J.W.Alexander, Thoughts on Preaching (1864), p.141
‘How could I have postponed to this place dear John Flavel? Noone needs to be told how pious, how faithful, how tender, how rich, how full of unction are his works. In no other writer have the highest truths of religion been more remarkably brought down to the lowest capacity; yet with no sinking of the doctrine, and with a perpetual sparkle and zest, belonging to the most generous liquor. It has always been a wonder to me, how Flavel could maintain such simplicity and naiveté, and such childlike and almost frolicsome grace, amidst the multiform studies which he pursued. I can account for it only by his having been constantly among the people, in actual duty as a Pastor. Opening one of his volumes at random I find quotations, often in Greek and Latin, and in the order here annexed, from Cicero, Pope Adrian, Plato, Chrysostom, Horace, Ovid, Luther, Bernard, Claudian, Menander and Petronius. His residence at Dartmouth would afford a multitude of pastoral instances, if this were our present object.’
The lessons are obvious for those of us who labour in pastoral ministry:
1. We must bring deep, rich theology to our people. Flavel’s works have stood the test of time because they are saturated by true, captivating doctrine. Properly understood, carefully preached doctrine is never dull, and builds resilient, joyful believers.
2. Don't preach to engage your congregation's superstars, but the super-ordinary. I used to preach to a married couple who were senior university academics, who would often sit next to two functionally illiterate adult brothers. I wanted to engage with each, but was far more thrilled when I saw the brothers connecting with and drinking in the Word.
3. Find time to read, even if you have to steal it. Flavel was widely read. That was a big factor in why his sermons are so varied in their range and depth. He knew how to feed his mind and heart, and what he received he served his people with.
4. Never hide in the study, and never hide behind the pulpit. Flavel knew and loved his people, and they knew and loved him. His ministry years read like a boys' own story, of courageous personal ministry to all sectors of society, continuing right through the years of fierce persecution. What he preached in the pulpit he urged on his people in their homes and workplaces. He was a friend of all.
5. Read Flavel. It doesn't matter where you dive in, it's all excellent stuff.
Archibald Alexander, father of J.W. quoted above, certainly passed on his love for Flavel to his son. He once confessed, ‘to John Flavel I certainly owe more than to any uninspired author.’ Get to know Flavel, and your ministry will discover its debt.