Sermon 1831. Smoking Flax
C. H. SPURGEON,
AT THE METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE, NEWINGTON, ON JUNE 1, 1884.
"The smoking flax shall He not quench." Isaiah 42:3.
I BELIEVE that the first sense of these words is not the one usually given to them, nor yet the one upon which I intend topreach tonight. We read in the 12th of Matthew that our Divine Lord was assailed by the scribes and Pharisees, but He didnot enter, at that time, into controversy with them, neither did He make them the perpetual target of His observations. Consideringwhat hypocrites they were and what boundless mischief they were doing, He treated them very gently, indeed. They were, comparedto Him, but as bruised reeds and as the smoking flax, and He could, if He had pleased, have broken them up altogether, orhave altogether quenched them-but He did not come to be a mere controversialist. He was, in truth, the greatest of all Reformers,but He was not so much a breaker-down as He was a builder-up. He came not so much to drive out error by reason, as to expelit by the natural and efficient process of putting the Truth of God into its place. So, to a large extent, He left these scribesand Pharisees, and other opponents, alone, and He went quietly on with His own work of healing the sick and saving the sinful-avery good lesson to us.
We get a little pugnacious, sometimes, and seek religious controversy. But our Savior did not strive, nor cry, nor cause Hisvoice to be heard in the streets-a bruised reed He did not break and a smoking flax He did not quench. The best way to putout the twinkling light of a smoking flax was to let the sun shine. Then nobody could see it! Instead of talking down thesebruised reeds, He set up the higher claim of sure and certain truth, for men would not care to trust in bruised reeds whenthey had once seen something more stable and worthy to be relied upon. You and I will best put down error by preaching theTruth of God. If we preach up Christ, the devil goes down. If a crooked stick is before you, you need not explain how crookedit is-lay a straight one down by the side of it and the work is well done. Preach the Truth of God and error will stand abashedin its presence.
That is, no doubt, the first meaning of this passage, as you will see by the connection in Matthew. It is said, "A bruisedreed shall He not break, and smoking flax shall He not quench, till He sends forth judgment unto victory." When the Lord sendsforth judgment unto victory, then it will be all over with the bruised reed and the smoking flax of the hypocrite, the Pharisee,the formalist, the legalist and every other opponent.
Usually these words are understood to mean that Jesus Christ will deal very gently with timid Believers and this meaning isnot to be rejected for, in the first place, it is true. And, in the second place, it is true out of this text, also, for ifour Lord Jesus, in His lifetime, was gentle even to hypocrites, how much more will He be gentle to sincere but timorous spirits?If it is true that He will not quench the smoking flax even of a Pharisee, how much more true must it be that the smokingflax of a penitent shall not be quenched! So that, if the text does not say what is generally understood by it, it impliesit and the words so clearly run into the meaning that is commonly given to them.
I take it that there is a kind of instinct in the Church, so that even when judged according to criticism, she may seem tomisapply a passage of Scripture. She generally does not misapply it, but only brings out a second light which was always behindthe first and which shines none the less brightly, but all the more so, because the first was there. I shall therefore takethe text to mean something other than I have stated. "The smoking flax shall He not quench," is a text for you timorous, desponding,feeble-minded and yet, true-hearted Believers, and you may appropriate it to yourselves. May the Holy Spirit help you to doso!
I. In talking of it, at this time, I shall first enquire, WHAT STATE THIS METAPHOR REPRESENTS. A smoking flax represents astate in which there is a little good. The margin is "dimly burning flax." It is burning, but it is burning
very dimly. There is a spark of good within the heart. You, my dear Friend, have a little faith. It is not much bigger thana grain of mustard seed, but faith of that size has great power in it! I wish that your faith would grow to a tree, but Iam very glad that you have any, even though it is minute as the mustard seed. You have a desire, too, after better things.You are always wanting to be more holy. You love to be among God's people and though, sometimes, you are afraid that you arenot one of them, you would give all that you have to be sure that you were, for you love their conversation. Having thosedesires, you pray. "O Sir," you say, "it is not worth calling prayer!" Well, we will not call it prayer, then, but it is prayer,for sometimes, when not even a word is spoken, the desire of the heart is a most acceptable pleading with God. "O Sir," yousay, "but I do not always desire alike!" I am very sorry that it is so. I wish you always had a strong desire after Christ.Still, you do desire. There is a longing, a desiring, a panting, a hungering, a thirsting-therefore there is some little goodin you.
"Do not praise me," you say. Oh, no, dear Friend, I will not praise you! I know that you would not like it, for you have amodest estimate of yourself and, like the publican, you cry, "God be merciful to me a sinner." That tune suits you, does itnot? I can see somewhat of good in you since you do not think well of yourself. If you did, we might think ill of you-butinasmuch as you even repent over your repentance and feel as if your tears need weeping over, I am glad of it. Lowliness ofheart is a Grace very much despised in these days, but very much valued by the King of Heaven. "To this man," He says "willI look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at My Word." There is some little good in you putthere by the Spirit of God. "Ah," you say, "I like that word, Sir. I am sure there was no good in me by Nature." Friend, Iam sure of it, too, if you are at all like I am. The Grace of God has put in us our first desire, our first loathing of sin,our first wish to be forgiven, our first desire to return to our Father from whom we have wandered. The Spirit put it thereand you are like the smoking flax because there is a little living fire in you.
You are like smoking flax, again, because your good is too little to be of much use to anybody. What could we do with a smokingflax if we had it here, tonight, and the gas was all out? You would, perhaps, see a glimmer, but you would say, "It is notlight, but darkness visible." I like a soul in darkness to find that darkness visible! There is a good point about that. Alas,you are such a poor timid creature, you could not comfort a child of God-you cannot even comfort yourself! You could not strengthenthe weak, for you need all the strengthening for yourself. You are not much of a soldier. You could not march in rank-we haveto carry you about in the ambulance. Well, we are not tired of carrying you, nor is God, either! You are still a soldier,for you would fight if you could.
Though you are an invalid, yet whenever the trumpet sounds, you wish to be in the thick of the fight. Poor thing that youare, you would soon be trampled down, but you have spirit enough for it, for which I thank God. Though your courage is ofno great use to anybody, yet it is of use to you, for it proves you to be a soldier of the Cross, a follower of the Lamb!I would to God that you had more of the Light of God that you might light your Brother on his dreary way. I wish you had morefaith, more joy, more hope, more rest, for you might, then, be of service to the Lord's household and the King might findin you a willing helper. But as you cannot do that, you are like the smoking flax-there is a little good, but that good isnot great enough to make you very useful. Yet I will tell you one thing you can do. When you meet with another poor soul thatis like you, you can sympathize, can you not? You see, when bright and shining lights come near those who are dim, they areapt, rather, to shame them than to comfort them-but you will not do that. So far you may even help the despondent-at leastyou will do so one of these days.
Smoking flax, then, has a little fire, but it is so little that it is of small service and, what is worse, it is so littlethat it is rather unpleasant. No one delights in the smell of a candle that is dying out. Smoking flax does not yield a sweetsavor, neither does a Christian when he is in a mournful condition. There is a little good in him, but there is a great dealof wrong about him and that wrong has an ill smell. Sometimes these smoking-flax people believe a great many errors. Theydo not hold the true and solid doctrine of God's everlasting love. They favor notions that are not Scriptural and error isnever sweet to Christ, nor to any of His own people. Besides, they have a great smoke of doubts. They doubt this and theyquestion that-and they suspect the other thing. There is nothing more obnoxious to our Divine Lord than distrust of Him. Itis a gracious act on His part that He puts up with it.
One said to Christ, "If You can"-and that was a shocking thing to say to Almighty God! Another said to Him, "If You will"-andthat was a shameful thing to say to One so kind-and yet He bore with them both. Doubting hearts will cry, "If You will," and,"if You can," and do anything sooner than believe. This is to make an ill savor in the Pres-
ence of the Lord Jesus Christ for, though we may reckon our doubts to be trifling, they are no trifles to Him, but exceedinglygrievous and provoking to His heart! A dear Sister came in after service, this morning, and told me that she was 50 yearsold on the same day as myself, so she came to shake hands with me, and she added, "I am like you in that, but I am the veryreverse of you in other things." I replied, "Then you must be a good woman." "No," she said, "that is not what I mean." "Butare you not a Believer?" "Well," she said, "I-I will try to be." I got hold of her hand and I said, "You are not going totell me that you will try and believe my Lord Jesus Christ, for that means unbelief of Him who must be true!" And I held herfast while I added, "When your mother was about, did you say to her, 'Mother, I will try and believe you'? No, you would believeher because she was true-and I must have you believe Jesus Christ." She said, "Sir, pray for me." "No," I said, "I am notinclined to do that. What should I pray for you about? If you will not believe my Lord, what blessing can He give you? Whathas He ever done that you should say, 'I cannot believe Him'?"
She again answered, "I will try." I was not content till I had reminded her of the Word of God, "He that believes in Him haseverlasting life," and I pressed her to a full faith in the risen Lord. The Holy Spirit enabled her to trust and then shecried, "I have been looking to my feelings, Sir, and this has been my mistake!" I have no doubt that she had done so-and agreat many others are doing the same! And their doubts are just that horrible smoke which comes from smoking flax. O, youpoor doubters, believe the Lord Jesus Christ! To say, "I cannot believe Him," is to say, in other words, that He is a liarand we cannot allow you to say that!
Dear Friend, if you are like the smoking flax, there is something good in you, but that is so sadly little that there is agreat deal that is trying about you-yet the Lord will not quench you! You are full of all sorts of fears. You are afraid ofa shadow. You are trembling at nothing at all! Why is this? You are troubled when you ought to be glad and you make your wholefamily sad when there is no earthly reason for it. May the Lord deliver you! Those that are highest in faith have tried tocomfort you and you have pulled them down instead of their being able to draw you up. Come, Friend, I would be as gentle asever I can-my text bids me be so. I have no extinguisher for your smoking flax, for my Lord has said, "The smoking flax shallHe not quench."
I must add one more thing about this state and it is this, though the good of it is so little that it is of very little useto other people-and sometimes is very obnoxious-yet there is enough good in you to be dangerous in Satan's esteem. He doesnot like to observe that there is yet a little fire in you, for he fears that it may become a flame. If any of you were tosee a man standing at the back of one of our public buildings lighting his pipe, I will be bound to say that you would behalf afraid of an explosion, for he might be applying dynamite! There are times when the smallest smoke would fill the bravestmen with fear. Even so-
"Satan trembles when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees" If he hears you groaning about your sin, he is frightened at it. "Oh," he says, "they havebegun to feel! They have begun to mourn. They have begun to desire. They have begun to pray and soon they will leave me!"Let a farmer perceive a little smoke coming out of one of his ricks and I am sure that he will not say that there is nothingat all in a smoking flax! No, he will hasten to prevent a conflagration. So the little Grace that is in you, dear Friend,Christ sees and He approves of it, for He knows the possibilities of it-how little faith can grow into strong faith-how thegrain of mustard seed can become a tree and the birds of the air may yet lodge in its branches! And Satan, also, knows whatmay come of it and he is moved to quench it if he can. We, therefore, would encourage you and fan your spark to a flame. Thereis the first question answered. What state does this represent?
II. Secondly, WHEN ARE SOULS IN THAT STATE? Some are in that state when they are newly saved-when the flax has just been lighted.Those that are to be received into the Church, tonight, I welcome very heartily, but they are very newly lit and some, perhaps,would have said, "Let them wait a bit." Yes, but then our Lord does not quench the smoking flax because it is newly lightedand nor will I. No place in the world is so good for the lambs as the fold. No place is so good for babes as their own home.No place is so good for young Christians as the Church of God. So let them come!
Being newly converted, they are strange to many things. You have made a host of discoveries. You find more depravity in yourheart than you thought was there. You find enemies where you expected to meet with friends. All this is apt to
dampen your courage, but do not be cast down-for though it is but a little that you are lighted-yet the loving Jesus willnot quench the smoking flax!
Sometimes a candle smokes, not because it is newly lit, but because it is almost extinguished. I know that I speak to someChristians who have been alight with the fire of Grace for many years and yet they feel as if they were near the dark hourof extinction. But you shall not go out. The Lord will not quench you, Himself, nor will He permit the devil to quench you.He will keep you alight with Grace. "Oh," but you say, "I am so depressed in spirit!" Yes, some of God's best servants havebeen of a sorrowful spirit. Remember Hannah, whom Eli cruelly rebuked, but who, nevertheless, got a blessing? David had tosay, "Why are you cast down, O my Soul? And why are you disquieted within me?" And yet he was a man after God's own heart.Perhaps you are not well, or you have had an illness that has taken much upon your nervous system and you are depressed-perhapsthat is why you think that Grace is leaving you-but it will not! Your spiritual life does not depend upon Nature, else itmight expire-it depends upon Grace, and Grace will never cease to shine till it lights you into Glory! Therefore be not castdown. You may think that your light will go out in eternal darkness, but it never shall, for the Lord Jesus Christ will preservethe flame.
Sometimes the wick smokes when worldliness has dampened it. If some of you never have any holy joy, I am not surprised, foryou are so taken up with the world and so fond of it. The life of God is in you, but it is smothered! You are like an autumnfire out in the garden when they are burning the weeds-there is a fire, but all you can see is smoke. Yes, you smother upyour piety with the things of this world and no wonder that it smokes! What a mercy it is that the Lord does not allow, evenyou, to perish! He keeps the dying flame alive though hidden away.
At times a wick burns low because a very strong wind has blown upon it. Many men and women are the subjects of very fiercetemptations. The place in which they live is a trial to them and their natural constitution furnishes them with a host oftemptations-and so the flax scarcely burns, but smokes and smolders. We do not wonder that it should be so.
There are many other reasons why we grow dim at times-reasons, but none of them sufficient to be an excuse. If we were whatwe ought to be, we would always be burning and shining lights-and there would be no times in which we would be like the smokingflax. But then we are not what we ought to be-we fall short of the true standard-and we become feeble Believers.
III. I desire to finish with a word of promise. WHAT DOES JESUS DO WITH THOSE WHO ARE IN THIS
STATE? He says that He will not quench the smoking flax. What a world of mercy lies in that Word of God! Everybody else wouldquench us but Christ! I am sure that some Christians get into such a state that the most loving Christian friends find ithard to bear with them and fear that such a state of mind cannot be consistent with Grace at all. Thus your friend would giveyou over as lost. But Jesus Christ says that He will not do so.
He will not quench you, first, by pronouncing legal judgment upon you. He will not say, "You have broken My Laws and I havedone with you." If He did, our only answer could be, "Enter not into judgment with Your servant, for in Your sight shall noman living be justified." If the Lord were once to come to that, He would quench us all! Not only some few of the tremblers,but the strongest among us must go to the wall! The Lord Jesus Christ has not come to condemn, but to save.
He will not quench you, dear Friend, by setting up a high experimental standard. Certain deep divines will say, "You musthave felt so much of this and so much of the other, or else you cannot be a child of God." Who told the good man that? Whomade him to be a judge? The Lord Jesus Christ does not quench even the feeble, faint desire, or the trembling faith of Hisservants, though they fall far short of that experience which ought to belong to a child of God.
He will not judge you, dear Friend, by a lofty standard of knowledge. I have known persons who have thought, "If that convertis not better instructed in the doctrines, he is no child of God." The Lord has some of His children whose heads are in avery strange state and if He first puts their hearts right, He afterwards puts their heads right. But for you and for me tosay that a man is not a child of God because he does not know all that the advanced saints know, is a very wicked thing! Iam sure that your little child, who cannot read or write, is pressed to your bosom, dear mother, with just as much affectionas that brave son of yours who has just been winning the first prize at school. You do not say, "I will not love the littleone because he is not a man" or, "I will not love my little daughter because she is not grown up to womanhood." Oh, no! TheLord loves the little ones. If you can say, "One thing I know, whereas I was blind, now I see,"
you are taught of God! If you know these two things-yourself a sinner and Christ a Savior-you are scholar enough to go toHeaven!
And the Lord Jesus Christ will not quench you by setting up a standard by which to measure your graces. It is not, "So muchfaith and you are saved. So little faith and you are lost." Oh, no! If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed it will saveyou. If you believe in Christ, you are saved! That woman who touched the hem of Christ's garment with her fingers and thentremblingly slunk back was truly healed-slight as her touch was! Even Simeon, who took the Savior up into his arms, and said,"Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace," cannot more surely be said to have had a saving faith than that poor woman whocame behind and touched the hem of the Master's garment!
Come along, you little ones-you trembling ones! Be not afraid! Jesus will not quench you by any of these means. I will tellyou what He will do with you and that is, instead of quenching you, He will protect you! He will blow upon you with the softbreath of His love till the little spark will rise into a flame! You young folks do not know what trouble some of us usedto have 45 years ago, when we got up in the morning and had to strike a light in the old-fashioned way. There we were, witha flint and a steel-striking away in a tiresome manner till we spied a little spark down in the tinder-oh, such a little one-andthen we gently tried to blow it into a flame! How we used to prize a spark on a cold, frosty morning, when our fingers werepretty well frozen! We never put out the sparks by shutting the lid on the top of the tinder, but we tried, if we could, tolight our match.
Now, the Lord Jesus Christ will blow softly upon you with His gentle Spirit. He will bring to your mind exceedingly greatand precious promises. He will bring to you kind friends who shall tell you their experience and try to comfort you. I shouldnot wonder, my dear Brother, that one of these days I shall hear you pray a strong, brave prayer! I should not wonder if you,before long, come forward and made an open profession! And if you have done so already, I feel pretty sure that you will honorit and grow stronger till, one day we shall say, "Who is that bold witness for Christ? Who is that burning and shining light?"He is the man who was once likened to the smoking flax!
I have had the portraits of my two boys taken on their birthdays-from the first birthday till they were twenty-one. The firstyear the little fellows are sitting, two of them in one baby carriage. At 21 they are doing nothing of the sort- they aremen full-grown! Yet I can trace them all along, from the time when they were babes, till they became little boys, and thenyouths, and then young men! I should not have been pleased to have seen them wheeled about in the baby carriage for 21 years!In that case, I would have thought myself a most unfortunate father. And so I do not want to have any of you remaining inspiritual infancy-we long to see you come to the fullness of the stature of perfect men in Christ Jesus!
Life is precious, but we look for growth. A spark is fire, but we expect flame. Grace is priceless, but we long to see itdaily increased by going on unto perfection! Despise not the day of small things, but advance to greater things than these.Be comforted, but not self-satisfied. Rest, but do not loiter. The table of the Lord is spread and it is a feast not for men,alone, but for babes in Grace. Come here, you that love the Lord, and you that trust Him, however feeble your trust. Howeverfaint your courage, come and welcome! My Lord's table is not for giants, only, but for infants, also. The viands are not strongmeat, but bread and wine, fit food for the faint and feeble. Examine yourselves, you sincere tremblers, but do not let theexamination end in your staying away! Rather, mark how the text says, "let a man examine himself, and so let him eat"-not,"so let him refrain from eating" Ho, you that hope in His mercy, your Lord invites you to His own feast of love! You may comeand welcome! If you have come to Christ, Himself, by faith, come to His table and remember Him tonight. The Lord bless you,for Jesus' sake. Amen.