The Method of Grace
by John Flavel
Necessity of Being Slain by the Law
The great usefulness of the Law or Word
of God, in order to the Application of Christ.
"For I was alive without the law once, but when the
commandment came, sin revived, and I died." Romans 7:9
The scope of the apostle in this epistle, and more particularly
in this chapter, is to state the due use and excellency of the law,
which he does accordingly.
First, By denying to it a power to justify us, which is the
peculiar honor of Christ.
Secondly, By ascribing to it a power to convince us, and so
prepare us for Christ.
Neither attributing to it more honor than belongs to it, nor
yet detracting from it that honor and usefulness which God has
given it. It cannot make us righteous, but it can convince us that
we are unrighteous; it cannot heal, but it can open and discover the
wounds that sin has given us; which he proves in this place by an
argument drawn from his own experience, confirmed also by the
general experience of believers, in whose persons and names we must
here understand him to speak; "For I was alive without the law once;
but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died." Wherein
three particulars are very observable.
First, The opinion Paul had, and all unregenerate men have of
themselves before conversion: I was alive once. By life, understand
here liveliness, cheerfulness, and confidence of his good estate and
condition: he was full of vain hope, false joy, and presumptuous
confidence; a very brisk and jovial man.
Secondly, The sense and opinion he had, and all others will
have of themselves, if ever they come under the regenerating work of
the Spirit in his ordinary method of working: I died. The death he
here speaks of, stands opposed to that life before mentioned; and
signifies the sorrows, fears, and tremblings that seized upon his
soul, when his state and temper were upon the change: the
apprehensions he then had of his condition struck him home to the
heart, and damped all his carnal mirth: I died.
Thirdly, The ground and reason of this wonderful alteration and
change of his judgment, and apprehension of his own condition; the
commandment came, and sin revived: The commandment came, that
is it came home to my conscience, it was fixed with a divine and mighty
efficacy upon my heart: the commandment was come before by way of
promulgation, and the literal knowledge of it; but it never came
until now in its spiritual sense and convincing power to his soul;
though he had often read, and heard the law before, yet he never
clearly understood the meaning and extent, he never felt the mighty
efficacy thereof upon his heart before; it so came at this time, as
it never came before. From hence the observations are,
Doctrine. 1. That unregenerate persons are generally full of
groundless confidence and cheerfulness, though their condition be
sad and miserable.
Doctrine. 2. That there is a mighty efficacy in the word or law of
God, to kill vain confidence, and quench carnal mirth in the hearts
of men, when God sets it home upon their consciences.
We shall take both these points under consideration, and
improve them to the design in hand.
Doctrine. 1. That unregenerate persons are full of groundless
confidence and cheerfulness, though their condition be sad and
miserable; Rev. 3: 17. Because you say I am rich, and increased
with goods, and have need of nothing; and know not that you are
wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked; This is the
very life that unregenerate men do live.
In opening whereof, I shall show you,
1. What is the life of the unregenerate.
2. What maintains that life.
3. How it appears that this is the life the generality of the
world do live.
4. The danger of living such a life as this: and then apply it.
First, What is the life of the unregenerate, and wherein it
consists? Now there being, among others, three things in which the
life of the unregenerate does principally consist, namely,
Presumptuous hope, and false joy,
Of these briefly in their order.
First, There is in unregenerate men a great deal of carnal
security; they dread no danger; Luke 11: 21. "When a strong man
armed keeps his palace, his goods are at peace:" There is
generally a great stillness and silence in the consciences of such
men; when others, in a better condition, are watching and trembling,
they sleep securely: so they live, and so ofttimes they die, Psalm.
123: 4. "They have no bonds in their death," [Hebrew, on knots], no
difficulties that puzzle them. It is true, the consciences of few
men are so perfectly stupefied, but that some time or other they
twang and gird them; but it seldom works to that height, or
continues with them so long as to give any considerable interruption
to their carnal peace and quietness.
Secondly, The life of the unregenerate consists in
presumptuous hope: this is the very foundation of their carnal
security. So Christ tells the Jews, John 8: 54, 53. "Of whom you say
that he is your God, and yet you have not known him." The world is
full of hope without a promise, which is but as a spider's web, when
a stress comes to be laid upon it, John 27: 8. Unregenerate men are
said indeed to be without hope, Ephes. 2: 12. but the meaning is,
they are without any solid, well-grounded hope; for in scripture-
account, vain hope is no hope, except it be a lively hope, 1 Pet. 1:
5. A hope flowing from union with Christ, Col. 1: 27. A hope
nourished by experience, Romans 5: 4. A hope for which a man can give
a reason, 1 Pet. 3: 15. a hope that puts men upon heart-purifying
endeavors, 1 John 3: 5. It is in the account of God a cipher, a
vanity, not deserving the name of hope; and yet such a groundless,
dead, christless, irrational, idle hope is that which the
unregenerate live upon.
Thirdly, The life of the unregenerate consists in false joy,
the immediate offspring of ungrounded hope, Mat. 13: 28. The stony
ground receive the word with joy.
There are two sorts of joy upon which the unregenerate live,
1. A sensitive joy in things carnal.
2. A delusive joy in things spiritual.
They rejoice in corn, wine, and oil, in their estates and
children, in the pleasant fruitions of the creature; yes, and they
rejoice also in Christ and the promises, in heaven and in glory:
with all which they have just such a kind of communion as a man has
in a dream with a full feast and curious music; and just so their
joy will vanish when they awake. Now these three, security, hope,
and joy, make up the livelihood of the carnal world.
Secondly, Next it concerns us to enquire what are the things
that maintain and support this security, hope and joy in the hearts
of unregenerate men; and if we consider duly, we shall find that
church privileges, natural ignorance, false evidences of the love of
God, slight workings of the gospel, self love, comparing themselves
with the more profane, and Satan's policy managing all these in
order to their eternal ruin, are so many springs to feed and
maintain this life of delusion in the unregenerate.
1. First, Church privileges lay the foundation to this strong
delusion. Thus the Jews deceived themselves, saying in their hearts,
"We have Abraham for our father," Mat. 3: 9. This props up the vain
hopes that Abraham's blood ran in their veins, though Abraham's
faith and obedience never wrought in their hearts.
2. Secondly, Natural ignorance; this keeps all in peace: they
that see not, fear not. There are but two ways to quiet the hearts
of men about their spiritual and eternal concernments, namely, the way
of assurance and faith, or the way of ignorance and self-deceit; by
the one we are put beyond danger, by the other beyond fear, though
the danger be greater. Satan could never quiet men, if he did not
first blind them.
3. Thirdly, False evidences of the love of God is another
spring feeding this security, vain hope, and false joy in the hearts
of men: see the power of it to hush and still the conscience, Mat.
7: 92. "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not
prophesied in your name?" &c. The things upon which they built their
evidence and confidence, were external things in religion; yet they
had a quieting power upon them, as if they had been the best
evidences in the world.
4. Fourthly, Slight workings of the gospel; such are transient
motions of the affections under the word, Heb. 6: 8. the working of
their desires about spiritual objects. John 6: 34. Math. 12: 43. the
external change and reformation of their ways, Mat. 12: 43. all
which serve to nourish the vain hopes of the unregenerate.
5. Fifthly, Self-love is an apparent reason and ground of
security and false hope, Mat. 7: 3. It makes a man to overlook great
evils in himself, while he is sharp-sighted to discover and censure
lesser evils in others: self love takes away the sight of sin, by
bringing it too near the eye.
6. Sixthly, Men's comparing themselves with those that are more
profane and grossly wicked than themselves, serves notably to quiet
and hush the conscience asleep; "God, I thank you, (said the
Pharisee), I am not as other men, or as this publican." O what a
saint did he seem to himself, when he stood by those that were
externally more wicked.
7. Seventhly, and lastly, The policy of Satan to manage all
these things to the blinding and ruining of the souls of men, is
another great reason they live so securely and pleasantly as they
do, in a state of so much danger and misery, 2 Cor. 4: 3, 4. "The
God of this world has blinded the minds of them that believe not.
Thirdly, You have seen what the life of the unregenerate is,
and what maintains that life. In the next place, I shall give you
evidence that this is the life the generality of the world do live;
a life of carnal security, vain hope, and false joy; this will
evidently appear, if we consider,
First, The activity and liveliness of men's spirits in pursuit
of the world. O how lively and vigorous are their hearts in the
management of earthly designs! Psalm. 6: 4. "Who will show us any
good?" The world eats up their hearts, time, and strength. Now this
could never be, if their eyes were but opened to see the danger and
misery their souls are in. How few designs for the world run in the
thoughts of a condemned man? O if God had ever made the light of
conviction to shine into their consciences, certainly the
temptations would lie the quite contrary way, even in too great a
neglect of things of this life! But this briskness and liveliness
plainly show the great security which is upon most men.
Secondly, The marvelous quietness and stillness that is in the
thoughts and consciences of men, about their everlasting
concernments, plainly shows this to be the life of the unregenerate:
How few scruples, doubts, or fears shall you hear from them? How
many years may a man live in carnal families, before he shall hear
such a question as this seriously propounded, "What shall I do to be
saved?" There are no questions in their lips, because no fear or
sense of danger in their hearts.
Thirdly, The general contentedness, and professed willingness
of carnal men to die, give clear evidence that such a life of
security and vain hope is the life they live; "Like sheep they are
laid in the grave," Psalm. 49: 14. O how quiet and still are their
consciences, when there are but a few breaths more between them and
everlasting burnings! Had God opened their eyes to apprehend the
consequences of death, and what follows the pale horse, Rev. 6: 8.
it were impossible but that every unregenerate man should make that
bed on which he dies shake and tremble under him.
Fourthly, and lastly, The low esteem men have for Christ, and
the total neglect of, at least the mere biding with, those duties in
which he is to be found, plainly discover this stupid secure life to
be the life that the generality of the world do live, for were men
sensible of the disease of sin, there could be no quieting them
without "Christ the physician," Phil. 3: 8. All the business they
have to do in this world could never keep them from their knees, or
make them strangers to their closets; all which, and much more that
might be said of the like nature, gives too full and clear proof of
this sad assertion, that this is the life the unregenerate world
Fourthly, In the last place, I would speak a few words to
discover the danger of such a life as has been described; to which
purpose let the following brief hints be seriously minded.
First, By these things souls are inevitably betrayed into hell
and eternal ruin; this blinding is in order to damning, 2 Cor. 4: 3,
4. "If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost, whose
eyes the God of this world has blinded." Those that are turned over
into eternal death are thus generally hoodwinked and blinded in
order thereunto, Isa 6: 9, 10. "And he said go and tell this people,
hear you indeed, but understand not: and see you indeed, but perceive
not. Make the hearts of this people fat, and make their ears heavy,
and shut their eyes, lest they see with their eyes, and hear with
their ears, and understand with their hearts, and convert, and be
Secondly, As damning is the event of blinding, so nothing makes
hell a more terrible surprise to the soul than this does. By this
means the wrath of God is felt before its danger be apprehended; a
man is past all hope, before he begins to have any fear: his eternal
ruin, like a breach ready to fall, swelling out in a high wall,
comes suddenly at an instant, Isaiah 30: 13. and as it damns surely
and surprisingly, so,
Thirdly, Nothing more aggravates a man's damnation than to sink
suddenly into it, from amidst so many hopes, and high confidence of
safety: For a man to find himself in hell, when he thought and
concluded himself within a step of heaven O what a hell will it be
to such men! The higher vain hopes lifted them up, the more dreadful
must their fall be, Matthew. 7: 22. And as it damns surely,
surprisingly, and with highest aggravations, so,
Fourthly, This life of security and vain hope frustrates all
the means of recovery and salvation, in the only season wherein they
can be useful and beneficial to us: By reason of these things the
word has no power to convince men's consciences, nothing can bring
them to a sight and sense of their condition: Therefore Christ told
the self-confident and blind Jews, Matthew. 21: 21. "That the
publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of God before them:" And
the reason is, because their hearts lie more open and fair to the
strokes of conviction and compunction for sin than those do, who are
blinded by vain hopes and confidences.
Inference 1. Is this the life that the unregenerate world
lives? Then it is not to be wondered at that the preaching of the
gospel has so little success: "Who has believed our report? (says
the prophet) and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" Isaiah 53:
1. Ministers study for truths apt to awaken and convince the
consciences of them that hear them, but their words return again to
them: They turn to God, and mourn over the matter; we have labored
in vain, and spent our strength for nothing: And this security is the
cause of all, vain hopes bar fast the doors of men's hearts against
all the convictions and persuasions of the word. The greater cause
have they to admire the grace of God, who have found, or shall find
the convictions of the word sharper than any two edged sword,
piercing to the dividing asunder of the soul and spirit; to whose
hearts God brings home the commandment by an effectual application.
Inference. 2. If this be the life of the unregenerate world, what
deadly enemies are they that nourish and strengthen the groundless
confidences and vain hopes of salvation in men. This the scripture
calls the healing of the hurt of souls slightly, by crying, "Peace,
peace, when there is no peace," Jer. 6: 14. The sewing of pillows
under their arm-holes, Ezek. 13: 18. That they may lie soft and easy
under the ministry; and this is the doctrine which the people love:
but oh, what will the end of these things be! And what an account
have those men to give to God for the blood of those souls by them
betrayed to the everlasting burnings! Such flattery is the greatest
cruelty: Those whom you bless upon earth, will curse you in hell,
and the day in which they trusted their souls to your conduct.
Inference. 3. How great a mercy is it to be awakened out of that
general sleep and security which is fallen upon the world! You
cannot estimate the value of that mercy, for it is a peculiar mercy.
O that ever the Spirit of the Lord should touch your soul under the
ministry of the word, startle and rouse your conscience, while
others are left in the dead sleep of security round about you! When
the Lord dealt with your soul much after the same manner he did with
Paul in the way to Damascus, who not only saw a light shining from
heaven, which those that traveled with him saw as well as he, but
heard that voice from heaven which did the work upon his heart,
though his companions heard it not. Besides, it is not only a
peculiar mercy, but it is a leading introductive mercy, to all other
spiritual mercies that follow it to all eternity. If God had not
done this for you, you had never been brought to faith, to
Christ, or heaven. From this act of the Spirit all other saving acts
take their rise; so that you have cause forever to admire the
goodness of God in such a favor as this is.
Inference. 4. Lastly, Hence it follows that the generality of the
world are in the direct way to eternal ruin; and whatever their vain
confidences are, that cannot be saved "Narrow is the way, and strait
is the gate that leads unto life, and few there be that find it."
Hear me all you that live this dangerous life of carnal security and
vain hope, whatever your persuasions and confidences are, except you
give them up, and get better grounds for your hope, you cannot be
First, Such hopes and confidences as yours are directly
contradictory to the established order of the gospel, which requires
repentance, Acts 5: 31. faith, Acts 13: 39. and regeneration, John
3: 3. in all that shall be saved. And this order shall never be
altered for any man's sake.
Secondly, If such as you be saved, all the threatenings in
scripture must be reversed, which lie in full opposition to your
vain hopes, Mark 16: 16. John 3: 16. Romans 3: 8, 9. Either the truth
of God, in these threatenings must fail, or your vain hopes must
Thirdly, If ever such as you be saved, new conditions must be
set to all the promises; for there is no condition of any special
promise found in any unregenerate person. Compare your hearts with
these scriptures, Matthew. 5: 3, 4, 5, 6. Psalm. 24: 4. Psalm. 84: 11.
Gen. 17: 1, 2.
Fourthly, If ever such a hope as yours bring you to heaven,
then the saving hope of God's elect is not rightly described to us
in the scriptures. Scripture-hope is the effect of regeneration, 1
Pet. 1: 3. And purity of heart is the effect of that hope, 1 John 3:
Fourthly, The very nature of heaven is mistaken in scripture,
if such as you be subjects qualified for its enjoyment: For
assimilation, or the conformity of the soul to God in holiness, is,
in the scripture account, a principal ingredient of that
blessedness: By all which it manifestly appears that the hopes of
most men are in vain, and will never bring them to heaven.