John Flavel (1627–1691)
Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.
INFERENCE. 2. Did Christ for our sakes stoop from the majesty, glory and dignity he was possessed of in heaven, to the mean and contemptible state of a man? What a pattern of self-denial is here presented to Christians? What objection against, or excuses to shift off this duty, can remain, after such an example as is here propounded? Brethren, let me tell you, the pagan world was never acquainted with such an argument as this, to press them to self-denial. Did Christ stoop, and cannot you stoop? did Christ stoop so much, and cannot you stoop at the least? Was he content to become anything, a worm, a reproach, a curse; and cannot you digest any abasement? Do the least slights and neglects rankle your hearts, and poison them with discontent, malice and revenge; O how unlike Christ are you! Hear; and blush in hearing, what your Lord says in John 13:14. “If I then your Lord and Master, wash your feet; you ought also to wash one another’s feet.” “The example obliges not, (as a learned man well observes) to the same individual act, but it obliges us to follow the reason of the example;” that is after Christ’s example, we must be ready to perform the lowest and meanest offices of love and service to one another. And indeed to this it obliges most forcibly; for it is as if a master, seeing a proud, sturdy servant, that grudges at the work he is employed about, as if it were too mean and base, should come and take it out of his hand; and when he has done it, should say, does your Lord and Master think it not beneath him to do it; and is it beneath you? I remember it is an excellent saying that Bernard has upon the nativity of Christ: says he, “What more detestable, what more unworthy, or what deserves severer punishment, than for a poor man to magnify himself, after he has seen the great and high God, so humbled, as to become a little child? It is intolerable impudence for a worm to swell with pride, after it has seen majesty emptying itself; to see one so infinitely above us, to stoop so far beneath us.” O how convincing and shaming should it be! Ah how opposite should pride and stoutness be to the Spirit of a Christian! I am sure nothing is more so to the spirit of Christ. Your Savior was lowly, meek, self-denying, and of a most condescending spirit; he looked not at his own things, but yours, Phil. 2:4. And does it become you to be proud, selfish, and stout?
First, By these you are clogged, to prevent your straying and wandering. Others may wander even as far as hell, and God will not spend a sanctified rod upon them, to reduce or stop them; but says, let them alone,” Hos. 4:17. But if you wander out of the way of holiness, he will clog you with one trouble or other to keep van within bounds, 2 Cor. 12:7. “Lest I should be lifted up, a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, was sent to buffet me.” So David, Psalm. 119:67. “Before I was afflicted, I went astray; but now I have kept your word.” Afflictions are used by God, as thorns by husband men, to stop the gaps and keep you from breaking out of God’s way, Hos. 2:6. “I will hedge up her way with thorns, and build a wall, that she shall not find her paths.” A double allusion; 1. To cattle that are apt to stray, I will hedge up your way with thorns. 2. To the sea, which is apt to overflow the country, I will build a wall to prevent inundations. Holy Basil was a long time sorely afflicted with an inveterate head-ache, he often prayed for the removal of it; at last God removed it, but in the room of it, he was sorely exercised with the motions and temptations of lust; which, when he perceived, he heartily desired his head-ache again, to prevent a worse evil. You little know the ends and uses of many of your afflictions. Are you exercised with bodily weakness? it is a mercy you are so; and if these pains and infirmities were removed, these clogs taken off, you may with Basil, wish for them again, to prevent worse evils. Are you poor? why, with that poverty God has clogged your pride. Are you reproached? with these reproaches God has clogged your ambition. Corruptions are prevented by your afflictions. And, is not this a marvelous help to holiness of life?
Secondly, By your afflictions, your corruptions are not only clogged, but purged. By these God dries up and consumes that spring, of sin that defiles your lives, Isa. 27:9. “By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged; and this is all the fruit to take away sin.” God orders your wants to fill your wantonness; and makes your poverty poison to your pride.