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.

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 103


Day 103

Of Divine Providence

Chapter 5, Paragraph 7.

As the Providence of God doth in general reach to all Creatures, so after a most special manner it taketh care of his Church, and disposeth of all things to the good thereof.

Scripture Lookup

1 Timothy 4:10

Amos 9:8,9

Isaiah 43:3-5


God upholds, directs, disposes and governs all creatures and things. But in a special way He takes care of His church. The carrying out of all things is for the good of the church!

It is not a small thing to belong to the people of God. For since you are a member of the Church, all of Providence is being dispensed for your good! So when God works all things together for the good of those that love Him, that is the special care He takes with you. Whether it be a trial or a delight, both are blessings from Him.

Sometimes it does not seem like God is taking special care of His church. Strife and conflict within a local church, members who one day stop attending and vanish, and persecution from the world discourage and tempt us to doubt His word. Yet Jesus said, “…upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.” (Matthew 16:18) We must remember that He does keep His Church and not lose heart.

What a wonderful Providence of God, that takes care of those that are His in an unique manner, that all should be for our good. What a merciful and infinitely wise God, that gives us such treatment though we do not deserve it. What a powerful God, who orchestrates all that comes to pass and preserves His Church. Praise be to Him!

Questions to Consider

  • Is it easy or difficult for you to see the special manner in which God takes care of His church?

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 102


Day 102

Of Divine Providence

Chapter 5, Paragraph 6.

“…whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves, under those means which God uses for the softening of others.

Scripture Lookup

Exodus 8:15,32

Isaiah 6:9,10

1 Peter 2:7,8


The wicked and ungodly do not have all things work for their good. God’s grace is withheld from them, so that they remain in unbelief. The common graces they enjoyed may be removed from them, and the way is paved for them to fulfill their evil desires. Freely choosing and delighting in such a life, the wicked harden their hearts. Amazingly, the same means that spur the ungodly further from God are used to soften the hearts of His children. What causes one to decay is the same thing that will cause one to grow. So which one is happening for you?

Sin should never be something that the Christian takes lightly. Yes, the penalty for our sin has been paid for by Jesus, and yes, it is grace that saves us. But, “are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be!” (Romans 6:1) While the believer still has the remaining corruption of sin in him, there shouldn’t be a pattern of ongoing willful sin in his life. Scarily, some are deceived into believing they are righteous when their lives show no evidence of struggling against sin.

When we consider how God sometimes gives over the wicked to their own lusts, we learn to see just how beautiful repentance is. For godly sorrow that leads to repentance is evidence that God has drawn us to Himself! He is increasing our dependence upon Him, and drawing us closer to the Being that has all life, glory, goodness, blessedness in and of Himself! What a gift!

May we then ever turn to Christ, and submit to His care all that befalls us.

He is ever doing you good; be you always abounding in His work. His providence stands by you in your greatest distresses and dangers; do not flinch from God when His service and you duty is compassed about with difficulties. O be active for that God who every moment is active for you.    -John Flavel

Questions to Consider

  • Are you heeding Scripture’s call to “harden not your hearts” (Hebrews 3)?

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 101

Day 101

Of Divine Providence

Chapter 5, Paragraph 6.

“…and withal, gives them over to their own lusts, the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan,

Scripture Lookup

Psalm 81:11,12

2 Thessalonians 2:10-12


It is a fearful thing to consider how providence unfolds for the wicked and ungodly. God sometimes removes the restraints in their life that have kept them from further sin. Like shoppers waiting for the store doors to open on Black Friday, as soon as there is an opening for sin the ungodly rush in to take advantage of it.

Free from God’s restraints, the wicked are given over to their desires. The flesh, the world, and the devil consume them, and the wicked freely choose it. The lusts of the flesh are not a struggle for them. The world, and all the sinful opportunities it contains, encourages licentiousness. “Just do it!” “Embrace your passion!” There is no call for self-restraint, and the ungodly embraces such abandon. Allegiance to Satan is demonstrated proudly.

What makes this even more tragic, though, is that they freely choose this life of sin and misery. They have no desire for the truth. In fact, they believe that As 2 Thessalonians 2:11 shows, they believe what is false, “in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.”

God may lessen His restraint on the wicked, but those in Christ He conforms to the image of His Son: “But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13) While the ungodly fall prey to their own lusts, let us look to Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith, and ask Him for help in laying aside the sin which so easily entangles us.

Questions to Consider

  • Knowing how God leaves the ungodly to their own lusts, are you turning to Him for aid in combating your own?

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 100


Day 100

Of Divine Providence

Chapter 5, Paragraph 6.

“…and exposeth them to such objects as their corruption makes occasion of sin;

Scripture Lookup

Deuteronomy 2:30

2 Kings 8:12,13


Normally I don’t have much trouble understanding what is meant in the Confession, but this time I admit the language made me pause. What does this phrase mean? God sometimes exposes the wicked and ungodly to things that, as wicked and ungodly people, they use to sin.

Now God does not tempt the wicked. “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” (James 1:13) But He does decree events that enable the wicked to further condemn themselves. They are no longer checked by circumstances that would restrain them, so when opportunity to sin appears, they take it.

The immensity of providence, the fine-tuning of every detail for God’s purposes, is awesome and fearful. Even with those who rebel against Him, He is fully in control. Praise Him for His infinite wisdom and justice!

Questions to Consider

  • How do you respond to God’s providence concerning the wicked?

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 99


Day 99

Of Divine Providence

Chapter 5, Paragraph 6.

“…But sometimes also withdraweth the gifts which they had,

Scripture Lookup

Matthew 13:12


Wildly prosperous and successful seem to be the wicked’s lot. There are conniving, selfish people out there who lie, cheat, and steal without batting an eye, and their material goods keep growing. Psalm 73 talks about this apparent contradiction to God’s word. Believers struggle; many ungodly do not. What gives?

This flourishing of the unbeliever is not universal, however. Sometimes God chooses to remove some of the common graces He bestowed upon them. Swindlers can lose their wealth to a more devious swindler. Illness and disease strike the ungodly. Arrests and jail time do occur to some lawbreakers.

When tempted to envy the wicked their supposed life of ease and comfort, let us remember that not all ungodly live such glamorous lives. Let us also remember that their end is destruction. How comfortable can such a life be that does not have communion with God?

My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For, behold, those who are far from You will perish;
You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You.
But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
That I may tell of all Your works.

Psalm 73: 26-28

Questions to Consider

  • Can you think of examples of God withdrawing the gifts of the wicked?

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 98


Day 98

Of Divine Providence

Chapter 5, Paragraph 6.

“…from them he not only withholdeth his Grace, whereby they might have been enlightened in their understanding, and wrought upon in their hearts;

Scripture Lookup

Deuteronomy 29:4


When talking to others about Christ, have you ever been frustrated that some people just don’t get it? That what is so clear to us, is nothing but confusion to them? Ever get astonished at the hatred some express towards God?

Since our eyes have been opened to the beauty of the Gospel, we sometimes think that everyone should naturally be able to see how wonderful God is. Or we think that if we just said the right words, created the right atmosphere, gave the ideal sales pitch, then an unbeliever could be persuaded to become a Christian. We forget that it is only the work of the Holy Spirit that can enable an unbeliever to see the truths of the Gospel. He withholds his grace from those who are not His elect. Because there is no grace, they do not believe in Christ. Because there is no grace, their heart remains hardened. There is nothing we can do to make anyone a Christian.

Knowing that God withholds His grace from those who are not His should not cause us to slack in proclaiming the good news though! God knows who are not elect; we do not. Your witness may be the means of bringing a change of heart in an unbeliever! May that hope encourage you to be bold in evangelizing. But may the reality that not all will be His keep you dependent on Him for your efforts.

Questions to Consider

  • Have you ever thought that someone would be saved if you just tried harder?

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 97


Day 97

Of Divine Providence

Chapter 5, Paragraph 6.

As for those wicked and ungodly men whom God, as the righteous judge, for former sin does blind and harden;

Scripture Lookup

Romans 1;24-26,28, 11:7,8


“All things work together for good.” That’s one of those verses that people throw around even if they have no desire to follow Christ. They are comforted by the words, oblivious to what the verse actually says: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28, italics added). We saw in Day 96 how God does use all events for the good of His saints. But can all things work together for good to those who do NOT love God?

It is a frightening truth that those who persist in sin might not come to repentance and faith. Continue in your rebellion, and God may leave you in your rebellion. Hardly a statement that sells and appeals, but one that Scripture declares. We are fallen creatures, and the wicked and ungodly will dive even deeper into their depravity. God blinds them to the Gospel, and He hardens their heart. “…and men loved darkness better than light, because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)

The Gospel call resounds: repent and believe. Yet we know that not all will heed it. For those who see fit to refuse God, all things do not work for their good. God is a righteous judge, and He has decreed it. This is tragic to realize, but it is just. “And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.” (Romans 2:2)

Questions to Consider

  • Do you struggle with the idea that God blinds and hardens some people?

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 96


Day 96

Of Divine Providence

Chapter 5, Paragraph 5.

“So that whatsoever befalls any of his elect is by his appointment, for his glory, and their good.

Scripture Lookup

Romans 8:28


Believing God works everything for good for those that love Him is easy to do when life is good. Because of course God appoints everything that happens, of course it is all for His glory, of course these events are for our good. When things are going well we’re not going to think otherwise. Nice income? It’s for His glory! Having awesome friends? It’s for my good! Fit and in good health? He appointed it, and we are blessed!

Remove the life of ease, though, and it gets harder to acknowledge that this is by God’s appointment, for His glory and our good. We lose our job and have difficulty finding another one. Does living in poverty bring glory to God? Find yourself ignored, left out, and alone. Is that loneliness truly for your good? Miserable sickness overtakes you. God appointed this? Are we blessed even when such things happen?

It is telling that this phrase, “by his appointment, for his glory and their good” comes after the sentence explaining how God leaves his elect in seasons of temptation. For it is exactly in those seasons when we are most tempted to reject this truth. For it hurts when we are going through trials. It is exhausting to struggle with sin. It stings when circumstances are not how we would like. Pain is present during these times, whether emotional, physical, or both, and it blurs the clarity of of belief we had before.

“Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” -Job 13:15

During such hard times, it is vital to cling to what we know of God. Despite what we may see, despite what we may feel, this is the truth we must stand on: He has appointed it. He will be glorified through it. He has decreed it for our benefit. Because of this, we are blessed. Do not run from God in your despair. Fly to Him, draw closer to Him, and see Him work for your good and His glory.

Questions to Consider

  • Do you see how God has appointed all events in your life for His glory and your good?