[ Home | Table of Contents | Previous Page | Next Page | Back Issues | Complete Index ]

A Classic Study by John Flavel (1628-1691)


[Here, we continue our reprint of excerpts from John Flavel's book Navigation Spiritualized.3 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. This book is a masterpiece in the way it communicates spiritual truths in the language of its target audience, the seamen of Dartmouth. In fact, it was written specifically for the seamen to take on voyages and read, so that (for example), while they sailed the boundless seas, they could read of God's boundless mercies; or, while they adjusted their sails for shifting winds, they could read how to prepare their souls for the shifting winds of life; etc. And indeed, though few of us are seamen, we are all on a voyage through this life, so (I dare say) we may all profit from this study.]--Ed.



The Strange Creatures of the Heart


Within these smooth faced seas strange creatures crawl;

But in man's heart far stranger than them all.





It was an unadvised saying of Plato: "The sea produceth nothing memorable." But surely there is much of the wisdom, power, and goodness of God manifested in those inhabitants of the watery region; notwithstanding the sea's azure and smiling face, strange creatures are bred in its womb. "O, Lord," saith David, "how manifold are Thy works: In wisdom hast Thou made them all; the earth is full of Thy riches. So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts" (Ps. 104:24-25). And we read of sea-monsters, which draw out their breasts to their young (see Lam. 4:3). Pliny and Purchas tell incredible stories about them. About the tropic of Capricorn, our seamen meet with flying fishes, that have wings like a rere-mouse, but of a silver colour; they fly in flocks like stares. There are creatures of very strange forms and properties; some resembling a cow, called by the Spaniards, manates, by some supposed to be the sea-monster spoken of by Jeremy. In the rivers of Guinea, Purchas saith, there are fishes that have four eyes, bearing two above, and two beneath the water, when they swim: both resembling a toad, and very poisonous. How strange, both in shape and property, is the sword-fish and thresher, that fight with the whale. Even our own seas produce creatures of strange shapes, but the commonness takes off the wonder.





Thus doth the heart of man naturally swarm and abound with strange and monstrous lusts and abominations: "Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful" (Rom. 1:29-31). O what a swarm is here! And yet, there are multitudes more, in the depths of the heart! And it is no wonder, considering that with this nature, we received the spawn of the blackest and vilest abominations. This original lust is productive of them all (see James 1:14,15). Which lust, though it be in every man, numerically, different from that of others, yet it is one and the same specifically, for sort and kind, in all the children of Adam; even as the reasonable soul, though every man hath his own soul, viz. a soul individually distinct from another man's, yet it is the same for kind in all men. So that whatever abominations are in the hearts and lives of the vilest Sodomites, and the most profligate wretches under heaven; there is the same matter in thy heart out of which they were shaped and formed. In the depths of the heart they are conceived, and thence they crawl out of the eyes, hands, lips, and all the members. "Those things," saith Christ, "which proceed out of the mouth, come forth from the heart, and defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies" (Matt. 15:18-19): even such monsters as would make a gracious heart tremble to behold. "What are my lusts," saith Fuller, "but so many toads spitting of venom, and spawning of poison; croaking in my judgment, creeping in my will, and crawling into my affections?" The apostle in I Cor. 5:1 tells us of a sin "not to be named", [that is] so monstrous, that nature itself startles at it: even such monsters [as] are generated in the depths of the hearts. "Whence come evils?" was a question that much puzzled the philosophers of old. Now here you may see whence they come, and where they are begotten.





And are there such strange abominations in the heart of man? Then how is he degenerated from his primitive perfection and glory! His streams were once as clear as crystal, and the fountain of them pure, there was no unclean creature moving in them. What a stately fabric was the soul at first! And what holy inhabitants possessed the several rooms thereof! But now, as God speaks of Idumea: "The line of confusion is stretched out upon it, and the stones of emptiness. The cormorant and bittern possess it; the owl and the raven dwell in it" (Isa. 34:11). Yea, "the wild beasts of the desert lie there: it is full of doleful creatures, the satyrs dance in it, and dragons cry in those sometimes pleasant places" (Isa. 13:21-22). O sad change! How sadly may we look back towards our first state and take up the words of Job: "O that I were as in months past, as in the days of my youth; when the Almighty was yet with me, when I put on righteousness, and it clothed me, when my glory was fresh in me" (Job 29:2,4,5).

Again, think, O my soul, what a miserable condition the unregenerate abide in! Thus swarmed and over-run with hellish lusts, under the dominion and vassalage of divers lusts (see Tit. 3:3). What a tumultuous sea is such a soul: how do these lusts rage within them! How do they contest and scuffle for the throne and usually take it by turns: for as all diseases are contrary to health, yet some contrary to each other, so are lusts. Hence poor creatures are hurried on to different kinds of servitude, according to the nature of that imperious lust that is in the throne; and, like the lunatic, are sometimes cast into the water, and sometimes into the fire (see Matt. 17). Well might the prophet say, "The wicked is like a troubled sea, that cannot rest" (Isa. 7:20). They have no peace now in the service of sin, and less shall they have hereafter, when they receive the wages of sin. "There is no peace to the wicked, saith my God" (Isa. 48:22). They indeed cry, "Peace, peace;" but my God doth not so. The last issue and result of this is eternal death; no sooner is it delivered of its deceitful pleasures, but presently it falls in travail again, and brings forth death (see James 1:15).

Once more: and is the heart such a sea, abounding with monstrous abominations? Then stand astonished, O my soul, at that free grace which hath delivered thee from so sad a condition. O fall down and kiss the feet of mercy that moved so freely and seasonably to thy rescue? Let my heart be enlarged abundantly here. Lord, what am I, that I should be taken, and others left? Reflect, O my soul, upon the conceptions and bursts of lusts in the days of vanity, which thou now blushest to own. O what black imaginations, hellish desires, vile affections are lodged there! Who made me to differ? Or, how came I to be thus wonderfully separated? Surely, it is by Thy free grace, and nothing else, that I am what I am; and by that grace I have escaped (to mine own astonishment) the corruption that is in the world through lust. O that ever the holy God should set His eyes on such an one; or cast a look of love towards me, in whom were legions of unclean lusts and abominations.


[ Home | Table of Contents | Previous Page | Next Page | Back Issues | Complete Index ]