John Flavel on the Providence of God
The Mystery of Providence (originally published in 1678) by John Flavel is an excellent guide to understanding the providence of God. John Flavel was a Puritan minister in England who experienced much hardship during his life, and yet he reveals in this book his strong belief in a divine providence that governs all of creation. The book is separated into three parts: The Evidence of Providence, Meditation on the Providence of God, and Application of the Doctrine of Providence.
Part One – The Evidence of Providence
Flavel describes the many ways that providence is evident in the world, and especially in the lives of God’s people. God governs the entire world in His sovereign will, but He especially provides for the people He has chosen. He has been in control of our whole lives: who our families are, how we came to believe, what work we are called to do, and how we are sanctified. He has protected us from evil and guided us in the paths of righteousness.
Part Two – Meditation on the Providence of God
Flavel reminds us that God has commanded us to meditate on His providence. We must remember what God has done for us in the past. We can be greatly blessed by remembering God’s salvation and mercy. Knowing God’s works in our own lives will bring us closer to God, strengthen our faith, cause us to rejoice, and invigorate us to lead godly lives.
Part Three – The Application of the Doctrine of Providence
Flavel applies this doctrine to our practical lives. He brings up the doubts and fears we may face in times of trouble, when we cannot see the good of God’s providence. He encourages us to not be cast down. God gives us hard times and good times, but we know that He works all things for good to those who love Him.
John Flavel delivers the doctrine of Providence, not with lofty words that come from inexperience, but with the speech that comes only from personal experience in the trials of life. Flavel knew well the way of sorrow and hardship. His first wife died in childbirth, the child dying as well. In 1662, the parliamentary Act of Uniformity, which forced the church to use the Book of Common Prayer, ejected Flavel, one among 2,000 clergymen, from the church. His father, a preacher also, and his mother died of the plague which they caught while being imprisoned for nonconformity. John Flavel continued to preach, however, meeting with his Dartmouth congregation in secret, even though it was dangerous for him to do so. Always on the alert for the authorities, Flavel and his congregation were sometimes forced to meet outdoors, in the woods or on an island that was exposed only during low tide. In 1672, the Declaration of Indulgence freed Flavel and other nonconformists to worship in the open, but the act was canceled the next year. For fifteen more years, Flavel preached in secret, managing to escape arrest. Finally, in 1687, another indulgence was granted, allowing Flavel to preach freely. Flavel was married four times, his fourth wife surviving him when he died in 1691.
John Flavel was a much-beloved Puritan preacher, who lived through much tribulation in a very turbulent time for the church. His knowledge of God’s providence is well-grounded in his personal experience and faith. Flavel could see the hand of God in all that happened to him. God blessed him with a life of ministry to the people of God. Flavel blessed many with his sermons in the 1600s, and even today his words of wisdom are still a blessing.
Is providence a mystery? When we experience the black nights and dark valleys of life, do we understand that there is a God watching over us? We may not always understand the reasons behind the workings of providence, but through the eyes of faith we see that God has a good and wonderful plan. The Shorter Catechism asks, “What are God’s works of providence?” The answer is, “God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.” Sometimes, life seems impossible and meaningless. But we have a God who is holy and wise. He takes care of us. Nothing can happen that is out of His control. Yes, we are weak. Yes, we are small. But God sustains His people. When everyone else disappoints us or abandons us, when we cannot even help ourselves, God is our Provider, Sustainer, and Help.
Visit a park and meditate on God's goodness
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