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.


In seas the greater fish the less devour:

So some men crush all those within their power.



There are fishes of prey in the sea, as well as birds and beasts of prey on the land. Our seamen tell us how the devouring whales, sharks, dolphins, and other fishes, follow the caplein and other smaller fish, and devour multitudes of them. It is frequent with us in our own seas to find several smaller fish in the bellies of the greater ones; yea, I have often heard seamen say, that the poor little fry, when pursued are so sensible of the danger, that they have sometimes seen multitudes of them cast themselves upon the shore and perish there to avoid the danger of being devoured by them.


Thus cruel, merciless, and oppressive are wicked men, whose "tender mercies are cruelty" (Prov. 22:10, AV). We see the like cruelty in our extortioners, and over-reaching sharks ashore, who grind the faces of the poor, and regard not the cries of the fatherless and widows, but fill their houses with the gain of oppression. These are, by the Holy Ghost, compared to the fishes of the sea (see Hab. 1:13,14). This is a crying sin, yea, it sends up a loud cry to heaven for vengeance: "If thou afflict the widow and the fatherless, and they cry unto me, I will surely hear their cry" (Ex. 22:23, AV). And verse 27: "I will hear his cry, for I am gracious." Nay, God will not only hear their cry, but avenge their quarrel. That is a remarkable text: "That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter, because that the Lord is the [avenger] of all such" (I Thess. 4:6, AV). This word avenger, is but once more used in the New Testament (see Rom. 13:4), and there it is applied to the civil magistrate, who is to see execution done upon offenders. But now this is a sin that sometimes may be out of the reach of manís justice, and therefore God Himself will be their avenger. You may overpower the poor in this world, and it may be they cannot contend with you at manís bar, therefore God will bring you before His bar.

Believe it, sirs, it is a sin so provoking to God, that He will not let it escape without severe punishment, sooner or later. The prophet Habakkuk wondered how the holy God could forbear such till the general day of reckoning, and that He did not take exemplary vengeance on them in this life: "Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look upon iniquity: wherefore then lookest Thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest Thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?" (Hab. 1:13, AV). And Prov. 23:10Ė11 (AV): "Enter not into the field of the fatherless," i.e., of the poor and helpless. But why is it more dangerous violently to invade their right, than anotherís? The reason is added, "for their Redeemer is mighty, and He shall plead their cause with thee." It may be they are not able to retain a counsel to plead their cause here; therefore God will plead their cause for them.



Turn in upon thyself (O my soul) and consider, hast thou not been guilty of this crying sin? Have I not (when a servant) over-reached and defrauded others, and filled my masterís house with violence and deceit? And so, have I not brought myself under that dreadful threatening (see Zeph. 1:9)? Or since I came to trade and deal upon mine own account, have not the balances of deceit been in my hand? I have (it may be) kept many in my service and employment; have not I used their labours without reward, and so am under that woe (see Jer. 22:13)? Or [have not I] not given them wages proportionable to their work (see Isa. 58:3)? Or [have not I] by bad payment and unjust deductions and allowances, defrauded them of a part of their due (see Mal. 3:5)? Or at least delayed payment, out of a covetous disposition to gain by it; whilst their necessities in the mean time cried aloud for it; and so sinned against Godís express commands (see Deut. 24:14Ė15; Lev. 19:30)? Or have I not persecuted such as God hath smitten (see Ps. 59:26), and rigorously exacted the utmost of my due, though the hand of God hath gone out against them, breaking their estates? O my soul, examine thyself upon these particulars: rest not quiet until this guilt be removed by the application of the blood of sprinkling. Hath not the Lord said, "That they shall have judgment without mercy, that have showed no mercy?" (James 2:13). And is it not a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, who hath said, He will take vengeance for these things?



Respice Finem

My soul, sit thou a patient looker-on;
Judge not the Play before the Play is done;
Her Plot has many changes; every day
Speaks a new scene; the last act crowns the Play.

-- Francis Quarles (1592-1644)

The Cross

Talk not of Justice and her scales of woe,
We know no justice, weighing gain and loss,
Save the balancing arms of love held wide
That cannot sway or falter to and fro,
Mercy on this side and the other side,
The adamantine justice of the Cross.

-- Eva Gore-Booth (1872-1926)

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