The benefits of Christ listed in 1 Corinthians 1:30 are applied to us severally to remedy the distress we have suffered from the Fall and the Curse.
Wisdom responds to the “senseless state” caused by sin — which inflicts a stupid foolishness which overwhelms any otherwise capable intellectual ability. In particular, sin has made humanity unable to rightly know how to remedy the damage of sin (as evidenced by the multiplicity of human inventions to overcome the presence and effect of sin):
by imparting his wisdom to them by the Spirit of illumination, whereby they come to discern both their sin and danger; as also the true way of their recovery from both, through the application of Christ to their souls by faith.
Now, such knowledge alone does not remedy the human condition. In quotation which anticipates Kierkegaard (on despair) by 200 years, Flavel notes that knowledge of our condition in the face of God does not bring us ease, but rather increases our despair:
But alas! simple illumination does but increase our burden, and exasperate our misery as long as sin in the guilt of it is either imputed to our persons unto condemnation, or reflected by our consciences in a way of accusation.
Thus, God does not leave us with merely a knowledge of our trouble, but also brings Christ as the remedy to the sight of wisdom:
With design therefore to remedy and heal this sore evil, Christ is made of God unto us righteousness, complete and perfect righteousness, whereby our obligation to punishment is dissolved, and thereby a solid foundation for a well-settled peace of conscience firmly established.
The remedy brought about the imputation of Christ’s righteousness becomes a basis for conformation. Christ becomes our “sanctification” — “to relieve us form the dominion and pollutions of our corruptions”. And yet, in our lives, even then corruption remains:
For even with the best and holiest of men, what swarms of vanity, loads of deadness, and fits of unbelief, do daily appear in, and oppress their souls! to the embittering of all the comforts of life to them? And how many diseases, deformities, and pains oppress their bodies, which daily boulder away by them, till they fall into the grave by death, even as the bodies of other men do, who never received such privileges from Christ as they do? For if “Christ be in us (as the apostle speaks, Rom. 8: 10.) the body is dead, because of sin:” Sanctification exempts us not from mortality.
(A side note on the Puritans: One misses their humanity completely if one does not see the move of Flavel in this passage. Without question they push the point of perfect holiness being the demand of God. And yet, they never cease to couple the demand for perfection with the constant recognition that no one is perfect — especially not the preacher. We can be tempted to either dispense with the demands of holiness, seeing it is too great; or, we can sink into a ridiculous hypocrisy and ignore the humanity. The Puritans avoided both, but rather looked to the demand of holiness as a constant desire — they expressly coupled holiness to happiness, as did Jonathan Edwards a couple of generations later — and they noted also the unending mercy and compassion of God in Jesus Christ. They held strongly to assurance and perseverance, but never to a thoughtless cheap grace.)
Flavel in fact, moves directly to the matter of happiness after he notes the impossibility of obtaining perfect holiness here and now (note, how he draws this directly from the text of 1 Corinthians 1:30):
But yet something is required beyond all this to make our happiness perfect and entire wanting nothing; and that is the removal of those doleful effects and consequences of sin, which (not withstanding all the fore-mentioned privileges and mercies) still lie upon the souls and bodies of illuminated, justified, and sanctified persons.
But from all these, and whatsoever else, the fruits and consequences of sin, Christ is redemption to his people also: This seals up the sum of mercies: This so completes the happiness of the saints, that it leaves nothing to desire.
Flavel ends this discussion with a couple of necessary points. First, he notes that the Holy Spirit conveys to use a “whole Christ”:
That Christ and his benefits go inseparably and undividedly together: it is Christ himself who is made all this unto us: we can have no saving benefit separate and apart from the person of Christ: many would willingly receive his privileges, who will not receive his person; but it cannot be; if we will have one, we must take the other too: Yea, we must accept his person first, and then his benefits: as it is in the marriage covenant, so it is here.
This point was originally raised by Calvin in response to the Roman Catholic concern that justification was a bare legal fiction: that is, God merely called someone “justified” when nothing of the sort had taken place (beyond the words ‘not guilty’). This criticism is certainly valid in the manner in which many currently claim to proclaim the Gospel. Dallas Willard calls such people “barcode” Christians: They claim to have a label of Christian even though nothing of Christ has touched their lives.
Calvin and Flavel would have as much horror for such a “Gospel” as the Roman Catholic opponents of Calvin did. What Calvin and Flavel taught (and that which all orthodox reformed Christians must also teach) is that when the believer is united to Christ, the Holy Spirit does not merely impute righteousness as a legal designation, but rather conveys a whole, undivided Christ. Christ is righteous before God and certainly that righteous status is conveyed — but the wisdom and sanctification and redemption of the body is likewise conveyed. Everything of Christ is conveyed to the believer in a manner fit for its use.
The Christian is not merely declared holy as a positional matter, the Christian is likewise brought to true holiness — which holiness will be fully complete at the final redemption of our lives (1 John 3:1-2; a point at which perhaps we should explore the matter of adoption).
Flavel pointedly secures all the operation of this transformation within the providence of God:
That this application of Christ is the work of God, and not of man: “Of God he is made unto us:” The same hand that prepared it, must also apply it, or else we perish, notwithstanding all that the Father has done in contriving, and appointing, and all that the Son has done in executing, and accomplishing the design thus far. And this actual application is the work of the Spirit, by a singular appropriation.