The Godly Man's Picture, Drawn with a
Scripture Pencil, or, Some Characteristic
Marks of a Man who is Going to Heaven
By Thomas Watson
Prescribing some HELPS to godliness
Question: But what shall we do, that we may be godly?
Answer: I shall briefly lay down some rules or helps
1. Be diligent in the use of all MEANS that may promote
godliness. "Strive to enter in at the strait gate" (Luke 13:24).
What is purpose, without pursuit? When you have made your
estimate of godliness, pursue those means which are most expedient for
2. Take heed of the WORLD. It is hard for a
clod of dust—to become a star. "Love not the world" (1 John
2:15). Many would like to be godly—but the honors and profits of the world
divert them. Where the world fills both head and heart—there is no room
for Christ. He whose mind is rooted in the earth, is likely
enough to deride godliness. When our Savior was preaching against sin, "the
Pharisees, who were covetous, derided him" (Luke 16:14). The world eats the
heart out of godliness, as the ivy eats the heart out of the oak. The world
kills with her golden darts!
3. Accustom yourselves to holy THOUGHTS.
Serious meditation represents everything in its true color. It shows the
evil of sin, and the luster of grace. By holy thoughts, the
head grows clearer and the heart better: "I thought on my ways, and
turned my feet unto your testimonies" (Psalm 119:59). If men would
step aside a little out of the noise and hurry of business, and spend only
half-an-hour every day thinking about their souls and eternity, it would
produce a wonderful alteration in them!
4. Watch your HEARTS. This was Christ's
watchword to his disciples: "Watch, therefore" (Matt. 24:42). The heart will
incline us to sin, before we are aware. A subtle heart needs a watchful eye.
Watch your thoughts, your affections. The heart has a thousand doors to run
out from. Oh, keep close watch on your souls! Stand continually on your
watch-towers (Hab. 2:1). When you have prayed against sin, watch
against temptation. Most wickedness in the world is committed for
lack of watchfulness. Watchfulness maintains godliness. It is the edging
which keeps piety from fraying.
5. Make spending your TIME a matter of conscience.
"Redeeming the time" (Eph. 5:16). Many people fool away their time, some in
idle visits, others in recreations and pleasures which secretly bewitch the
heart and take it away from better things. What are our golden hours for—but
to attend to our souls? Time misspent is not time lived—but time
lost! Time is a precious commodity. A piece of wax in itself is not
worth much—but when it is affixed to the label of a will and conveys
an estate, it is of great value. Thus, time simply in itself is not so
considerable—but as salvation is to be worked out in it, and a conveyance of
heaven depends on using it well—it is of infinite concern!
6. Think of your SHORT STAY in the world. "We
are here for only a moment, visitors and strangers in the land as our
ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a shadow, gone so soon
without a trace!" (1 Chron. 29:15). There is only a span between the cradle
and the grave. Solomon says there is a time to be born and a time to
die (Eccles. 3:2)—but mentions no time of living—as if that
were so short it was not worth naming! Time, when it has once gone, cannot
be recalled. "My life passes more swiftly than a runner. It flees away,
filled with tragedy. It disappears like a swift boat, like an eagle that
swoops down on its prey." Job 9:25-26. This Scripture compares time to a
flying eagle. Yet time differs from the eagle in this: the eagle flies
forward and then back again--but time has wings only to fly forward --it
never returns! "Time flies irrevocably."
The serious thoughts of our short stay here would be a
great means of promoting godliness. What if death should come before we are
ready? What if our life should breathe out before God's Spirit has breathed
in? Whoever considers how flitting and winged his life is—will
hasten his repentance!
7. Make this maxim your own—that godliness is the purpose
of your creation. God never sent men into the world only to eat
and drink and put on fine clothes—but that they might "Serve him in holiness
and righteousness" (Luke 1:74,75). God made the world only as a dressing
room—to dress our souls in. He sent us here on the grand errand of
godliness. Should nothing but the body (the brutish part) be looked after,
this would be basely to degenerate, yes, to invert and frustrate the very
purpose of our being!
8. Be often among the godly. They are the
salt of the earth—and will help to season you. Their counsel
may direct you; their prayers may enliven you. Such holy
sparks may be thrown into your breasts as may kindle devotion in you. It
is good to be among the saints, to learn the trade of godliness: "He who
walks with wise men shall be wise" (Proverbs 13:20).
An exhortation to PERSEVERE in godliness
Those who wear the mantle of godliness—and in the
judgment of others are looked upon as godly—let me exhort you to persevere:
"Let us hold fast the profession of our faith" (Heb. 10:23). This is
a seasonable exhortation in these times—when the devil's agents are abroad,
whose whole work is to unsettle people and make them fall away from that
former strictness in piety which they have professed.
1. It is much to be lamented—to see professing Christians
wavering in religion. How many we see unresolved and unsteady, like
Reuben, "unstable as water" (Gen. 49:4). These the apostle rightly
compares to "waves of the sea . . . and wandering stars" (Jude 13). They are
not fixed in the principles of godliness. Beza writes of one Bolsechus, that
"his religion changed like the moon." Such were the Ebionites, who kept
both the Jewish and the Christian Sabbath. Many professors are like the
river Euripus, ebbing and flowing in matters of piety. They
are like reeds bending every way, either to the Mass or to the
Koran. They are like the planet Mercury, which constantly varies, and is
seldom constant in its motion. When men think of heaven and the recompense
of reward, then they want to be godly—but when they think of persecution,
then they are like the Jews who deserted Christ and "walked no more with
him" (John 6:66). If men's faces altered as fast as their
opinions—we would not recognize them! To be thus vacillating and
wavering in religion, argues lightness of thought. Feathers are blown
in every direction, and so are feathery professors.
2. It is much to be lamented—to see professing Christians
falling from that godliness which once they seemed to have. They have
turned to worldliness and wantonness. The very mantle of their
profession has fallen off; and indeed, if they were not fixed
stars—it is no wonder to see them as falling stars. This spiritual
epilepsy, or falling sickness, was never more rife.
It is a dreadful sin for men to fall from that godliness,
which they once seemed to have. Chrysostom says, "Apostates are worse than
those who are openly wicked. They give godliness a bad name." "The
apostate", says Tertullian, "Seems to put God and Satan in the balance, and
having weighed both their services, prefers the devil's service, and
proclaims him to be the best master!" In that respect the apostate is said
to put Christ to open shame (Heb. 6:6).
This will be bitter in the end (Heb. 10:38). What a worm,
the apostate Spira felt in his conscience! In what horror of mind did the
apostate Stephen Gardiner cry out upon his deathbed—that with Peter, he had
denied his Master! But he had not repented with Peter!
That we may be steadfast in godliness and persevere, let
us do two things:
1. Let us TAKE HEED of those things which will make us by
degrees fall away from our profession. Let us:
(1) Beware of COVETOUSNESS. "Men shall be
covetous . . . having a form of godliness—but denying the power" (2
Tim. 3:2,5). One of Christ's own apostles was caught with this silver
bait! Covetousness will make a man betray a good cause, and make
shipwreck of a good conscience. I have read of some in the time of
the Emperor Valens, who denied the Christian faith to prevent the
confiscation of their goods.
(2) Beware of UNBELIEF. "Take heed, brethren,
lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the
living God" (Heb. 3:12). There is no evil like an evil heart; no evil
heart like an unbelieving heart. Why so? It makes men depart from the
blessed God. He who does not believe God's mercy—will not dread his justice.
Unbelief is the nurse of apostasy; therefore unbelieving and unstable go
together: "they believed not in God . . . they turned back and tempted God"
(3) Take heed of COWARDICE. He who is afraid
to be godly, must surely be evil: "The fear of man brings a snare" (Proverbs
29:25). They who fear danger more than sin—will commit sin to
avoid danger! Origen, out of fear of persecution, offered incense to the
idol. Aristotle says, "The reason why the chameleon turns so many colors, is
through excessive fear." Fear will make men change their religion, as often
as the chameleon does her color! Christian, you who have made a profession
of godliness so long, and others have noted you for a saint in their
calendar, why do you fear and begin to shrink back? The cause which you have
embarked on is good; you are fighting against sin; you have a good Captain
who is marching before you: Christ, "the captain of your salvation" (Heb.
What is it, that you fear? Is it loss of liberty? What is
liberty worth, when conscience is in bonds? It is better to
lose your liberty and keep your peace—than to lose your peace and keep your
liberty. Is it loss of estate? Do you say, like Amaziah, "What should I do
about the silver I paid?" (2 Chron. 25:9) I would answer with the prophet,
"The Lord can give you much more than this" (v. 10). He has promised you "an
hundredfold" in this life—and if that is nothing, he will give you life
everlasting (Matt. 19:29).
2. Let us use all MEANS for perseverance
(1) Strive for a real work of grace in your soul.
Grace is the best fortification: "it is a good thing that the heart be
established with grace" (Heb. 13:9).
Question: What is this real work of grace?
Answer: It consists in two things:
1. Grace lies in a heart-humbling work. The thorn
of sin pricked Paul's conscience: "Sin revived, and I died" (Romans 7:9).
Though some are less humbled than others—as some bring forth children with
less pangs—yet all have pangs.
2. Grace lies in a heart-changing work. "But you
are washed—but you are sanctified" (1 Cor. 6:11). A man is so changed as if
another soul lived in the same body! If ever you would hold out in the ways
of God, get this vital principle of grace. Why do men change their
religion—but because their hearts were never changed? They do not fall away
from grace—but for lack of grace.
(2) Be deliberate and judicious. Weigh things
well in the balance: "Who of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn't first
sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?"
(Luke 14:28). Think to yourselves, what it will cost you to be godly. You
must expect the hatred of the world (John 15:19). The wicked hate the godly
for their piety. It is strange that they should do so. Do we hate a flower
because it is sweet? The godly are hated for the perfume of their graces. Is
a virgin hated for her beauty? The wicked hate the godly for the beauty of
holiness which shines in them. Secret hatred will break forth into open
violence (2 Tim. 3:12). Christians must count the cost before they build.
Why are people so hasty in abandoning religion—if not because they
were so hasty in taking it up?
(3) Get a clear, distinct knowledge of God.
Know the love of the Father, the merit of the Son, the
efficacy of the Holy Spirit. Those who do not know God aright, will
by degrees renounce their profession. The Samaritans sometimes sided with
the Jews, when they were in favor. Afterwards they disclaimed all kindred
with the Jews, when they were persecuted by Antiochus. And no wonder they
shuffled so in their religion, if you consider what Christ said of the
Samaritans, "You Samaritans worship what you do not know!" (John 4:22). They
were enveloped by ignorance. Blind men are apt to fall, and so are those who
are blinded in their minds.
(4) Enter on it purely out of choice. "I have
chosen the way of truth" (Psalm 119:30). Espouse godliness for its own
worth. Whoever wishes to persevere must rather choose godliness with
reproach—than sin with all its worldly pomp. Whoever takes up
religion for fear—will lay it down again for fear. Whoever embraces
godliness for gain—will desert it when the jewels of promotion are pulled
off. Do not be godly from worldly design—but from pious choice.
(5) Strive for sincerity. This will be a
golden pillar to support you. A tree that is hollow, must of
necessity be blown down. The hypocrite sets up in the trade of religion—but
he will soon break: "their heart was not right with him, neither were they
steadfast" (Psalm 78:37). Judas was first a sly hypocrite and then a
traitor. If a piece of copper is gilded, the gilding will wash off. Nothing
will hold out but sincerity: "May integrity and honesty protect me, for I
put my hope in you" (Psalm 25:21). How many storms was Job in! Not
only Satan—but God himself set on him (Job 7:20), which was enough to have
made him desist from being godly. Yet Job stood fast—because he stood
upright: "My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go; my
heart shall not reproach me as long as I live" (Job 27:6). Those colors hold
best, which are fixed in oils. If we wish to have our profession hold its
color, it must be fixed in the oil of sincerity.
(6) Hold up the life and fervor of duty.
"Fervent in spirit, serving the Lord" (Romans 12:11). We put coals on the
fire to keep it from going out. When Christians grow into a dull
formality, they begin to be dispirited, and by degrees abate in their
godliness. No one is so fit to make an apostate—as a lukewarm professing
(7) Exercise great self-denial. "If anyone
would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and
follow me. (Luke 9:23). Self-ease, self-ends, whatever comes in competition
with (or stands in opposition to) Christ's glory and interest—must be
denied! Self is the great snare; self-love undermines the power of
godliness. The young man in the Gospel might have followed Christ—but
something of self hindered (Matt. 19:20-22). Self-love is self-hatred. The
man who cannot get beyond himself—will never get to heaven.
(8) Preserve a holy watchfulness over your hearts.
The man who has gunpowder in his house, fears lest it should catch
fire and explode. Sin in the heart is like gunpowder; it may make us fear
lest a spark of temptation should fall on us and blow us up. There
are two things which may make us always watchful of our hearts: the
deceits of our hearts and the lusts of our hearts. When Peter was
afraid that he should sink and cried to Christ, "Lord, save me", then Christ
took him by the hand and helped him (Matt. 14:30,31); but when Peter grew
confident and thought he could stand alone, then Christ allowed him to fall.
Oh, let us be suspicious of ourselves and in a holy sense "clothe ourselves
with trembling" (Ezek. 26:16).
(9) Strive for assurance. "Give diligence to
make your calling and election sure" (2 Pet. 1:10). The man who is sure that
God is his God, is like a castle built on a rock—all the powers of
hell cannot shake him. How can that man be constant in piety—who is
at a loss about his spiritual estate, and does not know whether he has grace
or not? It will be a difficult matter for a man to die for Christ, if he
does not know that Christ has died for him. Assurance establishes a
Christian in shaking times. He who has the Spirit of God bearing witness to
his heart is the most likely to bear witness to the truth (Romans 8:16). Oh,
give diligence! Be much in prayer, reading, holy conversation. These things
are the oil, without which the lamp of assurance will not shine.
(10) Lay hold of God's strength. God is called
the Strength of Israel (1 Sam. 15:29). It is in his strength that we stand,
more than our own. The child is safest in the father's hands. It is not our
holding God—but his holding us—which preserves us. A little boat tied fast
to a rock is safe, and so are we, when we are tied to the "rock of ages."
MOTIVES to Persevere in Godliness
So that I may encourage Christians to persevere in the
profession of godliness, I shall propose these four considerations:
1. It is the glory and crown of a Christian to be
grey-headed in godliness
"Mnason of Cyprus, an old disciple" (Acts 21:16). What an
honor it is to see a Christian's garments red with blood—yet his
conscience pure white and his graces green and flourishing!
2. How sinners persevere in their sins!
They are settled on their lees (Zeph. 1:12). The
judgments of God will not deter or remove them. They say to their sin, as
Ruth said to Naomi, "Where you go, I will go . . . the Lord do so to me, and
more also, if anything but death parts you and me" (Ruth 1:16,17). So
nothing shall part men from their sins. Oh, what a shame it is that the
wicked should be fixed in evil—and we unfixed in good; that
they should be more constant in the devil's service—than we are in
3. Our perseverance in godliness may be a means of
Cyprian's hearers followed him to the place of his
suffering, and when they saw his steadfastness in the faith, they cried out,
"Let us also die with our holy pastor!" "Many of the brethren, waxing
confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word" (Phil. 1:14).
Paul's zeal and constancy animated the onlookers. His prison chains made
converts in Nero's court—and two of those converts were afterwards martyrs,
as history relates.
4. We shall lose nothing by our perseverance in godliness
There are eight glorious promises which God has entailed
on the persevering saints:
(1) "Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will
give you the crown of life." (Rev. 2:10). Christian, you may lose the
breath of life, but not the crown of life.
(2) "To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat
from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God" (Rev. 2:7).
This tree of life is the Lord Jesus. This tree infuses life—and prevents
death. The day we eat of this tree—our eyes shall indeed be opened to see
(3) "To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden
manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it,
known only to him who receives it." (Rev. 2:17). This promise consists of
(a) "I will give to eat of the hidden manna." This
is mysterious. It signifies the love of God—which is manna for
sweetness and hidden for its rarity.
(b) "I will give him a white stone", that is,
absolution. "It may be called a precious stone," says Jerome.
(c) "And in the stone a new name", that is,
adoption. He shall be reputed an heir of heaven, and no one can know
it, except the one who has the privy seal of the Spirit to assure him of it.
(4) "He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in
white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will
acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels" (Rev. 3:5). The
persevering saint shall be clothed in white. This is an emblem of joy
(Eccles. 9:8). He shall put off his mourning clothes, and be clothed in the
white robe of glory.
"I will never blot out his name from the book of life."
God will blot a believer's sins out—but he will not blot his name
out. The book of God's decree has no errata in it.
"But I will acknowledge his name." If anyone has owned
Christ on earth and worn his colors when it was death to wear them, Christ
will not be ashamed of him—but will acknowledge his name before his Father
and the holy angels. Oh, what a comfort and honor it will be to have a good
look from Christ, at the last day! More—to have Christ own us by name and
say, "These were those who stood up for my truth and kept their garments
pure, in a defiling age. These shall walk with me in white, for they are
(5) "Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the
temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the
name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which
is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my
new name." (Rev. 3:12). There are many excellent things couched in this
"I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God." The
hypocrite is a reed shaken by the wind—but the conquering saint shall be a
glorious pillar, a pillar of strength and a pillar in the temple for
"Never again will he leave it." I understand this of a
glorified state. "Never again will he leave it," that is, after he has
overcome, he shall not go out to the wars any more. He shall never have
any more sin or temptation to conflict with. No more noise of drum or cannon
shall be heard—but having won the field, the believer shall now stay at home
and divide the spoil.
"And I will write upon him the name of my God", that is,
he shall be openly acknowledged as my child, just as the Son bears his
Father's name. How honorable that saint must be, who has God's own name
written on him!
"And I will write upon him the name of the city of my
God", that is, he shall be enrolled as a citizen of the Jerusalem above. He
shall be made free in the angelic society.
(6) "To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I
will give authority over the nations" (Rev. 2:26). This may have a
double mystery. Either it may be understood of the saints living on earth:
they shall have power over the nations; their zeal and patience shall
overpower the adversaries of truth (Acts 6:10); or, principally, it may be
understood of the saints triumphing in heaven. They shall have power over
the nations: they shall share with Christ in some of his power; they shall
join with him in judging the world in the last days: "the saints shall judge
the world" (1 Cor. 6:2).
(7) "To him who overcomes, I will give the right to
sit with me on my throne" (Rev. 3:21):
(a) Here is, first, the saints' dignity: they shall sit
upon the throne.
(b) Their safety: they shall sit with Christ. Christ
holds them fast and no one shall pluck them off his throne. The saints may
be turned out of their houses—but they cannot be turned out of Christ's
throne! Men may as well pluck a star out of the sky—as a saint out of the
(8) "I will give him the morning star" (Rev.
2:28). Though the saints may be sullied with reproach in this life, though
they may be termed factious and disloyal—Paul himself suffered trouble, in
the opinion of some, as an evildoer (2 Tim. 2:9)—yet God will bring forth
the saints' righteousness as the light, and they shall shine like the
morning star, which is brighter than the rest. "I will give him the morning
star." This morning star is meant of Christ, as if Christ had said, "I will
give the persevering saint some of my beauty; I will put some of my splendid
rays on him; he shall have the nearest degree of glory to me, as the morning
star is nearest the sun!
Oh, what soul-ravishing promises there are here! Who
would not persevere in godliness! Whoever is not affected by these promises
is either a stone or a brute.
COUNSEL for the Godly
Let me, in the next place, direct myself to those who
have a real work of godliness in their hearts, and I would speak to them by
1. By way of CAUTION
Do not blur these characteristics of grace in your souls.
Though God's children cannot quite deface their graces—yet they may
disfigure them. Too much carnal liberty may weaken their
evidences, and so dim their luster that they cannot be read. These
characteristics of the godly are precious things. Gold and diamonds cannot
be compared with them. Oh, keep them well written in your hearts and they
will be so many living comforts in a dying hour. It will not frighten a
Christian to have all the signs of death in his body, when he can see
all the signs of grace in his soul. He will say with Simeon, "Lord,
now let you your servant depart in peace" (Luke 2:29).
2. By way of COUNSEL
You who are enriched with the treasures of
godliness—bless God for it! This flower does not grow in nature's garden!
You had enlisted yourselves under the devil and taken pay on his side,
fighting against your own happiness—and then God came with converting grace
and put forth a loving and gentle violence, causing you to espouse his cause
against Satan! You had lain many years soaking in wickedness, as if you had
been parboiled for hell—and then God laid you steeping in Christ's
blood and breathed holiness into your heart! Oh, what cause you have to
write yourselves down—as eternal debtors to free grace! He who does not give
God the praise for his grace denies that God is its author. Oh, acknowledge
the sovereign love of God! Admire distinguishing mercy! Set the crown of
your praise—on the head of free grace! If we are to be thankful for the
fruits of the earth, how much more for the fruits of the Spirit. It
is good that there is an eternity coming, when the saints shall triumph in
God and make his praise glorious!
3. By way of COMFORT
You who have only the least grain of godliness in
sincerity, let me give you rich consolation: Jesus Christ will not
discourage the weakest grace, but will nourish and preserve it to eternity.
Grace which has only newly budded shall, by the beams of the Sun of
righteousness, be prepared and ripened for glory. This I shall speak about
more fully in the next chapter.
COMFORT to the Godly
"A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick
he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory." Matthew 12:20
This text is spoken prophetically of Christ. He will not
crow over the infirmities of his people; he will not crush grace in its
infancy. I begin with the first, "the bruised reed."
Question: What is to be understood here by a reed?
Answer: It is not to be taken literally—but
figuratively. It is a rational reed, the spiritual part of
man, the soul, which may well be compared to a reed—because it is
subject to imbecility and shaking in this life, until it grows up unto a
firm cedar in heaven.
Question: What is meant by a bruised reed?
Answer: It is a soul humbled and bruised by the sense
of sin. It weeps—but does not despair; it is tossed upon the waves of
fear—yet not without the anchor of hope.
Question: What is meant by Christ's not breaking
Answer: The sense is that Christ will not discourage
any mournful spirit who is in the pangs of the new birth. If the bruise
of sin is felt, it shall not be mortal: "A bruised reed shall he not
break." In the words there is an understatement; he will not break,
that is, he will bind up the bruised reed, he will comfort it.
The result of the whole is to show Christ's compassion to
a poor dejected sinner who smites on his breast and dare hardly lift up his
eye for mercy. The heart of the Lord Jesus yearns for him; this bruised
reed, he will not break.
In the text there are two parts:
(1) A supposition: a soul penitentially bruised.
(2) A proposition: it shall not be broken.
Doctrine: The bruised soul shall not be broken: "He
binds up their wounds" (Psalm 147:3). For this purpose Christ received both
his mission and his unction, that he might bind up the bruised soul: "the
Lord has anointed me to bind up the broken-hearted" (Isaiah 61:1). But why
will Christ not break a bruised reed?
1. Out of the sweetness of his nature. "The Lord
is full of compassion and mercy" (James 5:11). He begets compassion in other
creatures and is therefore called "the Father of mercies" (2 Cor. 1:3). And
surely he himself is not without compassion. When a poor soul is afflicted
in spirit, God will not exercise harshness towards it, lest he should be
thought to lay aside his own tender disposition.
Hence it is, that the Lord has always been most
solicitous for his bruised ones. As the mother is most careful of her
children who are weak and sickly, "He shall gather the lambs with his arm,
and carry them in his bosom" (Isaiah 40:11). Those who have been spiritually
bruised, who like lambs are weakly and tender, Christ will carry in the arms
of free grace.
2. Because a contrite heart is his sacrifice.
(Psalm 51:17). A bruised spirit sends forth tears which are like precious
wine (Psalm 56:8). A bruised soul is big with holy desires, yes, is
love-sick. Therefore, if a bruised reed has such virtue in it, Christ will
not break it. No spices, when they are bruised, are so fragrant to us—as a
contrite spirit is to God.
3. Because it so closely resembles Christ. Jesus
Christ was once bruised on the cross: "it pleased the Lord to bruise him"
(Isaiah 53:10). His hands and feet were bruised with the nails; his side was
bruised with the spear. A bruised reed resembles a bruised Savior. No, a
bruised reed is a member of Christ; and though it is weak, Christ will not
cut it off—but will cherish it so much the more.
(1) Will Christ not break the bruised reed? This
tacitly implies that he will break unbruised reeds. Those who were never
touched with trouble of spirit—but live and die in impenitence, are hard
reeds or, rather, rocks. Christ will not break a bruised reed—but he will
break a hard reed. Many do not know what it is to be bruised reeds. They are
bruised outwardly by affliction—but they are not bruised for sin. They never
knew what the pangs of the new birth meant. You will hear some thank God
that they were always at peace, they never had any anxiety of spirit. These
bless God for the greatest curse! Those who are not bruised penitentially—shall
be broken judicially. Those whose hearts would not break for
sin—shall break with despair. In hell there is nothing to be seen but a heap
of stones and a hammer. A heap of stones—that is hard hearts; a hammer—that
is God's power and justice, breaking them in pieces.
A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick
he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory. Matthew 12:20
(2) Will Christ not break a bruised reed? See, then,
the gracious disposition of Jesus Christ—he is full of mercy and sympathy.
Though he may bruise the soul for sin, he will not break
it. The surgeon may lance the body and make it bleed—but he will
bind up the wound. As Christ has beams of majesty, so he has a
heart of mercy. Christ has both the lion and the lamb in
his escutcheon: the lion, in respect of his fierceness to the wicked
(Psalm 50:22), and the lamb, in respect of his mildness to his
people. His name is Jesus, a Savior, and his office is a healer (Mal. 4:2).
Christ made a plaster of his own blood—to heal a broken heart! Christ
is the quintessence of love. Someone said, "If the sweetness of all flowers
were in one flower, how sweet that flower would be!" Christ is that flower.
How full of mercy is Christ, in whom all mercy meets! Christ has a
skillful hand and a tender heart. "He will not break a bruised
Some are so full of harshness and cruelty, as to add
affliction to affliction, which is to lay a greater burden on a dying man.
But our Lord Jesus is a compassionate High Priest (Heb. 2:17). He is touched
with the feeling of our infirmity. Every bruise of the soul goes to his
heart! None refuse Christ—but such as do not know him. He is nothing but
love incarnate! He himself was bruised to heal those who are bruised.
(3) Will Christ not break a bruised reed? See,
then, what encouragement there is here for faith! Had Christ said that
he would break the bruised reed, then indeed there would be ground for
despair. But when Christ said that he will not break a bruised reed—this
opens a door of hope for humble, bruised souls! If we can say that we have
been bruised for sin, why do we not believe? Why do we droop under our fears
and discouragements, as if there were no mercy for us? Christ says, "He
heals the broken in heart" (Psalm 147:3). "No," says unbelief, "he will not
heal me." Christ says that he will cure the bruised soul.
"No," says unbelief, "he will kill it." As unbelief makes our
comforts void, so it tries to make the Word void, as if all God's promises
were but forgeries. Has the Lord said that he will not break a bruised reed?
Can truth lie? Oh, what a sin unbelief is! Some think it dreadful to be
among the number of drunkards, swearers and whoremongers. Let me tell you,
it is no less dreadful to be among the number of unbelievers (Rev. 21:8).
Unbelief is worse than any other sin, because it brings God, his Word, and
his promises into suspicion. It robs him of the richest jewel in his crown,
which is his truth: "He who believes not God, has made him a liar" (1 John
Oh then, let all humbled sinners go to Jesus Christ.
Christ was bruised with desertion, to heal those who are bruised with
sin. If you can show Christ your sores and touch him by faith—you
shall be healed of all your soul bruises! Will Christ not break you? Then do
not undo yourself by despair.
Use 1: Will Jesus Christ not break a bruised
reed? Then it reproves those who do what they can, to break the bruised
reed. And they are such as try to hinder the work of conversion in others.
When they see them wounded and troubled for sin, they dishearten them,
telling them that piety is a sour, melancholy thing; and they had better
return to their former pleasures. When an arrow of conviction is shot
into their conscience, these pull it out again, and will not allow the work
of conviction to go forward. Thus, when the soul is almost bruised, they
hinder it from a thorough bruise. This is for men to be devils
to others. If to shed the blood of another makes a man guilty, what
is it to damn another's soul?
Use 2: This text is a spiritual honeycomb,
dropping consolation into all bruised hearts. As we give stimulants to a
body suffering from a fainting fit, so when sinners are bruised for their
sins, I shall give some stimulant to revive them. This text is comforting to
a poor soul who sits with Job among the ashes, and is dejected at the sense
of its unworthiness. "Ah!" says the soul, "I am unworthy of mercy; what am
I, that ever God should look on me? Those who have greater gifts and graces
perhaps may obtain a look from God—but alas! I am unworthy." Does
your unworthiness trouble you? What more unworthy than a bruised reed? Yet
there is a promise made to that condition: "a bruised reed he will not
break." The promise is not made to the fig tree or olive tree,
which are fertile plants—but to the bruised reed. Though you are
despicable in your own eyes, a poor shattered reed—yet you may be glorious
in the eyes of the Lord. Do not let your unworthiness discourage you. If
you see yourself as vile and Christ as precious—this promise is yours!
Christ will not break you—but will bind up your wounds.
Question: But how shall I know that I am savingly
Answer: Did God ever bring you to your knees? Has
your proud heart been humbled? Did you ever see yourself as a sinner and
nothing but a sinner? Did you ever, with a weeping eye, look on Christ?
(Zech. 12:10) And did those tears drop from the eye of faith? (Mark 9:24)
This is gospel bruising. Can you say, "Lord, though I do not see you—yet I
love you; though I am in the dark—yet I cast anchor on you!" This is to be a
Objection 1: But I fear I am not bruised enough.
Answer: It is hard to prescribe a just measure of
humiliation. It is the same in the new birth as in the natural. Some give
birth with more pangs, and some with fewer. But would you like to know when
you are bruised enough? When your spirit is so troubled that you are willing
to let go those lusts which brought in the greatest income of pleasure and
delight. When not only is sin discarded but you are disgusted with it, then
you have been bruised enough. The medicine is strong enough when it has
purged out the disease. The soul is bruised enough when the love of sin is
Objection 2: But I fear I am not bruised as I should
be. I find my heart so hard.
Answer 1. We must distinguish between hardness of
heart and a hard heart. The best heart may have some hardness—but
though there is some hardness in it, it is not a hard heart. Names are given
according to the better part. If we come into a field that has tares and
wheat in it, we do not call it a field of tares, but a wheat field. So
though there is hardness in the heart as well as softness—yet God, who
judges by that part which is more excellent, looks on it as a soft heart.
Answer 2: There is a great difference between the
hardness in the wicked, and hardness in the godly. The one is natural, the
other is only accidental. The hardness in a wicked man is like the hardness
of a stone, which is an innate continued hardness. The hardness in a child
of God, is like the hardness of ice, which is soon melted by the sunbeams.
Perhaps God has at present withdrawn his Spirit, so the heart is congealed
like ice. But let God's Spirit, like the sun, return and shine on the heart,
and then it has a gracious thaw on it and it melts in love.
Answer 3: Do you not grieve under your hardness? You
sigh for lack of groans, you weep for lack of tears. The hard reed cannot
weep. If you were not a bruised reed, all this weeping could not come from
Objection 3: But I am a barren reed; I bear no
fruit; therefore I fear I shall be broken.
Answer: Gracious hearts are apt to overlook the good
that is in them. They can spy the worm in the leaf—but not the
fruit. Why do you say you are barren? If you are a bruised reed, you are
not barren. The spiritual reed ingrafted into the true vine is fruitful.
There is so much sap in Christ that it makes all who are ingrafted into him
bear fruit. Christ distills grace like drops of dew on the soul: "I will be
as the dew unto Israel; he shall grow as the lily; his branches shall
spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree" (Hos. 14:5,6). The God
who made the dry rod blossom—will make the dry reed flourish.
So much for the first expression in the text. I proceed
to the second: "the smoking flax shall he not
Question: What is meant by smoking?
Answer: By smoke is meant corruption. Smoke is
offensive to the eye, so sin offends the pure eye of God.
Question: What is meant by smoking flax?
Answer: It means grace mingled with corruption. As
with a little fire there may be much smoke, so with a little grace there may
be much corruption.
Question: What is meant by Christ's not quenching the
Answer: The meaning is that though there is only a
spark of grace with much sin, Christ will not put out this spark. In the
words there is a figure; "he will not quench", that is, he will increase.
Nothing is easier than to quench smoking flax; the least touch does it. But
Christ will not quench it. He will not blow the spark of grace out—but will
blow it up into a flame, he will make this smoking flax into a burning
Doctrine: That a little grace mixed with much
corruption shall not be quenched. For the illustrating of this I shall
1. That a little grace is often mixed with much
2. That this little grace mixed with corruption shall not
3. The reasons for the proposition.
1. Often in the godly, a little grace is mingled with
"Lord, I believe"—there was some faith; "help my
unbelief" (Mark 9:24)—there was corruption mixed with it. There are, in the
best saints, inter-weavings of sin and grace: a dark side with the light;
much pride mixed with humility; much earthliness with heavenliness. Grace in
the godly smacks of an old crabtree stock.
No, in many of the regenerate there is more corruption
than grace. So much smoke that you can scarcely discern any fire; so much
distrust that you can hardly see any faith (1 Sam. 27:1); so much passion
that you can hardly see any meekness. Jonah, a peevish prophet, quarrels
with God, no, he justifies his passion: "I do well to be angry, even unto
death!" (Jonah 4:9). Here there was so much passion that it was hard to see
any grace. A Christian in this life is like a glass that has more froth than
wine, or like a diseased body that has more illness than vigor. It may
humble the best to consider how much corruption is interlarded with their
2. This little grace mixed with much corruption shall not
"The smoking flax he will not quench." The disciples"
faith was at first only small: "they forsook Christ, and fled" (Matt.
26:56). Here there was smoking flax—but Christ did not quench that little
grace but nourished and animated it. Their faith afterwards grew stronger
and they openly confessed Christ (Acts 4:29,30). Here the flax was flaming.
3. The reasons why Christ will not quench the smoking
(1) Because this little spark which is in the smoking
flax, is of divine production. It comes from the Father of
lights, and the Lord will not quench the work of his own grace. Everything
by the instinct of nature will preserve its own. The hen that hatches her
young will preserve and nourish them; she will not destroy them as soon as
they are hatched. God, who has put this tenderness into the creature to
preserve its young, will much more nourish the work of his own Spirit in the
heart. Will he light up the lamp of grace in the soul—and then put it out?
This would be neither for his interest—nor for his honor.
(2) Christ will not quench the beginnings of grace,
because a little grace is as precious as much grace.
A small pearl is of value. Though the pearl of faith is little—yet if it is
a true pearl, it shines gloriously in God's eyes. A goldsmith takes account
of the least filings of gold, and will not throw them away. The pupil
of the eye is only little—yet it is of great use; it can at once view a huge
part of the heavens. A little faith can justify. A weak hand can tie the
nuptial knot. A weak faith can unite to Christ—as well as a strong faith. A
little grace makes us like God. A silver penny bears the king's image on it,
as well as a larger coin. The least grain of grace bears God's image on
it—and will God destroy his own image? When the temples in Greece were
demolished, Xerxes caused the temple of Diana to be preserved for the beauty
of its structure. When God destroys all the glory of the world and sets it
on fire—yet he will not destroy the least grace, because it bears a print of
his own likeness on it. That little spark in the smoking flax, is a ray and
beam of God's own glory.
(3) Christ will not quench the smoking flax, because this
little light in the flax may grow into a flame. Grace is compared
to a grain of mustard seed; it is the smallest of all seeds—but when it has
grown, it is the largest of herbs, and becomes a tree (Matt. 13:31,32). The
greatest grace was once little. The oak was once an acorn. The most renowned
faith in the world, was once in its spiritual infancy. The greatest flame of
zeal was once only smoking flax. Grace, like the waters of the sanctuary,
rises higher (Ezek. 47:1-5). If, then, the smallest embryo and seed of
holiness has a ripening and growing nature, the Lord will not allow it to be
(4) Christ will not quench the smoking flax, because when
he preserves a little light in a great deal of smoke—here the glory of his
power shines forth. The trembling soul thinks it will be
swallowed up by sin. But God preserves a little quantity of grace in the
heart—no, no, he makes that spark prevail over corruption, as the fire from
heaven "licked up the water in the trench" (1 Kings 18:38). So God gets
himself a glorious name and carries away the trophies of honor: "My strength
is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9).
1. See the different dealings of God and men.
Men, for a little smoke—will quench a great deal of light; God, for a great
deal of smoke—will not quench a little light. It is the manner of the world,
if they see a little failure in another, to pass by and quench a great deal
of worth because of that failure. This is our nature, to aggravate a little
fault and diminish a great deal of virtue; to see the infirmities and darken
the excellences of others—as we take more notice of the twinkling of
a star, than the shining of a star. We censure others for their
passion—but do not admire them for their piety. Thus, because of a little
smoke that we see in others, we quench much light.
God does not act like that. For a great deal of smoke, he
will not quench a little light. He sees the sincerity—and overlooks many
infirmities. The least sparks of grace he nourishes, and blows them gently
with the breath of his Spirit until they break forth into a flame!
2. If Christ will not quench the smoking flax—then we
must not quench the smoking flax in ourselves. If grace does not
increase into so great a flame as we see in others, and we therefore
conclude that we have no fire of the Spirit in us—that is to quench the
smoking flax and to bear false witness against ourselves. As we must not
credit false evidence, so neither must we deny true evidences of godliness.
As fire may be hidden in the embers, so grace may be hidden under many
disorders of soul. Some Christians are so skillful at this—accusing
themselves for lack of grace—as if they had received a fee from Satan to
plead for him against themselves.
It is a great mistake to argue from the weakness
of grace—to its absence. It is one thing to be weak in
faith—and another to lack faith. He whose eyesight is dim has
defective sight—but he is not without sight. A little grace is grace,
though it is smothered under much corruption.
3. If the least spark of grace shall not be quenched,
then it follows as a great truth—that there is no falling from grace.
If the least grain of grace should perish, then the smoking flax would
be quenched. Grace may be shaken by fears and doubts—but not torn up
by the roots. I grant that seeming grace may be lost; this wildfire
may be blown out—but not the fire of the Spirit's kindling. Grace may be
dormant in the soul—but not dead. As a man in a coma does not
exert vital energy, grace may be eclipsed, not extinct. A
Christian may lose his comfort, like a tree in autumn which has shed
its fruit—but there is still sap in the vine and "the seed of God remains in
him" (1 John 3:9). Grace is a flower of eternity.
This smoking flax cannot be quenched by affliction—but is
like those trees of which Pliny writes—trees growing in the Red Sea, which
though beaten by the waves, stand immovable, and though sometimes covered
with water, flourish the more. Grace is like a true oriental diamond—which
sparkles and cannot be broken.
I confess it is a matter of astonishment, that grace
should not be wholly annihilated, especially if we consider two things:
(1) The malice of Satan. He is a malignant spirit and
lays barriers in our way to heaven. The devil, with the wind of
temptation, tries to blow out the spark of grace in our hearts. If this
will not do, he stirs up wicked men and raises the militia of hell against
us. What a wonder it is that this bright star of grace, should not be swept
down by the tail of the dragon!
(2) The world of corruption in our hearts. Sin makes up
the major part in a Christian. There are more dregs than grace in the
holiest heart. The heart swarms with sin. What a great deal of pride and
atheism there is in the soul! Now is it not astonishing that this lily of
grace should be able to grow among so many thorns? It is as great
a wonder that a little grace should be preserved in the midst of so much
corruption—as to see a candle burning in the sea and not extinguished.
But though grace lives with so much difficulty, like the
infant that struggles for breath—yet being born of God, it is immortal.
Grace conflicting with corruption is like a ship tossed and beaten by the
waves—yet it weathers the storm and at last gets to the desired haven. If
grace should expire, how could this text be verified, "The smoking flax he
will not quench"?
Question: But how is it that grace, even the least
degree of it, is not quenched?
Answer: It is from the mighty operation of the Holy
Spirit. The Spirit of God, who is the source, continually excites and
awakens grace in the heart. He is at work in a believer every day. He pours
in oil, and keeps the lamp of grace burning. Grace is compared to a river of
life (John 7:38). The river of grace can never be dried up, for the Spirit
of God is the spring which feeds it.
Now it is evident from the covenant of grace, that the
smoking flax cannot be quenched. "The mountains shall depart, and the hills
be removed; but the covenant of my peace shall not be removed, says the
Lord" (Isaiah 54:10). If there is falling from grace, how is it an immovable
covenant? If grace dies and the smoking flax is quenched, how is our state
in Christ, better than it was in Adam? The covenant of grace is called "a
better covenant" (Heb. 7:22). How is it a better covenant than that which
was made with Adam? Not only because it has a better Surety and contains
better privileges—but because it has better conditions annexed to it: "It is
ordered in all things, and sure" (2 Sam. 23:5). Those who are taken
into the covenant shall be like stars fixed in their orbit and shall never
fall away. If grace might die and be quenched, then it would not be a better
Objection: But we are bidden not to quench the Spirit
(1 Thess. 5:19), which implies that the grace of the Spirit may be lost and
the smoking flax quenched.
Answer: We must distinguish between the common
work of the Spirit and the sanctifying work. The one may be quenched,
but not the other. The common work of the Spirit is like a picture drawn on
the ice, which is soon defaced; the sanctifying work is like a statue carved
in gold, which endures. The gifts of the Spirit may be quenched, but
not the grace of the Spirit. There is the enlightening of the Spirit,
and the anointing. The enlightening of the Spirit may fail—but
the anointing of the Spirit abides: "the anointing which you have
received from him abides in you" (1 John 2:27). The hypocrite's blaze goes
out, the true believer's spark lives and flourishes. The one is the light of
a comet which wastes and evaporates (Matt. 25:8); the other is the light of
a star which retains its luster.
From all that has been said, let a saint of the Lord be
persuaded to do these two things:
1. To believe his privilege.
2. To pursue his duty.
1. To believe his privilege
It is the incomparable and unparalleled happiness of a
saint, that his coal of grace shall not be quenched (2 Sam. 14:7). That
grace in his soul which is weak and languid, shall not die—but recover its
strength and increase. The Lord will make the smoking flax into a burning
lamp. It would be very sad for a Christian to be continually chopping and
changing: one day a member of Christ and the next day a limb of Satan; one
day to have grace shine in his soul and the next day his light be put out in
obscurity. This would spoil a Christian's comfort and break asunder the
golden chain of salvation. But be assured, O Christian, that he who has
begun a good work, will ripen it to perfection (Phil. 1:6). Christ will send
forth judgment unto victory. He will make grace victorious over all opposing
corruption. If grace should finally perish, what would become of the smoking
flax? And how would that title properly be given to Christ, "Finisher of the
faith" (Heb. 12:2)?
Objection: There is no question that this is an
undoubted privilege to those who are smoking flax and have the least
beginnings of grace—but I fear I am not smoking flax; I cannot see the light
of grace in myself.
Answer: So that I may comfort the smoking flax, why
do you thus dispute against yourself? What makes you think you have no
grace? I believe you have more than you would be willing to part with. You
value grace above the gold of Ophir. How could you see the worth and luster
of this jewel—if God's Spirit had not opened your eyes? You desire to
believe and mourn—that you cannot believe. Are these tears not the
beginnings of faith? You desire Christ and cannot be satisfied without him.
This beating of the pulse evidences life. The iron could not move
upwards if the loadstone did not draw it. The heart could not ascend in holy
desires for God, if some heavenly loadstone had not been drawing it.
Christian, can you say that sin is your burden, Christ is your delight and,
as Peter once said, "Lord, you know that I love you!" (John 21:17) This is
smoking flax and the Lord will not quench it. Your grace shall
flourish into glory. God will sooner extinguish the light of the sun,
than extinguish the dawning light of his Spirit in your heart.
2. To pursue his duty
There are two duties required of believers:
(1) Love. Will the Lord not quench the smoking
flax—but make it at last victorious over all opposition? How the smoking
flax should flame in love to God! "Oh, love the Lord, all his saints" (Psalm
31:23). The saints owe much to God, and when they have nothing to pay,
it is hard if they cannot love him. O you saints, it is God who
carries on grace progressively in your souls. He is like a father who gives
his son a small stock of money to begin with, and when he has traded a
little, he adds more to the stock. So God adds continually to your stock. He
drops oil into the lamp of your grace every day, and so keeps the
lamp burning. This may inflame your love to God, who will not let the work
of grace fail but will bring it to perfection: "the smoking flax he will not
quench." How God's people should long for heaven, when it will be their
constant work to breathe out love and sound out praise!
(2) Labor. Some may think that if Christ will
not quench the smoking flax—but make it burn brighter to the meridian of
glory, then we need take no pains but leave God to do his own work. Take
heed of drawing so bad a conclusion from such good premises. What I have
spoken is to encourage faith—not to indulge sloth! Do not think God will do
our work for us—while we sit still. As God will blow up the spark of
grace by his Spirit—so we must be blowing it up by holy efforts. God
will not bring us to heaven sleeping—but praying. The Lord
told Paul that all in the ship would come safely to shore—but it must be by
the use of means: "Except these abide in the ship, you cannot be saved"
(Acts 27:31). So the saints shall certainly arrive at salvation. They shall
come to shore at last—but they must stay in the ship, in the use of
ordinances, else they cannot be saved. Christ assures his disciples: "None
shall pluck them out of my hand" (John 10:28). But he still gives that
counsel, "Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation" (Matt. 26:41).
The seed of God shall not die—but we must water it with our tears. The
smoking flax shall not be quenched—but we must blow it up with the breath of
The second comfort to the godly is that godliness
promotes them to a close and glorious union with Jesus Christ. But I reserve
this for the next chapter.