Sermon The Compassion of Christ
Isaiah 42:3 A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench.
This is a prophecy concerning Christ, in whom as the Lord's servant, he expresses the highest satisfaction (1). He looked upon him with ineffable delight; and whether as suffering on earth, or enthroned in heaven, he took the greatest complacency in him. Accordingly, this prophecy is applied to Christ in the NT Matt 12:20.
1. The words in the text may refer to the church in general, or the state of religion in the world. A light or lamp and a rod or sceptre, are frequently used in Scripture to denote royal dignity and authority: to both of which there may be an allusion in the text. In this view, a bruised reed or sceptre, a smoking flax or lamp, ready to become extinct, would represent the low and depressed state of the church; yet in this state she is the object of Christ's tender regard. However low and languishing, he will raise her out of it. He will not break this bruised reed, nor quench this smoaking flax ; but will send forth judgment unto victory. Those glorious things shall be accomplished which have been spoken of Zion, the city of the living God.
2. The text may refer to the case of individual believers; to weak Christians, to those who are bowed down under a load of guilt, temptation and sorrow ; to those who are discouraged by a sense of their own unworthiness, and though desirous above all things to come and venture their souls upon Christ, yet are doubting of acceptance with him. It may also apply to such as are under decays of grace, having lost their fervour, left their first love, and by their negligence and backslidings brought upon themselves the visible tokens of divine displeasure. But as Christ will tenderly cherish the smallest beginnings of grace, so he will carefully preserve the smallest remains of it, and fan the dying flame. Weak faith shall be supported, wavering hopes confirmed, until the feeble become as David, and David as the angel of the Lord.
It is in this latter sense that I shall proceed to consider the passage. - The reed is weak and frail in itself; but becomes more so when torn and bruised by the stormy wind and tempest. The humble broken-hearted christian is weak and tender at the best; but becomes more so when oppressed with guilt, meeting with storms of temptation, doubtful of Christ's love to him, and of his love to Christ. In such a case, if exercised also with a variety of adverse providences in this world, he is ready to give up all hope of a better. - The smoking flax shows that there is some fire and light, though ready to expire. The light and love of the christian are sometimes faint and glimmering: without renewed supplies they could not long exist, and a little violence would totally extinguish the feeble flame. But Jesus will neither break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoaking flax.
1. Let us enquire why the persons spoken of may be compared to the bruised reed and smoking flax
1 Both these objects have a mean appearance and are deemed of little use and low and humble christians are much the same. Especially, if in a declining state, they bring but little honour to their profession, and often afford matter for reproach. Through their manifold complaints, religious duties would seem to be a drudgery, and the God whom they serve a hard master. They sink in the esteem of others, and not less so in their own esteem. The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter Lam 4:2.
2 The bruised reed has some strength, and the smoking flax some fire, though both in a small degree, so the Christian, though he has but a little strength, like the church at Philadelphia, yet he is still alive, and the light of Israel is not quenched. True grace is abiding, notwithstanding its weakness. Though the weeds of corruption overshadow the plants of grace, yet the)' shall neither destroy their being, nor change their nature. God can see a beauty in the christian who sees nothing but deformity in himself. The same complaints may prove the reality of grace, and yet the weakness of it. The heart may be right with God, notwithstanding our unhappiness. Isaiah exclaimed, Woe is me! Paul cried out, Oh zrretched man that lam! And yet the one was the greatest prophet under the old testament, and the other the greatest apostle under the new. There might be many imperfections in Abijah, the son of Jeroboam; yet in him was found some good thing towards the Lord God of Israel.
3. Many are ready to break the bruised reed and quench the smoaking flax. Great also are the oppositions and discouragements which weak believers meet with, and yet they are still preserved. Satan bends his greatest force against those who are least able to resist him. When he desired to have Peter, that he might sift him as wheat, it was at a time when grace was upon the decline, as appears from our Lord's intercession for him : I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not. Wicked men often insult, as they did David, saying, Where iinow thy God! Good men often censure, instead of bearing with the infirmities of the weak, and add to the weight of that burden which is already too heavy to be borne. This was Job's case, and has since been verified in the experience of many of the saints in every age.
4. The bruised reed needs to be supported, and the smoaking flax to be enkindled : so does the christian need to be strengthened, and quickened afresh by divine grace. It is said of some, that out of weakness they were made strong; but it is not said that they made themselves so. When christians are made sensible of their declensions, they always apply to God to be renewed. Their language is, Forsake not the work of thine own hands! And when recovered, they thankfully acknowledge, He resloreth my soul, and leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Our own experience convinces us that our help is not in our selves ; and every creature says, it is not in me. When Jacob is small, he can only arise by the mighty God of Jacob. If we at first believe, it is owing to divine influence: and if we overcome the remains of unbelief, it is the same. He who is the author must also be the finisher of faith, and of every other grace. If we grow up as calves of the stall, it must be under the quickening beams of the sun of righteousness. From Christ's fulness it is that we receive grace for grace. And his grace is sufficient for us : his strength shall be made perfect in weakness.
2. Notice what is implied in Christ's not breaking the bruised reed, nor quenching the smoking flax
Much more is implied in these words than is expressed. The Lord will not put the weak believer to those trials which are disproportioned to his strength. He will not suffer hina to be tempted above what he is able to 'bear; but will with the temptation also make a way for his escape. There may be seasons when the christian thinks the Lord is coming forth to destroy him ; but it is not so. Many have had to acknowledge as well as David, I said in my haste, I am cut off" from before thine eyes: nevertheless thou heardtst the voice of my supplications when I cried unto thee. When he wrestled with Jacob as an enemy, he secretly supplied him as a friend ; and though he sent him away lame, yet it was with a blessing. The language of Job's unbelief was, He hath set me as a mark for his arrows. The language of his faith was, When he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. - All this is true: the followiug things are also implied.
1 That as Christ will not break the bruised reed, so neither will he suffer others to do it. He will avert every blow designed to injure it, and enfeeble every arm that is lifted up against it. As he will not quench the smoaking flax himself, so all the efforts of others for that purpose shall be rendered fruitless. If Satan pour on water, he will pour on oil. If he raise the blustering wind of temptation, Christ will say, Peace! be still; and the storm shall become a calm.
2. Instead of breaking the bruised reed, he will bind it up, and strengthen it; and will cherish the smoaking flax till it break forth into a flame. The good Shepherd will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and bind up that which was broken, and strengthen that which was sick: yea, he will gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. Having himself been tempted, he is able also to succour those who are tempted ; for he is touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He will ease them of their burdens, cure them of their diseases, recover them from their wanderings, dissipate their fears, and at length enable them to triumph over all their enemies. His watchful eye shall guide them, his bountiful hand supply them, and his powerful arm support ihem. He will consult both their safety and comfort, and bring them to that world where danger and sorrow shall be known no more. Their sun shall no more go down, neither shall their moon withdraw itself: for the Lord shall be their everlasting light, and the days of their mourning shall be ended.
Such is the compassion of Jesus, that humble and fearful souls may claim him as their friend : their infirmities shall not alienate his love. He will preserve weak grace, and make it victorious. It is his gift, and he will not reclaim it; his work, and he will not forsake it; it bears his image, and he will not suffer it to be defaced. He who notices the smallest sins to punish them, will also notice the weakest efforts of grace to encourage and reward them. This the experience of his people in all ages abundantly testify.
We shall now proceed to an improvement of the subject.
1. Let weak christians be encouraged from hence to commit themselves to Christ, and place an entire confidence in his faithfulness and compassion. Let them discountenance the suggestions of an unbelieving heart, and strengthen themselves in the Lord their God. Let them plead his promises, upon which he has caused them to hope : let them no longer hang down their heads like a bulrush, but lift them up with holy joy. Why should the bruised reed shrink from him whose purpose it is not to break it down, but raise it up. He shall deliver the needy when he critth ; the poor also, and him that hath no helper.
2. Let us imitate this part of our Lord's conduct, and carry it towards others as he carries it towards us. As we live upon charity, we should also exercise it. We should not put on the fierceness of a lion to others, when Christ shews the meekness of a lamb to us. Let us therefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way, but let it rather be healed— Comfort the feeble minded, support the weak, and be patient to all men. Let ministers especially imitate the example of their divine Master ; encourage the weak, instruct the ignorant, and bear with the froward. It becomes them to be gentle among their people, as a nurse cherisheth her children ; remembering that God is against those shepherds who strengthen not the diseased, nor heal the sick, nor bind up the broken, but treat them with rigour ; and be will require his flock at their hands. (Ezek.xxxiv. 10.) Bucer, after long experience, resolved to despise none in whom there was any thing of Christ. Where there is most holiness, there is always the most tenderness and moderation, humility and condescension.
3. It becomes us to beware that we do not abuse the mercy of our Saviour, by supposing that we have weak grace when indeed we have none ; for it is real, and not counterfeit piety, to which he shews his tender regard. Nor yet by contenting ourselves with weak grace, though it be true. This would be offensive to the Giver, and not answer the end for which it is given. Christ came that his people might have life, and have it more abundantly. God's command in the new, as well as in the old creation, is, " Encrease and multiply." True religion is, so to forget the things which are behind, as to be reaching forth unto those which are before; and to press towards the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Phil. hi. 14,
Lastly : If weak christians shall not be neglected, much less the strong. If Christ will not quench the smoking flax, much less that which burns with a brighter flame. If he will not break the bruised reed, much less the strong cedars in his Lebanon.
How soft the words my Saviour speaks ;
How kind the promises he makes!
A bruised reed he never breaks,
Nor will he quench the smoking flax.
The humble poor he won't despise,
Nor on the contrite sinner frown ;
His ear is open to their cries,
He quickly sends salvation down.
With humble souls he bears a part
In all the sorrows they endure:
Tender and gracious is his heart,
His promise is for ever sure.
Tho' press'd with fears on every side
They know not how the strife may end ;
Yet he will soon the cause decide
And judgment unto victory send."