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 liv ing on the sea, and so Mr. Flavel wrote Navigation Spiritualized, a book which draws parallels between things of the sea and spiritual things.]—Ed.

The Tempest of a Troubled Conscience

Christ, with a word, can surging waves appease:

His voice a troubled soul can quickly ease.

Observation.

When the sea works, and is tempestuous, it is not in the power of any creature to appease it. When the Egyptians would by their hieroglyphics express an impossibility, they did it by the picture of a man treading upon the waves. It is storied of Canute, an ancient Danish king, that when a mighty storm of flattery arose upon him, he appeased it by showing that he could not appease the sea: But one of his courtiers told him as he rode near the sea-side, ‘That he was Lord of t he sea as well as land.’ ‘Well, (said the king) we shall see that by and by;’ and so went to the water-side, and with a loud voice cried, ‘O ye seas and waves, come no further, touch not my feet.’ But the sea came up notwithstanding that charge, and confuted the flattery. But now Jesus Christ hath command of the sea indeed: It is said of him, "That He rebuked them" (Matt. 8:20). And He quiets them with a word, "Peace be still" (Mark 4:38), as one would hush a child, and the sea obeyed Him.

 

Application.

Conscience, when awakened by the terrors of the Lord, is like a raging tempestuous sea: so it works, so it roars. And it is not in the power of all creatures to hush or quiet it. Spiritual terrors, as well as spiritual consolati ons are not known till felt. O when the arrows of the Almighty are shot into the spirit, and the terrors of God set themselves in array against the soul; when the venom of those arrows drink up the spirits, and those armies of terrors charge violent ly and successively upon it, as Job 6:4. What creature then is able to stand before them? Even God’s own dear children have felt such terrors as have distracted them (see Ps. 81:15). Conscience is the seat of guilt: it is like a burning gl ass, so it contracts the beams of the threatenings, twists them together, and reflects them on the soul, until it smoke, scorch, and flame. If the wrath of the king be like the roaring of a lion, then what is the Almighty’s wrath: a burning wrat h (see Job 19:11), tearing wrath (Ps. 50:22), surprising wrath (Job 20:23), and abiding wrath (Job 3:36)?

In this case no creature can relieve: all are physicians of no value. Some under these terrors have thought hell more tolerable, and by a violent hand have thrust themselves out of the world into it to avoid these gnawings. Yet J esus Christ can quickly calm these mystical waves also, and hush them with a word; yea, He is the physician, and no other. It is the sprinkling of His blood, which, like a cooling fomentation, allays those heats within. That blood of sprinkling spe aks peace, when all others have practiced upon the soul to no purpose; and the reason is, because He is a Person in whom God and man, justice and mercy meet and kiss each other (see Eph. 2:14). Thus, He brings peace to the soul (see Rom. 5:1).

Reflection.

Can none appease a troubled conscience but Christ? Then learn, O my soul, to understand, and daily more and more to savor that glorious name, even Jesus, that delivers not only from the wrath to come, but that which is felt here a lso. O, if the foretaste of hell be so intolerable, if a few drops let fall on the conscience in this life be so scalding and insufferable, what is it to have all the vials poured out to eternity, when there shall be nothing to divert, mitigate, or allay it?

Here men have somewhat to abate those terrors, some hopes of mercy, at least a possibility: but there, there is none. O my soul! How art thou loaded with guilt! And what a Magormissabib wouldst thou be, should God rouse that sleepy lion in thy bosom! My condition is not at all the better because my conscience is quiet. Ah! The day is coming when it must awake, and will lighten and thunder terribly within me, if I get not into Christ the sooner. O Lord, who knows the power of thy wrath? O let me not carry this guilt out of the world with me, to maintain those everlasting flames. Let me give no sleep to mine eyes, nor slumber to mine eyelids, till I feel the comfort of that blood of sprinkling, which alone s peaketh peace.

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