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A Classic Study by John Flavel (1628-1691)


[Here, we continue our reprint of excerpts from John Flavel's book Navigation Spiritualized.1 John Flavel was a 17th Century minister in the seaside town of Dartmouth, England. A good many of his parishioners made their living on the sea, and so Mr. Flavel wrote Navigation Spiritualized, a book which draws parallels between things of the sea and spiritual things.]--Ed.



The Launching


The launching of a ship plainly sets forth

Our double state, by first and second birth.





No sooner is a ship built, launched, rigged, victualled, and manned, but she is presently sent out into the boisterous ocean, where she is never at rest, but continually fluctuating, tossing, and labouring, until she be either overwhelmed, and wrecked in the sea; or through age, knocks, and bruises, grow leaky, and unserviceable; and so is haled up, and ripped abroad.





No sooner come we into the world as men or as Christians, by a natural or supernatural birth, but thus we are tossed upon a sea of troubles: "Yet man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upwards" (Job 5:7). The spark no sooner comes out of the fire, but it flies up naturally; it needs not any external force, help, or guidance, but ascends from a principle in itself; so naturally, so easily doth trouble rise out of sin. There is radically all the misery, anguish, and trouble in the world in our corrupt natures. As the spark lies close hid in the coals, so doth misery in sin; every sin draws a rod after it. And these sorrows and troubles fall not only on the body, in those breaches, flaws, deformities, pains, aches, diseases, to which it is subject, which are but the groans of dying nature, and its crumbling, by degrees, into dust again; but on all our employments and callings also (see Gen. 3:17-19). These are full of pain, trouble, and disappointment (see Hag. 1:6). We earn wages, and put it into a bag with holes, and disquiet ourselves in vain; all our relations are full of trouble. The apostle speaking to those that marry, saith, "Such shall have trouble in the flesh" (I Cor. 7:28). Upon which words one glosseth thus: Flesh and trouble are married together, whether we marry or no; but they that are married, marry with, and match into new troubles: All relations have their burdens, as well as their comforts. It were endless to enumerate the sorrows of this kind, and yet the troubles of the body are but the body of our troubles; the spirit of the curse falls upon the spiritual and noblest part of man. The soul and body, like to Ezekiel's roll, are written full with sorrows, both within and without. So that we make the same report of our lives, when we come to die, that old Jacob made before Pharoah: "Few and evil hath the days of the years of our lives been" (Gen. 47:9). "For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun? For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh no rest in the night: This is also vanity" (Eccl. 2:22-23).

Neither doth our new birth free us from troubles, though then they be sanctified, sweetened, and turned into blessings to us. We put not off the human, when we put on the divine nature; nor are we then freed from the sense, though we are delivered from the sting and curse of them. Grace doth not presently pluck out all those arrows that sin hath shot into the sides of nature. "When we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side: Without were fightings, and within were fears" (II Cor. 7:5). "These are they that come out of great tribulations" (Rev. 7:14). The first cry of the new-born Christian (says one) gives hell an alarm, and awakens the rage both of devils and men against him. Hence Paul and Barnabas acquainted those new converts: "That through much tribulation they must enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). And we find the state of the church, in this world, set out by the similitude of a distressed ship at sea: "O thou afflicted [and tossed] with tempests, and not comforted" (Isa. 54:11). [Tossed] as Jonah's ship was; for the same word is there used (see Jonah 1:11,13) as a vessel at sea, stormed and violently driven without rudder, mast, sail, or tackling. Nor are we to expect freedom from those troubles, until harboured in heaven (see II Thess. 1:7). O what large catalogues of experiences do the saints carry to heaven with them, for their various exercises, dangers, trials, and marvelous preservations and deliverances out of all! and yet all these troubles without, are nothing to those within them; from temptations, corruptions, desertions, by passion and compassion. Besides their own, there come daily upon them the troubles of others; many rivulets fall into this channel and brim, yea, often overflow the bank. "Many are the afflictions of the righteous" (Ps. 34:19).





Hence should the graceless heart thus reflect upon itself, O my soul! into what a sea of troubles art thou launched forth! And what a sad case art thou in! Full of trouble, and full of sin; and these do mutually produce each other. And that which is the most dreadful consideration of all, is that I cannot see the end of them. As for the saints, they suffer in the world as well as I; but it is but for a while (see I Pet. 5:10), and then they suffer no more (see II Thess. 1:7), "But all tears shall be wiped away from their eyes" (Rev. 7:17). But my troubles look with a long visage, ah! they are but the beginning of sorrows, but a parboiling before I be roasted in the flames of God's eternal wrath. If I continue as I am, I shall but deceive myself, if I conclude I shall be happy in the other world, because I have met with so much sorrow in this: For I read, (in Jude, verse 7) that the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, though consumed to ashes, with all their estates and relations (a sorer temporal judgment than ever yet befell me) do, notwithstanding that continue still in "everlasting chains, under darkness, in which they are reserved unto the judgment of the great day" (Jude 6). These troubles of the saints are sanctified to them, but mine are fruits of the curse. They have spiritual consolations to balance them, which flow into their souls in the same height and degree, as troubles do upon their bodies (see II Cor. 1:5). But I am a stranger to their comforts, and "intermeddle not with their joys" (Prov. 14:10). If their hearts be surcharged with trouble, they have a God to go to; and when they have opened their cause before Him, they are eased, return with comfort, and their "countenance is no more sad" (I Sam. 1:18). When their belly is as bottles full of new wine, they can give it vent by pouring out their souls into their Father's bosom: but I have no interest in, nor acquaintance with this God, nor can I pray unto Him in the Spirit. My griefs are shut up like fire in my bosom, which preys upon my spirit. This is my sorrow, and I alone must bear it. O my soul, look round about thee! What a miserable case art thou in! Rest no longer satisfied in it, but look out for a Christ also. What though I am a vile, unworthy wretch? Yet He promiseth to love freely (Hos. 14:4) and invites such as are heavy laden to Him (Matt. 11:28).

Hence also should the gracious soul reflect sweetly upon itself after this manner: And is the world so full of trouble? O my soul! What cause hast thou to stand admiring at the indulgence and goodness of God to thee? Thou hast hitherto had a smooth passage, comparatively to what others have had. How hath Divine Wisdom ordered my condition, and cast my lot? Have I been chastised with whips? Others, with scorpions. Have I had no peace without? Some have neither had peace without or within, but terrors round about. Or have I felt trouble in my flesh and spirit at once? Yet have they not been extreme, either for time or measure. And hath the world been a Sodom, an Egypt to thee? Why then dost thou thus linger in it, and hanker after it? Why do I not long to be gone, and sigh more heartily for deliverance? Why are the thoughts of my Lord's coming no sweeter to me, and the day of my full deliverance no more panted for? And why am I no more careful to maintain peace within, since there is so much trouble without? Is not this it that puts weight into all outward troubles, and makes them sinking, that they fall upon me when my spirit is dark, or wounded?

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