Are You A Smoking Flax?
So much for the first expression in the text. I proceed to the second: "the smoking flax shall he not quench."
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 smoking flax?
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 candle.
Doctrine: That a little grace mixed with much corruption shall not be quenched. For the illustrating of this I shall show you:
1. That a little grace is often mixed with much corruption.
2. That this little grace mixed with corruption shall not be quenched.
3. The reasons for the proposition.
1. Often in the godly, a little grace is mingled with much corruption
"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 grace.
2. This little grace mixed with much corruption shall not be quenched
"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 flax
(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 abortive.
(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 covenant.
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 our effort.
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.
Psa 55:16 As for me, I will call upon God; and the LORD shall save me.
Psa 55:17 Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice.
Husband of Melissa and father of Ann.
Grandfather to Owen and Claire
Member and precentor of Psalms at Grace Reformed Presbyterian, Dublin Va.