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.

The Danger of Even the Smallest Sin

A little leak neglected, dangerous proves:

One sin connived at, the soul undoes.


The smallest leak, if not timely discovered and stopped, is enough to sink a ship of the greatest burden: Therefore seamen are wont frequently to try what water is in the hold; and if they find it fresh, and increasing upon them, they ply the pump, and presently set the carpenters to search for the leak and stop it; and till it be found they cannot be quiet.


What such a leak is to a ship, that is the smallest sin neglected to the soul; it is enough to ruin it eternally. For as the greatest sin discovered, lamented, and mourned over by a believer, cannot ruin him; so the least sin indulged, covered, and connived at, will certainly prove the destruction of the sinner. No sin, though never so small, is tolerated by the pure and perfect law of God (see Ps. 119:96). The command is exceeding broad; not as if it gave men a latitude to walk as they please, but broad, i.e., extending itself to all our words, thoughts, actions, and affections: Laying a law upon them all; allowing no evil in any man (see I Pet. 2:1).

And as the word gives no allowance for the least sin, so it is the very nature of sincerity and uprightness, to set the heart against every way of wickedness (see Ps. 139:23Ė24; Job 31:13), and especially against that sin which was its darling in the days of his vanity (see Ps. 18:23). True hatred, as the philosopher observes, is of the whole kind: He that hates sin as sin (and so doth every upright soul), hates all sins as well as some.

Again, the soul that hath had a saving sight of Jesus Christ, and a true discovery of the evil of sin, in the glass both of the law and gospel, can account no sin small. He knows the demerit of the smallest sin is Godís eternal wrath, and that not the least sin can be remitted without the shedding and application of the blood of Christ (see Heb. 9:22), which blood is of infinite value and price (see I Pet. 1:19).

To conclude, Godís people know that little as well as great sins are dangerous, deadly, and destructive in their own nature; a little poison will destroy a man. Adrian was choked with a gnat, Caesar stabbed with bodkins. A man would think Adamís sin had been no great matter, yet what dreadful work did it make! It was not as a single bullet to kill himself only; but as a chain-shot, which cut off all his poor, miserable posterity. Indeed, no sin can be little, because its object against whom it is committed is so great, whence it receives a kind of infiniteness in itself, and because the price paid to redeem us from it is so invaluable.


And is the smallest sin not only damning in its own nature, but will it certainly prove the ruin of that soul that hides and covers it? O then, let my spirit accomplish a diligent search. Look to it, O my soul, that no sin be indulged by thee; set these considerations as so many flaming swords in the way of thy carnal delights and lusts: Let me never say of any sin as Lot did of Zoar, "It is a little one, spare it" (Gen. 19:20). Shall I spare that which cost the blood of Jesus Christ? The Lord would not spare Him, "when He made His soul an offering for sin" (Rom. 8:32). Neither will He spare me, if I defend and hide it (see Deut. 29:20). Ah! If my heart were right, and my conversation sound, that lust, whatever it be, that is so favoured by me, would especially be abhorred and hated (see Isa. 2:20; 30:22). Whatever my convictions and reformations have been, yet if there be but one sin retained and delighted in, this keeps the devilís interest in my soul. And though for a time he seem to depart, yet at last he will return with seven worse spirits, and this is the sin that will open the door to him, and deliver up my soul (see Matt. 12:43Ė44). Lord, let me make thorough work of it; let me cut it off, and pluck it out, though it be as a right-hand, or eye. Ah! Shall I come so near the kingdom of God, and make such a fair offer for Christ, and yet stick at a small matter, and lose all for want of one thing? Lord, let me shed the blood of the dearest lust for His sake that shed His dearest blood for me!

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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