September 16, 2007

John Flavel (1630–1691) on Christ Knocking: Chapter 4

I have already included some of these quotes in previous posts, but I want to include them again in order to demonstrate all that is said in chapter 4 regarding God's revealed will, as Flavel sees it.
"THE verb here rendered "I stand," would strictly be rendered "I have stood," but being joined with a verb of the present tense, is here translated "I do stand," a frequent Hebraism in Scripture. It intimates the continued patience and long-suffering of Christ; I have stood and still do stand,-exercising wonderful patience towards obstinate sinners."

"Thus Wisdom, that is, Christ, expresses himself: "I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded." Prov. 1:24. Here you have not only Christ's earnest calls, but suitable gestures also, to gain attention. The stretching forth of the hand was a signal given to procure attention. Acts 21:40. Yet none regards; and this the Lord does not once or twice only, but all the day long, Isa. 65:2, showing forth all long-suffering, as the apostle speaks, 1 Tim. 1:16." Ibid.

"I. WHAT DIVINE PATIENCE is. It is an ability in God not only to delay the execution of his wrath for a time towards some, but to delay it in order to the eternal salvation of others." Ibid.

"3. There is a yet greater evidence of the patience of God in his bearing with us under the guilt of the special sin of slighting and neglecting Jesus Christ. Here is a sin that goes to the very heart of Jesus Christ. He can bear any sin rather than that; and yet this has Christ borne from every one of you. You have spurned the yearnings of his mercy, slighted his grace, trampled his precious blood under foot, and yet he has borne with you to this day. Let thy conscience answer, whether thou art not equally deep in the guilt of making light of Christ with those upon whom this sin was charged by the Lord Jesus. Matt. 22:2-6. Christ suffered the wrath of God in thy stead, and brought home salvation in gospel-offers to thy door; and then to be slighted! No patience but his own could bear it. Every sermon and prayer you have sat under with a dead heart, every motion of his Spirit which you have quenched, what is this but making light of Christ and the great salvation? Here the deepest project of infinite wisdom, and the richest gift of free-grace, wherein God commends his love to men, are undervalued as small things: thus have you done days without number; and yet his hand is not stretched out to cut thee off in thy rebellion." Ibid., 77.

"6. The vast expense of his riches and bounty upon it, during the whole time of his forbearance and patience towards us, speaks him infinite in his long-suffering towards us. " Despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long-suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?" Rom. 2:4. As if he had said, "Vile sinner, canst thou compute the treasures of mercy thou hast been riotously wasting all this while? Dost thou know what vast sums Christ has spent upon thee to preserve thee so long out of hell?" There are two treasures spending upon sinners, all the time of God's forbearance with them: there is the precious treasure of thy time wasted, and the invaluable streams of gospel-grace running all this while to waste. Thy time is precious; the whole of thy time between thee and eternity is but little, and the most of it has been wasted in sin and upon vanity. But that is not all, the treasures of gospel-grace have been wasting all this while upon thee. It is compared to golden oil, maintaining the lamps of ordinances. Zech. 4:12. Who would maintain a lamp with golden oil for careless children to play by? Yet this has God done while thy soul has trifled with him. The witnesses and "ministers of Christ, in Rev. 11:3, 4, are compared to those olive-trees that drop their precious oil, their gifts, graces, yea, and their natural spirits with them, into this lamp, to keep it burning. All this while the blood of Christ has been running in vain, the ministers of Christ preaching and beseeching in vain, the Spirit of Christ striving with you in vain. You burn away golden oil, and yet your lamp is not gone out. O marvellous patience! O the riches of God's forbearance!" Ibid., 79.

"Some sinners have been cut off in the beginning of their days, many in the very acts of sin, and those not greater than thy sins; they are gone to their own place, and thou art still left a monument of the patience and forbearance of God. The sin of Achan was not a greater sin than thy covetousness and earthliness of heart is ; the sin of Nadab and Abihu, in offering up strauge fire, was not greater than thy superstition in offering up uncommanded services to God: yet the hand of God fell on them, and smote them dead in the day and place wherein they sinned, they perished; they were taken away in their iniquities, but thou art reserved. O that it may be for an instance and example of the riches of divine patience, which may at last lead thee to repentance." Ibid., 80.

"The exercise of his patience is a standing testimony of his reconcilable and merciful nature towards sinful man." Ibid., 81.

"This long-suffering is an attribute very expressive of the divine nature; he is willing sinners should know, whatever their provocations have been, that there is room for pardon and peace, if they will yet come in to accept the terms. This patience is a diadem belonging to the imperial crown of heaven; the Lord glories in it, as peculiar to himself: "I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger; for I am God, and not man." Hos. 11:9. As though he had said, "Had I been as man, the holiest, meekest, and most mortified upon earth, I had consumed them long ago; but 'I am God, and not man:' my patience is above all created patience; no husband can bear with his wife, no parent with his child, as I have borne with you." This is one reason of Christ's waiting upon trifling sinners, to give proof of his gracious, merciful, and reconcilable nature towards the worst of men." Ibid., 81.

"2. The Lord exercises this patience towards sinners, thereby to lead them to repentance; this is the direct intention of it. The Lord desires and delights to see ingenuous relentings and brokenness of heart for sin; and there is nothing like his forbearance and patience in promoting such an evangelical repentance. All the terrors of the law will not break the heart of a sinner, as the patience and long-suffering of God will; therefore it is said that the goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering of God, lead men to repentance. Rom. 2:4. These are fitted to work upon all the principles of humanity which incline men to repentance; reason, conscience, gratitude, feel the influences of the goodness of God herein, and melt under it. Thus Saul's heart relented: "Is this thy voice, my son David? and Saul lifted up his voice and wept. And he said to David, Thou art more righteous than I; for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil." 1 Sam. 24:16, 17. Thus the goodness and forbearance of God doth, as it were, take a sinner by the hand, lead him into a corner, and say, "Come, let us talk together; thus and thus vile hast thou been, and thus and thus long-suffering and merciful has God been to thee; thy heart has been full of sin, the heart of thy God has been full of pity and mercy." This dissolves the sinner into tears, and breaks his heart in pieces. If any thing will melt a hard heart, this will do it. O how good has God been to me. How have I tried his patience to the uttermost, and still he waits to be gracious, and is exalted that he may have compassion. The sobs and tears, the ingenuous relentings of a sinner's heart, under the apprehensions of the sparing mercy and goodness of God, are the music of heaven. Ibid., 81–82.

"4. From the patience and long-suffering of Christ, we may learn the invaluable preciousness of souls, and the high esteem, Christ has for them. Though your souls be cheap in your own eyes, and you are contented to sell them for a trifle, for a little sensual pleasure and ease, yet certainly Jesus Christ has a high estimate of them, else he would never stand knocking with such importunity, and waiting with such wonderful patience for their salvation. Christ knows their worth, though you do not; he accounts, and so should you, one of your souls of more worth than the whole world. Matt. 16:26. The soul of the poorest child or meanest servant is of greater value in Christ's eye, than the whole world; and he has given three great evidences of it.

(1.) That he thought it worth his blood to redeem and save it. "Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold; but with the precious blood of Christ." 1 Pet. 1:18, 19. Had they not been precious in his eyes, he would never have shed his most precious blood to ransom them.

(2.) Were they not highly valuable in his eyes, he would never wait with such unwearied patience to save them. He has borne thousands of repulses and unreasonable denials from you. Sinner, Christ has knocked at thy door in many a sermon, in many a prayer, in many a sickness in all which thou hast denied him or delayed him; yet still he continues knocking and waiting. Thou couldst not have made the poorest beggar in the world wait at thy door so long as thy Redeemer has been made to wait, and yet he is not gone; at this day his voice sounds in thine ears, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock." Here is clear demonstration of the preciousness of thy soul in the Redeemer's eyes.

And then,

(3.) "When Christ ends the treaty, and gives up the souls of men for lost, with what sorrow does he part with them. Never did one friend part from another with such demonstrations of sorrow as Christ parts with the souls of sinners. The bowels of his compassion roll together; for he knows what is coming upon them, and what that eternal misery is into which their wilful rejection of him will cast them. You read of the Redeemer's tears shed over the obstinate inhabitants of Jerusalem: "And when he was come near, he beheld the city and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes." Luke 19:41, 42. Like unto this is that expression, Isa. 1:24, "Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies." Though it be an ease to his justice, yet he cannot give them up without an "Ah," an interjection of sorrow; so in Hos. 11:8, "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee, Israel?" I must do it, but how shall I go about it? All these expressions show the great value God has for your souls; and did you know it also, you would not make Christ wait one hour longer." Ibid., 89–90.

"There are two glasses turned up this day, and both are almost run down: the glass of the gospel running down on earth, and the glass of Christ's patience running down in heaven. Be sure of it, that for every sand of mercy, every drop of love that runs down in vain in this world, a drop of wrath runs into the vial of wrath which is filling up in heaven." Ibid., 91.

"8. My exhortation is to all that are in an unregenerate state, that they presume not to try the patience of Christ any longer. If you have any regard to your eternal happiness, exercise not his patience another hour. O that this hour might put an end to Christ's waiting and your danger! Hitherto you have wearied men, but will you weary God also? Christ has called, but you have refused; he has stretched out his hands, but you have not regarded. Prov. 1:24. Your thoughts have been wandering after vanity while the voice of the gospel has been sounding in your ears: some of you have been sottish, and incapable of apprehending spiritual truths; others of you sensual, given up to the pleasures of the world, and abandoning all serious thoughts about the world to come. Some of you have been buried alive in the cares of the world, and others settled upon a dead formality in religion; and to this day Christ hath called upon you in vain. Now that which I exhort you to is, that you venture not to try the patience of Christ one day longer; if you have any regard to the everlasting happiness of your souls, come not under the guilt and danger of one denial or delay more. If you ask me, Why may we not venture a little longer? Christ has borne with us all this while, and will he not bear a little longer? May we not take a little more pleasure in sin? May we not hazard one sermon or Sabbath more? I answer, No. If your souls are precious in your eyes, let there be no more denials, nor delays to Christ's suit. For,

(1 ) How patient and long-suffering soever Christ has been, yet there will be an end of the day of his patience a time when he will wait no longer, when his Spirit shall strive no more with you. There will be a knock of Christ at the heart, which will be the last knock that ever he will give a time when the master of the house will rise up, and the door be shut. Matt. 25:10. You have had to do with a meek and patient Saviour; but believe it, sinners, there is a day of "the wrath of the Lamb" and that day will be dreadful. Then will sinners cry "to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb." Rev. 6:16. O if this wrath be once kindled, though but a little! Blessed are they that trust in him, that have finished their agreement with him. The day of Christ's patience towards Jerusalem was a long day, but it had an end, and it ended in their desolation, Matt. 23:37; therefore try the patience of Christ no further: you know not the limits of it; it may end with your next refusal, and then where are you?

(2.) The longer Christ has exercised his patience already towards you, the more terribly will he avenge the abuse of it upon you in hell. It is past doubt with me, that there are different degrees of torment in hell: the Scriptures are plain and clear on this point. Now, among all the aggravations of the torments of hell, none can be greater than the reflections of damned souls upon the abused patience and grace of Christ. Those who had the best means, the loudest calls, and the longest day under the gospel, will certainly have the hottest place in hell, if the goodness and longsuffering of Christ do not now lead them to repentance. The cries of such souls will be heard above the cries of all other miserable wretches who are cast away. It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah than for Capernaum. Matt. 11:23. O friends, you little know the reflections of conscience in hell upon such hours as you now enjoy such wooing, charming voices and allurements to Christ as you now hear. There are many thousands of souls in hell from the dark, heathenish parts of the world, where they never heard of Christ; but your misery will be far beyond theirs, your reflections more sharp and bitter: therefore delay no longer, lest you perish with peculiar aggravation of misery.

(3.) Try the patience of Christ no further, I beseech you, forasmuch as you see every day the patience of Christ ending towards others--patience retiring, and justice arising to triumph over the abusers of mercy. You not only read in scripture the ending of God's patience with men, but you may see it every day. If you look into scripture, you may find the patience of God ended towards multitudes of sinners, who possibly had the same presumptions and vain hopes for the continuance of it that you now have. If you look into 1 Peter 3:19, 20, you there find that Christ "went and preached unto the spirits in prison ; which sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah. "The meaning of which is, that in the days before the flood, Christ by his Spirit strove with the disobedient and rebellious sinners in the ministry of Noah, who then were living men and women as we are, but now are "spirits in prison," that is, damned souls in hell, for their disobedience: and truly, brethren, you may frequently behold the glass of patience run down, the very last sand in it spent upon others. Whenever you see a wicked, Christless man or woman die, you see the end of God's patience with that man or woman; and all this for a warning to you, that you venture not to trifle and dally with it as they did." Ibid., 94–98.
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