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 Ocean-Deep Mysteries

Things in the bottom are unseen: no eye

Can trace Godís paths, which in the deeps do lie.


The ocean is so deep that no eye can discover what lies in the bottom thereof. We used to say, proverbially, of a thing that is irrecoverably lost, it is as good it were cast into the sea. What lies there lies obscure from all eyes but the eyes of God.


Thus are the judgments of God and the ways of His providence profound and unsearchable, Psal. 36:6: "Thy righteousness is like the great mountains, Thy judgments are a great deep"; i.e., His providences are secret, obscure, and unfathomable; but even then, and in those providences, His righteousness stands up like the great mountains, visible and apparent to every eye. Though the saints cannot see the one, yet they can clearly discern the other, like Jeremiah in Jer. 12:1, Job in Job 7:1, Asaph in Ps. 73, and Habakkuk in Hab. 1:3. These wheels of providence are dreadful for their height (see Ezek. 1:18). There are deep mysteries of providence, as well as of faith. It may be said of some of them, as in Paul's epistle, that they are hard to be understood, darkness and clouds are round about the throne of God: no man can say what will be the particular issue and event of some of His dispensations. Luther seemed to hear God say to him, when he was importunate to know His mind in some particular providence, Deus sum, non sequax (I am a God not to be traced). Sometimes providences, like Hebrew letters, must be read backward (see Ps. 92:7). Some providences puzzle men of the greatest parts and graces: "His way is in the sea, His paths in the great water, and His footsteps are not known" (Ps. 77:19). Who can trace footsteps in the bottom of the sea? "The angels," Ezek. 1. "have their hands under their wings." The hand is either, symbolum roboris (The symbol of strength), or instrumentum operationis (The instrument of action): where these hands are put forth, they work effectually, but very secretly; they are hid under their wings. There be some of Godís works that are such secrets, as that they may not be inquired into; they are to be believed and adored, but not pried into (see Rom. 11:33). There are others that may be inquired after, but yet are so profound, that few can understand them: "The works of the Lord are great, sought out of all those that have pleasure therein" (Ps. 111:2). When we come to heaven, then all those mysteries, as well in the works as in the word of God, will lie open to our view.


O then, why is my heart disquieted because it cannot sometimes discern the way of the Lord, and see the connection and dependence of His providential dispensations? Why art thou so perplexed, O my soul, at the confusions and disorders that are in the world? I know that goodness and wisdom sits at the stern: and though the vessel of the church be tossed and distressed in times of trouble, yet it shall not perish. Is it not enough for me that God hath condescended so far for my satisfaction, as to show me plainly the ultimate and general issue of all these mysterious providences (see Eph. 1:22 and Rom. 8:28). Unless I be able to take the height of every particular, shall I presume to call the God of heaven to account? Must He render a reason of His ways, and give an account of His matters to such a worm as I am? Be silent (O my soul) before the Lord, subscribe to His wisdom, and submit to His will whatsoever He doth. However it be, yet God is good to Israel; the event will manifest it to be all over a design of love. I know not how to reconcile them to each other, or many of them to the promise; yet are they all harmonious betwixt themselves, and the certain means of accomplishing the promises. O what a favour is this, that in the midst of the greatest confusions in the world, God hath given such abundant security to His people, that it shall be well with them (see Amos 9:8 and Eccles. 8:12).

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