BABBLING fame ever loves to talk of one man or another. Some there be whose glory she trumpets forth, and Whose honor she extols above the heavens. Some are her favorites, and their names are carved on marble, and heard in every land, and every clime. Fame is not an impartial judge; she has her favorites. Some men she extols, exalts, and almost deifies; others, whose virtues are far greater, and whose Characters are more deserving of commendation, she passes by unheeded, and puts the finger of silence on her lips. You will generally find that those persons beloved by fame are men made of brass or iron, and cast in a rough mold. Fame caresseth Caesar, because he ruled the earth with a rod of iron. Fame loves Luther, because he boldly and manfully defied the Pope of Rome, and with knit brow dared laugh at the thunders of the Vatican. Fame admires Knox; for he was stern, and proved himself the bravest of the brave. Generally, you will find her choosing out the men of fire and mettle, who stood before their fellow-creatures fearless of them; men who were made of courage; who were consolidated lumps of fearlessness, and never knew what timidity might be. But you know there is another class of persons equally virtuous, and equally to be esteemed — perhaps even more so — whom fame entirely forgets. You do not hear her talk of the gentle-minded Melancthon — she says but little of him — yet he did as much, perhaps, in the Reformation, as even the mighty Luther. You do not hear fame talk much of the sweet and blessed Rutherford, and of the heavenly words that distilled from his lips; or of Archbishop Leighton, of whom it was said, that he was never out of temper in his life. She loves the rough granite peaks that defy the storm-cloud: she does not care for the more humble stone in the valley, on which the weary traveler resteth; she wants something bold and prominent; something that courts popularity; something that stands out before the world. She does not care for those who retreat in shade.
Hence it is, that the blessed Jesus, our adorable Master, has escaped fame.
No one says much about Jesus, except His followers. We do not find His name written amongst the great and mighty men; though, in truth, He is the greatest, mightiest, holiest, purest, and best of men that ever lived; but because He was “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” and was emphatically the Man whose kingdom is not of this world; because He had nothing of the rough about Him, but was all love; because His words were softer than butter, His utterances more gentle: in their flow than oil; because never man spake so gently as this Man; therefore He is neglected and forgotten.
He did not come to be a conqueror with his sword, nor a Mahomet with his fiery eloquence; but He came to speak with a “still small voice,” that melteth the rocky heart; that bindeth up the broken in spirit; and that continually saith, “Come unto Me all ye that are weary and heavy laden;” “Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” Jesus Christ was all gentleness; and this is why He has not been extolled amongst men as otherwise He would have been.
The work of God’s Holy Spirit begins with bruising. In order to be saved, the fallow ground must be ploughed up; the hard heart must be broken; the rock must be split in sunder. An old divine says there is; no going to heaven without passing hard by the gates of hell — without a great deal of soul — trouble and heart-exercise. I take it then that the bruised reed is a picture of the poor sinner when first God commences his operation upon the soul; he is as a bruised reed, almost entirely broken and consumed; there is but little strength in him. The smoking flax I conceive to be a backsliding Christian; one who has been a burning and a shining light in his day, but by neglect of the means of grace, the withdrawal of God’s Spirit, and falling into sin, his light is almost gone out — not quite — it never can go out, for Christ saith, “I will not quench it;” but it becomes like a lamp when ill supplied with oil — almost useless. It is not extinguished — it smokes — it was a useful lamp once, but now it has become as smoking flax. So I think these metaphors very likely describe the contrite sinner as a bruised reed, and the backsliding Christian as smoking flax. However, I shall not choose to make such a division as that, but: I shall put both the metaphors together, and I hope we may fetch out a few thoughts from them.
What in the world is weaker than the bruised reed, or the smoking flax? A reed that groweth in the fen or marsh, let but the wild duck light upon it, and it snaps; let but the foot of man brush against it and it is bruised and broken; every wind that comes howling across the river makes it shake to and fro, and well nigh tears it up by the roots. You can conceive of nothing more frail or brittle, or whose existence depends more upon circumstances than a bruised reed. Then look at a smoking flax — what is it? It has a spark within, it is true, but it is almost smothered; an infant’s breath might blow it out; or the tears of a maiden quench it in a moment; nothing has a more precarious existence than the little spark hidden in the smoking flax. Weak things, you see, are here described. Well, Christ says of them, “The smoking flax I will not quench; the bruised reed I will not break.”
Some of God’s children, blessed be His name, are made strong to do mighty works for Him; God hath His Samsons here and there who can pull up Gaza’s gates, and carry them to the top of the hill; He hath here and there His mighty Gideons, who can go to the camp of the Midianites, and overthrow their hosts; He hath His mighty men, who can go into the pit in winter, and slay the lions; but the majority of His people are a timid, weak race. They are like the starlings that are frightened at every passer by; a little, fearful flock. If temptation comes, they fall before it; if trial comes, they are overwhelmed by it: their frail skiff is danced up and down by every wave; and when the wind comes, they are drifted along like a sea-bird on the crest of the billows; weak things, without strength, without force, without might, without power. Full often I am constrained to say, I would, but cannot sing; I would, but cannot pray; I would, but cannot believe.
You are saying; that you cannot do anything; your best resolves are weak and vain; and when you cry, “My strength renew,” you feel weaker than before. You are weak, are you? Bruised reeds and smoking flax? I am glad you can come in under the denomination of weak ones, for here is a promise that He will never break nor quench them, but will sustain and hold them up.
I have heard of a man who would pick up a pin as he walked along the street, on the principle of economy; but I never yet heard of a man who would stop to pick up bruised reeds. They are not worth having. Who would care to have a bruised reed — a piece of rush lying on the ground?
We all despise it as worthless. And smoking flax, what is the worth of that?
It is an offensive and noxious thing; but the worth of it is nothing. No one would give the snap of a linger for either the bruised reed or smoking flax.
Well, then, in our estimation there are many of us who are worthless things. There are some, who, if they could weigh themselves in the scales of the sanctuary, and put their own hearts into the balance of conscience, would appear to be good for nothing — worthless, useless. There was a time when you thought yourselves to be the very best people in the world — when if anyone had said that you had more than you deserved, you would have kicked at it, and said, “I believe I am as good as other people.”
You thought yourselves something wonderful — extremely worthy of God’s love and regard; but now you feel yourselves to be worthless.
Sometimes you imagine God can hardly know where you are, you are such a despicable creature — so worthless — not worth His consideration. You can understand how He can look upon, an animalcule in a drop of water, or upon a grain of dust in the sunbeam, or upon the insect of the summer evening; but you can hardly tell how He can think of you, you appear so worthless — a dead blank in the world, a useless thing. You say, “What good am I? I am doing nothing. As for a minister of the gospel, he is of some service: as for a deacon of the church, he is of some use; as for a Sabbath-school teacher, he is doing some good; but of what service am I?
But you might ask the same question here. What is the use of a bruised reed? Can a man lean upon it? Can a man strengthen himself therewith?
Shall it be a pillar in my house? Can you bind it up into the pipes of Pan, and make music come from a bruised reed? Ah! no; it is of no service. And of what use is smoking flax? The midnight traveler cannot be lighted by it; the student cannot read by the flame of it. It is of no use: men throw it into the fire and consume it. Ah! that is how you talk of yourselves. You are good for nothing, so are these things. But Christ will not throw you away because you are of no value. You do not know of what use you may be, and you cannot tell how Jesus Christ values you after all. There is a good woman, a mother, perhaps, she says, “Well, I do not often go out — I keep house with my children, and seem to be doing no good.” Mother, do not say so, your position is a high, lofty, responsible one; and in training up children for the Lord, you are doing as much for his name as you eloquent Apollos, who so valiantly preached the word. And you, poor man, all you can do is to toil from morning till night, and earn just enough to enable you to live day by day, you have nothing to give away, and when you go to the Sabbath-school, you can just read, you cannot teach much — well, but unto him to whom little is given of him little is required. Do you not know that there is such a thing as glorifying God by sweeping the street crossing?
If two angels were sent down to earth, one to rule an empire, and the other to sweep a street, they would have no choice in the matter, so long as God ordered them. So God, in His providence, has called you to work hard for your daily bread; do it to His glory.