Fool's Gold & Fairweather Faith
Part 10: Preparations for Sufferings
In John Flavel's writings,* especially his time-honored work "Preparation for Sufferings," we find a sharp demarcation between traditional beliefs about salvation and God's grace, and the easy-believism, cheap grace gospel of today's postmodern churches. Have we become so watered down, so drenched in post-modernism's syrupy pap, that we cannot remember what Scripture actually says about the way of salvation? Perhaps we have never been taught.
Today's excerpts come from a chapter inserted in between Flavel's instructions for general preparations for suffering (see Part 9 of this series) and his writings about enduring actual suffering. Flavel apparently felt it necessary, before proceeding to describe how to prepare for actual persecution, to make sure that the reader knew fully well beforehand what it means to be a true believer of Christ. Note: this lesson may come as a hard one to those who haven't heard it before, and we even considered omitting it. Yet it is apparent that without this chapter the rest of Flavel's writings might seem formulaic or prescriptive. And unless the reader grasps the spiritual implications of this chapter in his heart it would be fruitless to proceed.
A Palpably Evident Change
Flavel outlines "God's work of grace" which "consists in the real change of the whole man by the Spirit of God, whereby he is prepared for every good work." This work of grace is accompanied by a "palpably evident change" in the life of a true believer, which Flavel describes as "old things are passed away, behold all things are become new," and "a turning from darkness to light." Flavel emphasizes this point -- that a believer is a "new creature," a concept that is foreign to the man-centered, psychology-infused false gospels of today. He isn't just a re-made old man. He isn't simply patched up, equipped with various fadish appendages, reshifted, reshaped and remolded. He is a new creature!
Flavel takes pains to distinguish God's "work of grace" that consists "in a real change of the whole man" from other changes that men may manifest -- superficial, partial, insincere or incomplete changes which can easily be mistaken for true salvation. Indeed, in our day, when discernment is greatly denigrated, it is easy for men to act like believers, go through the outward motions, say the right words, perform the correct activities, and fool everyone. This is especially true in the ecumenical realm of church or mission organizations, where one can get by a good long time by playing the game, without ever experiencing genuine salvation. This is also true in the Christian Right, where common political causes have helped to create a climate of false religiosity. One doesn't even need to profess the Christian faith to make huge inroads into the faith. In fact, people are routinely permitted to get by with the outer trappings of being morally "right," and possessing good character and values, but in reality evidencing no true conversion in the inner man. There are many who call themselves believers, but are really fairweather friends professing a fool's gold faith. At the moment their external profession of faith is no longer popular, expedient, politically or monetarily advantageous, or a suitable means to obtaining more power, they will abandon it.
Flavel helps us discriminate between true and the false faith, as evidenced by substantial changes in the life of the professing believer. Note what true faith is NOT:
- "It is not a mere change of the judgment from error to truth, from Paganism to Christianity. Such a change Simon Magus had, yet still remained in the gall of bitterness, and fast bound in the bonds of iniquity, Acts. 8:23."
- It is not merely a change of a "man's practice, from profaneness to civility: This is common among such as live under the light of the Gospel, which breaking into men's consciences, thwarts their lusts, and over-awes them with the fears of hell: Which is no more than what the Gentiles had, Rom. 2:15."
- "Nor is it a change from mere morality to mere formality in religion. Thus hypocrites are changed by the common gifts of the Spirit, illuminating their minds, and slightly touching their affections, Heb 4:4,5."
- "Nor is it such a change as justification makes, which is relative, and only alters the state and condition, Rom. 5:1,2."
Not Fool's Gold
What then is this profound change that Flavel speaks of so earnestly? He says,
But this change consists in the infusion of new habits of grace into the old faculties; which immediately depose sin from its dominion over the soul, and deliver up the soul into the hands and government of Christ, so that it lives no more to itself, but to Christ. This is that change whereof we speak.
It is very interesting that at this very point of distinction Flavel asserts such a believer is so radically transformed by God's grace that he will be "presently branded for a fanatic." This new creature, i.e., regenerate man, has been so substantially altered that this change cannot be dismissed as merely conceits, whimsies or fancies of faith. Putting it in our modern lingo, Flavel is basically stating that faith cannot be a "fad." Flavel describes how true faith is devoid of such superficiality:
- This new man "is called a creature, Gal. 6:15; a man, 1 Pet 3:4; a new birth, John 3:3. Christ formed in us, Gal. 4:12."
- This faith "appears to be real by the marvellous effects it hath upon a man, turning him both in judgment, will, affections, and practice, quite counter to what he was before. This is evident in the famous instance of Paul, Gal. 1:23."
- "A divine and Almighty power goes forth to produce and work it; and hence faith is said to be of the operation of God, Col. 2:12. Yea, that the same power which raised Jesus Christ from the dead, goes to the production of it, Eph. 1:19,20."
- "Conceits and whimsies abound most in men of weak reason: Children, and such as are cracked in their understandings, have [conceits and whimsies]: Strength of reason banishes them, as the sun doth mists and vapours: But now the more rational any gracious person is, by so much the more he is fixed, settled, and satisfied in the grounds of religion: Yea, there is the highest and purest reason in religion; and when this change is wrought upon men, it is carried on in a rational way, Isaiah 1:13, John 16:9. The Spirit overpowers the understanding with clear demonstrations, and silences all objections, pleas, and pretences to the contrary."
- True faith is much more than a matter of fancy or conceit. Flavel notes, "It is a real thing, and gracious souls know it to be so; else so many thousands of the saints would never have suffered so many cruel torments and miseries, rather than forsake a fancy, and so save all.... [T]hey have chosen rather to embrace the stake [i.e. burning at the stake] than deny [Christ]. Surely no wise man would sacrifice his liberty, estate, life, and all that is dear, for a conceit."
- The reality of faith "appears in its uniformity in all those in whom it is wrought: They have all obtained like precious faith, 2 Pet. 1:1. They are all changed into the same image, 2 Cor. 3:18. Three thousand persons affected in one and the same manner at one sermon, Acts 2:37. Could one and the same conceit possess them altogether?"
- "It is manifest, it is a reality, and puts a real difference betwixt one and another, because God carries Himself so differently towards them after their conversion; now He smiles, before He frowned; now they are under the promises, before they were under the threats and curses; and what a vast difference will He put betwixt the one and the other in that Great Day? See Matt 25."
- His understanding is "strangely altered." Formerly he "admired riches and honour, whilst Christ and glory were overlooked and despised. But now all these temporals are esteemed dung, dross, vanity, Phil 3:8,11; Rom 8:18."
- "Jesus Christ is now esteemed the wisdom and the power of God, 1 Cor. 1:23,24."
- Saints are no longer looked on "as despicable persons, but now as the excellent of the earth, Psalm 16:3."
- "Strictness and duty was once esteemed as a needless thing, but now the only thing desirable, Psal 119:14."
- The "stronghold" of the will "is taken and delivered up to Christ. It did rebel against God, and could not be subject, but now it submits, Acts 9:6."
- Love "changeth its object: It seizeth not so greedily on earthly objects as before, but is strangely cooled and deadened to them, by the appearance of a far greater glory in Jesus Christ; which hath so captivated the soul, and strongly attracted the affection, that it now becomes very remiss in all its actings towards [earthly things].... Now Jesus Christ (Cant. 1:3), His ordinances (Psalm 119:97), and His saints (1 John 3:14) are the only delights and sweetest companions; he could sit from morning till night, to hear discourses of Christ his beloved, and could live and die in the company of His people, whose company is now most delightful and sweet, Psalm 119:63."
- "The desires are altered, they pant no more after the dust of the earth, Psal 4:6, but pant for God,... Psalm 42:1... Psalm 119:20."
- "The thoughts are changed (Psalm 119:113) and the thoughts of God are now most precious (Psalm 139:17), musing when alone of Him; and in its solitudes the soul entertains itself with a delightful feast, which its thoughts of God bring in to refresh it, Psalm 63:5,6."
- "The designs and projects of the soul are changed; all are now swallowed up in one grand design, even to approve himself to God, and be accepted of Him, 2 Cor. 5:9.... and it will not much trouble him if all his other designs should be dashed."
- "When the sabbath comes (that golden spot of the week,) oh how he longs to see the beauty of the Lord in his ordinances. Psalm 73."
"O there is a vast difference betwixt a man that works for wages, and one whose work is wages to him. And here you may at once see wherein the principal difference betwixt the hypocrite and real Christian lies in the performance of duty; and also have a true account of the reason why one perseveres in his work to the end, when the other flags. Why, here is the true account of both; the one is moved to duty from a natural inclination to it, and the other is forced upon it by some external motives: For the hypocrite takes not delight in the spiritual and inward part of duty, but is secretly weary of it, Mal 1:13, only his ambition and self-ends put him upon it is as a task. But now the upright heart goes to God as his joy, Psalm 63:4."
"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness." (Matthew 23:27)
1. Works of John Flavel (6 vol set), Banner of Truth Trust (1820, 1968), ISBN 0-85151-060-4. Flavel's dissertation titled "Preparations for Suffering, or The Best Work in the Worst Times" appears in Volume 6, pages 3-83.
2. 1 Corinthians 5:17 states: "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."
3. Acts 26:18 describes salvation most fully: "To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me."
4. I Cor. 5:17, Ibid.
5. The full account of this story can be found in Acts 8:9-24. Scripture tells us that Simon Magus "believed" and "was baptized," but offered Peter and Philip money in order to obtain more spiritual "power." But Peter told him that "thy heart is not right in the sight of God" and advised him to repent of "this thy wickedness... For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity" (vs. 22-23).
6. Romans 2:15 explains of these types of men that: "Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another."
7. This is an interesting view of Hebrews 6:4,5 (and we have included verse 6), which says: "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame."
8. Romans 5:1,2 states: "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God." We do not believe that Flavel is denigrating justification here, but rather, in the context of all of his remarks, he is pointing out that this is not an ending point, but rather a place from which to grow in the faith.
9. Galatians 6:15 states: "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature." 1 Peter 3:4 describes it as "But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible,even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price." In Galatians 4:12, Paul exhorts believers to model him as he has modeled Christ for them, "Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all."
10. Galatians 1:24 tells of Paul's miraculous testimony that "But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed."
11. Colossians 2:12 state this profound change: "Buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead."
12. Ephesians 1:19-20 explains, "And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places," and this sentence continues on with several more amazing verses, 21-24, which should also be read in this context.
13. Isaiah 1:18 is the well-known verse where the Lord states to us, "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."
14. There are many unfortunate copy errors in the Bible references in Flavel's writings. We believe Flavel is referring to John 16:13, which makes more sense in his subsequent statement, "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come."
15. 2 Peter 1:1 states: "Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ:"
16. 2 Corinthians 3:18 explains the miraculous nature of this substantial change: "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord."
17. Acts 2:37 testifies to this miracle that: "Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?"
18. Philippians 3:8 is where Paul proclaims, "Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ," and in verse 11 he reveals his focus, "If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead." Romans 8:18 also reveals the eternal focus: "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."
19. I Corinthians 1:23-24 explains, "But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God."
20. Psalm 16:3 encourages us with, "But to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight."
21. Psalm 119:14 says, "I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches." Is this focus true for you today?
22. In Acts 9:6 we read of Saul's immediate obedience to the Lord on the Road to Damascus. "And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do."
23. Are these sayings true for you today, dear reader? Are these your priorities? Song of Solomon 1:3a proclaims love of the Lord: "Because of the savour of thy good ointments thy name is as ointment poured forth...." Psalm 119:97 proclaims love of His ordinances, which are meditated on continually: "O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day." Verse 63 in the same Psalm announces, "I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts." And 1 John 3:14 also proclaims love of the brethren, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death."
24. Psalm 4:6 expresses the need and desire for the Lord, "There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? LORD, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us." Psalm 42:1 is a familiar verse of longing for the Lord, "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God." And Psalm 119:20 expresses a longing for God's judgments: "My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments at all times."
25. Psalm 119:113 confesses, "I hate vain thoughts: but thy law do I love." Psalm 139:17 (the error in the original text has been corrected here) reads: "How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!" And Psalm 63:5-6 explains what biblical meditation really is all about: "My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips: When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches."
26. 2 Corinthians 5:9 professes the desire, "Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him."
27. 1 John 5:3 promises us that, "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous."
28. Malachi 1:13 warns of a false-hearted faith, "Ye said also, Behold, what a weariness is it! and ye have snuffed at it, saith the LORD of hosts; and ye brought that which was torn, and the lame, and the sick; thus ye brought an offering: should I accept this of your hand? saith the LORD."
29. Psalm 63:4 expresses this joy with "Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name."
*ED. NOTE: Italics in original, bold added. We have taken minor liberties to reformat some of the published text by altering some of the punctuation, Roman numerals, and other obsolete forms.