TEXTS FROM ENGLISH RELIGIOUS HISTORY
Flavel, The Quaker,
and the Crown
Christian Reader: You have here presented to your view a learned, pious and judicious sermon, being some remains of that precious servant of Jesus Christ, Mr. John Flavel, late of Dartmouth, in the county of Devon, a faithful laborer in the Lord's harvest and a workman that need not be ashamed, to whom the Church is greatly beholding for several excellent treatises of Divinity, put forth in his lifetime, which render him deservedly famous among the writers of this age. And seeing those entire treatises of his have been so acceptable and profitable to many Christians, it may not be amiss to gather up this fragment also, that so little as may be of so worthy an author may be lost. This sermon, though small in bulk, yet you will find great in worth and value. It conspires to the same end which all the rest of his writings center, the glory of God and the good of His Church and of the souls of men.
It does not need my recommendation, being far above any encomium I can bestow.
And although it may seem to be born out of due time, yet by its remembrance to the rest, you will find it not to be spurious but the genuine offspring of the same father, and wanting no accomplishment from any other hand, having been perfectly finished by his own.
This sermon was preached at Dartmouth, on that joyful day of the Coronation of their Majesties, King William and Queen Mary, which he did excellently bless the Lord for, and called upon the people heartily to concur with him in the same work and to join their praises with his, to the sovereign of the world, the great disposer of crowns and kingdoms, for so rich and public a mercy to these three nations.
As one of the former books put forth by this blessed author bears the title of Husbandry Spiritualized, so this sermon may fitly be entitled, The Coronation Spiritualized...
Reader, I shall not detain you long at the threshold, only give you some brief account of the author's character and life, and of the manner of his death and burial.
As to his character, all that knew him or have seriously perused the books he has put forth must needs suffrage with me, that he was a man of choice and excellent parts, both natural and acquired; of a sound and solid judgment, of warm and lively affections, of a quick and fruitful invention, and of a ready expression and elocution; all which he had mightily improved by many years' study and labors in the word and doctrine.
He was well acquainted with the mysteries of the Gospel, and in special with that admirable mystery of man's redemption by Jesus Christ, which he has so largely and so profitably handled in his excellent treatise entitled The Fountain of Life Opened. And that which crowns all the rest, he was a man of a serious and gracious spirit; so that both with respect to his doctrine and conversation we may say of him, as our blessed Saviour said of John the Baptist, He was a burning and a shining light. For my part, having read his books, I had a high esteem of him before I had any acquaintance with his person, which was much increased by my intimacy with him for diverse years last past; the more I knew him, the more I loved and valued him, for the gifts and graces of the Spirit of God which shone forth in him. Among many others I observed these three things which I shall set down, not so much for his commendation as for my own and others' imitation.
First, he was in labors more abundant; he did spend himself and was spent in the work of God; as the talents committed to him were more and greater than many of his brethren, so was his diligence in laying them out in his master's service. He expected not to be courted to his work by earnest importunity, but wheresoever he had any prospect of doing good by his preaching, I never knew him to make excuses or to spare his pains. Besides Dartmouth, the place where his peculiar charge lay, many other places far and near have been partakers of his labors and received much comfort and benefit by them; in all which his memory is exceeding precious and his death as much bewailed.
A second thing I observed in this worthy minister was a longing desire after the conversion of souls. He could say in some measure, as the Apostle Paul did to the Philippians (Phil. 1:8), For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ. And to the Galatians (Gal. 4:19), My little children of whom I travel in birth again, till Christ be formed in you. That he might win souls to Christ and build them up in their most holy faith was next to the glorifying of God and our Redeemer, the mark that he had in his eye; it was for this that he studied, and labored in the Gospel, and wrestled with God in prayer; and when he perceived that the Spirit of God had been at work upon the souls of any of his people, he did greatly rejoice therein, and do his utmost both by his counsels and his prayers, that the blessed work might be carried on to perfection. And indeed God was pleased to crown his labors with great success this way. Many souls have been given in as the seal of his ministry, who have owned him to be their spiritual father in Christ, by whom they have been begotten through the Gospel.
Third, he was of a peaceable and healing spirit, becoming an ambassador of the Prince of Peace. He did what lay in him to live peaceably with all men, but especially to promote peace and love among Professors. If any difference did arise, either between ministers or private Christians, he would do his utmost to compose them; divers painful journeys has he taken about this work. He had a real love to, and kept a good correspondence with, those in whom he beheld the image of Christ, though in some controverted things, their judgements and practices differed from his, hoping at last that he should meet them in the same heaven, where all their mistakes should be rectified and their differences adjusted and composed.
He was even transported with joy when, by a letter from a reverend minister in London, he received the good news of the happy agreement of the ministers in that city, who in some lesser points were of different apprehensions, and went under different denominations, hoping that it would have a good influence on the whole Kingdom, who having so fair a copy given them, would endeavor to write after it. He did frequently bless the Lord for that mercy, both in public and in private, and even melted into tears of joy at the mention of it, saying God had herein answered the prayers that his people had been putting up to him these many years.
When he saw the Heads of Agreement, which had been assented to, and subscribed by the London ministers, he told a friend that was with him that he could now take up the words of old Simeon, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace. He zealously endeavored to promote the same blessed union and agreement among the ministers of this county; which was the last work that God thought fit to employ him in before He took him to Himself.
He being at the general meeting of the ministers of this
county at Topsham, was chosen moderator of that assembly, which office
he the more readily accepted of, that he might have the better opportunity
to carry on that blessed uniting work which he brought to so good an
issue, that the ministers there declared their full satisfaction with
the aforesaid Heads of Agreement, and their thankfulness to their brethren
in London, who had promoted this great and good design. After which
he concluded the day with prayer and praises to the Lord, in which his
spirit was carried out with wonderful enlargement and affection.
Thus, gentle reader, I have given you some brief account of this worthy minister, in whose commendation I might write much more, but his own works praise him in the gate and his praise is in the Gospel throughout all the churches. And though some detractors that envied his reputation may reflect upon him, yet those that heartily desire the prosperity of the church of Christ and of the souls of men do readily confess his worth, and greatly lament his loss.
As for the manner of his death, it was very sudden and surprising, he being as well that day in the evening of which he died as he had been for diverse years before. Towards the end of supper he complained of a deadness in his hand, so that he could not lift it to his head; at which his wife and friends about him were struck with some astonishment, using what means they could to recover it to its former strength; but instead thereof, to their great terror and amazement, he was seized in his thigh, and all one side of his body; upon which, with what speed they could, they helped him to his chamber and bed, and sent for physicians; but his disease prevailed so fast upon him, that in a short time it deprived him of his speech; while they were helping him up the stairs, he told them that he did believe it would be the last time that he should go up these stairs, but, said he, "I know that it will be well with me;" which were some of the last words he uttered before he fell asleep. But as sudden as his death was, having so good assurance of his eternal welfare, it must needs be both comfortable and happy; and God was pleased so to order it, that he that had taken so much pains in his master's work in his lifetime should feel little or none at his death, nor so much as utter one groan.
It is true, sudden death to careless sinners that have
trifled away their lives and neglected the salvation of their souls
cannot but be sad and dismal; but for godly ministers or Christians,
that have carefully redeemed and improved their time, and abounded in
the work of the Lord, to be taken on a sudden from their work, to the
rest and reward, may be accounted a mercy, rather than an infelicity;
several precious saints, both ministers and others, have been so suddenly
Thus reader, I have finished in the close of this epistle, what I promised you at the beginning of it; whether you can read these things without tears or no, I know not; but assure you, I could not behold them so, neither can I write these lines without them. The gifts, the graces, the labors of so well an accomplished minister of Christ, might have been very serviceable to his church on earth had he thought fit to have continued him longer here; and the death of such a one is a loss which God only can repair; but that which is our loss is his gain, who is triumphing in the joy of his Lord, while we are grieving for his removal; and our comfort further is that though the servants, even the best and most faithful of them die, yet the Master ever lives, who is infinitely more tender of the concerns of his Church, and careful to provide for it, than we poor mortals can be. Let us therefore turn our supplication to him that is the Lord of the harvest; that he would send forth more such laborers into his harvest, who being the God of all grace and the giver of every good and perfect gift, can raise up others, and furnish them with such gifts and graces of his Spirit, as may make them shine as bright in the firmament of his Church, as those stars have done, whom he has taken hence, to shine in a higher orb. Which is a mercy greatly desired by all sincere Christians, and in particular by him who is
An unworthy servant of Jesus Christ, and your real friend