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Reading Classics Together

June 25, 2015

It is our duty to reflect on life’s circumstances and to look for God’s hand in them. It is our duty because God works in and through our circumstances and, by his providence, matures and strengthens us in them. In his work The Mystery of Providence, John Flavel writes about the importance of doing this very thing: reflecting upon God’s performance of providence. He offers 7 reasons that this is our duty.

God commands it. God expressly commands that we seriously and diligently reflect on our circumstances and acknowledge his providence. This is true whether we perceive them to be acts of mercy or acts of judgment. We are responsible before God to investigate each one of them. If we fail to do this we fail to uncover these evidences of God’s favor and, instead, display our own lack of faithfulness.

Neglecting it is a sin. We know the importance of reflecting on God’s providence because to fail to do so is called a sin. To be unobservant in this way is displeasing to God.

The Bible draws special attention to God’s acts of providence. Consider, for example, God’s great work of deliverance in leading his people out of Egypt and into the promised land. God immediately calls on his people to observe and consider it. God calls upon all men to “come and see” the great works that he has done. These calls are meaningless unless it implies a serious duty.

We cannot praise God without it. How can we praise God if we do not praise him for the things he has done and is doing? Think again of how often the biblical writers consider what God has done and then give him praise and thanks. If we neglect this duty, we defraud God of the praise we owe him, and we remove the opportunity to worship his name.

Without it we lose the benefit of the works God has done. God’s great works are done so that we can praise and thank him for them. We need to consider what God has accomplished for us and for others. This is the food our faith feeds upon in times of distress. In troubled times we shall find ourselves starving if we do not taste of what God has done.

We slight God without it. It is through God’s providence that he draws near to us. We slight him—we turn away from his presence—if we do not rejoice in his providence. It is contemptuous of us to ignore him when he is present with us.

We cannot suitably pray without it. Unless we observe God’s providence, we cannot pray in a way that is suitable to our circumstances. Sometimes we are to pray prayers of praise and other times prayers of contrition. We cannot know how we are to pray unless we observe his providence and read it properly.

In each of these ways we owe it to our God to consider his providence in each of our circumstances.

Next Week

We will continue our reading next week with chapter 9: “Directions on Meditating on God’s Providence.” Read it by next Thursday and check in to see what I (and others) have to say about it.

Your Turn

The purpose of this project is to read classics together. So do feel free to leave a comment if you have something you would like to say. Alternatively, you may leave a link to your blog or Facebook or anywhere else you have reflected on what you have read.

If you would like to read along with us, we have only just begun, so there is lots of time to get caught up. Simply get a copy of the book and start reading…

June 18, 2015

We Calvinists probably have a heightened awareness of our own depravity. After all, we proclaim it right at the beginning of our favorite acronym, TULIP. What makes our total depravity all the more remarkable is the grace of God that still counts us as valuable. In his work The Mystery of Providence, John Flavel offers 6 proofs that God actually does assign us such value and worth.

We know by the fact of his eternal, electing love. When we are aware of our deep sinfulness, we can only see this act of electing grace as being ancient, free, and utterly astonishing. Every aspect of God’s providence flows toward, or out of, this one.

We know by the precious gift of his Son. If David could look at the stars and marvel at the grace and magnitude of God (see Psalm 8), how much more should we look to the very Son of God clothed in flesh and marvel at what God has done?

We know by the close and careful attention God gives each of us, especially as it is seen through his moment-by-moment providential care. If God withdrew his care for even a second, we would soon be overwhelmed by sin and ruin.

We know by the tenderness of God’s providential care. “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem” (Isaiah 66:13). Flavel says, “As birds fly to their nests when their young are in danger, so he defends his.” Yet no tenderness displayed in a creature can serve as more than a dim shadow of the tender heart of the Creator.

We know by the sheer variety of the expressions of his providence. God’s providence is a veritable fountain that streams forth innumerable blessings spiritual and temporal, ordinary and extraordinary, public and personal.

We know by the way he invisibly ministers to us through the heavenly beings. “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14)?

Whatever else we know, we know that God loves us—that he loves to love us.

Next Week

We will continue our reading next week with chapter 8: “The Duty of Reflecting on God’s Providence.” Read it by next Thursday and check in to see what I (and others) have to say about it.

Your Turn

The purpose of this project is to read classics together. So do feel free to leave a comment if you have something you would like to say. Alternatively, you may leave a link to your blog or Facebook or anywhere else you have reflected on what you have read.

If you would like to read along with us, we have only just begun, so there is lots of time to get caught up. Simply get a copy of the book and start reading…

Image credit: Shutterstock

June 11, 2015

God’s providence is the single greatest hindrance to the floods of sin that would otherwise gush out of our sinful hearts. If it were not for God’s care and preservation, even we Christians would be far more sinful than we dare imagine. If it were not for God’s gracious interference, our best efforts in holiness would not be enough to keep us from drowning in sin and heaping contempt on the name of Christ. God takes far better care of us than we do of ourselves. For this reason, every Christian owes unending thanks to God for preserving us from what we would otherwise do and who we would otherwise become. This is roughly what John Flavel teaches in chapter 6 of his work The Mystery of Providence. Here are a few of the ways in which God interferes with our desire and attempts to sin against him.

God stirs up other people, and especially other Christians, to keep us from fulfilling the evil we had planned to do. I heard some time ago from a young men who had his heart set on viewing pornography for the very first time. But just as he sat down in front of his computer his phone buzzed, and he found that his friend was calling simply to ask how he was doing in his battle for sexual purity. Just like that his intention to sin was thwarted for another day. God had intervened through the hand of another person.

God sometimes interferes with the very means or tools we had intended to use for evil purposes. The Spanish intended to invade England to overthrow the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I, but God used a mighty storm to break apart the Spanish fleet and end the threat. Perhaps that power outage or that computer crash you experienced, though an inconvenience, was actually a great mercy. God uses means both known and unknown to us to hinder us in our pursuit of sin.

God sometimes brings pain or sickness to our bodies in order to prevent us from sin. He uses these little evils to prevent the carrying out of much greater evil. Eternity may reveal that the headache that drove you to bed yesterday was actually a gift of God to prevent you from committing some great sin.

God sometimes uses his well-timed Word or even human wisdom to prevent his people from committing acts of sin. When David’s mind became filled with thoughts of the prosperity of the wicked, God dissolved his ingratitude through worship (see Psalm 73). How often have you considered sin, but been drawn aside by wisdom that has suddenly flooded your mind, or wisdom someone has quietly spoken to you?

God sometimes prevents his people from falling into sin by taking their very lives. Who knows what sin God has prevented, and what shame he has stopped, by graciously taking the lives of one of his saints before that person was able to commit so grave a sin. What seems like the ultimate evil may well have been the ultimate gift.

God’s kind providence keeps us from being as sinful as we would otherwise be. So, Christian, thank God for his providence, and prepare to be amazed when, in eternity, God gives you the gift of seeing how often and to what extent he has kept you from sin.

Next Week

We will continue our reading next week with chapter 7: “God’s Providence in Our Sanctification.” Read it by next Thursday and check in to see what I (and others) have to say about it.

Your Turn

The purpose of this project is to read classics together. So do feel free to leave a comment if you have something you would like to say. Alternatively, you may leave a link to your blog or Facebook or anywhere else you have reflected on what you have read.

If you would like to read along with us, we have only just begun, so there is lots of time to get caught up. Simply get a copy of the book and start reading…

Image credit: Shutterstock

June 04, 2015

We forget. Often we forget because we fail to deliberately remember—to remember and recount the goodness and mercy of God. In his work The Mystery of Providence, John Flavel gives a series of cautions to Christians who may be prone to this temptation to forget.

Do not forget God’s care and kindness. All throughout your life you have been the beneficiary of God’s kind providence. Yet is it possible that God could charge you in the same way he charged Israel: “But they soon forgot his works” (Psalm 106:13)? The human memory tends to be both faulty and slippery when it comes to remembering God’s mercy. But there is a high cost: Forgetting God’s past faithfulness deprives you of the comfort you want and God of the glory he deserves.

Do not distrust God in future times of need. God has been faithful in the past, so why doubt his provision in the future? Yet this was exactly the temptation that Israel faced: “He struck the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed. Can he also give bread or provide meat for his people” (Psalm 78:20)? It is both unreasonable and absurd to distrust God for the future when his care has been so clear throughout your life.

Do not grumble when your circumstances change. We are all tempted to grumble when our circumstances change from favorable to unfavorable. But grumbling is not made any less sinful simply because it is so common. If we acknowledge the sheer evil of the sin of grumbling we will be quick to identify and admire God’s bounty in every circumstance. We will be equally slow to complain when we perceive that they have become unfavorable.

Do not show any discontentment. Do not show even slightest discontentment with the situation in which God places you. Instead, choose to be pleased and satisfied with all that God gives you. Choose to say, with David, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance” (Psalm 16:6). You can have confidence that the circumstance you experience now is the one God has determined is best for you, and equal confidence that some day you will judge it so.

Do not neglect God in your times of desperation. If you truly believe that it is God’s providence that dispenses all circumstances, then it is your responsibility to continue to pursue and worship God in every one of them. Remember God’s command: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Remember God and he will not forget you.

Do not distract yourself with sinful worries. Jesus told us that when we are concerned about provision we simply need to look at the birds. Yet he did not tell us to look at the pet birds that are fed by hand every day, but to the wild birds who do not know where their next meal will come from. After all, God provides even for these. Won’t he then also provide for you? Do not allow sinful worries to distract you from living and rejoicing.

Through it all, remember who you are in Christ, remember his promises, and work those promises into your heart until you are satisfied and content with all that God’s providence has given you.

Next Week

We will continue our reading next week with chapter 6: “God’s Providence in Our Preservation.” Read it by next Thursday and check in to see what I (and others) have to say about it.

Your Turn

The purpose of this project is to read classics together. So do feel free to leave a comment if you have something you would like to say. Alternatively, you may leave a link to your blog or Facebook or anywhere else you have reflected on what you have read.

If you would like to read along with us, we have only just begun, so there is lots of time to get caught up. Simply get a copy of the book and start reading…

May 28, 2015

I have so much and give thanks so little. God has blessed me tremendously in all areas of life, and I return thanks to him so sparsely and so half-heartedly. This is my conclusion as I continue reading through John Flavel’s classic work The Mystery of Providence. In chapter 4 Flavel instructs the reader to acknowledge the hand of God in and behind our daily work. Along the way he offers every Christian 4 cautions related to vocation:

Do Not Be Lazy. Do not be slothful or idle in your vocation, whatever it is. This is true of those who work in an office environment, those who are workers in the home, and even those who are students. People who are negligent in their main vocational responsibility are almost invariably guilty of sin elsewhere. Looking to 2 Thessalonians 3:11, Flavel says, “He that lives idly cannot live honestly.” (We could also quote Spurgeon who says, “Idle people tempt the devil to tempt them.”)

Do Not Be Idolatrous. While laziness lies at one end of a spectrum, idolatry lies at the other. Flavel distinguishes between a particular calling, which is your day-to-day vocation at this time, and your general calling, which is the one we all share as humans and as Christians—the pursuit and enjoyment of God. His warning is this: Do not be so intent upon your particular calling that it begins to interfere with your general calling. “Beware you lose not your God in the crowd and hurry of earthly business.” He quotes Seneca who offers this wisdom: “I do not give, but lend myself to business.” Do not allow your vocation to displace or replace your God.

Do Not Be Proud. As sinful people, pride is our near-constant companion in this world, and it is never so near to us as when we experience success. Flavel wants you to remember that any success you experience in your calling and your earthly employment comes primarily by the blessing of God rather than through your diligence. Yes, diligence is important, but it is God who then blesses and rewards your hard work. Humbly commit all of your work to the Lord and thank him for every bit of the prosperity you enjoy.

Do Not Be Discontent. Finally, be satisfied with the circumstances and status you have now, and be content with the employment God has given you. You may be tempted to waste your days wishing that your life was better, but you need to acknowledge the sovereignty of God and his calling upon you to succeed and excel right where you are. “Providence is wiser than you, and you may be confident hath suited all things better to your eternal good than you could do, had you been left to your own option.” I don’t see this as a call to apathy or a call away from ambition, but a call to Christian contentment. When we acknowledge God, we acknowledge the good in our circumstances, even if they are not the ones we would have chosen.

Next Week

We will continue our reading next week with chapter 5: “God’s Providence in Our Family.” Read it by next Thursday and check in to see what I (and others) have to say about it.

Your Turn

The purpose of this project is to read classics together. So do feel free to leave a comment if you have something you would like to say. Alternatively, you may leave a link to your blog or Facebook or anywhere else you have reflected on what you have read.

If you would like to read along with us, we have only just begun, so there is lots of time to get caught up. Simply get a copy of the book and start reading…

May 21, 2015

Testimony is a good Christian word, isn’t it? It is a word we use to describe a person’s account of their conversion. At Grace Fellowship Church we ask people to share their testimony aloud before they are baptized, and to send it in printed form to the members of the church as they apply for church membership. Sometimes at an evening service we will invite someone to come to the front and to tell us how the Lord saved her. We even keep a big binder full of these testimonies for anyone who would like to read through them—an amazing collection of stories that are so very different and yet all tell the same story.

Do you talk about your conversion? Do you find yourself thinking back to it and recounting its circumstances? Do you remember and share your testimony? John Flavel considers this one of the great joys and responsibilities of the Christian life saying, “This is a subject which every gracious heart loves to steep its thoughts in. It is certainly the sweetest history that ever they repeated; they love to think and talk of it.” Do you?

In chapter 3 of Flavel’s book The Mystery of Providence, Flavel instructs his reader in the importance of considering and recounting God’s providence in our salvation.

In nothing does Providence shine forth more gloriously in this world than in ordering the occasions, instruments and means of conversion of the people of God. However skilfully its hand had moulded your bodies, however tenderly it had preserved them and however bountifully it had provided for them; if it had not also ordered some means or other for your conversion, all the former favours and benefits it had done for you had meant little. This, O this, is the most excellent benefit you ever received from its hand. You are more indebted to it for this, than for all your other mercies. And in explaining this performance of Providence, I cannot but think your hearts must be deeply affected.

But with all the emphasis we place on testimony, there is one kind of person that can sometimes feel a little bit inadequate—the person who grew up in a Christian home, who put his faith in Christ at a very young age and through circumstances that may have long since been lost to the mists of time.

Flavel acknowledges this person, stating that not every Christian can recount the circumstances of their salvation in quite the same way. While for some people salvation was “wrought in person of riper years, who in their youthful days were more profane and vile,” for others salvation came to “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 and discernible. 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 conscience of sin; but as to the time, place, instruments and manner of the work, they can give but a slender account of them.

There is a clear difference between these people, but it is not the difference between genuine and false salvation. Rather, God has simply chosen to bring about the miracle of conversion in a different way.

However, if the work is savingly wrought in them, there is no reason they should be troubled 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 circumstance.

In other words, salvation is no more genuine to those who can clearly remember and recount the circumstances that led to their conversion. And I would go so far as to say that the “boring” testimonies of childhood conversions are the most blessed of all. After all, aren’t these exactly the testimonies we wish for our children?

Next Week

We will continue our reading next week with chapter 4: “God’s Providence in Our Work.” Read it by next Thursday and check in to see what I (and others) have to say about it.

Your Turn

The purpose of this project is to read classics together. So do feel free to leave a comment if you have something you would like to say. Alternatively, you may leave a link to your blog or Facebook or anywhere else you have reflected on what you have read.

If you would like to read along with us, we have only just begun, so there is lots of time to get caught up. Simply get a copy of the book and start reading…

Image credit: Shutterstock

May 14, 2015

The other day, the old Puritan John Flavel took me out back and slapped me around for a while (metaphorically, of course). I have been reading his classic work The Mystery of Providence and he dedicates the second chapter to an explanation of why we need to worship God for his kind providence in our childhood. He wants his readers to acknowledge the privileges that were theirs simply because of the time and place in which they were born.

Along the way he includes a brief but powerful section in which he exhorts parents in the duties they have in raising their children. He wants you, the parent, to seriously consider the responsibility that God has entrusted to you for each one of your children. And, at least for me, each of them felt like a gut-punch. He offers these 8 considerations, asking that you would ponder each one and allow them to motivate you to call your children to respond to the gospel.

  1. Consider the intimacy of the relationship between you and your children, and, therefore, how much their happiness or misery is your concern. Our children mean so much us. You gain joy by them, you place high value on them, you express hopes and longings for them, you sympathize with them in their troubles, and you grieve from the depths of your soul if they precede you into death. Why would you long to have children, and assign such value to them, and find so much joy in them, if, in the meantime, you give little thought to their eternal souls?
  2. Consider that God has charged you to tend not only to their bodies, but also to their souls. You can know this by the clear commands God has given parents (see Deuteronomy 6:6-7; Ephesians 6:4), and also by the commands he has given children since these commands imply the duty of the parents (e.g. Ephesians 6:1).
  3. Consider what could possibly comfort you at the time of your children’s death if, through your neglect, they die in a Christless condition. The most heartbreaking cry is that of the parent who has to honestly admit, “My child is in hell and I did nothing to prevent it! My child is in hell and I helped him go there!”
  4. Consider this question: If you neglect to instruct your children in the way of holiness, will the devil neglect to instruct them in the way of wickedness? No, of course not. If you will not teach them to pray, he will teach them to curse, swear, and lie. Where the ground is uncultivated, weeds will inevitably spring up.
  5. Consider that if the years of your children’s youth are neglected, there is little probability of any good fruit afterwards. You have to make the best use of their most formative years. Flavel uses this brilliant little illustration: “How few are converted in old age! A twig is brought to any form, but grown trees will not bow.”
  6. Consider that you are the instrumental cause of all your children’s spiritual misery, both by generation and imitation, by birth and by example. They are in a state of spiritual death because of the plague of sin which they contracted from you. As David says, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). This further increases your responsibility to see them healed from that plague.
  7. Consider that there is no one in the world more likely than you to be instruments of their eternal good. You have advantages that no others have, such as the insights you gain into their hearts. Because you are with them every day, and because you have so much knowledge of their weaknesses, you have unique opportunities to instill the knowledge of Christ into them. If you are neglectful, who shall help them? No one else can or will take your place in their lives.
  8. Consider the great day of judgment and be moved with pity for your children. Remember that text, “I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God” (Revelation 20:12). What a sad thing it would be to see your dear children at Christ’s left hand. Friends, do your utmost to prevent this misery! “Knowing the terrors of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11).

Now, the purpose of these 8 considerations is not to make parents despair, but to help them see their responsibility. Flavel acknowledges, of course, that God is the only one who can bring a child to salvation and that God’s purposes are his own. And yet the Scriptures make it plain that the parents are to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Every parent would do well to ponder these 8 items.

Next Week

We will continue our reading next week with chapter 3: “God’s Providence in Our Salvation.” Read it by next Thursday and check in to see what I (and others) have to say about it.

Your Turn

The purpose of this project is to read classics together. So do feel free to leave a comment if you have something you would like to say. Alternatively, you may leave a link to your blog or Facebook or anywhere else you have reflected on what you have read.

If you would like to read along with us, we have only just begun, so there is lots of time to get caught up. Simply get a copy of the book and start reading…

Image credit: Shutterstock

May 07, 2015

I have invited you, and others, to read a classic book with me as part of my ongoing Reading Classics Together effort. This time around we are reading John Flavel’s The Mystery of Providence. As you may have surmised from the title, this is a book about providence—about God’s care for his people. In Meet the Puritans Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson tell us what we can expect as we read through the book’s three sections and thirteen chapters.

In the first, Flavel explains the evidence of providence in the birth and upbringing of believers, in their conversion and employment, in their family affairs, and in their sanctification and preservation from evil. In the second, he instructs believers on the art of meditating on the providence of God, explaining the duty of such meditation, how to do it, and the benefits of doing it. … Finally, Flavel applies the doctrine of providence by showing its practical implications for believers and the problems of wrestling with it. The book concludes with a chapter titled “The Advantages of Recording our Experiences of Providence.”

But before all of that, Flavel has to lay some groundwork, and this is exactly what he does in chapter one, “God’s Providence in General.” In this opening chapter he means to prove the existence of providence, and does so by asking eight rhetorical questions.

  1. How comes it to pass that so many signal mercies and deliverances have befallen the people of God, above the power and against the course of natural causes; to make way for which there has been an obvious suspension and stop put to the course of nature? That’s a mouthful of a sentence, and I take it to mean that there are times when events in the world simply cannot be explained according to natural causes precisely because things behave in a way contrary to nature. Instead of remaining within its normal boundaries, the Red Sea divides and allows God’s people to pass; even people have been bent on one course of action and suddenly found themselves doing the very opposite. How can this be explained apart from the providence of God?
  2. How is it, if the saints’ affairs are not ordered by a special divine Providence, that natural causes unite and associate themselves for their relief and benefit in so strange a manner as they are found to do? Sometimes events work together so neatly and so obviously that we can only conclude that God has been behind them. Simeon and Anna were both brought to the temple when the young Jesus was there. Was that mere coincidence? An entire series of coincidences brought Joseph to power in Egypt so that he could save God’s people. Coincidence? No, it can only be providence.
  3. If the concerns of God’s people are not governed by a special Providence, how is it that the most apt and powerful means employed to destroy them are rendered ineffectual, while weak, contemptible means employed for their defence and comfort are crowned with success? If nature ruled, men would carry out their terrible designs. But time and again God’s providences interrupt those plans and deliver his people.
  4. If all things are governed by the course of nature and force of natural causes, how then comes it to pass that, like a bowl when it strikes another, men are turned out of the way of evil, along which they were driving at full speed? People have been determined on a course of action, even an evil course of action, but God has worked from behind-the-scenes to deliver them from it. Laban came at Jacob in order to harm him but God restrained him; Balaam came to curse Israel, but found himself utterly unable. God turns people away from their intended course.
  5. If there is not an over-ruling Providence ordering all things for the good of God’s people, how comes it to pass that the good and evil which is done to them in this world is accordingly repaid into the bosoms of them that are instrumental therein? God rewards those who do good to his people, even when those who do good are unbelievers. Not only that, but God repays the evil of unjust men with even greater evil. Just think of the Egyptian midwives who were blessed by God for the good they did to the Hebrews, and think of Pharaoh who was cursed by God for the evil he did to the Hebrews. Providential justice and mercy are both on display in this world.
  6. If these things are merely accidental, how is it that they square and agree so exactly with the Scriptures in all particulars? What God says in his Word is inevitably proven in his world. From the simple proverbs to the promises of the gospel, God’s Word proves true. This must be more than mere coincidence.
  7. If these things are contingent, how is it that they fall out so remarkably in the nick of time, which makes them so greatly observable to all that consider them? Many of God’s providences are perfectly timed so we can only agree that they are meant to further God’s purposes. For example, God shows Abraham a substitute sacrifice just when his hand is about to strike Isaac.
  8. Lastly, were these things accidental and contingent, how can it be that they should fall out so immediately upon and consonantly to the prayers of the saints? So that in many providences they are able to discern a very clear answer to their prayers, and are sure they have the petitions they asked (1 John 5:15). God answers prayer, and so many of his providences are directly tied to the prayers of his people. Peter was delivered from his prison cell while the church prayed; each of us knows how our prayers have been answered by God in clear and specific ways.

Now I will be honest: I found this chapter a little bit difficult to read—more so than most other Puritan works. I don’t know if the fault is mine or Flavel’s, but I am inclined to think it is mine. Not only that, but while I found his examples and illustrations compelling, I am not sure they would do a whole lot to convince someone who did not already believe in providence. They are a helpful in assuring me, but perhaps not in convincing the skeptic. Then again, that may not be his purpose here.

Overall, I found it an intriguing start and I look forward to diving in deeper. I love the premise for the book and was taken by this statement from the introduction: “O how ravishing and delectable a sight will it be to behold at one view the whole design of Providence, and the proper place and use of every single act, which we could not understand in this world!” Some day, I trust, we will. And we will rejoice.

Next Week

We will continue our reading next week with chapter 2: “God’s Providence in Our Childhood.” Read it by next Thursday and check in to see what I (and others) have to say about it.

Your Turn

The purpose of this project is to read classics together. So do feel free to leave a comment if you have something you would like to say. Alternatively, you may leave a link to your blog or Facebook or anywhere else you have reflected on what you have read.

If you would like to read along with us, we have only just begun, so there is lots of time to get caught up. Simply get a copy of the book and start reading…

April 23, 2015

Many times over the years I have invited readers of this blog to join me in a reading project, mostly as part of a program I’ve called Reading Classics Together. We’ve read some incredible books together—Holiness by J.C. Ryle, Christianity & Liberalism by Gresham Machen, The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards, The Cross of Christ by John Stott, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks, and a whole lot more. Most recently we read through John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation (for the second time!). I think it is time to read another classic.

This time around I would like to look back to the Puritan era and to read a work by John Flavel: The Mystery of Providence. While I have never read this one before, it comes highly recommended by many people I know and trust. When considering Puritan works there is no better source to turn to than Meet the Puritans by Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson, and here is what they say about it:

The [Banner of Truth] edition divides this book into three sections. In the first, Flavel explains the evidence of providence in the birth and upbringing of believers, in their conversion and employment, in their family affairs, and in their sanctification and preservation from evil. In the second, he instructs believers on the art of meditating on the providence of God, explaining the duty of such meditation, how to do it, and the benefits of doing it. … Finally, Flavel applies the doctrine of providence by showing its practical implications for believers and the problems of wrestling with it. The book concludes with a chapter titled “The Advantages of Recording our Experiences of Providence.”

Flavel’s book is rich with illustrations. For example, when dealing with the difference between what Flavel calls “our time” and “God’s time,” Flavel concludes that our time is not the proper season for us to receive our mercies, since God’s delay “is nothing else but the time of His preparation of mercies for you, and your heart for mercy, so that you may have it with the greatest advantage of comfort. The foolish child would pluck the apple while it is green; but when it is ripe it drops of its own accord and is more pleasant and wholesome” (p. 139).

This excellent book on providence opens avenues of spiritual knowledge and experience that few believers have probed. It is invaluable for understanding God’s purposes for our lives. Flavel teaches us how to find delight in discerning how God works all things in the world for His glory and our good.

That sounds like a book that will benefit me tremendously. My guess is that it will do the same for you. So why don’t you plan to read it with me?

How It Works

Here is how the program works: Each week we will read one chapter. Then, on Thursdays, visit my site and I will have an article on that chapter along with a place for you to add your comments or a place for you to link to your own blog (or Facebook or any other place you have been discussing it). The idea is to read the book together, so we can benefit from one another’s insights and have mutual accountability as we press on in our reading.

How do you participate? Simply by getting a copy of the book and reading along. You don’t need to register, you don’t need to comment, you don’t need to do anything other than read one chapter per week.

Buying the Book

The Mystery of Providence is widely available. However, I have worked out a couple of good deals for you:

  • If you would like to read the paperback version from Banner of Truth, you can order it from Banner’s site and use the coupon code CHALLIES30OFF to get a 30% discount. That will take the price down to $5.60. If you shop at Westminster Books, they have it in stock as well ($6.50).
  • If you prefer electronic books, GLH Publishing was kind enough to hurry their version of the book, and to price it at just $0.99. It is available at Amazon.
  • If you prefer to read it online, Google will find you some free versions.

Let’s Get Started

I plan to post an article on chapter one on May 7, and continue every Thursday after that. There are 13 chapters, meaning the program will last for 13 weeks. All you need to do is obtain a copy of the book and read chapter one prior to May 7.

Why don’t you leave a comment below if you plan to join the program (or if you’ve got any questions).

December 04, 2014

Putting sin to death is at once so simple and so excruciatingly difficult. The theory of it is simple enough, but the practice takes a lifetime. It is fascinating to me that in John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation he dedicates thirteen chapters to the preparatory work of putting sin to death, but just one chapter to the actual practice of it. That fact alone is worth pondering.

As he comes to that one chapter, Owen has only two broad instructions: Put your faith in Christ, and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit.

Put Your Faith in Christ

Owen’s first instruction is simple: Set your faith at work on Christ for the killing of your sin. “His blood is the great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls. Live in this, and you will die a conquerer; you will, through the good providence of God, live to see your [sin] dead at your feet.”

Owen is not speaking about saving faith here, since at this point he already assumes that. Rather, he is talking about exercising your existing faith to believe that Christ has died not only for your salvation, but also for your sanctification. To practice this kind of faith you need to:

  • Raise up your heart by faith to an expectation of relief from Christ. “Though it may seem somewhat long to you, while you are under your trouble and perplexity, yet it shall surely come in the appointed time of the Lord Jesus; which is the best season.”
  • Consider his mercifulness, tenderness, and kindness, as he is our great High Priest at the right hand of God. “Assuredly he pities you in your distress. … He is able, having suffered and been tempted, to break through all dissuasions to the contrary, to relieve poor and tempted souls.”
  • Consider the faithfulness of him who has made the promise. “He has promised to relieve in such cases, and he will fulfill his word to the utmost.”
  • Act faith particularly upon the death, blood, and cross of Christ. “Mortification of sin is peculiarly from the death of Christ. … Whatever came upon our natures by [Satan’s] first temptation, whatever receives strength in our persons by his daily suggestions, Christ died to destroy it all.”
  • Act faith upon the death of Christ in expectation of power and in endeavors for conformity. “Let faith look on Christ in the gospel as he is set forth dying and crucified for us. Look on him under the weight of our sins, praying, bleeding, dying; bring him in that condition into your heart by faith; apply his blood so shed to your corruptions. Do this daily.”

Rely on the Power of the Holy Spirit

As the section draws to a close, Owen wants the reader to remember all he has already said about the Holy Spirit and how true mortification is only ever carried out by the power of the Spirit.

  • The Spirit alone clearly and fully convinces the heart of the evil and guilt and danger of the sin to be put to death. “Without this conviction, or while it is so faint that the heart can wrestle with it or digest it, there will be no thorough work made.”
  • The Spirit alone reveals unto us the fullness of Christ for our relief. “[This] is the consideration that stays the heart from false ways and from despairing despondency.”
  • The Spirit alone establishes the heart in expectation of relief from Christ.
  • The Spirit alone brings the cross of Christ into our hearts with its sin-killing power.
  • The Spirit is the author and finisher of our sanctification.
  • In all the soul’s addresses to God in this condition, it has support from the Spirit.

This makes a fitting conclusion to Owen’s instructions on putting sin to death. With all the instructions made, we have now only to look to Christ, to trust in Christ, and to rely on his Holy Spirit. So simple. Yet it is the Christian’s lifetime work.

Reading Classics Together

Thanks to all who read this book with me. It was a joy to read it with you and to read your many, excellent comments and summaries. Do consider reading the other parts of the book, as there is so much more to learn from John Owen. And stay tuned; at some point I’ll suggest another classic we can read together.

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