Friday, January 20, 2012

Navigation Spiritualized; or, A New Compass for Seamen, by John Flavel (in Works of John Flavel, Volume 5)


Another excellent and insightful examination of the spiritual lessons that can be learned from seemingly mundane and secular occupations--in this case, the life of a sailor, which Flavel clearly perceives as significantly more dangerous than the life of a farmer. 

Each discussion is between 2 and 5 pages in length--slightly shorter than those in Husbandry Spiritualized.  As in the previous volume, Flavel begins with the natural phenomenon (storms at sea, etc.) and then compares it to a spiritual truth.  The truth is applied, and Flavel closes each section with a brief poem.  The poems are, by and large, shorter than those in Husbandry Spiritualized, and more effective.

After thirty-two such lessons, Flavel transitions into five longer discussion--dissuasives against various sins common among sailors.  These sections were decent enough, but may be less helpful for those who don't struggle with drunkenness or partake of the services of prostitutes.  These cautions are followed by six sermons addressed to sailors, and tracking through the various stages of a sea voyage--the farewell, the storm, travels in foreign lands, success, failure, and ultimately the return home.

Flavel's observations are, as usual, excellent, but this book could cause some confusion.  Flavel focuses almost entirely on 'right living'--that is, what a sailor should or should not do.  Each 'should not' is grounds for the wrath of God, and each 'should' results in His pleasure.  This only works if Flavel is addressing sailors who are already Christians and have already placed their faith in Christ's saving work on the cross--and even then, the theology seems a bit off.  If they are not Christians, no amount of right living will endear them to a righteous, angry God.  If they are Christians, God's wrath has been poured out on Christ in their stead, and they no longer suffer that penalty for their sins.  Thus Flavel's encouragement to 'live rightly' does not enable the unbelieving sailor to avoid punishment, and divine wrath will not fall on sinners who are saved by grace.  I agree wholeheartedly that those who believe the gospel should--and indeed will--make every effort to live rightly, and that sin does anger God.  However, that anger was poured out on Christ, and those who believe need not fear damnation.  Which Flavel knows full well, given his other writings, so I am willing to just chalk this up to a lack of clarity.

Still an excellent read, though.

No comments: