Book Review: The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel

I wrapped up 2017 by finishing one last Puritan work entitled The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel, and I want to share with you my thoughts on the book.

First, if you’re a little unclear on what providence is in the first place, I think the fifth chapter of the LBCF can shed some light on the topic for you. In addition, Reformed Baptista took the time over the past year to expound on every chapter and paragraph of the LBCF 1689, and she covered the chapter on providence starting at Day 81 and continued through Day 103. So I highly encourage you to take the time to read up and understand what Providence is before beginning this book because I believe that John Flavel really jumps into the topic under the assumption that you know what it is (or at least have heard about it and can give a good definition of it).

Flavel organizes his book into three sections. The first section gives the evidence of looking_behind_providence in various areas of life (i.e. sanctification, employment, conversion, family life, etc.), but he has an obvious focus on how God works through providence on behalf of His children. I really enjoyed this section because Flavel pulled so many random stories from the Bible and Church history to give examples of providence, both good and bad, in the lives of people. The second section of the book was on meditating on God’s providence and why we ought to make this a regular duty of the Christian life. I also enjoyed this section, but I felt like it became a little redundant towards the end. The last section of the book goes through some of the practical implications of the doctrine of providence for the saints, and it offers encouragement to all believers to record our experiences with providence throughout our lives for our spiritual good and the good of others. I enjoyed this last section as well, and it was good to see some practical connections between a doctrine we can read about at length and how it can (and should) have an effect in our everyday lives.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book. I think I found the book to be slow at times because a lot of things seemed to be repeated so often. Reflecting back, I think he does repeat some things, but I think that the feeling is stronger because there are so many things that he mentioned that I read and picked up on in The Crook in the Lot and The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. So in a way, I think I read these three books in a good order, and Flavel’s book was a great summary and wrap-up of everything that I’ve learned over the past year. However, I don’t want you to get the impression that Flavel didn’t really offer anything new in this book, because he expounds on a lot of things that you would otherwise not consider carefully enough. Thus, I still highly recommend this book to you.

In conclusion, there are three things that stood out most to me in this book. Two of those things are quotes that I spent a lot of time thinking about, and I think they are worth sharing with you now. The first quote is this:

O that you would once learn this great truth, that no man ever lacked that mercy which he did not lack a heart to trust and wait quietly upon God for. You never yet sought God in vain, except when you sought Him vainly.

The second quote is this:

O that we would but steer our course according to those rare politics of the Bible, those divine maxims of wisdom! Fear nothing but sin. Study nothing so much as how to please God. Do not turn from your integrity under any temptation. Trust God in the way of your duty. These are the sure rules to secure yourselves and your interest in all the vicissitudes of this life.

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetThe final thing that stood out to me was Flavel’s insistence that we make it our Christian duty to remember God’s acts of providence in our lives. I know my own life is full of memories of God directly intervening in crazy situations, and there are also memories of impeccably timed mercies from the hand of God that brought relief just what I thought I would break and be lost forever. And on the other hand, there are distinct times of providential testing of my faith and resolve and other experiences that, though painful and difficult at the time, ended up maturing and sanctifying me in unforeseen ways. Flavel ended his book pressing home the fact that regardless of how ordinary and miraculous these experiences may be in our lives, we will all forget them as time goes on if we do not take time to record them and go back over them from time and time. And I have taken that idea and started a journal for 2018 where I will be recording God’s gracious and timely providences in my life. I think that alone is something all Christians should do more often in all of the changing circumstances of life, so that like Asaph, we can say:

“I will appeal to this,

to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”

I will remember the deeds of the LORD;

yes, I will remember your wonders of old.

I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.

Your way, O God, is holy.

What god is great like our God?

You are the God who works wonders;

You have made known your might among the peoples. –Psalm 77:10-14

Book Review: The Crook in the Lot by Thomas Boston

The Crook in the Lot by Thomas Boston is a real Puritan classic that I just happened to put in my Amazon shopping cart to get free shipping last month, but I am glad that I did! And I want to encourage you to get a copy of this one, and treasure it for the true gem that it is.

Boston wrote this book as an in-depth contemplation of Ecclesiastes 7:13, which says:

Consider the work of God: who can make straight what He has made crooked?

As Christians we encounter a variety of difficult circumstances and situations in our lives (or our ‘lot’). For some people, the difficulty in our lot may be seen in physical problems with our bodies (i.e. health problems, illness, deformities, weakness, barrenness, beauty, etc.). For other people it may deal with their honor, or the failure to receive the honor and respect due to them. Still others may deal with difficulty in their vocations and stations in this world, whether it is ongoing difficulty on their job, frustrated hopes and expectations, or even a desire to do something else while you have to remain where you are. And another area of difficulty for many people lies in their relationships with family, friends, the world, and even the Church. However, as Boston continuously points out, it does not matter where your ‘crook’ is in your lot of life, it is of highest importance that we, as Christians, have the proper view of these difficulties and look upon them with the eye of faith, not just by our natural senses. And with a proper view, these difficulties will become advantageous to us as we learn how to adjust our deportment (loved that word) under them.

If I had to capture the main points of this book, they would be:

  1. The hand of God is unmistakably involved in every aspect of our lives, both small and great. If He has decided to put a crook, or a difficulty, in some aspect of your life, you will not be able to change or alter that difficulty until He wills it to change. So you ought to quiet yourself with the knowledge that regardless of the difficulty, God is directly involved and is using this for your good in Him.
  2. Humility is of the utmost necessity in the Christian life, and if you will be loved and cared for by God, you must learn humility. However, humility is oftentimes very hard to come by in the Christian life because we wrestle with lofty opinions of ourselves and what we are due. Thus, God teaches us humility through the crooks in our lot, and His aim is to make this a thorough work. So, though we may be content to just deal with our various difficulties in life and work through them, looking for better days ahead, God desires that we learn how to lower our spirits down to our lots so that we indeed calm and quiet our souls as a weaned child with its mother (Psalm 131). The lowering down of our spirits in the midst of crooks is probably the hardest lesson to learn for the Christian; however, it yields the sweetest fruits.
  3. As we perform the duties of humility, we have this promise from the Lord that He will raise us up out of our difficulties (straighten the crooks) in due season. The due season happens at different times for each Christian, as the Lord sees fit. And there are some crooks that will not be straighten until we close our eyes for the last time and take our last breath. Nevertheless, we can trust that the Lord will exalt the humble at the appointed time, not a moment too late and not a second too soon.

There is so much more I can say about this book, but I will just end with this last point:

In these days, there is so much discontentment and dissatisfaction among people with their lot in life, even among professing Christians. Protests, rallies, blogs, and social media blasts abound as people take to voicing all of their problems with a variety of things around them that may or may not be actually affecting them. Nevertheless, the issues of fairness, equality, privilege, and rights dominate the news, and I found this book to be an extra tether for my soul, a balm for my aching mind, and a sweet, familiar melody to my heart that reminded me of the very basic things that I learned at the very beginning of my Christian walk. That is, we may not understand the ‘why’ behind all of the things in our lives right now, but we will understand them all better by and by.

Brothers and sisters, I pray that you get your hands on this book soon, and may you see with the eyes of faith in all of your crooks that the Lord has allotted to you.