Page images
PDF
EPUB

friendly encouragement alternated with grave remonstrance and melting pathos, except among the veriest reprobates his ministry was boundlessly popular; and when he went from home, his plain and arresting discourses were so often the means of awakening or converting careless hearers, that he was induced to extend his labours far beyond the bounds of his own large parish.

The period, however, was brief during which he was allowed to ply such a free and unfettered ministry. Ejected by the Act of Uniformity, for some time he endeavoured to keep together and instruct the members of his flock; but spies and penal laws made their meetings difficult and dangerous. At last the Oxford Act was promulgated, and according to its terms Mr Flavel could no longer reside in Dartmouth. On the day of his departure, the inhabitants accompanied him as far as the churchyard of Townstall, where, amidst prayers and tears, they parted. Nevertheless, his heart was still with his beloved people. He took up his abode as near them as the letter of the law allowed ; and, sometimes in Dartmouth itself, sometimes in a quiet apartment in a neighbouring village, and sometimes in a wood or other sheltered spot in the open air, he contrived to meet a detachment of them almost every Sab. bath-day.

At last King James's Indulgence permitted the open resumption of his ministry. A commodious meeting-house was built, and there, for the few remaining years of his life, he continued to warn, exhort, and comfort all who came, with a fervour of which the tradition has not yet died out in Devon. His prayers were wonderful. Much of his retirement was spent in devotional exercises; and in the great congregation he was sometimes seized with such agonies of earnestness, or carried away in such a rapture of praise and thanksgiving, that it seemed as if the tabernacle of clay must perish amidst the excessive emotion. At last, towards the end of June 1691,

[blocks in formation]

he presided at a meeting of the Nonconformist ministers of Devonshire. The object was to bring about a union of Pres- AB. byterians and Independents. The preliminary resolutions passed unanimously, and “Mr Flavel closed the work of the day with prayer and praise, in which his spirit was carried out with wonderful enlargement and affection.” On the 26th, he wrote to a London minister an account of this auspicious meeting, and appeared remarkably cheerful and happy. But that evening, towards the close of supper, one of his hands grew numb, so that he could not raise it to his head. This alarmed his wife and friends, and whilst they were chafing and trying to reanimate the torpid limb, the palsy crept down the whole of that side. They carried him up-stairs, and as they went, he said, “ It is the last time ; but I know that it will be well with me." They laid him on the bed, and he soon expired, without a movement or a groan.

No period of English history has been so fruitful in religious literature as the half-century between the commencement of the Parliamentary War and the glorious Revolution; or, we might say, the period included in the publishing career of Richard Baxter. But amidst that enormous authorship there are few books which retain so much attraction for modern readers as some of Flavel's practical treatises; such as Mystery of Providence," " A Token for Moumers," " A Saint Indeed," and the two volumes on “Husbandry” and Navigation Spiritualised.” For their enduring popularity they are, no doubt, in some degree indebted to their kind, affable, and earnest tone; but still more, we presume, is due to the skill and felicity with which matters of the greatest moment are expounded. With a view to be useful, the writer's great anxiety was to be understood, and he sought out the words and the modes of representation which might suit the sailors of Dartmouth and Plymouth, and the farmers of Devon and Dorset. His books abound in anecdote, and they are rich in those

“ The

homely metaphors and ingenious comparisons which are an effective ingredient in popular oratory. Above all, they command the reader's attention, by the importance of the themes which they handle; they secure his confidence, by their unaffected seriousness and deep sincerity; and they win his heart, by the evangelical warmth and personal kindness with which they are all aglow.

Mr Flavel had a happiness far beyond all literary renown. His books were useful. One day, when in London, his publisher, Mr Boulter, told him the following incident :—There came into the shop "a sparkish gentleman,” inquiring for play books. Mr Boulter did not keep such books, but shewed him Mr Flavel's treatise “ On Keeping the Heart," and begged him to read it, as it would do him more good than a comedy. The gentleman read the title, and glanced into a few pages here and there, and, in terms sufficiently profane, exclaimed at the fanatic who could make such a book. However, he bought it, at the same time saying, "I don't mean to read it.” “ And what, then, will you do with it?" asked Mr Boulter, “I shall tear it, and burn it, and send it to the devil.” Then,” said the bookseller, you shall not have it.” The upshot was that he promised to read it-Mr Boulter promising, that if he did not like it, he should receive back his money. About a month after, the gentleman returned, although by no means so gaily attired as on his former visit. Addressing Mr Boulter, he said ——“Sir, I most heartily thank you for putting this book into my hands, and I bless God that moved you to do it: it has saved my soul.” At the same time, he bought a hundred copies of the publication to which he was so much indebted, in order to distribute to the poor.

Our first extracts are from the work entitled, “Divine Conduct; or, The Mystery of Providence.” Its lessons are very happily enforced by the selection of striking incidents from history sacred and profane.

MAN'S EXTREMITY GOD'S OPPORTUNITY.

149

Man's Extremity God's Opportunity. We find a multitude of providences so timed to a minute, that, had they fallen out ever so little sooner or later, they had signified but little in comparison of what they now do. Certainly it cannot be casualty, but counsel, that so exactly nicks the opportunity. Contingencies keep no rules.

How remarkable to this purpose was the tidings brought to Saul, that the Philistines had invaded the land, just as he was ready to grasp the prey (1 Sam. xxiii. 27). The angel calls to Abraham, and shews him another sacrifice, just when his hand was giving the fatal stroke to Isaac (Gen. xxii. 10, 11). A well of water is discovered to Hagar just when she had left the child as not able to see its death (Gen. xxi. 16–19). Rabshakeh meets with a blasting providence, hears a rumour that frustrated his design, just when ready to give the shock against Jerusalem (Isaiah xxxvii. 7, 8). So when Haman's plot against the Jews was ripe, and all things ready for execution, “ On that night could not the king sleep" (Esther vi. 1). When the horns are ready to gore Judah, immediately carpenters are prepared to fray them away (Zech. i. 18-21). How remarkable was the relief of Rochelle, by a shoal of fish that came into the harbour when they were ready to perish with hunger, such as they never observed either before or after that time. Mr Dodd could not go to bed one night, but feels a strong impulse to visit (though unseasonably) a neighbouring gentleman, and just as he came he meets him at his door, with a halter in his pocket, just going to hang himself. Dr Tate and his wife, in the Irish Rebellion, flying through the woods with a sucking child, which was just ready to expire; the mother, going to rest it upon a rock, puts her hand upon a bottle of warm milk, by which it was preserved. A good woman, from whose mouth I received it, being driven to a great extremity, all supplies failing, was exceedingly plunged into unbelieving doubts and fears, not seeing whence supplies should come ; when, lo! in the nick of time, turning some things in a chest, she unexpectedly lights upon a piece of gold, which supplied her present wants, till God opened another door of supply. If these things fall out casually, how is it that they observe the very juncture of time so exactly? This is become proverbial in Scripture. “ In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen" (Gen. xxii. 14).

Unlikely Enstruments. In the first planting of Christianity, Christ did not choose eloquent orators, or men of authority in the courts of kings and emperors, but twelve poor mechanics and fishermen ; and these not sent together in a troop, but some to take one country to conquer it, and some another; the most ridiculous course, in appearance, for such a design as could be imagined; and yet, in how short a time was the gospel spread, and churches planted by them in the several kingdoms of the world! This the Psalmist foresaw by the spirit of prophecy, when he said, “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger ” (Ps. viii. 2). At the sound of rams' horns Jericho is delivered into the hands of Israel (Josh. vi. 20). By three hundred men, with their pitchers and lamps, the huge host of Midian is discomfited (Judges vii. 19). The Protestants, besieged at Beziers, in France, are delivered by a drunken drummer, who, going to his quarters at midnight, rang the alarm bell of the town, not knowing what he did, and just then were their enemies making their assault. And, as weak and improbable means have been blessed with success to the Church in general, so, to the preservation of its particular members also. A spider, by weaving her web over the mouth of an oven, shall hide a servant of Christ (Du Moulin) from his enemies, who took refuge there in that bloody Parisian massacre. A hen shall sustain another

« PreviousContinue »