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

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 137

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Day 137

Of Christ the Mediator.

Chapter 8, Paragraph 2.

…So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures were inseparably joined together in one Person: without conversion, composition, or confusion: which person is very God and very man; yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.

Scripture Lookup

Luke 1:27,31,35

Romans 9:5

1 Timothy 2:5

Reflection

Jesus is unique. This can make it confusing when trying to explain who He is, especially to those who are convinced that He was just a man, or just a spirit, but never both. From Scripture, however, we see that Jesus is man and God. So, how exactly does that work?

There is a mystery to how Jesus is both God and man, but there are things we can clearly say about Him. We know that He has a human nature, and we also know that He has a divine nature. There is nothing limiting Him from being fully man, and nothing that keeps Him from being fully God. We also know that as a man, He is perfect. This also is true of His divinity. There is no mingling of the two natures that would lessen His being a man or lessen His being God.

However, despite there being two natures, there is only one person: Christ. While the two natures are distinct, you can’t separate them: Jesus can’t be Jesus without His human nature, and He can’t be Jesus without His divine nature. To be Jesus is to be fully God and fully man. This is the only mediator between God and men. Any other Jesus will not do.

Such thinking about who Christ is may be new to you. It can be difficult! It sure is a lot easier to simply let people believe what they want about Jesus, and not have to work to explain the “hypostatic union” (the union of the two natures in the person of Jesus).  But if you don’t grow in your knowledge of Christ, how can you grow in your love for Him? And how will you give a defense against those who redefine Jesus? May we echo the hymn:

More about Jesus would I know,
More of his grace to others show,
More of his saving fullness see,
More of his love who died for me.

Questions to Consider

  • How does the hypostatic union affect your salvation?

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 134

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Day 134

Of Christ the Mediator.

Chapter 8, Paragraph 2.

The Son of God, the second Person in the Holy Trinity, being very and eternal God, the brightness of the Father’s glory, of one substance and equal with him: who made the World, who upholdeth and governeth all things he hath made: did when the fullness of time was come take upon him man’s nature, with all the Essential properties, and common infirmities thereof,

Scripture Lookup

John 1:14

Galatians 4:4

Reflection

Attacking the nature of Christ is the norm for numerous cults that claim to be “Christian”. Of course, they don’t say they are attacking his nature; they vehemently promote their “truth”. These heresies are not new; they have been circulating since the first century. How do we combat them? By knowing to the best of our ability who our Savior truly is.

The Son of God is God. He, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, compose the Trinity. Even though He is the only begotten Son of the Father, He is not inferior to Him. This is the almighty Son, who created all things, and continues to uphold and direct all things! He, like the Father and Spirit, is immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, infinite in being and perfection. You cannot exalt the Son too highly.

Knowing the true nature of the Son, that He is fully God and thus far beyond our limits, we turn to that point in time, ordained since the beginning, where the Son takes upon Himself human nature. He does not appear as a man; He is a man. While fully God, He is also fully man. He is born; He thirsts; he hungers; He grows weary. What it means to be human, He is. He shares in our common infirmities.

Questions to Consider

  • How is the Son God? How is the Son like us when He took on human flesh?

He’s our Father

My husband and I welcomed a new baby girl into our family in February. And we have been experiencing the highs and lows of having a newborn since then. In addition, dealing with the inevitable sibling jealousy and regression in behavior from our oldest has led both of us to our knees many many times this year, and it has caused me to reflect a lot on our family, my own family, and the family of God.

Presently, I am reading through J. I. Packer’s wonderful book Knowing God. (I can’t begin to tell you how great this book is, and I wholeheartedly encourage you to read it if you have not.) Andabba-father he has a great chapter on the topic of adoption, or being sons of God. Without a doubt, we know that once we have been born again, we become members of the household of God, and we see this clearly expressed in church membership and our fellowship with other brothers and sisters in the faith. But what of God? How is calling Him, Father, changing us? How has it changed our lives, our perspective on things in this life? Is it changing anything? Are we thinking about long enough for it to make a difference?

Let me share one final thought from Packer’s book that’s worth thinking about:

One more thing must be added to show how great is the blessing of adoption – namely, this: it is a blessing that abides… The depressions, randomnesses, and immaturities that mark the children of broken homes are known to us all. But things are not like that in God’s family. There you have absolute stability and security; the parent is entirely wise and good, and the child’s position is permanently assured. The very concept of adoption is itself a proof and guarantee of the preservation of the saints, for only bad fathers throw their children out of the family, even under provocation; and God is not a bad father, but a good one. When one sees depression, randomness and immaturity in Christians one cannot but wonder whether they have learned the health-giving habit of dwelling on the abiding security of true children of God.

Thoughts on The Baptist Catechism, Question One

The following was taken from some lecture notes I taught at my church a couple years ago from The Baptist Catechism.

 

Q.1: Who is the first and chiefest being?

A. God is the first and chiefest being.1

1Isaiah 44:6; 48:12; Psalm 97:9

 

Note: The first question and answer from the Westminster Confession of Faith begins with man and points to God:

 

Q.1: What is the chief and highest end of man?

A. Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God and fully to enjoy Him forever.

The Baptist Catechism takes a decidedly more presuppositional and, I would argue, more Calvinistic approach. In Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin begins his instruction by asking whether man must first know himself in order to know God or know God in order to know himself. After much deliberation, he concludes:

“But though the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves are bound together by mutual bond, it is only right that the former is given first place, and then we can come down to the latter.”[1]

Men must first be confronted with the character and nature of God before they can begin to properly assess themselves. God is both the source and the focal point of all truth. Every confession, every catechism, every creed, every gospel presentation should endeavor to begin and end with Him, not man.

God is the first and chiefest being.

Isaiah 44:6

“Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts:

‘I am the first and I am the last,

And there is no God besides Me.’”[2]

 

Isaiah 48:12

“Listen to Me, O Jacob, even Israel whom I called;

I am He, I am the first, I am also the last.”

 

Psalm 97:9

“For You are the LORD Most High over all the earth;

You are exalted far above all gods.”

“Should God then be chiefly loved? Yes. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, Luke 10:27. And chiefly feared? Yes. Rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell, Matthew 10:28. And are those happy who are interested in him? Yes. Happy is that people whose God is the Lord, Psalm 144:15.”[3]

_____________________________________________

[1]John Calvin, The Institutes of Christian Religion (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987), 24.

[2]All citation of the holy Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) except where otherwise noted.

[3]Benjamin Bedomme, A Scriptural Exposition of the Baptist Catechism (Birmingham, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2006), 2.

The Baptist Catechism – Questions 50-61, The First Three of the Ten Commandments

Q.50: Which is the first commandment?

A. The first commandment is, Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.

( Exodus 20:3 )

 

Q.51: What is required in the first commandment?

A. The first commandment requireth us to know and acknowledge God to be the only true God and our God; and to worship and glorify Him accordingly.

( 1Chronicles 28:9; Deuteronomy 26:17; Psalm 29:2; Matthew 4:10 )

 

Q.52: What is forbidden in the first commandment?

A. The first commandment forbiddeth the denying, or not worshipping and glorifying the true God, as God and our God, and the giving that worship and glory to any other, which is due unto Him alone.

( Psalms 14:1; 81:10-11; Romans 1:21, 25-26 )

 

Q.53: What are we especially taught by these words “before Me,” in the first commandment?

A. These words “before Me,” in the first commandment teach us, that God, who seeth all things, taketh notice of and is much displeased with the sin of having any other god.

( Ezekiel 8:5-18 )

 

Q.54: Which is the second commandment?

A. The second commandment is, Thou shalt not make unto the any graven image, or the likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the father upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me, and keep My commandments.

( Exodus 20:4-6 )

 

Q.55: What is required in the second commandment?

A. The second commandment requireth the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire all such religious worship and ordinances, as God hath appointed in His word.

( Deuteronomy 32:46; Matthew 28:20; Acts 2:42 )

 

Q.56: What is forbidden in the second commandment?

A. The second commandment forbiddeth the worshipping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in His word.

( Deuteronomy 4:15-19; 12:31-32; Exodus 32:5, 8 )

 

Q.57: What are the reasons annexed to the second commandment?

A. The reasons annexed to the second commandment are, God’s sovereignty over us, His propriety in us, and the zeal He hath to His own worship.

( Psalms 45:11; 95:2-3, 6; Exodus 34:13-14 )

 

Q.58: Which is the third commandment?

A. The third commandment is, Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.

( Exodus 20:7 )

 

Q.59: What is required in the third commandment?

A. The third commandment requireth the holy and reverent use of God’s names, titles, attributes, ordinances, word, and works.

( Deuteronomy 28:58; Job 36:24; Psalms 68:4; 138:1-2; Malachi 1:11, 14; Matthew 6:9; Revelation 15:3-4 )

 

Q.60: What is forbidden in the third commandment?

A. The third commandment forbiddeth all profaning and abusing of anything whereby God makes Himself known.

( Malachi 1:6-7, 12; 2:2; 3:14 )

 

Q.61: What is the reason annexed to the third commandment?

A. The reason annexed to the third commandment is, that however the breakers of this commandment may escape punishment for men, yet the Lord our God will not suffer them to escape His righteous judgment.

( Deuteronomy 28:58-59; 1Samuel 2:12, 17, 22, 24, 29; 3:13 )