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.

Godís Wisdom in Affliction

Storms make discovery of the pilotís skill:

Godís wisdom in affliction triumphs still.




In fair weather, when there is sea-room enough, then every common person can guide the ship: the pilot may then lie down and take his rest. But in great storms and stress of weather, or when near the dangerous shore, then the most skillful pilot is put to it. Then he shows the utmost of his art and skill, and yet sometimes all is too little. They are (as the scripture speaks) at their witís end, know not what to do more, but are forced to commit all to the mercy of God and the seas.


In the storms and tempests of affliction and trouble, there are the most evident and full discoveries of the wisdom and power of our God. He is indeed continually active for His people in all conditions: "Lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day" (Isa. 27:3). "He that keepeth Israel neither slumbereth nor sleepeth" (Ps. 121:4). His peopleís dangers are without intermission, therefore His preservations are so too. But now, when they come into the strait of affliction and deadly dangers, which threatens like rocks on every side, now the wisdom of their God rides triumphantly and visibly upon the waves of that stormy sea. And this infinite wisdom is then especially discovered in these particulars:

1. In leaving them still somewhat in the lieu and room of those comforts that they are deprived of, so that they see God doth exchange their comforts, and that for the better, and this supports them. See John 14:1Ė3. Christís bodily presence is removed, but the Spirit was sent in the room of it, which was better.

2. In doubling their strength, as He doubles their burdens. It is observed that the saints have many times very strong and sweet consolation a little before their greatest trials. This is so ordinary, that commonly when they have had their extraordinary consolations from God, they have then looked for some eminent trial. The Lord appeared to Abraham, and sealed the covenant to him, and then put him upon that great trial of his faith. So the disciples: it was commanded them that they should "tarry in Jerusalem till they were endowed with power from on high" (Luke 24:49). The Lord knew what a hard providence they were like to have, and what great oppositions and difficulties they must encounter in publishing the everlasting gospel to the world, and therefore first prepares and endows them with power from on high, viz. with eminent measures of the gifts and graces of the Spirit, such as faith, patience, self-denial, etc. So Paul had first his revelations, then his buffetings.

3. In coming in so opportunely in the time of their great distress, with relief and comfort: "Then the Spirit of glory and of God resteth on them" (I Pet. 4:14). As that martyr cried out to his friend Austin, at the very stake, He is come, He is come.

4. In appointing and ordering the several kinds of afflictions to several saints; and allotting to every one that very affliction, and no other, which is most suitable to his condition: which afflictions, like so many potions of physic, are prepared for that very malignant humour that predominates most in them. Peterís sin was self-confidence, therefore God permits him to fall by denying Christ, which doubtless was sanctified to his good in that particular. Hezekiahís sin was vain-glory, therefore spoilers are sent to take away his treasures

5. In the duration of their troubles, they shall not lie always upon them (see Ps. 125:3). Our God is a God of judgment (see Isa. 30:18). He knows the due time of removing it, and is therein punctual to a day (see Rev. 2:10).



If the wisdom of God do thus triumph, and glorify itself in the distresses of the saints, then why should I fear in the day of evil? (see Ps. 49:4). Why doth my heart faint at the foresight and apprehension of approaching trouble? Fear none of those things that thou shalt suffer, O my soul: if thy God will thus be with thee in the fire and water, thou canst not perish. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, yet let me fear no evil, whilst my God is thus with me. Creatures cannot do what they please; His wisdom limits and overrules them all to gracious and sweet ends. If my God cast me into the furnace to melt and try me, yet I shall not be consumed there; for He will sit by the furnace Himself all the while I am in it, and curiously pry into it, observing when it hath done its work, and then will presently withdraw the fire. O my soul, bless and adore this God of wisdom, who Himself will see the ordering of all thine afflictions, and not trust it in the hands of men or angels.

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