About six weeks ago I purchased the six volume set of John Flavel’s works, and I have grown to really appreciate this man and his ministry. Taking the advice of Dr. Mohler to try to work through a writer’s complete works, I have chosen Flavel this semester, partly because of his book The Mystery of Providence (puritan paperback) and my desire to have a better understanding of the doctrine of providence. What I love about Flavel is that he is so passionately pastoral and principally practical in all his ministry. Let me give you an example of this.
Many of the people whom Flavel ministered to were seamen who experienced the adversity of storms and inclement weather. In volume five, Flavel was a work entitled Navigation Spiritualized: A New Compass for Seamen. Consider what was written in the forward as addressed to “all Masters, Mariners, and Seamen; especially such as belong to the Borough of Clifton, Dartmouth, and Hardness, in the country of Devon":
“It is a gallant thing to be able to carry a ship richly laden round the world; but it is much more gallant to carry a soul (that rich loading, a pearl of more worth than all the merchandize of the world) in a body (that is as liable to leaks and bruises as any ship is) through the sea of this world (which is as unstable as water, and hath the same brinish taste an salt gust which the waters of the sea have) safe to heaven (the best haven) so as to avoid splitting upon any soul-sinking rocks, or striking upon any soul-drowning sands. The art of navigation is a very great mystery; but the art of spiritual navigation is by much a greater mystery. Human wisdom may teach us to carry a ship to the Indies: but the wisdom only that is from above can teach us to steer our course aright to the haven of happiness. This art is purely of divine revelation” (209).
Flavel explains his approach to writing to the seamen by saying, “I have endeavored to clothe spiritual matters in your own dialect and phrases, that they might be the more intelligible to you; and added some pious poems, with which the several chapters are concluded, trying by all means to assault your several affections . . .” (208). This short epistle is comprised of 32 chapters, each with an observation, application, reflection, and poem. One of the poems I felt impressed to share with you as an encouragement on your journey that you may find such men as Flavel and others who will be a faithful friend to point you in the right direction and take you to God’s divine compass (His Word) so that you will find your happiness and haven in Him.
A ship of greatest burthen will obey
The rudder; he that sits at helm, may sway
And guide its motion: If the pilot please,
The ship bears up, against both wind and seas.
My soul’s the ship, affections are its sails,
Conscience is the rudder. Ah! But Lord, what ails
My naughty heart, to shuffle in and out,
When its convictions bid it tack about?
Temptations blow a counter blast, and drive
The vessel where they please, tho’ conscience strive.
And by its stronger persuasions it would force
My stubborn will to steer another course.
Lord, if I run this course, thy word doth tell
How quickly I must needs arrive in hell.
Then rectify my conscience, change my will;
Fan in thy pleasant gales, my God, and fill
All my affections, and let nothing carry
My soul from its due course, or make it vary;
Then if the pilot’s work thou wouldst perform.
I should bear bravely up against a storm.
Chapter XI – “Ships are Guided by the Helm” in Navigation Spiritualized: A New Compass for Seamen. The Works of John Flavel vol. 5, 233.
Fill our affections with heavenly delights, Lord, and remind us that you are the Pearl which none can afford!