The Bruised Reed and Smoldering Wick

What are we to understand by the bruised reed and smoldering wick in
Matthew 12:20? “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.”

This language is no doubt figurative. What is it that these two expressions mean?

The simplest explanation seems to be, that the Holy Spirit is here describing persons whose grace is at present weak, whose repentance is feeble, and whose faith is small. Towards such persons the Lord Jesus Christ will be very tender and compassionate.
Weak as the bruised reed is, it shall not be broken;
small as the spark of fire may be within the smoldering wick,
it shall not be quenched.
– J.C. Ryle (1816-1900)

When You are Misunderstood or Maligned as a Leader

I was thinking this morning about some of my friends in church leadership who have been critiqued recently for not leading well and strongly enough. Others have been accused of being too autocratic and not collegial enough in their leadership style.

Below is a short portion of a sermon from John Charles Ryle, an evangelical, Bible-believing Anglican from the late 1800s from Liverpool, England, who speaks on why we are not to lose heart at our troubles and trials. May it bring encouragement to your hearts as it has to mine.

J. C. Ryle:

Can I say a fresh word about heaven? Spirit of God help me! This – that we are going to see the Lord Jesus Christ. The one the fishermen saw when they looked up from their nets and he was there standing before them saying, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men!” They looked at him, and dropped their tools and followed him. We shall see him as clearly as they did, his face, his smiling eyes, his love for us, his awesome divinity which yet will not terrorize us. “In my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes – I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me” (Job 19:26-27).

But I tell you something more wonderful than that. When we see him we shall be like him. You can scarcely believe it. The words are so common and monosyllabic: ‘like him.’ Everyone can understand what those words mean – we shall be like Jesus. But can we begin to comprehend them? As holy as he is. As loving as Jesus of Nazareth. As full of patience, and kindness, and gentleness, and self-control. We shall love God as he does, and love one another too from our hearts fervently and purely. Our bodies will be like his. All that God can do to make his Son glorious will now be directed towards us. The loving omnipotence and creativity of God will be focused on us to preserve our own unique personalities and yet infinitely elevate and ennoble them. There will be my transfiguration when with my eyes I see the one who loved me and gave himself for me. That is our eternal glory.

I will tell you something more wonderful than that. This will be true for every single one of God’s children. Now we are at different levels of understanding and maturity. We have personalities that irritate and grate on other Christians. There are those who say, “I could never go to that deacon for advice.” There are those who say, “That elder is too severe.” There are those who mutter, “I don’t get anything from his ministry.” That will never be the case in the eternal glory. The whole constituency of the redeemed will be as blameless as Christ himself, deeply in love with one another, and appreciative of everyone there from the least to the greatest. The grass will be greener nowhere else, nor the company sweeter. We will be utterly satisfied with the family of faith and the environment, so that every day will be as fresh as the first. We will never grow weary of our companions nor of the place. Can you think of that? Is not that the very sum of heaven, the praises sung on the holy mountain top in that land of song – that all who stand there will be as perfect as Christ himself? No temptation to reach one of you from eye, or ear, or hand. No temptation can hurt you because there will be nothing in you to foster sin. So regrets and memories cannot hurt you there at all. They would be like sparks falling into Cardigan Bay, quenched in a moment.

Loved by God, washed in the blood of Jesus, freshly baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit, we shall soon all meet at God’s feet white-robed and white-hearted, as perfect as our Saviour and Maker. That is our eternal glory. Can’t you understand why Paul says here that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (v.17). ‘Far’ outweighs them – all put together they are still outweighed, he says, because they were just momentary, here today, but gone tomorrow, whilst this weight of glory endures forever. So that is the second reason why we do not lose heart at our troubles. They are purposive; we know that they are achieving this end.

Why Read Your Bible? Eight Reasons from J.C. Ryle

One of my favorite authors and pastors from a previous generation is John Charles Ryle. He was a pastor in Liverpool, England back in the 1800s. Here are a few excerpts from a book entitled Practical Religion that I am presently reading. This chapter is simply entitled “Bible Reading.”

There is hardly any discipline more important to our faith then Bible reading. 2 Timothy 3:15 says that the Scriptures are ” to make us wise to salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus.” Yet, one sweeping charge that can be brought against the church throughout the ages is it’s neglect and abuse of the Bible. We have Bibles by the thousands but to actually take time to read them is quite another thing. If you can hear for yourself, you should value the Bible highly, study it regularly, and thoroughly acquaint yourself with its contents.

Why read your Bible?
1.  There is no book existence written in such a manner as the Bible.
2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:21 set forth profoundly the unique nature of this book.

2. There is no knowledge absolutely needful to a man’s salvation, except the knowledge of the things which are found in the Bible.

All the education a person’s head can receive will not save his soul from hell, unless he knows the truths of the Bible and believes the Gospel.

3. No book in existence  contains such important matter as the Bible. It sets forth God’s grand plan of salvation and the way by which our sins can be forgiven. How precious are the promises which the Bible contains for the use of those who love the Lord. How blessed are the hopes which the Bible holds out to the believer in Jesus Christ. How striking is the light which the Bible throws upon the character of man (Heb. 4:12).

4.  No book in existence has produced such wonderful effects on mankind as large as the Bible.
This is the book whose doctrines turn the world upside down in the days of the apostles. In a few generations they entirely changed the face of society by the doctrines of the Bible. They emptied the temples of heathen gods. They famished idolatry and left it high and dry like a stranded ship. They raised the character and position of women. They altered the standard of purity indecency. They put an end to many cruel and bloody customs, such as the gladiatorial fights.

The Bible is the book that  turned Europe upside down in the days of the great Protestant Reformation.

This is the block on which the well-being of nations has always hinged and with which the best interest of every nation at this moment are inseparably bound up. See second Kings 22:8, Matthew 15:6

This is the book to which the civilized world is indebted for many of its best and most praiseworthy institutions.

5. No book in existence can do so much for everyone who reads it rightly as the Bible.

It can show you the way that leads to heaven. It can show you the great giver of pardon, peace, and grace, the Lord Jesus Christ. From every part of the Bible, you can see the majesty, the beauty, and the heart of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Bible applied to the heart by the Holy Spirit is the grand instrument by which souls are first converted to God. The Bible applied to the heart by the Holy Spirit is the chief means by which men are built-up and established in their faith.

6. The Bible is the only rule by which all questions of doctrine  and duty can be tried.

A man must make the Bible alone his rule. He must receive nothing and believe nothing, which is not according to the word. Make it a leading principle of your life never to act contrary to God’s word.

7. The Bible is the book which all true servants of God have always lived on and loved. For biblical examples of this, see Job 23:12 and Psalm 119:97

8. The Bible is the only book which can comfort a man in the last hours of his life.

I have never seen anyone enjoy what I would call real solid calm reasonable peace on their deathbed who did not draw their peace from God’s word. The man who thinks to go to his deathbed without having the Bible for his comforter, his companion, and his friend, is one of the greatest mad man in the world.

A Comforting Word for Calvinists and Arminians

When we see the mournful divisions which rend the church of Jesus Christ, let us rest our souls on this comfortable thought. Let us remember that a large portion of them arise from ignorance. We know in part and therefore misunderstand one another. A day comes when Lutherans shall no longer wrangle with Zwinglians, nor Calvinist with Arminian, nor churchmen with dissenter. That day is the day of Christ’s second coming. Then and then only will the promise receive its complete fulfillment, “At that day you shall know.”

– Adapted from John Charles Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on John’s Gospel, 14:18-20, p. 77.

Have You Settled the Issue Regarding Your Assurance of Salvation?

Both our struggle with sin and pressures from suffering can unsettle us deeply. The only remedy is to know with equal depth the unbreakable love of God for us in Jesus. Reflecting on Romans will promote a cross-based, Spirit-given assurance of salvation for all believers in spite of sin (8:1-17), suffering (8:18-30) and death (8:31-39).

Here are some encouraging words from saints of old on assurance based upon their study of Romans 8…

Assurance sets a child of God free from a painful kind of bondage. It enables him to feel that the great business of life is a settled business, the great debt is a paid debt, the great disease is a healed disease, and the great work is a finished work; and all other business, diseases, debts and works are then by comparison small.  In this way assurance makes him patient in tribulation, calm during times of grief and sorrow, not afraid of bad news, in every condition content; for it gives him a settledness of heart.
J.C. Ryle

The Law scolds us, sin screams at us, death thunders at us, the devil roars at us.  In the midst of the clamor, the Spirit of Christ cries in our hearts:  ‘Abba, Father.’
Martin Luther

I grasp thy strength, make it mine own, My heart with peace is blest;
I lose my hold, and then comes down, Darkness, and cold unrest.
Let me no more my comfort draw, from my frail hold of thee,
In this alone rejoice with awe, Thy mighty grasp of me.
John Newton

One Unfailing Friend – J.C. Ryle

Mark 14:50 – “And they all left him and fled.”

Let us notice how much the faith of true believers may give way. We are told that when Judas and his company laid hands on our Lord, and He quietly submitted to be taken prisoner, the eleven disciples “all forsook Him and fled.” Perhaps up to that moment they were buoyed up by the hope that our Lord would work a miracle, and set Himself free. But when they saw no miracle worked, their courage failed them entirely. Their former protestations were all forgotten. Their promises to die with their Master, rather than deny Him, were all cast to the winds. The fear of present danger got the better of faith. The sense of immediate peril drove every other feeling out of their minds. They “all forsook Him and fled.”

There is something deeply instructive in this incident. It deserves the attentive study of all professing Christians. Happy is he who marks the conduct of our Lord’s disciples, and gathers from it wisdom!

Let us learn from the flight of these eleven disciples not to be over-confident in our own strength. The fear of man does indeed bring a snare. We never know what we may do, if we are tempted, or to what extent our faith may give way. Let us be clothed with humility.

Let us learn to be charitable in our judgment of other Christians. Let us not expect too much from them, or set them down as having no grace at all, if we see them overtaken in a fault.

Let us not forget that even our Lord’s chosen apostles forsook Him in His time of need. Yet they rose again by repentance, and became pillars of the Church of Christ.

Finally, let us leave this passage with a deep sense of our Lord’s ability to sympathize with His believing people. If there is one trial greater than another, it is the trial of being disappointed in those we love. It is a bitter cup, which all true Christians have frequently to drink. Ministers fail them. Family fails them. Friends fail them. One cistern after another proves to be broken and to hold no water.

But take comfort in this thought, that there is one unfailing Friend, even Jesus, who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and has tasted of all our sorrows. Jesus knows what it is to see friends and disciples failing Him in the hour of need. Yet He bore it patiently, and loved them notwithstanding all. He is never weary of forgiving. Let us strive to do likewise. Jesus, at any rate, will never fail us. It is written, “His compassions fail not” (Lamentations 3:22).

Three Rich Cordials to Cheer Our Souls

Mark 13:9-13 – 9 “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit. 12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

My devotional reading took me through Mark 13 this morning and it is my custom when I find myself in one of the gospels to read through J.C. Ryle’s commentary entitled Expository Thoughts on the Gospels. I love his simple, straight-forward approach through the text. Today’s portion was particularly encouraging regarding Jesus’ teaching to his disciples regarding the end times. Listen to encouraging words that truly are a cordial to any follower of Jesus who encounters trouble, affliction, persecution and tribulation be it little or be it great.

  • For one thing Jesus tells us that “the Gospel must first be preached among all nations.” It must be, and it shall be. In spite of men and devils, the story of the cross of Christ shall be told in every part of the world. The gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Notwithstanding persecution, imprisonment, and death, there never shall be lacking a succession of faithful men, who shall proclaim the glad tidings of salvation by grace. Few may believe them. Many of their hearers may continue hardened in sin. But nothing shall prevent the Gospel being preached. The word shall never be bound, though those who preach it may be imprisoned and slain. (2 Tim. 2:9.)
  • For another thing, our Lord tells us, that those who are placed in special trial for the Gospel’s sake, shall have special help in their time of need. The Holy Spirit shall assist them in making their defense. They shall have a mouth and wisdom which their adversaries shall not be able to gainsay or resist. As it was with Peter and John and Paul, when brought before Jewish and Roman councils, so shall it be with all true-hearted disciples. How thoroughly this promise has been fulfilled, the histories of Huss, and Luther, and Latimer, and Ridley, and Baxter abundantly prove. Christ has been faithful to His word.
  • For another thing, our Lord tells us that patient perseverance shall result in final salvation. “He who endures unto the end, the same shall be saved.” Not one of those who endure tribulation shall miss his reward. All shall at length reap a rich harvest. Though they sow in tears, they shall reap in joy. Their light affliction, which is but for a moment, shall lead to an eternal weight of glory.
  • Let us gather comfort from these comfortable promises for all true-hearted servants of Christ. Persecuted, vexed, and mocked, as they are now, they shall find at length they are on the victorious side. Beset, perplexed, tried, as they sometimes are, they shall never find themselves entirely forsaken. Though cast down, they shall not be destroyed. Let them possess their souls in patience. The end of all that they see going on around them is certain, fixed, and sure. The kingdoms of this world shall yet become the kingdoms of their God and of his Christ. And when the scoffers and ungodly, who so often insulted them, are put to shame, believers shall receive a crown of glory that fades not away.