Monday, April 19, 2010


John Flavel (c. 1630-1691)

“And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts”—Galatians 5:24.

FIRST, THE SUBJECT OF THE PROPOSITION: “They that are Christ’s,” viz., true Christians, real members of Christ; such as truly belong to Christ, such as have given themselves up to be governed by Him, and are indeed acted by His Spirit; such, all such persons…all such, and none but such.

SECONDLY, THE PREDICATE: “They have crucified the flesh, with the affections and lusts.” By flesh, we are here to understand carnal concupiscence, the workings and motions of corrupt nature. By the affections, we are to understand not the natural, but the inordinate affections. For Christ doth not abolish and destroy, but correct and regulate the affections of those that are in Him. And by crucifying the flesh, we are not to understand the total extinction or perfect subduing of corrupt nature, but only the deposing of corruption from its regency and dominion in the soul. Its dominion is taken away, though its life be prolonged for a season. Yet, as death surely, though slowly, follows crucifixion—the life of crucified persons gradually departing from them with their blood—it is just so in the mortification of sin. Therefore, what the Apostle in this place calls crucifying, he calls in Romans 8:13 mortifying: “If ye, through the Spirit, do mortify,” if ye put to death the deeds of the body. But he chooses, in this place, to call it crucifying to show not only the conformity there is between the death of Christ and the death of sin in respect of shame, pain, and lingering slowness; but to denote also the principal means and instruments of mortification, viz., the death or cross of Jesus Christ, in the virtue whereof believers do mortify the corruptions of their flesh, the great arguments and persuasives to mortification being drawn from the sufferings of Christ for sin…

DOCTRINE: A SAVING INTEREST IN CHRIST MAY BE REGULARLY AND STRONGLY INFERRED AND CONCLUDED FROM THE MORTIFICATION OF THE FLESH WITH ITS AFFECTIONS AND LUSTS. This point is fully confirmed by those words of the Apostle: “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him” (Rom 6:5-8)…The mortification of sin is an undoubted evidence of the union of such a soul with Christ, which is the very groundwork and principle of that blessed and glorious resurrection. Therefore, he saith, “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (6:11), [as if he were saying], “Reason thus with yourselves: These mortifying influences of the death of Christ are unquestionable presages of your future blessedness, God never taking this course with any but those who are in Christ and are designed to be glorified with Him.” The death of your sin is as evidential as anything in the world can be of your spiritual life for the present and of your eternal life with God hereafter. Mortification is the fruit and evidence of your union and that union is the firm groundwork and certain pledge of your glorification. So you ought to reckon or reason the case with yourselves…

WHAT THE MORTIFICATION OR CRUCIFIXION OF SIN IMPORTS: For clearness sake, I shall speak to it both negatively and positively, showing you what is not intended and what is principally aimed at by the Spirit of God in this expression.

1. The crucifying of the flesh doth not imply the total abolition of sin in believers or the destruction of its very being and existence in them for the present. Sanctified souls so put off their corruptions with their dead bodies at death. This will be the effect of our future glorification, not of our present sanctification. Sin doth exist in the most mortified believer in the world (Rom 7:17). It still acteth and lusteth in the regenerate soul (Gal 5:17). Yea, notwithstanding its crucifixion in believers, it still may, in respect of single acts, surprise and captivate them (Psa 65:3; Rom 7:23)…

2. Nor doth the crucifixion of sin consist in the suppression of the external acts of sin only. For sin may reign over the souls of men, whilst it doth not break forth into their lives in gross and open actions (2Pe 3:20; Mat 12:43)…Many a man shows a white and fair hand, who yet hath a very foul and black heart.

3. The crucifixion of the flesh doth not consist [simply] in the cessation of the external acts of sin. For in that respect the lusts of men may die of their own accord, even a kind of natural death. The members of the body are the weapons of unrighteousness, as the Apostle calls them. Age or sickness may so blunt or break those weapons that the soul cannot use them to such sinful purposes and services as it was wont to do in the vigorous and healthful seasons of life; not that there is less sin in the heart, but because there are less strength and activity in the body. Just as it is with an old soldier, who hath as much skill, policy, and delight as ever in military actions; but age and hard services have so enfeebled him that he can no longer follow the camp.

4. The crucifixion of sin doth not consist in the severe castigation of the body and penancing it by stripes, fasting, and tiresome pilgrimages. This may pass for mortification among Papists, but never was any lust of the flesh destroyed by this rigor. Christians, indeed, are bound not to indulge and pamper the body, which is the instrument of sin; nor must we think that the spiritual corruptions of the soul feel these stripes that are inflicted upon the body (Col 2:23). It is not the vanity of superstition, but the power of true religion that crucifies and destroys corruption. It is faith in Christ’s blood, not the spilling of our own blood, which gives sin the mortal wound. But if you enquire, what then is implied in the mortification or crucifixion of sin and wherein it doth consist? I answer,

1. It necessarily implies the soul’s implantation into Christ and union with Him without which it is impossible that any one corruption should be mortified. They that are [Christ’s] have crucified the flesh. The attempts and endeavors of all others are vain and ineffectual: “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death” (Rom 7:5). Sin was then in its full dominion: No abstinence, rigor, or outward severity; no purpose, promises, or solemn vows could mortify or destroy it. There must be an implantation into Christ before there can be any effectual crucifixion of sin. What believer almost hath not, in the days of his first convictions, tried all external methods and means of mortifying sin and found all in experience to be to as little purpose as the binding of Samson with green withs or cords? But when he hath once come to act faith upon the death of Christ, then the design of mortification hath prospered and succeeded to good purpose.

2. Mortification of sin implies the agency of the Spirit of God in that work, without Whose assistances and aids all our endeavors must needs be fruitless. Of this work, we may say as it was said in another case, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts” (Zec 4:6). When the Apostle therefore would show by what hand this work of mortification is performed, he thus expresseth it, “If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Rom 8:13). The duty is ours, but the power whereby we perform it is God’s…

3. The crucifixion of sin necessarily implies the subversion of its dominion in the soul. A mortified sin cannot be a reigning sin (Rom 6:12-14). Two things constitute the dominion of sin, viz., the fullness of its power and the soul’s subjection to it. As to the fullness of its power that rises from the suitableness it hath and pleasure it gives to the corrupt heart of man: It seems to be as necessary as the right hand, as useful and pleasant as the right eye (Mat 5:29). But the mortified heart is dead to all pleasures and profits of sin. It hath no delight or pleasure in it; it becomes its burden and daily complaint. Mortification presupposes the illumination of the mind and conviction of the conscience; by reason whereof sin cannot deceive and blind the mind or bewitch and ensnare the will and affections as it was wont to do. Consequently, its dominion over the soul is destroyed and lost.

4. The crucifying of the flesh implies a gradual weakening of the power of sin in the soul. The death of the cross was a slow and lingering death, and the crucified person grew weaker and weaker every hour. So it is in the mortification of sin: The soul is still cleansing itself from “all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2Co 7:1). And as the body of sin is weakened more and more, so the inward man or the new creature is “renewed day by day” (2Co 4:16). For sanctification is a progressive work of the Spirit: As holiness increases and roots itself deeper and deeper in the soul, so the power and interest of sin proportionally abates and sinks lower and lower, until at length it be swallowed up in victory.

5. The crucifying of the flesh notes to us the believer’s designed application of all spiritual means and sanctified instruments for the destruction of it. There is nothing in this world that a gracious heart more vehemently desires and longs for than the death of sin and perfect deliverance from it (Rom 7:24). The sincerity of [such] desires doth accordingly manifest itself in the daily application of all God’s remedies: such are daily watching against the occasions of sin, “I have made a covenant with mine eyes” (Job 31:1). More than ordinary vigilance over their special or proper sin: “I kept myself from mine iniquity” (Psa 18:23). Earnest cries to heaven for preventing grace: “Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me” (Psa 19:13). Deep humbling of soul for sins past, which is an excellent preventive unto future sins: “[in] that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you” (2Co 7:11). Care to give no furtherance or advantage to the design of sin by making provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof, as others do (Rom 13:13-14). Willingness to bear due reproofs for sin, “Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness” (Psa 141:5). These, and such like means of mortification, regenerate souls are daily using and applying in order to the death of sin.

From “The Method of Grace” in The Works of John Flavel, Vol. II, reprinted by The Banner of Truth Trust.

John Flavel (c. 1630-1691): English Presbyterian and minister at Dartmouth, Devonshire, England. Voluminous writer of evangelical works such as The Fountain of Life Opened and Keeping the Heart. His vivid word pictures resulted in memorable, life-changing sermons. One of his hearers said “that person must have a very soft head, or a very hard heart, or both, that could sit under his ministry unaffected”; born at Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, England.“


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