John Flavel (1628-1691), son of a Puritan minister who died in prison for his Nonconformity, was educated at University College, oxford, and laboured for almost the entire period of his ministry at Dartmouth, Devon. Having all the characteristics of the tradition to which he belonged — a tradition which believed that preaching should be ‘hissing hot’, searching, and expository — Flavel attained to pre-eminence in his ability to combine both instruction and appeal to the heart. Some Puritans might be more learned than he, and some more quaint, but for all-round usefulness none was his superior.
The repeated editions of Flavel’s Works bear their own witness to his popularity: five times were The Works of John Flavel issued in the 18th century and at least three times in the 19th. He was a favourite with Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield (who ranked him with John Bunyan and Matthew Henry), and, a century later, with such Scottish evangelical leaders as R. M. M’Cheyne and Andrew Bonar. But it was in the homes of Christian people that Flavel made his greatest appeal and influenced rising generations: Archibald Alexander, the first professor at Princeton Seminary, read him while still a ‘teenager’ and recorded in later life, ‘To John Flavel I certainly owe more than to any uninspired author.’
Flavel’s complete works had long been unobtainable until reprinted by the Trust in 1968. His six volumes are in themselves a library of the best Puritan divinity and a set will be a life-long treasure to those who possess it. He is one of that small number of evangelical writers who can by their lucidity and simplicity help those at the beginning of the Christian life and at the same time be a strong companion to those who near its end.
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