Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgement to the Gentiles. He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth. (Isa. 42:1-3)
What It Is to be Bruised
The bruised reed is a man that for the most part is in some misery, as those were that came to Christ for help. And by misery, he is brought to see sin as the cause of it. Whatever pretenses sin makes, they come to an end when we are bruised and broken. He is sensible of sin and misery, even unto bruising, and seeing no help in himself, is carried with restless desire to have supply from another. He has some hope, which raises him a little out of himself to Christ, but he dare not claim to have a right to mercy.
This spark of hope is opposed by doublings and fears that rise from his own corruption, which makes him like a smoking flax – a poor, distressed man. This is the state of the person our Savior Christ terms “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3), who sees his needs, and also sees himself in debt to divine justice. He has no means in himself to supply his shortages, and so he mourns. But he gets some hope of mercy from the promise and examples of others who have gotten mercy, and so he is stirred up to hunger and thirst after it himself.
The Good Effects of Bruising
This bruising is required before conversion, so that the Spirit may make way for himself into the heart by leveling all proud, high thoughts, and so that we may understand ourselves to be what by nature we really are. We love to wander from ourselves and to be strangers at home, till God bruises us by one cross or another. And then we “begin to think” and come home to ourselves with the prodigal (Luke 15:17). It is a very hard thing to bring a dull and evasive heart to cry with feeling for mercy. Our hearts like criminals, until they are beaten from all evasions, never cry for the mercy of the judge.
Again, this bruising makes us set a high price upon Christ. Then the gospel becomes the gospel indeed; then the fig leaves of morality will do us no good. And it makes us more thankful, and from thankfulness, more fruitful in our lives. For what makes so many cold and barren except that bruising from sin never made God’s grace dear to them?
Likewise, this dealing of God pushes us all the more into his ways, having had knocks and bruisings in our own ways. This is often the cause of relapses and apostasy – because men never smarted for sin at the start. They weren’t long enough under the lash of the law. Therefore this inferior work of the Spirit in bringing down high thoughts (2 Cor. 10:5) is necessary before conversion. And for the most part, the Holy Spirit, in order to further the work of conviction, joins it with some affliction, which has a healing and purging power when sanctified.
After conversion, we need bruising so that reeds may know themselves to be reeds, and not oaks. Even reeds need bruising, by reason of the remainder of pride in our nature, and to let us see that we live by mercy. Such bruising may also help weaker Christians not to be too discouraged, when they see stronger ones shaken and bruised. So Peter was bruised when he wept bitterly (Matt 26:75). This reed, until he has met with this bruise, had more wind in him than pith, when he said, “Though all forsake thee, I will not” (Matt 26:33).
The people of God cannot be without these examples. The heroic deeds of these great worthies do not comfort the church so much as their falls and bruises do. So David was bruised until he came to a free confession without guile of spirit (Ps. 32:3-5). So Hezekiah complains that God has “broken his bones” as a lion (Isa. 38:13). So the chosen vessel Paul needed the messenger of Satan to buffet him, lest he should be lifted up above measure (2 Cor. 12:7).
Hence we learn that we must not pass too harsh judgment upon ourselves or others when God exercises us with bruising upon bruising. There must be a conformity to our head, Christ, who “was bruised for us” (Isa. 53:5) that we may know how much we are bound to him.
Ungodly spirits, ignorant of God’s ways in bringing his children to heaven, censure broken hearted Christians as miserable persons, whereas God is doing a gracious, good work with them. It is no easy matter to bring a man from nature to grace, and from grace to glory, so unyielding and intractable are our hearts.