The Method of Grace
by John Flavel
Necessity of Being Taught of God
"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, comes unto me." John 6:45
In the former sermon, you have been taught this great truth;
Doctrine. That the teachings of God are absolutely necessary to
every soul that comes 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 show 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 teaches powerfully; he speaks to the soul with a
strong hand; when the word comes 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 accustomed 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, until 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
3. God teaches plainly and clearly: He not only opens truths
to the understanding, but he opens the understanding also to
perceive them, 2 Cor. 3: 16 In that day the veil is taken away from
the heart; a light shines 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
Proverbs 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 teaches us, we may be as sure of the
truth of what he teaches; for his Spirit guides 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, Psalm. 119: 98. they are ever
wish it: The words of men vanish from us; but the words of God abide
by us: what God teaches, he writes 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 you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom
you have sent." This is deservedly stiled the light of this life,
John 8: 12. "In this light we shall see light," Psalm. 36: 9.
Seventhly, The teachings of God make their own way into the
dullest and weakest capacities, Isaiah 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,
Matthew. 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." 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
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 teaches, into the very mold of those
truths which they learn of him, Romans 6: 17. These are the teachings
of God, and thus he instructs 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
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, until God teach as well as they. Paul is nothing, and Apollos
nothing, but God that gives 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 until it hear the voice of God.
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, until God shows us the face of it in the glass
of the law, and then it appears exceeding sinful, Romans 7: 13. We
think God to be such a one as ourselves, Psalm. 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, until 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, namely,
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
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 whatever
can divorce or separate them; for,
First, Sin is connatural with the soul, it is born and bred
with a man; Psalm. 2: 4. Isaiah 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
Thirdly, Sin is the delight of a sinner: "It is sport to a fool
to do mischief," Proverbs 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 enchant their hearts, to that
degree of madness and fascination, that they rather choose 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
rushes 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 enchanted 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 who gives repentance, Acts 5: 31. It is the Lord
that "takes away the heart of stone, and gives an heart of flesh,
Ezek. 36: 26. It is he who pours 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 teaches it, and never until then.
Thirdly, The nature of faith, by which we come to Christ,
plainly shows the impossibility of coming without the Father's
teaching. Everything 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 sees things that are
invisible. The adventures of faith are supernatural; for "against
hope, a man believes in hope, giving glory to God," Romans 4: 18. By
faith a man goes 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 subdues and purges the most obstinate and deep rooted
corruptions within, Acts 15: 9. It overcomes 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 asserts 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
Inference. 2. Hence we may also inform ourselves, how it comes to
pass that so many rational, wise and learned men miss Christ, while
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 Matthew. 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 dries up the green tree, and makes the dry
tree to flourish. Many natural men have very fine brains, searching
wits, solid judgments, nimble fancies, tenacious memories; they can
search out the mysteries of nature, solve the phenomena, 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, Psalm 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, while we with all our learning shall descend into
Inference. 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; yes why the labors 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, while that which is
more artificial, neat and labored, comes to nothing. St. Austin has
a pretty similitude to illustrate this; Suppose, says 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 comes 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 labors, and to make men less fond of their own gifts and
abilities; blear-eyed Leah may bear children, when beautiful Rachel
Inference. 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 you 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 yourself because of your ignorance in natural or
moral things: you have that, reader, which will bring you to
heaven; and he is a truly wise man that knows the way of salvation,
though he be ignorant and unskillful in other things: you know
those things which all the learned doctors and libraries in the
world could never teach you, but God has revealed them to you;
others have more science, you have more savor 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
spoke to your hearts, and has effectually taught you such lessons,
as were mentioned in our last discourse? O there is a vast
difference between that notional, speculative, and traditional
knowledge which man learns from men, and that spiritual,
operative, and transforming knowledge which a man learns 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 puffs up, 1 Cor. 8: 1. but the
teachings of God do greatly abase the soul, Job 13: 5. "I have heard
of you by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye sees you;
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, discovers also the vileness, baseness, emptiness,
and total unworthiness of men; yes, of the best and holiest of men,
Isaiah 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 shows unto man the evil of sin, he so
convinces the soul, that no creature-comforts have any pleasure or
sweetness in them; and when he shows unto man his righteousness,
pardon, and peace in Christ, he so comforts and refreshes 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, Psalm. 94: 19. "In the multitude of my thoughts within
me, your 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 you 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 says
to the soul, Be comforted, be humbled; it is effectually comforted,
Isaiah 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 show it unto you." When God speaks
unto the heart of man, whether in a way of conviction, consolation,
or instruction in duty, he always either makes 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
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 gives man
understanding as well as instructions, to be understood; he opens
the eyes of the understanding, as well as propounds 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
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 "savor of
life unto life, or of death unto death;" Wrestle with God by prayer
for a blessing upon the ordinances. Say, "Lord, speak yourself to my
heart, let me hear your voice, and feel your power in this prayer, or
in this sermon: Others have heard your 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 your 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
your 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 you 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, Psalm. 25: 9. The meek he will teach; and the more
you 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 you are desirous to
know by what signs and evidences your union with Christ by faith
may be cleared up, and made evident to you; and how that great
question, whether you have yet effectually applied Christ to your
soul or no, may be clearly decided; which brings me to the third
general use of the whole, namely,
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.