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To his much honoured and beloved Kinsman, Mr. John Flavel, of London, Merchant, and his virtuous Consort, the Author wisheth Grace, Mercy, and Peace.
My dear and honoured friends
If my pen were both able, and at leisure, to get glory in paper, it would be but a paper glory when I had gotten it; but if by displaying (which is the design of these papers) the transcendent excellency of Jesus Christ, I may win glory to him from you, to whom I humbly offer them, or from any other into whose hands providence shall cast them, that will be glory indeed, and an occasion of glorifying God to all eternity.
It is not the design of this epistle to compliment, but to benefit you; not to blazen your excellencies, but Christ’s; not to acquaint the world how much you have endeared me to yourselves, but to increase and strengthen the endearments betwixt Christ and you, upon your part. I might indeed (this being a proper place for it) pay you my acknowledgements for your great kindnesses to me and mine; of which, I assure you, I have, and ever shall have, the most grateful sense: but you and I are theatre enough to one another, and can satisfy ourselves with the inclosed comforts and delights of our mutual love and friendship. But let me tell you, the whole world is not a theatre large enough to show the glory of Christ upon, or unfold the one half of the unsearchable riches that lie hid in him. These things will be far better understood, and spoken of in heaven, by the noon-day divinity, in which the immediately illuminated assembly do there preach his praises, shall by such a stammering tongue, and scribbling pen as mine, which does but mar them.
Alas! I write his praises but by moon-light; I cannot praise him so much as by halves. Indeed, no tongue but his own (as Nazianzen said of Basil) is sufficient to undertake that task. What shall I say of Christ? The excelling glory of that object dazzles all apprehension, swallows up all expression. When we have borrowed metaphors from every creature that has any excellency or lovely property in it, till we have stript the whole creation bare of all its ornaments, and clothed Christ with all that glory; when we have even worn out our tongues, in ascribing praises to him, alas! we have done nothing, when all is done.
Yes, wo is me! how do I every day behold reasonable souls most unreasonably disaffected to my lovely Lord Jesus! denying love to One, who is able to compel love from the stoniest heart! yea, though they can never make so much of their love (would they set it to sale) as Christ bids for it.
It is horrid and amazing to see how the minds of many are captivated and ensnared by every silly trifle; and how others can indifferently turn them with a kind of spontaneity to this object, or to that (as their fancy strikes) among the whole universe of beings, and scarce ever reluctate, recoil, or nauseate, till they be persuaded to Christ. In their unconverted state, it is as easy to melt the obdurate rocks into sweet syrup, as their hearts into divine love.
How do the great men of the world ambitiously court the honours and pleasures of it? The merchants of the earth trade, and strive for the dear-bought treasures of it; whilst the price of Christ (alas! ever too low) falls every day lower and lower upon the exchange of this world! I speak it as a sad truth, if there were no quicker a trade (as dead as they say it is) for the perishing treasures of the earth, than there is for Christ this day in England, the exchange would quickly be shut up, and all the trading companies dissolved.
Dear Sir, Christ is the peerless pearl hid in the field, Mat. 13: 46. Will you be that wise merchant, that resolves to win and compass that treasure, whatever it shall cost you? Ah, Sir, Christ is a commodity that can never be bought too dear.
My dear kinsman, my flesh, and my blood; my soul thirsteth for your salvation, and the salvation of your family. Shall you and I resolve with good Joshua that whatever others do, “we and our families will serve the Lord;” that we will walk as the redeemed by his blood, shewing forth his virtues and praises in the world? that as God has made us one in name, and one in affection, so we may be one in Christ, that it may be said of us, as it was of Austin and Alippous long ago, that they were sanguine Christi conglutinati, glued together by the blood of Christ.
For my own part, I have given in my name to him long since; wo to me, if I have not given in my heart also; for, should I deceive myself in so deep a point as that, how would my profession as a Christian, my calling as a minister, yea, these very sermons now in your hands, rise in judgement to condemn me? which God forbid.
And doubtless, Sir, your eyes have seen both the vanity of all creatures, and the necessity and infinite worth of Christ. You cannot forget what a vanity the world appeared to you, when in the year 1668, you were summoned by the messengers of death (as you and all that were about you then apprehended) to shoot the gulph of vast eternity, when a malignant fever and pleurisy (whereof your physician has given an account to the world) did shake the whole frame of the tabernacle wherein your soul through mercy yet dwells; and long may it dwell there, for the service and praise of your great Deliverer. I hope you have not, nor ever will forget how vain the world appeared to your eye, when you looked back (as it were over your shoulder) and saw how it shrunk away from you; nor will you ever forget the awful apprehensions of eternity that then seized your spirit, or the value you then had for Christ; which things, I hope, still do, and ever will remain with you.
And for you, dear cousin, as it becomes a daughter of Sarah, let your soul be adorned with the excellencies of Christ, and beauties of holiness. A king from heaven makes suit for your love; if he espouse your soul now he will fetch it home to himself at death in his chariot of salvation; and great shall be your joy, when the marriage of the Lamb is come. Look often upon Christ in this glass; he is fairer than the children of men. View him believingly, and you cannot but like and love him. “For (as one well saith) love, when it sees, cannot but cast out its spirit and strength upon amiable objects and things loveworthy. And what fairer things than Christ! O fair sun, and fair moon, and fair stars, and fair flowers, and fair roses, and fair lilies, and fair creatures! but, O ten thousand, thousand times fairer Lord Jesus! Alas, I wronged him in making the comparison this way. O black sun and moon; but O fair Lord Jesus! O black flowers, and black lilies and roses; but O fair fair, ever fair Lord Jesus! O all fair things, black, deformed, and without beauty, when ye are set beside the fairest Lord Jesus! O black heaven, but O fair Christ! O black angels, but O surpassingly fair Lord Jesus.”
I hope you both are agreed with Christ, according to the articles of peace propounded to you in the gospel; and that you are every day driving on salvation work, betwixt him and you, in your family, and in your closets.
And now, my dear, friends, if these discoveries of Christ, which I humbly offer to your hands, may be any way useful to your souls, to assist them either in obtaining, or in clearing their in merest in him, my heart shall rejoice, even mine; for none under heaven can be more willing, though many are more able, to help you thither, than is
Your affectionate and obliged,
kinsman and servant
From my Study at Dartmouth, John Flavel.
March 14th, 1671.
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