From the Editor

The One Altogether Lovely. Christ is the ocean in which all true pleasures and delights meet. No other can satisfy.

J.R. Spangler is editor of Ministry Magazine.


In my June editorial, I pointed out that Ellen White referred favorably to the writings of such seventeenth-century English dissenters as Baxter, Flavel, and Alleine, along with Bunyan. After having begun to read some of these books recently, it is a mystery to me why they were not required reading during my college and seminary days. We may not agree with every point of theology presented, but they are thoroughly saturated with Christ. If Adventists are to be foremost in uplifting Christ before the world (Gospel Workers, p. 156), we can certainly learn a few lessons in this area by sitting at the feet of these men of God.

My memory still stabs me as I recall my limited concept of Christ-centered preaching during much of my ministry. My idea was to tack Christ onto my sermons and evangelistic dis courses—usually at the end. This method never really satisfied me, but only in recent days have I had a deeper understanding of Christ-centered preaching. It might be an oversimplification of my new method to describe it as tacking doctrine, prophecy, or whatever onto an exposition of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, but what I am saying is that Christ must be exalted as the One "altogether lovely" (S. of Sol. 5:16). He must be first, last, and best in every sermon. We can set our hearts and eyes on no one lovelier. "Thou art fairer than the children of men" (Ps. 45:2).

As I read John Flavel's book The Method of Grace, I am overwhelmed at the enormous wealth of his ideas and concepts on Jesus that he extracts from Scripture. Speaking of John Bunyan (1628-1688), Richard Baxter (1615-1691), Richard Alleine (1611-1681), and John Flavel (1630?-1691), Ellen White writes that these "and other men of talent, education, and deep Christian experience stood up in valiant defense of the faith which was once delivered to the saints. The work accomplished by these men, proscribed and outlawed by the rulers of this world, can never perish. Flavel's Fountain of Life and Method of Grace have taught thousands how to commit the keeping of their souls to Christ. Baxter's Reformed Pastor has proved a blessing to many who desire a revival of the work of God, and his Saints' Ever lasting Rest has done its work in leading souls to the 'rest' that remaineth for the people of God.' "—The Great Controversy, pp. 252, 253.

I strongly urge ministers to put their spiritual teeth into works of this nature. Today's religious writing, even the best, is often like Pablum compared with the thoughts expressed by these spiritual giants. You won't find many stories that yield short-term excitement, but you will find solid gospel meat that when chewed will become part of your spiritual bone and sinew. If anything is needful in today's problem-ridden and harassed society, it is a firm grasp of Jesus Christ such as these books provide. The works of these Puritan writers can be secured through Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Sacrifice anything you must to buy and read these volumes that "have taught thousands how to commit the keeping of their souls to Christ."

Permit me to share with you a few thoughts, some paraphrased, based on The Method of Grace. In the introduction Flavel writes, "It is the one thing needful for thee to get an assured interest in Jesus Christ; which being once obtained, thou mayest with boldness say, Come, troubles and distresses, losses and trials, prisons and death, I am prepared for you; do your worst, you can do me no harm: let the winds roar, the lightnings flash, the rain and hail fall never so furiously, I have a good roof over my head, a comfortable lodging provided for me: 'My place of defense is the munition of rocks, where bread shall be given me, and my water shall be sure.'"—Page 9. Think what you may, but that para graph alone is worth the price of the book, and it beautifully expresses a concept some may hold but fewer practice.

How many of us have an "assured interest in Jesus Christ?" The term assured means "guaranteed," "certain," and "secure." How interested are we in Jesus? How real is He to us? What portion of each day is spent contemplating Jesus? Do we study who He is, what He did, and what He is doing now? What better way to waken our own drowsy conscience and those of this sleepy generation? If we be strangers to the person and work of Jesus, we commit the sin of making a powerless profession of Christ. If this be our condition, the scathing rebuke to Sardis is upon us " 'a reputation of being alive, but you are dead' " (Rev. 3:1, N.I.V.).* As Flavel so pointedly said, "How dangerous it is to be an old creature in the new creature's dress and habit." —Page 10.

In the final paragraph of his preface he movingly appeals: "One thing I earnestly request of all the people of God into whose hands this book shall fall, that they will be persuaded to end all the strifes among themselves, which have wasted so much precious time and consumed the vital spirit of religion, hindered the conversion of multitudes, and increased and confirmed the atheism of the times. O put on, as the elect of God, bowels of mercy, and a spirit of charity and forbearance, if not for your own sakes, yet for the church's sake. O that you would dwell more in your closets, and be more frequently and fervently upon your knees: that you would search your hearts more narrowly and sift them more thoroughly than ever, before the Lord's fierce anger comes upon you: look into your Bibles, then into your hearts, and then to heaven, for a true discovery of your condition."—Pages 11, 12. Should we not read this para graph repeatedly?

Flavel's book uplifts Christ in a magnificent way. His chapter (a sermon, actually) "Christ Altogether Lovely" exudes the Saviour in every sentence. As all the rivers are gathered into the ocean, so Christ is the ocean in which all true delights and pleasures meet. In considering His person, His offices, His works, or anything belonging to Him, we see Him as the only One who is "altogether lovely." There is nothing unlovely in Him. "Thou art fairer than the children of men" (Ps. 45:2). The N.I.V. states it, "You are the most excellent of men." Flavel makes the following points in weighing the expression "altogether lovely."

1. It excludes all unloveliness. Thus Jesus infinitely transcends the most excellent and lovely of creatures, for whatever loveliness is found in them is not without imperfection. The fairest pictures must have their shadows; the most transparent stones must have their polished metal or gold leaf placed under them to set off their beauty; the best creature is but bittersweet at best since there is always something displeasing alongside that which is pleasing. But not so with our Saviour, who is altogether lovely. His excellencies are pure and unmixed. He alone is a sea of sweetness without one drop of gall.

2. As nothing unlovely is to be found in Him, all that is in Him is wholly lovely. As every particle of gold is precious, so everything that is in Christ is precious. Who can weigh Christ in a pair of balances and tell His worth? His price is above rubies, and all that thou canst desire is not to be compared with Him (see Prov. 8:11).

3. He is comprehensive of all things lovely; He seals up the sum of all loveliness. Things that shine as single stars with a particular glory all meet in Christ as a glorious constellation. "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him" (Col. 1:19, N.I.V.). Cast your eyes among all created beings, observe strength in one, beauty in a second, faithfulness in a third, wisdom in a fourth; but you shall find none excelling in them all as does Christ. He is bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, a garment to the naked, healing to the wounded, and whatever a soul can desire is found in Him (see 1 Cor. 1:30).

4. Nothing is lovely in opposition to Him, or in separation from Him. What ever is opposed to or separate from Him can have no loveliness in it. Take away Christ, and where is the loveliness of any enjoyment? The best creature comfort apart from Christ is but a broken cistern; it cannot hold one drop of true comfort (see Ps. 73:26). It is with the loveliest creature as with a beautiful image in a mirror turn away the face and where is the image? So, riches, honors, and comfortable relations are sweet when the face of Christ smiles upon us through them, but without Him what empty trifles are they all!

5. He transcends all created excellencies in beauty and loveliness. Compared to Christ, all other things pale, be they ever so lovely, ever so excellent and desirable. Christ carries away all loveliness from them. He is before all things (Col. 1:17), not only in time, nature, and order, but in dignity, glory, and true excellence. In all things He must have the preeminence.

All other loveliness is derivative and secondary, but the loveliness of Christ is original and primary. Angels and men, the world and all that is desirable in it, receive what excellence they have from Him. They are streams from the fountain. The loveliness and excellence of all other things is but relative, consisting in its reference to Christ and subservient to His glory. But Christ is lovely in Him self. He is desirable for Himself; other things are so for Him.

The beauty and loveliness of all other things is perishing, but the loveliness of Christ is eternally fresh. The sweetness of the best of creatures is a fading flower; if not before, yet certainly at death it must fade away. "Doth not their excellency which is in them go away?" (Job 4:21). Yes, whether natural excellencies of the body, or acquired endowments of the mind, lovely features, amiable qualities, attractive excellencies—all these like pleasant flowers are withered, faded, and destroyed by death; but Christ is "the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever" (Heb. 13:8).

The beauty and excellence of creatures is ensnaring and dangerous. A man may make them an idol and dote upon them beyond the bounds of moderation, but there is no danger of excess in love for Christ.

The loveliness of every creature is of a satiating nature. Our estimation of it abates and sinks by our nearer approach toil or longer enjoyment of it. Creatures, like pictures, are fairest at a due distance, but it is not so with Christ. The nearer the soul approaches Him, and the longer it lives in the enjoyment of Him, the more sweet and desirable He is to it.

All other loveliness proves unsatisfying to the soul of man. There is not room enough in all created things for the soul of man to dilate and expatiate itself; it still feels itself confined and narrowed within those limits, like a ship in a narrow river that hath not room to turn and is ever and anon striking ground and foundering in the shallows. But Jesus Christ is in every way adequate to the vast desires of the soul; in Him man hath sea-room enough; there he may spread all his sails with no fear of touching the bottom.

These few thoughts are only a taste of Flavel's rich sermon on Jesus, the altogether lovely One. I trust this sample has whetted your appetite for more and more. I trust it will motivate us all to covet every moment possible for spending in His presence through study and meditation. Then with hearts filled and saturated with Him, we may lift Him up before the people. No other under heaven can save and satisfy our longings. —J. R. S.


* Texts credited to N.I.V. are from The New International Version. Copyright 1978 by New York International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

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J.R. Spangler is editor of Ministry Magazine.

August 1979

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