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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.]--Ed.

God is in Control

The seas within their bounds the Lord contains:

He also men and devils holds in chains.


It is a wonderful work of God to limit and bound such a vast and furious creature as the sea, which, according to the judgment of many learned men, is higher than the earth; and that it hath a propension to overflow it is evident both from its nature and motion, were it not that the great God had laid His law upon it. And this is a work wherein the Lord glories, and will be admired. "Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over, that they turn not again to cover the earth." (Ps. 104:9,11), which it is clear they would do, were they not thus limited. So Job 38:8,10,11: "Who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth as if it had issued out of the womb, and brake up for it my decreed place, and set bars and doors, and said, `Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further'; and here shall thy proud waves be stayed?"


And no less is the glorious power and mercy of God discovered in bridling the rage and fury of Satan and his instruments, that they break not in upon the inheritance of the Lord, and destroy it. "Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee, and the remainder of wrath Thou shalt restrain" (Ps. 74:10), by which it is more than hinted that there is a world of rage and malice in the hearts of wicked men, which fain would, but cannot vent itself, because the Lord restrains or, as in the Hebrew, girds it up. Satan is the envious one, and his rage is great against the people of God (see Rev. 12:12). But God holds him, and all his instruments in a chain of providence; and it is well for God's people that it is so.

They are limited as the sea, and so the Lord in a providential way speaks to them, "Hitherto shall ye come, and no further." Sometimes He ties them up so short that they cannot touch His people, though they have the greatest opportunities and advantages: "When they were but a few men in number, yea, very few, and strangers in it, when they went from one nation to another, from one kingdom to another people, He suffered no man to do them wrong; yea, He reproved kings for their sakes, saying, `Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm'" (Ps. 105:12-15). And sometimes He permits them to touch and trouble His people, but then sets bounds and limits to them beyond which they must not pass. This is a pregnant text to this purpose: "Behold the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried, and ye shall have tribulation ten days" (Rev. 2:10). Herein, there are four remarkable limitations upon Satan and his agents in reference to the people of God: a limitation as to the persons, not all, but some; a limitation of the punishment, a prison, not a grave, not hell; a limitation upon them as to the end, for trial, not ruin; and lastly, as to the duration, not as long as they please, but ten days.


O my soul! what marrow and fatness, comfort and consolation mayest thou suck from the breast of this truth in the darkest day of trouble? Thou seest how the flowing seas drive to overwhelm the earth. Who has arrested it in its course, and stopped its violence? Who has confined it to its place? Certainly none other but the Lord. When I see it threaten the shore with its proud, furious, and insulting waves, I wonder it doth not swallow up all: but I see it no sooner touch the sands, which God hath made its bounds, but it retires, and, as it were, with a kind of submission, respects those limits which God hath set it.

Thus the fiercest element is repressed by the feeblest things. Thou seest also how full of wrath and fury wicked men are, how they rage like the troubled sea, and threaten to overwhelm thee and all the Lord's inheritance; and then the floods of ungodly men make thee afraid, yet are they restrained by an invisible, gracious hand so that they cannot execute their purpose, nor perform their enterprise. How full of devils and devilized men is this lower world! Yet, in the midst of them all, hast thou hitherto preserved. O my soul, admire and adore that glorious power of God by which thou art kept unto salvation. Is not the preservation of a saint in the midst of such hosts of enemies as great a miracle, though not so noticable, as the preservation of those three noble Jews in the midst of the fiery furnace, or Daniel in the den of lions? For there is as strong a propension in Satan and wicked men, to destroy the saints, as in the fire to burn, or a lion to devour. O! then, let me cheerfully address myself to the faithful discharge of my duty, and stand no longer in a slavish fear of creatures, who can have no power against me but what is given them from above (see John 19:11), and no more shall be given than shall turn to the glory of God (see Ps. 74:10), and the advantage of my soul (see Rom. 8:28).

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