The Method of Grace

by John Flavel

Christ, "Altogether Lovely"
                         
"Yes, He is altogether lovely!"
Song of Solomon 5:16     
     
    At the ninth verse of this chapter, you have a query propounded
to the spouse, by the daughters of Jerusalem, "What is your beloved
more than another beloved?" To this question the spouse returns her
answers in the following verses, wherein she asserts his excellency
in general. Ver. 10. "He is the chief among ten thousands;"
confirms that general assertion, by an enumeration of his particular
excellencies, to ver. 16. where she closes up her character and
encomium of her beloved, with an elegant eulogy, in the words
that I have read: "Yes, he is altogether lovely."
    The words, you see, are an affirmative proposition, setting
forth the transcendent loveliness of the Lord Jesus Christ; and
naturally resolve themselves into three parts, namely,
    1. The subject.
    2. The predicate.
    S. The manner of predication.
    First, The subject, He, namely, the Lord Jesus Christ, after whom
she had been seeking, for whom she was sick of love; concerning whom
these daughters of Jerusalem had enquired: whom she had endeavored
so graphically to describe in his particular excellencies. This is
the great and excellent subject of whom she here speaks.
    Secondly, The predicate, or what she affirms or says of him,
namely, That he is a lovely one, desires; according to the
import of the original, "which signifies earnestly to desire, covet,
or long after that which is most pleasant, grateful, delectable, and
admirable." The original word is both in the abstract, and of the
plural number, which speaks Christ to be the very essence of all
delights and pleasures, the very soul and substance of them. As all
the rivers are gathered into the ocean, which is the congregation or
meeting place of all the waters in the world: so Christ is that
ocean in which all true delights and pleasures meet.
    Thirdly, The manner of predication; He is [altogether] lovely,
Totus, totus desiderabilis; lovely in all, and in every part; as if
she had said, Look on him in what respect or particular you will;
cast your eye upon this lovely object, and view him any way; turn
him in your serious thoughts which way you will; consider his
person, his offices, his works, or any other thing belonging to him;
you will find him altogether lovely, There is nothing ungrateful in
him, there is nothing lovely without him. Hence note,
     
    Doctrine. That Jesuit Christ is the loveliest person souls can set
         their eyes upon, Psalm. 14: 2. "You are fairer than the
         children of men."
     
    That is said of Jesus Christ, which cannot be said of any
creature; that he is "altogether lovely." In opening this lovely
point I shall,
    1. Weigh the importance of this phrase "altogether lovely."
    2. Show you in what respect Christ is so.
    First, Let us weigh this excellent expression, and particularly
consider what is contained in it, and you shall find this expression
"altogether lovely."
    First, That it excludes all unloveliness and distastefulness
from Jesus Christ. So Vatablus; "there is nothing in him which is
not amiable." The excellencies of Jesus Christ are perfectly
exclusives of all their opposites; there is nothing of a contrary
nature or quality found in him to alloy or debase his excellency.
And in this respect Christ infinitely transcends the most excellent
and loveliest creatures. For whatever loveliness is found in them,
it is not without a distasteful tang; the fairest pictures must have
their shadows: The most orient and resplendent stones must have
their foils to set off their beauty; the best creature is but a
bitter street at best: If there be somewhat pleasing, there is also
somewhat distasteful; if there be gracious and natural excellencies
in the same person to delight us, yet there is also some natural
corruption intermixed with it to distaste us: But it is not so in
our altogether lovely Christ, his excellencies are pure and unmixed;
he is a sea of sweetness without one drop of gall.
    Secondly, Altogether lovely, that is as there is nothing unlovely
found in him, so all that is in him is wholly lovely; as every ray
of God is precious, so everything that is in Christ is precious:
Who can weigh Christ in a pair of balances, and tell you what his
worth is? "His price is above rubies, and all that you can desire
is not to be compared with him," Proverbs 8: 11.
    Thirdly, Altogether lovely, that is He is comprehensive of all
things that are lovely: he seals up the sum of all loveliness: Quae
faciunt divisa beatum, in hoc mixta fluunt: Things that shine as
single stars with a particular glory, all meet in Christ as a
glorious constellation. Col. 1: 19. "It pleased the Father that in
him should all fullness dwell." Cast your eyes among all created
beings, survey the universe, observe strength in one, beauty in a
second, faithfulness in a third, wisdom in a fourth; but you shall
find none excelling in them all as Christ does. Bread has one
quality, water another, raiment another, physic another; but none
has all in itself as Christ has: He is bread to the hungry, water to
the thirsty, a garment to the naked, healing to the wounded; and
whatever a soul can desire is found in him, 1 Cor. 1: 30.
    Fourthly, Altogether lovely, that is Nothing is lovely in
opposition to him, or in separation from him. If he be altogether
lovely, then whatever is opposite to, or separate from him can
have no loveliness in it; take away Christ, and where is the
loveliness of any enjoyment? The best creature-comfort out of
Christ, is but a broken cistern; it cannot hold one drop of true
comfort, Psalm. 73: 26. It is with the creature, the sweetest and
loveliest creature, as with a beautiful image in the glass: turn
away the face and where is the image? Riches, honors, and
comfortable relations are sweet when the face of Christ smiles upon
us through them; but without him, what empty trifles are they all?
    Fifthly, Altogether lovely, that is Transcending all created
excellencies in beauty and loveliness; so much it speaks. If you
compare Christ and other things, be they never so lovely, never so
excellent and desirable; Christ carries away all loveliness from
them; "He is (says the apostle) before all things," Col. 1: 17. Not
only before all things in time, nature, and order; but before all
things in dignity, glory, and true excellency: In all things he must
have the pre-eminence. For let us but compare Christ's excellency
with the creature's in a few particulars, and how evidently will the
transcendent loveliness of Jesus Christ appear! For,
    First, All other loveliness is derivative and secondary; but
the loveliness of Christ original and primary. Angels and men, the
world and all the desirables in it, receive what excellency they
have from him; they are streams from the fountain. But as the waters
in the fountain itself are more abundant, so more pure and pleasant
than in the streams. And the farther anything departs, and is
removed from its fountain and original, the less excellency there is
in it.
    Secondly, The loveliness and excellency of all other things, is
but relative and respective, consisting in its reference to Christ,
and subserviency to his glory; but Christ is lovely, considered
absolutely in himself: He is desirable for himself, other things are
so for him.
    Thirdly, The beauty and loveliness of all other things is
fading and perishing; but the loveliness of Christ is fresh to all
eternity: the sweetness of the best creatures is a fading flower; if
not before, yet certainly at death it must fade away. Job 4: 21.
"Does not their excellency, which is in them, go away?" Yes, yes,
whether natural excellencies of the body, or acquired endowments of
the mind, lovely features, amiable qualities, attracting
excellencies; all these like pleasant flowers are withered, faded,
and destroyed by death; "but Christ is still the same, yesterday,
today, and forever," Heb. 13: 8.
    Fourthly, The beauty and holiness of creatures are endearing
and dangerous; a man may make an idol thereof; and dote beyond the
bounds of moderation upon them, but there is no danger of excess in
the love of Christ. The soul is then in the healthiest frame and
temper when it is most sick of love to Christ, Cant. 5: 8.
    Fifthly, The loveliness of every creature is of a cloying and
glutting nature; our estimation of it abates and sinks by our nearer
approach to it, or longer enjoyment of it: creatures, like pictures,
are fairest at a due distance, but it is not so with Christ; the
nearer the soul approaches him, and the longer it lives in the
enjoyment of him, still the more sweet and desirable is he.
    Sixthly, and lastly, All other loveliness is unsatisfying and
straitening to the soul of man; there is not room enough in any one,
or in all the creatures for the soul of man to dilate and expatiate
itself; but it still feels itself confined and narrowed within those
strait limits: And this comes to pass from the inadequateness and
unsuitableness of the creature, to the nobler and more excellent
soul of man, which like a ship in a narrow liver has not room to
turn; and besides, is ever told anon striking ground and foundering
in those shallows. But Jesus Christ is every way adequate to the
vast desires of the soul; in him it has see-room enough; there it
may spread all its sails, no fear of touching the bottom. And thus
you see what is the importance of this phrase, Altogether lovely.
    Secondly, Next I promised to show you in what respects Jesus
Christ is altogether lovely. And,
    First, He is altogether lovely in his person: a Deity dwelling
in flesh, John 1: 14. The wonderful union and perfection of the
divine and human nature in Christ, render him an object of
admiration and adoration to angels and men, 1 Tim. 3: 16. God
never presented to the world such a vision of glory before: And
then consider how the human nature of our Lord Jesus Christ is
replenished with all the graces of the Spirit, so as never any of
all the saints was filled; O how lovely does this render him! John
3: 34. "God gives not the Spirit by measure unto him." This makes
him fairer than the children of men, grace being poured into his
lips, Psalm. 45: 2. If a small measure of grace in the saints make
them such sweet and desirable companions, what must the riches and
fullness of the Spirit of grace filling Jesus Christ without measure,
make him in the eyes of believers? O what a glory and luster must it
stamp upon him!
    Secondly, He is altogether lovely in his offices: for let us
but consider the suitableness, fullness, and comfortableness of them.
    First, The suitableness of the offices of Christ to the
miseries and wants of men; and we cannot but adore the infinite
wisdom of God in his investiture with them; we are, by nature, blind
and ignorant, at best but groping in the dim light of nature after
God, Acts 17: 27. Jesus Christ is a light to lighten the Gentiles,
Isaiah 49: 6. When this great prophet came into the world, then did
the day-spring from on high visit us, Luke 1: 78. The state of
nature is a state of alienation from, and enmity against God; Christ
comes into the world an atoning sacrifice, making peace by the blood
of his cross, Col. 1: 20. All the world, by nature, are in bondage
and captivity to Satan, a lamentable thraldom; Christ comes with
kingly power, to rescue sinners, as a prey from the mouth of the
terrible one.
    Secondly, Let the fullness of his offices be also considered, by
reason whereof he is able "to save to the uttermost, all that come
to God by him," Heb. 7: 25. The three offices, comprising in them
all that our souls do need, become an universal relief to all our
wants; and therefore,
    Thirdly, Unspeakably comfortable must the offices of Christ be
to the souls of sinners. If light be pleasant to our eyes, how
pleasant is that light of life springing from the Sun of
righteousness! Ma1. 4: 2. If a pardon be sweet to a condemned
malefactor, how sweet must the sprinkling the blood of Jesus be to
the trembling conscience of a law condemned sinner? If a rescue from
a cruel tyrant be sweet to a poor captive, how sweet must it be to
the ears of enslaved sinners, to hear the voice of liberty and
deliverance proclaimed by Jesus Christ? Out of the several offices
of Christ, as out of so many fountains, all the promises of the new
covenant flow, as so many soul-refreshing streams of peace and joy:
all the promises of illumination, counsel and direction flow out of
the prophetical office; all the promises of reconciliation, peace,
pardon, and acceptance flow out of the priestly office, with the
sweet streams of joy, and spiritual comforts depending thereupon;
all the promises of converting, increasing, defending, directing,
and supplying grace, flow out of the kingly office of Christ;
indeed, all promises may be reduced to the three offices: so that
Jesus Christ must needs be altogether lovely in his offices.
    Thirdly, Jesus Christ is altogether lovely in his relations.
    First, He is a lovely Redeemer, Isaiah 61: 1. He came to open the
prison-doors to them that are bound. Needs must this Redeemer be a
lovely one, if we consider the depth of misery from which he
redeemed us, even "from the wrath to come," 1 Thess. 1: 10. How
lovely was Titus, in the eyes of the poor enthralled Greeks, whom he
delivered from their bondage! this endeared him to them to that
degree, that when their liberty was proclaimed, they even trod one
another to death to see the herald that proclaimed It; and all the
night following, with instruments of music, danced about his tent,
crying with united voices, "a Savior, a Savior." Or, whether we
consider the numbers redeemed, and the means of their redemption.
Rev. 5: 9. And they sang a new song, saying, "You are worthy to
take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for you were slain,
and have redeemed us to God by your blood, out of every kindred and
tongue, and people, and nation." He redeemed us not with silver and
gold, but with his own precious blood, by way of price, 1 Pet. 1:
18, 19. with his out-stretched and glorious arm, by way of power,
Col. 1: 13. he redeemed us freely, Eph. 1: 7. fully, Romans 8: 1.
seasonably, Gal. 4: 4. and out of special and peculiar love, John
17: 9. In a word, he has redeemed us forever, never more to come
into bondage, 1 Pet. 1: 5. John 10: 28. O how lovely is Jesus Christ
in the relation of a Redeemer to God's elect!
    Secondly, He is a lovely bridegroom to all that he espouses to
himself. How does the church glory in him, in the words following my
text; "this is my Beloved, and this is my Friend, O you daughters of
Jerusalem!" q. d. Heaven and earth cannot show such another: which
needs no fuller proof than the following particulars.
    First, That he espouses to himself, in mercy and in loving
kindness, such deformed, defiled, and altogether unworthy souls as
we are, who have no beauty, no excellency to make us desirable in
his eyes; all the springs of his love to us are in his own bosom,
Deut. 7: 7. he chooses us, not because we were, but that he might
make us lovely, Eph. 5: 27. he passed by us when we lay in our
blood, and said unto us, Live; and that was the time of love, Ezek.
16: 5.
    Secondly, He expects nothing with us, and yet bestows himself,
and all that he has, upon us. Our poverty cannot enrich him, but he
made himself poor to enrich us, 2 Cor. 8: 9. 1 Cor. 3: 22.
    Thirdly, No husband loves the wife of his bosom, as Christ
loved his people, Eph. 5: 25. He loved the church and gave himself
for it.
    Fourthly, None bears with weaknesses and provocations as Christ
does; the church is stiled "the Lamb's wife," Rev. 19: 9.
    Fifthly, No husband is so immortal and everlasting a husband as
Christ is; death separates all other relations, but the soul's union
with Christ is not dissolved in the grave; yes, the day of a
believer's death, is his marriage day, the day of his fullest
enjoyment of Christ. No husband can say to his wife, what Christ
says to the believer, "I will never leave you, nor forsake you,
Heb. 13: 5.
    Sixthly, No bridegroom advances his bride to such honors by
marriage, as Christ does; he relates them to God as their father;
and from that day the mighty and glorious angels think it no
dishonor to be their servants, Heb. 1: 14. they are brought in
admiring the beauty and glory of the spouse of Christ, Rev. 21: 9.
    Seventhly, and lastly, No marriage was ever consummated with
such triumphal solemnity, as the marriage of Christ and believers
shall be in heaven, Psalm. 14: 14, 15. "She shall be brought to the
king in raiment of needle-work, the virgins, her companions that
follow her, shall be brought unto you; with gladness and rejoicing
shall they be brought; they shall enter into the king's palace."
Among the Jews the marriage house was called Bethillula, the house
of praise; there was joy upon all hands, but none like the joy that
will be in heaven, when believers, the spouse of Christ, shall be
brought there: God the Father will rejoice, to behold the blessed
accomplishment and confirmation of those glorious designs of his
love. Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom, will rejoice to see the travail
of his soul, the blessed birth and issue of all his bitter pangs and
agonies, Isaiah 53: 11. The Holy Spirit will rejoice to see the
completion and perfection of that sanctifying design which was
committed to his hand, 2 Cor. 5: 5. to see those souls whom he once
found as rough stones, now to shine as the bright, polished stones
of the spiritual temple. Angels will rejoice: great was the joy when
the foundation of this design was laid, in the incarnation of
Christ, Luke 2: 18. great therefore must their joy be, when the top-
stone is set up with shouting, crying, Grace, grace, The saints
themselves shall rejoice unspeakably, when they shall enter into the
King's palace, and be forever with the Lord, 1 Thess. 4: 17. Indeed
there will be joy on all hands, except among the devils and damned,
who shall gnash their teeth with envy at the everlasting advancement
and glory of believers.
    Thus Christ is altogether lovely, in the relation of a
Bridegroom.
    Thirdly, Christ is altogether lovely, in the relation of an
Advocate. 1 John 2: 1. "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the
Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the Propitiation;" it
is he who pleads the cause of believers in heaven; appears for them
in the presence of God, to prevent all new breaches, and continues
the state of friendship and peace between God and us. In this
relation Christ is altogether lovely. For,
    First, He makes our cause his own, and acts for us in heaven,
as for himself, Heb. 4: 15. He is touched with the tender sense of
our troubles and dangers, and is not only one with us, by way of
representation, but also one with us in respect of sympathy and
affection.
    Secondly, Christ our Advocate, follows our suit and business in
heaven, as his great and main design and business) therefore, in
Heb. 7: 25. he is said to "live forever to make intercession for
us;" as if our concernments were so minded by him there, as to give
up himself wholly to that work, as if all the glory and honor which
is paid him in heaven would not satisfy him, or divert him one
moment from our business.
    Thirdly, He pleads the cause of believers by his blood; it
satisfies him not, as other advocates, to be at the expense of words
and oratory, which is a cheaper way of pleading; but he pleads for
us by the voice of his own blood, Heb. 12: 24. where we are said to
be come "to the blood of sprinkling, that speaks better things
than that of Abel:" Every wound he received for us on earth, is a
mouth opened to plead with God on our behalf in heaven.
And hence it is, that in Rev. 5: 6. he is represented standing
before God, as a lamb that had been slain; as it were, exhibiting
and opening in heaven those deadly wounds received on earth,
from the justice of God, on our account. Other advocates spend
their breath, Christ his blood.
    Fourthly, He pleads the cause of believers freely. Other
advocates plead for reward, and exhaust the purses, while they plead
the causes of their clients.
    Fifthly, In a word, he obtains for us all the mercies for
which he pleads; no cause miscarries in his hand, which he
undertakes, Romans 8: 33, 34. O what a lovely Advocate is Christ for
believers!
    Fourthly, Christ is altogether lovely in the relation of a
friend, for in this relation he is pleased to own his people, Luke
12: 4, 5. There are certain things in which one friend manifests his
affection and friendship to another, but none like Christ. For,
    First, No friend is so open hearted to his friend as Christ is
to his people: he reveals the very counsels and secrets of his heart
to them. John 15: 15. "Henceforth I call you not servants, for the
servant knows not what his Lord does; but I have called you
friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father, I have made
known unto you.
    Secondly, No friend in the world is so generous and bountiful
to his friend, as Jesus Christ is to believers; John 15: 18. he
parts with his very blood for them; "Greater love (says he) has no
man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." He has
exhausted the precious treasures of his invaluable blood to pay our
debts. O what a lovely friend is Jesus Christ to believers!
    Thirdly, No friend sympathizes so tenderly with his friend in
affliction, as Jesus Christ does with his friends: "In all our
afflictions he is afflicted, Heb. 4: 15. He feels all our sorrows,
wants and burdens as his own. Whence it is that the sufferings of
believers are called the sufferings of Christ, Col. 1: 24.
    Fourthly, No friend in the world takes that delight in his
friend, as Jesus Christ does in believers. Cant. 4: 9. "You have
ravished my heart, (says he to the spouse) you have ravished my
heart with one of your eyes, with one chain of your neck. The
Hebrew, here rendered "ravished", signifies to puff up, or to make
one proud: how is the Lord Jesus pleased to glory in his people! how
is he taken and delighted with those gracious ornaments which
himself bestows upon them! No friend so lovely as Christ.
    Fifthly, No friend in the world loves his friend with so
fervent and strong affection as Jesus Christ loves believers. Jacob
loved Rachel, and endured for her sake the parching heat of summer
and cold of winter; but Christ endured the storms of the wrath of
God, the heat of his indignation, for our sakes. David manifested
his love to Absalom, in wishing, "O that I had died for you!"
Christ manifested his love to us, not in wishes that he had died,
but in death itself, in our stead, and for our sakes.
    Sixthly, No friend in the world is so constant and unchangeable
in friendship as Christ is, John 13: 1. "Having loved his own which
were in the world, he loved them unto the end." He bears with
millions of provocations and injuries, and yet will not break
friendship with his people. Peter denied him, yet he will not disown
him; but after his resurrection he says, "Go, tell the disciples,
and tell Peter," q. d. Let him not think he has forfeited, by that
sin of his, his interest in me; though he have denied me, I will not
disown him, Mark 16: 7. O how lovely is Christ in the relation of a
friend! I might farther show you the loveliness of Christ in his
ordinances and in his providences, in his communion with us and
communications to us, but there is no end of the account of Christ's
loveliness: I will rather choose to press believers to their duties
towards this altogether lovely Christ, which I shall briefly
dispatch in a few words.
    Use. First, Is Jesus Christ altogether lovely, then I beseech
you set your souls upon this lovely Jesus. Methinks such an object
as has been here represented, should compel love from the coldest
bosom and hardest heart. Away with those empty nothings, away with
this vain deceitful world, which deserves not the thousandth part of
the love you give it; let all stand aside and give way to Christ. O
did you but know his worth and excellency, what he is in himself,
what he has done for, and deserved from you, you would need no
arguments of mine to persuade you to love him.
    Secondly, Esteem nothing lovely but as it is enjoyed in Christ,
or improved for Christ. Affect nothing for itself, love nothing
separate from Jesus Christ. In two things we all sin in love of
creatures, namely, in the excess of our affections, loving them above
the rate and value of creatures; and in the inordinacy of our
affections, that is in loving them out of their proper places.
    Thirdly, Let us all be humbled for the baseness of our hearts,
that are so free of their affections to vanities and trifles, and so
hard to be persuaded to the love of Christ, who is altogether
lovely. O how many pour out streams of love and delight upon the
vain and empty creature; while no arguments can draw forth one drop
of love from their obdurate and unbelieving hearts to Jesus Christ!
I have read of one Joannes Mollius, who was observed to go often
alone, and weep bitterly; and being pressed by a friend to know the
cause of his troubles; O! said he, it grieves me that I cannot bring
this heart of mine to love Jesus Christ more fervently.
    Fourthly, Represent Christ, as he is, to the world, by your
carriage towards him. Is he altogether lovely; let all the world see
and know that he is so, by your delights in him and communion with
him, zeal for him, and readiness to part with any other lovely thing
upon his account; proclaim his excellencies to the world, as the
spouse here did; convince them how much your beloved is better than
any other beloved; display his glorious excellencies in your
heavenly conversations; hold him forth to others, as he is in
himself, altogether lovely. See that you "walk worthy of him unto
all well pleasing," Col. 1: 10. "Show forth the praises of Christ,"
1 Pet. 2: 19. Let not that "worthy name be blasphemed through you,"
James 2: 7. He is glorious in himself, and will put glory upon you;
take heed you put not shame and dishonor upon him; he has
committed his honor to you, do not betray that trust.
    First, Never be ashamed to own Christ: he is altogether lovely;
he can never be a shame to you; it will be your great sin to be
ashamed of him. Some men glory in their shame; be not you ashamed of
your glory: if you be ashamed of Christ now, he will be ashamed of
you when he shall appear in his own glory, and the glory of all his
holy angels. Be ashamed of nothing but sin; and among other sins, be
ashamed especially for this sin, that you have no more love for him
who is altogether lovely.
    Sixthly, Be willing to leave everything that is lovely upon
earth, that you may be with the altogether lovely Lord Jesus Christ
in heaven. Lift up your voices with the spouse, Rev. 20: 20. "Come
Lord Jesus, come quickly." It is true, you must pass through the
pangs of death into his bosom and enjoyment; but sure it is worth
suffering much more than that to be with this lovely Jesus. "The
Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and the patient
waiting for Jesus Christ," 2 Thes. 3: 5.
    Seventhly, Strive to be Christ-like, as ever you would be
lovely in the eyes of God and man. Certainly, my brethren, it is the
Spirit of Christ within you, and the beauty of Christ upon you,
which only can make you lovely persons; the more you resemble him in
holiness, the more will you discover of true excellency and
loveliness; and the more frequent and spiritual your converse and
communion with Christ is, the more of the beauty and loveliness of
Christ will be stamped upon your spirits, changing you into the same
image, from glory to glory.
    Eighthly, Let the loveliness of Christ draw all men to him. Is
loveliness in the creature so attractive? And can the transcendent
loveliness of Christ draw none? O the blindness of man! If you see
no beauty in Christ why you should desire him, it is because the God
of this world has blinded your minds.
 




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