Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Mystery of Providence Chapter 7

Chapter 7 concludes the first section of Flavel's work. In this first section Flavel has purposed to give us overwhelming evidence of the Providence of God in the direction of His saints. This chapter serves to illuminate for us the working of Providence in our sanctification. Flavel is quick to remind us that the Spirit is the "principal agent" in this work, and "all the providences in the world can never effect [sanctification] without Him." Nonetheless, God does use various means to procure our sanctification.

Flavel gives the most attention in this chapter to "providential afflictions" that God uses to rip sin out of our lives. As he says, "...yet sin is too hard for the best of men; their corruptions carry them through all to sin. And when it is so, not only does the Spirit work internally, but Providence also works eternally in order to subdue them." (101) Because of this remaining corruption, Flavel says, God will bring afflictions to "purge and cleanse" sin from our lives.

After giving time to showing these providential afflictions at work, our author exposes areas of our remaining corruption. He discusses four areas that corruption rears its ugly head:
  1. In our pride and and the swelling vanity of our hearts when we have a name and esteem among men
  2. In raising up great expectations to ourselves from the creature, and planning abundance of felicity (happiness) and contentment from some promising and hopefuly enjoyments we have in the world
  3. In dependence upon creature-comforts and tangible props (things that hold us up)
  4. In good men by their adherence to things below and their relectuance to go hence.

Under each of these headings Flavel shows how Providence brings afflictions (among other things) to cure these remaining corruptions. It appears that our author digresses (although happily) into a discussion on the amazement that such a mighty God would deal with such worms as us. As he closes his digression, and moves to considerations, he crafts a beautiful statement: "The blood that runs in our veins is as much tainted as theirs in hell." To prove this he gives to considerations. In their constitution and natural dispotion, and in their outward condition they are as much like us as we care to admit.

We close this grand section on considering (yea, marvelling) at the works of Providence upon such "vile, despicable worms as we are!" Yet, "how ancient, how free, and how astonishing this act of grace! This is that design which all providences are in pursuit of, and will not rest till they are executed" (107). Flavel concludes this section by giving us six proofs of this very thing:

  1. Does not the gift of His only Son out of His bosom show this, that God makes great account of this vile thing, man?
  2. Does not the [attention] of His providential care for us show His esteem of us?
  3. Does not the tenderness of His providence show His esteem of us?
  4. Does not the variety of the fruits of His providence show it?
  5. Does not the ministry of angels in the providential kingdom show it?
  6. Does not the providence of which this day calls us to celebrate the memory, show the great regard God has for his people?


After this chapter (and really this section) I am left asking as David did, "what is man that you are mindful of him?" I think Flavel's hope was to overwhelm us with evidence of the providential care of the Almighty. He has done so with me.

Do you agree with the statement, found on page 100? "There is in all the regenerate a strong propensity and inclination to sin, and in that lies a principal part of the power of sin". Is there still a "strong propensity" in those that the Holy Spirit lives in? Are we not said to be dead to sin, and "delivered from this body of death"?

What response do you have to Flavel's statement that, "the blood that runs in our veins is as much tainted as theirs in hell"?

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