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GEORGE HOWARD WILKINSON, D.D.
" A bruised reed shall He not break^ and the smoking flax shall He not quench" ISA. xlii. 3. I DO not intend, brethren, to-night, to speak to you of the context in which these words are found. It is full of subjects for thought, but to-night we must be content with the simple words of the text. We know that these words apply to our Blessed LORD, for they are quoted as referring to Him in one of the Gospels. (S. Matt. xii. 1 5-20.) Let us try to gather up the thoughts contained in these two images. They are slightly different, but one thought underlies them both. The one refers chiefly to GOD, the other to man. The idea of the first is taken from one of the shepherds pipes one of those little musical pipes crushed and trampled under foot. You can imagine how useless it is, in its crushed state, filled with mud. An impatient musician would cast it aside, and sub stitute another ; but the sweet Psalmist of Israel the Good Shepherd takes it up. Tenderly He deals with it till He has again evoked the sweet harmonies of heaven. The other picture is taken from the lamp in the Temple, burning feebly and dimly, giving forth black smoke rather than light. Here, again, the impatient minister of the Temple would cast aside that useless
THE SMOKJ^G FL^X 47 lamp. But the great High Priest has gentler and tenderer thoughts. With a sharp needle, it may be, He trims the wick, nurses the flickering flame, till, at last, the whole Temple is irradiated with light, to the glory of the High Priest Who kindled it. Any one familiar with the Bible will see the appli cation of these images. 1. The "bruised reed." A soul just, beginning the conscious Christian life, sore beset with difficulties, unable as yet to send out the harmony of praise and thanksgiving, unable to send up one real prayer. 2. The "smoking flax." Here we see the poor timid soul just beginning to wish to be of use, to let its light shine before men ; sorry for a wasted life, longing to be of use, longing to be able to tell of the love of CHRIST,
but timid ; not able to speak so that others, seeing its good works and hearing its good words, may glorify the FATHER in heaven. It is a picture of the timid, unsatis factory Christian unsatisfactory to GOD, unsatisfactory to man. Men, as a rule clergymen, as a rule would cast aside such a one, and interest themselves in some more promising case. But CHRIST has a personal, indi vidual care for every such soul. He cares for you, poor mother of a family ; you who are finding it so hard to pray, you who are so weighed down with anxieties. He cares for you, poor man, toiling day by day for your bread. He cares for you, young girl, tied down as you are by vanity, finding it so hard to cut the cords which have so long bound you to the world. For each of you JESUS CHRIST has a personal, individual love. The thought which the HOLY GHOST wants to fix upon our minds is this : the tender love of our LORD ; the way in which He keeps back His power ; leading us on so tenderly ; allowing the tares to stay among the wheat, lest one ear of wheat should be plucked up with
48 THE MESSAQE OF PEACE them ; His forbearance with those who are in many respects so unsatisfactory ! But oh, brethren, if I were to give you illustrations of this love the work would be endless. His dealings with the Apostles, and His patience with their slowness to understand, their unbelief and hardness of heart this is a subject more appropriate to Saints Days. 1. The woman of Samaria. What an instance! She was a hard, argumentative, uninteresting character ! Yet He humbles Himself to ask a favour of her ; He puts Himself at her feet. " Give Me to drink." Then He gently takes that " bruised reed," which had been tossed aside by man. He deals with it as He alone is able to deal with it, until He has brought out music at last ; until, the lamp replenished, its light begins to shine before men, and others hear her witness for her Saviour. 2. Again, that woman in Simon s house. A woman so degraded that even JESUS CHRIST was remarked upon for letting her come near ! Yet how gently did He deal with her until the words could be spoken, " Go in peace ! " 3. But more striking still is the story of Zacchaeus ! It is difficult for us now to understand the position of those publicans. The Romans had conquered the country, and instead of collecting the taxes themselves they appointed tax-gatherers from among the Jews, and allowed them to make what profit they could out of
it. You can imagine what a temptation to extortion ! All that they could extort from the people above the legal tax went into their own pockets, so they tried to drag out the last farthing. But more than this. The Israelites, proud as ever, hated what reminded them of a foreign tyranny. We can imagine what it would be among ourselves ; how
THE SMOKJNG FLAX 49 we should hate the sight of the men who were thus hired to make money out of us. So the publicans were hated, alike for their injustice and because of national pride. Despised by all, they lost their own self-respect ; they became what they were supposed to be, and lived without love to GOD or to man. If they went even to the Temple the Pharisees gathered up their long robes, and thanked GOD they were not like them ! If they went into the house with JESUS He was called " the Friend of publicans and sinners." But JESUS saw, behind one of those hard faces, a very broken heart ; and He saw an opportunity of mending that " bruised reed." He was near Jerusalem, followed by multitudes ; and in the presence of thousands who hated those publicans He said, " Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down ; for to-day 1 must abide at thy house." Our LORD was then at the height of His popularity, and He used His popularity, as great and good men will ever use it, for GOD. He humbled Himself to receive a favour from Zacchaeus. He trusted Zacchaeus ; He believed in the power of truth over Zacchaeus ; He dealt with him as a man who wished to be better. And Zacchaeus " made haste, and came down, and received Him joyfully " ; and said, " Behold, LORD, the half of my goods I give to the poor." Whatever interpretation you put upon those words, whether, for the first time, he told any human being that he wished to be better : for when people feel crushed they will not say that they wish to be better ; whether you look on the words of Zacchaeus as a testimony to his confidence and love towards our LORD, " LORD, nobody knew it, but I have been giving half of my goods to the poor," etc. ; or whether you say the heart of Zacchaeus melted at the Presence of the LORD, and he confessed, " LORD, I have done
50 THE MSSSAQE OF PGACE wrong, I have been a cheat, but from this day I will make a new start ; and I will pay back, fourfold, whatever I have gained unjustly" ; whichever way you
take it, that man heard the words spoken by JESUS, " This day is salvation come to this house." These are instances which must suffice for to-day, of " bruised reeds " which had been tossed aside by man, those of whom man had said, "You will never make anything good out of them." Yet the LORD JESUS CHRIST brought out the harmony of GOD from those "bruised reeds," and kindled the "smoking flax" to the full light of the eternal Kingdom. Thank GOD ! for these are words which some of you specially need. Lift up your hearts, that the HOLY SPIRIT may help me to put it so as it will go to the hearts of those who need it. i. Does it not strike you that there is something awful about it, this thought of the power of GOD restrained, kept back ? There are souls that will at last reject all GOD S love, will go on resisting till they die ; yet CHRIST keeps back His power ! He does not manifest His power as a King " He shall not strive nor cry, neither shall any man hear His voice in the streets." He allows His message to be despised and rejected ! He comes to us, with power kept back ! "Where is the promise of His coming?" men say. They think that GOD is weak, and GOD seems to say, " I am content that you should think Me weak, rather than that I should break the * bruised reed, or quench the * smoking flax. " I see a man whose heart GOD has stirred rejecting these better impulses ; yet GOD is patient, calm. When I read in my Bible that GOD is Almighty, and yet I see that His power is not manifested in this dispensation ; that He is patient, long-suffering to us-ward, lest the "smoking flax" should
THS SMOKJ^G FLAX 51 be quenched, it gives me an awful idea of the Majesty of GOD. I see men and women keeping CHRIST standing at the door. Their child dies ; the blinds are drawn down, and still the Saviour stands outside the long-closed door ! And then some dear friend is taken, some one who was as a brother, and again the same voice speaks ; again I see the Saviour standing there, and still the door is closed ! And when we think Who it is GOD, Who could destroy that man with a word, yet "despised and rejected" going forth, as it were, so humbly, with that long funeral procession, to whisper if only a word to one of the mourners ; then, in awe, we say, " O GOD, have mercy on that man. He is fighting against GOD. He is presuming on GOD S self-restrained power ! " 2. But the special thought is this, His tender love. Some of you are preparing for Confirmation, or begin ning to pray, or beginning to speak to your clergyman.
You are trying to pray, and you find it difficult ; you find that you cannot pray ; you feel like infants crying in the night. All of us who now realize His love have felt this ; all of us have been tempted to say, " I am too careless ; it is too late for me ; there is no hope for me ; I should be a hypocrite if I tried to return to CHRIST." My brother, you are the very man whom JESUS CHRIST is thinking of, whom He is caring for most, in this congregation : the one sheep for whose sake He leaves the ninety and nine in the wilderness. What else is the meaning of the " bruised reed," of the " smoking flax " but what you are feeling ? Oh, my brother, there is such a blessing waiting for you to-night for you that are saying in your heart, "I do want to be better ; I do want to be on CHRIST S side in the great battle." The LORD JESUS CHRIST has such love for you ! There is such mercy for you !
52 THE MESSAQE OF PEACE Rejoice, even while all seems dark still. It is but the same darkness through which all of us have had to pass ; only the devil will try to dishearten you in the darkness. Your lot is the brightest among us all to night. You are " not far from the Kingdom of GOD." Take the text and think it over to-night when you go home. Pray over it to-night. Thank GOD that it is true, that it is written in the Old Testament and in the New Testament : " Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away " ; " The Word of the LORD endureth for ever." And this is the Word which GOD hath spoken of His SON : " A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench."
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