This entry is part 1 of 16 in the series: The Fountain of Life (Flavel)
- The excellency of knowing Christ crucified
- Christ’s primeval glory
- Christ’s wonderful person
- Christ’s humiliation in his incarnation
- Christ’s humiliation in his life
- Christ’s prayer for his people
- The Lord’s Supper
- Christ’s illegal trial and condemnation
- The nature of Christ’s death
- ‘Father, forgive them’
- Flavel on Jesus’ cry of dereliction
- “It is finished”
- ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit’
- The resurrection of Christ
- The ascension of Christ
- Christ’s exaltation
John Flavel’s work entitled The Fountain of Life (subtitled, ‘Presenting Christ in his Essential and Mediatorial Glory’) is an absolute treasure. The first chapter is based on 1 Corinthians 2:2 (‘I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified’). What follows is a summary.
I resolved – this is his settled, considered, conviction, reached after due consideration of the pros and cons, arguments and counter-arguments.
To know nothing – he does not mean that he despised all other knowledge, but only so far as it stood in opposition to the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Other knowledge may be very attractive, and very satisfying, but is not worthy comparison with the knowledge of Christ. It would obstruct, rather than promote, the purpose of Paul’s ministry.
Jesus Christ and him crucified – this is the aspect of Christ’s life and work most despised and sneered at, 1:23, but most worthy of exaltation in Paul’s eyes.
Hence we learn, that no doctrine is more excellent, or necessary to be studied and preached, than Jesus Christ and him crucified. Cf Phil 3:8; Col 2:3.
The knowledge of Christ is:-
1. The marrow of all the Scriptures; the centre of all divine revelations, Lk 24:25-27. The law is full of Christ, and so is the gospel. Both testaments harmonise in him, as Hebrews shows.
2. A foundational knowledge. It is the foundation of all graces, all of which begin with knowledge, Col 3:10, 2 Pet 3:18. Grace and knowledge keep pace with each other in the Christian life. It is the foundation of all duties: we have a duty to believe, and that is dependent upon our knowledge, Isa 53:11; we ought to hope in God, and we cannot do that without a knowledge of Christ the author, object, and groundwork of that hope, 1 Pet 1:3; Heb 6:19; Col 1:27. It is the foundation of our joy, Phil 3:3. It is the foundation of our eternal happiness, for salvation consists in knowing Christ, Jn 17:3.
3. Great and profound. This knowledge is a boundless ocean, Eph 3:10,18. We discover new truths about Christ, and yet eternity is too brief fully to unfold him. It is like discovering a new country: first the coasts are explored, and then deeper and deeper into the heart of the country. But the best of us are on the border of this vast continent.
4. Noble. ‘The angels study this doctrine, and stoop down to look into this deep abyss. Revealed in Christ are secrets that from eternity lay hidden in the bosom of God, Eph 3:8f. Christ reveals God’s heart to men, Jn 1:18. The gospel is glorious, because Christ is gloriously revealed in it, 2 Cor 3:9.
5. Sweet and comforting. When we study Christ, we are excavating springs of comfort. The deeper we dig, the more flowing and refreshing the streams. ‘How are hearts enraptured with the discoveries of Christ in the gospel; what ecstacies, meltings, transports, do gracious souls meet there.’
Compare this knowledge with all other knowledge:-
1. All other knowledge is natural, but this knowledge is supernatural, Mt 11:27. The wisest heathen, and the most eagle-eyed philosopher, could never discover Christ by their enquiries. The most illiterate Christian exceeds them in knowledge.
2. Other knowledge is unattainable by many. Few can excel in worldly learning, yet the dullest of men, taught by the Holy Spirit, can know Christ, Mt 11:25; 1 Cor 1:26-27.
3. Other knowledge can never bring you to heaven. Lacking Christ, it is defective and impure, Rom 1:21. But the knowledge of Christ has a life-changing power, 2 Cor 3:18, and so is a life-saving knowledge, 1 Tim 2:4.
1. The knowledge of Christ is sufficient to make men wise unto salvation. A little of this knowledge will do the soul far more good than any amount of vain speculation. Christians should not be dejected when they see others outstripping them in other kinds of knowledge: if they know Christ, they know enough.
2. If this knowledge is so excellent, let us all be humbled, that we have so little of this knowledge, despite the many advantages we have. Sinners have not this knowledge, 1 Cor 15:34. And saints: how little we have, compared with what we might have had, 1 Cor 3:1-2; Heb 5:12-14. How much time is spent in other things, which might be spent in this study.
3. How sad the condition of those whose knowledge of Christ is merely speculative, 2 Pet 2:21. Such knowledge only serves to aggravate sin, and leaves them exposed to greater damnation.
4. He is the rule by which to judge ministers and doctrine. 2 Cor 3:6. The best preacher is he who displays Jesus Christ and him crucified in a lively and powerful manner.
5. If we care about the Christian faith, and the destiny of our own souls, let us apply ourselves to this study. It is pleasant, it is comforting, it is life-giving. There are many things yet to be discovered in Christ. There is a deeper experience to be had of the things we do know.
6. Here is a double caution.
(a) To ministers: let us not be exact in other things, yet ignorant in this. Our calling, and proper business, is to woo and win souls to Christ crucified, Gal 3:1; to present him in all his excellencies, that hearts may be ravished with his beauty and charmed by his love; to defend the truths of Christ against all assailants; to instill this knowledge to the ignorant; to answer the doubts and scruples of those weak in faith. All these things revolve around Christ crucified. Let us see that our knowledge is powerful, fruitful, effectual, that in its passage from our mind to our lips it might powerfully melt and purify our own hearts. Let the keepers of the vineyard keep their own vineyard. Let us not witthold this knowledge from our people. We have great responsibilities. Our time, our gifts, are not our own. Souls are perishing for want of Christ. He did not think it too much to sweat, suffer, and die for them: shall we think it too much to watch, study, preach and pray for them?
(b) To the people who sit under the doctrine of Christ, and have the light of this knowledge shining around them: take heed you do not despise and reject this light, Hos 4:6. It is despising the richest gift of God. Do not despise the ministers of Christ, for in doing so you despise their Master, Lk 10:16. Be led, not by your lust, but by the light you have. Do not rest with your present knowledge, but go on to maturity. Do not be content with a few raw and undigested notions. Do not lay aside your spade, unwilling to expend necessary effort. Get to work! Devote yourselves to this study. Cherish all communications and graces from on high. Count all things but dross compared with the excellence of knowing Jesus Christ.
The Fountain of Life, revised and somewhat abridged edition, Baker Book House, 1977, pp 11-22.