This entry is part 11 of 14 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
‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matthew 27:46)
Here is a summary of Ch. 33 of John Flavel’s great work, The Fountain of Life.
Here, says Flavel, ‘are words that might rend the hardest heart.’
The manner of the complaint
Note what our Lord complains of. ‘It is not of the cruel tortures he felt in his body, nor of the scoffs and reproaches of his name; he mentions not a word of these, they were all swallowed up in the sufferings within, as the river is swallowed up in the sea, or the lesser flame in the greater.’
What this desertion means
‘Divine desertion generally considered, is God’s withdrawing himself from any, not as to his essence, that fills heaven and earth, and constantly remains the same; but it is the withdrawment of his favour, grace, and love: when these are gone, God is said to be gone. And this is done two ways, either absolutely, and wholly, or respectively, and only as to manifestation. In the first sense, devils are forsaken of God. They once were in his favour and love, but they have utterly and finally lost it. God is so withdrawn from them, as that he will never take them into favour any more. In the other sense he sometimes forsakes his dearest children, i.e. he removes all sweet manifestations of his favour and love for a time.’
Flavel notes how extreme this desertion was. No one else ever has, or ever will, experience anything quite like it. Christ’s other sufferings caused pain to his body, but this brought agony to his soul; they came from the hands of men, this from the hands of his Father. Under all his other sufferings he opened not his mouth, but this caused him to cry out in distress. Moreover, it took place at Christ’s time of greatest need.
The nature of this desertion
(a) extreme, such that it was the worst of all his sufferings;
(b) penal, inflicted on him as the punishment that was due to us, for our sins;
(c) real, not imagined;
(d) at the time of his greatest need;
(e) such as left him only the support of his Father’s covenant and promise.
(a) ‘satisfaction for those sins of ours which deserved that we should be totally and everlastingly forsaken of God. This is the desert of every sin, and the damned do feel it, and shall to all eternity: God is gone from them for ever, not essentially; the just God is with them still, the God of power is still with them, the avenging God is ever with them; but the merciful God is gone, and gone for ever;’ and
(b) sanctification, ‘For he having been forsaken before us, and for us, whenever God forsakes us, that very forsaking of his is sanctified, and thereby turned into a mercy to believers. Hence are all the precious fruits and effects of our desertions:such are the earnest excitations of the soul to prayer, Ps 78:2: Ps 88:1-9. Fortifying the tempted soul against sin; reviving ancient experiences, Ps 77:5. Enhancing the value of the divine presence with the soul, and teaching it to hold Christ faster than ever before.’
1. ‘Did God forsake Christ upon the cross as a punishment to him for our sins? Then it follows, That as often as we have sinned, so oft have we deserved to be forsaken of God. This is the just recompence and demerit of sin. And, indeed, here lies the principal evil of sin, that it separates betwixt God and the soul. This separation is both the moral evil that is in it, and the penal evil inflicted by the righteous God for it. By sin we depart from God, and, as a due punishment of it, God departs from us. This will be the dismal sentence in the last day, Mt 25:41, “Depart from me, ye cursed.” Thenceforth there will be a gulf fixed betwixt God and them, Lk 19:20. No more friendly intercourses with the blessed God for ever…Beware, sinners, how you say to God now, Depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of thy ways, lest he say, Depart from me, you shall never see my face.’
2. ‘Did Christ never make such a sad complaint and outcry, till God hid his face from him? Then the hiding of God’s face is certainly the greatest misery that can possibly befall a gracious soul in this world. When they scourged, buffeted, and smote Christ, yea, when they nailed him to the tree, he opened not his mouth; but when his father hid his face from him, then he cried out; yea, his voice was the voice of roaring:this was more to him than a thousand crucifyings.’
3. ‘Did God really forsake Jesus Christ upon the cross? Then Christ’s desertion is preventive of your final desertion and a comfortable pattern to you in your present sad desertions. Because he was forsaken for a time, you shall not be forsaken for ever.’
And Christ’s desertion is a pattern for us:-
(a) Though God deserted Christ, yet at the same time he powerfully supported him: his Father’s omnipotent arms were under him, though his smiling face was hid from him. So shall it be with us.
(b) Though God deserted Christ, yet Christ did not desert God. God goes from our soul, yet our soul seeks after God, complaining of his absence as the greatest evil in this world.
(c) Though God deserted Christ, yet he returned to him again. So we may know that this cloud will pass away; this night shall have a bright morning.
(d) Though God forsook Christ, yet at that time he could justify God. Christ did not dispute that his Father was a holy, faithful, and good God. So I may know that there is not one drop of injustice in all the sea of my sorrows. Though he condemn me, I must and will pronounce him just.
(e) Though God took from Christ all visible and sensible comfort, inward as well as outward, yet Christ subsisted by faith, in the absence of them all. He still owns God to be his God.
(f) Christ was deserted a little before the glorious morning of light and joy dawned upon him.
4. ‘Did God forsake his own Son upon the cross; Then the dearest of God’s people may, for a time, be forsaken of their God.’
(a) Then, ‘exercise the faith of adherence, when you have lost the faith of evidence. When God takes away that, he leaves this: that is necessary to the comfort, this to the life of his people. It is sweet to live in views of your interest, but if they be gone, believe and rely on God, for an interest. Stay yourselves on your God when you have no light, Isa 50:10. Drop this anchor in the dark, and do not reckon all gone when evidence is gone:never reckon yourselves undone whilst you can adhere to your God.’
(b) Again, ‘Take the right method to recover the sweet light which you have sinned away from your souls.’ ‘Search diligently after the cause of God’s withdrawment: urge him hard, by prayer, to tell thee wherefore he contends with thee, Job 10:2. Say, Lord, what have I done that so offends thy Spirit? What evil is it which thou so rebukest? I beseech thee shew me the cause of thine anger:have I grieved thy Spirit in this thing, or in that? Was it my neglect of duty, or my formality in duties? Was I not thankful for the sense of thy love, when it was shed abroad in my heart? O Lord, why is it thus with me?’
(c) And again, ‘Humble your souls before the Lord for every evil you shall be convinced of:tell him, it pierces your heart, that you have so displeased him, and that it shall be a caution to you, whilst you live, never to return again to folly:invite him again to your souls, and mourn after the Lord till you have found him:If you seek him, he will be found of you, 2Ch 15:2.’
The Fountain of Life