Reprint--On "Christ Altogether Lovely"

Christ Altogether Lovely

 
From the sermons of John Flavel
from "Christ Altogether Lovely"
John Flavel
"Yes, He is altogether lovely." Song of Songs 5:16.
At the ninth verse of this chapter, you have a question put forth by the daughters of Jerusalem, "What is your beloved more than another beloved?" The spouse answers, "He is the chief among ten thousand." She then recounts many of the things she finds so excellent in her beloved and then concludes with these words that I have read: "Yes, he is altogether lovely."
The words set forth the transcendent loveliness of the Lord Jesus Christ, and naturally resolve themselves into three parts:
1. Who he is.
2. What he is.
3. What he is like.
First, Who he is: the Lord Jesus Christ, after whom she had been seeking, for whom she was overcome by love; concerning whom these daughters of Jerusalem had enquired: whom she had struggled to describe in his particular excellencies. He is the great and excellent subject of whom she here speaks.
Secondly, What he is, or what she claims of him: That he is a lovely one. The Hebrew word, which is often translated "desires," means "to earnestly desire, covet, or long after that which is most pleasant, graceful, delectable and admirable." The original word is both in the abstract, and plural in number, which says that Christ is the very essence of all delights and pleasures, the very soul and substance of them. As all the rivers are gathered into the ocean, which is the meeting-place of all the waters in the world, so Christ is that ocean in which all true delights and pleasures meet.
Thirdly, What he is like: He is altogether lovely, the every part to be desired. He is lovely when taken together, and in every part; as if she had said, "Look on him in what respect or particular you wish; cast your eye upon this lovely object, and view him any way, turn him in your serious thoughts which way you wish; consider his person, his offices, his works, or any other thing belonging to him; you will find him altogether lovely, There is nothing disagreeable in him, there is nothing lovely without him." Hence note,
DOCTRINE: That Jesus Christ is the loveliest person souls can set their eyes upon: "Thou art fairer than the children of men." Psalm 14:2.
The entire sermon can be found here. Erik will be delighted to encounter yet another Calvinist with a somewhat greater exposition of the some of the doctrinal infelicities of his ilk; however, what he has to say here is worth our attention.

Jesus Christ is altogether lovely. "Christ is that ocean in which all true delights and pleasures meet." This phrase alone is sufficient for several days of rewarding meditation and prayer. For one thing, do we really believe it? Next, do we act upon that belief? Do we let others know about the storehouse of all that is worthy? If not, how can we do so better? Is Jesus really altogether lovely in our lives. That is, does He take up the greater portion of our time? Do we love Him as though He were altogether lovely? Is He for us the "pearl of great price?" Would we surrender all the material things of the world to Him, surrender our attachment to them and cleave only unto Him? If not, how do we say that He is altogether lovely?

On this day when we honor and pray for those who have gone before us, spend some time seeing them in the embrace of light and loveliness who is Jesus Christ. Be open to their prayers for you and let Him in some small way transform your life.


Christ Altogether Lovely II
 
From the sermons of John Flavel
What is Meant by "Altogether Lovely"

Let us consider this excellent expression, and particularly reflect on what is contained in it, and you shall find this expression "altogether lovely."
First, It excludes all unloveliness and disagreeableness from Jesus Christ. As a theologian long ago said, "There is nothing in him which is not loveable." The excellencies of Jesus Christ are perfectly exclusive of all their opposites; there is nothing of a contrary property or quality found in him to contaminate or devaluate his excellency. And in this respect Christ infinitely transcends the most excellent and loveliest of created things. Whatsoever loveliness is found in them, it is not without a bad aftertaste. The fairest pictures must have their shadows: The rarest and most brilliant gems must have dark backgrounds to set off their beauty; the best creature is but a bitter sweet at best: If there is something pleasing, there is also something sour. if a person has every ability, both innate and acquired, to delight us, yet there is also some natural corruption intermixed with it to put us off. But it is not so in our altogether lovely Christ, his excellencies are pure and unmixed. He is a sea of sweetness without one drop of gall.
Secondly, "Altogether lovely," i.e. There is nothing unlovely found in him, so all that is in him is wholly lovely. As every ray of God is precious, so every thing that is in Christ is precious: Who can weigh Christ in a pair of balances, and tell you what his worth is? "His price is above rubies, and all that thou canst desire is not to be compared with him," Prov. 8:11.
Christ is the apotheosis of loveliness. There is nothing about His person that is unlovely. If we are put off by Him, as sometimes we are, it is because His perfect light exposes the flaws in us--we think for all to see. However, Christ is altogether lovely in this as well, for more often than not, our own unloveliness is for ourselves alone--it is not shared nor bruited about nor a cause for rejoicing or ridicule. Christ, in His loveliness, holds up a mirror to us and asks us to transcend it and to reflect Him instead.

Jesus is without taint of unloveliness. He is perfect and holy, and in His perfect holiness He is not boastful nor self-righteous. He is perfectly hospitable, inviting everyone to share at His table and to rejoice in the triumphs of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus is unquestionably welcoming to all who give their hearts to Him, who subsume their fleshly heart in His divine heart.

Jesus is altogether lovely and altogether loving. His love makes us lovable and worthy of love. His compassionate gaze transforms us completely. When we live at all times within that gaze, we become a new people, a people of tender heart and of great mercy.

Jesus Christ is altogether lovely and altogether worthy of everything we can muster in the way of love. Jesus Christ embraces us, loves us, nurtures us, protects us, and gathers us back to the Father.

Jesus is altogether lovely. And all of me, all of my thoughts, all of my goods, all of my feelings, everything I have and am is insufficient to praise His loveliness. Yet, it utter graciousness (and loveliness) He takes the little I offer, accepts it, perfects it and offers it with great Joy to the Father who loves me. And because of this, there is great joy in Heaven over me.

O my Jesus,
altogether lovely beyond words,
let the world breathe a little of your loveliness.
Let me be a vehicle of some small part
of your loveliness. May I decrease so the greater
part shines through. May I transmit
your perfection to all the world
through an unsullied pane of glass.

Let everything about me reflect your loveliness
and bless everyone who is near me today
with an experience of your loveliness.

My blessed Lord, transform me
into your eternal loveliness for the world.
Take what I am and mold it into what you would
have me be--because it must be as you are--
altogether lovely.

Amen.

Christ Altogether Lovely III
from "Christ Altogether Lovely"
John Flavel

Thirdly "Altogether lovely," i.e. He embraces all things that are 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. Col. 1:19, "It pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell." Cast your eyes among all created beings, survey the universe: you will 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 Christ does. Bread has one quality, water another, raiment another, medicine another; but none has them all in itself as Christ does. 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, 1 Cor. 1:30.
There is nothing new here. But it helps to think each day about the perfections of Jesus Christ. It gives rise to springs of living water within us. I'm sure many Catholic Saints wrote as evocatively, or perhaps even more evocatively--but few as sustainedly one the single topic of the Beauty of Jesus Christ.

Through Him all things came to be and from Him all things have their perfection of form. A cardinal is a cardinal (bird) because of Him and it differs from a robin because of Him. Herons have their stilty legs, and butterflies their wings because of Him. Through him the frogs and the alligators have their voice, the hibiscus has its blossom, and the palm tree sways in the wind.

In Him the waves break on the shore, filling the air with the smell of salt and sea, the sandpipers dance in the ebb and flow, and the coquina continue their daily chore of keeping up with the ever moving tide.

Everything that is beautiful, all that is, reflects in some way the perfection of the creator, and in the creator is gathered all the loveliness of all created things and more. When we think of awe-inspiringly beautiful things--, the ghost orchid, , appendicularians,, the blue morpho butterfly or the blue-ringed octopus--we see in them a small fraction of the beauty of Christ. Every part of creation partakes of the beauty of the Creator, but in no way does all the combined beauty of creation approach the altogether loveliness of Jesus Christ, whose perfection of love and goodness opens up the perfection of beauty.

Spend a few moments this morning with the beauty of Christ. Revel in it, and bring it into the day to share with all around you. It is far more persausive than any human argument--it convinces to the marrow and convicts beyond question. Many people resist it, but they cannot do so for long. Introduce the unconvinced to the perfection of God in all of His creation, and then invite them into the Word to discover from whence this perfection.

Christ Altogether Lovely IV
from "Christ Altogether Lovely"
John Flavel

Fourthly, "Altogether lovely," i.e. Nothing is lovely in opposition to him, or in separation from him. If he truly is altogether lovely, then whatsoever is opposite to him, 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, Psalm 73:26. It is with the creature--the sweetest and loveliest creature--as with a beautiful image in the mirror: turn away the face and where is the image? Riches, honours, and comfortable relations are sweet when the face of Christ smiles upon us through them; but without him, what empty trifles are they all?
If the loveliness of a created thing is sought for itself, it ceases to be lovely--it becomes a momentary distraction from the true loveliness that informas all of creation. If our pursuit of art, beauty, mathematics, science, love, or any other good thing is absent an underlying pursuit of the God who created them all, it is ultimately futile--ashes and dust.

All beautiful things derive their beauty from the One Most Beautiful. All things that are endearing and charming receive their essential character from Jesus Christ. How often do we pause and let the realization that the beauty we are perceiving comes from Christ and reflects him. In the blossom of the hibiscus and in the wonder of the small lizard, everything that entrances does so because of His beauty. And what seems beautiful and does not partake of Him is corruption and horror--and there are those things in the world today.

Spend some time today thanking God for the beauty around you and seeing Him in that beauty. Spend some time with Jesus and let Him know that you are aware of His loveliness that knits the world together into a wonderful and glorious place to live.

Christ Altogether Lovely V
from Christ Altogether Lovely
Rev. John Flavel

Fourthly, "Altogether lovely," i.e. Nothing is lovely in opposition to him, or in separation from him. If he truly is altogether lovely, then whatsoever is opposite to him, 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, Psalm 73:26. It is with the creature--the sweetest and loveliest creature--as with a beautiful image in the mirror: turn away the face and where is the image? Riches, honours, and comfortable relations are sweet when the face of Christ smiles upon us through them; but without him, what empty trifles are they all?
Which brings up the natural corollary--whatever is unlovely in action, word, person, or object is not of Christ. Whence then if not of Christ? Well then it seems two possible causes--the original Fall corrupted not only human nature, but dragged down with it all of nature, and the work of Satan. Satan cannot create, but he can work on what is created to distort. Whatever is unlovely has its source at one of these two fonts. And we are assured by Paul that nature groans for release from the bonds that hold it down. While there are mechanical aspects of a mosquito that are beautiful and remarkable, the propensity for spreading disease and its unpleasant source of food both are unlovely. And Christ has no part in these--we look to the other sources. Now, interestingly, even though He has no part in their production, they do serve His ends as do all created things.

But we should keep in mind, nothing is lovely in opposition to or separation from Jesus Christ. No matter how noble the cause, no matter how deserving the pursuit, if it is not done for the Glory of God at the behest of Jesus Himself, there can be no loveliness in it. Let me give you a prime example. Some people who support the right to abortion do so from a sense of the desperation of the people involved in these situations. They see the poverty and the struggles and the difficulties of the people who are suffering and conclude (erroneously) that their burden would be lightened if only they could relieve themselves of some part of the difficulty. While the motive--alleviation of suffering--might be noble, the effect is evil. It does not come from God nor does it properly fulfill God's commandment to love your neighbor--the quick fix is chosen over the proper thing to do. So too with all our ends. If the proper means is not God's will and God's grace, then the end is likely to be very ugly.

This can lead to long and complicated discussion about God's will in our lives, but I think simple discernment through prayer can help in all of these cases. There are causes that are always good--praying for the good of another, feeding, clothing, and providing shelter for the homeless--these things are things we are obligated to do in some way or another.

The important key is that whatever is beautiful in the world is beautiful inasmuch as it partakes of Christ's beauty. He makes all things lovely. The loveliness of every human being comes from Jesus Christ.

And I sometimes wonder if anyone at all is reading any of these reflections, or if because they come from another tradition, they are not at all interesting. And it occurs to me that it little matters, because this is what I feel God has given me to do here and not to do it would be a far greater folly than to continue in the face of silence.

Christ Altogether Lovely VI
I will refrain from extended comment after the excerpt, for what can be added that would not detract from its simplicity? I just bring to your attention the recent work of Fr. Thomas Dubay The Evidentiary Power of Beauty and remark that it treads much the same ground at a finer level. In the meantime, I encourage everyone to take some time to experience some of this beauty. Here is Florida it is easily done--the birds that have dispersed through all the states return in droves so every lawn is whited with the whiteness of egrets and ibises, and the blossoms of the short day flowers color all and sundry. The new birth of lizards and snakes gives us the smallest of creatures, and those few deciduous trees we have give us some moments of glittering color and a few leaves drop.
from "Christ Altogether Lovely"
Rev. John Flavel

Fifthly, "Altogether lovely," i.e. Transcending all created excellencies in beauty and loveliness. If you compare Christ and other things, no matter how lovely, no matter how excellent and desirable, Christ carries away all loveliness from them. "He is (as the apostle says) before all things," Col. 1:17. Not only before all things in time, nature, and order; but before all things in dignity, glory, and true excellence. In all things he must have the pre-eminence. Let us but compare Christ's excellence with the creature's in a few particulars, and how manifest will the transcendent loveliness of Jesus Christ appear! For,
1. All other loveliness is derived and secondary; but the loveliness of Christ is original and primary. Angels and men, the world and all the desirable things in it, receive what excellence they crave from him. They are streams from the fountain. The farther any thing departs from its fountain and original, the less excellency there is in it.
2. The loveliness and excellency of all other things, is only relative, consisting in its reference to Christ, and subservience to his glory. But Christ is lovely, considered absolutely in himself. He is desirable for himself; other things are desirable because of him.
3. The beauty and loveliness of all other things are fading and perishing; but the loveliness of Christ is fresh for all eternity. The sweetness of the best created thing is a fading flower; if not before, yet certainly at death it must fade away. Job 4:21. "Doth not their excellency, which is in them, go away?" Yes, yes, whether they are the natural excellencies of the body, acquired endowments of the mind, lovely features, graceful qualities, or anything else we find attractive; all these like pleasant flowers are withered, faded, and destroyed by death. "But Christ is still the same, yesterday, today, and for ever," Heb. 13:8.
4. The beauty and holiness of creatures are ensnaring and dangerous. A man may make an idol out of them, and indulge himself beyond the bounds of moderation with them, but there is no danger of excess in the love of Christ. The soul is then in the healthiest frame and temper when it is most overwhelmed by love to Christ, Song of Songs 5:8.
5. The loveliness of every creature is of a confining and obstructing nature. Our esteem of it diminishes the closer we approach to it, or the longer we enjoy it. Creatures, like pictures, are fairest at a certain distance, but it is not so with Christ; the nearer the soul approaches him, and the longer it lives in the enjoyment of him, still the sweeter and more desirable he becomes.
6. All other loveliness cannot satisfy the soul of man. There is not scope enough in any one created thing, or in all the natural universe of created things for the soul of man to reach out and expand; but the soul still feels itself confined and narrowed within those limits. This comes to pass from the inadequacy and unsuitableness of the creature to the nobler and more excellent soul of man. The soul is like a ship in a narrow river which does not have room to turn. It is always running aground and foundering in the shallows. But Jesus Christ is in every way sufficient to the vast desires of the soul; in him it has sea-room enough. In him the soul may spread all its sails with no fear of touching bottom. And thus you see what is the importance of this phrase, "Altogether lovely."

 Christ Altogether Lovely VII
from "Christ Altogether Lovely"
Rev. John Flavel

6. All other loveliness cannot satisfy the soul of man. There is not scope enough in any one created thing, or in all the natural universe of created things for the soul of man to reach out and expand; but the soul still feels itself confined and narrowed within those limits. This comes to pass from the inadequacy and unsuitableness of the creature to the nobler and more excellent soul of man. The soul is like a ship in a narrow river which does not have room to turn. It is always running aground and foundering in the shallows. But Jesus Christ is in every way sufficient to the vast desires of the soul; in him it has sea-room enough. In him the soul may spread all its sails with no fear of touching bottom. And thus you see what is the importance of this phrase, "Altogether lovely."
Last week I refrained from comment on the longish excerpt that I noted. However, I need to return to this because I spent much of the weekend thinking about it. "All other loveliness can not satisfy the soul of man." This strikes me as both a wonderful and a terrible thing. If we spend our lives seeking out beauty, no matter how much we find, we will have to find more before we can become satisfied--and if all the beauty we find is merely in the world, no matter how much we find we will not be satisfied. However, if we were confined to a single room, unable to leave, and unable to see anything other than the walls arouind us and we spent the time gazing upon Christ, while we might long to be outside those walls, we would wait upon the Lord and be satisfied with the loveliness of Christ's face and the graciousness of God's will.

"In Him the soul may spread its sails with no fear of touching bottom." In Christ alone is there sufficient depth to bring us to our home port. All else fails. All loveliness, all human works, all human devices and desires, all natural things, all Holy things apart from Christ (an Egyptian Bastet isn't likely to be of much help), everything other than Christ is insufficient. But in Christ alone is depth and height, beauty and perfection, all goodness and all glory. In Christ alone is there sufficient room to move--"we live and move and have our being."

Christ is the vast and beautiful sea of all that is good, holy, and worthwhile. And we do well to spend some time at this oceanside, perhaps finally gaining the courage to take off our sandals and stroll in the surf--perhaps eventually setting sail, with no land in sight, but with great joy in our hearts as we explore all that God has in store for us.

Christ Altogether Lovely VIII

from "Christ Altogether Lovely" Rev. John Flavel

How Christ is "Altogether Lovely"
Secondly, Next I promised to show you in what respects Jesus Christ is altogether lovely:

He is Lovely in His Person

First, He is altogether lovely in his person: he is Deity dwelling in flesh, John 1:14. The wonderful, perfect union of the divine and human nature in Christ renders him an object of admiration and adoration to both angels and men, 1 Tim. 3:16. God never presented to the world such a vision of glory before. Consider how the human nature of our Lord Jesus Christ is overflowing with all the graces of the Spirit, in such a way as never any of the saints was filled. O what a lovely picture does this paint of him! John 3:34, "God gives the Spirit [to him] without limit." This makes him"the most excellent of men and [his] lips have been anointed with grace," Psalm 45:2. If a small measure of grace in the saints makes them sweet and desirable companions, what must the riches of the Spirit of grace filling Jesus Christ without measure make him in the eyes of believers? O what a glory must it fix upon him!
He is adorable to both angels and men. Now there is a thought. He is adorable and lovely to beings whose first words to an human are "fear not." These magnificent warriors and messengers of heaven fall on their knees to adore Christ in His humanity and divinity.

Another point here--if virtue is valued in the saints, and such virtue is merely the pale reflection of God's fullness of grace, how much more should we be valuing Jesus Christ. Jesus is the most desirable of companions. Ever present, ever ready to help, always cradling us in a loving embrace--the wisest of counselors, the truest of friends, the only one who will speak the truth to use when others have abandoned truth for gain. Jesus does not merely reflect divinity, He is divinity. The light He brings is the purest of light--so pure indeed that no prism can break or bend it, nor mirror stop its beam. In His light all things are seen as they are. More they are seen in tender love and compassion, so flawed, broken, and imperfect, they are transformed in His light into the image of what they are in God's eye.
As the Holy Father expresses in a letter of 5 August 2002:
from "The Beauty (of Christ) Will Save the World"
A Letter of John Paul II dated 5 August 2002

The radiance of the beauty we contemplate opens the soul to the mystery of God. The Book of Wisdom reproached those who "were unable from the good things that are seen to know him who exists" (13,1), from the admiration of their beauty they should have been able to ascend to their Author (cf. 1,3; 3). Indeed, "from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator" (13,5). Beauty has a pedagogical power that can introduce us effectively to the knowledge of the truth. Finally, it leads to Christ who is the Truth. Indeed, when love and the quest for beauty flow from a vision of faith, we can have a deeper perception of things and enter into contact with the One who is the source of every beautiful thing.


 Christ Altogether Lovely IX

I continue now the discussion of "Christ Altogether Lovely." While the doctrine is not thoroughly Catholic, the expression of love for Jesus is profoundly stirring and Flavel points up some things that we too often miss. Find the complete sermon here.
from "Christ Altogether Lovely"
Rev. John Flavel

He is Lovely in His Offices

Secondly, He is altogether lovely in his offices: let us consider for a moment the suitability, fullness, and comforting nature of them.
First, The suitability of the offices of Christ to the miseries of men. We cannot but adore the infinite wisdom of his receiving them. We are, by nature, blind and ignorant, at best but groping in the dim light of nature after God, Acts 17:27. Jesus Christ is a light to lighten the Gentiles, Isa. 49:6. When this great prophet came into the world, then did the day-spring from on high visit us, Luke 1:78. By nature we are alienated from, and at enmity against God; Christ comes into the world to be an atoning sacrifice, making peace by the blood of his cross, Col. 1:20. All the world, by nature, is in bondage and captivity to Satan, a miserable slavery. Christ comes with kingly power, to rescue sinners, as a prey from the mouth of the terrible one.
Secondly, Let the fullness of his offices be also considered, which make him able "to save to the uttermost, all that come to God by him," Heb. 7:25. The three offices, comprising in them all that our souls do need, become an universal relief to all our distresses; and therefore,
Thirdly, Unspeakably comforting must the offices of Christ be to the souls of sinners. If light be pleasant to our eyes, how pleasant is that light of life springing from the Sun of righteousness! Mal. 4:2. If a pardon be sweet to a condemned criminal, how sweet must the sprinkling the blood of Jesus be to the trembling conscience of a law-condemned sinner? If a rescue from a cruel tyrant is sweet to a poor captive, how sweet must it be to the ears of enslaved sinners, to hear the voice of liberty and deliverance proclaimed by Jesus Christ? Out of the several offices of Christ, as out of so many fountains, all the promises of the new covenant flow, as so many soul-refreshing streams of peace and joy. All the promises of illumination, counsel and direction flow out of Christ's prophetic office. All the promises of reconciliation, peace, pardon, and acceptation flow out of his priestly office, with the sweet streams of joy and spiritual comforts which accompany it. All the promises of converting, increasing, defending, directing, and supplying grace, flow out of the kingly office of Christ; indeed, all promises may be reduced to these three offices, so that Jesus Christ must be altogether lovely in his offices.
In all that He was appointed to do for us, there is perfection that transcends the human ability to express. He has perfectly served God's purposes in the redemption He won for us and more perfectly yet served each one of us. I am amazed most particularly by the last paragraph here. Is there a sound sweeter to those burdened than the music that means rest and quiet? Is there a gift greater to those who are in captivity than freedom, and not only freedom, but freedom with dignity and with possibility? We are not set free to struggle yet further for ourselves, as often happens with human captives. Rather we are set free to continue in the perfect freedom of Jesus Christ.

Indeed Christ is altogether lovely in all that He has done for us. In all that He is appointed to do He answers the office to perfection. Another cause for deep praise and tremendous devotion.

Christ Altogether Lovely X
 
We approach the end of the sermon. We will discuss His loveliness in His relations in four parts, and then we will arrive at application. And this is what I love about this kind of sermon--it is rounded out with "So how do I make that useful in my life?" Often the sermons we here, the homilies propounded give a nice glimpse into the world of the Bible, but too often one leaves with no real expectation of acting on what was said because little was provided in the way of guidance. The Puritan sermonizers left little to the imagination when it came to this aspect of preaching. Preaching was to be a practical application of God's prinicples to human life.
from "Christ Altogether Lovely"
Rev. John Flavel

He is Lovely in His Relations.

First, He is a lovely Redeemer, Isa. 61:1. He came to open the prison-doors to them that are bound. Needs must this Redeemer be a lovely one, if we consider the depth of misery from which he redeemed us, even "from the wrath to come," 1 Thess. 1:10. Consider the numbers redeemed, and the means of their redemption. Rev. 5:9, "And they sang a new song, saying, 'You are worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for you were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood, out of every kindred and tongue, and people and nation.'" He redeemed us not with silver and gold, but with his own precious blood, by way of price, 1 Pet. 1:18,19. with his out-stretched and glorious arm, by way of power, Col. 1:13. he redeemed us freely, Eph. 1:7, fully Rom. 8:1, at the right time, Gal. 4:4, and out of special and particular love, John 17:9. In a word, he has redeemed us for ever, never more to come into bondage, 1 Pet. 1:5. John 10:28. O how lovely is Jesus Christ in the relation of a Redeemer to God's elect!
He opens the doors of the prison. Where there was darkness, He shines light. Where one could not see, now all is clear. Is there anything more lovely than the smell of fresh air when one has been confined for hours in a stuffy room? How much more so then, when one has been wallowing in the enclosed chamber of one's own sinfulness for a lifetime--what must the breeze of the spirit smell like then. Altogether lovely.

And consider this--He is altogether lovely in that the redemption He offers is for all people for all time. He leaves the ninety-nine and searches out the one lost. He harrowed hell to take back His own, and He constantly works wonders to redeem souls thought lost--consider Matt Talbot, Dorothy Day, (St.?) Charles de Foucauld, St. Augustine, and others who initially lived less than exemplary lives. See how their lives were transformed in His own. Altogether lovely.

See how the action of redemption works in your own life when you let it. See how it can free you from present misery and render you capable of service to the Kingdom of God. Through you, God may speak and redeem a great many others. Altogether lovely.

And the redemption was in His blood and His suffering. He didn't wave a magic wand and cause all human suffering to pass away. He suffered, toiled, died, was laid in the tomb, and rose again in glorious splendor. He ascended into heaven in a sign of our own destined ascension. Altogether lovely.

He is indeed altogether lovely in His relations. He has paid the price for us, and we are unfit to wash His feet, and yet He raises us to the dignity of sons and daughters. Altogether lovely.

Flavel's sermon makes me want to sing His praises all day and all my life--and that is truly the Spirit of God speaking through a man of God. Praise God for His goodness and mercy, the redemption He won for us. Praise Him, the One, Altogether Lovely.

Christ Altogether Lovely XI
 
Here's another passage that needs very little in the way of explication. The vision of humanity is distinctly puritan and somewhat repugnant to Catholic sensibilities; however, if we transfer that description to the description of a soul in sin, we are not too far off the mark.
from "Christ Altogether Lovely:
Rev. John Flavel

Secondly, He is a lovely bridegroom to all that he betroths to himself. How does the church glory in him, in the words following my text; "this is my Beloved, and this is my Friend, O ye daughters of Jerusalem!" Heaven and earth cannot show anyone like him, which needs no fuller proof than the following particulars:
1. That he betroths to himself, in mercy and in loving kindness, such deformed, defiled, and altogether unworthy souls as we are. We have no beauty, no goodness to make us desirable in his eyes; all the origins of his love to us are in his own breast, Deut. 7:7. He chooses us, not because we were, but in order that he might make us lovely Eph. 5:27. He came to us when we lay in our blood, and said unto us, "Live"; and that was the time of love, Ezek. 16:5.
2. He expects no restitution from us, and yet gives himself, and all that he has, to us. Our poverty cannot enrich him, but he made himself poor to enrich us, 2 Cor. 8:9. 1 Cor. 3:22.
3. No husband loves the wife of his bosom, as much as Christ loved his people, Eph. 5:25. He loved the church and gave him self for it.
4. No one bears with weaknesses and provocations as Christ does; the church is called "the Lamb's wife," Rev. 19:9.
5. No husband is so undying and everlasting a husband as Christ is; death separates all other relations, but the soul's union with Christ is not dissolved in the grave. Indeed, the day of a believer's death is his marriage day, the day of his fullest enjoyment of Christ. No husband can say to his wife, what Christ says to the believer, "I will never leave you, nor forsake you," Heb. 8:5.
6. No bridegroom enriches his bride with such honours by marriage, as Christ does; he makes them related to God as their father, and from that day the mighty and glorious angels think it no dishonour to be their servants, Heb. 1:14. The angels will admire the beauty and glory of the spouse of Christ, Rev. 21:9.
7. No marriage was ever consummated with such triumphal proceedings as the marriage of Christ and believers shall be in heaven, Psalm 14:14,15. "She shall be brought to the king in raiment of needle-work, the virgins, her companions that follow her, shall be brought unto thee; with gladness and rejoicing shall they be brought; they shall enter into the king's palace." Among the Jews, the marriage-house was called the house of praise; there was joy upon all hands, but nothing like the joy that will be in heaven when believers, the spouse of Christ, shall be brought there. God the Father will rejoice to behold the blessed accomplishment and confirmation of those glorious plans of his love. Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom will rejoice to see the travail of his soul, the blessed birth and product of all his bitter pains and agonies, Isa. 53:11. The Holy Spirit will rejoice to see the completion and perfection of that sanctifying design which was committed to his hand, 2 Cor. 5:5, to see those souls whom he once found as rough stones, now to shine as the bright, polished stones of the spiritual temple. Angels will rejoice: great was the joy when the foundation of this design was laid, in the incarnation of Christ, Luke 2:13. Great therefore must their joy be, when the top-stone is set up with shouting, crying, "Grace, grace." The saints themselves shall rejoice unspeakably, when they shall enter into the King's palace, and be forever with the Lord, 1 Thes. 4:17. Indeed there will be joy on all hands, except among the devils and damned, who shall gnash their teeth with envy at the everlasting advancement and glory of believers. Thus Christ is altogether lovely, in the relation of a Bridegroom.
Just as man and woman are made whole and one, in some sense, through the sacrament of marriage, the Marriage of the Soul to Christ is the sign of being made complete. Christ as bridegroom welcomes us to the completion of our days, and so this may be the loveliest of the image of Christ presented.

Christ Altogether Lovely XII
 
Now seems to be a good time to continue our reflection on Flavel's remarkable sermon and his vision of Jesus.
from "Christ Altogether Lovely" Rev. John Flavel

Thirdly, Christ is altogether lovely, in the relation of an Advocate. 1 John 2:1, "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the Propitiation." It is he that pleads the cause of believers in heaven. He appears for them in the presence of God, to prevent any new alienation, and to continue the state of friendship and peace between God and us. In this relation Christ is altogether lovely. For,
1. He makes our cause his own, and acts for us in heaven, as if for himself, Heb. 4:15. He is touched with a most tender understanding of our troubles and dangers, and is not only one with us by way of representation, but also one with us in respect of sympathy and affection.
2. Christ our Advocate tracks our cause and business in heaven, as his great and primary design and business. For this reason in Hebrews 7:25. he is said to "live for ever to make intercession for us." It is as if our concerns were so attended to by him there, that all the glory and honour which is paid him in heaven would not divert him one moment from our business.
3. He pleads the cause of believers by his blood. Unlike other advocates, it is not enough for him to lay out only words, which is a cheaper way of pleading; but he pleads for us by the voice of his own blood, as in Heb. 12:24, where we are said to be come "to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel." Every wound he received for us on earth is a mouth opened to plead with God on our behalf in heaven. And hence it is, that in Rev. 5:6 he is represented standing before God, as a lamb that had been slain; as it were exhibiting and revealing in heaven those deadly wounds received on earth from the justice of God, on our account. Other advocates spend their breath, Christ spends his blood.
4. He pleads the cause of believers freely. Other advocates plead for reward, and empty the purses, while they plead the causes of their clients.
5. In a word, he obtains for us all the mercies for which he pleads. No cause miscarries in his hand, which he undertakes, Rom. 8:33, 34. 0 what a lovely Advocate is Christ for believers!


"No cause miscarries in his hand." What a wonderful and powerful reflection. When we consider that Christ's advocacy is an advocacy not merely of words, not merely of action, but of His own Precious Blood, poured out for us--more than sufficient--utterly efficacious. In this we obtain all that we need but know not to ask for. We obtain the reality of who we are in God. Once lame, we walk. Once blind, we see. Once deaf, we hear. All of our infirmaties are encompassed and abolished by the completeness of His offering for us. He is an advocate whose pleading cannot be resisted. He is a Lord who loves beyond all loving and who gives to the very last measure. He is indeed altogether lovely as advocate, as tender brother, Lord, and friend. Praise Him and welcome Him into your home--this most precious advocate, this most generous Soul, this most loving companion, this very Son of God who is the source of our hope and our salvation.

Christ Altogether Lovely XIII
We're almost at an end. I intend to break the application up into two posts, so after this merely two more and then I may start a discussion of St. Alphonsus's little treatise on prayer or on Uniformity with God's will. We'll see.
from "Christ Altogether Lovely"
Rev. John Flavel
Fourthly, Christ is altogether lovely in the relation of a friend, for in this relation he is pleased to acknowledge his people, Luke 12:4, 5. There are certain things in which one friend manifests his affection and friendship to another, but there is not one like Christ. For,
1. No friend is so open-hearted to his friend as Christ is to his people: he reveals the very counsels and secrets of his heart to them. John 15:15. "Henceforth I call you not servants, for the servant knows not what his Lord does; but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father, I have made known unto you.
2. No friend in the world is so generous and bountiful to his friend, as Jesus Christ is to believers; he parts with his very blood for them; "Greater love (he says) has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends," John 15:13. He has exhausted the precious treasures of his invaluable blood to pay our debts. O what a lovely friend is Jesus Christ to believers!
3. No friend sympathizes so tenderly with his friend in affliction, as Jesus Christ does with his friends: "In all our afflictions he is afflicted," Heb. 4:15. He feels all our sorrows, needs and burdens as his own. This is why it is said that the sufferings of believers are called the sufferings of Christ, Col. 1:24.
4. No friend in the world takes that contentment in his friends, as Jesus Christ does in believers. Song of Songs 4:9. "You have ravished my heart, (he says to the spouse) you have ravished my heart with one of your eyes, with one chain of your neck." The Hebrew, here rendered "ravished," signifies to puff up, or to make one proud: how the Lord Jesus is pleased to glory in his people! How he is taken and delighted with those gracious ornaments which himself bestows upon them! There is no friend so lovely as Christ.
5. No friend in the world loves his friend with as impassioned and strong affection as Jesus Christ loves believers. Jacob loved Rachel, and endured for her sake the parching heat of summer and cold of winter; but Christ endured the storms of the wrath of God, the heat of his indignation, for our sakes. David manifested his love to Absalom, in wishing, "O that I had died for you!" Christ manifested his love to us, not in wishes that he had died, but in death itself, in our stead, and for our sakes.
6. No friend in the world is so constant and unchangeable in friendship as Christ is. John 13:1, "Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end." He bears with millions of provocations and wrongs, and yet will not break friendship with his people. Peter denied him, yet he will not disown him; but after his resurrection he says, "Go, tell the disciples, and tell Peter." Let him not think he has forfeited by that sin of his, his interest in me. Though he denied me, I will not disown him, Mark 16:7. 0 how lovely is Christ in the relation of a friend!
I might further show you the loveliness of Christ in his ordinances and in his providences, in his communion with us and communications to us, but there is no end of the account of Christ's loveliness: I will rather choose to press believers to their duties towards this altogether lovely Christ, which I shall briefly conclude in a few words.
Summary--no friend is as open-hearted, generous, sympathetic, impassioned, and constant. No friend is so able to bring contentment, peace and delight to all His friends. No friend loves as this Friend.
Jesus is our friend, our advocate, our constant intecessor, our companion. When we grow unaware of Him, it is not because He fails, but because we are weak and stubborn.

The Friendship of Christ is a prize beyond measure and beyond accounting. And that friendship costs so little. Indeed, even in making friends we gain much. We spurn a spurious "freedom" that enslaves one to the things of this world to achieve a true freedom that allows one to serve as part of God's Kingdom. We abandon the lies that substitute as a life and learn the Eternal Truth. We quit false comforts and seductions, and take instead the true Comfort of the one true Comforter, friend and advocate who prays for us when we do not know how to pray.

Jesus is a friend whose friendship is beyond our reckoning wonderful. His friendship is at once the most important thing and the only thing. Praise Him in His perfection as Friend.

Soon, we'll talk about what this entire long sermon means and how one actually uses anything said to improve one's life in God. That's one of the things I truly love about a well-constructed sermon or homily--one takes away something to act upon.

(And that reminds me of something I was remiss in not saying. I attended only a daily Mass at which Father Jim presided, but he gave a wonderful short homily--not spending the entire time trying to tell me the intricacies of what the particularly Bible passage meant [althought there was some of that], but instead gave me one solid positive thing to act upon. Which I did for about a week, which is why good homilies are important every week. Because, poor mortals that we are, our attention is captured for perhaps a week at a time and then trails off. Anyway, if you're out in the Woodbridge area, you could not do better than to stop in at Our Lady of the Angels. Each priest there is wonderful in his own way, and I was blessed by my attendance.]

Christ Altogether Lovely--XIV
 
Almost there. We're in the final stretches--the place where Flavel gives concrete advice about what to do in order to demonstrate proper love for and devotion to Christ. And surprise! surprise! It sounds just like what every mystic from the time of St. Paul on says!
from Christ, Altogether Lovely
Rev. John Flavel
APPLICATION

1. Is Jesus Christ altogether lovely? Then I beseech you set your souls upon this lovely Jesus. I am sure such an object as has been here represented, would compel love from the coldest breast and hardest heart. Away with those empty nothings, away with this vain deceitful world, which deserves not the thousandth part of the love you give it. Let all stand aside and give way to Christ. O if only you knew his worth and excellency, what he is in himself, what he has done for you, and deserved from you, you would need no arguments of mine to persuade you to love him!
2. Esteem nothing lovely except as it is enjoyed in Christ, or used for the sake of Christ. Love nothing for itself, love nothing separate from Jesus Christ. In two things we all sin in love of created things. We sin in the excess of our affections, loving them above the proper value of mere created things. We also sin in the inordinacy of our affections, that is to say we give our love for created things a priority it should never have.
3. Let us all be humbled for the corruption of our hearts that are so eager in their affections for vanities and trifles and so hard to be persuaded to the love of Christ, who is altogether lovely. O how many pour out streams of love and delight upon the vain and empty created thing; while no arguments can draw forth one drop of love from their stubborn and unbelieving hearts to Jesus Christ! I have read of one Joannes Mollius, who was observed to go often alone, and weep bitterly; and being pressed by a friend to know the cause of his troubles, said "O! it grieves me that I cannot bring this heart of mine to love Jesus Christ more fervently."
4. Represent Christ to the world as he is, by your behaviour towards him. Is he altogether lovely? Let all the world see and know that he is so, by your delights in him and communion with him; zeal for him, and readiness to part with any other lovely thing upon his account. Proclaim his excellencies to the world, as the spouse did in these verses. Persuade them how much your beloved is better than any other beloved. Show his glorious excellencies as you speak of him; hold him forth to others, as he is in himself: altogether lovely. See that you "walk worthy of him unto all well pleasing," Col. 1:10. "Show forth the praises of Christ," 1 Pet. 2:19. Let not that "worthy name be blasphemed through you," James 2:7. He is glorious in himself, and he is sure to put glory upon you; take heed that you do not put shame and dishonours upon him; he has committed his honour to you, do not betray that trust.
Nothing new here, just what our stubborn hearts and heads need to hear over and over again before it sinks in. If you love Jesus show it by how you esteem Him above all things. Show it by how you represent Him to the world. And by that how you act toward those who have less than you do, or who through no circumstances of their own are in humbler circumstances than your own. Frequent communion, fervent prayer, frequent confession, charity--all of these things fill hearts and minds around us with thoughts and images of Christ. Be aware of your temperament, treat all with respect, show true love to those that you would rather not.

Detach from the innumerable doo-dads and thingummies that fill a life with debris and focus on what really matters. During this season that may be more important that all the other advice. We all know that gifts and lights and decorations and cookies are not what the Christmas season is all about. And yet, we struggle to place the Person foremost in our hearts in our hurry to see that every material desire of those we love is met to the fullness we are capable of. Let us love the lights, the joys, the delights, and the wonders of Christmas, not for the transient material things they are, but for the reflection they given of the wonder of an Infant born more than 2000 years ago in a stable in Bethlehem. Let Him be the source of our hope and delight and our season will have true depth and true light.

Christ Altogether Lovely XV
 
I'm sure there will be great rejoicing and a great heaving of sighs that we have at last made it to the opposite shore of our great journey. It seemed at times perilous and uncertain that it might happen, but we are finally there. And we end with the last advice Rev. Flavel has for us regarding the application of the points previously taught.
from Christ Altogether Lovely
Rev. John Flavel
5. Never be ashamed to be counted as a Christian: he is altogether lovely; he can never be a shame to you; it will be your great sin to be ashamed of him. Some men glory in their shame; do not let yourself be ashamed of your glory. If you will be ashamed of Christ now, he will be ashamed of you when he shall appear in his own glory, and the glory of all his holy angels. Be ashamed of nothing but sin; and among other sins, be ashamed especially for this sin, that you have no more love for him who is altogether lovely.
6. Be willing to leave every thing that is lovely upon earth, in order that you may be with the altogether lovely Lord Jesus Christ in heaven. Lift up your voices with the bride, Rev. 20:20 "Come Lord Jesus, come quickly." It is true, you must pass through the pangs of death into his intimacy and enjoyment; but surely it is worth suffering much more than that to be with this lovely Jesus. "The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and the patient waiting for Jesus Christ," 2 Thes. 3:5.
7. Let the loveliness of Christ draw all men to him. Is loveliness in the creature so attractive? And can the transcendent loveliness of Christ draw none? O the blindness of man! If you see no beauty in Christ that causes you to desire him, it is because the god of this world has blinded your minds.
And once again Rev. Flavel hits upon ancient themes of Christian teaching. First, be proud to be Christian, because in Christ is the summum bonum, or perhaps, more appropriately He is the summum bonum (as God is simple and cannot consist of parts but is complete unity, if the summum bonum reside within Him, then indeed it is Him, or so it would seem). By our love of Him, let us guide all of humankind to Him, neither being ashamed of our Christianity, nor halting when there are setbacks (scandals in the Church, etc.)

Be willing to let go of everything on Earth that keeps you from completely embracing His loveliness. Be prepared to leave behind prejudices, preferences, and personality. Be prepared to abandon all preconceptions, all restrictions, all modifications, all of our broken notions of God. Be willing to share of our substantial material goods and our wealth of spiritual goods. And be ready to climb out of this world into His embrace, in the next life, if not in this. But better to prepare oneself to this journey here and now. As R. Garrigou-Lagrange points out many times in Christian Perfection and Contemplation--the so called "Mystical life" is in fact the calling of every Christian. Those who obtain it here have a taste of heaven. Those who do not spend some time working it out in the life to come. We have a choice--the bliss of heaven on Earth or the rags of Earth transformed in Eternity.

Finally, we must let the loveliness of Christ speak for itself. We must be exemplars of that loveliness, and by living it, lead all people to it. Through our love, mercy, gentleness, kindness, and true and substantial caring, we should shine out like lamps on a lampstand. We are Christ's body now--His hands, His feet, His capabilities on Earth. We are His instruments, and thus the instruments of salvation to our brothers and sister who still live in darkness. Let us shine light into their lonely and frightening worlds. For once they see light, it is unlikely they will love to remain in the dark.

Thus we complete our cycle with the dear Rev. Flavel. Part of the point is to say simply that much wealth exists in all sorts of sources. We should be willing to mine those veins that yield much worthwhile. Truly there are a great many within the Catholic Church, but sometimes a trumpet from outside is better placed to attract our attention.

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