Ecstasy and the love of Christ
‘Ecstasy and delight are essential to the believer’s soul and they promote sanctification.’
This fascinating quote was recently sent to me by a friend from South Africa. It was initially expressed by John Flavel (1627 – 1691).
I first came across John Flavel decades ago when I read The Mystery of Providence. I found it such an edifying book, demonstrating God’s power over every circumstance. It stimulated my faith and helped settle me in my increasing confidence in a sovereign God full of tenderness, mercy and extraordinary attention to detail. Later, I bought the six-volume set of Banner of Truth, Works of John Flavel, which was full of Biblical truth and pastoral wisdom.
I was fascinated, therefore, to read of his emphasis on ‘ecstasy and delight’ and his argument that ‘they promote sanctification’.
Undoubtedly many would regard ‘ecstasy and delight’ as frivolous when considering the important matter of one’s sanctification. But John Flavel, like other insightful people such as Jonathan Edwards and the romantic poet John Donne, understood that if we do not find our deepest joys in God we look elsewhere and frustrate God’s great purpose to flood our inner being with His love.
Don’t settle for anything less
When I was first converted out of a reckless kind of lifestyle I was surprised to discover that my contemporaries, the young people in the evangelical church that I had now joined, were manifestly bored. They endured church but ‘came alive’ when the meetings concluded, usually when beginning to talk about girls or perhaps their motorbikes, cars or the sports they pursued. No one seemed to be very excited about their experience of God. More enthusiasm was expressed when they ventured to discuss themes which bordered on the kind of lifestyle that I had just left behind. They seemed fascinated with borderline experiences of a world from which I had drunk fairly deeply. They clearly wondered if there was more fun ‘out there’ than in church life.
As a new Christian I began to learn the jargon that we had discovered ‘Life-with-a capital-“L”’. We proclaimed ‘Christ is the answer!’ but few among my contemporaries had found anything answering their need. As far as I could see, this was true of the whole youth group of maybe 70 young Christians. I tried to find my place amongst a group that used the language of fulfilment but who were manifestly unsatisfied.
How fascinating then to find the Puritan John Flavel insisting on ‘ecstasy and delight’ as ‘essential’ and arguing that they ‘promote sanctification’.
God glorifying experiences
As Jonathan Edwards would have it, ‘God is glorified not only by His glory being seen but by it being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it.’ As a charismatic I can’t thank God enough for experiencing something of the love of God being poured out in my heart by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). As Douglas Moo says in his commentary on Romans, ‘The verb “pour out” connotes an abundant extravagant effusion’!
The Puritans have not found it easy to shake off their ‘bad Press’ as narrow, miserable deniers of pleasure, but enough from me! Let me give you the rest of the John Flavel quote:
‘Ecstasy and delight are essential to the believer’s soul and they promote sanctification. We were not meant to live without spiritual exhilaration and the Christian who goes for a long time without the experience of heart-warming will soon find himself tempted to have his emotions satisfied from earthly things and not, as he ought, from the Spirit of God.
‘The soul is so constituted that it craves fulfilment from things outside itself and will embrace earthly joys for satisfaction when it cannot reach spiritual ones. The believer is in spiritual danger if he allows himself to go for any length of time without tasting the love of Christ and savouring the felt comforts of a Saviour’s presence.
‘When Christ ceases to fill the heart with satisfaction, our souls will go in silent search of other lovers. By the enjoyment of the love of Christ in the heart of a believer, we mean an experience of the “love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us” (Rom. 5:5).’
Don’t you love ‘happy clappy’ Puritans? They knew a thing or two!