Friday, January 20, 2012

A Saint Indeed: or, The Great Work of a Christian in Keeping the Heart, by John Flavel (in Works of John Flavel, Volume 5)


Possibly my favorite Flavel work so far.  Flavel opens by addressing 'the keeping of the heart'--what it means and why it matters (for Flavel, this essentially boils down to spiritual health or a heart centered on faith in the gospel and rightly related to God).  He examines twelve 'seasons' in which the keeping of the heart is particularly challenging, and offers encouragement and counsel for keeping the heart in each one.  Flavel admonishes hypocrites (those who do not keep the heart, but only preserve outward appearances), and then lists various motives and means for those who would keep their hearts well.

While the whole work is excellent, Flavel's discussion of the twelve seasons was particularly convicting and encouraging.  This list includes such circumstances as prosperity, adversity, when troubles assail the Church, public danger (wars, etc.), injury, provocation, temptation, want, doubt, suffering, and sickness or death. In other words, pretty much any situation any Christian could ever be in, any time, anywhere.  Whatever your issue, there's an app for that. 

There is a lot of repetition, as many of the encouragements are the same across these varied situations, but the substance is incredibly meaty.  Flavel avoids the temptation to offer empty comfort or platitudes--his words are based on reality and Scripture, not warm, fuzzy feelings.  (For example, he points out that if you really are in desperate want of something you cannot live without, you should be encouraged because your want will be of short duration--God will either meet your need, or you will die.  Either way, the period of want is not long. No 'God will make it better' talk for him--just practical, realistic, biblical wisdom.) 

Flavel repeatedly points to the gospel as the source of all solace--the gift of our salvation outweighs any hardship or circumstance, and no matter how bad things are, we deserve worse.  The text is littered with references to Scripture, and it is on this rock that Flavel builds his arguments and exhortations.  He promises only what Scripture promises, and no more.  Thus each encouragement is based on the full heft of God's own faithfulness.  This is no 'hang in there' kitty poster.  This is real, solid, substantive encouragement, and Christians everywhere would benefit from Flavel's unflinching perspective on their circumstances.

Definitely a book that's going on my re-reading list.

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