An Excerpt From
The Method of Grace in the Gospel Redemption
By John Flavel
The Particulars of how Christ is Received By His Elect
First, The gospel offers Christ to us sincerely and really, and so the true believer receives and accepts him, even with a faith unfeigned; 1 Tim. 1: 5. If ever the soul be serious and in earnest in any thing, it is so in this: Can we suppose the heart of him that flies for his life to the refuge city, to be serious and in earnest to escape by flight the avenger of blood who pursues him? Then is the heart of a convinced sinner serious in this matter; for under that notion is the work of faith presented to us, Heb. 6: 18.
Secondly, Christ is offered to us in the gospel entirely and undividedly, as clothed with all his offices, priestly, prophetical, and regal; as Christ Jesus the Lord, Acts 16: 31. and so the true believer receives him; The hypocrite, like the harlot, is for dividing, but the sincere believer finds the need he has of every office of Christ, and knows not how to want any thing that is in him.
His ignorance makes him necessary and desirable to him as a prophet: His guilt makes him necessary as a priest: His strong and powerful lusts and corruptions make him necessary as a king: and in truth, he sees not any thing in Christ that he can spare; he needs all that is in Christ, and admires infinite wisdom in nothing more than the investing Christ with all these offices, which are so suited to the poor sinner’s wants and miseries. Look, as the three offices are undivided in Christ, so they are in the believer’s acceptance; and before this trial no hypocrite can stand; for all hypocrites reject and quarrel with something in Christ; they like his pardon better than his government. They call him indeed, Lord and Master, but it is but an empty title they bestow upon him; for let them ask their own hearts if Christ be Lord over their thoughts, as well as words; over their secret, as well as open actions; over their darling lusts, as well as others; let them ask, who will appear to be Lord and Master over them, when Christ and the world come in competition? When the pleasure of sin shall stand upon one side, and sufferings to death, and deepest points of self denial, upon the other side? Surely it is the greatest affront that can be offered to the Divine Wisdom and Goodness, to separate in our acceptance, what is so united in Christ, for our salvation and happiness. As without any one of these offices, the work of our salvation could not be completed, so without acceptance of Christ in them all, our union with him by faith cannot be completed.
The gospel-offer of Christ includes all his offices, and gospel-faith just so receives him; to submit to him, as well as to be redeemed by him; to imitate him in the holiness of his life, as well as to reap the purchases and fruits of his death. It must be an entire receiving of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thirdly, Christ is offered to us in the gospel exclusively, as the alone and only Saviour of sinners; with whose blood and intercession nothing is to be mixed; but the soul of a sinner is singly to rely and depend on him, and no other, Acts 4: 2. 1 Cor. 3: 11 and so faith receives him, Psa. 71: 16 “I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only“, Phil 3: 9. “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ.” To depend partly upon Christ’s righteousness, and partly upon our own, is to set one foot upon a rock, and the other in a quick sand; either Christ will be to us all in all, or nothing at all, in point of righteousness and salvation; he affects not social honour; as he did the whole work, so he expects the sole praise; if he be not able to save to the uttermost, why do we depend upon him at all? and if he be, why do we lean upon any beside him?
Fourthly, The gospel offers Christ freely to sinners as the gift, not the sale of God, John 4: 10; Isa. 55: 1; Rev 22: 17 and even so faith receives him. The believer comes to Christ with an empty hand, not only as an undeserving, but as a hell-deserving sinner; he comes to Christ as to one that justifies the ungodly, Rom 4: 5. “Unto him that worketh not, but believeth in him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” Where by him that worketh not, he means a convinced, humbled sinner who finds himself utterly unable to do the task the law sets him, i.e. perfectly to obey it; and therefore in a law sense is said not to work; for it is all one as to the intent and purpose of the law, not to work, and not to work perfectly. This is he convinced of; and therefore comes to Christ as one that is in himself ungodly, acknowledging the righteousness, by which alone he can stand before God, is in Christ, and not in himself, in whole, or in part; and by the way, let this encourage poor souls that are scared and daunted for want of due qualifications, for closings with and embracing Christ. There is nothing qualifies a man for Christ more than a sense of his unworthiness of him, and the want of all excellencies or ornaments, that may commend him to divine acceptance.
Fifthly, The gospel offers Christ orderly to sinners, first his person, then his privileges. God first gives his Son, and then with him, or as a consequent of that gift, he gives us all things, Rom. 8: 32. In the same order must our faith receive him. The believer does not marry the portion first, and then the person, but to be found in him is the first and great care of a believer.
I deny not but it is lawful for any to have an eye to the benefits of Christ. Salvation from wrath is, and lawfully may be intended and aimed at: “Look unto me, and be saved all ye ends of the earth,” Isa. 45: 22. Nor do I deny but there are many poor souls, who being in deep distress and fear, may, and often do, look mostly to their own safety at first, and that there is much confusion, as well in the acting of their faith, as in their condition; but sure I am, it is the proper order in believing, first to accept the person of the Lord Jesus: Heaven is no doubt very desirable, but Christ is more: “Whom have I in heaven but thee?” Psa. 73: 25. Union with Christ is, in order of nature, antecedent to the communication of his privileges, therefore so it ought to be in the order and method of believing.
Sixthly, Christ is advisedly, offered in the gospel to sinners, as the result of God’s eternal counsel, a project of grace upon which his heart and thoughts have been much set, Zech. 6: 13. The counsel of peace was betwixt the Father and the Son. And so the believer receives him, most deliberately weighing the matter in his most deep and serious thoughts; for this is a time of much solicitude and thoughtfulness. The soul’s espousals are acts of judgement, Hos. 2: 19. on our part, as well as on God’s; We are therefore bid to sit down and count the cost, Luke 14: 28. Faith, or the actual receiving of Christ, is the result of many previous debates in the soul; The matter has been pondered over and over: The objections and discouragements, both from the self-denying terms of the gospel, and our own vileness and deep guilt, have been ruminated, and lain upon our hearts day and night, and after all things have been balanced in the most deep consideration, the soul is determined to this conclusion, I must have Christ, be the terms never so hard, be my sins never so great and many, I will yet go to him, and venture my soul upon him; if I perish, I perish. I have thought out all my thoughts, and this is the result, union with Christ here, or separation from God for ever must be my lot.
And thus does the Lord open the hearts of his elect, and win the consent of their wills to receive Jesus Christ upon the deepest consideration and debate of the matter in their own most solemn thoughts: They understand and know, that they must deeply deny themselves, take up his cross and follow him, Matt. 16: 24. renounce not only sinful but religious self; these are hard and difficult things, but yet the necessity and excellency of Christ make them appear eligible and rational: by all which you see faith is another thing than what the sound of that word (as it is generally understood) signifies to the understandings of most men. This is that fiducial receiving of Christ here to be opened.
Secondly, Our next work will be to evince this receiving of Christ as has been opened, to be that special saving faith of God’s elect: This is that faith of which such great and glorious things are spoken in the gospel, which, whosoever has shall be saved, and he that has it not shall be damned; and this I shall evidently prove by the following arguments or reasons.
Arg. 1. First, That faith which gives the soul right and title to spiritual adoption, with all the privileges and benefits thereof, is true and saving faith.
But such a receiving of Christ as has been described, gives the soul right and title to spiritual adoption, with all the privileges and benefits thereof.
Therefore such a receiving of Christ as has been described is true and saving faith.
The major proposition is undeniable, for our right and title to spiritual adoption, and the privileges thereof arise from our union with Jesus Christ; we being united to the Son of God, are, by virtue of that union, reckoned or accounted sons, Gal. 3: 26. “You are all the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ:” The act of saving faith is union with Christ’s person, the consequent of that union is adoption, or right to the inheritance.
The minor is most plain in the text: “To as many as received him, to them gave he power or right to become the sons of God:” false faith has no such privilege annexed to it; no unbeliever is thus dignified: No stranger entitled to this inheritance.
Arg. 2. Secondly, That only is saving and justifying faith, which is in all true believers, in none but true believers, and in all true believers at all times.
But such a receiving of Christ as has been described, is in all true believers, in none but true believers, and in all true believers at all times.
Therefore such a receiving of Christ as has been described, is the only saving and justifying faith.
The major is undeniable, that must needs contain the essence of saving faith, which is proper to every true believer at all times, and to no other.
The minor will be as clear, for there is no other act of faith, but this of fiducial receiving Christ as he is offered, that does agree to all true believers, to none but true believers, and to all true believers at all times.
There be three acts of faith, assent, acceptance, and assurance: The Papists generally give the essence of saving faith to the first, viz. assent. The Lutherans, and some of our own, give it to the last, viz. assurance: but it can be neither way so. Assent does not agree only to true believers, or justified persons. Assurance agrees to justified persons, and them only, but not to all justified persons, and that at all times.
Assent is too low to contains the essence of saving faith, it is found in the unregenerate as well as the regenerate: yea, in devils as well as men, James 2: 19. it is supposed and included in justifying faith, but it is not the justifying or saving act. Assurance is as much too high, being found only in some eminent believers: and in them too but at some times. There is many a true believer to whom the joy and comfort of assurance is denied; they may say of their union with Christ, as Paul said of his vision; whether in the body or out of the body, I cannot tell; so they, whether in Christ or out of Christ, they cannot tell.
A true believer may “walk in darkness, and see no light,” Isa. 50: 10. Nay a man must be a believer before he know himself to be so; the direct act of faith is before the reflex act: so that the justifying act of faith lies neither in assent nor in assurance. Assent saith, I believe that Christ is, and that he is the Saviour of the elect. Assurance saith, I believe and am sure that Christ died for me, and that I shall be saved through him. So that assent widens the nature of faith too much, and assurance upon the other hand straitens it too much; but acceptance, which saith, I take Christ in all his offices to be mine, this fits it exactly, and belongs to all true believers, and to none but true believers; and to all true believers at all times. This therefore must be the justifying and saving act of faith.
Arg. 3. Thirdly, That and no other is the justifying and saving act at faith, to which the properties and effects of saving faith do belong, or in which they are only found.
But in the fiducial receiving of Christ are the properties and effects of saving faith only found.
This therefore must be the justifying and saving act of faith.
First, By saving faith, Christ is said to “dwell in our hearts,” Eph. 3: 17. but it is neither by assent, nor assurance, but by acceptance, and receiving him that he dwells in our hearts; not by assent, for then he would dwell in the unregenerate; nor by assurance, for he must dwell in our hearts before we can be assured of it: therefore it is by acceptance.
Secondly, By faith we are justified, Rom. 5: 1. But neither assent nor assurance, for the reasons above, do justify; therefore it must be by the receiving act, and no other.
Thirdly, The scripture ascribes great difficulties to that faith by which we are saved, as being most cross and opposite to the corrupt nature of man; but of all the acts of faith, none is clogged with like difficulties, or conflicts with greater oppositions than the receiving act does; this act is attended with the greatest difficulties, fears, and deepest self-denial. In assent, a man’s reason is convinced, and yields to the evidence of truth, so that he can do no other but assent to the truth. In assurance there is nothing against man’s will or comfort, but much for it; every one desires it: but it is not so in the acceptance of Christ, upon the self-denying terms of the gospel, as will hereafter be evinced. We conclude there fore, that in this consists the nature and essence of saving faith….