The Method of Grace in the Gospel Redemption
by John Flavel
File 35
(... continued from file 34)

Sermon 33. 
Of the Aggravation of the Sin, and Punishment of Unbelief under the 
light of the Gospel. 
John 3: 19. 
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and 
men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 
Out of the foregoing verse it was fully proved in our last sermon, 
that all christless and unregenerate men are no better than dead 
men, being condemned already. Our Saviour proceeds in this verse to 
aggravate the misery of those that refuse and despise him; yet 
farther, and to let them know, that those who remain in unbelief and 
the state of unregeneracy, must expect some greater and sorer wrath 
than other men; not only a simple condemnation, but an aggravated 
and peculiar condemnation, "This is the condemnation, that light is 
come," &c. 
    In the words we find these three parts. 
    1. The aggravation of sin by the abuse of gospel-light, "Light 
is come," &c. 
    2. The aggravation of misery, in proportion to that abuse of 
light, "This is the condemnation." 
    3. The cause and occasion, drawing men into this sin and misery 
"Because their deeds were evil." 
    First, We have here the aggravation of sin by the abuse of 
gospel light, "Light is come." By light we are to understand the 
knowledge, discovery, and manifestation of Christ, and redemption by 
him in the gospel. He is the Sun of righteousness that arises in the 
gospel upon the nations, Mal 4: 1. When he came in the flesh, then 
did "the day spring from on high visit us," Luke 1: 78. And the 
light may be said to come two ways; either, 
    First, In the means by which it is conveyed to us; or, 
Secondly, in the efficacy of it upon our minds, when it actually 
shines in our souls. Light may come among a people in the means, and 
yet they actually remain in darkness all the while. As it is in 
nature; the sun may be up and a very glorious morning far advanced, 
whilst many thousands are drowning upon their beds with their 
curtains drawn about them. Light in the means, we may call potential 
light. Light in the mind, we may call actual light. It is but seldom 
that light comes in the means, and continues long among men, but 
some light must needs actually shine into their souls also; but this 
actual light is twofold. 
    1. Common, and intellectual only, to conviction; or, 
    2. Special and efficacious light, bringing the soul to Christ 
by real conversion, called, in 1 Cor. 4: 6. - God "shining into the 
    Wherever light comes, in this last sense, it is impossible that 
such men should prefer darkness before it: But it may come in the 
means, yea, it may actually shine into the consciences of men by 
those means, and convince them of their sins, and yet men may hate 
it, and chuse darkness rather than light. And this is the sense of 
this place, light was come in the gospel-dispensation among them, 
yea, it had shined into many of their consciences, galled and 
reproved them for sin, but they hated it, and had rather be without 
such a troublesome inmate. In a word, by the coming of light, we are 
here to understand a more clear and open manifestation of Christ by 
the gospel than ever was made to the world before: For we are not to 
think that there was no light in the world till Christ came, and the 
gospel was published in the world by the apostles' ministry. For 
Abraham saw Christ's day, John 8: 56. and all the faithful before 
Christ saw the promises, i.e. their accomplishment in Christ, afar 
off, Heb. 11: 13. For it was with Christ, the Sun of righteousness, 
as it is with the natural sun, "which illuminates the hemisphere 
before it actually rises or shows its body above the horizon;" but 
when it rises and shews itself, the light is much clearer; so it was 
in this case. The greater therefore was their sin that rebelled 
against it, and preferred darkness to light; this was their sin, 
with its fearful aggravation. 
    Secondly, In a most just proportion to this sin, we have here 
the aggravated condemnation of them who sinned against such clear 
gospel-light: "This is the condemnation," this is the judgement of 
all judgements, the greatest sad most intolerable judgement; a 
severer sentence of condemnation than ever did pass against any 
others that sinned in the times of ignorance and darkness: they that 
live and die impenitent and unregenerate, how few soever the means 
of salvation have been which they have enjoyed, must be condemned: 
yea, the Pagan world, who have no more but natural light to help 
them, will be condemned by that light; but "this is the 
condemnation," i.e. such sinning as this is the cause of the 
greatest condemnation and sorest punishment, as it is called, Heb. 
10: 19. 
    Thirdly, The cause and occasion, drawing men into this sin and 
misery, "because their deeds are evil," i.e. the convincing fight of 
truth put a great deal of vigour and activity into their 
consciences, which they could not endure. The accusations and 
condemnations of conscience are very irksome and troublesome things 
to men: To avoid this, They are willing to be ignorant. An 
enlightened conscience gives an interruption also unto men in their 
sinful courses and pleasures; they cannot sin at so easy a rate in 
the light as they did in darkness; and this made them hate the light 
as a very troublesome thing to them. Thus you see what was the sin, 
what the punishment, and what the cause of both. 
                      Hence the Observation is, 
    Doct. That the greater and clearer the light is under which the 
         impenitent and unregenerate do live in this world, by so 
         much greater and heavier will their condemnation and misery 
         be in the world to come. 
    Mat. 11: 21, 22. "Wo unto thee Chorazin, wo unto thee 
Bethsaida; for if the mighty works which were done in you, had been 
done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in 
sackcloth and ashes: But I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable 
for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgement than for you". Two things 
require explication in the doctrinal part of this point, viz. 
    1. How light puts a deeper guilt and aggravation into sin. 
    2. Why sin so aggravated, makes men liable to greater 
    First, We will enquire into the grounds and reasons why greater 
lights greatens and aggravates, proportionately, the sins that are 
committed under it, and it will appear that it does so, upon divers 
    First, All light (especially evangelical light) is a great 
preservative from sin, and an excellent means to prevent it: It is 
the property of light to inform the judgement, and rectify the 
mistakes and errors of it; and thereby to give check to the 
affections in the pursuit of sinful designs and courses: It is a 
plain case, that many men would never do as they do, if their 
understandings were better informed. 1 Cor. 2: 8. "Which none of the 
princes of the world knew; for had they known it, they would not 
have crucified the Lord of glory." It was want of light and better 
information which drew them under that horrid and unparalleled 
guilt. Our Saviour also supposes, in the place before cited, that if 
Tyre and Sidon had enjoyed the same light and means of grace that 
Chorazin and Bethsaida did, they would never have been so sinful as 
they were: light discovers danger, and thereby overawes and stops 
men from proceeding farther in those parts and courses that will run 
them into it. 
    Secondly, Sinning under and against the light, supposes and 
involves in it a greater contempt and despite of God's authority, 
than sinning in ignorance and darkness does. Every man that breaks 
the law of God, does not in the same degree, despise and slight the 
authority of the law maker: But when a man has light to discover the 
evil and danger of what he does, and yet will dare to do it, what is 
this but the treading of God's authority under foot? The casting of 
his word behind our backs? Wilful sinning is a despiteful sinning 
against God, Heb. 10: 26. it argues a low and vile esteem of the law 
of God, which is reverend and holy; and by so much the more it 
maketh sin to be exceeding sinful. 
    Thirdly, Sinning under and against the light, admits not of 
those excuses and pleas to extenuate the offence, which sins of pure 
ignorance do. Those that live without the sound of the gospel may 
say, Lord, we never heard of Christ, and the great redemption 
wrought by him; if we had, we would never have lived and acted as we 
did: and therefore Christ saith, John 15: 22. "If I had not come and 
spoken unto them, they had not had sin, but now they have no cloak 
for their sin." 
    The meaning is, that if the gospel light had not shined among 
them, their sin had not been of that deep guilt that now it is: For 
now it is foul and heinous, by reason of the light under and against 
which it is committed, that they have no pretence or excuse to 
extenuate or mitigate it. 
    Fourthly, Evangelical light is a very rich favour and mercy of 
God to men; one of the choicest gifts bestowed upon the nations of 
the world; and therefore it is said, Psal. 147: 19, 20. "He sheweth 
his word unto Jacob, and his statutes and his judgements unto 
Israel: He has not dealt so with any nation; and as for his 
judgements they have not known them." Other nations have corn and 
wine, gold and silver, abundance of earthly delights and pleasures; 
but they have not a beam of heavenly light shining upon them. We may 
account this mercy small; but God who is best able to value the 
worth of it, accounts it great, Hos. 8: 12. "I have written unto 
them the great things of my law." Christ reckoned Capernaum to be 
exalted unto heaven by the ministry of the gospel in that place. Now 
the greater the mercy is which the light if truth brings with it, by 
so much the more horrid and heinous must the abusing and despising 
of it be. 
    Fifthly, Sinning against the light, argues a love to sin, as 
sin; to naked sin, without any disguise or cover. It is nothing near 
so bad for a man through a mistake of judgement, when he thinks that 
to be lawful, which is indeed sinful; he does not now close with 
sin, as sin, but he either closes with it as his duty, or at least 
his liberty. It is hard for Satan to persuade many men to embrace a 
naked sin; and therefore he clothes it in the habit of a duty, or 
liberty, and thereby deceives and draws men to the commission of it. 
But if a man have light shining into his conscience, and convincing 
him that the way he is in, is the way of sin, quite contrary to the 
revealed will of God, stripping the sin naked before the eye of his 
conscience, so that he has no cover or excuse, and yet will persist 
in it; this, I say, argues a soul to be in love with sin, as sin. 
Now, as for a man to love grace as grace is a solid argument to 
prove the truth of his grace; so on the contrary for a man to love 
sin as sin, does not only argue him to be in the state of sin, but 
to be in the fore-front, and amongst the highest rank of sinners. 
    Sixthly, The greater and clearer the light is, under and 
against which men continue in sin, the more must the consciences of 
such sinners be supposed to be wasted and violated by such a way of 
sinning: For this is a sure rule, that "the greatest violation of 
conscience, is the greatest sin." Conscience is a noble and tender 
part of the soul of man: it is in the soul, as the eye in the body, 
very sensible of the least injury; and a wound in the conscience is 
like a blow in the eye: But nothing gives a greater blow to 
conscience, nothing so much wastes it and destroys it as sins 
against the light do. This puts a plain force upon the conscience, 
and gives a dreadful stab to that noble power, God's vicegerent in 
the soul. And thus you see the first thing made good, that light 
puts deep guilt and aggravation into sin. 
    Secondly, In the next place, let us examine why sin so 
aggravated by the light, makes men liable to the greater 
condemnation: For that it does so, is beyond all debate or question; 
else the apostle Peter would not have said of those sinners against 
light, as he does 2 Pet. 2: 21. "that it had been better for them 
not to have known the way of righteousness." Nor would Christ have 
told the inhabitants of Chorazin or Bethsaida, that it should be 
more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgement than for 
them. There is a twofold reason of this. 
    1. Ex parte Dei, on God's part. 
    2. Ex parte peccatoris, on the sinner's part. 
    First, Ex parte Dei, on God's part, who is the righteous Judge 
of the whole earth; and will therefore render unto every man 
according as his work shall be; For shall not the Judge of the whole 
earth do right? He will judge the world in righteousness, and 
righteousness requires that difference be made in the punishment of 
sinners, according to the different degrees of their sins. Now that 
there are different degrees of sin, is abundantly clear from what we 
have lately discoursed under the former head; where we have showed, 
that the light under which men sin, puts extraordinary aggravations 
upon their sins, answerable whereunto will the degrees of punishment 
be awarded by the righteous Judge of heaven and earth. The Gentiles 
who had no other light but that dim light of nature, will be 
condemned for disobeying the law of God written upon their hearts: 
but yet, the greater wrath is reserved for them who sin both against 
the light of nature, and the light of the gospel also: And therefore 
it is said, Rom. 2: 9. "Tribulation and anguish upon every soul of 
man that does evil; of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile." 
Impenitent Jews and Gentiles will all be condemned at the bar of 
God; but with this difference, to the Jew first, i.e. principally 
and especially, because the light and mercies which he abused and 
violated were far greater than those bestowed upon the Gentiles, 
"because unto them were committed the oracles of God:" And God has 
not dealt with any nation as with that nation. Indeed, in the 
rewards of obedience, the same reason does not hold; he that came 
into the vineyard the last hour of the day, may be equal in reward 
with him that bare the heat and burthen of the whole day; because 
the reward is of grace and bounty, not of debt and merit: But it is 
not so here, justice observes an exact proportion in distributing 
punishments, according to the degrees, deserts, and measures of sin: 
And therefore it is said Concerning Babylon, Rev. 18: 7. "How much 
she has glorified herself, and lived deliciously; so much torment 
and sorrow give her." 
    Secondly, En parte peccatoris, upon the account of sinners; it 
must needs be, that the heaviest wrath and most intolerable torments 
should be the portion of them who have sinned against the clearest 
light and means of grace: For we find, in the scripture account, 
that a principal and special part of the torment of the damned, will 
arise from their own consciences. Mark 9: 44. "Where their worm 
dieth not, and the fire is not quenched." And nothing is more 
manifest than this, that if conscience be the tormentor of the 
damned, then sinners against light must needs have the greatest 
torment. For, 
    First, The more knowledge any man had in this world, the more 
was his conscience violated and abused here by sinning against it: 
And O what work will these violations and abuses make for a 
tormenting conscience in hell! With what rage and fury will it then 
avenge itself upon the most stout, daring, and impudent sinner! The 
more guilt now, the more rage and fury then. 
    Secondly, The more knowledge, or means of knowledge any man has 
enjoyed in this world, so much the more matter is prepared and laid 
up for conscience to upbraid him with in the place of torment? And 
the upbraidings of conscience are a special part of the torments of 
the damned. O what a peal will conscience ring in the ears of such 
sinners! "Did not I warn thee of the issue of such sins, undone 
wretch? How often did I strive with thee, if it had been possible to 
take thee off from thy course of sinning, and to escape this wrath? 
Did not I often cry out in thy bosom, Stop thy course, sinner? 
Hearken to my counsel, turn and live; but thou wouldst not hearken 
to my voice! I forewarned thee of this danger, but thou slightest 
all my warnings; thy lusts were too strong for my light, and now 
thou seest whither thy way tended, but, alas, too late". 
    Thirdly, The more knowledge, or means of knowledge any man has 
abused and neglected in this world, so many fair opportunities and 
great advantages he has lost for heaven; and the more opportunities 
and advantages he has had for heaven, the more intolerable will hell 
be to that man; as the mercy was great which was offered by them, so 
the torment will be unspeakable that will arise from the loss of 
them. Sinners, you have now a wide and open door, many blessed 
opportunities of salvation under the gospel; it has put you in a 
fair way for everlasting happiness: Many of you are not far from the 
kingdom of God: there will be time enough in hell to reflect upon 
this loss. What think you, will it not be sad to think there: O how 
fair was I once for heaven, to have been with God, and among yonder 
saints! My conscience was once convinced, and my affections melted 
under the gospel. I was almost persuaded to be a Christian, indeed 
the treaty was almost concluded betwixt Christ and my soul; there 
were but a few points in difference betwixt us; but wretch that I 
was, at those points I stuck, and there the treaty ended to my 
eternal ruin: I could not deny my lusts, I could not live under the 
strict yoke of Christ's government; but now I must live under the 
insupportable wrath of the righteous and terrible God for ever: and 
this torment will be peculiar to such as perish under the gospel. 
The Heathen, who enjoyed no such means, can therefore have no such 
reflections; nay, the very devils themselves, who never had such a 
plank after their shipwreck, I mean, a mediator in their nature, or 
such terms of reconciliation, offered them, will not reflect upon 
their lost opportunities of recovery, as such sinners must and will. 
This, therefore, "is the condemnation, that light is come into the 
world; but men loved darkness rather than light. 
    Inf. 1. Hence it follows, that neither knowledge, nor the best 
means of knowledge, are in themselves sufficient to secure men from 
wrath to come. Light in itself is a choice mercy, and therefore the 
means that begat and increased it must be so too; but yet is a mercy 
liable to the greatest abuse, and the abuse of the best mercies 
brings forth the greatest miseries. Alas! Christians, your duty is 
but half learnt when you know it; obedience to light makes light a 
blessing indeed. John 13: 17. "If ye know these things, happy are ye 
if ye do them." Happiness is not intailed upon simple knowing, but 
upon doing; upon obedience to our knowledge; otherwise he that 
increaseth knowledge, does but increase sorrow: "For that servant 
which knew his Lord's will, and prepared not himself, nor did 
according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes", Luke 13: 
47. "And to him that knoweth to do good, and does it not, to him it 
is sin," James 4: 17. We are bound with all thankfulness to 
acknowledge the bounty of heaven to this sinful generation, in 
furnishing us with so many excellent means of light, beyond many 
other nations and generations that are past, but yet we ought to 
rejoice with trembling when we consider the abuses of light in this 
wanton age, and what a dismal event is like to happen unto many 
thousands among us. I fear the time is coming when many among us 
will wish they had never set foot on English ground. God has blessed 
this nation with many famous, burning and shining lights. It was 
once said to the honour of this nation, that the English ministry 
was the world's responder; and when a man of another nation began to 
preach methodically and convincingly, they were wont to say, "We 
perceive this man has been in England": The greater will our account 
be for abusing such light and rebelling against it. The clearer our 
light is now, the thicker will the mists of darkness be hereafter, 
if we are thus wanton under it. The devils have more light than we, 
and therefore the more torment: Of them it is said, James 2: 19. 
"The devils also believe, and tremble;" the horror of their 
consciences is answerable to their illumination, they tremble; "the 
word signifies the roar of the sea," or such a murmuring, dreadful 
noise as the tempestuous seas use to make when they break themselves 
against the rocks. 
    Inf. 2. If the abuse of light thus aggravate sin and misery, 
then times of great temptations are like to be times of great guilt. 
Wo to an enlightened, knowing generation, when strong temptations 
befal them. How do many, in such times, imprison the known truth to 
keep themselves out of prison? offer violence to their own 
consciences, to avoid violence from other hands? 
    Plato was convinced of the unity of God, but durst not own his 
convictions; but said, "It was a truth neither easy to find, nor 
safe to own." And even Seneca, the renowned moralist, was "forced by 
temptation to dissemble his convictions;" of whom Augustine saith, 
"He worshipped what himself reprehended, and did what himself 
reproved." And even a great Papist of later times was heard to say, 
as he was going to mass, Eamus ad communem errorem, Let us go to the 
common error. O how hard is it to keep conscience pure and peaceable 
in days of temptation! Doubtless, it is a mercy to many weak and 
timorous Christians to be removed by a seasonable death out of 
harm's way; to be disbanded by a merciful providence before the heat 
of the battle. Christ and Antichrist seem at this day to be drawing 
into the field; a fiery trial threatens the professors of this age: 
but when it comes to a close engagement, indeed we may justly 
tremble, to think how many thousands will break their way through 
the convictions of their own consciences, to save their flesh. 
Believe it, sirs, if Christ hold you to himself by no other tie than 
the slender thread of a single conviction; if he have not interest 
in your hearts and affections, as well as in your understandings and 
consciences; if you be men of great fight and strong unmortified 
lusts; if you profess Christ with your tongues, and worship the 
world with your hearts; a man may say, of you, without the gift of 
prophecy, what the prophet said of Hazael, I know what you will do 
in the day of temptation. 
    Inf. 3. If this be so, what a strong engagement lies upon an 
enlightened persons to turn heartily to God, and reduce their 
knowledge into practice and obedience, The more men know, the more 
violence they do their own consciences in rebelling against the 
light, this is to sin with an high hand, Numb. 15: 30. Believe it, 
sirs, you cannot sin at so cheap a rate as others do; knowledge in a 
wicked man, like high metal in a blind horse, does but the sooner 
precipitate him into ruin. You may know much more than others, but 
if ever you come to heaven, it must be in the same way of faith and 
obedience, mortification, and self-denial, in which the weakest 
Christian comes thither; whatever knowledge you have, to be sure you 
have no wisdom, if you expect salvation upon any other, or easier 
terms than the most illiterate Christian finds it. It was a sad 
observation of the father, Surgunt indocti, et rapiunt caelum; the 
unlearned rise, and take heaven. What a pity is it that men of such 
excellent parts should be enslaved to their lusts! that ever it 
should be said, Sapientis sapienter descendunt in Gehennam; their 
learning does but hang in their light, it does but blind them in 
spiritual things, and prepareth them for greater misery. 
    Inf. 4. Hence also it follows, that the work of conversion is a 
very difficult work; He soul is scarcely half won to Christ, when 
Satan is cast out of the understanding by illumination. The devil 
has deeply intrenched himself and strongly fortified every faculty 
of the soul against Christ; the understanding, indeed, is the first 
entrance into the soul, and out of that faculty he is oftentimes 
cast by light and conviction, which seems to make a great change 
upon a man: now he becomes a professor, now he takes up the duties 
of religion, and passes up and down the world for a convert; but, 
alas, alas! all the while Satan keeps the fort-royal, the heart and 
will are in his own possession; and this is a work of more 
difficulty: the weapons of that warfare must indeed be mighty 
through God, which do not only cast down imaginations, but bring 
every thought of the heart into captivity to the obedience of 
Christ, 2 Cor. 10: 4, 5. While the heart stands out, though the 
understanding be taken in, the soul remains in Satan's possession; 
it is a greater work, (and we daily find it so,) to win one heart 
than to convince twenty understandings. 
    Inf. 5. Hence also we may learn what strength and power there 
is in the lusts of men's hearts, which are able to bear down so 
strong convictions of the conscience before them. That is a great 
truth, though a very sad one, Eccl. 8: 11. "The heart of the sons of 
men is fully set in them to do evil." O how common is it every day, 
and in every place to see men hazarding their souls to satisfy their 
lusts! Every man, saith the prophet, "turneth to his course, as the 
horse rusheth into the battle." The horse is a very fierce and 
warlike creature; and when his courage is roused by the sounds of 
drums and trumpets and shouts of armies, he breaks headlong into the 
ranks of armed men, though death is before him. Such boisterous and 
headlong lusts are found in many enlightened persons, though their 
consciences represent damnation before them; onward they will rush, 
though God be lost, and a precious soul undone for ever. 
    Inf. 6. To conclude, As ever you will avoid the deepest guilt, 
and escape the heaviest condemnation, open your hearts to obey and 
practise whatsoever God has opened your understandings and 
consciences to receive of his revealed will; obey the light of the 
gospel, while you have opportunity to enjoy it: this was the great 
counsel given by Christ, John 12: 35, 36. "Yet a little while the 
light is with you, walk while you have the light, lest darkness come 
upon you." The manifestation of Christ in the gospel, is the light 
of the world; all the nations of the earth that want this light are 
benighted; and those upon whom this light is risen, have but a short 
time under it; "Yet a little while the light is with you:" and 
whatever patience God may exercise towards poor ignorant souls, yet 
commonly he makes short work with the despisers of this light. The 
light of the gospel is a shining lamp, fed with golden oil; God will 
not be at the expense for such a light for them that do but trifle 
with it. The night is coming when no man can work. There are many 
sad signs upon us of a setting sun, a night of darkness approaching; 
many burning and shining lights are extinguished, and many put under 
a bushel; your work is great, your time short, this is the only 
space you have for repentance, Rev. 2: 21. If this opportunity of 
salvation be lost it will never come again, Ezek. 24: 13. How 
pathetical was that lamentation which Christ made over Jerusalem, 
Luke 19: 41, 42. "And when he was come near. he beheld the city, and 
wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in 
this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace, but now they 
are hid from thine eyes." Christ is threatening those nations with 
the removal of his gospel presence; he has found but cold 
entertainment among us: England has been unkind to Christ; many 
thousands there are that rebel against the light, that say unto God, 
"Depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of thy ways." Christ 
will not tarry where he is not welcome; who would, that has any 
where else to go? Obey the light therefore, lest God put it out in 
obscure darkness. 

The Method of Grace in the Gospel Redemption
(continued in file 36...)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: flamt-35.txt