Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Token for Mourners: or, The Advice of Christ to a Distressed Mother, by John Flavel (in Works of John Flavel, Volume 5)


Really more of a three-and-a-half star book.  In other words, better than The Touchstone of Sincerity and Navigation Spiritualized; not as good as Husbandry Spiritualized or A Saint Indeed.  Here, Flavel shares his advice on how to avoid mourning overmuch--a sticky subject if ever there was one.  However, as the Epistle Dedicatory points out, Flavel's first wife died giving birth to their first child, and he lost his second wife as well, so the man knows of what he speaks.

It must be noted, however, that the exegesis here is a bit rocky.  The advice is sound, but Flavel bases the whole of the work on Jesus' words to the widow who'd lost her only son: "Do not weep."  However, since Jesus raises the son mere moments later, it is not at all clear that his words are meant as an admonition to grievers everywhere not to mourn too passionately.  Indeed, it seems more likely (to me) that he was letting her know that he was about to remove the cause of her grief altogether.  Still, the conclusions Flavel draws about what it means to grieve as Christians are based solidly in Scripture.  Just not this particular Scripture, methinks.

Fair warning--Flavel does not have much to offer in the way of comfort as we tend to define it in modern day America.  His comfort is based in his understanding of human depravity--that is, whatever grief you may suffer, rest assured you deserve worse, and other have endured worse. He notes that death should come as no surprise to the Christian, and that nobody dies a moment before the time established by the Sovereign Creator. He admonishes us not to become overly attached to persons, but to find our joy in Christ and His sacrifice for our sin.  He reminds us that we'll die soon ourselves, and then be reunited with those we've lost.  Tears are to be expected, he notes, but he will have none of this moping about for long periods of time--grieve and get over it is his philosophy.  This man does not pull any punches.  (At one point he even asks how long the mourner will sit 'musing upon a dead creature'.)

I have not experienced much real grief in my life, so I honestly don't know how this book would be received by the actual mourners for whom it was written.  I could certainly see this being something of a slap in the face for those still in the raw, early stage of grief.  Still, as I've said, his counsel is based firmly on the Bible.  And after all, there are times when we all need a slap in the face.

(For those who don't want to invest in a whole volume of Flavel's collected works, the substance of this book is also available in a stand-alone volume called Facing Grief: Counsel for Mourners, (with foreward by Mark Dever) published by Banner of Truth as part of their line of Puritan Paperbacks.)

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