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The Mystery of…

March 13, 2008

Providence is a book by John Flavel, a Puritan preacher. Written originally in 1678, I ordered it during a special sale offered by Monergism Books. I figured since my recent circumstances have caused me to deliberate carefully my response to Providence, that this book would be helpful if not downright convicting.

So far, I am right on both counts, and I’m not finished with Chapter 1 yet.

Michael Boland wrote the Publisher’s Introduction describing some biographical details of John Flavel. In his introduction he mentions Flavel’s approach to Providence and a proper understanding of it as antithetical to modern thought. This is where your toes begin to know a pinch.

He [Flavel] insists from the outset that it is the duty of believers to observe all the performances of God’s providence for them, especially when they are in difficulties. Clearly, this conviction is not shared by the majority of evangelical Christians in the present day. It is not our custom nor is it regarded as a mark of spiritual keenness to seek to discover and meditate upon the work of Providence in all that happens to us.

A penetrating insight when I consider that so many of us labor to come past the idea that all blessing rests within the framework of our choices for what “good” means. Presumption in its highest form that the none who are not good nor righteous (Rom 3:9-12) would believe ourselves to know best for ourselves. In fact, when in our view a disaster befalls, a reflex action is to find the cause so we can assign the fault, and then work like the dickens to keep THAT from happening again.

Boland goes on to write:

…the Puritans had a lively sense of the sovereignty of God and it is just this that, speaking generally, we lack today. Many Christians reject it intellectually as repugnant to free will and their understanding of the love of God. When they suffer a setback in their personal affairs or in the work of the gospel, it is ascribed wholly to the Devil or to failure in themselves to ‘fulfill the conditions.’ They feel a sense of personal frustration and may even believe that God Himself has been frustrated. Their only hope of success is to intensify their spiritual exercises.

Ouch! Bedrest for me has most certainly been a setback of my personal affairs because I have so many, many, many things that I want to do. And not disputing that the enemy of Christians seeks to inflict havoc as allowed, this struck me with the truth that like Peter in Matthew 26:21-23 , I may actually be guilty of contributing to havoc by a wrong heart attitude towards a perceived setback. When in truth, if I really and practically believe in the sovereignty of God, then what has happened is EXACTLY what was supposed to happen.

I know that this makes us control freaks and personal responsibility gurus froth at the mouth. However, I’m not absolving personal responsibility for the sake of a cop-out from consequences related to choices (read free will if that makes you feel better). Instead, I’m upholding the truth that personal responsibility is still quite intact. I’m personally responsible for how I respond to the circumstances of Providence.

Boland cites prayer as a practical example of how this thought, despising Providence, can and does look.

Prayer on this basis [intensified spiritual exercises] is not so much a plea to Omnipotence as the throwing of one’s weight into the scale on the side of God. Even those who profess to accept without question the truth of divine sovereignty are not infrequently guilty of practical unbelief.

This visual picture of a collection of believers trying to throw themselves as hard as possible onto a cosmic scale, hoping desperately that it will move in the tiniest way to sway and persuade Omnipotence to do things as They so desire. Well, it’s laughable. And yet, this is the exercise of intensified spiritual exercise.

Am I saying that believers should not engage in the exercise of prayer, with fervency and faith? Am I denying the power of believers’ prayers? No, no, and no again. But I am convicted rightly, I believe, to recognize that more often than my prayers being submission to the will of God, my prayers detail, even with great fervency, the reasons He should see my side. As though He couldn’t, doesn’t, or won’t.

That’s a practical unbelief in regards to the sovereignty of God–that I must convince Him to be for me. If I state that Jesus is my Lord, and I have responded to His voice, then He is thoroughly, divinely, powerfully, utterly, and sovereignly for me. Scripture throughout declares this amazing truth not only directly but from Old Testament to New Testament in the lives of historical men and women. And it is these very Scriptures which are meant for the guidance and instruction of me for a right response to the workings of Providence.

Boland sums it up like this:

If Christians showed at all times by their demeanour that they had a living faith in the God of the Scriptures, they would be better placed to commend to an unbelieving world their God and His power to save.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 13, 2008 2:48 am

    “It is not our custom nor is it regarded as a mark of spiritual keenness to seek to discover and meditate upon the work of Providence in all that happens to us.” So right.

    “Even those who profess to accept without question the truth of divine sovereignty are not infrequently guilty of practical unbelief.” Oh boy. Feelin’ the pinch.

    Terrific post, Elle.

  2. March 15, 2008 8:29 pm

    “…to recognize that more often than my prayers being submission to the will of God, my prayers detail, even with great fervency, the reasons He should see my side.”

    That one hit it’s mark…dead center.

    Fantastic post.

  3. March 19, 2008 8:49 pm

    Ditto. What Rosemary and Jules said.

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