[Here, we continue our reprint of excerpts from John Flavel's book Navigation Spiritualized.4 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.
How watchful and quick-sighted are seamen to prevent dangers! If the wind die away and then fresh up southerly, or if they see the sky hazy, they provide for a storm; if by the prospective-glass they know a pirate at a great distance, they clear the gun-room, prepare for fight, and bear up, if able to deal with him; if not, they keep close by the wind, make all the sail they can, and bear away. If they suppose themselves (by their reckoning) near land, how often do they sound? And if upon a coast with which they are unacquainted, how careful are they to get a pilot that knows, and is acquainted with it?
Thus watchful and suspicious ought we to be in spiritual concernments. We should study, and be acquainted with Satan's wiles and policy. The apostle takes it for granted, that Christians are not ignorant of his devices (see II Cor. 2:11). "The serpent's eye," as one saith, "would do well in the dove's head." The devil is a cunning pirate, he puts out false colours, and ordinarily comes up to the Christian in the disguise of a friend.
O the manifold depths and stratagems of Satan to destroy souls! Though he have no wisdom to do himself good, yet he hath policy enough to do us mischief. He lies in ambush behind our lawful comforts and employments; yet, for the generality of men, how supine and careless are they, suspecting no danger? Their souls, like Laish dwell carelessly, their senses unguarded; O what an easy prize, and conquest, doth the devil make of them!
Indeed, if it were with us as with Adam in innocency, or as it was with Christ in the days of His flesh (who by reason of that overflowing fullness of grace that dwelt in Him, the purity of His person, and the hypostatical union, was secured from the danger of all temptations) the case then were otherwise; but we have a traitor within (see James 1:14,15), as well as a tempter without: "Our adversary the devil goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (I Pet. 5:8). And, like the beasts of the forest, poor souls lie down before him, and become his prey. All the sagacity, wit, policy, and foresight of some men, is summoned in to serve their bodies, and secure their fleshly enjoyments.
Lord! how doth the care, wisdom, and vigilance of men in temporal and external things, condemn my carelessness in the deep and dear concernments of my precious soul! What care and labour is there to secure a perishing life, liberty, or treasure! When was I thus solicitous for my soul, though its value be inestimable, and its danger far greater! Self-preservation is one of the deepest principles in nature. There is not the poorest fly, or worm, but will shun danger, if it can: yet I am so far from shunning those dangers to which my soul lies continually exposed, that I often run it upon temptations, and voluntarily expose it to its enemies. I see Lord how watchful, jealous, and laborious thy people are; what prayers, tears, and groans, searching of heart, mortification of lusts, guarding of senses; and all accounted too little by them. Have not I a soul to save or lose eternally, as well as they? Yet I cannot deny one fleshly lust, nor withstand one temptation. O how I am convinced and condemned, not only by other's care and vigilence, but my own too, in lesser and lower matters!