Marks of the Smoking Flax

To determine whether we are this smoking flax that Christ will not quench, we must remember these rules:

We must have two eyes: One to see imperfections in ourselves and others; the other to see what is good. “I am black,” says the church, “but comely” (Song of Solomon 1:5). Those who are given to quarreling with themselves always lack comfort, and through their infirmities they are prone to feed on such bitter things that will most nourish the disease which troubles them. These delight to be looking only on the dark side of the cloud.

We must not judge ourselves always according to our present feelings, for in temptations we shall see nothing but the smoke of distrustful thoughts. Fire can be raked up from the ashes, even though it isn’t seen. Life in the winter is hidden in the roots.

We must beware of false reasoning, such as: because our fire does not blaze up like it does in others, therefore we have no fire at all. By false conclusions we may end up sinning against ourselves. The prodigal wouldn’t say that he was no son, but that he was not worthy to be called a son (Luke 15:19).  We must neither trust in false evidence, nor deny the true evidence; in doing so we should dishonor the work of God’s Spirit in us, and lose the help of the very evidence that would cherish our love to Christ, and arm us against Satan’s discouragements.  Some are as faulty in this way as if they had been hired by Satan, the “accuser of the brethren” (Rev. 12:10), to plead for him in accusing themselves.

The Smoking Flax (Pt 2)

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.

The Smoking Flax

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 Little at First

There are several ages in Christians – some are babes, some young men.  Faith may be as “a grain of mustard seed” (Matt 17:20).  There is nothing so little as grace at first, and nothing more glorious afterward.  Things of greatest perfection are longest in coming to their growth.  Man, the most perfect creature, comes to perfection by little and little; worthless things, such as mushrooms and the like – like Jonah’s gourd, soon spring up, and soon vanish.  A new creature is the most excellent creature in all the world, and therefore it grows up by degrees.  We see in  nature that a mighty oak rises from an acorn.

It is with a Christian as it was with  Christ, who sprang out of the dead stock of Jesse, out of David’s family (Isa. 53:2), when it was at the lowest, but he grew up higher than the heavens.  It is not with the trees of righteousness as it was with the trees off paradise, which were created all perfect at the first.  The seeds of all the creatures in the present goodly frame of the world were hid in the chaos, in that confused mass at the first, out of which God commanded all creatures to arise.  In the small seeds of plants lie hidden both bulk and branches, bud and fruit.  In a few principles lie hidden all comfortable conclusions of holy truth.  All these glorious frameworks of zeal and holiness in the saints had their beginning from a few sparks.

Let us not therefore be discouraged at the small beginnings of grace, but look on ourselves as selected to be “holy and without blame” (Eph. 1:4).  Let us look on our imperfect beginning only to enforce further striving to perfection, and to keep us in a low opinion of ourselves.  On the other hand, in case of discouragement, we must consider ourselves as Christ does, who looks on us as those he intends to fit for himself.  Christ values us by what we shall be, and by what we are selected unto. We call a little plant a tree, because it is growing up to be so.  “Who has despised the day of small things?” (Zech. 4:10).  Christ would not have us despise little things.

The glorious angels disdain not attendance on little ones – little in their own eyes, and little in the eyes of the world.  Grace, though little in quantity, yet is much in vigor and worth.  It is Christ that raises the worth of little and mean places and persons.  Bethlehem was the least (Mic. 5:2; Matt. 2:6), and yet not the least.  It was the least in itself, and not the least in respect that Christ was born there.  The second temple (Hag. 2:9) came short of the outward magnificence of the former; yet it was more glorious than the first because Christ came into it. The Lord of the temple came into his own temple.  The pupil of the eye is very little, yet sees a great part of the heaven at once.  A pearl, though little, yet is of much esteem.  Nothing in the world is of so good use as the least grain of grace.

Christ Will Not Break the Bruised Reed (Pt 4)

In pursuing his calling, Christ will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax, in which more is meant than spoken, for he will not only not break or quench, but he will cherish those with whom he so deals.

But Are We Not Really Bruised Unless We Grieve More For Sin Than We Do For Punishment?

Sometimes our grief from outward grievances may lie heavier on the soul than grief for God’s displeasure. In such cases, the grief works upon the whole man, both outward and inward, and has nothing under it but a little spark of faith. This faith, because of the violent impression of the grievance, is suspended in the throw of it.  This is most felt in sudden distresses that come upon the soul like a torrent or flash flood, and especially in bodily sicknesses which, because of the sympathy between the soul and the body, work on the soul so far as to hinder not only the spiritual, but often natural interventions as well.

Therefore James wishes us in affliction to pray ourselves, but in case of sickness to “send for the elders” (James 5:14). These may, as those in the Gospels, offer up to God in their prayers the sick person who is unable to present his own case.  Thereupon God allows for such a plea because of the sharpness and bitterness of the grievance, as in David (Psalm 6). The Lord knows our frame; he remembers that we are but dust (Psa. 103:14), that our strength is not the strength of steel.

This is a branch of his faithfulness to us as his creatures, where he is called “a faithful creator” (1 Pet. 4:19). “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able” (1 Cor. 10:13).  There were certain commandments which the Jews called the hedges of the law.  So as to fence men off from cruelty, God commanded that they should not take the dame with the young, nor “seethe a kid in his mother’s milk” (Exod. 23:19), nor “muzzle the mouth of the ox” (1 Cor 9:9).

Does God take care of beasts and not of his more noble creature? And therefore we ought to judge charitably of the complaints of God’s people which are wrung from them in such cases.  Job had the esteem with God of a patient man, notwithstanding those passionate complaints.  Faith overborne for the present will gain ground again; and grief for sin, although it come short of grief for misery in terms of violence, yet it goes beyond it in constancy; as a running stream fed with a spring holds out, when a sudden swelling brook fails.

For the concluding of this point, and our encouragement to a thorough work of bruising, and patience under God’s bruising of us, let all know that none are fitter for comfort than those that think themselves furthest off.  Men, for the most part, are not lost enough in their own feeling for a Savior. A holy despair in ourselves is the ground of true hope. In God, the fatherless find mercy (Hos. 14:3); if men were more fatherless, they should feel more God’s fatherly affection from heaven, for the God who dwells in the highest heavens dwells likewise in the lowest soul (Isa 57:15).

Christ’s sheep are weak sheep, and lacking in something or other; he therefore applies himself to the necessities of every sheep.  He seeks that which was lost, and brings again that which was driven out of the way, and binds up that which was broken, and strengthens the weak (Ezek. 34:16). His tenderest care is over the weakest.  The lambs he carries in his bosom (Isa. 40:11).  He says to Peter, “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15).  He was most familiar and open to troubled souls.  How careful he was that Peter and the rest of the apostles should not be too much dejected after his resurrection! “Go your way, tell his disciples and Peter” (Mark 16:7).  Christ knew that guilt of their unkindness in leaving him had dejected their spirits.  How gently did he endure the unbelief of Thomas and stooped so far unto his weakness, as to allow him to thrust his hand into his side.

Christ Will Not Break the Bruised Reed (Pt 3)

In pursuing his calling, Christ will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax, in which more is meant than spoken, for he will not only not break or quench, but he will cherish those with whom he so deals.

Who Are the Bruised Reeds?

But how shall we know whether we are such as may expect mercy?

  1. “The bruised” here doesn’t just mean those that are brought low by crosses, but those that are brought by crosses to see their sin, which bruises most of all.  When conscience is under the guilt of sin, then every judgment brings a report of God’s anger to the soul, and all lesser troubles run into this great trouble of conscience of sin.  As all excess fluid runs to the diseased and bruised part of the body, and as every creditor falls upon the debtor once he is arrested, so when conscience is awakened, all former sins and present afflictions join together to make the bruise more painful. Now the one that is bruised will be content with nothing but mercy from the one who has bruised him.  He has wounded, and he must heal (Hos. 6:1).  The Lord who has bruised me deservedly for my sins must bind up my heart again.
  2. Again, a man truly bruised judges sin the greatest evil, and the favor of God the greatest good
  3. He would rather hear of mercy than of a kingdom.
  4. He has poor opinions of himself, and thinks that he is not worth the earth he walks on.
  5. Towards others he is not censorious, like somebody taken sick at home, but is full of sympathy and compassion to those who are under God’s hand.
  6. He thinks that those who walk in the comforts of God’s Spirit are the happiest in the world.
  7. He trembles at the Word of God (Isa. 66:2), and honors the very feet of those blessed instruments that bring peace unto him (Rom. 10:15)
  8. He is more taken up with the inward exercises of a broken heart than with formality, and is yet careful to use all sanctified means to convey comfort.

But how shall we come to this state of mind?

First we must conceive of bruising either as a state into which God brings us, or as a duty to be performed by us.  Here, both are meant.  We must join with God in bruising ourselves.  When he humbles us, let us humble ourselves, and not stand out against him, for then he will redouble his strokes.  Let us justify Christ in all his chastisements, knowing that all his dealing towards us is to cause us to return into our own hearts.  His work in bruising should lead to our work in bruising ourselves.

Let us lament our own perversity and say, “Lord, what a heart I have that needs all this, that none of this could be spared!” We must lay siege to the hardness of our own hearts, and aggravate sin all we can. We must look on Christ, who was bruised for us, look on him whom we have pierced with our sins.

But all directions will not prevail, unless God by his Spirit convinces us deeply, setting our sins before us, and driving us to a standstill. Then we will cry out for mercy.  Conviction will breed contrition, and this leads to humiliation.  Therefore desire God that he would bring a clear and a strong light into all the corners of our souls, and accompany it with a spirit of power to lay our hearts low.

A set measure of bruising of ourselves cannot be prescribed, but it must be so far as

  1. that we may prize Christ above all, and see that a Savior must be had; and
  2. that we reform that which is amiss, thought be to the cutting off of our right hand, or pullout out of our eye

There is a dangerous slighting of the work of humiliation, some using as an excuse for their lackadaisical dealing with their own hearts, that Christ will not break the bruised reed.  But they must know that every sudden terror and short grief is not that which makes us bruised reeds.  It’s not a little “bowing down our heads like a bulrush” (Isa 58:5), but a working our hearts to such grief as will make sin more odious unto us than punishment, until we offer a “holy violence” against it. Else, favoring ourselves, we make work for God to bruise us, and for sharp repentance afterwards.

It is dangerous, I confess, in some cases, with some spirits to press too much and too long this bruising, because they may die under the wound and burden before they are raised up again.  Therefore it is good in mixed assemblies to mingle comfort that every soul may have its due portion. But if we have this for a foundation truth, that there is more mercy in Christ than sin in us, there can be no danger in thorough dealing.  It is better to go bruised to heaven than sound to hell.

Therefore let us not take off ourselves too soon, nor pull out the stitches before cure is complete, but keep ourselves under this work till sin is the sourest, and Christ is the sweetest, of all things.  And when God’s hand is upon us in any way, it is good to divert our sorrow for other things to the root of all, which is sin.  Let our grief run most in that channel, in order that as sin bread grief, so grief may consume sin.