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No Doctrine More Excellent than Christ by John Flavel (1630-1691)

Articles on the Christian Walk, Systematic Theology and Practical Theology

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The title says it all.

“For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2:2

There is no doctrine more excellent in itself or more necessary to be preached and studied than the doctrine of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. All other knowledge, how much soever it be magnified in the world, is, and ought to be esteemed, but dross in comparison of the excellence of the knowledge of Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:8). “In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” (Col. 2:3). Eudoxus was so affected with the glory of the sun that he thought he was born only to behold it; much more should a Christian judge himself born only to behold and delight in the glory of the Lord Jesus. The truth of this proposition will be made out by a double consideration of the doctrine of Christ. First, let it be considered absolutely. Then these lovely properties with which it is naturally clothed will render it superior to all other sciences and studies.

1. The knowledge of Jesus Christ is the very marrow and kernel of all the Scriptures, the scope and center of all divine revelations: both Testaments meet in Christ. The ceremonial law is full of Christ, and all the gospel is full of Christ. The blessed lines of both Testaments meet in Him. How they both harmonize and sweetly concenter in Jesus Christ is the chief scope of that excellent epistle to the Hebrews to discover, for we may call that epistle the sweet harmony of both Testaments. This argues the unspeakable excellence of this doctrine, the knowledge whereof must needs therefore be a key to unlock the greatest part of the sacred Scriptures. For it is in the understanding of Scripture, much as it is in the knowledge men have in logic and philosophy: if a scholar once comes to understand the bottom-principle upon which, as upon its hinge, the controversy turns, the true knowledge of that principle shall carry him through the whole controversy and furnish him with a solution to every argument. Even so the right knowledge of Jesus Christ, like a clue, leads you through the whole labyrinth of the Scriptures.

2. The knowledge of Jesus Christ is a fundamental knowledge. The knowledge of Christ is fundamental to all graces, duties, comforts, and happiness. (1) It is fundamental to all graces. They all begin in knowledge: “The new man is renewed in knowledge,” (Col. 3:10). As the old, so the new creation begins in light: the opening of the eyes is the first work of the Spirit. And as the beginnings of grace, so all the after-improvements thereof depend upon this increasing knowledge: “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour,” (2Pe 3:18). See how these two—grace and knowledge—keep equal pace in the soul of a Christian: in what degree the one increases, the other increases answerably. (2) The knowledge of Christ is fundamental to all duties. The duties, as well as the graces of all Christians, are all founded in the knowledge of Christ. Must a Christian believe? That, he can never do without the knowledge of Christ: faith is so much dependent on His knowledge that it is denominated by it, “By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many,” (Isaiah 53:11); hence, seeing and believing are made the same thing (John 6:40). Would a man exercise hope in God? That, he can never do without the knowledge of Christ, for He is the author of that hope (1 Peter 1:3). He is also its object (Hebrews 6:19), its groundwork and support (Col. 1:27). And as you cannot believe or hope, so neither can you pray acceptably without a competent degree of this knowledge…The true way of conversing with and enjoying God in prayer is by acting faith on Him through a Mediator…O then, how indispensable is the knowledge of Christ to all that do address themselves to God in any duty! (3) It is fundamental to all comforts. All the comforts of believers are streams from this fountain. Jesus Christ is the very object matter of a believer’s joy: our rejoicing is in “Christ Jesus,” (Phil. 3:3). Take away the knowledge of Christ, and a Christian is the most sad and melancholy creature in the world. Again, let Christ but manifest Himself and dart the beams of His light into their souls, and it will make them kiss the stakes on which they hang, sing in flames, and shout in the pangs of death, as men that divide the spoil. (4) This knowledge is fundamental to the eternal happiness of souls. As we can perform no duty, enjoy no comfort, so neither can we be saved without it: “This is life eternal, to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent,” (John 17:3). And, if it be life eternal to know Christ, then it is eternal damnation to be ignorant of Christ. As Christ is the door that opens heaven, so knowledge is the key that opens Christ…Thus, you see how fundamental the knowledge of Christ is: it is essentially necessary to all the graces, duties, comforts, and happiness of souls. 3. The knowledge of Christ is profound and large; all other sciences are but shadows. This is a boundless, bottomless ocean; no creature hath a line long enough to fathom the depth of it. There is height, length, depth, and breadth ascribed to it (Ephesians 3:18). Yea, it passeth knowledge. There is “a manifold wisdom of God in Christ,” (Ephesians 3:10). It is of many sorts and forms, of many folds and plates; it is indeed simple, pure and unmixed with anything but itself, yet it is manifold in degrees, kinds, and administrations. Though something of Christ be unfolded in one age and something in another, yet eternity itself cannot fully unfold Him…It is in the studying of Christ, as in the planting of a newly discovered country: at first men sit down by the seaside, upon the skirts and borders of the land; and there they dwell. But by degrees, they search farther and farther into the heart of the country. Ah, the best of us are yet but upon the borders of this vast continent!

4. The study of Jesus Christ is the most noble subject that ever a soul spent itself upon. Those that rack and torture their brains upon other studies, like children, weary themselves at a low game: the eagle plays at the sun itself. The angels study this doctrine and stoop down to look into this deep abyss. What are the truths discovered in Christ, but the very secrets that from eternity lay hid in the bosom of God? (Ephesians 3:8-9). God’s heart is opened to men in Christ (John 1:18). This makes the gospel such a glorious dispensation because Christ is so gloriously revealed therein; and the studying of Christ in the gospel stamps such a heavenly glory upon the contemplating soul.

5. It is the most sweet and comfortable knowledge. What is it to be studying Jesus Christ, but to be digging among all the veins and springs of comfort? And the deeper you dig, the more do these springs flow upon you. How are hearts ravished with the discoveries of Christ in the gospel! What ecstasies, meltings, transports do gracious souls meet there?…A believer could sit from morning to night to hear discourses of Christ: “His mouth is most sweet,” (Song 5:16). Secondly, let us compare this knowledge with all other knowledge, and thereby the excellence of it will further appear. 1. All other knowledge is natural, but this is wholly supernatural. “No man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him,” (Matthew 11:27). The wisest heathens could never make a discovery of Christ by their deepest searches into nature; the most eagle-eyed philosophers were but children in knowledge, compared with the most illiterate Christians.

2. Other knowledge is unattainable by many. All the helps and means in the world would never enable some Christians to attain the learned arts and languages. Men of the best wits and most pregnant parts are most excellent in these; but here is the mystery and excellence of the knowledge of Christ: men of most blunt, dull, and contemptible parts attain to this knowledge, through the teaching of the Spirit, in which the more acute and ingenious are utterly blind. “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes,” (Matthew 11:25). “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise,” (1 Cor. 1:26-27).

3. Other knowledge, though you should attain the highest degree of it, would never bring you to heaven. It is defective and lame both in the integrity of parts—the principal thing, Christ, being wanting—and in the purity of its nature. For, the knowing heathens grew vain in their imaginations and in the efficacy and influence of it on the heart and life: “They held the truth in unrighteousness,” (Romans 1:21). Their lusts were stronger than their light (Romans 1:18). But this knowledge hath potent influences, changing souls into its own image (2 Cor. 3:18); and so it proves a saving knowledge unto men (1 Tim. 2:4).

From “The Fountain of Life” in The Works of John Flavel.

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