September 23, 2007

John Flavel (1630–1691) on Christ's Consentual Entry into the Hearts of Men

"1. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established."
The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter III
"3. Christ's knocking at the door of the heart shows the method of the Spirit in conversion to be in harmony with the nature of man's soul. Mark Christ's expression in the text; he does not say, Behold, I come to the door and break it open by violence. Christ makes no forcible entries, whether sinners will or not; he will come in by consent of the will, or not at all. "I stand and knock; if any man open the door, I will come in to him." There is a great difference between a friendly admission by consent, and a forcible entrance: in a forcible entrance, bars of iron are brought to break open the door; but in a friendly admission, one knocks and the other opens. Forcible actions are unsuitable to the nature of the will, whose motions are free and spontaneous; therefore it is said, "Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power." Psalm 110:3. It is true, the power of God is upon the will of man in the day of his conversion, or else it would never open to Christ; but yet that power of God doth not act against the freedom of man's will; God makes it willing, taking away the obstinacy and reluctance of the will by the efficacy of his grace—a sweet and pleasant victory; and so the door of the will still opens freely: "I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love." Hos. 11:4. "I drew them," there is almighty power: but how did this power draw them? "With cords of a man," that is, with rational arguments convincing the judgment. Beasts are driven and forced, but men are drawn by reason. It must be confessed that when the day of God's power is come for bringing home a poor sinner to Christ, the power of God's Spirit draws him effectually: "Every man that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me," John 6:45; yet the soul comes freely by the consent of his will, for this is the method of Christ in drawing souls to him. There is in the day of a sinner's conversion an offer made for the will, both by Satan and by Christ; Satan bids riches, honors, and pleasures, with ease and quietness to the flesh in the enjoyment of them. Abide where thou art, saith Satan; remain with me, and thou shalt escape all the persecutions, losses, and troubles in which conscience entangles other men; thou shalt draw thy life through peace and pleasure to thy dying day. O, saith the flesh, this is good; what can be better for me? But then, saith Christ, dost thou not consider that all these enjoyments will quickly be at an end! and what shall become of thee then? Behold, I offer thee the free, full, and final pardon of thy sins; peace and reconciliation with God; treasures in heaven; all these shall be thine, with troubles, reproaches, and persecutions in this world. The understanding and conscience of a sinner being convinced of the vanity of earthly things, and the indispensable necessity of pardon and peace with God I say, when a convinced judgment hath duly balanced these things, and laid them before the will, and the Spirit of God puts forth his power in the renovation of it, it moves towards Christ freely, and yet cannot, according to its natural order, act otherwise than it doth. And doubtless this is the true meaning of that expression so often mistaken and abused in Luke 14:23, "Compel them to come in." What, by forcing men against the light of their consciences? No; to the shame of many Protestants let us hear the explanation of Stella, a popish commentator upon this passage: "Christ compels men to come in, by showing to their will such an excelling good as it cannot but embrace;" for the will is naturally carried to the best good, And thus the Spirit works upon the soul harmoniously and agreeably to its nature."

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