“The smoking flax shall he not quench.” – Isaiah 42:3
For Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Isaiah 42:3 provided incredible comfort. In his view, this text, quoted by Jesus in Matthew 12, was like a rare gem with many facets. The first facet drew attention to Jesus’ mercy and patience towards the scribes and Pharisees. Compared to Jesus, the religious leaders of that day were like “bruised reeds” and “smoking flax” whom “if he had pleased, [Jesus] [could] have broken them up altogether.”
Indeed, Spurgeon admitted “We get a little pugnacious sometimes, and seek religious controversy; but our Saviour did not strive, nor cry, nor cause his voice to be heard in the streets.” Rather, he said that “the best way to put out the twinkling light of a smoking flax was to let the sun shine.” When compared to a brighter light “nobody could see it” and so “instead of talking down these bruised reeds, he set up the higher claim of sure and certain truth.”
However, it was the second facet upon which Spurgeon would preach. He asserted that “‘The smoking flax he shall not quench,’ is a text for you timorous, desponding, feeble-minded, and yet true-hearted believers, and you may appropriate it to yourselves.”
In the first section of his sermon, Spurgeon addressed “What state this metaphor represents.” First, he noted that this was “a state in which there is little good.” Describing the “smoking flax” as a “dimly burning flax” Spurgeon said “It is burning” but only “very dimly.” Such as these had genuine faith, but it was a “little faith…not much bigger than a grain of mustard seed.” Nonetheless, “faith of that size has great power in it.”
Second, Spurgeon noted that this “little faith” was “put there by the Spirit of God.” He went on to say that “The grace of God has put in us our first desire, our first loathing of sin, our first wish to be forgiven….The Spirit put it there, and you are like the smoking flax, because there is a little living fire in you.”
Third, Spurgeon noted that while a “smoking flax” could be “of very little use to other people” still there was “enough good in you to be dangerous to Satan’s esteem.” Spurgeon said, “If [Satan] hears you groaning about your sin, he is frightened at it.”
In the second section of his sermon, Spurgeon addressed the question “When are souls in that state?” First, Spurgeon asserted that “Some are in that state when they are newly saved - when the flax has been lighted.” He noted that “Being newly converted….you have made a host of discoveries.” For example, “you find more depravity in your heart than you thought was there.”
Second, Spurgeon noted that “sometimes the wick smokes when worldliness has damped it.” He said, “If some of you never have any holy joy, I am not surprised, for you are so taken up with the world.” Third, he reminded that “at times a wick burns low because a very strong wind has blown upon it.” He said that “many men and women are the subjects of very fierce temptations” and so if the flax only “smokes and smolders. We do not wonder that it be so.”
In the third section of his sermon, Spurgeon examined the question “What does Jesus do with those that are in this state?” First, Spurgeon said Jesus will not quench the timid believer “by pronouncing legal judgment upon you.” Simply, “the Lord Jesus Christ has not come to condemn, but to save.”
Second, Spurgeon declared, “He will not quench you, dear friend, “by setting up a high experimental standard.” While others may say “You must have felt so much of this, and so much of the other, or else you cannot be a child of God” Spurgeon responded “Who made him to be a judge?” Rather, he believed that “The Lord Jesus Christ does not quench even the feeble, faint desire…though they do fall far short of that experience which ought to belong to a child of God.”
Third, he noted that “He will not judge you, dear friend, by a lofty standard of knowledge.” For Spurgeon, “If you know these two things – yourself a sinner, and Christ a Saviour – you are scholar enough to go to heaven.” Fourth, and finally, Spurgeon declared “Come along, you little ones, - you trembling ones! Be not afraid!” Indeed, Spurgeon believed that “Jesus will not quench you by any of these means.” Rather, “he will protect you” and “will blow upon you with the soft breath of his love till the spark will rise into a flame.”
Why you should take up and read:
For Charles Haddon Spurgeon, this text provided great encouragement to “timorous, desponding, feeble-minded, and yet true-hearted believers.” He wanted them to “appropriate it to yourselves.” In this sermon, Spurgeon demonstrated how the gracious love of Christ would not quench the “smoking flax” but “blow upon [it]…till the spark will rise into a flame.” For the flax wanting burst aflame please take up and read.
Here is the link to the Sermon of the Week:https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/smoking-flax#flipbook/
Phillip Ort serves as the Director of The Spurgeon Library at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City while studying in The Residency Ph.D. program.