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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.

Concerning What We Live For

What dangers run they for little gains.

Who, for their souls, would ne'er take half the pains!


How exceeding solicitous and adventurous are seamen for a small portion of the world? How prodigal of strength and life for it? They will run to the ends of the earth, engage in a thousand dangers, upon the hopes and probability of getting a small estate. Per mare, per terras, per mille pericula currunt. Hopes of gain make them willing to adventure their liberty, yea, their life, and encourage them to endure heat, cold, and hunger, and a thousand straits and difficulties, to which they are frequently exposed.


How hot and eager are men's affections after the world and how remiss and cold towards things eternal! They are careful, and troubled about many things; but seldom mind the great and necessary matter (see Luke 10:40). They can rise early, go to bed late, and eat the bread of carefulness; but when did they so deny themselves for their poor souls? Their heads are full of designs and projects to get or advance an estate: "We will go into such a city, continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain" (James 4:13). This is the master-design which engrosseth all their time, studies, and contrivances. The will hath passed a decree for it, the heart and affections are fully let out to it, "they will be rich" (I Tim. 4:9). This decree of the will, the Spirit of God takes deep notice of; and indeed it is the clearest and fullest discovery of a man's portion and condition: for look what is highest in the estimation, first and last in the thoughts, and upon which we spend our time and strength with delight; certainly, that is our treasure (see Matt. 4:20,21). The heads and hearts of saints are full of solicitous cares and fears about their spiritual condition; the great design they drive on, to which all other things are but things by-the-by, is to make sure their calling and election. This is the weight and bias of their spirit; if their hearts stray and wander after any other thing, this reduces them again.


Lord, this hath been my manner from my youth, may the carnal-minded man say. I have been labouring for the meat that perisheth; disquieting myself in vain, full of designs and projects for the world, and unwearied in my endeavours to compass an earthly treasure; yet therein I have either been checked and disappointed by Providence, or if I have obtained, yet I am no sooner come to enjoy that content and comfort I promised myself in it, but I am ready to leave it all, to be stripped out of it by death, and in that day all my thoughts perish: But, in the mean time, what have I done for my soul? When did I ever break a night's sleep, or deny and pinch myself for it? Ah! fool that I am! to nourish and pamper a vile body, which must shortly lie under the clods, and become a loathsome carcase: and, in the mean time, neglect and undo my poor soul, which partakes of the nature of angels, and must live forever. I have kept others vineyards, but mine own vineyard I have not kept. I have been a perpetual drudge and slave to the world; in a worse condition hath my soul been, than others that are condemned to the mines. Lord, change my treasure, and change my heart: O let it suffice that I have been thus long labouring in the fire for very vanity: now gather up my heart and affections in thyself, and let my great design now be to secure a special interest in thy blessed self, that I may once say, "To me to live is Christ" (Phil. 1:21).

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