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18 The Bruised Reed And The Smoking Flax

“A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench; he shall bring forth judgment unto truth. He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth; and the isles shall wait for his law.” (Isa. 42:3-4).

The bruised reed and the smoking flax mentioned in the above passage is a spiritual condition into which some people have entered. It appears to me that they are such who are not saved, but whom the Holy Spirit has disturbed to the extent that they no longer have peace in their sin. More than anything else they resemble a bruised reed and a smoking flax.

There are two ways in which this finds expression in life.

In the first place it is sin itself which looms so large before us when the Spirit begins to work in our heart. The knowledge of sin grows side by side with a desire for God. If we refuse to acknowledge sin, our desire for God will soon die. These work as cause and effect.

Secondly, the sin which the convicted sinner sees working in his heart, or the workings of sin which we all can observe round about us, is not the most appalling fact about this destructive force. That which is worse is what sin has done to us. Our text declares that sin has broken us completely and has extinguished the spark of life in us.

There are many in our day, even among those who are teachers of others, who will hear nothing of this. Their teachings are something like this: Sin has not destroyed us so completely that we are dead in trespasses and sins. It has merely entered our lives and works in us. The problem for us is to remove sin from our lives again; to the extent that we are successful in this we become better and more like God. The good which is in us will gain the upper hand more and more as sin is removed. To insure success in this spiritual house-cleaning we must really be serious and do our best; we must seek God in prayer, meditate on His goodness, comfort ourselves with His grace, and earnestly strive to live as Jesus did. Then we shall become better and better, and shall some day be perfect.

Man is thus not supposed to be a bruised reed or a smoking flax; he has merely been kidnapped by an enemy and is held in prison. Just as soon as the enemy is evicted man will be as free and good as ever. For this reason he has no need for a Savior who died for his sins; neither does he need to be born again. All that is necessary is that he be delivered from his predicament.

Thus Christianity is proclaimed today from many a pulpit and lectern.

This heresy comes to us as an angel of light. There is much talk of Jesus, of God’s grace, and of the seriousness of life. That this preaching is silent about Christ’s atoning death on the cross is noticed only by a few. Neither do many notice that in this preaching man is never condemned to death and eternal perdition if he is not born again. Those who proclaim this gospel are careful not to make such grating statements; they do not believe it is true that man is a smoking ruin and a broken reed.

This fine deceptive doctrine draws large numbers of people into eternal death. Unbelievably many imagine that they are going to get into the kingdom of God by a little effort and a bit of religious whitewashing.

Many of you who read these lines have undoubtedly been deceived by this falsehood. Would to God that you might become aware of it before it is too late. It is Satan’s desperate attack against your one precious life — that life which must be born of God if it is to live with God.
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All who seriously want to become Christians will soon encounter this cold power of death; it is the same power which has wrought havoc with the human race. I find it extremely difficult to picture the deep depravity of our race. My thoughts are not great enough and my words are not strong enough to open the grave in which we are lying. But let me ask some questions of you who seek unsuccessfully to become Christian.

My first question is: Are you a sinner? With your whole heart you will surely say that you are. You may even be able to describe how sin has crushed you in so many a way.

My second question is: Do you not believe that Jesus is your Savior? Do you believe He has atoned for your sin? Again you answer in the affirmative.

You are saved then, are you not? Precisely this it is that you are not certain of. You believe and know that you are a sinner. You believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world; you even believe that He is your Savior. But still you are not saved!

How can this be? What is wrong? Everything is wrong you say. Your case is absolutely hopeless; you are one of those who cannot be saved. You are up against a solid wall that you cannot break down; there is a burden on your heart which you cannot remove.

You are so weary of your sin, and yet you love it. Even your cries to God seem to be no more than the twitter of a bird. They are a smoking flax and a broken reed.

It is on this point that you are trapped; it is here that a large number of our young people are stalled, not least of those who study and have done some thinking. Many remain here for life.

When asked if they want to become Christians, many people reply that they have tried it and have failed. They mustered all the power they could command, and still they failed. So they gave up and turned their backs upon God; Christianity, they conclude, is “beyond human power.”

It is indeed a good thing that people learn to know themselves so well that they realize the problem is too great for them. This is to discover a truth that God has long ago declared of us. But it is sad to think that so many people are so near to the kingdom, and yet fail to find Jesus.

Would to God that you might be led to see that it is precisely such as you who have the right to believe that they are saved — for Jesus’ sake!

There are also Christians who see themselves as the bruised reed and the smoking flax. In their own opinion they do not amount to anything as Christians; they are as weak and lifeless as broken straws and smoldering ruins. Many more than we realize are burdened by such dismal thoughts as these. They feel their state to be so pitiable that they do not even dare to speak of it.

There are many critics who hold that such Christians are cold, carnal, and unspiritual legalists. If there is any spiritual life in them at all it is lived at a bare minimum level, according to the critics.

Perhaps this judgment is correct, though I do not believe that it is. At any rate, let us agree that it is right to be honest. If you ever feel that you are poor, wretched and mean, do not ever try to conceal it either from God or from yourself. Be just as you are. Do not become a slave to the opinions of men. Appear before God with the girdle of truth about your loins. In the long run that will be best for all of us. To pretend that one is what he is not is hypocrisy; and a Christian must never be a hypocrite.

“For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” (Isa. 57: 15).

“But to this man I will look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.” (Isa. 66:2).

“The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart, and saveth
such as be of a contrite spirit.” (Ps. 34: 18).

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite
heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” (Ps. 51:17).

These are passages that we do well to mark and take to heart. It seems reasonable to us that God should inhabit the high and holy places; after all, He is holy. But that He also lives in the heart of him who is of a contrite spirit seems unreasonable to us. Just imagine — He will not only sympathize with us, but He will live with us.

You may search the Scriptures from beginning to end, but you will never find that God has spoken a harsh word in judgment of those who are meek and lowly and have no high opinion of themselves. A constant stream of comfort flows from the Word of God to such people.

God is like a mother whose heart goes out particularly to the child that is sickly and weak. Softly and tenderly He says to such: I will not break — I will not quench. Out from His gracious heart will come justice upon the earth, for He is the defender of the helpless.

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Ho! All ye that struggle and strive unsuccessfully in your own power: Come to Him who desires to dwell in the heart of the humble. He can give you new life. As Mephibosheth was permitted to eat at the king’s table even though he was lame, so you may sit at meat in the Kingdom of God — as a bruised reed and a smoking flax.

He who gave Himself for us — so that He became as a bruised reed and a smoking flax — He arose again in power for our sake. What matters it then that we never amount to much. Our sufficiency is in Jesus Christ.

In the Kingdom of God this is the rule: When I am weak, then I am strong.
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