Christ the King by John Flavel (c. 1630-1691)Articles on the Christian Walk, Systematic Theology and Practical Theology
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Christ the King considered.
Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.—2 Corinthians 10:5
We now come to the regal office by which our glorious Mediator executes and dischargeth the undertaken design of our redemption. Had He not, as our Prophet, opened the way of life and salvation to the children of men, they could never have known it. If they had clearly known it, except as their Priest He had offered up Himself to impetrate and obtain redemption for them, they could not have been redeemed virtually by His blood. And if they had been so redeemed, yet had He not lived in the capacity of a King to apply this purchase of His blood to them, they could have had no actual, personal benefit by His death. For what He revealed as a Prophet, He purchased as a Priest; and what He so revealed and purchased as a Prophet and Priest, He applies as a King: first subduing the souls of His elect to His spiritual government, then ruling them as His subjects and ordering all things in the kingdom of Providence for their good. DOCTRINE: Jesus Christ exercises a kingly power over the souls of all whom the gospel subdues to His obedience. No sooner were the Colossians delivered out of the power of darkness, but they were immediately translated into the kingdom of Christ, the dear Son (Col. 1:13). This kingdom of Christ, which is our present subject, is the internal spiritual kingdom, which is said to be within the saints. “The kingdom of God is within you,” (Luke 17:20-21). Christ sits as an enthroned king in the hearts, consciences, and affections of His willing people (Psalm 110:3). And His kingdom consists in “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost,” (Romans 14:17)…
FIRST, WE WILL OPEN THE WAY AND MANNER IN WHICH CHRIST OBTAINS A THRONE IN THE HEARTS OF MEN, AND THAT IS BY CONQUEST. For though the souls of the elect are His by donation and right of redemption, and though the Father gave them to Him and He died for them, yet Satan hath the first possession. And so it fares with Christ as it did with Abraham to whom God gave the land of Canaan by promise and covenant: the Canaanites, Perizites, and sons of Anak had the actual possession of it, and Abraham’s posterity must fight for it and win it by inches before they enjoy it. The house is conveyed to Christ by Him that built it, but the strong man armed keeps the possession of it until a stronger than he comes and ejects him (Luke 11:20-22). Christ must fight His way into the soul, though He has a right to enter, as into His dearly purchased possession. And so He doth; for when the time of recovering them is come, He sends forth His armies to subdue them, as it is in Psalm 110:3: “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power.” The Hebrew may as fitly be rendered, and it is by some, “in the day of thine armies,” when the Lord Jesus sent forth His armies of prophets, apostles, evangelists, pastors, teachers, under the conduct of His Spirit, armed with that two-edged sword, the Word of God, which is sharp and powerful (Hebrews 4:12). But that is not all: He causes armies of convictions and spiritual troubles to begird and straiten them on every side, so that they know not what to do. These convictions, like a shower of arrows, strike point-blank into their consciences. “When they heard this, they were pricked to the heart, and said, Men and brethren, what shall we do?,” (Act 2:37). Christ’s arrows are sharp in the hearts of His enemies, whereby the people fall under Him (Psalm 45:5-6). By these convictions, He batters down all their loose vain hopes and levels them with the earth. Now all their weak pleas and defenses, from the general mercy of God, the example of others, etc., prove but as paper walls to them. These shake their hearts, even to the very foundation and overturn every high thought there that exalts itself against the Lord. This day, in which Christ sits down before the soul and summons it by such messengers as these, is a day of distress within—yea, such a day of trouble that none is like it! But though it be so, yet Satan hath so deeply entrenched himself in the mind and will that the soul yields not at the first summons, until its provisions within are spent and all its towers of pride and walls of vain confidence be undermined by the gospel and shaken down about its ears! Then the soul desires negotiation with Christ. O now it would be glad of terms, any terms, if it may but save its life: let all go as a prey to the conqueror. Now it sends many such messengers as these to Christ, Who is come now to the very gates of the soul: “Mercy, Lord, mercy! O were I but assured thou wouldest receive, spare, and pardon me, I would open to thee the next moment!” Thus, the soul is “shut up unto the faith” of Christ (Gal 3:23) and reduced to the greatest strait and loss imaginable. And now the merciful King, Whose only design is to conquer the heart, hangs forth the white flag of mercy before the soul, giving it hope it shall be spared, pitied, and pardoned, though so long in rebellion against Him, if yet it will yield itself to Christ. Many staggerings, hesitations, irresolutions, doubts, fears, scru ples, half-resolves, reasonings for and against there are at the council table of man’s own heart at this time. Sometimes there is no hope: “Christ will slay me, if I go forth to Him,” and then it trembles. But then, who ever found Him so that tried Him? Other souls have yielded and found mercy beyond all their expectations. “O but I have been a desperate enemy against Him.” Admit it, yet thou hast the word of a King for it: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon,” (Isaiah 55:7). “But the time of mercy is past; I have stood out too long! Yet if it is so, how is it that Christ hath not made short work and cut me off —set fire, hell fire, to my soul and withdrawn the siege?” Still He waiteth that He may be gracious and is exalted that He may have compassion. A thousand such debates there are, until, at last, the soul considering that if it abides in rebellion, it must needs perish. If it goes forth to Christ, it can but perish. And being somewhat encouraged by the messages of grace sent into the soul at this time, such as, “Wherefore he is able to save to the uttermost, all that come unto God by him,” (Hebrews 7:25); and, “He that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out,” (John 6:37); and, “Come unto me all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” (Matthew 11:28), it is at last resolved to open to Christ and saith, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in,” (Psalm 24:7). Now, the will spontaneously opens to Christ! That royal fort submits and yields; all the affections open to Him. The will brings Christ the keys of all the rooms in the soul…The rocky heart rends in two. A poor soul comes into the Word, full of ignorance, pride, self-love, desperate hardness, and fixed resolutions to go on in its way; and by an hour’s discourse, the tide turns…”What aileth thee, thou stout will, that thou surrenderest to Christ—thou hard heart that thou relentest and the waters gush out?” Thus, the soul is won to Christ: He writes down His terms, and the soul willingly subscribes to them. Thus, it comes in to Christ by free and hearty submission, desiring nothing more than to come under the government of Christ for the time to come.
SECONDLY, LET US SEE HOW CHRIST RULES IN THE SOULS OF SUCH AS SUBMIT TO HIM. He exerts His kingly authority over them in six things: 1. He imposes a new law upon them and enjoins them to be severe and punctual in their obedience to it. The soul was a Belialite before and could endure no restraint: its lusts gave it laws. “We ourselves were sometimes foolish, disobedient, serving divers lusts and pleasures,” (Ti 3:3). Whatever the flesh craved and the sensual appetite whined after, it must have, cost what it would. If damnation were the price of it, it would have it, provided it should not be present pay. Now, it must not be any longer without law to God, but under law to Christ. Those are the articles of peace that the soul willingly subscribes in the day of its admission to mercy: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me,” (Matthew 11:29). This “law of the spirit of life which is in Christ Jesus makes them free from the law of sin and death,” (Romans 8:2). Here is much strictness, but no bondage; for the law is not only written in Christ’s statute book, the Bible, but copied out by His Spirit upon the hearts of His subjects in correspondent principles. This makes obedience a pleasure and self-denial easy. Christ’s yoke is lined with love, so that it never galls the necks of His people…
2. He rebukes and chastises souls for the violations and transgressions of His law. That is another act of Christ’s regal authority: “Whom he loves he rebukes and chastens,” (Hebrews 12:6-7). These chastisements of Christ are either by the rod of providence upon their bodies and outward comforts or upon their spirits and inward comforts. Sometimes His rebukes are smart upon the outward man: “For this cause, many among you are weakly and sick, and many sleep,” (1 Cor. 11:30). They had not that due regard to His body in the Lord’s Supper that was appropriate for them, and He will make their bodies smart for it. And He had rather their flesh should smart, than their souls should perish. Sometimes He spared their outward and afflicts their inner man, which is a much smarter rod. He withdraws peace and takes away joy from the spirits of His people. The hidings of His face are sore rebukes. However, all is for correction, not for destruction. And it is not the least privilege of Christ’s subjects to have a seasonable and sanctified rod to reduce them from the ways of sin: “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me,” (Psalm 23:3). Others are suffered to go on stubbornly in the way of their own hearts: Christ will not spend a rod upon them for their good, will not call them to account for any of their transgressions, but will reckon with them for all together in hell. 3. Another regal act of Christ is the restraining and keeping back His servants from iniquity and withholding them from those courses that their own hearts would incline and lead them to. For even in them, there is a spirit bent to backsliding; but the Lord in tenderness over them keeps back their souls from iniquity, and that when they are upon the very brink of sin: “My feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped,” (Psalm 73:2). Then doth the Lord prevent sin by removing the occasion providentially or by helping them to resist the temptation, graciously assisting their spirits in the trial, so that no temptation shall befall them. Yet He opens a way of escape that they may be able to bear it (1 Cor. 10:13). Thus, His people have frequent occasions to bless His name for His preventing goodness, when they are almost in the midst of all evil. And this I take to be the meaning of Galatians 5:16: “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh,” i.e., “Tempted by them, you may be; but fulfill them, ye shall not. My spirit shall cause the temptation to die and wither away in the womb, in the embryo of it, so that it shall not come to a full birth.”
4. He protects them in His ways and suffers them not to relapse from Him into a state of sin and bondage to Satan any more. Indeed, Satan is restless in his endeavors to reduce them again to his obedience. He never leaves tempting and soliciting for their return; and where he finds a false professor, he prevails; but Christ keeps His that they depart not again. “Those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition,” (John 17:12). They are “kept by the mighty power of God, through faith unto salvation,” (1 Peter 1:5). Kept, as in a garrison, according to the importance of that word. None are more solicited, none more safe than the people of God! They are “preserved in Jesus Christ,” (Jude 1). It is not their own grace that secures them, but Christ’s care and continual watchfulness .This is His covenant with them: “I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me,” (Jeremiah 32:4). Thus, as a king He preserves them. 5. As a king, He rewards their obedience and encourages their sincere service. Though all they do for Christ be duty, yet He hath united their comfort with their duty: “This I had, because I kept thy precepts,” (Psalm 119:56). They are engaged to take this encouragement with them to every duty: He Whom they seek “is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him,” (Hebrews 11:6). O what a good Master do the saints serve! 6. He pacifies all inward troubles and commands peace when their spirits are tumultuous. This “peace of God” rules in their hearts (Col. 3:15)…When the tumultuous affections are up and in a hurry; when anger, hatred, and revenge begin to rise in the soul, this hushes and stills all. “I will hear (saith the Church) what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints,” (Psalm 85:8). He that saith to the raging sea, “Be still,” and it obeys Him; He only can pacify the disquieted spirit…These are Christ’s regal acts. He puts them forth upon the souls of His people powerfully, sweetly, suitably.
(1) Powerfully: Whether He restrains from sin or impels to duty, He doth it with a soul determining effectiveness: for “the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power,” (1 Cor. 4:20). And those whom His Spirit leads, go bound in the spirit to the fulfilling and discharge of their duties (Act 20:22). And yet,
(2) He rules not by compulsion, but most sweetly. His law is a law of love, written upon their hearts. The Church is the Lamb’s wife (Rev. 19:7). “A bruised reed he shall not break, and smoking flax he shall not quench,” (Isaiah 42:2-3). “I beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ,” saith the apostle (2 Cor. 10:1). For He delighteth in free, not in forced obedience. He rules children, not slaves; and so His kingly power is mixed with fatherly love. His yoke is not made of iron, but of gold.
(3) He rules them suitably to their natures in a rational way. “I drew them with the cords of a man, with bands of love,” (Hos 11:4), i.e., in a way proper to convince their reason and work upon their intellectual capacity. Thus, His eternal kingdom is administered by His Spirit, Who is His vicegerent in our hearts.
From “The Fountain of Life” in The Works of John Flavel, Vol. 1, The Banner of Truth Trust, www.banneroftruth.org.