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John Flavel was an Oxford-educated Presbyterian clergyman contemporary with John Milton, who lived during one of the most turbulent periods in England's religious history. His devotional writings were popular well into the 19th century and his commentary on the Westminster Confession, written soon after the original Confession was signed, influenced Scottish theologians for decades. Flavel's religious beliefs, however, were never separated from their context of persecution and sudden death. His parents died of the plague which they contracted in Newgate prison after being arrested in an illegal religious meeting, and three of John Flavel's four wives died before him. Flavel knew suffering, and he wrote to the ordinary people of his day: those tempted by suicide and drunkenness, and concerned with illness, tenancy, death of children and spouses, and the state of the soul. Flavel's works echo with a deep sympathy for human weakness in an age of rapid social change, high mortality and religious and political turmoil. This volume reprints two of Flavel's most popular works, The Touchstone of Sincerity and A Token for Mourners, as well as the Life of John Flavel, written by an unnamed contemporary soon after Flavel's death in 1691. The Touchstone of Sincerity, first published in 1679, addresses those in doubt about the state of their own soul, outlining a "touchstone," or criteria by which the reader may do a self-evaluation. Flavel particularly addresses those Christians struggling with depression that comes from an oversensitive conscience which can overwhelm the spiritual person. He encourages a careful self-evaluation tempered with a gentle moderation. A Token for Mourners, first published in 1674 when Flavel was in his mid-30s, responds theologically to the grief that follows the premature death of children and loved ones. Flavel's was a world where disease and child mortality rates were high and women often died in childbirth. Widowed by the death of three successive wives, knew his subject. Condemning a stoic denial of sorrow as "pagan," Flavel attempts to come to grips, rationally and theologically, with a measure of grief so extensive it threatened to overwhelm one's ability and willingness to live. He speaks to himself and, through himself, to his readers who faced the stark social risk of death with every pregnancy, every child and every friend.
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"Reader, pass not over this topic without some serious reflection in regard to your own spiritual state... It is is no easy thing to bring a man and his heart together... Hold fast integrity, whatever else you lose by it." John Flavel (1630-1691) was an Oxford-educated clergyman who lived during one of the most turbulent periods in England's religious history. His parents died of London's "great plague" in 1665, which they contracted in Newgate prison after being arrested for participating in illegal worship. John, too, experienced repeated political restrictions; exiled from his appointed parish at Dartmouth, he traveled and preached secretly in the neighboring countryside for nearly twenty years. He was a prolific and popular religious writer and his works were repeatedly reprinted for over 150 years after his death. This volume brings back into print for the modern reader two of his most popular treatises, The Touchstone of Sincerity and A Token for Mourners, as well as the brief Life of John Flavel written by an unnamed contemporary shortly after his death. Flavel wrote for the ordinary people of his time, those concerned with the death of spouse and children, illness, drunkenness, tenancy, and the spiritual pains of the soul. His call to the Christian to be a "true professor" of the faith echoes with a deep sympathy for human weakness in an age of high mortality, religious and political turmoil and rapid social change.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
From "The Life of the late Rev. Mr. John Flavel, Minister of Dartmouth:" "John... was born in Worcestershire... He was religiously educated by his father and, having profited well at the grammar schools, was sent early to Oxford and settled a commoner in University College. He plied his studies hard and exceeded many of his contemporaries in university learning... He settled at Dartmouth by the election of the people and an order from Whitehall by the commissioners for approbation of public preachers on the 10th of December 1656... He was master of the controversies between the Jews and Christians, Papists and Protestants, Lutherans and Calvinists, and between the Orthodox and the Arminians and Socinians. He was likewise well read in the controversies about church discipline, infant baptism and Antinomianism. He was well acquainted with the School-divinity and drew up a judicious and ingenious scheme of the whole body of that theology in good Latin which he presented to a person of quality, but it was never printed... Those who lived in his family say that he was always full and copious in prayer, seemed constantly to exceed himself, and rarely made use twice of the same expressions...He was ready to learn from everybody and as free to communicate what he knew... He freely taught academic learning to four young men whom he bred to the ministry, and one of them he maintained all the while at his own charge.. ...Mr. Flavel never delighted in controversies... At Topsham, he presided as moderator in an assembly of the Nonconformist ministers of Devonshire, who unanimously voted him into the chair. The occasion of their meeting was about a union between the Presbyterians and Independents, which Mr. Flavel was very zealous to promote... The execution of the Oxford act, which banished all nonconformist ministers five miles from any towns which sent members to parliament, forced him to leave Dartmouth, to the great sorrow of his people who followed him out of town...He many times slipped privately into Dartmouth where by preaching and conversation he edified his flock, to the great refreshment of his own soul and theirs, although there was much danger in doing this because of his watchful adversaries who constantly laid wait for him so he could not make any long stay in the town......In 1685 some of the people of Dartmouth made up his effigy and carried it through the streets in derision, with the covenant and bill of exclusion pinned to it, and set it upon a bonfire and burned it... During this time God was pleased to deprive him of his second wife, which was a great affliction since such a one he stood much in need of, being a man of infirm and weak constitution who laboured under many infirmities. In convenient time he married a third wife, Mrs. Ann Downe... who lived very happily with him eleven years and left him two sons, who are youths of great hopes... ...In 1673 there came into Dartmouth port a ship of Pool, in her return from Virginia. The surgeon, a lusty young man of 23 years of age, fell into a deep melancholy which the Devil improved to make him murder himself. This he attempted on the Lord's day, early in the morning when he was in bed with his brother. He first cut his own throat with a knife he had prepared on purpose and, leaping out of bed, thrust it likewise into his stomach, and so lay wallowing in his own blood until his brother woke up and cried for help. A physician and surgeon were brought who concluded that the wound in his throat was mortal... Mr. Flavel came to visit him and, perceiving him to be within a few minutes of eternity, laboured to prepare him for it. He asked him his own expectation of his condition ... The young man's conscience began to fail. He broke out into tears, bewailing his sin and misery and asking Mr. Flavel whether there was any hope for him. He told him there might be and, finding him altogether unacquainted with the nature of faith and repentance, he opened them to him. The poor man sucked in this doctrine greedily, and entreated Mr. Flavel to pray with him and for him that he might be, a sincere gospel penitent. Mr. Flavel prayed accordingly and it pleased God to melt the young man's heart. Mr. Flavel thus took farewell of him, never expecting to see him any more in this world. But the young man continued to live contrary to expectations. In the evening. He rejoiced greatly when he saw Mr. Flavel come again, begging him to continue his discourse upon those subjects... Next morning his wounds were to be opened and the surgeon's opinion was that he would expire immediately. Mr. Flavel was again requested to visit, and prayed with him. The wound in his stomach was afterwards opened. The ventricle was so swollen that it came out at the orifice of the wound and lay like a livid discolored tripe upon his body and was also cut through. Everyone thought it impossible for him to live. However, the surgeon enlarged the orifice of the wound, fomented it, and wrought the ventricle again into his body. Stitching up the wound, he left his patient to the disposal of providence. It pleased God that he was cured... and also cured of that more dangerous wound which sin had made in his soul. When the surgeon returned to Pool after his recovery Mr. Samuel Hardy ... assured Mr. Flavel that if ever a great and thorough work was wrought, it was done in that man...
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