"A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out." Isaiah 42:3
"He will feed His flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in His arms, holding them close to His heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young." Isaiah 40:11
"He has never yet put out a dim candle that was lighted at the Sun of Righteousness." –Charnock, 1628.
"Upon Palm Sunday, when Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem, and was adorned with the acclamations of a King and a God, He wet the Palms with His tears, sweeter than the drops of manna, or the little pearls of heaven that descended upon Mount Hermon; weeping, in the midst of His triumph, over obstinate, perishing, and malicious Jerusalem." –Jeremy Taylor, 1613.
"When our heart does but relent, His melts; when our eye merely pities, His affections yearn. How many vices and defects of ours does He smother, how many indignities does He pass by; and how many affronts does He put up with at our hands, because His love is invincible." –South, 1633.
"Shall not the Redeemer's tears move you? They signify the sincerity of His love and pity--the truth and tenderness of His compassion. His tears were the natural genuine expressions of genuine beneficence and pity." –John Howe, 1630.
The TENDERNESS OF JESUS is a Rock-cleft, which, though nearly allied to that spoken of in our last, seems to suggest and to claim a special consideration.
A writer has remarked, that the only occasion during our Lord's public ministry, on which He laid claim to any human excellency, was when He uttered the words recorded in Matthew's Gospel--"I am meek and lowly in heart." This is not the character which the world values. These are rather some of its self-laudations, its loudest trumpet-blasts--'I am great, I am rich, I am courageous, I am cultured, I am learned.' It does obeisance to "The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power." As we had occasion to note in a previous chapter, the old Pagan qualities eulogized and canonized were bravery, manliness, heroism, and the like. Humility, meekness and gentleness were unknown in their calendar of virtues. It was reserved for the Prince of Peace to claim as His special characteristic that He cast away no bruised reeds--that He trampled out no smoking flax!
What a contrast here, also, with other religious teachers, in the weapons employed for the propagation of their tenets. Fire, and sword, and scimitar, have in most instances paved the way for spiritual conquest. Indeed, unlike their Master, even the best of His own Apostolic band had no milder method to suggest in dealing with schismatics. In imitation of the Fiery Prophet, they would have called down lightning-bolts from Heaven on the churlish Samaritans. Peter's unsheathed sword would have dealt deathly vengeance on the High Priest's Servant. But in both cases there was an instantaneous rebuke from the tender lips of their Lord--"The Son of Man came not to destroy men's lives, but to save them." "Put up again your sword into his place, for all those who take the sword shall perish with the sword."
"He had no curses," says an eloquent divine, "for His foes--no blows for His enemies. Such was His gentleness, that when He might have shaken the earth and rocked the thrones of tyrants, and made every idol-god totter from its blood-stained throne, He put forth no such physical power, but still stood with melting heart and tearful eyes, inviting sinners to come to Him; using no lash but His love--no battle-axe and weapon of war but His grace."
In dwelling for a little on the Gentleness and Tenderness of Jesus, let us begin by referring to one or two Old Testament prophetical intimations regarding this special feature in the character of the predicted Messiah. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me," said Isaiah, "because He has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the meek. He has sent Me to bind up the broken-hearted." "You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat."
Oriental kings and potentates of old delighted in OSTENTATION and DISPLAY. Solomon rode in his cedar chariot, with his body-guard running in glittering attire by his side, their hair covered with dust of gold. But see how prophecy describes this Greater than Solomon, as He goes forth in triumphal state--"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem--behold, your King comes unto you--He is just, and having salvation; LOWLY, and riding upon an donkey, and upon a colt the foal of an donkey." TENDERNESS was the sweet fragrance that was to exude from every leaf and blossom of the Stem of Jesse--"He shall grow up before him as a tender plant." The watchmen in the Canticles, when they met the dejected spouse, wounded her and tore off her veil. When she met her Lord, she receives no angry word--no look of upbraiding. "He shall deliver the needy when he cries--the poor also, and him that has no helper." "You are fairer than the children of men; grace (graciousness, tenderness) is poured into Your lips."
Passing from prophecy to its fulfillment; the whole ministry of Jesus on earth was the picture of which these are the framework. The opening act of that ministry is the proclamation of His tenderness. The earliest public utterances of a king or statesman are generally taken as indicative of the policy and principles which are to regulate his future career. How beautifully was the initial text He Himself selected in the synagogue at Nazareth, illustrated by a life and example of gentleness and love. Not, like the manifesto of many public men, misrepresented through fickleness and caprice, or the delirium of success--their promised acts and deeds of generosity and benignity lapsing into coldness, and selfishness, and austerity. As we watch the crowds of helpless and diseased, sick and fevered, orphaned, friendless, and dying, who thronged the way wherever He went, we see how the tenderness of His words was endorsed and countersigned by His equally tender deeds.
Let us go and stand by that PORCH OF MERCY and witness the throng, as severally, they approach with their tale of anxiety and perplexity--sorrow and sin.
Here is one! He comes by night. When the evening shadows have closed around Jerusalem, and no unkindly human eye is able to track his footsteps, he sneaks to those gates of compassion. His soul is fevered and restless. He is sick at heart with the worn-out conventional forms of Judaism, and longing to hear of the principles of the new Kingdom. How tenderly does the Great Teacher listen to the questions of this anxious inquirer, in the anguish of his first convictions, and unfold to him the wondrous story of God's everlasting love!
Here is another! An avaricious tax-gatherer; one who, in all probability, in common with the class to which he belonged, had preyed upon widows and orphans in extorting his unscrupulous gains; one, moreover, who, on account of his extortionate calling, we may well believe had seldom or ever listened to a kind or generous word from his brother townsmen of Jericho; rather, who had been subjected on all sides, and not undeservedly, to suspicion and distrust. Strange and novel must have been the gleam of tenderness in that eye which scanned him among the thick branches of the sycamore; remarkable the kindness conveyed in the intimation which fell on his ears, "Zaccheus, today I will abide at your house." The word of the infinitely pure One, awoke sensibilities that were dormant, or rather, which had been crushed and stifled by an unsympathizing world, and "he received Him joyfully."
Here is another! He is the most bruised and broken of all--one who had imagined himself strong in faith, giving glory to God; but who had ignominiously bent before the blast of temptation and had denied his divine Master with oaths and curses. Can there be anything of tenderness manifested towards the renegade Apostle? Surely he has placed himself, by his heinous guilt and craven cowardice, beyond the pale of forgiveness. No! when we might have thought the heart he had grievously wounded was alienated from him forever, there was first a "look" of infinite love--a melting glance, which sent him forth to weep bitter tears over foul ingratitude; and subsequently a message, entrusted to the Angel-guardian of the sepulcher and conveyed by him to the three women, "Go your way, tell His disciples and Peter." 'Go, tell the most faithless of My followers, that even for him there is still a place in My tender regard. Go, tell this wandering bird with drooping wing and soiled plumage, that even for him there is a place of shelter still open in the clefts of the Rock.' No more--when Jesus met him subsequently on the shores of Gennesaret, instead of dragging afresh to light painful memories of abused kindness and broken vows, all now too deeply felt to need being recalled; no severer utterance for unworthy apostasy was pronounced, than the gentle rebuke conveyed in the thrice-repeated challenge, "Do you love Me?"
Or, if we may revert to a yet earlier scene in His ministry, it is the occasion on which 'degraded guilt' was brought face to face with 'perfect Purity and Innocence'. He does not palliate the enormity of transgression. By no means! But He who read the heart, makes it an opportunity of proclaiming what His mission is, as a mission of forgiveness. He utters, in the case of the sinner who then confronted Him (as in that of the other weeping Magdalene who bedewed His feet with her tears), the gracious absolution, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more." He again refuses to break the bruised reed and to quench the smoking flax; to send a wreck of misery out, unsuccoured, amid the black night and the howling pitiless winds. "Go and learn," He seems to say, "what this means, I will have mercy and not sacrifice." "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
Indeed, when pronouncing some of His most impressive woes and threatenings, He appears, at times, as if He dreaded lest any broken-hearted one might misinterpret His sayings, and construe His wrath against sin and hypocrisy, as indicating a lack of consideration to the penitent. Take as an example the occasion when He had been proclaiming stern words regarding the contemporary "sinful generation;" more especially rebuking them for their blind unbelief in the midst of light and privilege; declaring that for those cities which had scorned His message (Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum), it would be more tolerable in the day of judgment for Sodom and Gomorrah than for them. He seems suddenly to pause. The storm has exhausted itself. Possibly amid the crowd who had just listened to these utterances of wrath, His Omniscient eye discerned some trembling outcast--some brittle reed or sapling bending beneath the hurricane. He will not allow it to be broken. He will not permit the wind and earthquake and fire to pass, without being followed by a 'still small voice'--and then it is, that the words (unparalleled in their tenderness and beauty among all He ever spoke) come like a gleam after the tempest, or like a rainbow encircling with its lovely hues the angry spray--"Come unto Me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
In His last prayer preceding the Passion, how touching are His pleadings in behalf alike of His disciples and His Church! More like a mother's tenderness over her defenseless children, when, leaving the parental care, they are sent forth lonely and unbefriended to face and fight the battles of life in an ungenial world.
In the climax of His own humiliation, when nailed to the cross of Calvary, how tenderly does He commit His dearest earthly relative to the keeping of His dearest human friend! How tenderly in the extremity of anguish and soul-desertion, does He speak words of heart-cheer to the dying thief at His side! How tenderly does He plead for those who had entwined the thorn-crown around His bleeding brows, and driven the rough iron into those hands which had never been employed save to cure--never uplifted except to bless!
On the Mount of Ascension, when the gates of heaven were ajar, and its distant hallelujahs of welcome to "the King of glory" were already wafted to His ear--how tenderly He breathes a farewell on the orphaned band; as if all His thoughts and all His love were still centered on those He was about to leave behind Him--the last vision imprinted on their memories being that of His arms uplifted in benediction!
When He meets the beloved disciple in Patmos, and the awestruck beholder, dazzled with the luster of His glorified humanity, falls at His feet as one dead--how tenderly is he reminded that he is in the presence of the same unchanged and unchanging ONE, on whose bosom of love he had often pillowed his head on earth. At midnight, years before, on the dark, stormy surface of Gennesaret, the Spirit-form he and his fellow-disciples so much dreaded, spoke the reassuring word, "It is I; do not be afraid!" 'That same Jesus' comes down now from the still waters of the river of life--the nightless city of the crystal sea, with the same well-remembered soothing lullaby--"He laid His right hand upon me, saying, 'do not be afraid!'" It was, yet again, "as one whom his mother comforts." Oh, when the aged Evangelist and honored Prophet retired to Ephesus, in the evening of his life, to put in writing personal experience of the Divine dealings, well might he say (regarding these and other remembrances, indelibly impressed on him, of his living, loving Lord), "We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth!"
Let it, however, be very carefully noted, that there was nothing indiscriminate in the tenderness of Christ. It was tenderness towards the weak, the poor, the helpless, the penitent, the erring. There was, as we have already had occasion to remark, no tenderness towards sin. On the contrary, there was uncompromising severity towards all wrong-doing and hypocrisy, oppression and untruthfulness. How unsparingly He lashed the vices of the age! With what withering words He confronted and combated Pharisee and Sadducee! When the tears were scarcely dry which He wept over Jerusalem, the scourge was in His hand driving the sacrilegious traffickers from the Temple-courts, who had converted the most sacred ground on earth, into place and opportunity for ministering to their own avarice! "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" was His voice of stern rebuke, as the guilty crowd fled affrighted from His presence.
Side by side with the Parable of the Vineyard laborers, wherein, even at the eleventh hour, a welcome was offered and wages given to every unhired idler in the market-place--we have the Parable of the Blighted Fig-tree on the heights of Olivet (with its pretentious foliage--"nothing but leaves")--stretching out its skeleton arms to heaven, a monument of vengeance--this the malediction uttered against it by these same lips of compassion--"From now on, let no fruit grow upon you forever!"
Reader, do you know the preciousness of the Rock-cleft on which we have been dwelling? amid the rough blasts of life, to take shelter in the Tenderness of Him whose love is better, truer, more enduring, than that of the kindest and most loving of earthly friends? Have you learned to sing amid the moanings of the storm–
"Jesus, Refuge of my soul,
Let me to Your bosom fly;
When the waters o'er me roll,
While the tempest still is high?"
Do you know what it is, as one of the sheep of His pasture, when weary and footsore, panting, and burdened--to run to this Infinitely gracious Shepherd, who, in the beautiful metaphor of Isaiah already quoted, delights to carry the Lambs in His arms and gently to lead His burdened ones?
WHAT ARE THESE BURDENS? They are many and diversified.
With one, it may be that of CONVICTION OF SIN. You may have reached the momentous time in your spiritual history, when conscience has awoke from the 'low dream of earth' with quickened sensibility--when forgotten sins are brought before you in vivid memorial; the obligations of a misspent life flashing upon you the reality of a hopeless bankruptcy; and you feel how utterly vain is the plea with which you have long sought to delude yourself--"Have patience with me, and I will pay You all." You may feel, to change the figure, that in yourself you are the most worthless and abandoned of prodigals; that you have righteously forfeited a place within the paternal halls! But, He is waiting your return. He sees you, haggard, hunger-stricken--sick at heart. He watches the first indications of penitential sorrow. While yet "a great way off," He is ready with the fond embrace and the kindly welcome. Wondrous tenderness, surely, do these His own words describe, in that surpassingly touching parable--"His Father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck and kissed him." What! the riotous living--the spendthrift life--the debasing companionship, all forgotten? Yes, by that one kiss of forgiveness, all is buried in everlasting oblivion!
With another--it may be the burden of declension and backsliding--the guilt of apostasy from a first love--the decay of the inner life. Permitted sin and permitted worldliness have superinduced languor and lethargy. You are not what once you were--you have lost tenderness of conviction--you have blunted the fine edge of conscience--the old ardor in the divine race is gone; you have allowed the tooth of earthly cares to corrode--petty vexations and annoyances to eat out the kernel of religion--"the little foxes" have entered unchallenged the soul's vineyard and spoiled the grapes. None more bruised and broken than you. The flax, once burning clear, gives forth now nothing but noxious smoke--polluting and poisoning the atmosphere of your spiritual being! Despond not. The forgiving love and tenderness of Christ can meet your case. Burdened one, He your Shepherd is willing gently to lead you also. He will rekindle these smouldering ashes of a dying love--He will "strengthen the things which remain that are ready to die."
What says He, by the lips of the Prophet, to His backsliding people? (and He says the same to you)--"you keep right on doing all the evil you can"--(as much as to say--'You could not have done worse'). "Yet," He adds, "O Israel, My faithless people, come home to Me again, for I am merciful. I will not be angry with you forever. Only acknowledge your guilt. Admit that you rebelled against the Lord your God and committed adultery against Him by worshiping idols under every green tree. Confess that you refused to follow Me. I, the Lord, have spoken!" Jeremiah 3:12-13
With another, the burden may be of a different kind. It maybe the burden of SORROW AND TRIAL. He may have touched you to the quick. It may be the woundings of friends--hardships in leading a religious life--the jeers and mockings of ungodly companions, or those of your own household. It may be the loss of worldly substance, or the blighting of fond affection, or the yawning chasm made by death and bereavement--these and similar causes may have made you weary and heavy-laden--or left you a broken bruised reed on the world's highway. You may be unable to trace the mystery of the Divine dealings--you may be even tempted to indulge in unworthy surmises regarding the Divine faithfulness!
What a blessed Rock-cleft for you also, in the tenderness of Him, who, being a disciple Himself in this school of affliction, is able to enter with exquisite sensitiveness into all your sorrows. That apparently 'rough voice' of the true Joseph to His brethren, is 'tenderness in disguise'. He will not speak too roughly. He knows what you can bear. He will temper the wind to the shorn lamb--He will make this sorrow, whatever it is, fruitful in blessing--"For thus says the Lord--as the new wine is found in the cluster, and one says, Destroy it not, for a blessing is in it--so will I do for My servant's sake."
So tender is He, that He feels what is done to His people as if it were done to Himself--"Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?" The faintest sound of woe still, as of old, arrests His ear. As in nature, He alike guides the planets in their orbits, and watches the fall of the sparrow; as He alike tends the kingly sun and the lowly dewdrop--so in the moral and spiritual world. While He receives the archangel's homage, He listens to the cry of the infant on its knees--or notes the tear and the wail of the widow in her agony. Like His own shepherd in the parable, He rejoices to go after the lost one--the worst truant of the fold--"until He find it."
O You, into whose lips grace is poured!--You Mighty One!--Yet infinitely tender!--ride forth in Your glory and in Your Majesty, "because of truth and meekness and righteousness!" Forbid that it should be, in the case of any perusing these pages, as with Jerusalem of old--that tears of compassion should be accompanied and followed by words of reproach and doom. "How often would I have gathered you!" How often would I have rescued the broken reed, and fanned the smoking flax--carried the feeble lamb, led the burdened, and given rest to the weary--"but you would not--therefore now is your house left unto you desolate!"
Blessed be God, that voice of kindness still sounds in our ears--that waiting Savior--though His "head be wet with dew and His locks with the drops of the night"--still stands knocking, with tones of tenderness on His lips, and the hoarded love of Eternity in His heart! The Great Apostle had many incentives to use, many golden chains with which to moor the tempest-tossed to the Rock of Ages. Among these is the very theme of our present chapter--"Now I Paul beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ." It was indeed no new or original argument. It was that taught and enforced by his great Lord Himself--when He said, in the memorable words already quoted, "Come unto Me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me--for I am gentle and humble in heart."
The traveler who refused to part with his cloak at the bidding of the furious chilling wind, surrendered it to the warming influence of the sun. What the tempests of the law--"the terrors of the Lord"--fail to effect--may be accomplished, and often is accomplished, by the gracious beams radiating from the true 'Sun of Righteousness'. Let us own their potency. Let us fall down, vanquished by His gentleness.
Blessed Savior, let the tenderness of Your deeds on earth--the tenderness of Your invitations to the weary and the burdened--the tenderness of Your tears wept over Jerusalem--the tenderness of Your words spoken in Your death-agony, salvation to the felon and forgiveness to the murderers--let these and other memories of gospel story--like a peal of heavenly bells, summon me to enter the opened gates of mercy. Let me listen to them, as the many-toned voices of the Beloved inviting to flee to the 'Clefts of the Rock.' There, safe--secure--at rest forever, and with the blessed consciousness of all the elevating, ennobling privileges to which Your bleeding love has exalted me--may it be mine to say in the triumphant words of the Psalmist, "You have also given me the shield of Your salvation; and Your right hand has held me up, and YOUR GENTLENESS HAS MADE ME GREAT."