POSTED - 5/26/2001
A Display of Christ - Part IX (First Branch of Christ's Prophetical Office)
- John Flavel
“A Prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me: him ye shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you.” — Acts, 3:22
Having shown the solemn preparations, both by the Father and the Son, for the blessed design of reconciling us by the meritorious mediation of Christ, and taken a general view of the nature of his mediation, I proceed to show how he executes it in the discharge of his blessed offices of Prophet, Priest, and King.
His prophetical office consists of two parts: one external, consisting in a true and full revelation of the will of God to men, according to John, 17:6, “I have manifested thy name to the men thou gayest me.” The other in illuminating the mind, and opening the heart to receive and embrace that doctrine. The first part is contained in the words before us: “A Prophet shall the Lord your God raise up,” &c.
These are the words of Moses, recorded Deut. 18:15, and here, by Peter, pertinently applied to Christ, to convince the incredulous Jews that he is the true and only Messiah, and the great prophet of the church, whose doctrine it was highly dangerous to contemn, though uttered by such humble individuals as were himself and John. And it is well observed by Calvin, he singles out this testimony of Moses, rather than any other, because of the great esteem they had for Moses, and his writings, beyond any others. In these words Christ, in his prophetical office, is described; and obedience to him, as such a Prophet, is strictly enjoined.
1. We have a description of Christ in his prophetical office; “A Prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethen, like unto me.”
“A Prophet,” the Prince of the prophets, or the great and chief Shepherd, as he is styled, Heb. 13:20; 1 Peter, 5:4. It belongs to a prophet to expound the law, declare the will of God, and foretell things to come. All these meet, and that in a singular and eminent manner, in Christ our Prophet. Matt. 5:21, &c.; John, 1:18; 1 Peter, 1:11.
“A Prophet like unto Moses,” who typified and prefigured him. But is it not said of Moses, in Deut. 34:10, “that there arose not a prophet since in Israel, like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face?” True, of mere men there never arose so great a prophet in Israel as Moses, either in respect to his familiarity with God, or his miracles which he wrought in the power of God: but Moses himself was but a star to this sun. however, in these following particulars Christ was like him: He was a prophet that went between God and the people, carried God’s mind to them, and returned theirs to God, they not being able to hear the voice of God immediately: “According to all that thou desiredst of the Lord thy God in Horeb, in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not again hear the voice of the Lord my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not.” Deut. 18:16. And upon this their request, God makes the promise which is cited in the text; “They have well spoken that which they have spoken: I will raise them up a Prophet like unto thee,” &c. ver. 17, 18. Moses was a very faithful prophet, precisely faithful, and exact in all things that God gave him in charge, even to a pin of the tabernacle. “Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after; but Christ as a Son over his own house.” Heb. 3:5, 6. Again, Moses confirmed his doctrine by miracles, which he wrought in the presence, and to the conviction of gainsayers. Herein Christ our Prophet is also like unto Moses, who wrought many mighty miracles, which could not be denied, and by them confirmed the Gospel which he preached. Lastly, Moses was that prophet which brought God’s Israel out of literal Egypt, and Christ his out of spiritual Egypt, whereof that bondage was a figure.
He is also described by the stock and original, from which, according to his flesh, he sprang: “I will raise him up from among thy brethren. Of Israel, as concerning the flesh, Christ came.” Rom. 9:5. And “it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah.” Heb. 7:14. He honored that nation by his nativity. Thus the great Prophet is described.
2. Here is a strict injunction of obedience to this Prophet, “Him shall ye hear in all things.” By hearing, understand obedience. So words of sense are frequently used in Scripture to signify those affections that are awakened through the senses. This obedience is required to be yielded to this Prophet only, and universally, and under great penalties. It is true, we are commanded to obey the voice of his ministers. Heb. 13:17. But still it is Christ speaking by them whom we obey:
“He that heareth you, heareth me.” We obey them in the Lord, that is, as commanding or forbidding in Christ’s name and authority. So when God said, “Thou shalt serve him,” Deut. 6:13; Christ expounds it exclusively, “Him only shalt thou serve.” Matt. 4:10
He is the only Lord, Jude 4, and therefore to him only our obedience is required. And as it is due to him only, so to him universally; “Him shall ye hear in all things:” his commands are to be obeyed, not disputed. Christians are indeed to judge whether what is spoken be the will of Christ. We must “prove what is that holy, good, and acceptable will.” Rom. 12:2. “His sheep hear his voice, and a stranger they will not follow: they know his voice, but know not the voice of strangers.” John, 10:4, 5. But when his will is understood and known, we have no liberty of choice, but are bound by it, be the duty commanded ever so difficult, or the sin forbidden ever so tempting: and this is also required under penalty of being destroyed from among the people, and of God’s requiring it at our hands, Deut. 18, that is, avenging himself in the destruction of the disobedient. Hence, Jesus Christ is called and appointed by God to be the great Prophet and Teacher of the Church.
He is “anointed to preach good tidings to the meek,” and “sent to bind up the broken-hearted.” Isa. 61:1. When he came to preach the Gospel among the people, then was this Scripture fulfilled, “Yea, all things are delivered him of his Father; so that no man knoweth who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.” Matt. 11:27. All light is now collected into one body of light, the Sun of righteousness; and he “enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world.” John, 1:9. And though he dispensed knowledge variously, in times past, speaking in many ways and divers manners to the fathers, yet now the method and way of revealing the will of God to us is fixed and settled in Christ: in these last times he “hath spoken to us by his Son.” Twice hath the Lord solemnly sealed him to this office, or approved and owned him in it by a miraculous voice from the most excellent, glory. Matt. 3:17, and Matt. 17:5
Here we are called to consider what Christ’s being a Prophet to the church implies, and how he executes and discharges this his office.
I. What is implied in Christ’s being a Prophet to the church.
II. We shall next inquire how he executes and discharges this his office, or how he enlightens and teaches men the will of God.
- The natural ignorance and blindness of men in the things of God. The world is involved in darkness: the people sit as in the region and shadow of death till Christ arise upon their souls. Matt. 4:15-17. It is true, in the state of innocency man had a clear apprehension of the will of God without a Mediator; but now that light is quenched in the corruption of nature, “and the natural man receiveth not the things of God.” I Cor. 2:14. These things of God are not only contrary to corrupt and carnal reason, but they are also above right reason. Grace indeed useth nature, but nature can do nothing without grace. The mind of a natural man has not only a native blindness, by reason whereof it cannot discern the things of the Spirit, but also a natural enmity, Rom. 8:7, and it hates the light, John, 3:19, 20. So that until the mind be healed and enlightened by Jesus Christ, the natural faculties can no more discern the things of the Spirit, than the sensitive faculty can discern the things of reason. The mysteries of nature may be discovered by the light of nature; but when it comes to supernatural mysteries, there, as Cyprian somewhere speaks, the most subtle, searching, penetrating reason is at a loss.
- It implies the Divinity of Christ, and proves him to be true God; forasmuch as no other can reveal to the world, in all ages, the secrets that lay hid in the heart of God, and that with such convincing evidence and authority.. He brought his doctrine from the bosom of his Father; “The only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath revealed him.” John, 1:18. The same words which his Father gave him he hath given us. John, 17:8. He spake to us that which he had seen with his Father. John, 8:38. What man can tell the bosom counsels and secrets of God! Who but he that eternally lay in that bosom can expound them? Besides, other prophets had their times assigned them to rise, shine, and set again by death; “Your fathers, where are they? And do the prophets live for ever?” Zech. 1:5. But Christ is a fixed and perpetual sun that gives light in all ages of the world; for he is “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” Heb. 13:8. Yea, and the very beams of his Divinity shone with awfulness upon the hearts of them that heard him; so that his very enemies were forced to acknowledge, that “never man spake like him.” John, 7:46.
- It implies that Christ is the original and fountain of all the light which is ministerially diffused by men. Ministers are but stars which shine with a borrowed light from the sun: so speaks the apostle, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined into our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Cor. 4:6. Those that teach men, must be first taught by Christ. What Paul received from the Lord, he delivered to the church. 1 Cor. 11:23. Jesus Christ is the chief Shepherd, 1 Pet. 5:4; and all the under shepherds receive their gifts and commissions from him. These things are manifestly implied in Christ’s prophetical office.
- Our great Prophet hath revealed unto men the will of God variously; not holding one uniform and constant tenor in the manifestations of the Father’s will, but “at sundry times, and in divers manners.” Heb. 1:1. Sometimes he taught the church immediately, and in his own person. John, 18:20. He declared God’s righteousness in the great congregation. Psa. 22:22. And sometimes mediately by his ministers and officers, deputed to that service by him. So he dispensed the knowledge of God to the church before his incarnation: it was Christ that in the time, and by the ministry of Noah, “went and preached to the spirits in prison.” I Pet. 3:19; that is, to men and women then alive, but now separated from the body, and imprisoned in hell for their disobedience. And it was Christ that was with the church in the wilderness, instructing and guiding them by the ministry of Moses and Aaron, Acts, 7:37, 38; and so he has taught the church since his ascension. He is not now personally with us, yet he still teaches us by his officers, whom, for that end, he has set and appointed in the church. Eph. 4:11, 12.
- He has dispensed his blessed light to the church gradually. The discoveries of light have been… in many parts or parcels; sometimes more obscure and cloudy; as to the Old Testament believers, by visions, dreams, Urim, Thummim, vocal oracles, types, sacrifices, &c. which, though they were comparatively but a weak, glimmering light, and had no glory compared to that which now shines, 2 Cor. 3:7-11, yet were sufficient for the instruction and salvation of the elect in those times; but now is light sprung up gloriously in the Gospel dispensation: “And we all, with open face, behold, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord,” It is to us not a twilight, but the light of a perfect day; and still is advancing in the several ages of the world. I know more, saith Luther, than blessed Austin knew; and they that come after me, will know more than I know.
- Jesus Christ, our great Prophet, has manifested to us the will of God plainly and perspicuously. When he was on earth he taught the people by parables, and “without a parable he spake nothing.” Matt. 13:34. He clothed sublime and spiritual mysteries in earthly metaphors, bringing them thereby to the low and dull capacities of men, speaking so familiarly to the people about them, as if he had been speaking earthly things to them. John, 3:12. And so, according to his own example, would he have his ministers preach, “using great plainness of speech,” 2 Cor. 3:12, and by manifestation of the truth, “commending themselves to every man’s conscience.” 2 Cor. 4:2. Yet he does not allow them to be rude and careless in expression, pouring out indigested, crude, immethodical words: no, a holy, serious, strict, and grave expression befits the lips of his ambassadors; and who ever spake more weightily, more logically, or persuasively, than that apostle, by whose pen Christ has admonished us to beware of vain affections and swelling words of vanity? But he would have us stoop to the understanding of the meanest, and not give the people a comment darker than the text: he would have us rather pierce their ears than amuse their fancies; and break their hearts, than please their ears. Christ was a very plain preacher.
- Jesus Christ dispensed truth powerfully; speaking “as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” Matt. 7:29. They were cold and dull preachers, their words did even freeze between their lips; but Christ spake with power; there was heat as well as light in his doctrine: and so there is still, though it be in the mouth of poor, contemptible men. “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty, through God, to the pulling down of strong holds.” 2 Cor. 10:4. His word is still “quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword; and piercing, to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow.” Heb. 4:12. The blessed apostle imitated Christ; and being filled with his Spirit, spake home and freely to the hearts of men: so many words, so many claps of thunder, (as Augustine said of him,) which made the hearts of sinners shake and tremble. All faithful and able ministers are not alike gifted in this particular; but, surely, there is a holy seriousness and spiritual grace and majesty in their doctrine, commanding reverence from their hearers.
- This Prophet, Jesus Christ, taught the people the mind of God in a sweet, affectionate, and persuasive manner: his words made their hearts burn within them. Luke, 24:32. It was prophesied of him, “He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard on high. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench.” Isa. 42:2, 3. He knew how to speak a word in season to the weary soul. Isa. 50:4. he gathered the lambs with his arms, and gently led those that were with young. Isa. 40:11. How sweetly did his words fall on the melting hearts about him he drew with cords of love, and with the bands of a man: he discouraged none, upbraided none that were willing to come to him; his familiarity and free condescensions to the most vile and despicable sinners, were often made a matter of reproach to him. Such is his gentle and sweet carriage to his people, that the church is called the Lamb’s wife. Rev. 19:7.
- He revealed the mind of God purely to men: his doctrine had not the least mixture of error to debase it; his most enviously observant hearers could find nothing to charge him with: he is “the faithful and true witness,” Rev. 1:5; and he has commanded his ministers to preserve the simplicity and purity of the Gospel, and not to blend and sophisticate it. 2 Cor. 4:2.
- He revealed the will of God perfectly and fully, keeping back nothing needful to salvation. So he tells his disciples, All things that I have heard of my Father, I have made known unto you.” John, 15:15. He was faithful, as a Son, over his own house.” Heb. 3:6.
1. If Jesus Christ, who is now passed into the heavens, be the great Prophet and Teacher of the church, we may justly infer the continual necessity of the Gospel ministry; for by his ministers he now teaches us, and to that intent has fixed them in the church, by a firm constitution, there to remain to the end of the world. Matt. 28:20. “We pray you in Christ’s stead,” 2 Cor. 5:20. These officers he gave the church at his ascension, that is, when he ceased to teach them any longer with his own lips; and so set them in the church, that their succession shall never totally fail: for so the word[s] “he hath set,” 1 Cor. 12:28, plainly implies. They are set by a sure establishment, a firm and unalterable constitution; and it is well they are; for how many adversaries in all ages have endeavored to shake the very office itself, pretending that it is needless to be taught by men, and wresting such a scripture as this to countenance their error: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and daughters shall prophesy,” &c. Joel, 2:28, 29. But if an Old Testament prophecy may be understood according to a New Testament interpretation, that prophecy no way opposes, but actually confirms the Gospel ministry. How the apostle understood the prophecy, may be seen in Acts, 2:17, where he applies it to the Spirit that was poured out on the day of Pentecost upon the apostles.
God has given ministers to the church for the work of conversion and edification, “till we all come in the unity of the faith, unto a perfect man.” Eph. 4:11-13. So that when all the elect are converted, and all those converts become perfect men; when there is no error in judgment or practice, and no seducer to cause it, then, and not till then, will a Gospel ministry be useless. Indeed, as one has well observed, there is not a man that opposes a Gospel ministry, but the very being of that man is a sufficient argument for the continuance of it.
2. If Christ be the great Prophet of the church, the weakest Christians need not be discouraged at the dulness and incapacity they find in themselves: for Christ is not only a patient and condescending Teacher, but he can also, as he has often done, reveal that to babes which is hid from the wise and learned. Matt. 11:25. “The testimonies of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple.” Psa. 19:7. Yea, and such as you are, the Lord delights to choose, that his grace may be the more conspicuous in your weakness. 1 Cor. 1:26, 27. Well then, be not discouraged; others may know more in other things than you, but you are not incapable of knowing so much as shall save your souls, if Christ be your teacher: in other knowledge they excel you; but if ye know Jesus Christ, and the truth as it is in him, one drop of your knowledge is worth a whole sea of their gifts. It is better in kind, the one being but natural, the other supernatural, from the saving illuminations and inward teachings of the Spirit: and so is one of those “better things” that accompany salvation. It is better in respect to its effects: other knowledge leaves the heart dry, barren, and unaffected; but that little you have been taught of Christ, sheds down its gracious influences upon your affections, and slides sweetly to your melting hearts. So that as one “preferred the most despicable work of a plain rustic Christian before all the triumphs of Alexander and Cesar,” much more ought you to prefer one saving manifestation of the Spirit, to all the powerless illuminations of natural men.
3. If Christ be the great Prophet and Teacher of the church, prayer is a proper means for the increase of knowledge. Prayer is the golden key that unlocks that treasure. When Daniel was to expound the secret contained in the king’s dream, about which the Chaldean magicians had racked their brains to no purpose; what course did Daniel take? “He went to his house,” Dan, 2:17, 18, “and made the thing known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions; that they would desire mercies of the God of heaven concerning his secret.” And then was the secret revealed to Daniel. Luther was wont to say, “Three things made a divine; meditation, temptation, and prayer.” Holy Mr. Bradford was wont to study upon his knees. Those truths that are learned by prayer, leave an unusual sweetness upon the heart. If Christ be our Teacher, it becomes all his saints to be at his feet.
4. If Christ be the great Prophet and Teacher of the church, we may thence discern and judge of doctrines, and it may serve us as a test by which to try them. For such as Christ is, such are the doctrines that flow from him. Every error pretends to derive itself from him; but as Christ was holy, humble, heavenly, meek, peaceful, plain, and simple, and in all things alien, yea, contrary to the wisdom of the world and the gratifications of the flesh; such are the truths which he teaches. They have his character and image engraven on them. Would you know then whether this or that doctrine be from the Spirit of Christ? Examine the doctrine itself by this rule. And whatsoever doctrine you find to encourage and countenance sin, to exalt self, to be accommodated to earthly designs and interests, to warp and bend to the humors and lusts of men: in a word, what doctrine soever makes them that profess it carnal, turbulent, proud, sensual, you may safely reject it, and conclude this never came from Jesus Christ. The doctrine of Christ is after godliness; his truth sanctifies. There is a spiritual taste, by which those that have their senses exercised can distinguish things that differ. “The spiritual man judgeth all things.” 1 Cor. 2:15. His ear trieth “words, as the mouth tasteth meats.” Job, 34:3. Receive nothing, let it come never so speciously, that hath not some relish of Christ and holiness in it. Be sure, Christ never revealed any thing to men that derogates from his own glory, or prejudices and obstructs the ends of his own death.
5. And as it will serve us for a test of doctrines, so it serves for a test of ministers; and hence you may judge who are authorized and sent by Christ the great Prophet, to declare his will to men. Surely those whom he sends have his Spirit in their hearts, as well as his words in their mouths. And according to the measures of grace received, they faithfully endeavor to fulfill their ministry for Christ, as Christ did for his Father: “As my Father hath sent me,” says Christ, “so send I you.” John, 20:21. They take Christ for their pattern in the whole course of their ministration, and are such as sincerely endeavor to imitate the great Shepherd, in the following respects:
Jesus Christ was a faithful minister, the “faithful and true witness.” Rev. 1:5. He declared the whole mind of God to men. Of him it was prophetically said, “I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared thy faithfulness, and thy salvation; I have not concealed thy loving-kindness and thy truth from the great congregation.” Pea. 40:10. To the same sense, and almost in the same words, the apostle Paul professed, “I have kept back nothing that was profitable unto you,” “I have showed you all things.” Acts, 20:20, 35. Not that every faithful minister, in course of his ministry, anatomizes the whole body of truth, and fully expounds and applies each particular to the people; but with respect to those doctrines which they have opportunity of opening, they do not, out of fear, or to accommodate and secure base, low ends, withhold the mind of God, or so corrupt and abuse his words as to subject truth to their own, or other men’s lusts: “They preach not as pleasing men, but God.” 1 These. 2:4. “For if we yet please men, we cannot be the servants of Christ.” Gal. 1:10. Truth must be spoken, though the greatest on earth be offended.
Jesus Christ was a tender-hearted minister, full of compassion to souls. He was sent to bind up the broken in heart. Isa. 61:1. He grieved at the hardness of men’s hearts. Mark, 3:5. He mourned over Jerusalem, and said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! how oft would I have gathered thy children, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings !“ Matt. 23:37. His bowels yearned when he saw the multitude as sheep having no shepherd. Matt. 9:36. This tender compassion of Christ must be in all the under shepherds. “God is my witness,” says one of them, “how greatly I long after you all, in (or after the pattern of) the bowels of Christ Jesus.” Phil. 1:8. He that shows a hard heart, unaffected by the dangers and miseries of souls, can never show a commission from Christ to authorize him for ministerial work.
Jesus Christ was a laborious, self-denying minister: he put a necessity on himself to finish his work in his day; a work infinitely great, in a very little time; “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.” John, 9:4. O how much work did Christ do in a little time on earth! “He went about doing good.” Acts, 10:38. He was never idle. When he sits down at Jacob’s well, to rest him, being weary, presently he falls into his work, preaching the Gospel to the Samaritan woman. In this must his ministers resemble him; “striving according to his working, that worketh in them mightily.” Col. 1:28, 29.
Jesus Christ delighted in nothing more than the success of his ministry; to see the work of the Lord prosper in his hand, this was meat and drink to him. When the seventy returned, and reported the success of their first embassy, “Lord, even the devils are subject to us through thy name!” he said unto them, “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.” As if he had said, You tell me no news, I saw it when I sent you at first: I knew the Gospel would succeed where it came; “and in that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit.” Luke, 10:17, 18, 21. And is it not so with those sent by hi? do not they value the success of their ministry? “My little children,” saith Paul, “of whom I travail again in birth, till Christ be formed in you.” Gal. 4:19.
Jesus Christ was a minister that lived up to his doctrine. His life and doctrine harmonized in all things. He urged to holiness in his doctrine, and was the great pattern of holiness in his life; “Learn of me, I am meek and lowly.” Matt. 11:29. And such his ministers desire to approve themselves; “What ye have heard and seen in me, do.” Phil. 4:9. He preached to their eyes as well as ears. His life was a comment on his doctrine. They might see holiness acted in his life, as well as hear it sounded by his lips. He preached the doctrine, and lived the application.
Jesus Christ was a minister that maintained sweet, secret communion with God in all his constant public labors. If he had been preaching and healing all the day, yet he would redeem time from his very sleep to spend in secret prayer; “When he had sent the multitude away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray, and was there alone. Matt. 14:23. O blessed pattern! Let the keepers of the vineyards remember they have a vineyard of their own to keep, a soul of their own that must be looked after as well as other men’s. Those that, in these things, imitate Christ, are surely sent to us from him, and are worthy of double honor: they are a choice blessing to the people.
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