The psychological state of poet was expressed along the same lines by John Owen in his book The Mortification of Sin, published 1656. Taylor, having left England in 1668 would have had access to the work.
This is the saddest warfare that any poor creature can be engaged in. A soul under the power of conviction from the law is pressed to fight against sin, but hath no strength for the combat. They cannot but fight, and they can never conquer; they are like men thrust on the sword of enemies on purpose to be slain. The law drives them on, and sin beats them back. Sometimes they think, indeed, that they have foiled sin, when they have only raised a dust that they see it not; that is, they distemper their natural affections of fear, sorrow, and anguish, which makes them believe that sin is conquered when it is not touched. By that time they are cold, they must to the battle again; and the lust which they thought to be slain appears to have had no wound.
And if the case be so sad with them who do labour and strive, and yet enter not into the kingdom, what is their condition who despise all this; who are perpetually under the power and dominion of sin, and love to have it so; and are troubled at nothing, but that they cannot make sufficient provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof?
John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 6 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 20.
This stanza is a desperate plea for help. He sees his sin, and sees nothing in himself by which to respond to the sin. And so in anguish he calls out. Notice the repetition of the prayer, which emphasizes his desperation:
Was ever heart like mine? My lord, declare.
I know not what to do: What shall I do?
I must change. I must be saved from this heart. But it is my heart? I cannot change it. When I look at it, it is a palace and playground of Satan. When I think my sin is gone, it comes back worse than ever. My prayers seemingly do not work. I am not affected by the Spirit. I see my problem clearly. I know it is there, and I do not know how to respond. What can I do?
I wonder, split I don’t upon despair. 45
It’s grace’s wonder that I wrack not so.
It is a wonder of grace that I have not completely split in two with despair over my sin. It is a wonder that I have not become bare wrack (left over after destruction).
In the end, his despair over his own sin tempts him to despair over God. To understand this we must know that “grace” here is a reference to any good which God will do him. The Puritans would speak of various aspects of grace, not merely the forgiveness of sin, but grace to withstand a temptation, et cetera:
I faintly shun’t, although I see this case
Would say, my sin is greater than thy grace.
What he would shun is the thought that God’s grace is insufficient.
Secondly, I shall speak to the properties of this departure from Christ, or loss therein.
In this short chapter he lays out aspects of the loss of Christ for eternity, which will be end of those without godliness. The purpose of this review is create a rationale and desire to pursue godliness, which will be the focus of the treatise.
This first paragraph is interesting in its ontology: he impliedly gives his understanding of the functioning of the soul.
1. It [the loss of Christ] is spiritual [loss]. It is a loss peculiar to the soul or spirit of man, and a loss of that good that is most suitable to the soul or spirit of man. No mercies are like soul-mercies, Eph. 1:3, and Job 4:4; no miseries are like soul-miseries.
This proposition is something which is not intuitive for someone reading the work today. The social imaginary is something along the lines of naturalism and materialism. The soul, at best, is a bare conception meant to express our self-awareness.
He then provides an image to back up his argument. This analogy is unlikely to be persuasive in an age of leveling – perhaps he would have to speak of a celebrity being made unhappy!
For, the nobler any being is, the better that is which advantageth it, and the worse that is that injureth it. It is one thing to relieve or abuse a distressed prince, and another thing to relieve or abuse a distressed subject. The soul of man is the prince, the chief and noblest part of man, and it is principally the subject, as chiefly sensible of this departure.
What he means here: Since nothing can be actually away from God’s presence (there is no existence apart from God), the soul cannot be apart from God in a spatial sense; there is not some place for the soul to get to. However, there is a psychological distance which can be had. I may be sitting next to you on a bench; but I can be very hard away in terms of “connection.”
It is true the soul cannot depart from God locally, but it can and doth morally here in its affections and conversation.
Here makes an emphatic argument. Having logically laid out his case, that the spiritual loss of Christ is the greatest loss which can befell one, he here makes an argument to raise an emotional response to the proposition. There is a kind of preacher or teacher who thinks that in spiritual matters what one needs is information. That information conveyed in a dull manner is then understood to have truly expressed what needs to be known.
Such a thought is false. Part of the information is the manner in which the information affects the hearer. A warning given in dull, quiet tones is conveying a meaning contrary to the words: Yes, there is a fire, but it is not really dangerous. Yes you must exit the building, but don’t worry about it.
This is a good display of rhythm and sound to underscore the meaning. I have broken it down into clauses to better see the work. Notice in this paragraph, the repetition of sounds, particularly the first “p” in words. Notice also how the clauses are balanced. Notice the repetition of words at the beginning of clauses to underscore the balance: “Other losses”, “and the portion”; the contrast of words: Pinch-pierceth; practice/pleasure – torment/punishment. Notice how “torment” and “punishment” rhyme to draw the concepts closer together.
How does he construct such a careful argument? First, by much exposure to such structures. There is a part of this which is intuitive, assimilated from much reading and hearing. Part of it is the result of practice and effort. Part of it is from editing and re-writing. A good place to start thinking of this is “Why Johnny Can’t Preach”.
But that which is now its practice and pleasure,
will then be their torment and punishment.
Other losses pinch the flesh,
but this pierceth the spirit.
Other losses are castigatory,
and the portion of children;
but this is damnatory,
and the portion of devils.
Here is another stanza, if you will, which again uses rhetorical structures to make the concept clearer and more emphatic. Notice the use of w’s and s’s; the use of r’s and d’s within a line: revive/refresh; dismal/doleful/death/depart.
Ah, how will the soul pine and wither away,
when it shall take its farewell of that Sun,
who alone could revive and refresh it!
What a dismal, doleful death must it undergo,
when it shall depart from him who is its only life!
Such a wounded spirit who can bear?
His last point then draws the whole together: the soul’s greater reality means that the pain I have expressed will be felt more exquisitely, than pain is experienced by the body.
The soul hath more exquisite sense, and more curious feeling, than the body; therefore its loss of its own peculiar suitable satisfying good will cut deep, and fill it with bitter horror.
Next he considers the nature of the departure:
2. It will be a total departure. Here they depart in part from God, but then totally.
In this world they have departed in part; in eternity there will be no reconciliation. To prove his point, he argues by analogy from the lesser (a departure in this life) to the greater (the eternal departure). His first argument is from the experience of Cain. The point being that if this is a trial for the wicked in this life, how much more in the life to come.
Here Cain complains, if not allowed God’s presence in ordinances, though he had his presence in many ways of ordinary favour: ‘Behold, thou hast driven me this day from the face of the earth, and from thy face shall I be hid,’ Gen. 4:14. But, alas! Low doth he complain there, where he is wholly deprived of the divine presence in any way of favour; where he hath not the least glimpse of the light of his countenance.
Next he provdes three examples from the godly, Job, David, Heman. The nature of the argument is that if the temporary departure of God experientially for the godly is such a trial; what must be the eternal despair of those who are eternally distanced from the gracious presence of God? What hellish void must that be?
The partial departures of God have forced sad complaints from them that are godly: Job 13:24, ‘Why hidest thou thy face, and holdest me for thine enemy?’ saith Job. I can bear the withdrawings of men, and their absence; I can bear the strangeness of my friends, and the unkindness of relations, but I cannot bear thy strangeness to me, thy withdrawings from me. ‘Why hidest thou thy face?’ Job, though a strong stout man, able to overcome the strong one, the devil, yet was ready to faint away and die at this.
David crieth out mournfully at it: Ps. 10:1, ‘Why standest thou afar off, O Lord? why hidest thou thyself in time of trouble?’
Poor Heman is distracted, and almost dead with it: Ps. 88:14, 15, ‘Lord, why hidest thou thy face? I am afflicted and ready to die; while I suffer thy terrors, I am distracted.’
Here, having given the examples, he explains the nature of the examples. Again this is good practice in preaching. I have sat through many sermons where a number of examples or cross references were read but it was never clear what was the point of these many example?
If these partial departures, which had much love in them and with them, cast down the friends of God so heavily, oh what will his total departures out of pure wrath cause to his enemies? That world must needs be dolesome and darksome indeed, to whom this Sun is wholly set, and totally eclipsed.
He takes the same point and now recasts it in terms of the sheer duration: forever. It is thus a hopeless state, because it cannot be remedied.
3. It will be an eternal departure. They must leave God for ever. Though it had been spiritual and total, yet if but temporal, there had been somewhat to have allayed their sorrows; but to suffer so great a loss, and that wholly and for ever too, must needs pierce to the quick.
There is a way in which this argument contains a presupposition. The wicked do not want to see Jesus now – why would he want to see him forever? Because that is the only hope for the despair he faces. Even if that knowledge is now buried under a seared conscience or a dull heart, the proposition remains true. Notice how this is also an ‘altar call’ moment. He is holding out Christ as altogether lovely. In this, notice how rather than merely piling adjectives, he uses pictures: a bridge, a gate, a gulf. These would not have been strange pictures to the original audience.
The sinner shall see the blessed Jesus no more for ever. He must depart from the tenderest father, lovingest friendship, richest treasure, choicest good, greatest glory, sweetest pleasure, and that for ever: Jude 13, ‘To whom is reserved blackness of darkness for ever.’
The sentence once denounced, ‘Depart from me,’ will be like the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be altered: 2 Thes. 1:8, 9, ‘Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord.’
The anchor of hope will then be broken,
the bridge of grace will then be drawn,
the gate of mercy will then be shut,
and the gulf between Christ and the wicked never to be passed over.
Again notice the careful construction of the clauses: there is a balance of sound and rhythm. He then proves his point with quotations flow naturally into the structure of his argument.
They may cry out in truth, what the psalmist in unbelief, ‘Will the Lord cast off for ever? will he be favourable no more? Is his mercy clean gone for ever?’ Ps. 77:7, 8. Alas! they are cast off for ever; he will be favourable to them no more. They may roar out in vain, How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? shall I never be remembered? Ps. 13:1.
Finally, this loss can never be remedied in space or time. There is no god from the machine to rescue, because the God of Creation has ruled.
4. It is an irreparable loss, such a loss as nothing can make up.
He then draws a psychological reserve which may act to protect someone from the full danger of what is faced. Well, there are other good things which I have lost and yet not all was lost. Maybe there was discomfort, but there was not despair. Swinnock takes aim at that reserve:
There are many good things which we may do well without, because the want of them may be supplied by other things; but Christ is the one thing necessary, the one thing excellent, the want of whom no good thing in heaven or earth can make up.
When the soul departs from Christ it departs from all good, because nothing is good without him, and nothing can be had in the room of him.
He then offers a homely picture. Notice how again and again, he offers a proposition, explains it, illustrates it, and then returns to the proposition with Scriptural support.
If some kind of food be wanting, another kind may possibly do as well; so if some sort of drugs or herbs for physic be wanting, there may be others found of the same virtue and operation; but if once the soul be sentenced to depart from Christ, there is nothing to compensate this loss.
He is the Saviour, and indeed the only Saviour, Acts 4:12; he is the mediator between a righteous God and a guilty creature, and indeed the only mediator: 1 Tim. 2:5, ‘For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.’
Volume 2 of Either/Or is composed of two long, often tedious [the first letter, “Aesthetic Validity of Marriage” can be particularly slow, repetitious, dull], meandering, letters from Judge Vilhelm to man of volume 1 (which includes the famous Diary of a Seducer). A primary aspect of this volume is to convince the seducer of the primacy of marriage (over a life of well… seduction). He argues that one should choose to be ethical.
There is an aspect of irony in all this, because Kierkegaard is arguing to Regina Olson (as has been noted by many) about marriage after he had broken off his engagement to the young lady.
He argues that marriage is no duty — because it is a duty of love, which is something thus done willingly (and then as he makes this argument, he seems to almost contradict himself). Thus, the ethical choice is one of freedom. By way of contrast, the one who lives merely for pleasure has no freedom, because he has made no choice — he has no ability to even reflect upon anything.
I have received second-hand or so some ideas of Kierkegaard and existential choice: an act whereby one chooses in some manner and thus secures some sort of meaning in life. Now, I am not an expert in the history of existential philosophy, nor have I traced all the movements in the area from Kierkegaard through Sartre and Jasper. But what I have seen — and this is perhaps the fountainhead of the concept is this section from Equilibrium in volume two of Either/Or:
That which is prominent in my either/or is the ethical. It is therefore not yet a question of the choice of something in particular, it is not a question of the reality of the thing chosen, but of the reality of the act of choice….As an heir, even though he were heir to the treasure of all the world, nevertheless does not posses his property before he had come of age [an allusion to Galatians 4:1-2], so even the richest personality is nothing before he has chosen himself, and on the other hand even what one might call the poorest personality is everything when has chosen himself; for the great thing is not to be this or that but to be oneself, and this everyone can be if he wills it.
He then goes on to explain that the aesthetic man is one not merely lives for pleasure, but one who lives immediately, without an act of choice, “the aesthetically in a man is that by which he is immediately what he is; the ethical is that whereby he becomes what he becomes.”
But because the aesthetically man is merely what he is — not having chosen something else — is “enmeshed”. He has “no time to tear [him]self loose.” This is in contrast to the ethical man (the writer of volume 2), “I am not enmeshed, either by my judgment of the aesthetical or by my judgment of the ethical; for in the ethical I am raised above the instant — I am in freedom — but it is a contradiction that one might be enmeshed by being in freedom.”
The act of choosing, ‘imparts to man’s nature a solemnity, a quiet dignity, which is never entirely lost.”
The man who merely wants to enjoy life finds himself at the mercy of “a condition which either lies outside the individual or is in the individual in such a way that it is not posited by the individual himself.” For in the inside, he gives the example of a young girl “who for a brief time prides herself upon her beauty, but soon it deceives her.”
For the man who lives constantly for some pleasure outside himself, he gives Nero as the example — nothing is able to sate him, “all the world’s cleverness must devise for him new pleasures, for only in the instant of pleasure does he find response, and when that is past he gasps with faintness.” [His discussion of Nero is particularly interesting.]
But something still troubles Nero, he cannot “break through.” He has a place which terrifies anyone who sees it – he cannot bear for anyone to look into his eyes. “He does not possess himself; only when the world trembles before him is he tranquilized, for then there is no one who ventures to lay hold on him. Hence this dread of men which Nero shares with everyone personality of this sort.”
This seems to match the diary of the seducer, who works out the desire for the woman — but cannot permit her to actually be with him — he cannot make the ethical move to marry (marriage is the constant background of volume 2).
“At least we can both learn that a man’s unhappiness is never due to the fact that he has not the outward conditions in his power this being the very thing which would make him unhappy.” — This leads to melancholy: “But melancholy is sin, really it is a sin instar omnium, for not to will deeply and sincerely is sin, and this is the mother of all sins.”
(It continues on through many twists in turns on the nature of despair for the aesthetic man. Later, in Equilibrium, he writes, “For no intoxication is so beautiful as despair, so becoming, so attractive, especially in a maiden’s eyes (that you know full well), and especially if one possess the skill to repress the wildest outbursts, to let despair be vaguely sensed like a distant conflagration, while only a glimpse of it is visible outwardly.”)
On the other hand is the ethical choice which willing embraces duty: it is here that marriage as the basis of the argument makes sense. He is not merely telling the young man to stop being a cad, grow up and get married — he is explaining that choosing a duty to love another is not a burden but an act of love. To choose to love is an imposed duty, but it is not burden because love is the expression and obtaining of desire: “If I attach my closely in friendship to another person, love is everything in this case, I recognize no duty; if love it is at an end, then friendship is over. It is reserved for marriage alone to base itself upon such an absurdity.” [Here is an example of the maddening paradox of this essay — it is long, twisting and the author never seems to be completely clear even to himself. He makes a point and then argues out another way.]
A historical irony lies here: if this is indeed the basis for the idea of the existential choice of which I heard and read in 20th century philosophers (and their cheaper imitators), then that choice was originally a choice offered by a moralizing older man (a judge no less), to a younger, carefree man to get married!
It is a melancholy reflection upon human nature that we have, as the Apostle expresses it elsewhere, to be “shut up” to all the mercies of God. If we could evade them, notwithstanding their freeness and their worth, we would. How do most of us attain to any faith in Providence? Is it not by proving, through numberless experiments, that it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps? Is it not by coming, again and again, to the limit of our resources, and being compelled to feel that unless there is a wisdom and a love at work on our behalf, immeasurably wiser and more benignant than our own, life is a moral chaos? How, above all, do we come to any faith in redemption? to any abiding trust in Jesus Christ as the Saviour of our souls? Is it not by this same way of despair? Is it not by the profound consciousness that in ourselves there is no answer to the question, How shall man be just with God? and that the answer must be sought in Him? Is it not by failure, by defeat, by deep disappointments, by ominous forebodings hardening into the awful certainty that we cannot with our own resources make ourselves good men—is it not by experiences like these that we are led to the Cross? This principle has many other illustrations in human life, and every one of them is something to our discredit. They all mean that only desperation opens our eyes to God’s love. We do not heartily own Him as the author of life and health, unless He has raised us from sickness after the doctor had given us up. We do not acknowledge His paternal guidance of our life, unless in some sudden peril, or some impending disaster, He provides an unexpected deliverance. We do not confess that salvation is of the Lord, till our very soul has been convinced that in it there dwells no good thing. Happy are those who are taught, even by despair, to set their hope in God; and who, when they learn this lesson once, learn it, like St. Paul, once for all…. Faith and hope like those which burn through this Epistle were well worth purchasing, even at such a price; they were blessings so valuable that the love of God did not shrink from reducing Paul to despair that he might be compelled to grasp them. Let us believe when such trials come into our lives—when we are weighed down exceedingly, beyond our strength, and are in darkness without light, in a valley of the shadow of death with no outlet—that God is not dealing with us cruelly or at random, but shutting us up to an experience of His love which we have hitherto declined. “After two days will He revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live before Him.”
Expositor’s Bible, 2 Corinthians, pp. 25-26, “Faith Born of Despair”
Sibbes here makes an interesting observation: without some restraint which is greater than our soul, we will fall into a drowning despair. He states this positively, as something which one who claims to knowing God must claim:
Moreover we see that a godly man can cast a restraint upon himself, as David here stays himself in falling. There is a principle of grace, that stops the heart, and pulls in the reins again when the affections are loose. A carnal man, when he begins to be cast down, sinks lower and lower, until he sinks into despair, as lead sinks into the bottom of the sea.
David Foster Wallace in his essay “Shipping Out”, makes this point in nearly the same language as Sibbes (which is all the more painful, in light of his own eventual suicide):
Some weeks before I underwent my own Luxury Cruise, A 16 – year – old mail did a half gainer off the upper deck of a Megaship. The news version of the suicide was that it had been an unhappy adolescent love thing, I shipboard romance gone bad. But I think part if it was something no new story could cover. There’s something about a mass– Market luxury cruise that’s unbearably sad. Like most unbearably sad thing is, it seems incredibly elusive and complex and its causes yet simple in its effect: onboard the Nadir (especially at night, when all the ship’s structured fun and reassurances and gaiety ceased) I felt despair. The word “despair” is overused and banalized now, but it’s a serious word, and I’m using it seriously. It’s close to what people called to read or angst, but it’s not these things, quite it’s more like wanting to die in order to escape the unbearable sadness of knowing I’m small and weak and selfish and going, without doubt, to die. It’s wanting to jump overboard (Harper’s Magazine, January 1996, p. 350)
‘They sunk, they sunk, like lead in the mighty waters,’ Exod. 15:5. A carnal man sinks as a heavy body to the centre of the earth, and stays not if it be not stopped: there is nothing in him to stay him in falling, as we see in Ahithophel and Saul, 2 Sam. 17:23, who, wanting a support, found no other stay but the sword’s point. And the greater their parts and places are, the more they entangle themselves; and no wonder, for they are to encounter with God and his deputy, conscience, who is King of kings, and Lord of lords.
Thus, despair should not strike us as a strange thing; rather we must understand that such despair is the default setting which shows itself as soon as our stays and distractions fail. Yet such must not be the default of one who claims to know Christ, “Therefore as we would have any good evidence that we have a better spirit in us than our own, greater than the flesh or the world, let us, in all troubles we meet with, gather up ourselves, that the stream of our own affections carry us not away too far.”
The weight of this despair comes not merely from the trouble itself, but from trying to carry a weight which is beyond our ability. Wallace writes of knowing “I’m small and weak and selfish and going, without doubt, to die.” Realizing our frailty and our troubles will easily crush us. Thus, it is precisely at this point that we must turn our frailty to advantage and bring the trouble to one who can bear the weight. In Matthew 11:28, the Lord calls, “Come to me all you labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Sibbes explains the mechanism for how we increase our sorrow by bearing a burden which should never have been ours:
There is an art or skill of bearing troubles, if we could learn it, without overmuch troubling of ourselves, as in bearing of a burden there is a way so to poise it that it weigheth not over heavy: if it hangs all on one side, it poises the body down. The greater part of our troubles we pull upon ourselves, by not parting our care so, as to take upon us only the care of duty, and leave the rest to God; and by mingling our passions with our crosses, and like a foolish patient, chewing the pills which we should swallow down. We dwell too much upon the grief, when we should remove the soul higher. We are nearest neighbours unto ourselves. When we suffer grief, like a canker, to eat into the soul, and like a fire in the bones, to consume the marrow and drink up the spirits, we are accessory to the wrong done both to our bodies and souls: we waste our own candle, and put out our light.
Memory is a curious thing when it comes to depression: Depression has the effect of muddling up our memory. When a depressed person attempts to remember things going on in the recent past, they tend make mistakes.
Yet, depression also feeds upon memory. Emily Dickinson wrote a poem which begins, “Remorse is memory awake”. In the final stanza she writes
Remorse is cureless,—the disease
Not even God can heal;
For ’t is His institution,—
The complement of hell.
A 14th Century book from England is entitled Ayenbite of Inwyt – the Again-bite of In-wit [one’s inner thoughts]. One of the great pains of life is not our mere present circumstances, but our memory of how we came to this place.
For example, imagine a man in living alone in an apartment in Hollywood. If the man had recently immigrated from rural Laos, the apartment and the city might seem a wonder and joy.
Now consider another man: Six months earlier he had been married and living in Bell Aire. However, through a series of foolish and wicked choices he now finds himself divorced and living in an apartment in Hollywood.
In the third chapter, Sibbes turns to consider discouragements which arise form our own hearts and lives.
He first mentions physical causes:
But to come to some particular causes within us. There is cause oft in the body of those in whom a melancholy temper prevaileth. Darkness makes men fearful. Melancholy persons are in a perpetual darkness, all things seem black and dark unto them, their spirits, as it were, dyed black. Now to him that is in darkness, all things seem black and dark; the sweetest comforts are not lightsome enough unto those that are deep in melancholy.
The discouragement itself does not take place in the body, even if the body lends a lense to the view of the world. Moreover, Sibbes notes that Satan will take advantage of any weakness in the body to corrupt and discourage the soul.
Sibbes then turns to 12 privatations which lead to discouragement. These could be summarized as a failure to rightly understand God and God’s actings. By a right failure to understand God and God’s means of interacting with us, many fall into despair. Continue reading →
“While admitting the severity of the straits to which the whole work of the Scriptural Knowledge Institution was often brought, Mr. Miiller takes pains to assure his readers that these straits were never a surprise to him, and that his expectations in the matter of funds were not disappointed, but rather the reverse. He had looked for great emergencies as essential to his full witness to a prayer-hearing God. The almighty Hand can never be clearly seen while any human help is sought for or is in sight. We must turn absolutely away from all else if we are to turn fully unto the living God. The deliverance is signal, only in proportion as the danger is serious, and is most significant when, without God, we face absolute despair.”
Excerpt From: Arthur Tappan Pierson. “George Müller of Bristol.”
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.