By John Flavel
Every creature, by the instinct of nature, or by the light of reason, strives to avoid danger, and get out of harm's way. The cattle in the fields presaging a storm at hand, fly to the hedges and thickets for shelter. The fowls of heaven, by the same natural instinct, perceiving the approach of winter, take their timely flight to a warmer climate. This naturalists have observed of them, and their observation is confirmed by scripture testimony. Of the cattle it is said, Job 37: 6, 7, 8. "He saith to the snow, Be thou on the earth, likewise the small rain, and the great rain of his strength; then the beasts go into dens, and remain in their places." And of the fowls of the air it is said, Jer. 8: 7. "The stork in the heavens knoweth her appointed times, and the turtle, and the crane, and the swallow, observe the time of their coming."
But man being a prudent and prospecting creature has the advantage of all other creatures in his foreseeing faculty: "For God has taught him more than the beasts of the earth, and made him wiser than the fowls of heaven," Job 35: 11. "And a wise man's heart discerneth both time and judgement," Eccl. 8: 5. For as there are natural signs of the change of the weather, Matt. 16: 3, so there are moral signs of the changes of times and providence, yet such is the supineness and inexcusable regardlessness of most men, that they will not fear till they feel, nor think any danger very considerable, till it become inevitable.
We of this nation have long enjoyed the light of the glorious gospel among us; it has shone in much clearness upon this sinful island, for more than a whole century of happy years: but the longest day has an end, and we have cause to fear our bright sun is going down upon us; for the shadows in England are grown greater than the substance, which is one sign of approaching night, Jer. 6: 4. "The beasts of prey creep out of their dens and coverts," which is another sign of night at hand, Psal. 104: 20. "And the workmen come home apace from their labours, and go to rest," which is as sad a sign as any of the rest, Job 7: 1, 2. Isa. 57: 1, 2. Happy were it, if, in such a juncture as this, every man would make it his work and business to secure himself in Christ from the storm of God's indignation, which is ready to fall upon these sinful nations. It is said of the Egyptians, when the storm of hail was coming upon the land, Exod. 9: 20. "He that feared the word of the Lord made his servants and cattle flee into the houses." It is but an odd sight to see the prudence of an Egyptian out-vying the wisdom and circumspection of a Christian.
God, who provides natural shelter and refuge for all creatures, has not left his people unprovided with, and destitute of defence and security, in the most tempestuous times of national judgements. It is said, Mic. 5: 5. "This man (meaning the man Christ Jesus) shall be the peace when the Assyrian shall come into our land, and when he shall tread in our palaces." And Isa. 26: 20. "Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee; hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast."
My friends, let me speak as freely, as I am sure I speak seasonably. A sound of judgement is in our ears; "The Lord's voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall see thy name: hear ye the rod, and who has appointed it," Mic. 6: 9. All things round about us seem to posture themselves for trouble and distress. Where is the man of wisdom that does not foresee a shower of wrath and indignation coming? "We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace. Ask ye now, and see whether a man does travail with child? Wherefore do I see every man with his hands on his loins, as a woman in travail, and all faces are turned into paleness? Alas, for that day is great, so that none is like it; it is even the day of Jacob's trouble, but he shall be delivered out of it," Jer. 30: 5, 6, 7.
Many eyes are now opened to see the common danger, but some foresaw it long ago; when they saw the general decay of godliness every where, the notorious profanity and atheism that overspread the nations; the spirit of enmity and bitterness against the power of godliness wherever it appeared: and though there seemed to be a present calm, and general quietness, yet those that were wise in heart could not but discern the distress of nations, with great perplexity, in these seeds of judgement and calamity: but as the ephah fills more and more, so the determined wrath grows more and more visible to every eye; and it is a fond thing to dream of tranquillity in the midst of so much iniquity. Indeed, if these nations were once swept with the besom of reformation, we might hope God would not sweep them with the besom of destruction; but what peace can be expected, whilst the highest provocations are continued?
It is therefore the great and present concernment of all to provide themselves of a refuge before the storm overtakes them; for, as Augustin well observes, None facile inveniuntur praefidia in adversitate, quae non fuerint in pace quaesita. O take up your lodgings in the attributes and promises of God before the night overtake you; view them often by faith, and clear up your interest in them, that you may be able to go to them in the dark, when the ministers and ordinances of Christ have taken their leave of you, and bid you good night.
Whilst many are hastening on the wrath of God by profaneness, and many by smiting their fellow servants; and multitudes resolve, if trouble come, to fish in the troubled waters for safety and preferment, not doubting, (whensoever the overflowing flood comes) but they shall stand dry. O that you would be mourning for their sins, and providing better for your own safety.
Reader, it is thy one thing necessary to get a cleared interest in Jesus Christ; which being once obtained, thou mayest face the storm with boldness, and say, come troubles and distresses, losses and trials, prisons and death, I am provided for you; do your worst, you can do me no harm: let the winds roar, the lightnings flash, the rains and hail fall never so furiously, I have a good roof over my head, a comfortable lodging provided for me; "My place of defence is the munition of rocks, where bread shall be given me, and my waters shall be sure," Isa. 33: 16.
The design of the ensuing treatise is to assist thee in this great work; and though it was promised to the world many years past, yet providence has reserved it for the fittest season, and brought it to thy hand in a time of need.
It contains the method of grace in the application of the great redemption to the souls of men, as the former part contains the method of grace in the interpretation thereof by Jesus Christ. The acceptation God has given the former part, signified by the desires of many, for the publication of this, has at last prevailed with me (notwithstanding the secret consciousness of my inequality to so great an undertaking) to adventure this second part also upon the ingenuity and candour of the reader.
And I consent the more willingly to the publication of this, because the design I first aimed at, could not be entire and complete without it; but especially, the quality of the subject matter, which (through the blessing and concurrence of the Spirit) may be useful both to rouse the drowsy consciences of this sleepy generation, and to assist the upright in clearing the work of the Spirit upon their own souls. These considerations have prevailed with me against all discouragements.
And now, reader, it is impossible for me to speak particularly and distinctly to the case of thy soul, which I am ignorant of, except the Lord shall direct my discourse to it in some of the following suppositions.
If thou be one that hast sincerely applied, and received Jesus Christ by faith, this discourse (through the blessing of the Spirit) may be useful to thee, to clear and confirm thy evidences, to melt thy heart in the sense of thy mercies, and to engage and quicken thee in the way of thy duties. Here thou wilt see what great things the Lord has done for thy soul, and how these dignities, as thou art his son or daughter, by the double title of regeneration and adoption, do oblige thee to yield up thyself to God entirely, and to say from thy heart, Lord, whatever I am, I am for thee, whatever I can do, I will do for thee; and whatever I can suffer, I will suffer for thee; and all that I am, or have, all that I can do or suffer, is nothing to what thou hast done for my soul.
If thou be a stranger to regeneration and faith; a person that makes a powerless profession of Christ; that has a name to live, but are dead; here it is possible thou mayest meet with something that will convince thee how dangerous a thing it is to be an old creature in the new creature's dress and habit; and what is it that blinds thy judgement, and is likeliest to prove thy ruin; a seasonable and full conviction whereof will be the greatest mercy that can befall thee in this world, if thereby at last God may help thee to put on Christ, as well as the name of Christ.
If thou be in darkness about the state of thy own soul, and willing to have it faithfully and impartially tried by the rule of the word, which will not warp to any man's humour or interest, here thou wilt find some weak assistance offered thee, to clear and disentangle thy doubting thoughts, which, through thy prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, may lead thee to a comfortable settlement and inward peace.
If thou be a proud, conceited, presumptuous soul, who has too little knowledge, and too much pride and self-love, to admit any doubts or scruples of thy state towards God, there are many things in this treatise proper for thy conviction and better information; for woe to thee, if thou shouldst not fear, till thou begin to feel thy misery, if thy troubles do not come on till all thy hopes are one off.
I know all these things are performed by me with much infirmity; and that the whole management is quite below the dignity of the subject. But when I consider that the success of sermons and books in the world has but little relation to the elegancy of language, and accuracy at method, and that many may be useful, who cannot be excellent, I am willing, in all humility and sincerity to commit it to the direction of Providence, and the blessing of the Spirit.
One thing I shall earnestly request of all the people of God, into whose hands this shall fall, that now at last they will be persuaded to end all their unbrotherly quarrels and strifes among themselves, which have wasted so much precious time, and decayed the vital spirits of religion, hindered the conversion of multitudes, and increased and confirmed the atheism of the times, and now at last opened a breach, at which the common enemy is ready to enter and end the quarrel to our cost. O put on, as the elect of God, bowels of mercy, and a spirit of charity and forbearance, if not for your own sakes, yet for the church's sake: Si non vis tibi parcere, parce Carthagini.
I remember it is noted in our English history as a very remarkable thing, that when the Severn overflowed part of Somersetshire, it was observed that dogs and hares, cats and rats, to avoid the common destruction, would swim to the next rising ground, and abide quietly together in that common danger, without the least discovery of their natural antipathy.
The story applies itself, and O that Christians would everywhere depose their animosities, that the hearts of the fathers might be turned to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest God come and smite the earth with a curse.
O that you would dwell more in your closets, and be more frequently and fervently upon your knees. O that you would search your hearts more narrowly, and sift them more thoroughly than ever, before the day pass as the chaff; and the Lord's fierce anger come upon you: look into your Bibles, then into your hearts, and then to heavens for a true discovery of your conditions; and if this poor mite may contribute any thing to that end, it will be a great reward of the unworthy labours of
Thy Servant in Christ,