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.
John Flavel (c. 1630-1691)
WHAT offices doth Christ execute as our Redeemer? Christ, as our Redeemer, doth execute the office of a prophet, of a priest, and of a king, both in His estate of humiliation and exaltation.
1. What are the states and conditions of our Redeemer? Christ’s
states are twofold, namely, His state of humiliation and His state of
exaltation: “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself,
and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name
which is above every name” (Phi 2:8-9).
2. How many offices belong to Christ in these states? Christ hath a
threefold office, namely, of a prophet, of a priest, and of a king.
3. Why doth Christ take all these three offices? Because they are all
necessary for our salvation, and we have the benefit of them all:
“…who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification,
and redemption” (1Co 1:30).
4. Can no man take Christ in one office and not in another? No.
Whoever will have the benefit of any one must receive Him in
all: “Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour,
for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Act 5:31).
5. What respect have the offices of Christ to the promises? The
promises flow out of them as out of their fountain: “For all the promises
of God in him are yea, and in him Amen” (2Co 1:20).
6. What promises flow out of the prophetic office? All promises of
illumination, guidance, and direction flow out of Christ’s prophetic
7. What promises flow out of the priestly office? All the promises of
a pardon and peace flow out of it.
8. What promises flow out of the kingly office? All the promises of
defense, protection, and deliverances.
9. What is the first instruction? Hence, we learn the completeness
of Christ for all the [needs] of His people: “And ye are complete in
him, which is the head of all principality and power” (Col 2:10).
10. What is the second instruction? Hence, we learn the folly and
misery of all those hypocrites that close partially2 with Christ.
11. What is the third instruction? Hence, we learn the singular
dignity of the Lord Jesus, none ever having had all those offices but
12. What is the last instruction? That faith is a considerate act and
requires much deliberation.
HOW DOTH CHRIST EXECUTE THE OFFICE OF A PROPHET? Christ
executeth the office of a prophet in revealing to us by His word and
Spirit the will of God for our salvation.
1. What doth Christ’s prophetical office imply? It implies man’s
natural blindness and ignorance: “But the natural man receiveth not
the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither
can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1Co
2. What else doth it imply? That Christ is the original and fountain
of all that light that guides us to salvation: “For God who commanded
the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to
give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus
Christ” (2Co 4:6-7).
3. How doth Christ teach men the will of God? He doth it by external
revelation of it: “For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet
shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto
me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you”
(Act 3:22); and by internal illumination: “Then opened he their understanding,
that they might understand the scriptures” (Luk 24:45).
4. What need then of man’s ministry? Very much, for Christ hath
instituted ministers as instruments by whom He will teach us: “And
he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists;
and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for
the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph
4:11-12); “To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to
light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive
forgiveness of sins” (Act 26:18).
5. Can no man savingly know the will of God without the teachings
of Christ? No; though common knowledge may be obtained in a natural
way, yet not saving: “At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank
thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these
things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto
babes” (Mat 11:25).
6. How appears it that Christ is appointed to this office? We have
the written word for it: “For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A
prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren,
like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say
unto you” (Act 3:22).
7. What is the first instruction from hence? None need be discouraged
at their natural weakness if Christ be their teacher: “At that
time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven
and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent,
and hast revealed them unto babes” (Mat 11:25); “The testimony
of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” (Psa 19:7).
8. What is the second instruction? That it is a dreadful judgment to
be spiritually blinded under the gospel: “But if our gospel be hid, it is
hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded
the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious
gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them”
9. What is the third instruction? That prayer is the best expedient4
to obtain saving knowledge: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of
God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall
be given him” (Jam 1:5).
10. What is the last instruction? Learn hence the transcendent5 excellency
of the knowledge of Christ above all other knowledge: “Yea
doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the
knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phi 3:8).
HOW DOTH CHRIST EXECUTE THE OFFICE OF A PRIEST? Christ executeth
the office of a priest in His once offering up of Himself a sacrifice
to satisfy divine justice and reconcile us to God and in making
continual intercession for us.
1. What is the priesthood of Christ in general? It is His expiation6
of our sins by the sacrifice of Himself and obtaining God’s favor for us: “And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven” (Col 1:20).
2. What are the parts of Christ’s priestly office? It hath two parts.
First, oblation7 or offering of Himself: “How much more shall the
blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without
spot to God, purge your consciences from dead works, to serve the
living God?” (Heb 9:14). Secondly, intercession for us: “Wherefore he
is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him,
seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Heb 7:25).
3. What is the end8 of Christ’s oblation? The end of it, as to God,
was to satisfy His incensed justice: “Whom God hath set forth to be a
propitiation9 through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness
for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of
God” (Rom 3:25). And as to men, to put away their sins: “For then
must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but
now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by
the sacrifice of himself” (Heb 9:26).
4. What is the first difference between Christ and other priests?
Other priests offered the blood of beasts; Christ [offered] His own
blood: “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood
he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption
for us” (Heb 9:12).
5. What is the second difference? They offered many sacrifices;
Christ perfected all by one offering: “For by one offering he hath perfected
for ever them that are sanctified” (Heb 10:14).
6. What was the sacrifice Christ offered to God? His body: “By the
which will we are sanctified, through the offering of the body of Jesus
Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10). And His soul: “When thou shalt
make his soul an offering for sin” (Isa 53:10).
7. Whence is the efficacy10 of this sacrifice? From the divine person
to whom that soul and body was united: “Feed the church of God,
which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Act 15:28).
8. What is the first inference11 from hence? That believers are discharged
by Christ from all their sins and debts: “And by him, all that believe are justified from all things” (Act 13:39).
9. What is the second inference? That it is a fearful thing to fall into
the hands of an absolute God: “For if they do these things in a
green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” (Luk 23:31).
10. What is the third inference? That it is impossible for man to
satisfy God for his own sins: “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities,
O Lord, who shall stand?” (Psa 130:3).
11. What is the last inference? That the Christian religion only settles
the conscience in peace: “How much more shall the blood of
Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to
God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living
God?” (Heb 9:14).
HOW DOTH CHRIST EXECUTE THE OFFICE OF A KING? Christ executeth
the office of a king in subduing us to Himself, in ruling and
defending us, and in restraining and conquering all His and our enemies.
1. How manifold is Christ’s kingdom? Twofold. First, internal in
men’s souls: “Behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luk 17:21).
Secondly, external over all the world: “And hath put all things under
his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church”
2. What is the end of Christ’s providential kingdom? The good and
salvation of the church: “As thou hast given him power over all flesh,
that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him”
3. Wherein doth He exercise His kingly power? In restraining His
and His people’s enemies: “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee;
the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain” (Psa 76:10).
4. How else is it exercised? In protecting His church amidst all enemies:
“And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt” (Exo 3:3).
5. What instruments doth Christ use? Angels are ministering spirits
to Him: “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister
for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” (Heb 1:14). And men, yea,
the worst of men: “And the earth helped the woman, and the earth
opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast
out of his mouth” (Rev 12:16).
6. In what manner doth Christ rule the world? By supreme power:
“And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (Rev 19:16). And perfect wisdom: “In
whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according
to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel
of his own will” (Eph 1:11).
7. What learn we from hence? That the church is saved amidst all
dangers: “For I am with thee, saith the LORD, to save thee: though I
make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I
not make a full end of thee” (Jer 30:11).
8. What is the second instruction? That the godly may safely trust
to Christ’s care: “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout
the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose
heart is perfect toward him” (2Ch 16:9).
9. What is the third instruction? That all plots against the church
shall surely be defeated: “No weapon that is formed against thee shall
prosper” (Isa 54:17).
10. What is the fourth instruction? It gives the saints full satisfaction
in all conditions: “And we know that all things work together for
good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to
his purpose” (Rom 8:28).
11. What is the last inference? We should not stand in a slavish
fear of men: “I, even I, am he that comforteth you: who art thou, that
thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of
man which shall be made as grass” (Isa 51:12).
From “An Exposition of the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism” in
The Whole Works of the Reverend John Flavel, Vol. 6,
181-186, in the public domain.