The Fountain of Life
The Fountain of Life opened up: or, a display
of Christ in his essential and mediatorial glory
by John Flavel
Of the signal Providence, which directed and
ordered the Title affixed to the cross of Christ
"And a superscription also was written over him in
letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS." Luke
Before I pass on to the Manner of Christ's death, I shall
consider the title affixed to the cross; in which very much of the wisdom of
Providence was discovered. It was the manner of the Romans, that the equity
of their proceedings might the more clearly appear to the people, when they
crucified any man, to publish the cause of his death, in a table written in
capital letters, and placed over the head of the crucified. And that there
might be at least, a show and face of justice in Christ's death, he also
shall have his title or superscription.
The worst and most unrighteous actions labor to cover and
shroud themselves under pretension of equity. Sin is so shameful a thing,
that it cares not to own its name. Christ shall have a table written for him
also. This writing one evangelist calls the Accusation, "aitia", Matth.
27:37. Another calls it the Title, "titlos", John 19:19. Another the
Inscription or Superscription, "epigrafe", so the text. And another the
Superscription of his Accusations, "epigrafe tes aitias", Mark 15:26. In
short, it was a fair legible writing, intended to express the fact or crime,
for which the person died.
This was their usual manner, though sometimes we find it
was published by the voice of the common crier. As in the case of Attalus
the martyr, who was led about the amphitheater, one proclaiming before him,
this is Attalus the Christian. But it was customary and usual to express the
crime in a written table, as the text expresses it. Wherein these three
things offer themselves to your consideration.
First, The character or description of Christ, contained
in that writing. And he is described by his kingly dignity: This is the king
of the Jews. The very office, which but a little before, they had reproached
and derided, bowing the knee to him in mockery, saying, Hail King of the
Jews: the Providence of God so orders it, that therein he shall be
vindicated and honored. This is the King of the Jews: Or, as the other
evangelists complete it, This is Jesus of Nareth the King of the Jews.
Secondly, The person that drew his character or title. It
was Pilate; he that but now condemned him: he that was his judge, shall be
his herald, to proclaim his glory. For the title is honorable. Surely, this
was not from himself, for he was Christ's enemy; but rather than Christ
should want a tongue to clear him, the tongue of an enemy shall do it.
Thirdly, The time when this honor was done him: It was
when he was at the lowest ebb of his glory; when shame and reproach were
heaped on him by all hands. When all the disciples had forsaken him, and
were fled. Not one left to proclaim his innocence, or speak a word in his
vindication. Then does the providence of God as strangely, as powerfully,
over-rule the heart and pen of Pilate, to draw this title for him, and affix
it to his cross. Surely we must look higher than Pilate in this thing, and
see how Providence serves itself by the hands of Christ's adversities.
Pilate writes in honor of Christ, and stiffly defends it too. Hence our
DOCTRINE. 1. That the dignity of
Christ was openly proclaimed, and defended by an enemy; and that, in the
time of his greatest reproaches and sufferings.
To open this mystery of providence to you, that you may
not stand idly gazing upon Christ's title, as many then did; we must, First,
Consider the nature and quality of this title. Secondly, What hand the
Providence of God had in this matter. Thirdly, and then draw forth the
proper uses and improvements of it.
First, To open the nature and quality of Christ's title
or inscription; let it be thoroughly considered, and we shall find,
First, That it was an extraordinary title, varying from
all examples of that kind; and directly crossing the main design and end of
their own custom. For, as I hinted before, the end of it was to clear the
equity of their proceedings, and show the people how justly they suffered
those punishments inflicted on them for such crimes. But lo, here is a title
expressing no crime at all, and so vindicating Christ's innocence t. This
some of them perceived, and moved Pilate to change It, not, This is, but,
This is he that said, I am the King of the Jews. In that, as they conceived,
lay his crime. O how strange and wonderful a thing was this! But what shall
we say! it was a day of wonders and extraordinary things. As there was never
such a person crucified before, so there was never such a title affixed to
the cross before.
Secondly, As it was an extraordinary, so it was a public
title, both written and published with the greatest advantage of spreading
itself far and near, among all people, that could be, "for it was written in
three languages, and to those most known in the world at that time." The
Greek tongue was then known in most parts of the world. The Hebrew was the
Jews native language. And the Latin the language of the Romans. So that it
being written both in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, it was easy to be understood
both by Jews and Gentiles.
And indeed, unto this the providence of God had a special
eye, to make it notorious and evident to all the world; for even so all
things designed for public view, and knowledge were written. Joseph us tells
us of certain pillars, on which was engraved in letters of Greek, and Latin,
"It is a wickedness for strangers to enter into the holy place". So the
soldiers of Gordian, the third emperor, when he was slain upon the borders
of Persia, raised a monument for him, and engraved his memorial upon it, in
Greek, Latin, Persia, Judaic, and Egyptian letters, that all people might
read the same. And as it was written in three learned languages, so it was
exposed to view in a public place; and at that time, when multitudes of
strangers, as well as Jews, were at Jerusalem; it was at the time of the
passover; so that all things concurred to spread and divulge the innocence
of Christ, vindicated in this title.
Thirdly, As it was a public, so it was an honorable
title. Such was the nature of it, says Bucer; that in the midst of death,
Christ began to triumph by it. And by reason thereof, the cross began to
change its own nature, and instead of a rack, or engine of torture, it
became a throne of majesty. Yes, it might be called now, as the church
itself is, The pillar and ground of truth; for it held out much of the
gospel, much of the glory of Christ; as that pillar does, to which a royal
proclamation is affixed.
Fourthly, It was a vindicating title: it cleared up the
honor, dignity, and innocence of Christ, against all the false imputations,
calumnies, and blasphemies, which acre cast upon him before, by the wicked
tongues, both of Jews and Gentiles.
They had called him a deceiver, an usurper, a blasphemer;
they rent their clothes, in token of their detestation of his blasphemy;
because he made himself the Son of God, and King of Israel. But now in this,
they acknowledged him to be both Lord and Savior. Not a mock king, as they
had made him before. So that herein the honor of Christ was fully
Fifthly, Moreover it was a predicting and presaging
title. Evidently foreshowing the propagation of Christ's kingdom, and the
spreading of his name and glory among all kindreds, nations, tongues, and
languages. As Christ has right to enter into all the kingdoms of the earth,
by his gospel, and set up his throne in every nation: so it was presaged by
this title that he should do so. And that both Hebrews, Greeks, and Latins
should be called to the knowledge of him. Nor is it a wonder, that this
should be predicted by wicked Pilate, when Caiaphas himself, a man every way
as wicked as he, had prophesied to the same purpose, John 11:51, 52. For
being High-Priest that year, he prophesied, That Jesus should die for that
nation, and not for that nation only, but that also he should gather
together in one, the children of God that were scattered abroad. Yes, many
have prophesied in Christ's name, who, for all that, shall never be owned by
him, Matth. 7:22.
Sixthly, And lastly, It was an immutable title. The Jews
endeavored, but could not persuade Pilate to alter it. To all their
importunities he returns this resolute answer, "What I have written, I have
written;" as if he should say, Urge me no more, I have written his title, I
cannot, I will not, alter a letter, a point thereof. "Surely the constancy
of Pi]ate at this time can be attributed to nothing but divine special
Providence." Most wonderful! that he, who before was as inconstant as a reed
shaken by the wind, is now as fixed as a pillar of brass.
And yet more wonderful], that he should write down that
very particular in the title of Christ, This is the King of the Jews, which
was the very thing that so scared him but a little before, and was the very
consideration that moved him to give sentence. What was now become of the
fear of Caesar? that Pilate dares to be Christ's herald, and publicly to
proclaim him, a King of the Jews. This was the title.
Secondly, We shall next enquire what hand the Divine
Providence had in this business.
And indeed, the providence of God in this hour, acted
gloriously, and wonderfully, these five ways.
First, In over-ruling the heart and hand of Pilate in the
draught and stile of it, and that contrary to his own inclination. I doubt
not but Pilate himself was ignorant of, and far enough from designing that
which the wisdom of providence aimed at in this matter. He was a wicked man,
and had no love to Christ. He had given sentence of death against him; yet
this is he that proclaimed him to be Jesus, King of the Jews. It so
over-ruled his pen, that he could not write what was in his own heart and
intention, but the quite contrary; even a fair and public testimony of the
kingly office of the Son of God, This is the King of the Jews.
Secondly, Herein the wisdom of Providence was gloriously
displayed, in applying a present, proper, public remedy to the reproaches
and blasphemies which Christ had then newly received in his name and honor.
The superstitious Jews wound him, and Heathen Pilate prepares a plaister to
heal him: they reproach, he vindicates; they throw the dirt, he washes it
off. Oh the profound and inscrutable wisdom of Providence!
Thirdly, Moreover, Providence eminently appeared at this
time in keeping so timorous a person, a man of so base a spirit, that would
not stick at anything to please the people, from receding, or giving ground
in the least to their importunities. Is Pilate become a man of such
resolution and constancy? whence is this? but from the God of the spirits of
all flesh, who now flowed in so powerfully upon his spirit, that he could
not choose but write; and when he had written, had no more power to alter
what he had written, than he had to refuse to write it.
Fourthly, Herein also much of the wisdom of Providence
appeared, in casting the ignominy of the death of Christ upon those very men
who ought to bear it. Pilate was moved by divine instinct, at once to clear
Christ, and accuse them. For it is as if he had said, you have moved me to
crucify your king, I have crucified him, and now let the ignominy of his
death rest upon your heads, who have extorted this from me. He is righteous,
the crime is not his but yours.
Fifthly, And lastly, The providence of God wonderfully
discovered itself (as before was noted) in fixing this title to the cross of
Christ, when there was so great a confluence of all sorts of people to take
notice of it. So that it could never have been more advantageously
published, than it was at this time. So that we may say, How wonderful are
the works of God! "His ways are in the sea, his paths in the great deeps;
his footsteps are not known:" His providence has a prospect beyond the
understandings of all creatures.
INFERENCE 1. Hence it follows, That the providence of our
God can, and often does over-rule the counsels and actions of the worst of
men to his own glory.
It can serve itself by them that oppose it, and bring
about the glory and honor of Christ, by those very men, and means, which are
designed to lay it in the dust. "Surely the wrath of man shall praise you",
Psalm. 76:10. The Jews thought when they crowned Christ with thorns, bowed
the knee, and mocked him, led him to Golgotha and crucified him; that now
they had utterly despoiled him of all his kingly dignities; and yet even
there he is proclaimed a king. Thus the dispersion of the Jews, upon the
death of Stephen, spread the gospel far and near, "For they went everywhere
preaching the word," Acts 8:4. Thus Paul's bonds for the gospel fell out to
the furtherance of the gospel, Phil. 1:12. O the depth of Divine Wisdom! to
propagate and establish the interest of Jesus Christ, by those very means
that seem to import its destruction: that extracts a medicine out of poison!
How great a support should this be to the faith of God's people! When all
things seem to run cross to their hopes and happiness! "Let Israel therefore
hope in the Lord, for with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is
plenteous redemption," Psalm. 130:7. that is He is never at a loss for means
to promote and serve his own ends.
INFERENCE. 2. Hence likewise it follows, That the
greatest services performed to Christ accidentally and undesignedly, shall
never be accepted nor rewarded of God. Pilate did Christ an eminent piece of
service. He did that for Christ that not one of his own disciples at that
time dared do; and yet this service was not accepted of God, because he did
it not designedly for his glory, but from the mere overrulings of
If there be first a willing mind, it is accepted,
according to what a man has, says the apostle, Cor. 8:12. The eye of God is
first and mainly upon the will; if that be sincere and right for God, small
things will be accepted; and if not, the greatest shall be abhorred. So 1
Cor. 9:17. If I do this thing (that is preach the gospel) willingly, I have
a reward; but if against my will, a dispensation is committed to me, q.d. If
I upon pure principles of faith and love, from my heart, designing the glory
of God, and delighting to promote it by my ministry, do cheerfully and
willingly apply myself to the preaching of the gospel, I shall have
acceptance and reward with God; but if my work be a burden to me, and the
service of God esteemed as a bondage, why then providence may use me for the
dispensing of the gospel to others, but I myself shall lose both reward and
comfort. As it does not excuse my sin, that God can bring glory to himself
out of it; so neither does it justify an action that God has praise and
honor accidentally by it. Paul knew that even the strife and envy in which
some preached Christ, should turn to his salvation; and yet he was not at
all beholden to them for promoting his salvation that way. So Pilate here
promotes the honor of Jesus Christ to whom he had no love, and whose glory
he did not at all design in this thing; and therefore has neither acceptance
nor reward with God.
O therefore, whatever you do for Christ, do it heartily,
designedly, for his glory: of a ready and willing mind; with pure and
sincere aims at his glory; for this is that the Lord more respects, than the
greatest services by accident.
INFERENCE. 3. Would not Pilate recede from what he had
written on Christ's behalf? How shameful a thing is it for Christians to
retract what they have said or done on Christ's behalf? When Pilate had
asserted him to be king of the Jews, he maintained his assertion, and all
the importunity of Christ's enemies shall not move him an hairs breadth from
it. "that I have written, I have written," q. d. I have said it, and I will
not revoke it. Did Pilate say, "What I have written, I have written:" and
shall not we say, What we have believed, we have believed: and what we have
professed, we have professed? that we have engaged to Christ, we have
engaged. We will stand to what we have done for him: we will never recant
our former ownings of and appearances for Christ.
As God's election, so your profession must be
irrevocable. O let him that is holy be holy still. That counsel given by a
reverend divine in this case, is both safe and good. "Be sure, (says he) you
stand on good ground, and then resolve to stand your ground against all the
world. Follow God, and fear not men. Are you godly! repent not whatever your
religion cost you. Let sinners repent, but let not saints repent. Let saints
repent of their faults, but not of their faith: of their iniquities, but not
of their righteousness. Repent not of your righteousness, lest you afterward
repent of your repentance. - Repent not of your seal, or your forwardness,
or activity in the holy ways of the Lord. - Wish not yourselves a step
farther back, or a cubit lower in your stature, in the grace of God. wish
not anything undone, concerning which God will say, Well done."
In Galen's time it was a proverbial expression, when any
one would show the impossibility of a thing; you may as soon turn a
Christian from Christ as do it.
A true heart choice of Christ is without reserves, and
what is without reserves, will be without repentance. There is a stiffness
and stoutness of spirit which is our sin. But this is our glory, in the
matters of God, says Luther, I assume this title, Cedo nulli, "I yield to
none:" If you be hot and cold, off and on; profess, and retract your
profession. He that condemned Christ with his lips, will condemn you by his
example. Resolute Pilate shall be your judge.
INFERENCE. 4. Did Pilate affix such an honorable,
vindicating title to the cross? Then the cross of Christ is a dignified
cross. Then the cross and sufferings of Christ are attended with glory and
honor. Remember when your hearts begin to startle at the sufferings and
reproaches of Christ, there is an honorable title upon the cross of Christ.
And as it was upon his, so it will be upon your cross also, if you suffer
for Christ. Moses saw it, which made him esteem the very reproaches of
Christ, above all the treasures of Egypt, Heb. 11:26. How did the martyrs
glory in their sufferings for Christ! calling their chains of iron, chains
of gold; and their manacles, bracelets.
I remember it is storied of Ludovicus Marsacus, a knight
of France, that when he, with divers other Christians of an inferior rank
and degree in the world, were condemned to die for religion. and the gaoler
had bound them with chains, but did not bind him being a more honorable
person than the rest: he was offended greatly by that omission, and said,
"Why do not you honor me with a chain for Christ also, and create me a
knight of that it lustrous order?"
"To you (says the apostle) it is given in the behalf of
Christ not only to believe, but also to suffer for his sake," Phil. 1:29.
There is a two-fold honor attending the cross of Christ; one in the very
sufferings themselves; another, as the reward and fruit of them. To be
called out to suffer for Christ, is a great honor. Yes, an honor peculiar to
the saints. The damned suffer from Christ, the wicked suffer for their sins.
The angels glorify Christ by their active but not their passive obedience.
This is reserved as a special honor for saints.
And as there is a great deal of honor in being called
forth to suffer on Christ's account; so Christ will confer special honor
upon his suffering saints, in the day of their reward, Mat. 10:32. "He that
confesses me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is
in heaven." O Sirs, one of these days the Lord will break out of heaven,
with a shout, accompanied with myriads of angels, and ten thousands of his
saints, those glittering courtiers of heaven. The heavens and earth shall
flame and melt before him; and it shall be very tempestuous round about him;
the graves shall open, the sea and earth shall yield up their dead. You
shall see him ascending the awful throne of Judgement, and all flesh
gathered before his face; even multitudes, multitudes that no man can
number. And then to be brought forth by Christ before that great assembly of
angels and saints: and there to have an honorable mention and remembrance
made of your labors, and sufferings, your pains, patience and self-denial,
of all your sufferings, and losses for Christ; and to hear from his mouth,
Well done, good and faithful servant: O what honor is this! Yet this shall
be done to the man that now chooses sufferings for Christ, rather than sin;
That esteems his reproaches greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.
I tell you, It is an honor the angels have not. I make no
doubt, but they would be glad, (had they bodies of flesh as we have), to lay
their necks on the block for Christ. But this is the saints peculiar
privilege. The apostles went away from the council rejoicing, that they were
honored to be dishonored for Christ: Or, as we translate it, "counted worthy
to suffer shame for him," Acts 5:41. Surely, if there be any stigmata laudis,
"marks of honor," they are such as we receive for Christ's sake. If there be
any shame that has glory in it, it is the reproach of Christ, and the shame
you suffer for his name.
INFERENCE. 5. Did Pilate so stiffly assert and defend the
honor of Christ? What doubt can then be made of the success of Christ's
interest, and the prosperity of his cause: when the very enemies thereof are
made to serve it?
Rather than Christ shall want honor, Pilate, the man that
condemned him, shall do him honor. And as it fared with his person, just so
with his interest also. How often have the people of God received mercies
from the hands of their enemies? Rev. 12:16. "The earth helped the woman,"
that is wicked men did the church service. So that this may singularly
relieve us against all our despondencies and fears of the miscarriage of the
interest of Christ.
That people can never be ruined, who thrive by their
losses; conquer by being conquered; multiply by being diminished: Whose
worst enemies are made to do that for them, which friends cannot or dare not
do. See you a Heathen Pilate proclaiming the honor and innocence of Christ;
God will not want instruments to honor Christ by. If others cannot, his very
INFERENCE. 6. Did Pilate vindicate Christ in drawing up
such a title to be affixed to his cross? then hence it follows, That God
will, sooner or later, clear up the innocency and integrity of his people,
who commit their cause to him. Christ's name was clouded with many
reproaches; wounded through and through, by the blasphemous tongues of his
malicious enemies. He committed himself to him that judges righteously, 1
Pet. 2:23. and see how soon God vindicates him. That is sweet and seasonable
counsel for us, when our names are clouded with unjust censures, Psalm.
37:5, 6. "Commit your way unto the Lord; trust also in Him, and he shall
bring it to pass. He shall brings forth your righteousness as the light, and
your judgement as the noon day." Joseph was accused of incontinence; David
of treason; Daniel of disobedience; Elijah of troubling Israel; Jeremiah of
revolting; Amos of preaching against the king; the Apostles of sedition,
rebellion, and alteration of laws; Christ himself of gluttony, sorcery,
blasphemy, sedition, but how did all these honorable names wade out of their
reproaches, as the sun out of a cloud! God cleared all their honor for them
even in this world. "Slanders (says one) are but as soap, which though it
soils and daubs for the present, yet it helps to make the garment more clean
and shining." "When hair is shaven, it comes the thicker, and with a new
increase: so when the razor of censure has (says one) made your heads bare,
and brought on the baldness of reproach, be not discouraged, God has a time
to bring forth your righteousness as the light, by an apparent conviction,
to dazzle and discourage your adversaries."
The world was well changed, when Constantine kissed the
hollow of Paphnutius' eye, which was before while put out for Christ. Scorn
and reproach is but a little cloud, that is soon blown over. But suppose you
should not be vindicated in this world, but die under a cloud upon your
names; be sure God will clear it up, and that to purpose in that great day.
Then shall the righteous, (even in this respect) shine forth as the sun, in
the Kingdom of their Father. Then every detracting mouth shall be stopped,
and no more cruel arrows of reproach shot at the white of your reputation.
Be patient therefore, my brethren, unto the coming of the
Lord. "The Lord comes with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgement
upon all; and to convince all that are ungodly, of all their ungodly deeds,
which they have ungodly committed. And of all their hard speeches which
ungodly sinners have spoken against him," Jude 14, 15. Then shall they
retract their censures, and alter their opinions of the saints. If Christ
will be our compurgator, we need not fear who are our accusers. If your
names, for his sake, be cast out as evil, and spurned in the dirt; Christ
will deliver it you again in that day whiter than the snow in Salmon.
INFERENCE. 7. Did Pilate give this title to cast the
reproach of his death upon the Jews, and clear himself of it? How natural is
it to men to transfer the fault of their own actions from themselves to
others? For when he writes, This is the king of the Jews, he wholly charges
them with the crime of crucifying their king: and it is as if he had said,
Hereafter let the blame and fault of this action lie wholly upon your heads,
who have brought the guilt of his blood upon yourselves and children.
I am clear, you have extorted it from me. O where shall
we find a spirit so ingenuous, to take home to itself the shame of its own
actions, and charge itself freely with its own guilt? Indeed it is the
property of renewed, gracious hearts to remember, confess, and freely bewail
their own evils, to the glory of God: and that is a gracious heart indeed,
which in this case judges, that the glory, which by confession, goes to the
name of his God, is not so much glory lost to his own name, but it is the
power of grace molding our proud natures into another thing, that must bring
them to his!