The Method of Grace

by John Flavel

Christ, "The Consolation of Israel"
     
 
"Waiting for the Consolation of Israel." Luke 2:25     
     
    Several glorious titles of Christ have been already spoken to,
out of each of which much comfort flows to believers: It is
comfortable to a wounded soul to eye him as a Physician; comfortable
to a condemned and unworthy soul to look upon him under the notion
of mercy: The loveliness, the desirableness, and the glory of
Christ, are all so many springs of consolation. But now I am to show
you, from this scripture, that the saints have not only much
consolation from Christ, but that Christ himself is the very
consolation of believers: He is pure comfort wrapped up in flesh and
blood.
    In this context, you have an account of Simeon's prophecy
concerning Christ; and in this text, a description of the person and
quality of Simeon himself, who is described two ways.
    1. By his practice.
    2. By his principle.
    His practice was heavenly and holy; he was a just and devout
man: The principle from which his righteousness and holiness did
flow, was his faith in Christ; "he waited for the consolation of
Israel." In which words, by way of periphrasis, we have,
    1. A description of Christ, the consolation of Israel.
    2. The description of a believer, one that waited for Christ.
    First, That the consolation of Israel it a phrase descriptive
of Jesus Christ, is beyond all doubt, if you consult ver. 26. where
he, that is Simeon is satisfied by receiving Christ into his arms, the
consolation for which he had so long waited.
    Secondly, And that waiting for Christ is a phrase describing
the believers of those times that preceded the incarnation of Christ
is past doubt; they all waited for that blessed day: But it was
Simeon's lot to fall just upon that happy point of time, wherein.
the prophecies and promises of his incarnation were fulfilled.
Simeon and others that waited with him, were sensible that the time
of the promise was come, which could not but raise (as indeed it
did) a general expectation of him, John 9: 19. But Simeon's faith
was confirmed by a particular revelation, ver. 26. That he should
see Christ before he saw death, which could not but greatly
encourage and raise his expectation to look out for him, whose
coming would be the greatest consolation to the whole Israel of God.
The consolation, "paraklesis", The Spirit is frequently called in
scripture, "parakletes", the Comforter: But Christ in this place is
called "paraklesis", comfort, or consolation itself: The reason of
both is given in John 16: 14. "He shall take of mine and show it
unto you:" Where Christ is said to be the matter, and the Spirit,
the applier of true comfort to the people of God. Now this
consolation is here expressed both with a singular emphasis [the
consolation] intimating that there is nothing of consolation in any
thing besides him; all other comforts compared with this, are not
worth naming. And as it is emphatically expressed, so it is also
limited and bounded within the compass of God's Israel, that is true
believers, stiled the Israel of Cod, whether Jews or Gentiles, Gal.
6: 16. From whence the point of doctrine is,
     
    Doctrine. That Jesus Christ is the only consolation of believers,
         and of none besides them.
     
    So speaks the apostle, Phil. 3: 3. "For we are the
circumcision, which worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ
Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." Those that worship God.
in the Spirit are sincere believers; to such sincere believers,
Christ is consolation, our rejoicing is in Christ Jesus: And they
have no consolation in anything beside him; nothing in the world
can give them comfort without Christ, We have no confidence in the
flesh. The gospel is glad tidings of great joy; but that which makes
it to be so is Jesus Christ, whom it imparts and reveals to us, Luke
2: 10, 1l. In the opening of this comfortable point, four things
must be spoken to, for the right stating the method of our
discourse. namely,
    1. What is meant by consolation.
    2. That Christ, and he only, is consolation to believers.
    S. That believers only have consolation in Christ.
    4. How it comes to pass that any believer should be dejected,
since Christ is consolation to all believers.
    The first thing to be opened, is the nature of consolation,
which is nothing else but the cheerfulness of a man's spirit,
whereby he is upheld, and fortified against all evils felt, or
feared. Consolation is to the soul what health is to the body after
wasting sickness; or the reviving spring to the earth after a long
and hard winter. And there are three sorts of consolation, or
comfort, suitable to the disposition and temper of the mind, namely,
    Natural,
    Sinful, and
    Spiritual.
    Natural comfort is the refreshment of our natural spirits by
the good creatures of God, Acts 14: 17. "Filling their hearts with
food and gladness." Sinful comfort is the satisfaction and pleasure
men take in the fulfilling of their lusts, by the abuse of the
creatures of God, James 5: 5. "You have lived in pleasure upon
earth," that is your life has been a life of sensuality and sin.
    Spiritual comfort is the refreshment, peace, and joy, gracious
souls have in Christ, by the exercise of faith, hope, and other
graces, Romans 5: 2. And this only deserves the name of true solid
consolation: To which four things are required.
    First, That the matter thereof be some spiritual, eminent, and
durable good; else our consolation in it will be but as the
crackling of thorns under a pot, a sudden blaze, quickly extinct
with the failing matter of it. Christ only gives the matter of
solid, durable consolation; the righteousness of Christ, the pardon
of sin, the favor of God, the hopes of glory, are the substantial
materials of a believer's consolation, Romans 5: 2. Mat. 9: 2. Psalm.
4: 6, 7. 2 Pet. 1: 8. Things are as their foundations be.
    Secondly, Interest and propriety in these comfortable things,
are requisite to our consolation by them, Luke 1: 47. "My spirit
rejoices in God my Savior." It is no consolation to him that is
hungry to see a feast; to him that is poor to see a treasure; if the
one may not taste, or the other partake thereof.
    Thirdly, Knowledge, and evidence of interest, in some degree is
requisite to actual consolation, though without it a man may be in
the state of consolation; for that which appears not, is (in point
of actual comfort) as if it were not.
    Fourthly, In order hereunto, the work of the Spirit upon our
hearts is requisite, both to give, and clear our interest in Christ
and the promises: And both these ways he is the Comforter, "The
fruit of the Spirit is joy," Gal. 5: 22. And thus briefly of the
nature of consolation.
    Secondly, Next I will show you that Christ, and he only, is
matter of consolation to believers: which will demonstratively
appear by this argument.
    First, He who brings to their souls all that is comfortable,
and removes from their souls all that is uncomfortable, must needs
be the only consolation of believers.
    But Jesus Christ brings to their souls all that is comfortable,
and removes from their souls all that is uncomfortable.
    Therefore Christ only is the consolation of believers.
    First, Jesus Christ brings whatever is comfortable to the
souls of believers. Is pardon comfortable to a person condemned? No
thing can be matter of greater comfort in this world. Why, this
Christ brings to all believers, Jer. 23: 6. "And this is the name
whereby he shall be called, the Lord our righteousness." This cannot
but give strong consolation; righteousness is the foundation of
peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, Romans 14: 17. "The work of
righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness,
quietness and assurance forever," Isaiah 32: 17. Come to a dejected
soul, laboring under the burden of guilt, and say, cheer up, I
bring you good tidings, there is such an estate befallen you, or
such a troublesome business comfortably ended for you; alas! this
will not reach the heart: If you can bring me (says he) good news
from heaven, that my sins are forgiven, and God reconciled, how soon
should I be comforted! And therefore (as one well observes) this was
the usual receipt with which Christ cured the souls of men and
women, when he was here on earth; Son or daughter, "be of good
cheer, your sins be forgiven you." And, indeed, it is as easy to
separate light and warmth from the beams of the sun, as cheerfulness
and comfort from the voice of pardon.
    Are the hopes and expectations of heaven and glory comfortable!
Yes sure, nothing is comfortable if this be not, Romans 5: 2. "We
rejoice in hope of the glory of God." Now, Christ brings to the
souls of men all the solid grounds and foundations upon which they
build their expectations of glory, Col. 1: 27. "Which is Christ, in
you, the hope of glory." Name anything else that is solid matter of
comfort to the souls of men, and the grounds thereof will be found
in Christ, and in none but Christ; as might easily be demonstrated
by the exoneration of multitudes of particular instances, which I
cannot now insist upon.
    Secondly, Jesus Christ removes from believers whatever is
uncomfortable; therein relieving them against all the matters of
their affliction and sorrow. As namely,
    First, Is sin a burden and matter of trouble to believers?
Christ, and none but Christ, removes that burden, Romans 7: 24, 25.
"O wretched man that I am! (says sin-burdened Paul) who will deliver
me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our
Lord." The satisfaction of his blood, Eph. 5: 2. The sanctification
of his Spirit, John 1: 5, 6. His perfect deliverance of his people
from the very being of sin at last, Eph. 5: 26, 27. This relieves at
present, and removes at last the matter and ground of all their
troubles and sorrows for sin.
    Secondly, Do the temptations of Satan burden believers? O yes,
by reason of temptations, they go in trouble and heaviness of
spirit. Temptation is an enemy under the walls; temptation greatly
endangers, and therefore cannot but greatly afflict the souls of
believers; but Christ brings the only matter of relief against
temptations. The intercession of Christ is a singular relief at
present, Luke 22:32. "But I have prayed for you that your faith fail
not." And the promises of Christ are a full relief for the future;
"The God of peace shall shortly tread Satan under your feet," Romans
16: 20.
    Thirdly, Is spiritual desertion, and the hiding of God's face,
matter of affliction and casting down to believers? Yes, yes, it
distresses their hearts, nothing can comfort them; "You hide your
face, and I was troubled," Psalm. 30: 7. Outward afflictions do but
break the skin, this touches the quick; they like rain fall only
upon the tiles, this soaks into the house; but Christ brings to
believers substantial matter of consolation against the troubles of
desertion: He himself was deserted of God for a time, that they
might not be deserted forever. In him also the relieving promises
are made to believers, that notwithstanding God may desert them for
a time, yet the union between him and them shall never be dissolved,
Heb. 13: 4. Jer. 32: 40. Though he forsake them for a moment, in
respect of evidenced favor, yet he will return again and comfort
them, Isa 54: 7. Though Satan pull hard, yet he will never "be able
to pluck them out of his Fathers hand," John 10: 20. O, what relief
is this! What consolation is Christ to a deserted believer.
    Fourthly, Are outward afflictions matter of dejection and
trouble? Alas, who finds them not to be so? How do our hearts fail
and our spirits sink under the many smarting rods of God upon us?
But our relief and consolation under them all is in Christ Jesus;
for the rod that afflicts us is in the hand of Christ that loves
us, Rev. 3: 29. "Whom I love, I rebuke and chasten." His design in
affliction is our profit, Heb. 12: 10. That design of his for our
good shall certainly be accomplished, Romans 8: 28. And after that no
more afflictions forever. Rev. 21: 3, 4. "God shall wipe away all
tears from their eyes". So that upon the whole, two things are most
evident.
    First, Nothing can comfort the soul without Christ! he is the
soul that animates all comforts; they would be dead things without
him. Temporal enjoyments, riches, honors, health, relations yield
not a drop of true comfort without Christ. Spiritual enjoyments,
ministers, ordinances, promises, are fountains sealed and springs
shut up; until Christ open them, a man may go comfortless in the
midst of them all.
    Secondly, No troubles, sorrows, or deletions can deject or sink
the soul that Christ comforts, 2 Cor. 6: 20. "As sorrowful, yet
always rejoining." A believer may walk with a heart full of comfort
amidst all the troubles of this world: Christ makes the darkness and
troubles to be light round about his people. So that the conclusion
stands firm, and never to be shaken, that Christ, and Christ only,
is the consolation of believers; which was the thing to be proved.
    In the third place, I am to show you that believers, and none
but believers, can have consolation in Christ; which will
convincingly appear from the consideration of those things which we
laid down before as the requisites to all true spiritual
consolation. For,
    First, No unbeliever has the materials, out of which spiritual
comfort is made, which (as I there told you) must be some solid,
spiritual, and eternal good, as Christ and the covenant are: what do
unregenerate men rejoice in but trifles and mere vanities, in a
thing of nothing? Amos 6: 13. See how their mirth is described in Job
21: 12. "They take their timbrel and harp, and rejoice at the sound
of the organ." He does not say, they take the Bible, turn to the
promises, and rejoice in Christ and the covenant; it is not the
melody of a good conscience, the joy of the Holy Spirit; no, no, they
have no acquaintance with such music as that; but the rejoicing of
believers is in those things, 2 Cor. 1: 12. and this is well built
consolation, which reaches the heart.
    Secondly, I told you that propriety and interest in Christ and
the promises are required to all spiritual consolation: but no
unbeliever has any title or interest in Christ and the promises, and
so they can signify nothing to him in point of comfort. It is not
another man's money, but my own, that must feed, clothe and comfort
me; nor is it another man's Christ, but my own Christ, that must
justify, save, and comfort my soul.
    Thirdly, You were told, that evidence of a man's peace and
reconciliation with God, is necessary to his actual consolation,
which no unbeliever can possibly have; he has neither grace within
him to make him a qualified subject of any special promise, nor any
witness or seal of the Spirit, to confirm and clear his propriety in
Christ; for he never seals, but where he first sanctifies. So that
it is beyond all contradiction, that believers, and none but
believers are partakers of the consolations that are in Christ
Jesus.
    Fourthly and lastly, There is one inquiry remains to be
satisfied; namely, seeing Jesus Christ is consolation to believers,
how it comes to pass, that so many believers in the world should
walk so dejectedly as they do, without any spiritual consolation?
    First, This need not be wondered at, if we consider that the
consolations of Christ are of two sorts, seminal and in preparation,
or actual in present possession. Every believer in the world has the
root and seed of comfort planted and sown for him, Psalm. 97: 11.
"Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in
heart." They have Christ and the promises, which are the seeds of
consolation, and will bring forth joy at last, though at present
they have no actual consolation; the seed of all joy is sown, and in
due time they shall reap the full lope fruit thereof.
    Secondly, It must be remembered, that interest and evidence are
distinct blessings, every believer has interest in Christ: but every
believer has not the evidence thereof, Isaiah 1. 10. "Who is among
you, that fears the Lord, and obeys the voice of his servant;
that walks in darkness, and has no light?" Every child of God is
not of sufficient age to know his Father, or take comfort in that
blessed inheritance whereunto he is begotten again, 1 Pet. 1: 3, 4.
    Thirdly, Every believer does not walk with like strictness, and
exact holiness: all do not exercise faith in a like degree. Among
Christians some are strong in grace, rich in faith, strict in
obedience, tender of sin to an eminent degree; these usually are
owners of much consolation: but others are weak in grace, poor in
faith, comparatively careless of their hearts and ways, frequently
grieving the good Spirit of God, and wounding their own consciences
(the vessel into which spiritual consolation is poured;) and these
are usually denied the joy and comfort which others abound withal.
    Fourthly, The consolations of Christ are arbitrarily dispensed
by the Spirit, who is the Comforter, and gives to every man in such
proportions, and at such seasons, as pleases him: whence it comes
to pass, that he who is rich in comfort to-day, may be poor
tomorrow; and, contrarily, the heart that is quite full of sorrow
one hour, is filled with peace and joy in believing in the next.
Things that are necessary to the rein of a Christian, are fixed and
stable; but things belonging only to the well-being of a Christian,
come and go, according to the good pleasure and appointment of the
Spirit. The use of all follows.
    Inference. 1. Hence it follows, That the state of unbelievers is the
most sad and uncomfortable state in the world, having no interest in
Christ, the consolation of Israel. It is true, they abound in
creature comforts; they live in pleasure upon earth; joy displays
its colors in their faces; but for all this, there is not the least
drop of true consolation in any of their hearts; they have some
comfort in the creature, but none in Christ: that little they gather
from the creature now, is all their portion of joy, Luke 6: 24. "You
have received your consolation:" as this is all they have, so they
shall enjoy it but a little while, Job 21: 13, 17. And while they do
enjoy it, it is mixed with many gripes of conscience, Job 14: 13.
"Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful, and the end of that mirth
is heaviness." Whatever consolation any unbeliever speaks of besides
this, is but by rote; for when the day of his distress comes, and
the terrors of conscience shall awake him out of his pleasant
dreams, all his sensual joys will vanish from him, and the doors of
true consolation will be shut against him. Let him go to Jesus
Christ, knock at that door, and say, Lord Jesus, your name is
consolation: my heart is really to burst within me; have you no
consolation for me? O Lord, for one drop of spiritual comfort now;
but alas there is none, no not in Christ himself, for any
unbeliever. It is children's bread, the saints privilege; comfort
and grace are undivided. Let him return into himself, search his own
conscience for comfort, and say, O conscience! you are more than a
thousand witnesses, and thousands have been comforted by you; where
you speak comfort, none can speak trouble; have you no
consolation for me in my deepest distress? Alas, no; if God condemn
you, wherewithal shall I comfort you? I can speak neither more nor
less than the scriptures put into my mouth, and I find not one word
in all the book of God warranting me to be your comforter. Believe it
is an undoubted truth (though the sense of the bewitched world
overrules it) that the state of unbelievers, even at the best, is a
sad and dismal state.
    Inference. 2. Let all believers fetch ad their comfort out of Christ,
who is the Consolation of his people: "We rejoice (says the
apostle) in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." That
is the true temper of a believing soul: take heed you live not
partly upon Christ and partly upon the creature for your comfort,
much rather beware that you forsake not Christ, the fountain of
living waters, and hew out cisterns for yourselves which can hold no
water, Jer. 2: 13. If you make any creature the spring and fountain
of your comfort, assuredly God will dry up that spring. If your
souls draw their comfort from any creature, you know they must
outlive that creature, and what then will you do for comfort?
Besides, as your comforts are, so are you. The food of every
creature is suitable to its nature. You see divers creatures feeding
upon several parts of the same herb, the bee upon the flower, the
bird upon the seeds, the sheep upon the stalk, and the swine upon
the root, according to their nature so is their food. Sensual men
feed upon sensual things; spiritual men upon spiritual things; as
your food is, so are you. If carnal comforts can content your heart,
sure your heart must then be a very carnal heart. Yes, and let
Christians themselves take heed, that they fetch not their
consolations out of themselves instead of Christ. Your graces and
duties are excellent means and instruments, but not the ground work
and foundation of your comfort, they are useful buckets to draw, but
not the well itself in which the springs of consolation rise. If you
put your duties in the room of Christ, Christ will put your comforts
out of the reach of your duties.
    Inference. 3. If Christ be the consolation of believers, what a
comfortable life should all believers live in the world? Certainly,
if the fault be not your own, you might live the happiest and
comfortablest lives of all men in the world. If you would not be a
discomfort to Christ, he would be a comfort to you every day, and in
every condition, to the end of your lives. Your condition abounds
with all the helps and advantages of consolation. You have the
command of Christ to warrant your comforts, Phil. 4: 4. You have the
Spirit of Christ for a spring of comfort; you have the scriptures of
Christ for the rules of comfort; you have the duties of religion for
the means of comfort. Why is it then that you go comfortless? If
your afflictions be many in the world, yet your encouragements are
more in Christ. Your troubles in the world have been turned into
joy, but your comforts in Christ can never be turned into trouble.
Why should troubles obstruct your comfort, when the blessing of
Christ upon your troubles makes them subservient to promote your
happiness? Romans 8: 28. Shake off despondency then, and live up to
the principles of religion. Your dejected life is uncomfortable to
yourselves, and of very ill use to others.
    Inference. 4. If Christ be the consolation of believers, then let all
that desire comfort in this world, or in that to come, embrace Jesus
Christ, and get real union with him. The same hour you shall be in
Christ, you shall also be at the fountain head of all consolations:
your soul shall be then a pardoned soul, and a pardoned soul has all
reason in the world to be a joyful soul: in that day the conscience
shall be sprinkled with the blood of Christ; and a sprinkled
conscience has all the reason in the world to be a comforting
conscience: in that day you become the children of your Father in
heaven, and he who has a Father in heaven, has all reason to be the
joyfullest man upon earth; in that day you are delivered from the
sting and hurt of death; and he who is delivered from the sting of
death, has the best reason to take in the comfort of life. O come to
Christ! come to Christ! until you come to Christ, no true comfort can
come to you.
 




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