On this past Friday, we spoke of the ordination of the Rev. John Flavel. I know of few pastors who had a better ability to see the challenges ahead and then to equip his congregation to face the future, to fit them out with thorough and sound expositions of Scripture and to fix their minds on Jesus Christ their Saviour.
Today, I would like to present you with a short portion of one of Flavel’s discourses, A Practical Treatise of Fear. We will focus on the sixth chapter of that work, where Flavel prescribes the rules to cure our sinful fears, and to prevent the sad and woeful effects of those fears. This is a synopsis of that sixth chapter, which runs thirty-one pages in length. Obviously an overview like this does not allow the author to build his arguments and to drive home his applications. For that, we urge you to read the full work at your leisure. [the link is to volume 3 of Flavel’s Works, and chapter six of this discourse begins on page 280.]
RULES FOR CURING OUR SINFUL FEARS.
Rule 1. The first rule to relieve us against our slavish fears, Is seriously to consider, and more thoroughly to study the covenant of grace, within the blessed clasp and bond whereof all believers are.
Rule 2. Work upon your hearts the consideration of the many mischiefs and miseries men draw upon themselves and others, both in this world and that to come, by their own sinful fears.
Rule 3. He that will overcome his fears of sufferings, must foresee and provide before-hand for them.
Rule 4. If ever you will subdue your own slavish fears, commit yourselves, and all that is yours into the hands of God by faith.
Rule 5. If ever you will get rid of your fears and distractions, get your affections mortified to the world, and to the inordinate and immoderate love of every enjoyment in the world.
Rule 6. Eye the encouraging examples of those that have trod the path of sufferings before you, and strive to imitate such worthy patterns.
Rule 7. If ever you will get above the power of your own fears in a suffering day make hast to clear your interest in Christ, and your pardon in his blood before that evil day come.
Rule 8. Let him that designs to free himself of distracting fears, be careful to maintain the purity of his conscience, and integrity of his ways, in the whole course of his conversation in this world.
Rule 9. Carefully record the experiences of God’s care over you, and faithfulness to you in all your past dangers and distresses, and apply them to the cure of your present fears and despondencies.
Rule 10. You can never free yourself from sinful fears, till you thoroughly believe and consider Christ’s providential kingdom over all the creatures and affairs in this lower world.
Rule 11. Subject your carnal reasonings to faith, and keep your thoughts more under the government of faith, if ever you expect a composed and quiet heart in distracting evil times.
Rule 12. To conclude, exalt the fear of God in your hearts, and let it gain the ascendant over all your other fears.
Our title characterizes John Flavel (sometimes spelled Flavell). Born in 1628 in Bromsgrove, Worchestershire, he was a pastor’s son. His father educated him in biblical truths which stood him in good stead when he studied at University College, Oxford. Ordained on October 17, 1650 by the Presbytery of Salisbury, he accepted a call six years later to the seacoast town of Dartmouth, where through his reading and close meditation upon the text of the Scriptures, self-examination, and prayer, his pastorate began to have a spiritual effect upon the people.
One of this flock wrote of him, “I could say much, though not enough of the excellency of his preaching, of his seasonable, suitable, and spiritual matter; of his plain expositions of Scripture, his talking method; his genuine and natural deductions, his convincing arguments, his clear and powerful demonstrations, his heart-searching applications, and his comfortable supports to those that were afflicted in conscience. In short, that person must have a very soft head, or a very hard heart, or both, that could sit under his ministry unaffected.” (Erasmus Middleton, Evangelical Biography, 4:50 – 51). What a remarkable commendation of a man of God in any age, and one to be emulated by those called to the ministry of the Word among our readers.
Flavel was one of the 2000 plus ministers ejected from Anglican pulpits and parishes in 1662, but he didn’t stop ministering to his people by that act. He met them in homes, in secret places in the forest, really anywhere to continue his ministry of the Word. Constantly under threat of arrest and imprisonment, more than once soldiers of the realm would interrupt the precious hours of prayer, the Lord’s Supper, and the preaching of the Word. Once, the only place of worship was an island, which at a certain hour of the day, would be submerged by high tide. Congregants hungry for the Word of God as preached by Flavel would keep their boats handy so as to jump into them at the last moment!
Taking two indulgences offered by King Charles II and King James, Flavel would part company with the Covenanter Presbyterians by accepting these opportunities to proclaim the unsearchable riches of God’s grace further. He continued that spoken ministry accompanied by the writing of numerous books, works which continue to minister today in both print and electronic editions. This author has had in his ministerial library during his forty years in the pulpit, the six volume “Works of John Flavel,” which includes an exposition of the Westminster Shorter Catechisms. If you have not read any of Flavel’s works, you are missing a great treasure.
He departed this life in 1691. However, being dead, he continues to speak through his writing to countless churchmen and lay people today.
Words to Live By: It was said of John Flavel that “He preached what he felt, and what he had handled, what he has seen and tasted of the Word of life, and they (his listeners) felt it also.” Speaking to the readers of these posts, how faithful are you to pray for, encourage by your attendance and notes, those who minister to you the word of God? Scripture says in Hebrews 13:7, “remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you, and considering the results of the conduct, imitate their faith.”
A few small samples of Flavel’s writing, first on the glories of Christ Jesus, then second on discerning divine providence:
“The whole world is not a theater large enough to display the glory of Christ upon or unfold even half of the unsearchable riches that lie hidden in Him. And such is the deliciousness of this subject, Christ, that were there ten thousand volumes written upon it, they would never become tiring to the heart. We used to say that any one thing can finally tire us and this is true, except about this one eminent thing, Christ, and then one can never tire, for such is the variety of sweetness in Christ.”
“Search backward into all the performances of Providence throughout your lives. So did Asaph: ‘I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings’ (Psalm 77:11, 12). He laboured to recover and revive the ancient providences of God’s mercies many years past, and suck a fresh sweetness out of them by new reviews of them. Ah, sirs, let me tell you, there is not such a pleasant history for you to read in all the world as the history of your own lives, if you would but sit down and record from the beginning hitherto what God has been to you, and done for you; what signal manifestations and outbreakings of His mercy, faithfulness and love there have been in all the conditions you have passed through. If your hearts do not melt before you have gone half through that history, they are hard hearts indeed. ‘My Father, thou art the guide of my youth’ (Jeremiah 3:4)”.—From The Mystery of Providence, chapter nine.
It was on this day, September 26th, in 1759, that the Rev. Samuel Davies was installed as President of the College of New Jersey. [It was upon the occasion of its sesquicentennial celebrations in 1896, that the school’s name was changed to Princeton University.] How did the Lord prepare Samuel Davies for such an important position? One part of that story is told on the early pages of his Memoir:—
During the first part of the eighteenth century, religion was, perhaps, in a lower state of declension, throughout the British dominions, than at any other period since the reformation. The concurrent testimony of churchmen and dissenters establishes this fact. Many clergymen of various denominations had become very lukewarm, and in many instances exceedingly corrupt; and the people were ready enough to follow the steps of their spiritual guides. It was in this season of darkness that several men were born, who, afterwards, were burning and shining lights in the world. The names of Tennent, Blair, Edwards, Davies, and Whitefield, may suffice to illustrate this remark. Since their day, vital piety has gradually increased, and the spiritual condition of the church of Christ has become more prosperous. The subject of this memoir was powerfully instrumental in producing the happy change.
Samuel Davies was born in the county of Newcastle, Delaware, November 3, 1724. The Christian names of his parents are unknown to us; nor can we say anything of the origin of the family, or trace it beyond the immediate progenitors. The father is represented to have been a plain farmer, in very moderate circumstances; the mother a very sensible and judicious woman; both were pious. Their son was a child of prayer; and was from the birth devoted to God by the name of Samuel.
It is known that the religious declension, of which mention was made above, extended to Virginia. About the year 1740, some individuals in the county of Hanover were awakened to a deep concern for their eternal interests in a very extraordinary manner. A few leaves of Boston’s Fourfold State fell into the hands of a wealthy planter, and made so deep an impression on his mind, that he never rested until he procured a copy of the work. This book it is believed, was instrumental in affording light to his mind, and peace to his heart. Another gentleman, Mr. Samuel Morris, derived similar advantages from Luther on the Galatians. The books that had been so useful to these persons were read to others, and produced very great and happy effects. So deep was the sensation, that multitudes were accustomed to assemble for the purpose of hearing Morris read. His house was in a short time too small to contain them; and a meeting-house was built for the purpose, long known by the name of Morris’s reading room. In this state of things, the Rev. William Robinson, a member of the Presbytery of New Brunswick, was sent on a mission to the frontier settlements. On his tour, he entered Virginia, and preached with great acceptance among the Scotch and Irish, who had made settlements in the counties of Prince Edward, Charlotte, and Campbell.
At Cub Creek, in the county of Charlotte, he was heard by some of the young people from Hanover who had gone to visit their friends, and who soon sent back word what manner of man was among them. On receiving this intelligence, two messengers were immediately dispatched from Hanover for Mr. Robinson. He had left the place, but they followed in his tract and at length overtook him. He was prevailed on to consent to visit Hanover, and at the appointed time he came. For four days he continued among them, preaching to the crowds that had assembled at the reading room. This is described as a very remarkable season.
On Mr. Robinson’s taking leave, some of the gentlemen presented him with a considerable sum of money, not merely as a compensation for his faithful labors among them, but principally as an expression of that gratitude they felt towards Mr. Robinson, as the honored instrument of so much good to them. But he modestly declined their liberality, assigning for the reason of his refusal, not only the delicacy of his and their situation–that the enemies of the cause of religion might, should he receive it, endeavor to represent him as a mere mercenary, and thus wound and injure the infant flock; but chiefly because he did not need it, the Lord having blessed him with independence as to fortune; and being thus able, he wished to labor without being burdensome to those among whom he went preaching the gospel. These reasons, though strong and unanswerable, could not silence the pleadings of their heart-felt gratitude–a gratitude which found no other way of exercising itself towards its object but by some offering of this kind. They therefore repeatedly urged its acceptance, but he constantly and firmly declined the offer.
Seeing no hope of his receding from the determination he had taken not to receive their money, the committee entrusted with it put it into the hands of the gentleman with whom he was to lodge the last night of his stay in the county, with directions to convey it privately into his saddle-bags, not doubting but when, after his departure, he should find himself in possession of the money, he would appropriate it to his own use. This was accordingly done. And in the morning Mr. Robinson, having taken an affectionate leave of his kind friends, took his saddle-bags to depart; but he found them much more ponderous than when he came there. Searching for the cause, like Joseph’s brethren of old, he found the money in the sack’s mouth. Pleased with the benevolent artifice, he smiling said, “I see you are resolved I shall have your money. I will take it. But, as I have before told you, I do not need it. I have enough. Nor will I appropriate it to my own use. But there is a young man of my acquaintance, of promising talents and piety, who is now studying with a view to the ministry; but his circumstances are embarrassing; he has not funds to support and carry him on without much difficulty. This money will relieve him from his pecuniary difficulties. I will take charge of it and appropriate it to his use. And so soon as he is licensed, we will send him to visit you. And if you should be pleased with him, and he should be pleased with you, it may be that you may now, by your liberality, be educating a minister for yourselves.” The proposition was immediately accepted, and the money faithfully appropriated to the benefit of young Davies while pursuing his theological studies.
“And that is the reason,” said a pious old lady who communicated this, “that Mr. Davies came to Hanover; for he often used to say that he was inclined to settle in another place; but that he felt under obligation to the people of Hanover.” — This anecdote is not only told by aged persons who were contemporary with Davies, but is handed down by tradition, and related in terms of the same import with those used above, by the grandchildren of some of Mr. Davies’s people.
Words to Live By:
It is delightful, from the present time, to look back to an occurrence apparently so trivial as the discovery of a few leaves in an old book, and trace the many important events connected with it; to see the workings of Providence accomplishing his purposes, and carrying on his great designs of mercy in our favored land. It is delightful to think on the ways of the Almighty, and contemplate the dealings and dispensations of the God of our Fathers.
“Search backward into all the performances of Providence throughout your lives. So did Asaph: ‘I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings’ (Psalm 77:11, 12). He laboured to recover and revive the ancient providences of God’s mercies many years past, and suck a fresh sweetness out of them by new reviews of them. Ah, sirs, let me tell you, there is not such a pleasant history for you to read in all the world as the history of your own lives, if you would but sit down and record from the beginning hitherto what God has been to you, and done for you; what signal manifestations and outbreakings of His mercy, faithfulness and love there have been in all the conditions you have passed through. If your hearts do not melt before you have gone half through that history, they are hard hearts indeed. ‘My Father, thou art the guide of my youth’ (Jeremiah 3:4).”—excerpted from chapter nine of The Mystery of Providence, by John Flavel.
Time and again, the Lord has shown Himself faithful.
You would do well to take your Bible this Thanksgiving weekend and begin a study on how often throughout the Scriptures the Lord instructs us to remember His works. And why is that? Obviously, that we should not forget Him, that we should be conscious of His faithfulness, that we should be thankful for His daily providences, and all to the end that we should glorify Him and worship Him, as the Lord alone deserves.
The Psalms are, as we might expect, full of such instruction. To give but a few examples:
We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, what work thou didst in their days, in the times of old. (Ps. 44:1)
The works of the LORD are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein . . . He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered;… (Ps. 111:2a, 4a)
One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts. (Ps. 145:4)
Indeed, this is one of those themes of Scripture, which, once your eyes are opened to it, you begin to see it everywhere. Presbyterian history will take a break today, that you might reflect on your own history, and so praise God for all that He is to you.
John Flavel, in his Mystery of Providence, speaks to our point:
“Search backward into all the performances of Providence throughout your lives. So did Asaph: ‘I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings’ (Psalm 77:11, 12). He laboured to recover and revive the ancient providences of God’s mercies many years past, and suck a fresh sweetness out of them by new reviews of them. Ah, sirs, let me tell you, there is not such a pleasant history for you to read in all the world as the history of your own lives, if you would but sit down and record from the beginning hitherto what God has been to you, and done for you; what signal manifestations and outbreakings of His mercy, faithfulness and love there have been in all the conditions you have passed through. If your hearts do not melt before you have gone half through that history, they are hard hearts indeed.“