This entry is part of 21 in the series article 27

" A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not 
quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory." MATTHEW xii. 

MATTHEW is telling us how his Master loved to 
work in quietness, and how, when His works of 
mercy were the most abundant and the crowd grew 
greatest, Christ withdrew Himself, and charged 
those whom He had healed that they should not 
make Him known. 

And Matthew goes on to declare that this was 
done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by 
Esaias the prophet; and then he goes back and 
quotes the words in which 750 years before, Isaiah 
had written the description of the servant of the 
Lord who was to come. In that description are 
these words: "A bruised reed shall he not break, 
and the smoking flax shall he not quench. He shall 
bring forth judgment unto truth." 

We cannot doubt that Matthew had often heard 
his Master quote these words, and take them to 
Himself. As Christ grew up to maturity, and 
recognized the purpose of His life, and found how 
exceptional He was among men, we can well under- 
stand what a strength and delight it must have been 
for Him to look back and see that, here and there, 
words had been spoken and lives had been lived, 
which had anticipated and prepared for Him. The 
world was not all unready for His coming. Men in 
other times had dreamed of such a life as He had at 
last come to live; and though they had not suc- 
ceeded in realizing their dream, and, so far as they 
had attempted it, the world had always hated it and 
cast it out ; yet still their shining presences in his- 
tory made a true line of light which might now lead 
the eyes of men to Him, and cause Him to be com- 
prehensible to them. There were souls which were 
His own, to which He could come. Some of them 
would perhaps receive Him. He was not astray in 
the world. He was in fulfilment of its loftiest pur- 
poses and divinest hopes. Its highest standards, 
which had been partially realized by its best men, 
bore witness to Him that it was His Father's world. 
Therefore in it, though it ignored Him and mis- 
understood Him, and even crucified Him, He could 
still count Himself at home. This is the pathetic 
side of Christ's quotations of prophecies, with re- 
gard to Himself, from the Old Testament prophets. 
This is the feeling which we can discover beating 
underneath this, His quotation from Isaiah. 

Let us study that word of Isaiah and of Christ. 
It is a declaration of the way in which the true ser- 
vant of God will always do his best and most crea- 
tive work. Through the tumult of the old Hebrew 
history, through the uproar of the temple and the 
days of Herod, through each there is seen walking 
some one figure which bears the true impress of 
creative energy. In each of these times it is from 
this figure that the power is to proceed which is to 
draw forth and keep all of the good that the past 
has in it, and which is to make all things new. And 
the great characteristic of each of those figures is its 
quietness. Of each of them it is said, "He shall 
not strive, nor cry, neither shall his voice be heard 
in the streets." How that gives us a new key with 
which to unlock the puzzles of History! The crea- 
tive powers are quiet. It is the destructive forces 
which make the noise. The tornado, the hailstorm, 
and the thunderbolt shake the earth and make it 
tremble. The dew, the shower, and the sunshine 
come noiselessly. 

The destructive forces, indeed, cannot be spared. 
The earth needs them again and again to clear the 
way for the work of creation which is to follow. No 
book resounds more than some parts of the Bible do 
with the fury of the forces of destruction doing their 
terrible work. From the flashing of the fiery swords 
over the closed gate of Eden, to the plunge of the 
beast and the false prophet as they are cast together 
into the lake of brimstone, in the Apocalypse, the 
voice of destruction, of revolution, of restraint, is 
ever breaking forth from time to time. But he 
reads the Bible very feebly and superficially who 
does not know that it is not these passages which 
make the Bible to really be the Bible, the Book of 
God. It is in the record of creative force ; it is in 
the story of the soundless Genesis of life ; it is in 
the peaceful harmony of harps that the real power 
and music of the Book abide. 

Oh, that we could realize that this is true through 
all the history of man ! that we could see how it is 
almost always the destructive forces which make the 
noise and win the wonder and applause of men, and 
realize that however the destructive forces may have 
their true place, and the noisy outcry may be some- 
times necessary, the real strength of life is in creative 
effort which moves as quietly among the tasks of 
men as Jesus Christ walked along the lanes of 

You who are called to fight for truth it may be 
your duty to take error by the throat and drown its 
war-cries with loud denunciation. If that is your 
duty, do it ! Do it unsparingly and bravely. Do 
it so that your destruction of the error may be as 
final and complete as possible. But be thoroughly 
glad when it is done, and you may go on to better 
work. Do not let yourself think that noisy de- 
nunciation, however necessary it may be, is the best 
work that a man can do. Honor and do not despise 
the men who are quietly creative. Value it as the 
best part of your life if, anywhere in the midst of 
the tumult of destruction, you are able to put your 
finger under any load and lift it, or fasten with your 
encouragement any stone of real purposeful achieve- 
ment in its place. 

But I must come more directly to the point of my 
sermon. In the text, Jesus Christ is speaking of 
the treatment which He and all the true servants of 
God will give to weakness and limitation. It is 
surely something which we should like to know. 
Here is our world all full of failure. Here are our 
lives which, all of them, more or less, are failures. 
We know a little, but we do not know enough. 
We can do something, but our strength speedily 
breaks down. There is a little character and a little 
faith, but they are very little; and to think for a 
moment that they are more than little only proves 
what feeble standards of faith and character we have. 
So it is to-day ; and so it has been always. 

Now, suppose that it becomes clearly known to us 
that into this world there is coming an absolutely 
perfect Being, a Being positively perfect, a Being 
who not merely never does what is wrong, but who 
is vividly, eagerly, thoroughly alive in every good 
activity. Will not the question spring up in our 
hearts: "How will this Perfect One, who sets no 
limits to His own duty and enthusiasm, deal with 
the poor half-hearted folk into whose streets and 
houses He has come? " 

We know the answer to that question which our 
experience of men suggests. We know how often 
men who have reached proficiency in any good 
attainment grow contemptuous about the feeble, 
fitful efforts after the same attainment which less 
devoted or less able men are making. The man 
whose whole life is given up to one great cause, to 
the freeing of the slave or the rescue of the drunk- 
ard, loses all patience with his neighbor who gives 
to either of these pressing needs only a little share 
of the interest which he divides among many causes. 
The devoted student of a special science thinks le$s 
than nothing of the amateur trifling with his favorite 
study, which is all that the man who is busily occu- 
pied with pressing duties has time for. 

Most noteworthy of all, the passionate searcher 
after character, the man who is struggling to resist 
temptation and to do his duty, he is not able always 
to see value in these poor, temporary outbursts of 
ambition to be holy which occasionally break forth 
out of the lives of men, who in general are given up 
to selfishness. It must be hard for him. He is a 
man to whom life has come to mean simply one 
long, intense struggle after goodness. He sleeps 
and wakes in the presence of his enemies, which are 
his passions and temptations. His armor is never 
off. His every thought is trying to devise some 
new means for his warfare. And then he looks 
about him and sees you and me feebly praising vir- 
tue, provided it is not too excessively and fanatic- 
ally virtuous, feebly tying a riband in our cap and 
marching in processions in honor of goodness, when 
the road is safe and when the day is bright. No 
wonder that he is moved with something like con- 
tempt ! It is the feeling of the regular army for the 
holiday militia. No wonder that he is almost ready 
to say, "If you are not ready for more serious work 
than that, put off your armor altogether. Do not 
pretend to be struggling for righteousness, if you 
have no more energy to put into the fight than 
that. If the reed is so bruised, better break it alto- 
gether. If the lamp with its smoking flaxen wick is 
so nearly gone out, better let it die, aye, better 
even quench and extinguish it." 

This is all natural enough natural, that is, in 
the lower range of probability, as an expression of 
the baser and weaker side of men. 

But now here comes Jesus Christ, and at Him we 
look with anxious curiosity, for in Him we know 
that we shall see this problem, like so many prob- 
lems, lighted up with new illumination. He comes, 
a burning and a shining light; and all around Him 
are these flickering and smoking wicks. He comes 
with the true divine fibre of humanity unharmed in 
Him ; and all around him are these twisted, crushed, 
broken lives, bruised from without and with subtle, 
lurking poison corrupting them within. Look at 
Him, as He shines there in the pages of the Gospels ! 
What do you see? Is there a symptom of con- 
tempt? Is there not, on the contrary, the tenderest 
and most reverent care for everything which there 
is of good, or of effort to be good, in every man or 
woman, no matter how little it may be? 

I think of Jesus Christ as He sat by the woman 
of Samaria beside the well; I think of Him as He 
stretched out His hand to raise the faithless, sinking 
Peter; I think of Him as He turned His weary head 
upon the cross to catch the mere whisper of faith 
that fluttered on the last breath of the dying thief; 
I let these, and a multitude of other remembrances 
of Him, open to me the whole spirit of His life. I 
bid that spirit of His life stand out in general from 
the whole body of the graphic record, and how plain 
it all is! There could not be a grain of true gold in 
any life, that Jesus Christ did not see it and love it. 
There could not be the lightest tremble of desire for 
good in any soul of all the multitude before Him, 
that did not touch His heart and make it tremble 
too. Not one indication is there anywhere in His 
life of that which I have just described, the despis- 
ing, by Him who stands upon the summit of the 
pyramid, of the poor crawling aspirants who are just 
starting at the base. 

This is surely one of the most noteworthy things 
in the whole history of Christ. When we look for 
its explanation, and try to see what characteristic of 
His nature lay at the root of this habit of His action, 
I think we find what we are seeking in that intense 
appreciation of the real qualities of things which 
belonged supremely to Him, as it belongs, in its 
degree, to all true and fine characters. The com- 
mon nature, the vulgar man, cares not so much for 
qualities as for quantities. His eye is fixed on bulk, 
not essence. He thinks more of a great villain than 
of a little saint. And no sainthood is a real thing 
to him, unless it is clothed in light, and brilliantly 
shines upon the world. He can perceive no fra- 
grance, unless the air is heavy with it. He can hear 
no zephyr till it swells into a whirlwind. The fact 
that an act has the true quality of greatness, though 
it has so little of it that the act itself is not a great 
act, this fact does not interest the vulgar man. 
The fact that a man has the true quality of unselfish- 
ness or devotion, though it is so broken and distorted 
that it can make no great and brilliant sacrifices, 
seems to him insignificant. 

Do you not recognize what I mean when I say 
that, with Christ and with men who are like Christ, 
all this is different? With them the perception of 
the quality of things is instant and unerring; and 
when good quality is found in anything it wins from 
them precisely the same kind of honor, whatever 
may be its degree. The same true quality of fire is 
in the smouldering lamp-wick that is in the blazing 
sun. The true quality of woody fibre is in the poor 
twig, crushed and trampled out of shape under 
men's feet in the muddy roadway, as well as in the 
splendid oak that fronts the sunlight on the hill! 
Whatever value belongs essentially to fire and fibre, 
the wise and fine man gives to the qualities of those 
things always, in their least as well as in their great- 
est exhibitions. They are precious in themselves, 
and the hope of the growth which is proper to fire 
and to fibre is never lost so long as those qualities 
are truly there. 

How many are the instances in which this distinc- 
tion between the reverence for pure quality, or 
essence, and the reverence for quantity, or bulk, 
applies. Take our pride in our country. What a 
difference there is between the patriot who simply 
boats of her that she is "big," and the other patriot 
whose eye is fastened with anxiety on the things 
which, great or little, make her an object of interest 
and value, a true, fresh contribution to the multi- 
tude of national life which fills the world. Let her 
be little, let her be inglorious, if only she is pure, 
and gives her people freedom, and helps them in 
their freedom to live useful, happy, upright lives. 
What a difference there is between the traveller 
who, in foreign lands, boasts of his country's 
population, and the other traveller who, wherever he 
goes, praises and maintains his country's principles ! 
The country which is proud of its bulk is sure to be 
contemptuous and, if the temptation comes, to be 
a bully towards the nations that are small. The 
country that believes and rejoices in her principles 
will be quick with sympathy and help for any least 
and most degraded nations in whose heart the faint- 
est fire of those principles is burning. 

Then think in the same way of the Church. It 
was recently said to me that the most important 
question for the Church in our time is the financial 
question. Alas for us, if the Church came to think 
like that ! The financial question is a question of 
bulk. It has no relation to character. It inquires, 
"How great can we make the Church ? not, What 
can we make the Church?" You might make the 
Church as rich as you please, and make her narrower 
and baser all the time. The questions of faith, of 
worship, of spiritual life, of missions, are questions 
of essential quality. No Church is healthy which 
is not ready to see herself made indefinitely small 
and poor, if only she can keep and feel growing 
within her the love of God and love of man which 
are the essence of the Church's life. 

Or, think of your own faith. The question must 
be, my dear friends, first of all, not "What do we 
believe?" but, "How do we believe?" It is not 
the length of our creed, but the way in which we 
hold it, long or short, that marks our real worth as 
believers. What we have most of all to dread is 
not the limitation, but the degradation of belief. I 
know that He who desires for us that we should 
hold all truth, who means for us that ultimately 
every one of us shall hold all truth, would far rather, 
as He looks into our hearts, see one fragment of 
truth spiritually, unselfishly, lovingly held there, 
than a great mass of truth, however true, feebly 
grasped, and valued, in any degree, for the advan- 
tage which it brings to us the holders. 

Bulk has, indeed, its value. A great deal of a 
good thing is more precious than a little of the same 
good thing. The oak-tree on the hillside is worth 
more than the twig lying bruised and trampled in 
the muddy road. The sun gives more light than the 
smoking flax. I do not forget that the same Bible 
which has the Book of Acts has also the Book of 
the Revelation. The same New Testament which 
has the story of the little company gathered trem- 
bling behind closed doors in the upper chamber at 
Jerusalem, has also the gorgeous picture of the 
multitude which no man can number, of all nations 
and kindreds and people and tongues, standing be- 
fore the throne and before the Lamb. The Book 
of Acts has the indignant Church casting out Simon 
Magus, and crying to him, "Thy money perish with 
thee! " insisting on purity even when purity could 
only be secured at the sacrifice of numbers and of 
wealth. But the Book of the Revelation has the 
vision of the open-gated City, where there shall be 
no night, and into which shall be brought the glory 
and honor of the nations, the Church gathering into 
herself all the richness and greatness of the whole 

It is possible, in other words, to take what I have 
been saying and misread it into an affected love of 
littleness for its own sake, a praise of constraint and 
limitation even when they are not necessary as the 
price of purity. So the narrow sectarian not merely 
is willing to see his sect small, if so only it can be 
orthodox. He has often been ready to think it 
orthodox just in proportion as it was small, and to 
grudge it the growth which, if it really held the 
truth of God, it ought to crave. In a healthily con- 
stituted world like ours, in a world over which God 
rules, the Good always ought to be reaching out to 
become the Large. Only, our truth is this: that 
before the Good becomes the Large, while it still 
remains the Small, it ought to honor itself, and it 
ought to receive honor from others, for its essential 
quality of goodness. 

Do not the young men need to understand this, 
they whose standards of life are every day being 
formed? It is no easy thing to keep at once the 
deep love of reality which insists that what we have 
be true, however small it be ; and at the same time 
to keep the aspiration and ambition which desire to 
hold as richly as possible every good possession of a 
human soul. It is easy to fall into the way of say- 
ing: "I believe very little, but, at least, what I do 
believe I believe really ; and I do not pretend to be- 
lieve what I do not believe, and I do not care to be- 
lieve very much" ; or to say about action, "I do not 
undertake to do much for fellow-man ; but, at any 
rate, in what I do undertake I am no hypocrite, and 
I am satisfied with that." 

Do you not know such talk, and is there not 
something very shallow in it? To believe a great 
deal, and yet to believe it all as really as you now 
believe your little ; to undertake everything in your 
power to help your fellow-man, and yet to be no 
hypocrite in any of it, that alone is the worthy 
ambition of a manly man. The deliberate sacrifice 
of bulk to essence, to genuineness, of quantity to 
quality, is a temporary act, done for a temporary 
purpose. The time must come when the best shall 
be universal. "The earth is the Lord s"; "He is 
the King of the whole earth." If, for the moment, 
any part of the earth must be reckoned to be not 
His but His enemy s, it must be only in order that 
on what is really and already His, His power may 
gather itself to go forth and conquer and possess the 
whole. Great is the power of the young man who, 
at the beginning of and throughout an earnest life, 
can be possessed with the double power of profound 
thoroughness and illimitable hope. 

The identity of essence in things which are very 
different from one another in size and shape and 
look, is one of the most interesting and important 
principles alike in the physical and in the moral 
world. It is a principle the application of which is 
illuminating modern science. A simplicity which 
gives new unguessed majesty to nature is seen and 
felt everywhere issuing from beneath the complexity 
which makes her superficial aspect. In the world 
of morals the same principle clears up many obscu- 
rities, and scatters many sophistries. It takes two 
lives: one of them arrogant, brutal, overbearing; 
the other of them gentle, compliant, unobtrusive; 
and, unveiling the power and meaning which lie at 
the heart of each, it says, "The real essence of the 
two is the same. They both mean selfishness." It 
takes the feeble sin of the puppet of society, cruel 
and heartless in the little world in which he lives, 
and makes it evident that it is the same kind of sin 
with the stupendous inhumanity of a Roman Em- 
peror or an Inquisitor of Spain. Thus it makes that 
which is insignificant in degree seem horrible in 
kind. It brings out the color in what we call a 
small trangression, by the lurid light which stares 
out from the more flagrant sin. 

The truth which we have been studying from the 
words of Christ simply presents this principle upon 
the other side. Then it becomes very rich and 
gracious. It declares the hope that is in the least 
goodness just as the other application of the prin- 
ciple declared the danger that is in the least wicked 
ness. Are not these two things the things we need 
to know? The great goodnesses and the great 
wickednesses it is easy to discern. It must be easy, 
we think, for the martyrs to know that they are 
meeting God's will, and to get the inspiration of 
that knowledge. It must be easy for the murderers 
to know that they are horribly wicked, and to be 
haunted by the horror of their wickedness. But for 
the schoolboy to know that his struggle not to tell a 
lie is a steadfastness of the same sort as the martyr's 
unflinching constancy before the flame ; and for the 
quarrelsome slanderer to know that his petulance 
belongs in the same category with the crime of mur- 
der those are the hard things. Modern mechanics 
largely employs itself in turning to use and effect 
little streams of force which have heretofore been 
usually wasted. It is the waste of the hope which 
is in the heart of small endeavors to be good, and 
of the fear which ought to come out of the least 
flagrant developments of evil, that is always robbing 
our moral life of strength. 

Christ sets Himself to remedy that waste. He 
would fain make the least endeavor for a better life 
a ground of hope, and a starting point of higher 
struggle. Look at Christ and Simon Peter! See 
them some day, as they walk along the road talk- 
ing together. We have grown used to the sight 
and have forgotten how strange it is, but it is very 
strange! How far apart these beings are! One is 
the very embodiment of the eternal righteousness, 
pure as the spotless heavens, deep and strong as the 
vast profundity of space. The other is a poor, 
stumbling Jew from Bethsaida. One is a smoking 
lamp that hardly keeps itself alive ; the other is the 
Sun of Righteousness. One is a bruised reed, all 
torn and broken; the other is the Tree of Life 
whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. 

Yet look ! See the clear eyes of Jesus gazing into 
the thick and muddy soul of Peter. He finds Him- 
self there. He finds a child of the God whose Son 
He is, in that poor fragmentary character. He finds, 
in this poor Jew's frantic and fitful struggles, a bit 
of the same holiness which fills His own life with 
peace. What then? Do you not see what grows 
up in the soul of each as they thus walk together 
and as Christ thus discerns Peter, and as Peter knows 
that Christ has discerned him? Peter is filled with 
hope ; Christ is filled with pity. There is no scorn 
in the heart of Christ, and in the heart of Peter there 
is no despair. 

Remember David in the 28th Psalm: "Unto thee 
will I cry, my God, my strength ! " He knows how 
weak the cry is ! It seems not possible that God can 
hear it ! He is a bruised reed, a smoking flax ! We 
can see him look up to God with most pathetic ap- 
peal: " Think no scorn of me; lest, if thou make as 
though thou hearest not, I become like them that 
go down into the pit." It is the prayer of the 
smoking flax not to be quenched, of the bruised 
reed not to be broken. Can there be any answer 
but one from God to such a prayer as that the 
answer of encouragement and hope? Can there be 
any surprise when, by and by, breaks forth from the 
Psalmist's soul the triumphant verse: "Blessed be 
the Lord, because he hath heard the voice of my 
supplications. The Lord is my strength and my 

Two exhortations come, I think, from all our 

The first bids us be very tolerant and hopeful 
about all the limitation and deadness which we 
lament in our fellow-men. You are giving your 
life's blood for a great cause, and your friend gives 
it nothing but a casual approval, perhaps now and 
then a casual dollar or a moment's help. You are 
overwhelmed with pity or amazement to see the 
little strength which men put out against their sins, 
who nevertheless are really fighting them. Be 
patient. Make much of the good effort which 
there is, small though it be. Never dare to say, "It 
might as well not be at all, it is so little." Be sure 
that there is no proof so strong that you yourself 
are growing rich in righteousness as is to be found 
in the growing reverence and value which you feel 
for the slightest beginnings of righteousness in other 

Then apply all this to God, and the other exhor- 
tation comes. Because He is the supreme Right- 
eousness, therefore, just for that reason, the least 
beginning of righteousness in you is supremely pre- 
cious in His sight. Make it, then, precious in your 
own. Treasure the smallest faith. Guard the least 
flame of love. Take your poor, battered, broken 
resolution, smooth it out, cleanse and confirm it 
with new consecration, set it up in your safest and 
most sacred chamber. Do all this not desperately, 
but hopefully; for God is strong, eternity is long, 
and that which lives to-day with any spark or fibre 
of true life, has in it the promise and potency of all 
the holiness of heaven.
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