting that there is not set method to reproving struggling brothers. Wisdom must be used; "The wounds of secure sinners will not be healed with sweet words" and yet we must show "mildness towards those that are weak and are sensible of it."
In other words, it takes wisdom, with love and graciousness, in order to help the weaker brothers so that we might "preserve them and likewise make them useful to the church and ourselves."
"A hard knot must have an answerable wedge."