a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench – Matthew 12:20a
What are we to understand by the bruised reed, and smoking flax? The language of the prophet no doubt is figurative. What is it that these two expressions mean? The simplest explanation seems to be, that the Holy Ghost 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 broke reed is, it shall not be broken. Small as the spark of fire may be within the smoking flax, it shall not be quenched. It is standing truth in the kingdom of grace, that weak grace, weak faith, and weak repentance, are all precious in our Lord’s sight. Mighty as He is, “He despiseth not any” (Job 36:5).
The doctrine here laid down is full of comfort and consolation. There are thousands in every church of Christ to whom it ought to speak peace and hope. There are some in every congregation, that hears the Gospel, who are ready to despair of their own salvation, because their strength seems so small. They are full of fears and despondency, because their knowledge, and faith, and hope, and love, appear so dwarfish and diminutive. Let them drink comfort out of this text. Let them know weak faith gives a man as real and true an interest in Christ as strong faith, though it may not give him the same joy. There is life in an infant as truly as in a grown up man. There is fire in a spark as truly as in a burning flame. The least degree of grace is an everlasting possession. It comes down from heaven. It is precious in our Lord’s eyes. It shall never be overthrown.
Does Satan make light of the beginnings of repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ? No! Indeed! He does not. He has great wrath, because he sees his time is short. Do the angels of God think lightly of the first signs of penitence and feeling after God in Christ? No! Indeed! “There is joy” among them, when they behold the sight. Does the Lord Jesus regard no faith and repentance with interest, unless they are strong and mighty? No! Indeed! As soon as that bruised reed, Saul of Tarsus begins to cry to Him, He sends Ananias to him, saying, “Behold he prayeth” (Acts 9:11). We err greatly if we do not encourage the very first movements of a soul towards Christ. Let the ignorant world scoff and mock, if it will. We may be sure that “bruised reeds” and “smoking flax” are very precious in our Lord’s eyes.
May we all lay these things to heart, and use them in time of need, both for ourselves and others. It should be a standing maxim in our religion, that a spark is better than utter darkness, and little faith better than no faith at all. “Who hath despised the day of small things?” (Zechariah 4:10) It is not despised by Christ. It ought not to be despised by Christians.
J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Matthew (Michigan: Baker Book House, 2007), 126-128.