In this chapter Flavel is going to remind us of that most glorious work of providence, the "ordering the occasions, instruments, and means of conversion of the people of God". Flavel only has two major points in this chapter, but they are profound.
The first point that Flavel endeavors to make is to cause us to consider "The wonderful strangeness and accountableness of this work of Providence in casting us into the way and ordering the occasions, yea, the minutest circumstances about this work". Flavel then tells numerous stories of strange conversions. From scraps of paper, to old men, to books, to marriage, to hearing scattered preaching, all are means by which God uses to bring about conversion. Even such things as prison and persecution cannot thwart the plan of God. We are exposed to wonderful stories of providence; some from Scripture others from the workings of God since the canon was closes. Even men that go to hear a sermon in jest fall under the workings of God. After hearing story upon story we are awestruck with the mighty workings of God. Doubtless, we will remember our own circumstances.
The second point that Flavel endeavors to make is to remind us that this same working of Providence that "orders very strange occassions to arouse souls at first, so it works no less wonderfully in carrying on the work of perfection". God does this, Flavel says, "by quickening and reviving dying convictions and troubles for sin." He also does this, "by ordering, supporting, relieving and cheering means, to prop up and comfort the soul when it is over-burdened and ready to sink in the depths of troubles."
One of the things that I especially appreciated about Flavel in this chapter is the care he uses in dealing with souls. He is careful not to discourage those that do not have fanciful stories of conversion. This shows the great pastoral insight and care that Flavel has. We could learn much in our day from Flavel on this matter.
On page 67, Flavel says, "the Providence of God has sometimes ordered the very malice of Satan and wickedness of men as an occasion of eternal good for their souls". I bring this out only to say two things. One, we ought to be careful not to too quickly escape and not benefit from the various "crosses" the Lord brings into our life. Two, I bet this really ticks Satan off. Oh, the wisdom and power of God!
When he tells the story of the conversion of the suicidal man, Flavel describes him thus: "he greedily sucked in and with great vehemence cried to God that He would work them [repentance and faith] upon his soul". This statement caused me to beg God that he would create such a passion and fervor in my heart that I might "greedily suck in and with greath vehemence cry out to Him". Oh, that we would all see our desperate condition before a holy God; and thank Him for His rich mercy!
Do you agree with Flavel, that sometimes God, "permits them to fall into some new sin which awakens all their former troubles again and puts a new efficacy and activity into the conscience"?
Stories Used by Flavel:
Who is Vergerius?
The Remarkable Conversion of Mrs. Honeywood