John Flavel (c. 1627–1691) on those who can vividly recall their conversion, and those who can’t

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In evangelical circles where often personal testimonies of conversion are emphasized, Christians sometimes get a little bit concerned if they can’t vividly recount their conversion. Being in the Reformed tradition, I’ve discussed this very issue with some of my theology classmates at university, most of them having walked with the Lord in a covenant relationship from their youth and did not have a radical conversion experience like I did at the age of 19 in a car accident. John Flavel (c. 1627–1691) discusses this topic in his book, The Mystery of Providence, p. 61. Immediately before this quote, Flavel wrote about God’s amazing and providential way he brings his people to himself.

“But lest any poor soul should be discouraged by the display of this providence, because he cannot remember the time, place, instruments and manner when and by which his conversion was wrought, I will therefore premise this necessary distinction to prevent injury to some, while I design benefit to others.

Conversion, as to the subjects of it, may be considered two ways: either as it is more clearly wrought in persons of riper years–who in their youthful days were more profane and vile–or upon persons in their tender years, into whose hearts grace was more imperceptibly and indiscernibly instilled by God’s blessing upon pious education.

In the former sort, the distinct acts of the Spirit–illuminating, convincing, humbling, drawing them to Christ and sealing them–are more evident. In the latter, these are more obscure and confused. They can remember that God gave them an esteem and liking of godly persons, care of duty and consciousness of sin, but as to the time, place, instruments and manner of the work, they can give but a slender account of them. However, if the work is savingly wrought in them, there is no reason they should be troubled simply because the circumstances of it are not so evident to them as they are to others.

Let the substance and reality of the work appear, and there is no reason to afflict yourselves because of the lack of evidence of such circumstances.”

Sometimes God changes a heart, mind, and life in an unforgettable instant. But sometimes he works more slowly. Sometimes he draws his people to his side in infancy, sometimes in youth, sometimes later in life. The point is not to highlight our experience, emotions, or feelings, but truth that God graciously brings his children to himself – in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. No matter when this happens or how long it takes, God receives all the glory, honor, and praise!

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One thought on “John Flavel (c. 1627–1691) on those who can vividly recall their conversion, and those who can’t

  1. Neal says:

    I appreciate this article; it was edifying.

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