In pursuing his calling, Christ will not quench the smoking flax, or wick, but will blow it up till it flames. In a smoking flax there is but a little light, and that little light is weak, since it’s unable to flame, and what is there is mixed with smoke. The observations from this are that in God’s children, especially in their first conversion, there is but a little measure of grace, and that little grace is mixed with much corruption which, like smoke, is offensive; but that Christ will not quench this smoking flax.
Grace is Mingled With Corruption
But grace is not only little, but mingled with corruption; therefore a Christian is said to be smoking flax. So we do see that grace does not do away with corruption all at once, but some is left for believers to fight with. The purest actions of the purest men need Christ to perfume them. And this is his office. When we pray, we need to pray again for Christ to pardon the defects of our prayers. Consider some instances of this smoking flax:
- Moses at the Red Sea, being in a great perplexity, and knowing not what to say, or which way to turn, groaned to God. No doubt this was a great conflict in him. In great distress we know not what to pray, but the Spirit makes request with sighs that cannot be expressed (Rom. 8:26). Broken hearts can yield but broken prayers.
- When David was before the king of Gath (1 Sam. 21:13), and disfigured himself in an uncomely manner, in that smoke there was some fire also. You may see what an excellent psalm he makes upon that occasion – Psalm 34 – in which, on the basis of experience, he says, “The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart” (Psa. 34:18).
- “I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes.” There is smoke. “Nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications” (Psa. 31:22). There is fire.
- “Lord, save us: we perish” (Matt. 8:25), cry the disciples. Here is smoke of infidelity, yet so much light of faith as stirred them up to pray to Christ. “Lord, I believe.” There is light.
- “Help thou mine unbelief.” There is smoke (Mark 9:24). Jonah cries, “I am cast out of thy sight.” There is smoke. “Yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.” There is light (Jon. 2:4).
- “O wretched man that I am!” says Paul, with a sense of his corruption. Yet he breaks out into thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 7:24).
- “I sleep,” says the church in the Song of Solomon, “but my heart waketh” (Song of Sol. 5:2).
- In the seven churches, which for their light are called “seven golden candlesticks” (Rev. 2 and 3), most of them had much smoke with their light.
The reason for this mixture is that we carry about us a double principle, grace and nature. The end of it is especially to preserve us from those two dangerous rocks which our natures are prone to dash upon: security and pride, and to force us to pitch our rest on justification, not sanctification, which besides imperfection, has some stains. Our spiritual fire is like our ordinary fire here below, that is, mixed. Fire is most pure in its own element above [ed: i.e., the stars] ; so shall our graces be when we would be also in heaven, which is our proper element.
From this mixture arises the fact that the people of God have so different judgments themselves, looking sometimes at the work of grace, sometimes at the remainder of corruption, and when they look upon that, then they think they have no grace. Though they love Christ in his ordinances and children, yet they dare not claim so near acquaintance as to be his. Even as a guttering candle sometimes shows its light and sometimes the show of light is lost, so sometimes they are sure about themselves, and sometimes at a loss.