“But permit me to ask you in love, if it is indeed the Word of God, why have you not paid that attention to it which it deserves? The same reasons which would deter you from willfully throwing it into the fire, should induce you to study it carefully, to make it the foundation of your hope, and the rule of your life; for, if it is indeed the Word of God, it is the rule by which your characters will be decided, and your everlasting state fixed, according to the tenor of the gospel, which proclaims salvation to all who have repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and to those alone.”
-John Newton, March 30, 1800
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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.
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“You sometimes reflect upon the state of your soul, and enquire, is Christ mine? May I depend upon it, that my condition is safe? Your heart returns you an answer of peace, it speaks as you would have it. But remember, friend, and mark this line, your final sentence is not yet come from the mouth of your Judge; and what if, after all your self-flattering hopes and groundless confidence, a sentence should come from him quite cross to that of your own heart? Where are you then? What a confounded person will you be? Christless, speechless, and hopeless, all at once!”
– John Flavel, from The Fountain of Life
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“The grace of God influences both the understanding and the affections. Warm affections, without knowledge, can rise no higher than superstition; and that knowledge which does not influence the heart and affections, will only make a hypocrite.”
— from The Works of John Newton, Vol. 1, p. 136.
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“I always feel that there is something wrong if I go without prayer for even half an hour in the day. I cannot understand how a Christian man can go from morning to evening without prayer. I cannot comprehend how he lives, and how he fights the battle of life without asking the guardian care of God while the arrows of temptation are flying so thickly around him.”
– Charles H. Spurgeon, from Spurgeon’s Sermons on Great Prayers of the Bible, p. 116
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“Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from your law.” – Psalm 119:18 (NASB)
I find that whenever my Bible reading goes into a rut that turning to Psalm 119 is a great tonic. Here we find 176 verses that meditate on the wonder of God’s Word. The psalmist asks God to open his eyes in the verse above, and I find this to be a great prayer as I open my Bible.
In the 8th chapter of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus and His disciples come to Bethsaida, where Jesus heals a blind man. After Jesus spits on his eyes and lays hands on him, the man sees partially and states in verse 24, “I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around.” Then Jesus lays His hands on him again, and the man’s sight is restored in full. I’ve often wondered why this healing takes place in two stages. But I can identify with the man after he is healed partially. There are so many things that I see and focus my time on that are of no lasting value, yet many of God’s truths seem cloudy. God’s truths seem like those hazy trees, and then it’s only after allowing God’s Word to penetrate through the mist that I can see again and remember His great promises. The longer I go without focusing on God’s Word intently – as the psalmist does so extensively in Psalm 119 – the hazier it is when I try to see. Verse 18 from this wonderful Psalm, and the account in Mark 8, reminds me of the importance of this.
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“When we walk in sincerity, we will not mind if God chooses a humble role for us. Even if he were to raise us higher, we would still walk in his fear. Yet how much easier would it be to obey him if he were to deny us men’s esteem and praise! Conversely, if we were to go after things infinitely beyond us, it would be like pulling the clouds out of the sky and putting them under our feet, so as to lift ourselves up into the air! We should learn therefore to let God’s hand lead us, and to be content in whatever station he has placed us. Let us covet nothing to which he has not called us.”
-John Calvin, from Songs of the Nativity: Selected Sermons on Luke 1&2, pg. 45
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