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A Classic Study by John Flavel (1628-1691)


On the Use of Our Gifts


By navigation one place stores another,

And by communion we must help each other.




The most wise God hath so dispensed His bounty to the several nations of the world, so that through one standing in need of another's commodities, there might be a sociable commerce and traffic maintained amongst them all, and all combining in a common league may, by the help of navigation, exhibit mutual succours to each other. The staple commodities proper to each country, I find expressed by the poet, Bart. Coll.:


Hence comes our sugars from Canary isles;

From Candy currants, muskatels, and oils;

From the Molucco's, spices; balsumum,

From Egypt; odours from Arabia come;...

From Florence, silks; from Spain, fruit, saffron, sacks;

From Denmark, amber, cordage, firs, and flax;

From Holland, hops; horse from the banks of Rhine

From France and Italy the choicest wine;

From England, wool; all lands as God distributes,

To the world's treasure pay their sundry tributes.




Thus hath God distributed the more rich and precious gifts and graces of His Spirit among His people; some excelling in one grace, some in another, though every grace, in some degree, be in them all; even as in nature, though there be all the faculties in all, yet some faculties are in some more lively and vigorous than in others; some have a more vigorous eye, others a more ready ear, others a more voluble tongue; so it is in spirituals. Abraham excelled in faith, Job in patience, John in love. These were their peculiar excellencies. All the elect vessels are not of one quantity; yet even those that excel others in some particular grace, come short in other respects of those they so excelled in the former, and may be much improved by converse with such as in some respects are much below them. The solid, wise, and judicious Christian may want that liveliness of affections and tenderness of heart that appear in the weak; and one that excels in gifts and utterance may learn humility from the very babes in Christ.

And one principal reason of this different distribution is to maintain fellowship among them all: "The head cannot say to the feet, I have no need of you." (I Cor. xii. 21). As in a family where there is much business to be done, even the little children bear a part, according to their strength: "The children gather wood, the fathers kindle the fire, the women knead the dough" (Jer. vii. 18). So in the family of Christ, the weakest Christian is serviceable to the strong.

There be precious treasures in these earthen vessels, for which we should trade by mutual communion. The preciousness of the treasure should draw out our desires and endeavors after it; and the consideration of the brittleness of those vessels in which they are kept should cause us to be the more expeditious in our trading with them, and make the quicker returns. For when those vessels (I mean bodies of the saints) are broken by death, there is no more to be gotten out of them. That treasure of grace which made them such profitable, pleasant, and desirable companions on earth, then ascends with them into heaven, where every grace receives its adolescence and perfection: and then, though they be ten thousand times more excellent and delightful than ever they were on earth, yet we can have no more communion with them till we come to glory ourselves. Now, therefore, it behoves us to be enriching ourselves by communication of what God hath dropped into us, and improvement of them. We should do by saints, as we use to do by some choice book lent us for a few days: we should fix in our memories, or transcribe all the choice notions we meet with in it, that they may be our own when the book is called for, and we can have it no longer by us.




Lord, how short do I come of my duty in communicating to, or receiving good by others! My soul is either empty and barren, or if there be any treasure in it, yet is but as a treasure locked up in some chest, whose key is lost, when it should be opened for the use of others. Ah Lord! I have sinned greatly, not only by vain words, but sinful silence. I have been of little use in the world.

How little also have I gotten by communion with others? Some it may be, that are of my own size, or judgment, or that I am otherwise obliged to, I can delight to converse with: but O, where is that largeness of heart and general delight I should have? How many of my old dear acquaintances are now in heaven, whose tongues were as choice silver, while they were here (see Prov. x. 20)? And blessed souls! How communicative were they of what thou gavest them! O what an improvement had I made of my talent this way, had I been diligent! Lord pardon my neglect of those sweet and blessed advantages. O let all my delight be in thy saints, who are the excellent of the earth. Let me never go out of their company, without an heart more warmed, quickened, and enlarged, than when I came amongst them.

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