The Rarest of Gentleness
Matthew 12:20
A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment to victory.

The verse is a quotation from Isaiah 42:1-3. It was not among the least wonders of Christ's earthly life that while his untiring step paced the flinty path of duty often so anguished, and always so hard. with reality, that step made the plants of a date earlier by far reappear and blossom, and yield their sweet fragrance at his feet. The Old Testament may be said to be continually flowering and fruiting in the New. St. Matthew here tells us where Christ now was, and how it came to pass that he was where he was - what he was doing, and why he did it. He had turned aside from the place where he had been because they conspired for his life. Two sabbath days in succession they were offended in him, who never had gone one single step to offend them. They courted each day the decisive defeat which they sustained. However angry they were with him, it was the worse because they were angry with themselves. And because Jesus knew that his hour was "net yet come," he would not meet their enraged human nature. He rather turned aside and avoided those whom then to have encountered would indeed have been in no wise to bring fear of destruction to himself, but certain destruction to them. In avoiding them, his enemies, until his appointed time should be come, we must ever view Christ, not as betraying fear or wish to get out of harm's way, but as illustrating the grand truth that he came not to destroy life, but to save it. Out of the synagogue, then, and out of Capernaum did Jesus come this sabbath day. His followers, whether of the closer or the larger circle, he kept, in the full career of all his mighty works, unwontedly quiet. At one and the same time he hushed their pains and their praises, their loud complaints or louder thanks. All are bade to observe awhile what seems even an unnatural silence. It is not yet quite the hour that the Shepherd should lay down his life and give it a ransom for the flock. And now, says the divinely inspired St. Matthew, this healing, salvation, and silence, hard to maintain, are the flowering of old prophecy, "Behold my Servant, whom I have chosen; my Beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased He shall not strive, nor cry, neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench." This incident was recorded in the life of our Saviour to bring very forcibly before us some phases of his character and work. It shows manifestly very differently from the character of men, and from the general intense craving of human nature for praise and for early manifestation, specially where the law that obtains is to prefer the praise of men to that of God. It rebukes passion as distinguished from patience; boastingness as compared with humility; and ostentation as compared with retiringness. But it does something much more. It presents Christ as the Embodiment of a series of very remarkable contrasts, or of what would generally be held to be such. God's chosen Servant, his ineffable delight, the residence of the fulness of the Spirit, is nevertheless meekness, silence, and tenderness itself. The crowd of sufferers gather round one Deliverer; the crowd of sinners round one Saviour; the crowd of grateful worshippers round the one Object of their worship, "God manifest in the flesh." But this one Deliverer, this only Saviour, this loving and true God incarnate, appears not here dressed in authority. His look, his garb, his commands, are unlike those of one who would clothe himself with authority, other than that which his actual deeds and sleeping strength might shadow forth. The text fixes one of those characteristics, gentleness. He is so gentle that he will not break a bruised reed, nor quench smoking flax. What others would tread upon or cast into the fire, he will stoop and pick up and save; what others would crush, and quench its dying smoke, as the remnant of a taper, he will not quench; but while there is life will give light, while there is light will sustain it. The bruised stem for the by-passer he will stay to hind up, reed only though it be; and will rekindle, not quench, life's spent taper. Uncommonly and sublimely simple, even for Scripture, as is the double figure of Isaiah, here quoted by St. Matthew, and in so unexpected a connection, it is intended to speak

(1) an unknown tenderness of heart;

(2) an unknown gentleness of touch; and

(3) an unknown patience of forbearance - all unknown at least till he of whom they are now spoken made them known.

This verse, then, one of the golden links of connection between the Old and the New Testament, what the prophet of old foretold of him, what the evangelist echoes and re-echoes, speaks of Christ and claims for him -

I. AN UNKNOWN TENDERNESS OF HEART. Even the perfect simplicity and the fresh charming naturalness of a child's affection would scarcely dictate the carefulness not to break a bruised reed, or the regretful watching of the last curling rings of some taper's departing life. Yet the figure here used is no exaggeration, for it tells and helps us to get some approach to a correcter notion of Christ's tender love to the bruised reed, called one's self; and to the smoking flax, which is another name for the inner life and inner light which God put within, but which we have gone so near to put out. While the Divine One was here there was not a bruised limb nor a damaged sense which he did not repair and renew; not an inner spring, or power, or flickering flame of life to which he did not give its own vigour and native energy in place of its own degenerate smouldering and smoke. Reason's flickering rushlight and the soul's just dying lamp of life did he rekindle, and fed them both from the sources of the eternal light. "Infinite pity touched the heart of God's almighty Son." It considered not difficulty nor expenditure, nor the shame and anguish of the cross; but one thing only - that object on which it had set itself. This is the tenderness of the immortal love of the strong Son of God - man's matchless Friend and man's enemy's overmastering Foe; and thus is it written of him, "He will not break a bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax." Infinite power achieves the immortal victory over Satan, and the conquest of sin and death; but infinite tenderness achieves the counterpart victory, to take for ever captive our loving soul.

II. AN UNKNOWN GENTLENESS OF TOUCH. Given the former, it may seem that all is given, and that all the rest must follow as matter of course. But it is not exactly so; it is not necessarily so. Often, indeed, the will surpasses the deed, and often indeed, with confessed kindness and tenderness of heart, there may fail to be found a happy or a tender way of expressing it. Innumerable, in fact, are the instances of those who would be very surprised and hurt if they were plainly told that there was no one yet suspected them of having the one very thing they never suspected themselves of not having - a truly kind heart; but whose deeds, or want of deeds, or way of showing forth their deeds, have long, loudly, irresistibly, told it to all others, though not to themselves. If a bruised reed is to be handled at all, it must be handled very carefully; and if the flickering, flaxen taper is not to be utterly extinguished, it must, whether lifted or only approached, be very cautiously approached, and be lifted very gently. A breath may put it out. But oh! how undeniably gentle has the touch of Jesus been! and how soft have his breathings been! Breathings of hope, breathings of forgiveness, breathings of peace, breathings of holiness, breathings of heaven itself - till what was going out revives, what was waning waxes, what was so fitful burns steady and serener far than vestal fire, and the earthly light has brightened into the heavenly!

III. AN UNKNOWN FORBEARANCE OF PATIENCE. For the unknown tenderness of heart and the unknown gentleness of touch which belong to Christ to gain their object and win their souls, what forbearance in the forbearingness of his patience has been needed, and times innumerable has been shown by him! Among men this is one of the very rarest of virtues and graces. What is owed to Christ, that he has shown it, and ever is showing it to such perfection. And how we all need to remember that, if tried too long, it brings us to the verge of that "judgment," of which our following verse speaks, "Until he shall bring forth judgment in his victory." Judgment begun must be the offer of mercy foreclosed for those who still so long refused it. And for these the far different words of Isaiah's prophecy also must become true, "Then shall the strong man be as tow, and his work as a spark; and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them. - B.

Parallel Verses
KJV: A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory.

WEB: He won't break a bruised reed. He won't quench a smoking flax, until he leads justice to victory.

The Gentleness of Christ
Top of Page
Top of Page