This week I returned to reading one of the Puritans – John Flavel (1628?-1691). I had first read Flavel a little over six years ago and his work called Facing Grief: Counsel for Mourners. I read this a few weeks after my dad passed away in 2010 and don’t think I was ready for the counsel at the time. But I’ve heard enough good things about Flavel since and decided it was time to return to his writings. Sinclair Ferguson counts Flavel and Thomas Watson as perhaps the two easiest Puritans to read. He may be right.
The Fountain of Life is described as a series of 42 of Flavel’s sermons that “…display Christ in his essential and mediatorial glory”. I’m only three sermons in but am grateful for the things that Flavel has opened my eyes to already. The first sermon, titled “The Excellency of the Subject”, uses 1 Corinthians 2:2 as its basic text. I would summarize Flavel’s message in this sermon as understanding that there is no knowledge so great as that of Christ and knowing Him. Flavel asks us to compare the excellency of knowing Christ to the mere natural things of this world: “O how much time is spent in other studies, in vain discourses, frivolous pamphlets, worldly employments. How little is the search and study of Jesus Christ.” I have to say this is a daily struggle for me – it is always tempting to latch on to the “low hanging fruit” that comes through my phone notifications, breaking news, sports updates, and other areas. These pass through my mind as easily as they come in, but they can still consume a great deal of time. Flavel warns of this danger: “O beware, lest the dust of the earth, getting into your eyes, so blind you, that you never see the beauty or necessity of Christ.”
Something else I found helpful from Flavel – his belief that we should always strive to see how the essential truths of Christianity fit together, like a fine watch, rather than just seeing the individual wheels and pieces and struggling to make sense of the greater themes. Meditating on 1 Corinthians 2:2 is important here: “Even so the right knowledge of Jesus Christ, like a clue, leads you through the whole labyrinth of the Scriptures.” I tend to get bogged down in bits and pieces, especially when reading the Old Testament. Flavel’s encouragement here is something that may fit well in the flyleaf of our Bibles.
I’m glad to have returned to the writings of John Flavel. I hope to write more as I progress through this work.
“If men, before they committed a sin, would but sit down and rationally consider whether the present gain and sweetness in sin would countervail the loss of a kingdom, I believe it would put them into a cold sweat, and give them check to their unbridled affections. Jacob took Esau by the heel. Look not upon the smiling face of sin, but ‘take it by the heel’. Look at the end of it. It will deprive you of a kingdom, and can anything make amends for that loss ?”
“Assurance should be an antidote to trouble. What though there be but little oil in the cruse, thou art rich in assurance. How sweetly doth the bird sing that knows not where to pick up the next crumb ! and shall they be discontented who have God’s Word to assure them of daily bread, and his love to assure them of heaven ?”
“I would ask these tepid, neutral professing Christians this question – If religion is not a good cause, why did they undertake it at first ? If it is, why do they go about it so faintly ? Why have they no more holy ardour of soul ?
“These persons would gladly go to heaven on a soft bed, but are loath to be carried there in a fiery chariot of zeal. Remember, God will be zealous against those who are not zealous; he provides the fire of hell for those who lack the fire of zeal.”
“Faith can make us as meek as Moses, as patient as Job, as zealous as David. Our soul and life can be embroidered with all kinds of shining graces. When you are on the top of Mount Tabor, comforting your soul in the Lord, and seeking his favour through faith, feasting and banqueting with him as Esther with Ahasuerus, think what to ask him, what enemy you would be rid, such as some great Haman of pride. Consider what grace you need and ask for your portion as Achsah did to Caleb.
“Follow this instruction daily, even though some days you will be more fervent than others, as the Spirit assists you. I do not promise you that you will arrive at perfection, yet as you grow from faith to faith, so shall you grow from strength to strength in his graces, till by degrees you will attain to maturity in Christ.”
“If God should stretch out the golden scepter and say to him, ‘Ask, and it shall be given you—up to half the kingdom,’ he would say, ‘Lord, give me a pure heart! Let my heart have this inscription, Holiness to the Lord. Let my heart be Your temple for You to dwell in. Lord, what would I do in heaven with this unholy heart? What converse could I have with You?’ A gracious soul is so in love with purity that he prizes a pure heart above all blessings.”
“Purity must not only be woven into the heart, but engraved upon the life ! Grace is most beautiful when it shines abroad with its golden beams. The clock has not only its motion within, but the hand moves outside upon the dial. Just so, pureness of heart shows itself upon the dial of the life.”