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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. 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.


On Making the Most of Every Opportunity


If seamen lose a gale, there they may lie;

The soul, when once becalm'd in sin, may die.




Seamen are very watchful to take their opportunity of wind and tide, and it much concerns them so to be. The neglect of a few hours sometimes loses them their passage, and proves a great detriment to them. They know the wind is an uncertain, variable thing; they must take it when they may; they are unwilling to lose one flow or breath that may be serviceable to them. If a prosperous gale offers, and they not ready, it repents them to lose it, as much as it would repent us to see a vessel of good wine, or beer, tapped and run to waste.





There are also seasons, and gales of grace for our souls, golden opportunities of salvation afforded to men, the neglect of which proves the loss and ruin of souls. God hath given unto man a day of visitation, which He hath limited (see Heb. iv. 7) and keeps an exact account of every year, month, and day that we have enjoyed it (see Luke xiii. 7; Jer. xxv. 3; Luke xix. 42). The longest date of it can be but the time of this life; this is our day to work in (see Job ix. 4), and upon this small wire the weight of eternity hangs. But sometimes the season of grace is ended before the night of death comes; the accepted time is gone, men frequently outlive it (see Luke xix. 44; II Cor. vi. 2). Or, if the outward means of salvation be continued, yet the spirit many times withdraws from those means, and ceases any more to strive with men; and then the blessing, power, and efficacy is gone from them, and instead thereof a curse seizeth the soul (see Heb. vi. 7, 8 and Jer. vi. 29).

Therefore it is a matter of high importance to our souls to apprehend these seasons. [With what great emotion] doth Christ bewail Jerusalem upon this account!: "O that thou hadst known at least in this thy day, the things of thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes" (Luke xix. 42). If a company of seamen are set ashore upon some remote island with this advice, to be aboard again exactly at such an hour else they must be left behind, how doth it concern them to be punctual to their time? The lives of those men depend upon a quarter of an hour. Many a soul hath perished eternally, the gospel leaving them behind in their sins, because they knew not the time of their visitation.





What golden seasons for salvation hast thou enjoyed, O my soul? What halcyon days of gospel light and grace hast thou had? How have the precious gales of grace blown to no purpose upon thee and the Spirit waited and striven with thee in vain? "The kingdom of heaven", (being opened in the gospel dispensation), "hath suffered violence" (Matt. 11:12).Multitudes have been pressing into it in my days, and I myself have sometimes been almost persuaded, and not far from the kingdom of God: I have gone as far as conviction for sin and misery. Yea, I have been carried by the power of the gospel to resolve and purpose to turn to God, and become a new creature; but sin hath been too subtle and deceitful for me. I see my resolutions were but as an early cloud or morning dew; and now my heart is cold and dead again, settled upon its lees. Ah! I have cause to fear and tremble, lest God hath left me under that curse: "Let him that is filthy be filthy still" (see Rev. xx. 11). I fear I am become as that miry place (see Ezek. xlvii. 11) that shall not be healed by the streams of the gospel, but given to salt, and cursed into perpetual barrenness. Ah Lord! Wilt thou leave me so? And shall thy Spirit strive no more with me? Then it had been good for me that I had never been born. Ah! If I have trifled out this season, and irrecoverably lost it, then I may take up that lamentation and say: "My harvest is past, my summer is ended, and I am not saved" (Jer. viii. 20).

Every creature knows its time, even the turtle, crane, and swallow, know the time of their coming (see Jer. viii. 7). How brutish am I, that have not known the time of my visitation! O Thou, that art the Lord of life and time, command one gracious season more for me, and make it effectual to me, before I go hence, and be seen no more!

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