The Method of Grace

by John Flavel

Necessity of Being Slain by the Law, Continued
     
"For I was alive without the law once: But when the commandment
came, sin revived, and I died." Romans 7:9     
     
    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. "The weapons
of the word are not carnal, but mighty through God; to the pulling
down of strong holds, casting down imaginations, and everything
that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into
captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ," 2 Cor. 10: 4,
5.
    In the opening of this point I shall,
    1. Demonstrate the efficacy of the word or law of God.
    2. Show wherein the efficacy thereof lies.
    3. From whence it has all this mighty power and efficacy.
    First, I shall give you some demonstrations of the mighty power
and efficacy that there are in the word or law of God; which will
appear with the fullest evidence,
    First, From the various subjects upon whom it works: The hearts
and consciences of men of all orders and qualities, have been
reached and wounded to the quick by the two-edged sword of God's
law. Some, among the great and honorable of the earth, (though
indeed the fewest of that rank) have been made to stoop and tremble
under the word, Acts 24: 16. Mark 6: 20. 1 Sam. 15: 24. The wise and
learned of the world have felt its power, and been brought over to
embrace the humbling and self-denying ways of Christ, Acts 17: 31.
Thus Origen, Hierom, Tertullian, Bradwardine, and many more, came
into Canaan laden with the Egyptian gold, as one speaks, that is they
came into the church of God abundantly enriched and furnished with
the learned arts and sciences, devoting them all to the service of
Christ. Yes, and which is as strange, the most simple, weak, and
illiterate have been wonderfully changed, and wrought upon by the
power of the word: "The testimonies of the Lord make wise the
simple:" Men
    of weak understandings, in all other matters, have been made
wise to salvation by the power of the word, Matthew. 11: 25. 1 Cor. 1:
27. Nay the most malicious and obstinate enemies of Christ have been
wounded and converted by the word, 1 Tim. 1: 13. Acts 16: 25. Those
that have been under the prejudice of the worst and most idolatrous
education, have been the subjects of its mighty power, Acts 19: 26.
To conclude, men of the most profligate and debauched lives have
been wonderfully changed and altered by the power of the word, 1
Cor. 6: 10, 11.
    Secondly, The mighty efficacy of the law of God appears in the
manner of its operation; it works suddenly; strikes like a dart
through the hearts and consciences of men, Acts 2: 37. A wonderful
change is made in a short time: And, as it works quickly and
suddenly, so it works irresistibly, with an uncontrolled power upon
the spirits of men, 1 Thes. 1: 5. Romans 1: 16. Let the soul be armed
against conviction with the thickest ignorance, strongest prejudice,
or most obstinate resolution, the word of God will wound the bosom
even of such a man, when God sends it forth in his authority and
power.
    Thirdly, The wonderful power of the law or word of God is
evidently seen in the strange effects which are produced by it in
the hearts and lives of men. For,
    First, It changes and alters the frame and temper of the mind:
It moulds a man into a quite contrary temper, Gal. 1: 3. "He which
persecuted us in times past, now preaches the faith, which once he
destroyed:" Thus a tiger is transformed into a lamb, by the power of
the word of God.
    Secondly, It makes the soul, upon which it works, to forego and
quit the dearest interests it has in this world for Jesus Christ,
Phil. 3: 7, 8, 9. Riches, honors, self-righteousness, dearest
relations, are denied and forsaken. Reproach, poverty, and death
itself, are willingly embraced for Christ's sake, when once the
efficacy of the word has been upon the hearts of men, 1 Thes. 1: 6.
Those that were their companions in sin, are declined, renounced,
and cast of F with abhorrence, 1 Pet. 4: 8, 4. In such things as
these the mighty power of the word discovers itself.
    First, It has an awakening efficacy upon secure and sleepy
sinners: It rouses the conscience, and brings a man to a sense and
feeling apprehension, Eph. 5: 13, 14. The first effectual touch of
the word startles the drowsy conscience. A poor sinner lies in his
sins, as Peter did in his chains, fast asleep, though a warrant was
signed for his execution the next day: but the Spirit in the word
awakens him as the angel did Peter: And this awakening power of the
word is in order, both of time and nature, antecedent to all its
operations and effects.
    Secondly, The law of God has an enlightening efficacy upon the
minds of men: It is eye-salve to the blinded eye, Rev. 3: 18. A
light shining in a dark place, 2 Pet. 1: 19. A light shining into
the very heart of man, 2 Cor. 4: 6. When the word comes in power,
all things appear with another face: The sins that were hid from our
eyes, and the danger which was concealed by the policy of Satan from
our souls, now lie clear and open before us, Eph. 5: 8.
    Thirdly, The word of God has a convincing efficacy: It sets sin
in order before the soul, Psalm. 50: 21. As an army is drawn up in an
exact order, so are the sins of nature and practice, the sins of
youth and age, even a great and terrible army is drawn up before the
eye of the conscience; the convictions of the word are clear and
full, 1 Cor. 14: 24, 25. The very secrets of a sinner's heart are
made manifest; his mouth is stopped; his pleas are silenced; his
conscience yields to the charge of guilt, and to the equity of the
sentence of the law, so that the soul stands mute, and self-
condemned at the bar of conscience: It has got nothing to say why
the wrath of God should not come upon it to the uttermost, Romans 3:
19.
    Fourthly, The law of God has a soul-wounding, an heart-cut tiny
efficacy: It pierces into the very soul and spirit of man, Acts 2:
37. "When they heard this, they were pricked at their hearts, and
said unto Peter, and to the rest of tile apostles; men and brethren,
what shall we do?" A dreadful sound is in the sinner's ears; his
soul is in deep distress; he knows not which way to turn for ease;
no plaster but the blood of Christ can heal these wounds which the
word makes: No outward trouble, affliction, disgrace, or loss, ever
touched the quick as the word of God does.
    Fifthly, The word has a heart-turning, a soul converting
efficacy in it: It is a regenerating, as well as a convincing word,
1 Pet. 1: 23. 1 Thes. 1: 9. The law wounds, the gospel cures; the
law discovers the evil that is in sin, and the misery that follows
it; and the Spirit of God, working in fellowship with the word,
effectually turns the heart from sin. And thus we see in what
glorious acts the efficacy of the word discovers itself upon the
hearts of men; and all these acts lie in order to each other: For,
until the soul be awakened, it cannot be enlightened, Eph. 5: 14.
Until it be enlightened, it cannot be convinced, Eph. 5: 13.
Conviction being nothing else but the application of the light that
shines in the mind to the conscience of a sinner: Until it be
convinced, it cannot be wounded for sin, Acts 2: 37. And until it be
wounded for sin, it will never be converted from sin, and brought
effectually to Jesus Christ. And thus you see what the power of the
word is.
    Thirdly, In the last place, it will concern us to enquire
whence the word of God has all this power? And it is most certain,
that it is not a power inherent in itself, nor derived from the
instrument by which it is managed, but from the Spirit of the Lord,
who communicates to it all that power and efficacy which it has upon
our souls.
    1. Its power is not in, or from itself: It works not in a
physical way, as natural agents do; for then the effect would always
follow, except it were miraculously hindered: But this spiritual
efficacy is in the word, as the healing virtue was in the waters of
Bethesda, John 5: 4. "An angel went down at a certain season into
the pool, and troubled the water: Whoever then first, after the
troubling of the water, steps in, was made whole of whatever
disease he had." It is not a power naturally inherent in it at all
times, but communicated to it at some special seasons. How often is
the word preached, and no man awaked or convinced by it!
    2. The power of the word is not communicated to it by the
instrument that manages it, 1 Cor. 3: 7. "Neither is he that
plants anything, neither be that waters." Ministers are nothing
to such an effect and purpose as this is; he does not mean that they
are useless and altogether unnecessary, but insufficient of
themselves to produce such mighty effects: It works not as it is the
word of man, 2 Thess. 2: 13. Ministers may say of the ordinary, as
Peter said of the extraordinary effects of the Spirit, Acts 3: 12.
"You men of Israel, why marvel you at this? or why look you so
earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made
this man to walk?" If the effects of the word were in the power, and
at the command of him that preaches it, then the blood of all the
souls that perish under our ministry must lie at our door, as was
formerly noted.
    3. If you say, whence then has the word all this power? Our
answer is, It derives it all from the Spirit of God, 1 Thes. 2: 13,
"For this cause thank we God without ceasing, because when you
received the word of God which you heard of us, you received it not as
the word of man, but (as it is in truth) the word of God, which
effectually works also in you that believe." It is a successful
instrument only when it is in the hand of the Spirit, with out whose
influence it never did, nor can convince, convert, or save any soul.
Now, the Spirit of God has a sovereignty over three things in order
to the conversion of sinners.
    1. Over the word which works.
    9. Over the soul wrought upon.
    S. Over the time and season of working.
    First, The Spirit has a glorious sovereignty over the word
itself whose instrument it is to make it successful or not, as it
pleases him, Isaiah 4: 10, 11. "For as the rain comes down, and the
snow from heaven, &c. so shall my word be that goes out of my
mouth:" as the clouds, so the word is carried and directed by divine
pleasure. It is the Lord that makes them both give down their
blessings, or to pass away fruitless and empty: yes, it is from the
Spirit that this part of the word works, and not another. Those
things upon which ministers bestow greatest labor in their
preparation, and from which accordingly they have the greatest
expectation; these do nothing, when, mean time, sometime, that
dropped occasionally from them, like a chosen shaft, strikes the
mark and does the work.
    Secondly, The Spirit of the Lord has a glorious sovereignty
over the souls wrought upon: it is his peculiar work "to take away
the stony heart out of our flesh, and to give us an heart of flesh,"
Ezekiel. 36:26. We may reason, exhort, and reprove, but no thing will
abide until the Lord set it home. The Lord opened the heart of Lydia
under Paul's ministry: he opens every heart that is effectually
opened to receive Christ in the word: if the word can get no
entrance, if your hearts remain dead under it still, we may say
concerning such souls, as Martha did concerning her brother Lazarus:
"Lord, if you had been here, my brother had not died." So, Lord,
if you had been in this sermon, in this prayer, or in that
counsel, these souls had not remained dead under them.
    Thirdly, The Spirit has dominion over the times and seasons of
conviction and conversion. Therefore the day in which souls are
wrought upon is called "the day of his power," Psalm. 110: 3. That
shall work at one time, which had no efficacy at all at another
time; because this, and not that, was the time appointed. And thus
you see whence the word derives that mighty power it has.
    Now this word of God, when it is set home by the Spirit, is
mighty to convince, humble, and break the hearts of sinners, John 16:
9. "The Spirit when it comes shall convince the world of sin." The
word signifies conviction by such clear demonstration as compels
assent: it not only convinces men in general that they are sinners,
but it convinces men particularly of their own sins, and the
aggravations of them. So in the text, Sin revived, that is, the Lord
revived his sins, the very circumstances and aggravations with which
they were committed; and so it will be with us when the commandment
comes; sins that we had forgotten, committed so far back as our
youth or childhood; sins that lay slighted in our consciences, shall
now be roused up as so many sleepy lions to affright and terrify us:
for now the soul hears the voice of God in the word, as Adam heard
it in the cool of the day and was afraid, and hides itself; but all
will not do, for the Lord is come in the word; sin is held up before
the eyes of the conscience in its dreadful aggravations and fearful
consequences, as committed against the holy law, clear light,
warnings of conscience, manifold mercies, God's long-suffering,
Christ's precious blood, many warnings of judgement, the wages and
demerit whereof, by the verdict of a man's own conscience, is death,
eternal death, Romans 6: 23. Romans 1: 32. Romans 2: 9. Thus the
commandment comes, sin revives, and vain hope gives up the Spirit.
    Inference. 1. Is there such a mighty power in the word? then
certainly the word is of divine authority. There cannot be a more
clear and satisfying proof that it is no human invention, than the
common sense that all believers have of the Almighty power in which
it works upon their hearts. So speaks the apostle, 1 Thes. 2: 13.
"When you received the word of God which you heard of us, you received
it not as the word of man, but (as it is in truth) the word of God,
which effectually works also in you that believe." Can the power
of any creature, the word of a mere man, so convince the conscience,
so terrify the heart, so discover the very secret thoughts of the
soul, as to put a man into such tremblings? No, a greater than man
must needs be here; none but a God can so open the eyes of the
blind, so open the graves of the dead, so quicken and enliven the
conscience that was seared, so bind over the soul of a sinner to the
judgement to come, so change and alter the frame and temper of a
man's spirit, or so powerfully raise, refresh and comfort a drooping
dying soul; certainly the power of God is in all this; and, If there
were no more, yet this alone were sufficient to make full proof of
the divine authority of the scriptures.
    Inference. 2. Judge from hence what an invaluable mercy the
preaching of the word is to the world: It is a blessing far above our
estimation of it; little do we know what a treasure God commits
to us in the ordinances, Acts 13: 25. "To you is the word of this
salvation sent." It is the very power of God to salvation, Romans 1:
16. And salvation is ordinarily denied to whom the preaching of the
word is denied, Romans 10: 14. It is called the Word of life, Phil. 2:
16. and deserves to be valued by everyone of us as our life. The
eternal decree of God's election is executed by it upon our souls;
as many as he ordained to eternal life shall believe by the
preaching of it. Great is the ingratitude of this generation, which
so slights and undervalues this invaluable treasure; which is a sad
presage of the most terrible judgement, even in the removing our
candlestick out of its place, except we repent.
    Inference. 3. How sore and terrible a judgement lies upon the souls
of those men to whom no word of God is made powerful enough to
convince and awaken them! Yet so stands the case with thousands, who
constantly sit under the preaching of the word; many arrows are shot
at their consciences, but none goes home to the mark, all fall short
of the end; the commandment has come unto them many thousand times,
by way of promulgation and ministerial inculcation, but yet never
came home to their souls by the Spirit's effectual application. O
friends! you have often beard the voice of man, but you never yet
heard the voice of God; your understandings have been instructed,
but your consciences to this day were never thoroughly convinced.
"We have mourned unto you, but you have not lamented," Mat. 11:17.
"Who has believed our report? And unto whom is the arm of the Lord
revealed?" Alas! we have labored in vain, we have spent our
strength for nothing; our word returns unto us empty; but O what a
stupendous judgement is here! Heb. 6: 7, 8. "The earth which
drinks in the rain that comes oft upon it, and brings forth
herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receives blessing from
God; but that which bears thorns and briars is rejected, and is
near unto cursing, whose end is to be burned." What a sore judgment
and sign of God's displeasure would you account it, if your fields
were cursed; if you should manure, dress, prow, and sow them, but
never reap the fruit of your labor; the increase being still
blasted? And yet this were nothing, compared with the blessing of
the word to your souls: that which is a savor of life unto life
unto some, becomes the savor of death unto death to others, 2 Cor.
2: 16. The Lord affect our hearts with the terrible strokes of God
upon the souls of men!
 
                         Use of Exhortation.
                                   
    I shall conclude this point with a few words of exhortation to
three sorts of men, namely,
    1. To those that never felt the power of the word.
    2. To those that have only felt some slight and common effects
thereof.
    3. To those unto whose very hearts the commandment is come, in
its effectual and saving power.
    First, You that never felt any power in the word at all, I beg
you in the name of him that made you, and by all the regard and
value you have for those precious souls within you, that now at last
such considerations as these may find place in your souls, and that
you will bethink yourselves.
     
                          Consideration 1.
     
    Whose word is that which cannot gain entrance into your hearts?
Is it not the word of God which you despise and slight? "You
casts my word behind your back," Psalm. 50: 17. 0 what an affront
and provocation to God is this! You despise not man, but God; the
great and terrible God, in whose hand your breath and soul are: This
contempt runs higher than you imagine.
     
                          Consideration 2.
                                   
    Consider, that however the word has no power upon you, the
commandment cannot come home to your hearts; yet it does work, and
comes home with power to the hearts of others: While you are
hardened, others are melted under it; while you sleep, others
tremble; while your hearts are fast locked up, others are opened.
How can you choose but reflect with fear and trembling upon these
contrary effects of the word; especially when you consider that the
eternal decrees, both of election and reprobation, are now executed
upon the souls of men, by the preaching of the word; some believe,
and others are hardened.
     
                          Consideration 3.
     
    That no judgement of God, on this side hell, is greater than a
hard heart and stupid conscience under the word; it were much better
that the providence of God should blast your estate, take away your
children, or destroy your health, than harden your heart, and sear your
conscience under the word: So much as your soul is better than your
body, so much as eternity is more valuable than time, so much is
this spiritual judgement more dreadful than all temporal ones. God
does not inflict a more terrible stroke than this upon any man in
this world.
    O therefore, as you love your own souls, and are loth to ruin
them to all eternity, attend upon every opportunity that God affords
you; for you know not in which of them the Lord may work upon your
hearts. Lay aside your prejudices against the word or the weaknesses
and infirmities of them that preach it; for the word works not as it
is the word of man, as it is thus neat and elegant, but as it is the
word of God. Pray for the blessing of God upon the word; for except
his word of blessing go forth with it, it can never come home to your
soul. Meditate upon what you hear; for, without meditation, it is
not like to have any effectual operation upon you. Search your souls
by it, and consider whether that be not your very case and state
which it describes; your very danger whereof it gives warning. Take
heed, lest after you have heard it, the cares of the world choke
what you have heard, and cause those budding convictions which begin
to put forth, to blast and wither. Carefully attend to all those
items and memorandums your consciences give you under the word, and
conclude that the Lord is then come near unto you.
    Secondly, Let this be matter of serious consideration and
caution to all such; as have only felt some slight, transient, and
ineffectual operations of the gospel upon their souls: The Lord has
come near to some of our souls; we have felt a strange power in the
ordinances, sometimes terrifying, and sometimes transporting our
hearts; but, alas! it proves but a morning-dew, or an early cloud,
Hos. 6: 4. We rejoice in the word, but it is but for a season, John
3: 25. Gal. 4: 14, 15. They are vanishing motions, and come to
nothing. Look, as in nature there are many abortives, as well as
perfect children, so it is in religion; yes, where the new creature
is perfectly formed in one soul, there be many abortives and
miscarriages in others; and there may be three reasons assigned for
it, namely,
    First, The subtlety and deep policy of Satan, who never more
effectually deceives and destroys the souls of men, than in such a
method, and by such an artifice as this; for when men have once felt
their consciences terrified under the word, and their hearts at
other times ravished with the joys and comforts of it, they now seem
to have attained all that is necessary to conversion, and
constitutive of the new creature; these things look so well like the
regenerating effects of the Spirit, that many are easily deceived by
them. The devil beguiles the hearts of the unwary by such false
appearances: for it is not every man that can distinguish between
the natural and spiritual motions of the affections under the word:
It is very frequently seen that even carnal and unrenewed hearts
have their meltings and transports, as well as spiritual hearts. The
subject-matter upon which the word treats, are the weighty things of
the world to come; heaven and hell are very awful and affecting
things, and an unrenewed heart is apt to thaw and melt at them: Now
here is the cheat of Satan, to persuade a man that these must needs
be spiritual affections, because the objects about which they are
conversant are spiritual; whereas it is certain the objects of the
affections may be very spiritual and heavenly, and yet the workings
of man's affections about them may be in a mere natural way.
    Secondly, The dampening efficacy of the world is a true and
proper cause of these abortions and miscarriages under the word,
Luke 8: 12, 18, 14. There are hopeful and promising beginnings and
buddings of affections in some persons, especially in their youth;
but when once they come to be engaged in the world, how soon are
they damped and quenched! As the cares of a family grow on, so does
the care of salvation wear off. It is not as it was accustomed to be, What
shall I do to be saved? How shall I get interest in Christ? But what
shall I eat, and drink, and wherewith shall I, and mine, be
maintained? Thus earth jostles out heaven, and the present world
drowns all thoughts of that to come. Good had it been for many men,
they had never been engaged so deep in the world as they are; their
life is but a constant hurry of business, and a perpetual diversion
from Christ, and things that are eternal.
    Thirdly, and lastly, The deceitfulness and treachery of the
heart, which too easily gives way to the designs of Satan, suffers
itself to be imposed upon by him, is not the least cause why so many
hopeful beginnings come to nothing, and the effects of the word
vanish. Pride and self-love are very apt to over-rule every little
good, and slight or undervalue every ill that is in us; and so
quickly choke those convictions that begin to work in our souls.
    But oh! that such men would consider, that the dying away of
their convictions is that which threatens the life of their souls
forever; now is the bud withered, the blossom blasted: and what
expectation is there of fruit after this, except the Lord revive
them again? The Lord open men's eyes to discern the danger of such
things as these are! Jude 12. Heb. 10: 58. Yet I deny not but there
are many stands and pauses in the work of conversion; it seems to
die away, and then revives again; and revive it must, or we are
lost. But how many are there who never recover it more! This is a
sore judgement of a most terrible consequence to the souls of men!
    Thirdly, In the last place, let it be a word of counsel and
advice to them, upon whom the word works effectually and powerfully;
to whose hearts the commandment is come home to revive sin, and kill
their vain hopes; and these are of two sorts.
    1. Embryos under the first workings of the Spirit.
    2. Complete births of the Spirit, regenerated souls.
    First, Embryos that are under the first workings of the Spirit
in the word. O let it not seem a misery, or unhappiness to you, that
the commandment is come, and sin revived, and your former hopes
overthrown. It must be thus, if ever God intend mercy for you. Had
you gone on in that dangerous security you were in before, you had
certainly been lost forever: God has stopped you in that path that
leads down to hell, and none that go in there do ever return again,
or take hold of the paths of life. O! it is better to weep, tremble,
and be distressed now, than to mourn without hope for ever. Let it
not trouble you that sin has found you out; you could never have
found out the remedy in Christ, if you had not found out the disease
and danger, by the coming of the commandment. And I beseech you
carefully to observe, whether the effects and operations of the word
upon your hearts be deeper and more powerful than they are found to
be in such souls as miscarry under it: the commandment comes to
them, and shows them this or that more gross and startling sin. Does
it come to you, and show you not only this or that particular sin,
but all the evils of your heart and life; the corruption of your
natures, as well as the transgressions of your lives? If so, it
promises well, and looks hopefully and comfortably to you. The
commandment comes to others, and startles them with the fears of
damnation for their sin: it puts them into a grievous fright at
hell, and the everlasting burnings: but does it come to you and
discover the infinite evil that is in your sin, as it is committed
against the great, holy, righteous, and good God, and so melts your
heart into tears for the wrong that you have done him, as well as
the danger into which you have brought yourself? This is a hopeful
work, and may encourage you. It comes to others, and greatly
shakes, but never destroys and razes the foundation of their vain
hopes: if it so revive sin as to kill all vain hopes in you, and
send you to Christ alone, as your only door of hope, fear not; these
troubles will prove the greatest mercies that ever befell you in
this world, if thus they work, and continue to work upon your soul.
    Secondly, Others there are upon whom the word has had its full
effect as to conversion. 0 bless God forever for this mercy; you
cannot sufficiently value it! God has not only made it a convincing
and wounding, but a converting and healing word to your souls; he
has not only revived your sins, and killed your vain hopes, but
begotten you again to a lively hope; see that you be thankful for
this mercy. How many have sate under the same word, but never felt
such effects of it? As Christ said in another case, there were many
widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, but unto none of them was
the prophet sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, to a certain
widow there, Luke 4: 96. So I may say, in this case, there were many
souls in the same congregation, at the same time, but unto none of
them was the word sent with a commission to convince and save, but
such a one as yourself; one as improbable to be wrought upon as any
soul there. O let this beget thankfulness in your souls; and let it
make you love the word as long as you live: "I will never forget your
precepts, for by them you have quickened me," Psalm. 119: 98.
    But above all, I beseech you make it appear that the
commandment has come home to your hearts, with power to convince you
of the evil of sin, by your tenderness and care to shun it as long
as you live. If ever you have seen the face of sin, in the glass of
the law of God; if your hearts have been humbled and broken for it
in the days of your trouble and distress, certainly you will choose
the worst affliction rather than sin: It would be the greatest folly
in the world to return again to iniquity, Psalm 85: 8. You that have
seen so much of the evil that is in it, and the danger that follows
it; you that have had such inward terrors and fears of spirit about
it, when that terrible representation was made you, will he loth to
feel those gripes and distresses of conscience again, for the best
enjoyment in this world.
    Blessed be God if any word has been brought home to our hearts,
which has been instrumental to bring us to Christ!




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