By John Flavel
John 6: 45.
It is written in the Prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that has heard, and has learned of the Father, cometh unto me.
In the former sermon, you have been taught this great truth;
Doct. That the teachings of God are absolutely necessary to every soul that cometh unto Christ, in the way of faith.
What the teachings of God import, has been formerly opened; and what those special lessons are, which all believers hear and learn of the Father, was the last thing discoursed: that which remains to he further cleared about this subject, before I come to the application of the whole, will be to shew you,
1. What are the properties of divine teachings.
2. What influence they have in bringing souls to Christ.
3. Why it is impossible for any man to come to Christ without these teachings of the Father.
First, What are the properties of divine teachings? Concerning the teachings of God, we affirm in general, that, though they exclude not, yet they vastly differ from all human teachings: as the power of God in effecting transcends all human power, so the wisdom of God in teaching transcends all human wisdom. For,
1. God teacheth powerfully; he speaketh to the soul with a strong hand; when the word cometh accompanied with the Spirit, it is "mighty through God, to cast down all imaginations," 2 Cor. 10: 4. Now the gospel "comes not in word only, (as it was wont to do,) but in power," 1 Thes. 1: 4, 5. a power that makes the soul fall down before it, and acknowledge that God is in that word, 1 Cor. 14: 25.
2. The teachings of God are sweet teachings. Men never relish the sweetness of a truth, till they learn it from God, Cant. 1: 8. "His name is as ointment poured forth." Cant. 5: 16. "His mouth is most sweet." O how powerfully and how sweetly does the voice of God slide into the hearts of poor melting sinners! how jejune, dry, and tasteless are the discourses of men, compared with the teachings of the Father!
3. God teacheth plainly and clearly: He not only opens truths to the understanding, but he openeth the understanding also to perceive them, 2 Cor. 3: 16 In that day the vail is taken away from the heart; a light shineth into the soul; a clear beam from heaven is darted into the mind, Luke 24: 45. Divine teachings are fully satisfying; the soul doubts no more, staggers and hesitates no more, but acquiesces in that which God teaches; it is so satisfied, that it can venture all upon the truth of what it has learned from God; as that martyr said, I cannot dispute, but I can die for Christ. See Prov. 8: 8, 9.
Fourthly, The teachings of God are infallible teachings. The wisest and holiest of men may mistake, and lead others into the same mistakes with themselves; but it is not so in the teachings of God. If we can be sure that God teacheth us, we may be as sure of the truth of what he teacheth; for his Spirit guideth us into all truth, John 16: 3. and into nothing but truth.
Fifthly, The teachings of God are abiding teachings; they make everlasting impressions upon the soul, Psal. 119: 98. they are ever wish it: The words of men vanish from us; but the words of God abide by us: what God teacheth, he writeth upon the heart, Jer. 31:33. and that will abide; litera scripta manet. It is usual with souls, whose understandings have been opened by the Lord, many years afterward to say, I shall never forget such a scripture that once convinced, such a promise that once encouraged me.
Sixthly, The teachings of God are saving teachings; they make the soul wise unto salvation, 2 Tim. 3: 15. There is a great deal of other knowledge that goes to hell with men: The pavement of hell (as one speaks) is pitched with the skulls of many great scholars, but eternal life is the teachings of God, John 17::3. "This is the eternal life, to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." This is deservedly stiled the light of this life, John 8: 12. "In this light we shall see light," Psal. 36: 9.
Seventhly, The teachings of God make their own way into the dullest and weakest capacities, Isa. 32: 4. "The heart also of the rash shall understand knowledge, and the tongue of the stammerers shall be ready to speak plainly." Upon this account Christ said, Matth. 11: 25. "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." It is admirable to see what clear illuminations some poor illiterate Christians have in the mysteries of Christ and salvation, which others, of great abilities, deep and searching heads, can never discover with all their learning and study.
Eighthly, To conclude, The teachings of God are transforming teachings; 2 Cor. 3: 18. they change the soul into the same image; God casts them, whom he teacheth, into the very mould of those truths which they learn of him, Rom. 6: 17. These are the teachings of God, and thus he instructeth those that come to Christ.
Secondly, Next let us see what influence divine teachings have upon souls, in bringing them to Christ; and we shall find a threefold influence in them.
1. They have an influence upon the external means, by which they come to Christ.
2. They have an influence upon the mind, to remove what hindered it from Christ.
3. They have an influence upon the will, to allure and draw it to Christ.
First, They have an influence upon the means by which we come to Christ; the best ordinances are but a dead letter except the Spirit, the teaching and quickening Spirit of God, work in fellowship with them, 2 Cor. 3: 6. The best ministers, like the disciples, cast forth the net, but take nothing, win not one soul to God, till God teach as well as they. Paul is nothing, and Apollos nothing, but God that giveth the increase, 1 Cor. 3: 7. Let the most learned, eloquent, and powerful orator be in the pulpit, Yet no man's heart is persuaded till it hear the voice of God, Cathedram in coelis habet, qui corda docet.
Secondly, They have influence upon the mind, to remove what hindered it from Christ. Except the minds of men be first untaught those errors, by which they are prejudiced against Christ, they will never be persuaded to come unto him; and nothing but the Father's teachings can unteach those errors, and cure those evils of the mind. The natural mind of man slights the truths of God, until God teach them; and then they tremble with an awful reverence of them. Sin is but a trifle, till God shews us the face of it in the glass of the law, and then it appears exceeding sinful, Rom. 7: 13. We think God to be such a one as ourselves, Psal. 1. 21. until he discover himself unto us in his infinite greatness, awful holiness, and severe justice; and then we cry, who can stand before this great and dreadful God! We thought it was time enough hereafter, to mind the concernments of another world, until the Lord open our eyes, to see in what danger we stand upon the very brink of eternity; and then nothing alarms us more, than the fears that our time will be finished before the great work of salvation be finished. We thought ourselves in a converted state before, till God made us to see the necessity of another manner of conversion, upon pain of eternal damnation. We readily caught hold upon the promises before, when we had no right to them; but the teachings of God make the presumptuous sinner let go his hold, that he may take a better and surer hold of them in Christ. We once thought that the death of Christ, in itself, had been enough to secure our salvation; but, under the teachings of God, we discern plainly the necessity of a change of heart and state; or else the blood of Christ can never profit us. Thus the teachings of God remove the errors of the mind, by which men are withheld from Christ.
Thirdly, The teachings of God powerfully attract and allure the will of a sinner to Christ, Hos. 2: 14. But of these drawings of the Father I have largely spoken before, and therefore shall say no more of them in this place, but hasten to the last thing propounded, viz.
Thirdly, Why it is impossible for any man to come to Christ without the Father's teachings; and the impossibilities hereof will appear three ways.
1. From the power of sin.
2. From the indisposition of man.
B. From the nature of faith.
By all which, the last point designed to be spoken to from this scripture, will be fully cleared, and the whole prepared for application.
First, The impossibility of coming to Christ without the teachings of the Father, will appear from the power of sin, which has so strong an holdfast upon the hearts and affections of all unregenerate men, that no human arguments or persuasions whatsoever can divorce or separate them; for,
First, Sin is connatural with the soul, it is born and bred with a man; Psal. 2: 4. Isa. 48: 8. It is as natural for fallen man to sin, as it is to breathe.
Secondly, The power of sin has been strengthening itself from the beginning, by long continued custom, which gives it the force of a second nature, and makes regeneration and mortification naturally impossible, Jer. 15: 28. "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may he also do good that is accustomed to do evil."
Thirdly, Sin is the delight of a sinner: "It is sport to a fool to do mischief," Prov. 10: 23. Carnal men have no other pleasure in this world, but what arises from their lusts; to cut off their corruptions by mortification, were at once to deprive them of all the pleasure of their lives.
Fourthly, Sin being connatural, customary, and delightful, does therefore bewitch their affections and inchant their hearts, to that degree of madness and fascination, that they rather chuse damnation by God, than separation from sin: "Their hearts are fully set in them to do evil," Eccles. 8: 11. they rush into sin, as the horse rusheth into the battle," Jer. 8: 6. And now, what think you can separate a man from his beloved lust, except the powerful and effectual teachings of God? Nothing but a light from heaven can rectify and reduce the inchanted mind; no power, but that of God, can change and alter the sinful bent and inclination of the will; it is a task above all the power of the creature.
Secondly, The impossibility of coming to Christ, without the Father's teachings, evidently appears from the indisposedness of man, the subject of this change; "The natural man receives not the things which are of God," 1 Cor. 2: 14. Three things must be wrought upon man, before he can come to Christ: His blind understanding must be enlightened; his hard and rocky heart must be broken and melted; his stiff, fixed, and obstinate will must be conquered and subdued: but all these are effects of a supernatural power. The illumination of the mind is the peculiar work of God, 2 Cor. 4: 6. Rev. 3: 17. Eph. 5: 8. The breaking and melting of the heart is the Lord's own work; it is he that giveth repentance, Acts 5: 31. It is the Lord that "takes away the heart of stone, and giveth an heart of flesh, Ezek. 36: 26. It is he that poureth out the spirit of contrition upon man, Zech. 12: 10. The changing of the natural bent and inclination of the will, is the Lord's sole prerogative, Phil. 2: 13. All these things are effectually done in the soul of man, when God teacheth it, and never till then.
Thirdly, The nature of faith, by which we come to Christ, plainly shews the impossibility of coming without the Father's teaching. Every thing in faith is supernatural; the implantation of the habit of faith is so, Eph 2: 8. It is not of ourselves, but the gift of God; it is not an habit acquired by industry, but infused by grace, Phil 1: 29. The light of faith, by which spiritual things are discerned, is supernatural, Heb. 11: 1, 27. It seeth things that are invisible. The adventures of faith are supernatural; for "against hope, a man believeth in hope, giving glory to God," Rom. 4: 18. By faith a man goeth unto Christ, against all the dictates and discouragements of natural sense and reason. The self-denial of faith is supernatural; the cutting off the right hand, and plucking out of right eye sins, must needs be so, Matt. 5: 29. The victories and conquests of faith do all speak it to be supernatural; it overcomes the strongest oppositions from without, Heb. 11: 33, 34. It subdueth and purgeth the most obstinate and deep rooted corruptions within, Acts 15: 9. It overcometh all the blandishments and charming allurements of the bewitching world, 1 John 5: 4. All which considered, how evident is the conclusion, that none can come to Christ without the Father's teachings? The uses follow.
First use for information.
Inference 1. How notoriously false and absurd is that doctrine which asserteth the possibility of believing without the efficacy of supernatural grace, The desire of self-sufficiency was the ruin of Adam, and the conceit of self-sufficiency is the ruin of multitudes of his posterity. This doctrine is not only contradictory to the current stream of scripture, Phil. 2: 13. 1 John 1: 13. with many other scriptures; but it is also contradictory to the common sense and experience of believers; yet the pride of nature will strive to maintain what scripture and experience plainly contradict and overthrow.
Infer. 2. Hence we may also inform ourselves, how it cometh to pass that so many rational, wise and learned men miss Christ, whilst the simple and illiterate, even babes in natural knowledge, obtain interest in him, and salvation by him. The reason hereof is plainly given us by Christ, in Matth. 13: 11. "To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given." It is the dropping and dews of divine teaching upon one, and not upon another, that dryeth up the green tree, and maketh the dry tree to flourish. Many natural men have very fine brains, searching wits, solid judgements, nimble fancies, tenacious memories; they can search out the mysteries of nature, solve the phaenomena, satisfy the enquiries of the most curious; they can measure the earth, discover the motions of the heavens; but after all take up their place in hell, when, in the mean time, the statutes of the Lord (by the help of his teachings) make wise the simple, Psal 19: 17. It is no matter how dull and incapable the scholar be, if God undertake to be the teacher. I remember, Austin speaks of one who was commonly reputed a fool, and yet he could not but judge him to be truly godly, and that by two signs of grace which appeared in him; one was, his seriousness when he heard any discourses of Christ; the other was, his indignation manifested against sin. It was truly said by those two Cardinals, (who, riding to the council of Constance, overheard a poor shepherd in the fields with tears bewailing his sins) Surgent indocti et rapient coelum; The unlearned will rise and take heaven, whilst we with all our learning shall descend into hell.
Infer. 3. This also informs us of the true reason of the strange and various successes of the gospel upon the souls of men. Here we see why the ministry of one man becomes fruitful, and another's barren; yea why the labours of the same poor man prosper exceedingly at one time, and not at another; these things are according as the teachings of God do accompany our teachings. We often see a weaker and plainer discourse blessed with success, whilst that which is more artificial, neat and laboured, comes to nothing. St. Austin has a pretty similitude to illustrate this; Suppose, saith he, two conduits, the one very plain, the other curiously carved and adorned with images of lions, eagles, &c. the water does not refresh and nourish as it cometh from such a curious conduit, but as it is water. Where we find most of man, we frequently find least of God. I speak not this to encourage carelessness and laziness, but to provoke the dispensers of the gospel to more earnestness and frequent prayer for the assistance and blessing of the Spirit upon their labours, and to make men less fond of their own gifts and abilities; blear-eyed Leah may bear children, when beautiful Rachel proves barren.
Infer. 4. Learn hence the transcendent excellency of saving, spiritual knowledge, above that which is merely literal and natural. One drop of knowledge taught by God, is more excellent than the whole ocean of human knowledge and acquired gifts, Phil. 3: 8. John 17: 3. 1 Cor. 2: 2. Let no man therefore be dejected at the want of those gifts with which unsanctified men are adorned. If God have taught thee the evil of sin, the worth of Christ, the necessity of regeneration, the mystery of faith, the way of communion with God in duties; trouble not thyself because of thine ignorance in natural or moral things: thou hast that, reader, which will bring thee to heaven; and he is a truly wise man that knows the way of salvation, though he be ignorant and unskilful in other things: thou knowest those things which all the learned doctors and libraries in the world could never teach thee, but God has revealed them to thee; others have more science, thou hast more savour and sweetness; bless God, and be not discouraged.
Second use for examination.
If there be no coming to Christ without the teachings of the Father: then it greatly concerns us to examine our own hearts, whether ever we have been under the saving teachings of God, during the many years we have sat under the preaching of the gospel. Let not the question be mistaken; I do not ask what books you have read, what ministers you have heard, what stock of natural or speculative knowledge you have acquired; but the question is, whether ever God spake to your hearts, and has effectually taught you such lessons, as were mentioned in our last discourse? O there is a vast difference betwixt that notional, speculative, and traditional knowledge which man learneth from men, and that spiritual, operative, and transforming knowledge which a man learneth from God. If you ask how the teachings of God may be discerned from all other mere human teachings; I answer, they may be discerned, and distinguished by these six signs.
Sign 1. The teachings of God are very humbling to the soul that is taught. Human knowledge puffeth up, 1 Cor. 8: 1. but the teachings of God do greatly abase the soul, Job 13: 5. "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee; wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes:" the same light which discovers to us the holiness, justice, greatness, and goodness of God, discovereth also the vileness, baseness, emptiness, and total unworthiness of men; yea, of the best and holiest of men, Isa. 6: 5.
Sign 2. The teachings of God are deeply affecting and impressive teachings; they fully reach the heart of man, Hos. 2: 14. "I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her;" or, as it is in the Hebrew, I will speak to her heart. When God sheweth unto man the evil of sin, he so convinceth the soul, that no creature-comforts have any pleasure or sweetness in them; and when he sheweth unto man his righteousness, pardon, and peace in Christ, he so comforteth and refresheth the heart, that no outward afflictions have any weight or bitterness in them: one drop of consolation from heaven, sweetens a sea of trouble upon earth, Psal. 94: 19. "In the multitude of my thoughts within me, thy comforts delight my soul."
Sign 3. The teachings of God are sanctifying and renewing teachings; they reform and change the heart, Eph. 4: 21, 22, 23. "If so be that you have heard him, and been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus; that ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt, according to the deceitful lusts: and be renewed in the spirit of your mind," &c. See here what holiness and purity are the effect of divine teaching! Holiness, both external and internal, negative and positive: holiness of every kind follows the Father's teachings: all the discoveries God makes to us of himself in Christ, have an assimilating quality, and change the soul into their own likeness, 2 Cor. 3: 18.
Sign 4. All God's teachings are practical, producing obedience. Idle notions and useless speculations are not learned from God. As God's creating words, so his teaching words are with effect: as when he said, "Let there be light, and there was light:" so when he saith to the soul, Be comforted, be humbled; it is effectually comforted, Isa. 66: 18. it is humbled, Job 40: 4, 5. As God has in nature made no creature in vain, so he speaks no word in vain: every thing which men hear, or learn from the Father, is for use, practice, and benefit to the soul.
Sign 5. All teachings of God are agreeable with the written word: The Spirit of God, and the word of God do never jar, John 14: 26. "He shall take of mine, and shew it unto you." When God speaketh unto the heart of man, whether in a way of conviction, consolation, or instruction in duty, he always either maketh use of the express words of scripture, or speaks to the heart in language every way consentaneous and agreeable to scripture: So that the written word becomes the standard to weigh and try all divine teachings, Isa 8: 20. "To the law, and to the testimony: If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light (or morning) in them." Whatever is disagreeing or jarring with the scripture must not pass for an inspiration of God, but a deluding sophism, and insinuation of Satan.
Sign 6. The teachings of God are very satisfying teachings to the soul of man: The understanding faculty, like a dial, is enlightened with the beams of divine truth shining upon it: this no man's teachings can do: Men can only teach objectively, by propounding truth to the understanding; but they cannot enlighten the faculty itself, as God does, 1 John 5: 20. He giveth man understanding as well as instructions, to be understood; he opens the eyes of the understanding, as well as propoundeth the object, Eph. 1: 18. And thus we may discern and distinguish the teachings of God from all other teachings.
Third use of exhortation.
The last use I shall make of this point, shall be a word of exhortation, both to them that never were yet effectually taught of God, and to them also that have heard his voice, and are come to Christ.
First, To those that never yet heard the voice of God speaking to their hearts; and truly this is the general case of most men and women, in the professing world: They have heard the sound of the gospel, but it has been a confused, empty, and ineffectual sound in their ears; they have heard the voice of man, but have never yet heard the voice of God. The gifts and abilities of preachers have, in a notional and mere human way, improved their understandings, and sometimes slightly touched their affections: All this is but the effect of man upon man. O that you would look for something which is beyond all this: satisfy not yourselves with what is merely natural and human in ordinances; come to the word with higher ends and more spiritual designs, than to get some notions of truth which you had not before, or to judge the gifts and abilities of the speaker: If God speak not to your hearts, all the ordinances in the world can do you no good, 1 Cor. 3: 7. O remember what a solemn and awful thing it is to come to those ordinances, and attend upon that ministration, in and by which the eternal decrees of heaven are to be executed upon your souls, which must be to you the "savour of life unto life, or of death unto death;" Wrestle with God by prayer for a blessing upon the ordinances. Say, "Lord, speak thyself to my heart, let me hear thy voice, and feel thy power in this prayer, or in this sermon: Others have heard thy voice, cause me to hear it: It had been much better for me if I had never heard the voice of preachers, except I hear thy voice in them."
Secondly, Let all those that have heard the voice of God, and are come to Christ in the virtue of his teachings, admire the wonderful condescension of God to them. O that God should speak to thy soul, and be silent to others! There be many thousands living at this day under ordinances, to whom the Lord has not given an ear to hear, nor an heart to obey, Deut. 29: 4. "To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given," Mat. 13: 11. And I beseech you, walk as men and women that have been taught of God. When Satan and your corruptions tempt you to sin, and to walk in the ways of the carnal and careless world; remember then that scripture, Eph. 4:!30, 21. "But ye have not so learned Christ, if so be that you have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus." To conclude, see that you be exceeding humble, and lowly in spirit. Humility qualifies you for divine teachings, Psal. 25: 9. The meek he will teach; and the more ye are taught of God, the more humble you will still be.
And thus you see, that no man can come to Christ without the application of the law, and the teachings of the Father; which being considered, may be very useful to convince us, (which indeed is the design of it) that among the multitudes of men and women, living under the ordinances of God, and the general profession of religion, there are but few, very few to be found, who have effectually received the Lord Jesus Christ by saving faith.
And now, reader, I suppose by this time thou art desirous to know by what signs and evidences thy union with Christ by faith may be cleared up, and made evident to thee; and how that great question, whether thou hast yet effectually applied Christ to thy soul or no, may be clearly decided; which brings me to the third general use of the whole, viz.
The examination of our interest in Christ, by
1. The donation of the Spirit, from 1 John 3: 24.
2. The new creation, from 2 Cor. 5: 17.
S. The mortification of sin, from Gal. 5: 24.
4. The imitation of Christ, from 1 John 2: 6.
Of each of these trials of our interest in Christ I shall speak in their order: And, first, of the donation of the Spirit.