Flavel was known for his personal
godliness, commitment to prayer, faithfulness under hard trials, and
generosity towards the poor. He was aware of the controversial issues but
chose not to jump into the debates, instead filling the role of
peacemaker. He lived through the persecution of Puritan preachers (between
1662-1687) and was given a few years of freedom in his last years. Yet
during this time of turmoil, Flavel (like Owen, Goodwin, Bunyan, Manton
and the other great Puritans) continued to produce the precious works we
now own, collect and use.
The great litmus test of a preacher or
author is this: What do they say about the preciousness of Christ? I am
amazed at the number of popular books published under the category
‘Christian’ that — while talking much on theology or marriage issues or
child-raising or personal fulfillment — totally neglect the beauty of
Christ. Not so with Flavel. To him, the knowledge of Christ is of utmost
importance for joy eternal and joy now.
At the beginning of his famous collection
of sermons titled, The Fountain of Life
Opened Up: A Display of Christ in His Essential and Mediatorial Glory,
“Knowledge is man’s excellency above
the beasts that perish (Ps. 32:9). The knowledge of Christ is the
Christian’s excellency above the Heathen (1 Cor. 1:23, 24). Practical
and saving knowledge of Christ is the sincere Christian’s excellency
above the self-cozening hypocrite (Heb. 6:4, 6). But methodical and
well-digested knowledge of Christ is the strong Christian’s excellency
above the weak (Heb. 5:12, 13, 14). A saving, though an immethodical
knowledge of Christ, will bring us to heaven (John 17:2) but a regular
and methodical, as well as a saving knowledge of him, will bring heaven
to us (Col. 2:2, 3). For such is the excellency thereof, even above all
other knowledge of Christ, that it renders the understanding judicious,
the memory tenacious, and the heart highly and fixedly joyous” (1:21).
This paragraph ignites into 500 pages of
sermons to build in the reader’s knowledge of Christ and bring the heart a
high and fixed joy.
Contrasted to men like John Owen and
Thomas Goodwin, Flavel’s works are very easy to read. Like all Puritans,
his content is dense, but his sermons and books flow gracefully.
Volume one includes a short but helpful
biography of Flavel’s life.
A 500-page book, The Fountain of Life,
follows and makes up most of the first volume. Spanning 42 hefty sermons,
Flavel explores the beauty of Christ in His person and then in His work as
the Mediator. He also explores the seven sayings of the Cross. As we saw
earlier, a deep knowledge of Christ’s beauty brings heaven down to us and
this he accomplishes in this first volume.
The second volume is a collection of 38
sermons. The first 35 comprise The Method
of Grace in the Gospel Redemption, a series explaining how we are
saved, why sinners should come to Christ, the benefits of Christ towards
the believer, what happens to bring sinners up to the point of salvation
(like conviction), distinguishing between the genuine and false believers,
and the present and eternal state of the unregenerate. These sermons cover
a broad landscape of evangelical themes. Three sermons in the nature of
man’s soul complete volume two and continue into the first five sermons of
Volume three is given to a number of
issues including the difference between sinful and non-sinful fear, God’s
protection of His children in times of judgment upon the earth, the
dangers of doctrinal error, and the importance of unity in the church
around the Gospel.
Volume four includes 11 sermons delivered
in England after the persecution of Puritans concluded in the late 1680s.
In the midst of this evangelical freedom, England and its people should
ever seek to repent, turn from sin and press close to Christ. “England
hath now a day of special mercy: there is a wide door of opportunity
opened to it; O that it might prove an effectual door! It is transporting
and astonishing, that after all the high and horrid provocations, the
atheism, profanes, and bitter enmity against light and reformation: the
sweet voice is still heard in England, Behold, I stand at the door and
Divine Conduct or The Mystery of
Providence highlights the many ways God has put each of us where we
are from our birth, family heritage and spouse. God is in control and we
should take note of His activities. How we encounter temptation is the
theme of Antipharmacum Saluberrimum.
Pressing close to Christ, not surprisingly, is where he begins. Two short
books on the danger of “Popery” and one on letters of seamen saved from
storms at sea close the volume.
Volume five includes a 200-page book,
Husbandry Spiritualized: The heavenly use
of earthly things based upon 1 Corinthians 3:9 (“You are God’s
field”). In it Flavel takes the natural and common and teaches eternal
truth. Like Divine Providence,
it’s seeing God speaking in everyday life.
Navigation Spiritualized: A new compass
for seamen is a 100-page book spiritualizing sailing terms for the
purpose of converting sailors. A Caution
to Seamen follows on the prevalent sins of this profession like
drunkenness and swearing. Another book for seamen and then a book on the
important duty of watching over our own hearts follows. Books on
discovering hypocrisy and another for those who mourn the loss of loved
ones ends the volume.
The final volume includes several books.
Preparations for Suffering teaches
us to prepare and endure suffering and trials. Other topics include an
exposition of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, twelve sacramental
sermons for the Lord’s Supper, the necessity of conversion and personal
reformation, importance of pastoral ministry and indexes.
Warmly devotional and diverse in content,
John Flavel’s works are a ‘must-have’ for a Puritan library. He is one of
the most readable and helpful of the Puritans and will be a great friend
to your expositional preparations. Flavel will help you to see God’s work
in the world, encourage evangelism, and (most importantly) point you
towards the beauty of Christ in all topics
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About the Author:
John Flavel - (1627-1691),
Flavel was born at
Bromsgrove in Wordesterchire. He was the elder son of Richard Flavel,
described in contemporary records as "a painful and eminent minister."
After receiving his early education, partly at home and partly at the
grammar-schools of Bromsgrove and Haslar, he entered University College,
Oxford. Soon after taking orders in 1650 he obtained a curacy at Diptford,
Devon, and on the death of the vicar he was appointed to succeed him. From
Diptford he removed in 1656 to Dartmouth. He was ejected from his living
by the passing of the Act of Uniformity in 1662, but continued to preach
and administer the sacraments privately till the Five Mile Act of 1665,
when he retired to Slapton, 5 miles away. He then lived for a time in
London, but returned to Dartmouth, where he labored till his death in
1691. He was married four times. He was a vigorous and voluminous writer,
and not without a play of fine fancy.