A Classic Study by John Flavel (1628Ė1691)

[Here, we continue our reprint of excerpts from John Flavelís 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.]óEd.

Acknowledging Godís Providence

Our food out of the sea God doth command;

Yet few therein take notice of His hand.

 

 

Observation.

The providence of God in furnishing us with such plenty and variety of fish is not slightly to be passed over. We have not only several sorts of fish in our own seas, which are caught in their seasons; but from several parts, especially the western parts of England, many ships are sent yearly to the American parts of the world; like Newfoundland, New England, etc. Whence every year is brought home, not only enough to supply our own nation, but many thousand pounds worth also yearly returned from Spain and other countries, by which trade many thousand families do subsist.

 

Application.

But now, what returns do we make to heaven for these mercies? O what notice is taken of the good hand of Providence, which thus supplies and feeds us with the blessings of the sea? I fear there are but few that own, or act in submission to it, and are careful to return, according to received benefit. Men do not consider "that their works are in the hand of God," (Eccl. 9:1). And even those that have the most immediate dependence upon Providence, as merchants and seamen, are very prone to undertake designs in the confidence of their own wisdom and industry, not looking higher for the blessing (see James 4:13). They often "sacrifice to their own net, and burn incense to their drag, because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous" (Hab. 1:16), viz. they attribute what is due to God unto the creature. Now this is a sin highly provoking to the Lord, for look in what degree the heart cleaves to the second cause, in the same degree it departs from the living God (see Jer. 10:5).

And how do you think the blessed God will take it, to see himself thus debased, and the creature thus exalted into his place; to see you carry yourselves to the creature as to a God, and to the blessed God as to a creature. Surely, it is a great and common evil and such as will blast all, if not timely discovered and lamented. If we make flesh our arm, it is just with God to wither and dry up the arm. Do we not, my brethren, look upon second causes as if they had the main stroke in our business? And with a neglective eye pass by God, as if he came in but collaterally, and on the bye, into it? But certainly all endeavours will be unsanctified in which God is not eyed and engaged.

"It is in vain for you to rise up early, and sit up late, and eat the bread of sorrows; for so he giveth his beloved sleep" (Ps. 137:2), i.e., it is to no purpose for men to beat their brains, tire their spirits, and rack their consciences for an estate. The true way of acquiring and enjoying the creature is by submitting quietly to the will of God, in a prudent and diligent, yet moderate use of lawful means: Nothing can thrive with us till then.

 

Reflection.

Why then should I disquiet myself in vain; and rob myself of my peace, by these unbelieving cares and distractions? O this hath been my sin! I have acted, as if my condition had been at my own dispose; I have eyed creatures and means too much, and God too little. How have my hands hanged down with discouragement, when second causes have disappeared, or wrought cross to my designs in the world, ready to transfer the fault on this thing, or that! And again, how apt am I to be vainly lifted up in carnal confidence, when I see myself competently furnished with creature minition, and provision? Oh, what a God-provoking wickedness is this! How oft hath providence checked my carnal presumption, and dashed many hopeful projects? Yet have I not owned it, as I ought, and submitted to it. Oh, it is a wonder this hath not closed the hand of providence against me, and pulled down a curse upon all! Ah Lord, let me now learn, "to acquaint myself with thee, then shall I decree a thing, and it shall be established" (Job 22:28).

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