The Fountain of Life
The Fountain of Life opened up: or, a display
of Christ in his essential and mediatorial glory.
by John Flavel
The Excellency of the Subject
"For I determined not to know anything among you, save
Jesus Christ, and him crucified." 1 Cor. 2:2.
The former verse contains an apology for the plain and
familiar manner of the apostle's preaching, which was not (as he there tells
them) with excellency of speech, or of wisdom; I. e. he studied not to
gratify their curiosity with rhetorical strains, or philosophical niceties.
In this he gives the reason, "for I determined not to know anything among
you, save Jesus Christ," &c.
"I determined not to know." The meaning is not, that he
simply despised, or condemned all other studies and knowledge; but so far
only as they stand in competition with, or opposition to the study and
knowledge of Jesus Christ. And it is as if he should say, it is my stated,
settled judgment; not a hasty, inconsiderate censure, but the product and
issue of my most serious and exquisite enquiries. After I have well weighed
the case, turned it round, viewed it exactly on every side, balanced all
advantages and disadvantages, pondered all things, that are fit to come into
consideration about it; this is the result and final determination, that all
other knowledge, how profitable, how pleasant soever, is not worthy to be
named in the same day with the knowledge of Jesus Christ. This, therefore, I
resolve to make the scope and end of my ministry, and the end regulates the
mean; such pedantic toys, and airy notions as injudicious ears affect, would
rather obstruct than promote my grand design among you; therefore, wholly
waving that way, I applied myself to a plain, popular, unaffected dialect,
fitted rather to pierce the heart, and convince the conscience, than to
tickle the fancy. This is the scope of the words, in which three things fall
First, The subject matter of his doctrine, to wit, Jesus
Christ. "I determined to know nothing," that is, to study nothing myself, to
teach nothing to you, but "Jesus Christ." Christ shall be the center to
which all the lines of my ministry shall be drawn. I have spoken and written
of many other subjects in my sermons and epistles, but it is all reductively
the preaching and discovery of Jesus Christ: of all the subjects in the
world, this is the sweetest; if there be any thing on this side heaven,
worthy our time and studies, this is it. Thus he magnifies his doctrine,
from the excellency of its subject-matter, accounting all other doctrines
but airy things, compared with this.
Secondly, We have here that special respect or
consideration of Christ, which he singled out from all the rest of the
excellent truths of Christ, to spend the main strength of his ministry upon;
and that is, Christ as crucified: and the rather, because hereby he would
obviate the vulgar prejudice raised against him upon the account of his
cross; "For Christ crucified was to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the
Greeks foolishness," chapter 1:23. This also best suited his end, to draw
them on to Christ; as Christ above all other subjects, so Christ crucified
above all things in Christ. There is, therefore, a great emphasis in this
word, "and him crucified."
Thirdly, The manner in which he discoursed this
transcendent subject to them, is also remarkable; he not only preached
Christ crucified, but he preached him assiduously and plainly. He preached
Christ frequently; "and whenever he preached of Christ crucified, he
preached him in a crucified stile." This is the sum of the words; to let
them know that his spirit was intent upon this subject, as if he neither
knew, nor cared to speak of any other. All his sermons were so full of
Christ, that his hearers might have thought he was acquainted with no other
doctrine. Hence observe,
DOCTRINE. That 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
excellency 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, and then these
lovely properties with which it is naturally clothed, will render it
superior to all other sciences and studies.
1st, 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; and how they both harmonize, and sweetly center 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 excellency 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 come 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.
2dly, The knowledge of Jesus Christ is a fundamental
knowledge; and foundations are most useful, though least seen. 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; Col. 3:10. "The new man is renewed in knowledge." 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, 2 Pet. 3:18. "But grow in
grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior." 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 answerable.
(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, Isa. 53:11. "By his knowledge shall
my righteous servant justify many;" and hence, John 6:40, seeing and
believing are made the same thing. 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 Pet. 1:3, he is also its object, Heb. 6:19. its ground-work 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 very
Heathen could say--men must not speak of God without light: the true way of
conversing with, and enjoying God in prayer, is by acting faith on him
through a Mediator: so much comfort and true excellency there is in it, and
no more. 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, Phil. 3:3. "Our rejoicing is in "Christ Jesus."
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, it will make them kiss the
stakes, sing in flames, and shout in the pangs of death, as men that divide
Lastly, 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, John 17:3. "This is life eternal, to know you
the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." 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. The excellent gifts, and renowned parts of the moral
Heathens, though they purchased to them great esteem and honor among men,
yet left them in a state of perdition, because of this great defect, they
were ignorant of Christ, 1 Cor. 1:21. Thus you see how fundamental the
knowledge of Christ is, essentially necessary to all the graces, duties,
comforts and happiness of souls.
3dly, The knowledge of Christ is profound and large; all
other sciences are but shadows; this is a boundless, bottomless ocean; no
creature has a line long enough to fathom the depth of it; there is height,
length, depth and breadth ascribed to it, Eph. 3:18, yes, it passes
knowledge. There is "a manifold wisdom of God in Christ," Eph. 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. I see
something, said Luther, which blessed Austin saw not; and those that come
after me, will see that which I see not. It is in the studying of Christ, as
in the planting of a new discovered country; at first men sit down by the
sea-side, 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!
4thly, 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?
Eph. 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, 2 Cor. 3:9. and the studying of Christ in the gospel,
stamps such a heavenly glory upon the contemplating soul, ver. 18.
5thly, It is the most sweet and comfortable knowledge; to
be studying Jesus Christ, what is it 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?
Doubtless, Philip's ecstasy, John 1:25. "We have found Jesus," was far
beyond that of Archimedes. A believer could sit from morning to night, to
hear discourses of Christ; "His mouth is most sweet", Cant. 5:16.
Secondly, Let us compare this knowledge with all other
knowledge, and thereby the excellency of it will farther appear.
1. All other knowledge is natural, but this wholly
supernatural, Mat. 11:27. "No man knows the Son, but the Father", neither
knows any the Father, save the Son, and he to whom soever the Son will
reveal him." 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 excellency of the
knowledge of Christ, that men of most blunt, dull and contemptible parts
attain, through the teaching of the Spirit, to this knowledge, in which the
more acute and ingenious are utterly blind. Mat. 11:25, "I thank you, O
Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hid these things from the
wise and prudent, and have revealed them unto babes." 1 Cor. 1:26, 27. "You
see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not
many mighty, not many noble are called: but God has chosen the foolish
things of the world, to confound the wise," &c.
3. Other knowledge, though you should attain the highest
degree of it, would never bring you to heaven, being defective and lame both
in the integrity of parts, the principal thing, viz. Christ, being wanting;
and in the purity of its nature: for the knowing Heathens grew vain in their
imaginations, Rom. 1:21, and in the efficacy and influence of it on the
heart and life, They held the truth in unrighteousness; their lusts were
stronger than their light, Rom. 1:18. But this knowledge has potent
influences, changing souls, into its own image, 2 Cor. 3:18, and so proves a
saving knowledge unto men, 1 Tim. 2:4. And thus I have in a few particulars
pointed out the transcendence of the knowledge of Christ.
The use of all this I shall give you in a few inferences,
on which I shall not enlarge, the whole being only preliminary to the
doctrine of Christ; only for the present I shall hence infer,
The sufficiency of the doctrine of Christ, to make men
wise unto salvation. Paul desired to know nothing else; and, indeed, nothing
else is of absolute necessity to be known. A little of this knowledge, if
saving and effectual upon your heart, will do your soul more service, than
all the vain speculation and profound parts that others so much glory in.
Poor Christian, be not dejected, because you sees yourself out-stripped and
excelled by so many in other parts of knowledge; if you know Jesus Christ,
you know enough to comfort and save your soul. Many learned philosophers are
now in hell, and many illiterate Christians in heaven.
If there be such excellency in the knowledge of Christ,
let it humble all, both saints and sinners, that we have no more of this
clear and effectual knowledge in us, notwithstanding the excellent
advantages we have had for it. Sinners, concerning you I may sigh and say
with the apostle, 1 Cor. 15:34. "Some have not the knowledge of Christ, I
speak this to your shame". This, O this is the condemnation. And even for
you that are enlightened in this knowledge, how little do you know of Jesus
Christ, in comparison of what you might have known of him? What a shame is
it, that you should need to be taught the very first truths, "when for the
time you might have been teachers of others?" Heb. 5:12, 13, 14. "That your
ministers cannot speak unto you as spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as
unto babes in Christ," 1 Cor. 3:1, 2. O how much time is spent in other
studies, in vain discourses, frivolous pamphlets, worldly employments? How
little is the search and study of Jesus Christ.
How sad is their condition that have a knowledge of
Christ, and yet as to themselves it had been better they had never had it!
Many there be that content themselves with an unpractical, ineffectual, and
merely notional knowledge of him; of whom the apostle says, "It had been
better for them not to have known," 2 Pet. 2:21. It serves only to aggravate
sin and misery; for though it be not enough to save them, yet it puts some
weak restraints upon sin, which their impetuous lusts breaking down, exposes
them thereby to a greater damnation.
Fourthly, This may inform us by what rule to judge both
ministers and doctrine. Certainly that is the highest commendation of a
minister, to be an able minister of the New Testament; not of the letter,
but of the Spirit, 2 Cor. 3:6. He is the best artist, that can most lively
and powerfully display Jesus Christ before the people, evidently setting him
forth as crucified among them; and that is the best sermon, that is most
full of Christ, not of are and language. I know that a holy dialect well
becomes Christ's ministers, they should not be crude and careless in
language or method; but surely the excellency of a sermon lies not in that,
but in the plainest discoveries and liveliest applications of Jesus Christ.
Let all that mind the honor of religion, or the peace and
comfort of their own souls, wholly sequester and apply themselves to the
study of Jesus Christ, and him crucified. Therefore spend we ourselves upon
other studies, when all excellency, sweetness, and desirableness is
concentered in this one? Jesus Christ is fairer than the children of men,
the chief among ten thousands, "as the apple-tree among the trees of the
woods." These things which singly ravish and delight the souls of men, are
all found conjunctly in Christ. O what a blessed Christ is this! whom to
know is eternal life. From the knowledge of Jesus Christ do bud forth all
the fruits of comfort, and that for all seasons and conditions. Hence Rev.
22:2, he is called "the tree of life, which bears twelve manner of fruits,
and yields its fruit every month; and the very leaves of this tree are for
healing." In Christ souls have, (1.) All necessaries for food and physic.
(2.) All varieties of fruits, twelve manner of fruits; a distinct sweetness
in this, in that, and in the other attribute, promise, ordinance. (3.) In
him are these fruits at all times, he bears fruit every month; there is
precious fruit in Jesus Christ, even in the black month; winter fruits as
well as summer fruits. O then study Christ, study to know him more
extensively. There be many excellent things in Christ, that the most
eagle-eyed believer has not yet seen: Ah! 'tis pity that anything of Christ
should lie hid from his people. Study to know Christ more intensively, to
get the experimental taste and lively power of his knowledge upon your
hearts and affections: This is the knowledge that carries all the sweetness
and comfort in it. Christian, I dare appeal to your experience, whether the
experimental taste of Jesus Christ, in ordinances and duties, has not a
higher and sweeter relish than any created enjoyment you ever tasted in this
world? O then separate, devote, and wholly give yourself, your time, your
strength to this most sweet transcendent study.
Lastly, Let me close the whole with a double caution; one
to ourselves, who by our callings and professions are the ministers of
Christ; another to those that sit under the doctrine of Christ daily.
First, If this doctrine be the most excellent, necessary,
fundamental, profound, noble, and comfortable doctrine, let us then take
heed lest, while we study to be exact in other things, we be found ignorant
in this. You know it is ignominious, by the common suffrage of the civilized
world, for any man to be unacquainted with his own calling, or not to attend
the proper business of it: it is our calling, as the Bridegroom's friends,
to woo and win souls to Christ, to set him forth to the people as crucified
among them, Gal. 3:1, to present him in all his attractive excellencies,
that all hearts may be ravished with his beauty, and charmed into his arms
by love: we must also be able to defend the truths of Christ against
undermining heretics, to instil his knowledge into the ignorant, to answer
the cases and scruples of poor doubting Christians. How many intricate knots
have we to untie? What pains, what skill is requisite for such as are
employed about our work? And shall we spend our precious time in frivolous
controversies, philosophical niceties, dry and barren scholastic notions?
Shall we study everything but Christ? Revolve all volumes but the sacred
ones? What is observed even of Bellarmine, that he turned with loathing from
school divinity, because it wanted the sweet juice of piety, may be
convictive to many among us, who are often too much in love with worse
employment than what he is said to loathe. O let the knowledge of Christ
dwell richly in us.
Secondly, Let us see that our knowledge of Christ be not
a powerless, barren, unpractical knowledge: O that, in its passage from our
understanding to our lips, it might powerfully melt, sweeten, and ravish our
hearts! Remember, brethren, a holy calling never saved any man, without a
holy heart; if our tongues only be sanctified, our whole man must be damned.
"We and our people must be judged by the same gospel, and stand at the same
bar, and be sentenced to the same terms, and dealt with as severely as any
other men: We cannot think to be saved by our clergy; as an eminent Divine
speaks. O let the keepers of the vineyard look to, and keep their own
vineyard: we have a heaven to win or lose, as well as others.
Thirdly, Let us take heed that we withhold not our
knowledge of Christ in unrighteousness from the people. O that our lips may
disperse knowledge and feed many. Let us take heed of the napkin,
remembering the day of account is at hand. Remember, I beseech you, the
relations wherein you stand, and the obligations resulting thence: Remember,
the great Shepherd gave himself for, and gave you to the flock; your time,
your gifts are not yours, but God's; remember the pinching wants of souls,
who are perishing for want of Christ; and if their tongues do not, yet their
necessities do bespeak us, as they did Joseph, Gen. 47:15. "Therefore should
we die in your presence? Give us food, that we may live and not die." Even
the sea monsters draw forth their breasts to their young ones, and shall we
be cruel! Cruel to souls! Did Christ not think it too much to sweat blood,
yes, to die for them? And shall we think it much to watch, study, preach,
pray, and do what we can for their salvation? O let the same mind be in you
which was also in Christ!
Secondly, To the people that sit under the doctrine of
Christ daily, and have the light of his knowledge shining round about them.
First, Take heed you do not reject and despise this
light. This may be done two ways: First, When you despise the means of
knowledge by slight and low esteems of it. Surely, if you thus reject
knowledge, God will reject you for it, Hos. 4:6. It is a despising of the
richest gift that ever Christ gave to the church; and however it be a
contempt and slight that begins low, and seems only to vent itself upon the
weak parts, in artificial discourses, and untaking tones and gestures of the
speakers; yet, believe it, it is a daring sin that flies higher than you are
aware, Luke 10:16 "He that despises you, despises me; and he that despises
me, despises him that sent me". Secondly, You despise the knowledge of
Christ, When you despise the directions and loving constraints of that
knowledge; when you refuse to be guided by your knowledge, your light and
your lusts contest and struggle within you. O it is sad when your lusts
master your light. You sin not as the heathens sin, who know not God; but
when you sin, you must slight and put by the notices of your own
consciences, and offer violence to your own convictions. And what sad work
will this make in your souls? How soon will it lay your consciences waste?
Secondly, Take heed that you rest not satisfied with that
knowledge of Christ you have attained, but grow on towards perfection. It is
the pride and ignorance of many professors, when they have got a few raw and
undigested notions, to swell with self-conceit of their excellent
attainments. And it is the sin, even of the best of saints, when they see
how deep the knowledge of Christ lies, and what pains they must take to dig
for it, to throw by the shovel of duty, and cry, Dig we cannot. To your
work, Christians, to your work; let not your candle go out: sequester
yourselves to this study, look what fellowship, and correspondence are
between the two worlds; what communion soever God and souls maintain, it is
in this way; count all, therefore, but dross in comparison of that
excellency which is in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.