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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 God's Providence

Millions of creatures in the seas are fed:

Why then are saints in doubt of daily bread?


There are multitudes of living creatures in the sea. The Psalmist saith, there are in it, "Things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts" (Ps. 104:25), and we read that when God blessed the waters, He said, "Let the waters bring forth abundantly, both fish and fowl, that move in it, and fly about it" (Gen. 1:20). Yet all those multitudes of fish and fowl, both in sea and land, are cared and provided for: "Thou givest them their meat in due season: Thou openest thy hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing" (Ps. 145:15, 16).


If God take care for the fishes of the sea and the fowls of the air, much more will He care and provide for those that fear Him: "When the poor and needy seeketh water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst; I the Lord will hear them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them" (Isa. 12:17). "Take no thought for your life," saith the Lord, "what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; or for the body what ye shall put on," which He backs with an argument from God's providence over the creatures (see Matt. 6:25,31). God would have His people be without carefulness, i.e. anxious care (see I Cor. 7:32), "And to cast their care upon Him, for He careth for them" (I Pet. 5:7). There are two main arguments suggested in the gospel to quiet and satisfy the hearts of saints in this particular: the one is, that the gift of Jesus Christ amounts to more than all these things; yea, in bestowing Him, He has given that which virtually and eminently comprehends all these inferior mercies in it: "He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all; how shall He not with Him freely give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32). And: "All things are yours, and ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's" (I Cor. 3:22). Another argument is, that God gives these temporal things to those He never gave His Christ unto, and therefore there is no great matter in them; yea, to those which, in a little while, are to be thrust into hell (see Psal.17:14). Now if God clothe and feed His enemies, if (to allude to that, Luke 12:28) He clothe the grass, which today is in its pride and glory in the field, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, into hell: how much more will He clothe and provide for you that are saints?

This God, that feeds all the creatures is your Father, and a Father that never dies; and therefore you shall not be as exposed orphans that are the children of such a Father. "For He hath said, `I will never leave you nor forsake you,'" (Heb. 13:3). I have read of a good woman, that in all wants and distresses was wont to encourage herself with that word, "The Lord liveth" (II Sam. 22:47). But one time, being in a deep distress, and forgetting that consolation, one of her little children came to her, and said, "Mother, why weep ye so? What! Is God dead now?" Which words, from a child, shamed her out of her unbelieving fears, and quickly brought her spirits to rest. O saint, whilst God lives thou canst not want what is good for thee.

How sweet a life might Christians live, could they but bring their hearts to a full subjection to the disposing will of God: to be content not only with what He commands and approves, but also with what He allots and appoints. It was a sweet reply that a gracious woman once made upon her death-bed, to a friend that asked whether she were more willing to live, or die. She answered, "I am pleased with what God pleaseth." "Yea," (saith her friend), "but if God should refer it to you, which would you choose?" "Truly," (said she), "if God would refer it to me, I would refer it to him again." Ah! Blessed life, when the will is swallowed up in the will of God, and the heart at rest in His care and love, and pleased with all His appointments.


I remember my fault this day, may many a gracious soul say. Ah! How faithless and distrustful have I been, notwithstanding the great security God hath given to my faith, both in His word and works! O my soul, thou hast greatly sinned therein, and dishonoured thy Father! I have been worse to my Father than my children are to me. They trouble not their thoughts with what they shall eat or drink, or put on, but trust to my care and provision for that; yet I cannot trust. my Father, though I have ten thousand times more reason so to do, than they have to trust me (see Matt. 7:21). Surely, unless I were jealous of my Father's affection, I could not be so dubious of his provision for me. Ah! I should rather wonder that I have so much, than repine that I have no more. I should rather have been troubled that I have done no more for God, than that I have received no more from God. I have not proclaimed it to the world by my conversation, that I have found a sufficiency in Him alone, as the saints have done (see Hab. 3:17,18). How have I debased the faith and all-sufficiency of God, and magnified these earthly trifles, by my anxiety about them! Had I had more faith, a light purse would not have made such an heavy heart. Lord, how often hast Thou convinced me of this folly, and put me to the blush, when Thou hast confuted my unbelief! so that I have resolved never to distrust Thee more, and yet new exigencies renew this corruption. How contradictory also hath my heart and my prayers been! I pray for them conditionally, and with submission to Thy will; I dare not say to thee, I must have them; yet this hath been the language of my heart and life. O convince me of this folly!

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