Friday, February 29, 2008

Do Not Pry Too Curiously

Do not pry too curiously into the secrets of Providence, nor allow your shallow reason arrogantly to judge and censure its designs.

Like the previous, this section, falls under the heading of "cautions, to prevent the abuse of Providence". We have been encouraged to dig deeply into the workings of Providence. Such an endeavor can be discouraging and can lead to gross sins. This is why Flavel encourages us not to pry too curiously, nor let our shallow reason arrogantly think that we have the answers.

"There are hard texts in the works as well as in the Word of God. It becomes us modestly and humbly to reverence, but not to dogmatize too boldly and positively upon them," says our author. Therefore, we ought to be very cautious in approaching these difficult texts. Flavel crafts a wonderful sentence when he says, "...our reason never shows itself more unreasonable than in summoning those things to its bar which transcend its spehere and capacity."

What happens when we do not heed Flavel's advice of caution? We are drawn into "unworthy suspicion and distrust of the faithfulness of God", for one thing. We also are drawn into a "despondency of mind and faintness of heart". From these things comes, "temptations to deliver ourselves by indirect and sinful means".

Flavel closes the chapter by saying, "Beware therefore you do not lean too much on your own reasonings and understandings. Nothing is more plausible, nothing more dangerous."

Return to The Mystery of Providence Chapter 9

Delays Happen for a Reason

If Providence delays the performance of any mercy to you that you have long waited and prayed for, yet see that you do not despond, nor grow weary of waiting upon God for that reason.

This is under the heading of "cautions, to prevent the abuse of Providence". This is not one of Flavel's main points but rather a digression, to keep us from abusing what he has prior said. This section concerns itself with attempting an answer to delayed mercies. Often times we interpret delays as denials. Therefore, we ought to learn patience. Sometimes it is not the proper season for us to receive such a mercy. Other times we are still under afflictive circumstances because they have yet to fulfill their duty. At other times the Lord is waiting to make the deliverance all the more sweet. Yet, even though we know these things we can still become angry and confused with God. Therefore, Flavel offers 6 suggestions to keep us from doing that:
  1. Consider that the delay of mercies is for your advantage
  2. It is a greater mercy to have a heart willing to refer all to God and be at His disposal than to enjoy immediately the mercy we are most eager and impatient for. (In other words, glorifying God through patience is a greater mercy than the gifts. Godliness is better than gifts)
  3. Expected mercies are never nearer than when our hearts are lowest
  4. We are unfit for these mercies, that is why they are delayed
  5. Consider that the mercies that you wait for a pure graces; they are not owed to you
  6. Think of how many men that are as good as you are cut off from all mercies of God for eternity

Flavel has a certain way of shutting us up doesn't he?

Return to The Mystery of Providence Chapter 9

Affections Fitting to the Workings of Providence

Work up your hearts to those frames, and exercise those affections which the particular providences of God that concern you call for.

Did John Flavel have Jonathan Edwards or John Piper write this section? Flavel's point here is that God has planted in our hearts various affections and there are certain providences that are used to draw forth these affections. When the situation is sad we ought to respond in a fitting manner. When providence affords us happiness, then in joviality we ought to respond. Yet, in all workings of providence we ought to keep our spiritual joy and comfort. Flavel asks a few rhetorical questions to get the discussion going:

  • Why should we be sad since we have infinitely more to be joyous about than sad?
  • Why should we be sad since God is with us in all our troubles?
  • Why should we be sad since God is not at enmity with us?
  • Why should we be sad since we know that God will work even these sad providences to our good?
  • Why should we be sad since we know that we will soon never suffer again?
Then we move to what mostly concerns this section: How can such joy in the midst of difficult circumstances be possible? Flavel says consider these things and it will lead to true spiritual joy:

  • Mortify your inordinate affections to earthly things
  • Dwell much upon the meditation of the Lord's near approach
  • Exercise heavenly-mindedness
  • Maintain a contented heart with what the Lord allots you

Flavel then gives four recommendations to the unregenerate, to stop their mouths during difficult times.

  1. Hell and eternal damnation are the portion of your cup. Whatever is short of this is a mercy.
  2. Even though you have nothing that entitles you to mercy, you have a few.
  3. If you are to be rescued out of this damnable condition it will probably come through affliction.
  4. All these troubles are pulled down on your own head by your own sins

But what should we say to the regenerate in difficult circumstances? What can encourage us?

  • Consider your spiritual mercies and privileges with which the Lord has invested you
  • Consider your sins; that will make you contented with your lot
  • Consider how near you are to the change of your condition

Return to The Mystery of Providence Chapter 9

Eye God In All Things

In all your reviews and observations of Providence, be sure that you eye God as the author and orderer of them all.

We would be foolish to ponder the workings of Providence and then direct our worship towards some indirect force. Therefore, it is vital that we understand that all of these "workings of Providence" are directly from the hand of God. Flavel gives us a large number of things that we should "eye". Flavel wants to encourage us not to make a shallow general confession of thanksgiving but to "take special notice of the following particulars":
  • Eye the care of God for you
  • Eye the wisdom of God in dispensing His mercies to you
  • Eye the free grace of God in His mercies towards us vile, unworthy creatures
  • Eye the condescension of God to hear our requests
  • Eye the design and end of God in all your comforts
  • Eye the way and method in which these mercies are conveyed
  • Eye the distinguishing goodness of God in all comfortable enjoyments
  • Eye all these mercies as comforts appointed to refresh you towards far greater mercies
  • Eye the sovereignty of God; His infinite superiority
  • Eye the wisdom of God in all your afflictions
  • Eye the all-sufficiency of God in the day of affliction
  • Eye the immutability of God

Flavel wants us to see that whether it be blessing or affliction, we ought to eye God and give Him thanks, whatever our lot. Eyeing God will give us comfort and Him praise. One particular sentence to bring out is this one: "He might have made you the most despicable creatures, worms or toads: or, if men, the most vile, abject and misreable among men; and when you had run through all the miseries of this life, have damned you to eternity, make you miserable forever, and all this without any wrong to you. And shall not this quieten us under the common afflictions of this life?"

Return to The Mystery of Providence Chapter 9

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Providence Confirms the Word

In all your observations of Providence have special respect to that Word of God which is fulfilled and made good to you by them.

Flavel's point in this section is that the workings of Providence has a direct relation to the word of God. What God does in the world is a confirmation of what He has promised in His Word. This may sound a bit unreasonable, but when we see how Flavel extends his point, we come to understand. Flavel says that we can see the confirmation of the Word in either it's "threatening, caution, counsel or promise". Following this exhortation will not only confirm the truth of Scripture for us, but it will also, "direct and instruct us in our present duties under all providences". Our author then labors to bring various situations "under the Word".

  • The Word says it's a good idea to keep close to its rules and duties. Does the experience of Providence not prove this point? Can we not see that following the rules and duties of the Word are for our benefit? Would the drunkard and adulterer not agree with this text after his life has come crashing down?
  • The Word says that moving from integrity will not prosper you. "Did you ever leave the way of simplicity and integrity, and use sinful shifts to bring about your own designs, and prosper in that way"? Does it not always catch up with you? Even though it might seem to prosper for awhile, it will lead to greater judgment.
  • The Word says it is better to trust in the Lord than people. Has there ever been a time in your life when trusting in a man was more profitable than trusting in the Lord? Has He let you down? Have you not seen it confirmed that when we take for ourselves idols our jealous God will show them for what they are?
  • The Word assures us that sin is the cause for affliction and sorrow. As Flavel asks, "when did you grow into a secure, vain, carnal frame, but you found some rousing startling providence sent to awaken you? Flavel does give a disclaimer: "Nor, do I say that God follows every sin with a rod; for who then could stand before Him." But certainly, can we not see that sin carries with it consequences?
  • The Word promises that God will never leave or forsake believers. Has He ever left you? Have you been forsaken? Can you think of any dear saint that has been left by God? There have been difficulties, but have you ever been utterly forsaken and left by God? Certainlty not.
  • The Word of God claims to be the only relief and comfort in days of affliction. Do you see this confirmed in your life? Have you experienced that a Word from the Lord has carried more weight than a thousand others? Of you not seen that where nothing else could comfort you a precious Word of the Lord will quiet your soul?
  • The Word says that giving our goods leads to blessing and withholding them is not wise. Can you testify to the blessing of God after your heart of giving? Certainly Flavel is not presenting here a prosperity gospel. His point is that the Word and Providence confirms that it is better to give.
  • The Word says that to clear your conscience follow the way of the Lord. Do you know of a man whose conscience is not clear that is following all of the ways of the Lord? Do you not sleep easier after following His rules? Can you not see that if you follow the Lord it will lead to a clear conscience?

Flavel gives us but a sampling. Obviously, since the Word of God is fully true, and because every Word is profitiable, it is not surprising that this is the case. Therefore, the more we think and meditate upon the working of Providence on our lives the more we will confirm to ourselves the validity of the precious Word.

Return to The Mystery of Providence Chapter 9

Remember What He Has Done

Labor to get as full and thorough a recognition as you are able of the providences of God concerning you from first to last.

Flavel's argumentation is that if one working of Providence is exceedingly glorious, then how much more glorious is a stack of them. And we are encouraged in considering these things not to just skim the surface but to plum the depths of what God has done. As Flavel says, "do not let your thoughts swim like feathers upon the surface of the wters, but sink like lead to the bottom".

Under this point Flavel mentions several things that should be considered in this matter:
  1. The seasonableness of mercy given to us (consider the phenomenal timing of the mercy)
  2. The peculiar care and kindness of Providence to us (consider our exemption from what has happened to others)
  3. What a providence introduces (consider that which a providence leads to)
  4. The instruments employed by Providence (consider the means that God uses)
  5. The design and scope of Providence (consider the aim and goal of Providence...Rom. 8:28)
  6. The respect and relation Providence bears to our prayers (consider how our prayers have been answered by God)

What particular point to bring out is what Flavel says on #5. He notes that this is the most "warming and melting" of all considerations. To think that, "A thousand friendly hands are at work for [us], to promote and bring about [our] happiness." What a wonderful thought, and to think that this is confirmed in Scripture. You almost get the idea that Flavel was also a Christian Hedonist.

Return to The Mystery of Providence Chapter 9

The Mystery of Providence Chapter 9

Chapter 9 is one of the longest chapters in The Mystery of Providence. The major theme of this chapter is direction on meditating upon the Providence of God. Flavel will give 5 major headings of advice and then various pointers under each of these. The best way to outline this would be to give the 5 major headings and then expound a little upon each. To avoid a very lengthy post I will give the five headings and link to a page where you can read more on each point.

  • Labor to get as full and thorough a recognition as you are able of the providences of God concerning you from first to last. Read more...
  • In all your observations of Providence have special respect to that Word of God which is fulfilled and made good to you by them. Read more...
  • In all your reviews and observations of Providence, be sure that you eye God as the author and orderer of them all. Read more...
  • Work up your hearts to those frames, and exercise those affections which the particular providences of God that concern you call for. Read more...
  • If Providence delays the performance of any mercy to you that you have long waited and prayed for, yet see that you do not despond, nor grow weary of waiting upon God for that reason. Read more...
  • Do not pry too curiously into the secrets of Providence, nor allow your shallow reason arrogantly to judge and censure its designs. Read more...

Discussion:

Flavel's first point is an encouragement to keep a journal. One of the best ways to remember the workings of Providence is to look back over past journal entries. We are prone to forget prayers, and often those "little" things that are major workings of God in us.

Would it be a good practice to determine all of the promises of God and mark their fulfilment in your life?

There is no doubt that Flavel's statement on page 127 is true: "One of word of God can do more than ten thousand words of men to relieve a distressed soul." Yet, why is it that so often when I am distressed I turn to find comfort in people instead of quietly sitting under the Word? Certainly, the Lord speaks through people--but shouldn't our first instinct be to find comfort in our prayer closets?

Do our affections match that of God? This is Flavel's concern on page 132. Yet, is this such a thing that we could even attain to? Isn't the affection of God so diverse that no human can really even comprehend it? Certaintly, there is, though, something for us to learn from Flavel's exhortation.

Oh, what pity it is to be outside of saving grace! To think that even the difficult times of life are a sign of patient mercy and are far better than what you have awaiting. To the believer, difficult times are but a temporary affliction that will be cast of forever. To the unbeliever, difficult times are but a tempoprary mercy that will not last forever, and serves as more a preview of things to come. Oh, how sad, and how open our hearts should be to preach the gospel to every soul.

This statement greatly spoke to me: "Beware therefore you do not lean too much to your own reasonings and understandings. Nothing is more plausible, nothing is more dangerous."

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Borrowed Light: Today in Blogworld 02/26

Ingrown toenails are painful to endure. Apparently so are Ingrown Churches. Joe Thorn gives 7 signs that your church is ingrown. (HT: Steve McCoy)

Ouch! Trevin Wax delivers a convicting post on ear-tickling preaching. Here is a sample: "We crave a message that puffs us up. And ironically, the very message that is supposed to cut us low, the message of the cross can be delivered in such a way that people walk out of the congregation having patted themselves on the back."

Michael Patton gives us some Random Thoughts of Emergence.

The Reformed Mafia continues its series on Trouble with Frank Page. See Part 3, here.

Os Guinness has a wonderful quote, that resonates well with me, concerning the victim mentality of the Religious Right. (HT: JT)

Steve Camp provides an excerpt of Questions Given to Young Ministers by Isaac Watts.

I am praying that our church catchs the vision laid out by John Piper, here. Our entire church family should be worshipping together and not age-segregated.

Even though Nathan Busenitz has presented the case that Christians are not under the Law, he begins his new series on Appealing to the Law. See Part 1 and 2.

Sick!

Sorry, that I have not posted in the last few days. I have been very sick. Apparently I have caught the bug that is going around our area. It was all I could do to preach at Believers Church on Sunday. The Lord was gracious, and I did get through it, and I am very hopeful that the Word was faithfully proclaimed. It is indeed in our weakness that His grace is displayed as magnificent.

I should be back to posting regularly either today or tomorrow. I have to make certain to finish blogging through Flavel's Mystery of Providence, as Februrary is almost over. The best thing to do to keep updated on this blog is to subscribe to it. On the right hand column you have a choice of adding to Technorati, Google Read, or your typical RSS Feed. Just click on it and subscribe.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Borrowed Light: Today in Blogworld 02/22

Somehow C.J. Mahaney takes contemporary stories, points out faults, and convicts me because my sin is just like theirs. The gospel has certainly taken root in C.J.'s heart. His most recent post on Andy Pettitte's hollow confession is phenomenal. Just when it seems that Mahaney is railing on Pettitte he brings me into God's courtroom and then sits me at the foot of the Cross for humbling and grace. Wow.

Jared Wilson leads a wonderful discussion on downplaying application in preaching. It is certainly something to consider. I think application is one of the areas that I too downplay.

Tom Ascol provides a commentary on the buzz around the Calvinistic Resurgence.

Part 4 of No Longer Under the Law has been written by Nathan Busenitz.

Rick Love again responds to Piper on the issue of the Common Word Among Muslims. Rick has some good points, but I am still not certain that I agree.

Timmy Brister is also live-blogging the True Church Conference. This years theme is Church Discipline. Catch up here.

Jesus Christ, The All-Sufficient Treasure

Despite having to meet in the larger sanctuary, Wednesday night went quite well. Our attendance seemed to be up. But more importantly God was there. The music was phenomenal, I always love it when Brian is able to lead us. And the Word, I believe, came with much unction. Numerous times during the week I prayed that the Lord would overwhelm us with the gospel. What an insane task to preach on the benefits of the Gospel. It is but one cut in the beautiful diamond, that is Jesus. And to think that this too is but a word picture. Oh, how awesome must be the reality.

Here is my feeble attempt to display the All-Sufficiency of Jesus Christ.

Review of Jeremiah Burroughs--Gospel Fear


Author: Jeremiah Burroughs

Pages: 142

Publisher: Soli Deo Gloria

Price: 14.40 USD

Genre: Puritan/Christian Living


Quick Summary:

One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 66:2, “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” In this work, the Puritan, Jeremiah Burroughs, concerns himself with teaching on the heart that trembles at God’s Word. Would a man who can turn having a kidney stone into a means for preaching the gospel, disappoint in expositing one of my favorite verses?

Burroughs does not disappoint. The book is an offering of seven classic Burroughs sermons on a heart that trembles at the Word of God. There is always a little something to be desired in a book of sermons. The sermon is different than a typical printed work. A book of sermons is like looking at a section of row homes. They are all going to look relatively the same, yet each will have a few things that make it stand out as different. A typical printed work looks like an exquisite mansion, with each piece building upon the other. Therefore, the book of sermons always leaves a little something to be desired. Yet, there is also something that a book of sermons can have that a typical work will not; a passionate preaching of God’s Word. Burroughs offers that passionate preaching. In typical Puritan fashion, each sermon leaves the hearer either over the pits of hell or embraced in the arms of the Almighty.

What I Liked:

Burroughs preaching (and writing) style is very easy to follow. It is straightforward and easily outlined. Yet, it is not dull. Burroughs has a way of passionately encouraging the believer and pleading with the unbeliever in the same breath. Of all the Puritans Burroughs is one of the best at giving a visual picture and illustration of what he is discussing. Therefore, he is a very enjoyable read. At the same time, his work is not light. You will be convicted. If Burroughs words are heeded the saint will tremble at God’s Word. Even the unbeliever is given reason for trembling. His writing style and communication of vital doctrine makes Burroughs stand head and shoulder above the rest.

What I Disliked:

Again, a book of sermons always leaves a little something to be desired. There are major topics that will not be addressed in this particular work. Another disadvantage of a book of sermons is that looking at row homes can get a little monotonous. Even though Burroughs is a phenomenal writer, the reader will still find himself getting a little bored at times because of the lack of novelty. The best way to read this book would be devotionally over a long period of time. Read one chapter (sermon) and then read another a month or two later. Let the truths sink in, and then come back to another chapter/sermon at a later date.
Should You Buy It?

If it has the name Jeremiah Burroughs on it, and you love Jesus, then it is worthy of your money. As mentioned earlier, Burroughs is a wonderful writer and is solid theologically. It may be a little monotonous at times, but if you space out the reading of each chapter you will find it a highly profitable work.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Does TV Harden Our Hearts?

Jeremiah Burroughs, in one of the sermons in Gospel Fear (which I will be reviewing today), says this: "Take heed of heart-hardening company, of slight company, of frothy company, of going into the company of those who have slight and vain spirits, and especially those who have been and are professors of religion, and yet have slight and vain spirits".

As I read this I could not help but wonder if, in our day, Burroughs would have at this point went on a tangent about the vices of excessive television watching. I seldom find myself in the company of "frothy" (that is empty) people. Most of my friends are passionate about Jesus. (I'll take my rebuke from my missional friends here). But I do often find myself in the company of frothy, slight, and vain television personalities. Granted, they are not professors of religion. Yet, there is very little serious thought. Does this harden my heart and keep it from being tender towards the gospel?

Secondly, I think Burroughs has a significant warning for those of us that are "professors of religion". "Professor" is another way of saying "Those that profess Christianity". It is not saying professors/teachers. These are ordinary believers. If we, as ordinary believers, are proclaiming to be Christ-followers, and yet live our lives in triviality what are we communicating about God and His gospel? Should we really be frothy? Burroughs is not against joy. Burroughs is against empty joy. May the Lord grant us a blood-earnestness for the sake of the gospel!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Mystery of Providence Chapter 8

Chapter 8 begins the second section of Flavel's work. The first section concerned itself with giving evidences of the many workings of Providence. This section will encourage us in our duty of responding to this mighty Providence; chapter 8 explains this duty. Flavel will give 7 reasons that it is a duty to meditate upon the Providence of God:
  1. Because God has expressely commanded it
  2. Because the neglect of it is everywhere in Scripture condemned as sin
  3. Because the Holy Spirit often, through Scripture, told us to "Behold"
  4. Because without due attention to such things no praise can be rendered to God for them
  5. Because without meditating on Providence we lose the benefits that were intended for us and others
  6. Because it is a vile slighting of God not to do so
  7. Because our prayers will not be suitable to our condition unless we notice the workings of Providence

This chapter is a quick introductory chapter. Flavel sufficiently shows us that it is our duty to meditate upon the Providence of God.

Discussion:

There is not much to discuss in this chapter. I will only sum it up by asking one question. What are specific ways we can obey and disobey this duty?

Borrowed Light: Today in Blogworld 02/20-21

Imagine this...Mark Driscoll has stirred up controversy. The discussions start with Challies review of Driscoll's Vintage Jesus. Then he asks, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Mark Driscoll? Brian Thornton weighs in, as does Carla Rolfe.

David, The Thristy Theologian, explains Why He is a Calvinst, today he discusses Depravity.

I'm not the biggest fan of the title, but the Reformed Mafia, is showing the Trouble with Frank Page. It's a play off Page's, ridiculous work, The Trouble with Tulip. If you have read Page's book you'll appreciate the review. See Part One and Two.

What does it mean to avoid every appearance of evil? Dan Wallace answers. This is a quality article, and very important given many of our recent discussions on alcohol, card playin', etc. Here is his conclusion: "To wield 1 Thess 5.22 as a weapon to restrict a believer’s personal freedom is against the general tenor of the New Testament and of the Lord’s life in particular. Ironically, to avoid every appearance of evil is far more in keeping with the Pharisees’ model of righteousness than with Jesus’!"

Michael Patton continues his series on the Emergent Church. Today he asks, "Are You Emerging"? He has also recently compared Fundamentalists, Evangelicals, and Emergents.

Are we under the Law? Nathan Busenitz continues his series with part two and three.

Our church is currently trying to reframe our mission statement and put together a few statements to go with it. Perhaps we should consider the words of Dr. Bart Barber. This flies in the face of your typical outreach material; I love it. (HT: Henry Institute)

David Mathis gives us a very helpful list on resources for Bibliology.

Thabiti has a really wonderful article on highly gifted pastors in small fields of labor. Are Our Gifts to be Big for Our Field of Labor?

David Wells guest blogs at 9Marks. He asks, Are We Fiddling While Rome Burns? In case you cannot pick it up by the title, this article is about alternate forms of "having church".

Lastly, Michael McKinley offers a Hypocrites Guide to Preaching.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Borrowed Light: Today in Blogworld 02/19

Are we still under the Law? Nathan Busenitz attempts to answer that question. Today we are treated to Part 1 in his series. His thesis will be that the apostlic saints saw that we are "no longer under any part of the Mosaic law". He will prove this by making four points. We are treated to his first point today; "the biblical saints saw the Mosaic law as a solitary unit." Check it out, here. You can also read the introductory post, here.

Trevin Wax is asking his readers to come up with Gospel Definitions. How would you define the gospel? He also offers advice on How the older gen. can mentor the younger.

In the category of This is What Happens When We Make Man the Center: the Daily Dose delivers an article about Easter. Joshua responds to a church marketing flier that says, "Easter: It's All About You". I understand what they are attempting to say. But whenever we make that which is secondary, the primary thing, we run the risk of idolatry.

Ed Stetzer has a great article on Ethnicity in the SBC.

Michael Patton continues his series on the Emerging Church. Today he tries to tack jello to the wall, or in other words, define the emerging church.

John Piper posts his son Karsten's poem on Luke 18:25. It is phenomenal.

Phil Johnson continues his discussion on total depravity. Today he asks, How did we Inherit Adam's Sinfulness?

If this guy is serious, then I apologize; it deserves not laughter but rebuke. If it's a joke, then it's a really good one. Because I am giving this guy the benefit of the doubt, and do not see how it cannot be a joke, I post it. (HT: Reformed Mafia)



Along the same lines John Piper discusses his hatred of the prosperity "gospel". (HT: purgatorio)

The Suicidal Exchange of Licentiousness

I just realized that I never put the sermon from January 30th online. In our five-part series on Enjoying the Gospel, this is the third sermon. We have previously discussed that The Gospel is Meant to be Enjoyed. Our second and third sermon was dedicated to two pitfalls in enjoying the gospel. The Impossible Burden of Legalism and The Suicidal Exchange of Licentiousness. As always, this is a somewhat rough copy and the actual delivery of the sermon is sometimes a little different than what you read.

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?

Discussion:

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"?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Why I Am Not A Calvinist (Part 2)

Again, this is not a confession that I do not adhere to the doctrines of grace. As far as my theological beliefs I am indeed a Calvinist. This series, however, is exploring the truth that even though in my soteriology I may be Reformed, in my practice I am not certain I deserve such a title. Today we will explore the doctrine of Total Depravity and its implications.

In the Westminister Confession (Chapter 9, Section 3) it states, "Man, by his fall Into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.”

In other words because of the Fall, every man born into the world is born into a state of sin. Because of this we have lost all ability of our will to do any spiritual good. This means that because our hearts are so corrupt, we will NEVER desire, for the correct reasons, to do that which is spiritually good. Nor will we ever desire to take hold of Christ or venture out in faith. It is because of this inability and corruption that "no man will come to the Father unless drawn" (John 6:44). Without Jesus we are altogether opposed to the good. We are dead in our sin. We cannot convert ourselves, nor even put ourselves in the place for such a thing to happen.

John Piper builds upon this by showing four ways in which man's depravity is total:
  1. Our rebellion against God is total. Apart from the grace of God there is no delight in the holiness of God, and there is no glad submission to the sovereign authority of God.
  2. In his total rebellion everything man does is sin.
  3. Man's inability to submit to God and do good is total.
  4. Our rebellion is totally deserving of eternal punishment.

Everyone of these I agree with, doctrinally speaking. However, I am left to ask myself whether or not I REALLY believe what this says. What are the implications of such statements?

  • Whenever I preach the gospel (whether in personal evangelism or corporately) the only hope that my hearer(s) have of responding to the gospel is the sovereign work of God in regeneration. Therefore, I ought to spend much time in prayer. I do not.
  • No matter how catchy, exegetical, expository, or true my sermons are they will never convert a person unless the Father draws them. Therefore, I ought to faithfully proclaim the word of God and leave the results to God. I should never be discouraged but only driven to more prayer. I get discouraged.
  • There will be no "glad submission" nor a treasuring Christ without the Spirit's work. I should never be suprised when our students do not treasure Christ as they ought. Yet, I am astonished.
  • The only hope that we have of not being cast in hell is the work of Christ and the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, no outreach program, no purpose statement, no mission project, no books given to the community, nothing but God will bring about conversion. I might get this one. But, again, my soft knees reveal that I do not.
  • Unregenerate men will not do good. Therefore, it should not come as a suprise that our politicians are passing laws to allow abortion. The school shootings should not suprise us, nor should we think they will change through policies. It does not matter if Mike Huckabee, Barak Obama, or even the Apostle Paul is the President of the United States. Unless the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of people there will still be abortions (though maybe illegal), there will still be school shootings, there will still be immorality in our land. No political strategy or political leader can save us from the tyranny of our own hearts. I think I actually get this one. So maybe I am actually 1/40th a Calvinist in practice.
  • It is natural for people to be jerks. Therefore, I should not be offended (at least as deeply) when people are doing what they do by nature. Yet, I find myself not liking people. I ought to instead pity them and pray for them.
  • This depravity is so deep and each act of rebellion is deserving of hell. That means that every moment that a sinner stands outside the blood of Christ he is heaping sin upon sin to his account. He is adding to the wrath of God that will be meted out upon himself. Therefore, this ought to move me to love people and passionately share the gospel. Knowing that it is only through the Word and the Spirit working through this Word that men will be converted. Yet, I watch television and play Madden on PS2. Do I really believe in hell? Do I really believe that the totally depraved will be cast there unless God rich in mercy saves them?
  • Every act of rebellion is an offense to God. We know that those of the Reformed persuasion are constantly talking about the glory of God. Every act of rebellion is a trampling of that glory. Ought a Calvinist be passionate about stamping out every act of rebellion? Ought we not preach as a dying man to dying men?

So, until I pray, plead, and proclaim like a Calvinist I should not dare call myself one. Dear God, make me in action what I profess to be in doctrine!

Read Part 3...

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Mystery of Providence Chapter 6

In this chapter Flavel hopes to show the Providence of God in the preservation of the saints from evil. Flavel says that there are, "two eminent ways by which the force and efficacy of temptation is broken in believers." The first is the operation of "internal grace". The second, which Flavel concerns himself here, is the "external working of Providence". Flavel gives 5 ways that Providence blocks us from sin:
  1. By stirring up others to interpose with seasonable counsels
  2. By hindering the means and instruments
  3. By laying some strong affliction upon the body
  4. By the better information of their minds at the sacred oracles of God (reminding us of Scripture, etc.)
  5. By removing them out of the way of temptations by death

Because of this, Flavel admonishes us to walk, "suitably to this obligation of Providence also. And see that you thankfully own it. Do not impute your escapes from sin to accidents, or to your own watchfulness or wisdom".

Not only is it our souls that God has preserved but also our bodies. We are given numerous refrences to this point; some from Scripture, others from history.

This chapter closes with three "particulars". By considering these things we will be reminded of the Providence of God and hopefully follow his previous admonition to "walk suitably":

  1. Consider what you owe to Providence for your protection
  2. Consider how every member which has been so tenderly kept, has nevertheless been an instrument of sin against the Lord
  3. Consider what is the aim of Providence in all the tender care it has manifested for you.

Discussion:

Have you ever considered death as "removing the way of temptations"?

This sentence spoke to me; "you have often provoked Him to afflict you in every part, and lay penal evil upon every member that has been instrumental in moral evil." I have never thought that when I sin with my instruments (mind, eyes, hands, etc.) that God should strike each of them individually.

Do you struggle with pride after "conquering a sin"? How might considering these "particulars" keep us from such prideful arrogance?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Borrowed Light: Today in Blogworld 02/15

Tim Challies tries to answer whether or not our forgiveness is unconditional. Challies takes this position: "We are to model God’s forgiveness; God forgives conditionally; there we are to forgive conditionally."

The Irish Calvinst shares with us a wonderful quote, "You should be ready to preach, pray, or die in 5 minutes".

It may be a little too polemic for my taste, but Steve Camp has a good article (as well as wonderful questions) concerning faith and politics.

Sovereign Grace Ministries is hosting a Pastors College preaching conference. One brave soul asked about discouragement. You can read the response of C.J. Mahaney, Jeff Purswell, and Mike Bullmore, here.

There are numerous stories off the press concerning the recent news of Dr. Mohler. First of all, Dr. Mohler has a pre-cancerous tumor on his colon. Secondly, this means that he will not seek nomination for the SBC Presidency. Since it seems to me that Founders broke the story, they get the link.

Michael McKinley says that pastors should feed their sheep. "It seems to me that pastors are shepherds: if there's malnutrition in the flock it may or may not be our fault, but it is most definitely our problem." Thabiti responds.

Is God a God of second chances? Dan Phillips says, sometimes.

Tony Reinke continues his series on Engagle Culture with the Supremacy of God. We are treated to part 2 today.

2 Worlds Collide offers us the current list of the Top 10 Persecuted Nations.

David, of the Thirsty Theologian, begins his series answering why he is a Calvinist.

These all deserve an (HT:JT). The Washington Post profiles Eric Redmond. Michael Patton maps the emergent conversation.

Why I Am Not A Calvinist (Part 1)

My regular readers may be shocked at the title, as they should be. The title is a little misleading. Doctrinally speaking I would say that I adhere to the doctrines of grace; or in other words, I am a Calvinist. However, something I read by John Newton caused me to think. In counseling a young man "on controversy", Newton says this:


"Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation. If, indeed, those who differ from us have a power of changing themselves, if they can open their own eyes, and soften their own hearts, then we might with less inconsistency be offended at their obstinacy; but if we believe the very contrary to this, our part is, not to strive, but in meekness to instruct those who oppose, "if perhaps God will give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth."
(HT: Grace Gems)

Newton has an excellent point. If we really believe in the doctrines of grace then it will change things. It will change the way that we interact with our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we really believe in Total Depravity it will change things. Our understanding of unconditional election will dictate our attitudes. If we really believe irresistible grace then we should have a much different confidence. A belief in Limited Atonement ought to change the way we interact with other brothers that have been bought with the Lamb's blood. If we really believe Perseverance of the Saints then ought we not to have more confidence in God's ability to bring differing saints to glory?

So, the point of this series of posts will be to really ask whether or not I believe what I say I believe. Am I really a Calvinist in practice? I hope to put together 5-6 articles on this topic. I plan to go through each of the points of the T-U-L-I-P and discuss the implications of each. It will not be my intent to debate the truthfulness of each point. I will assume them, and then ask the question, "If I really believe this, what will it look like in practice"

...Read Part 2

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Borrowed Light: Today in Blogworld 02/13

The Daily Dose has a wonderful article on Personal Testimony vs. Preaching.

Frank Turk has a very interesting article on the Pyromaniacs website. He is adding something to the discussion on Total Depravity. Frank is trying to bring this truth to every day men and women. In doing so he is trying to attempt to answer those that see the "good" work of atheist as a nail in the coffin of Total Depravity. His central thesis is this: any native goodness we demonstrate only highlights how broken our nature really is. It is a wonderful consideration, and you should read it.

Perry Noble asks, Why Are We Afraid of God's Voice. I encourage you to read the article and tell me what you think. I might write an article of response to this post in the future.

Nathan Busenitz asks, "Does the Bible Mandate Home School?"

Great article on the chruch from J.D. Hatfield; Incorporated

Tony Reinke is beginning a series on Engaging Culture and the Supremacy of God. I'm looking forward to this one.

And last but not least, you have to check this new style of witnessing we are going to implement here at FBC New London (HT: Thabiti):

The Mystery of Providence Chapter 5

In this chapter Flavel hopes to show us the mighty Providence of God in directing our family affairs. Perhaps some would be negligent to thank Providence for their marriage or children. Flavel, shows us the ridiculous nature of such a proposition. He gives four evidences of Providence in family affairs:
  1. In appointing the parties for each other (the means in which they came together)
  2. In the harmony and agreeableness of temperaments and dispositions (how they compliment one another)
  3. In making one instrumental to the eternal good of the other (how they benefit each other)
  4. In children, the fruit of marriage

If you believe that you Providence has dealt you a raw hand, then Flavel urges you to consider the hand dealt to many others. Consider David's scoffing Michal. And patient Job's added affliction of his nagging wife. Even that you have a wife and children (if that be the case) is a gift of Providence.

Flavel also considers the care with which God gives to his children, and this in regards to the rearing of their own families. He again gives three evidences of Providence in this regard:

  1. The assiduity (close care) and constancy of the care of Providence for saints
  2. The seasonableness and opportuneness of its provisions for them (at times when we most need it God comes through for us)
  3. The wisdom of Providence in our provisions (giving needs over wants)

This chapter concludes with some of the most practical advice thus far. Flavel gives six exhortations to help us "walk suitabley to [our] experience of such mercies":

  1. Do not forget the care and kindness of Providence...
  2. Do not distrust Providence in future exigencies (that which is urgent)
  3. Do not murmur and complain under new straits
  4. Do not show the least discontent at the lot and portion Providence carves out for you
  5. Do not neglect prayer when straits (hard times) befall you
  6. Do not worry your hearts with sinful cares

Discussion:

How would you write this chapter if you were counseling a single person, widow, or barren wife?

In the six exhortations Flavel gives us at the end, are there any in which you find it most difficult to trust God in? It appears that Flavel is urging us to remember the past because that will dictate our response in the future. Therefore, remembering and rejocing in what God has done in the past will help us not worry our hearts with sinful cares.

Do you ever struggle with worry because you know that God is sovereign and does as He pleases? Do you ever find yourself doubting because you know that God's greatest aim is not merely our good but also His glory? Is it possible that Providence might so work that our greatest fears will become a reality so that Christ is magnified and we are filled with more joy? Do you, often, forget that God works all things together for our good? Even if we go through difficult times we know that in the end it will be for our greatest joy and God's greatest glory. Yet, knowing that do you sometimes find yourself concerned about what that might entail?

Stories that Flavel Uses:

Is a Yellow Horse Really that Bad?

Is a Yellow Horse Really that Bad?

On page 83 of John Flavel's The Mystery of Providence, he mentions Socrates' wife, Xanthippe. She has become somewhat of a legendeary figure. It is this legend that Flavel makes mention of. Legend has it that she was a mean, shrewd, and stern woman. Poems have even been written of her, like this one:

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Letters Everywhere Stories and Rhymes for Children

Others, have tried to defend her. Such as this author:

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The Orbit of Life Studies in Human Experience By William Thomas Herridge

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Borrowed Light: Today in Blogworld 02/12

Ever heard of Rob Bell? What about NOOMA? Greg Gilbert reviews Bell's NOOMA videos. On the heels of Gilbert's review C.J. Mahaney gives us sound advice (based on Gilbert's excellent job) on reviewing things as well as protecting the gospel with humility. Man, I love C.J. Mahaney; but more than that I love his Jesus. You really need to read anything written by C.J., including his recent appeal.

Brian Thornton is continuing his discussion on the calling of God. Today he clearly and concisely shows that only the elect receive three callings of God. Disagree? Agree? Check it out.

Stephen Altrogge gives 7 Questions to Ask Your Friends. One of my favorite questions, of the 7, is this one: "Have you diligently pursued your wife/husband this week?"

John MacArthur attempts to teach us on the "unfathomable and yet unmistakable doctrine" of the Trinity, read it here.

Trevin Wax has a really good consideration on Evangelicalism's Blast from the Past.

Randy Alcorn considers the Longing for God and Joy of Augustine.

You've got to check this out (HT: Micah)

If only I may gain Christ Jesus!

I am reading through John Stott's classic work The Cross of Christ. In the book he quotes John Foxe concerning Ignatius, bishop of Antioch in Syria. It could be debated whether or not his admonition to his followers, to not attempt to sercure his release, was grounded. Nonetheless, his devotion to Jesus and willingness to suffer for the sake of Christ shames me:

"Let fire and the cross, let the companies of wild beasts, let breaking of boens and tearing of limbs, let the grinding of the whole body, and all the malice of the devil, come upon me; be it so, if only I may gain Christ Jesus!" (Stott, John. The Cross of Christ, p.77)

The Mystery of Providence Chapter 4

In this chapter Flavel considers a much neglected area in thinking of Providence; our employment. Flavel makes five particular points, showing how the Providence of God is displayed in our civil callings:
  1. In directing you to a calling in your youth, and not permitting you to live and idle, useless and sinful life.
  2. In ordering you to such callings and employments in the world as are not only lawful in themselves but most suitable to you.
  3. In settling you in such a calling and employment in the world, as possibly neither yourselves nor parents could ever expect you should attain to.
  4. In securing your estates from ruin.
  5. In making your calling sufficient for you.

Flavel labors to help us rejoice in the hand of Providence concerning our earthly toil. He spends much time upon the fifth point. As he closes he draws out a few specific instructions. He urges us to not abuse any of these providences. How do we do that? By not being slothful and idle in our vocations, and by being intent in our particular callings while not neglecting our general calling. Through all of this we must remember that the success of our particular callings hinges on divine blessing.

Discussion:

On page 75, when discussing our particular callings Flavel says that they have, "not only an eye upon your well-being in the world to come, but upon your well-being in this world also..." What do you think he means by our well-being in the world to come? What was the Puritan view of heaven?

Flavel would be very hard on those on welfare in our day and age. Certainly, he would have been merciful to the orphans, widows. elderly, and disabled. But he, like the apostle Paul before him, saw that it is a sin to eat what other earn. Or to put it as Paul did, "if a man will not work he shall not eat."

Did you notice that Flavel is making a distinction between our particular callings (notice the plural) and our general callling. What is the difference between these two? Do ministers have the same particular calling as they do general calling? What is our general calling? How often do we "lose our God" in the hurry and business of every day labor?

Stories from Flavel:

Who was Oecolampadius?
From Carpentry to Concordia
Who was Pareus?

Who was Oecolampadius?

In John Flavel's The Mystery of Providence he speaks of a master builder named Oecolampadius. This name is not well known in our day; yet in his day, Johannes Oecolampadius was a trusted theological scholar. While not as revered in the annals of history as Zwingli, Luther, and Calvin the church has benefited that the Providence of God saw fit to keep this man from becoming a merchant. More is told of his Reformation life here:

The second period of Oecolampadius's life opens with his return to Basel in November 1522, as vicar of St Martin's and (in 1523) reader of the Holy Scripture at the university. Lecturing on Isaiah he condemned current ecclesiastical abuses, and in a public disputation (2oth of August 1523) was so successful that Erasmus writing to Zürich said " Oecolampadius has the upper hand amongst us." He became Zwingli's best helper, and after more than a year of earnest preaching and four public disputations in which the popular verdict had been given in favour of Oecolampadius and his friends, the authorities of Basel began to see the necessity of some reformation. They began wiih the convents, and Oecolampadius was able to refrain in public worship on certain festival days from some practices he believed to be superstitious. Basel was slow to accept the reformation; the news of the Peasants' War and the inroads of Anabaptists prevented progress; but at last, in 1525, it seemed as if the authorities were resolved to listen to schemes for restoring the purity of worship and teaching. In the midst of these hopes and difficulties Oecolampadius married, in the beginning of 1528, Wilibrandis Rosenblatt, the widow of Ludwig Keller, who proved to be non rixasa vcl gárrula vcl vaga, he says, and made him a good wife. After his death she married Capilo, and, when Capito died, Buccr. She died in 1564. In January 1528 ecolampadius and Zwingli took part in the disputation at Berne which led to the adoption of the new faith in that canton, and in the following year to the discontinuance of the mass at Basel. The Anabaptists claimed Oecolampadius for their views, but in a disputation with them he dissociated himself from most of their positions. He died on the 24th of November 1531.
Copied from: The Encyclopædia Britannica A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and General Information By Hugh Chisholm

From Carpentry to Concordia

In John Flavel's The Mystery of Providence he makes mention of a man named James Andreas. He was called out of carpentry into the service to the church of God. A little more information is given to us here:
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Universal Pronouncing Dictionary of Biography and Mythology By Joseph Thomas

Do you find it strange that Flavel included the story of a man that was polemical towards Calvinists?

Who was Pareus?

In John Flavel's Mystery of Providence he makes mention of a man named Pareus. Apparently Pareus had been apprenticed, by his mother, to be a pharmacist (apothecary). God, however, had contrary plans. Pareus ended up being a marevelous teacher during the Reformation period. He was irenic in nature and sought to bring reconciliation to the Lutherans and the Calvinists of his day. More information is given here:

Text not available
Text not available
The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge Embracing Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology and Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Biography from the Earliest Times to the Present Day By Johann Jakob Herzog, Philip Schaff, Albert Hauck

Monday, February 11, 2008

Borrowed Light: Today in Blogworld 02/11

Alvin Reid has some insights on Students and Student Ministry.

Phil Johnson asks, and attempts to answer, a much debated question: How Can we be Held Responsible for our Inability? In the conclusion he states, "our inability is no excuse for our sinfulness. It is precisely the opposite. It is the very reason we are condemned. Sin flows from the very core of our souls. The heart of who we are is evil." Go there and find out how he got to that conclusion.

Dr. Mohler has a wonderful article for prospective preachers. He helps us asks, "Has God Called Me to Preach". Important to this consideration will be Mohler's statement here: "One key issue here is a common misunderstanding about the will of God. Some models of evangelical piety imply that God's will is something difficult for us to accept. We sometimes confuse this further by talking about "surrendering" to the will of God. As Paul makes clear in Romans 12:2, the will of God is good, worthy of eager acceptance, and perfect. Those called by God to preach will be given a desire to preach as well as the gifts of preaching. Beyond this, the God-called preacher will feel the same compulsion as the great Apostle, who said, "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!"

David Powlison gives excellent advice in counseling others. “Don’t ever degenerate into giving good advice unconnected with the good news of Jesus crucified, alive, present, at work, and returning.” (HT: Of First Importance)

Justin Buzzard reminds us to put the gospel in everday conversations.

Bob Kauflin the Soveriegn Grace Worship Director, enters the conversation begun by Greg Gilbert on the place of music in worship today. He has great insight to add to the conversation.

The Remarkable Story of Mrs. Honeywood

In Flavel's The Mystery of Providence he tells the story of Mrs. Honeywood. Flavel tells it as if she immediately snapped out of her state of depression. Thomas Fuller in his Worthies of England has a little different take, that can be read here. She was, according to Fuller, brought out of her state of depression at a later date. During the tryannical reign of Queen Mary, Mrs. Honeywood labored to visit the Christian prisoners and bring them comfort in their affliction. But it was not only prisoners that she helped. It appears that her story was also used by God to shed a hint of comfort to one William Cowper:

Cowpwer relieved
Mrs. Honeywood
The Works of William Cowper By William Cowper, Homer, Giovanni Battista Andreini

The Mystery of Providence Chapter 3

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."

Discussion:

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

Who is Vergerius?

In John Flavel's The Mystery of Providence he tells of the remarkable conversion of a cardinal named Vergerius. Who is this man? And what are the surrounding details to his conversion? It is helpful to distinguish Peter Paul Vergerius the Younger (or subject) with his namesake of a century prior. Our Vergerius was born in approximately 1498. It looks as if he was in line to become the pope's ambassador to Germany. But it appears that the Lord took hold of Vergerius and he became converted by the very thing he attempted to refute. A more detailed account of his conversion is given here:

Vergerius convertedCopied from
THE GENERAL BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY By Alexander Chalmers, F.S.A.

Review of Mark Dever--The Gospel and Personal Evangelism


Author: Mark Dever

Pages: 124 pages

Publisher: Crossway

Price: 7.49 USD

Genre: Evangelism/Missions


Quick Summary:

On the back cover J.I. Packer sums up this book the best when he says, “For most of us, personal evangelism is the reverse of easy, and so it becomes a task we evade. Mark Dever writes to shake us up about this, clearing our heads as to just what evangelizing involves and motivating our hearts to go to it realistically and responsibly. This is a word in season that will surely do a great deal of good”.

Dever’s aim in this book is to “connect some of the dots in our thinking”. He does this by asking 7 basic questions: Why Don’t We Evangelize? What is the Gospel? Who Should Evangelize? How Should We Evangelize? What Isn’t Evangelism? What Should We Do After We Evangelize? Why Should We Evangelize? All of these questions serve as the frame for the book. Dever then closes by considering the sovereignty of God in evangelism. Each chapter is concise yet packs a punch.

The greatest book that I have read on evangelism is, by far, Will Metzger’s Tell the Truth. Dever adds little to that work. However it also does not detract from the central message of Metzger’s work. Both exalt the supremacy of God and the ultimate God-centeredness that must mark biblical evangelism. Dever’s book will be appreciated because it is more concise and a little easier read (though Metzger’s is not difficult). One of the easiest ways to sell a book, especially in the Reformed community, is to put the name Mark Dever on it. Because of his growing popularity this important message will find itself in churches than Metzger’s would. Therefore, it is a helpful addition to the corpus of books on evangelism.

What I Liked:

If Dever adds anything to Metzger’s work it would be in the first chapter. He goes much more in depth in his considerations of why we do not evangelize. The reader will be motivated and at the same time unable to hide behind any of our typical paltry excuses. Dever also shines in telling us what evangelism is not. It is a much needed, and hopefully welcome, rebuke to consider the fact that results are not to be confused with evangelism. The concluding chapter might be an offense to some (those not of the “Calvinistic” persuasion), but Dever does a wonderful job, as did J.I. Packer before him, of showing that the sovereignty of God should motivate rather than hinder the cause of evangelism. That is a much appreciated truth. Another positive throughout the book is Dever’s storytelling ability. It keeps the book light-hearted and yet pointed at the same time.

What I Disliked:

My biggest criticism of Dever’s work is that it adds little to the discussion. However, this is a very unfair comment. Dever’s intent is not to be a pioneer. He does not intend to write a landmark work like Metzger’s Tell the Truth. Dever’s aim, as it appears, is to make simple what men like Metzger labored to communicate. Therefore, he succeeds. I personally would rather read Metzger, so I must honestly say in that regard that I got very little out of this work personally. However, I am able to see it’s great value as a launching pad within the church.

Should You Buy It:

I suppose I should ask, what is your intent? If you want an excellent quick read that is going to still pack a weighty theological punch, then buy this. If you want a more detailed exposition and a deep explanation of what the gospel is, along with a compare and contrast of a God-centered and man-centered gospel, then by all means get Metzger’s work. If you desire to start a small group study with your church—buy Metzger for the leader and work through Dever as a church. All in all, I would heartily recommend this book; but especially for new believers.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Mystery of Providence Chapter 2

Now that Flavel has convinced us of the providential care of God, he will now attempt to show us the "most remarkable performances of Providence." This chapter mainly concerns itself with the providential care of God in our birth and upbringing. He gives three of these remarkable performances of Providence:
  1. In our formation and protection in the womb.
  2. The place and time of our birth
  3. The designation of the stock and family out of which we should spring and rise

Flavel does a wonderful job in this chapter of helping us appreciate all of those things that we take for granted. Even such natural things as eye sight, walking, hearing, etc. that we take for granted, Flavel helps us see that they are indeed blessings. "If you have low thoughts of this mercy, ask the blind, the deaf, the lame and the dumb, the value and worth of those mercies, and they will tell you."

Wherever you are, whatever parents you have had, whatever lot you have been given is yours by the providence of God. Are you born in the luxuries of America (which Flavel said was "savegery" in his day)? You could have been born in a bush tribe of Africa, not knowing where your next meal would come from. Do you have eye sight? You could have easily been prevented from reading this very statement. All of these are mercies given to us by the gracious providence of God.

Discussion:

As I read through this chapter I wondered how it would be received by those that are not as blessed as I. How would a starving child in Africa receive a copy of Flavel's work? Even if he had to have it read to him. What then would be his view of providence? Could he look at his situation and bless God that it were not worse? Could the deaf man read this with joy? What do you think?

On page 46, Flavel notes that we could have just as well have been miscarried. In that discussion he says this, "Had this been your case...supposing your salvation, yet you had been unservicable to God in the world..." This causes me to ask a question. What was the Puritan view of infancy? Did they believe that an infant that died was granted salvation? Did it depend upon their parents? Why does Flavel say, "supposing your salvation" (Of course the you is referring to a miscarried baby)?

Stories Flavel Uses:

Who is Galeacius?
Augustine and Monica

Augustine and Monica

In John Flavel's Mystery of Providence he makes mention of Augustine and Monica (p.54). If our readers are familiar with Augustine they will probably also be familiar with his mother Monica. She was a strong Christian woman that continuously pleaded with the Lord for the soul of her son. Much can be read about his conversion and many attribute that in part to his mother's intercession. One such poet, Charles Tennyson Turner (Lord Alfred Tennyson's elder brother), has captured this sentiment:

Augustine and Monica
Copied From Collected Sonnets, Old and New By Charles Tennyson Turner, James Spedding

Who is Galeacius?

In John Flavel's Mystery of Providence he makes mention of a Galeacius (p.52). Galeacius was of noble birth and was converted out of "Popery". John Calvin tells the story in his commentary on Corinthians (p.11-14):

"I may say much rather than Jacob — Few and evil have my days been; yet in these few days of mine something have I seen, more have I read, more have I heard; yet never saw I, heard I, or read I any example (all things laid together) more nearly seconding the examples of Moses than this of the most renowned Marquesse Galeacius. Moses was the adopted son of a king’s daughter; Galeacius the natural son and heir apparent to a Marquesse; Moses a courtier in the court of Pharoah, Galeacius in the court of the emperor Charles the Fifth; Moses by adoption a kin to a Queen, Galeacius by marriage to a Duke, by blood son to a Marquesse, nephew to a Pope; Moses in possibility of a kingdom, he in possession of a Marquesdome; Moses in his youth brought up in the heathenism of Egypt, Galeacius schooled in the superstition of Popery; Moses at last saw the truth and embraced it, so did Galeacius; Moses openly fell from the heathenism of Egypt, so did Galeacius from the superstition of Popery. But all this is nothing to that which they both suffered for their conscience. What Moses suffered Saint Paul tells us — ‘Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharoah’s daughter, and chose rather to suffer adversities with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the rebuke of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.’ Nay, Moses had rather be a base brick maker amongst the oppressed Israelites, being true Christians, than to be the son of a king’s daughter in the court of Pharaoh amongst idolaters. In like case noble Galeacius, when he was come to years and knowledge of Christ, refused to be called son and heir to a Marquesse, cup-bearer to an Emperor, nephew to a Pope, and chose rather to suffer affliction, persecution, banishment, loss of lands, livings, wife, children, honors and preferments, than to enjoy the sinful pleasures of Italy for a season, esteeming the rebuke of Christ greater riches than the honors of a Marquesdome without Christ, and therefore, seeing he must either want Christ or want them, he despoiled himself of all these to gain Christ. So excellent was the fact of Moses, and so heroical, that the Holy Ghost vouchsafes it remembrance both in the Old and New Testament, that so the Church in all ages might know it and admire it, and doth chronicle it in the epistle to the Hebrews almost two thousand years after it was done. If God himself did so to Moses, shall not God’s Church be careful to commend to posterity this second Moses, whose love to Christ Jesus was so zealous, and so inflamed by the heavenly fire of God’s Spirit, that no earthly temptations could either quench or abate it; but to win Christ, and to enjoy Him in the liberty of His Word and Sacraments, he delicately contemned the honors and pleasures of the Marquesdome of Vicum — Vicum, one of the paradises of Naples, Naples, the paradise of Italy — Italy of Europe — Europe of the earth; yet all these paradises were nothing to him in comparison of attaining the celestial paradise, there to live with Jesus Christ...."

On his refusing to do so, “sentence was passed against him, and he was deprived of all the property which he inherited from his mother.” “In the following year... an offer was made to him in the name of his uncle now Pope Paul IV. that, he should have a protection against the Inquisition, provided he would take up his residence within the Venetian States; a proposal to which neither his safety nor the dictates of his conscience would permit him to accede.” He went repeatedly to Italy, and had interviews with his aged father, but was refused the privilege of seeing his wife and family, until about six years after he had quitted Naples. His wife, Victoria, then wrote to him, earnestly requesting an interview with him, and fixing the place of meeting. This she did on two different occasions, but in both instances, on his arrival at the appointed place, after a fatiguing and dangerous journey, he had the disappointment of finding that she did not make her appearance. At length, impatient of delay, he went once more to Italy, and at his father’s house had an interview with Victoria, when he entreated her to accompany him to Geneva, “promising that no restraint should be laid on her conscience, and that she should be at liberty to practice her religion under his roof. After many protestations of affection, she finally replied, that she could not reside out of Italy, nor in a place where any other religion than that of the Church of Rome was professed, and farther, that she could not live with him as her husband so long as he was infected with heresy.” The scene at their final parting was peculiarly tender. “Bursting into tears, and embracing her husband, Victoria besought him not to leave her a widow, and her babies fatherless. The children joined in the entreaties of their mother, and the eldest daughter, a fine girl of thirteen, grasping his knees, refused to part with him. How he disengaged himself, he knew not; for the first thing which brought him to recollection was the noise made by the sailors on reaching the opposite shore of the Gulf.” (of Venice.) “He used often to relate to his intimate friends, that the parting scene continued long to haunt his mind; and that not only in dreams, but also in reveries into which he fell during the day; he thought he heard the angry voice of his father, saw Victoria in tears, and felt his daughter dragging at his heels.” (HT: CCEL)

Friday, February 8, 2008

Flavel Plugs Our Website

In John Flavel's Method of Grace he says this, "How humble and lowly in spirit should you be under your great advancement. It is true, God that magnified you greatly by this union; but yet do not boast. You bear not the root, but the root you. You shine, but with a borrowed light".

Flavel points to the foundation of this website. One, that because of our union with Christ we have all the light, that such men as Edwards, Spurgeon, McCheyne, Paul, Peter, etc. have. Their light is also borrowed. Two, it serves to humble us. Any light which we might bring forth does not come from us. We are never the source of light. Therefore, we must always make certain that Jesus Christ is the only boast. Thus leading to my mandate:

"So live and so study and so serve and so preach and so write that Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen God, be the only boast of this generation". Quoted from Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper.

The Mystery of Providence Chapter 1

In the first chapter, Flavel concerns himself with piling evidence upon us in the hopes that all will surrender to the truth that the lives of saints are directed by the provedential care of God. He does this by asking eight questions (of which I will paraphrase):
  1. Why is it that so often the natural course of things is changed to make way for the mercies and deliverances of the people of God?
  2. Why does it seem that the affairs of the saints are so ordered as to put them in a place of benefit?
  3. Why is it that powerful forces cannot destroy the church, yet it is held up by such weak things?
  4. How do you explain such radical conversions?
  5. Why is good to God's people rewarded and evil, likewise, retributed?
  6. If all of this is accidental, how do you account for there explanation in Scripture?
  7. Why does it seem that quite frequently things come through "just in the nick of time"?
  8. How would you explain things happening in answer to prayers? Can you really say that it is just coincidental given all of the evidence to the contrary?

Discussion:

At first I was a little disappointed in this chapter. Then, I began reflecting upon the mounting evidence that Flavel is giving us and it stunned me. It is seldom that I view every action in view of providence. But if Flavel is correct, and I believe he is, then we should see every moment as a divine appointment. Certainly, some will be "less significant" than others, but appointments, nonetheless.

If Flavel is correct in saying, "how succesful have weak and contemptible means been made for the good of the Church!", why do we often esteem the best of men at the expense of those that are "weak and contemptible"? Is it possible that the church should be less triumphalistic?

At the end of the chapter Flavel comments that he will not labor any longer to give us stories of providence because, "most Christians have a stock of experience of their own". What are some of your stories? When have you seen God's providence? Do you remember a time when God came through in the "nick of time"?

Stories Flavel Uses:

On Polycarp's Martyrdom
The Agitated Mr. Dod Prevents a Suicide
The Radical Reformers Ravage Holland
Who is Du Moulin?

A Remarkable Story in the Life of Mr. Dod

On page 40 of The Mystery of Providence, John Flavel makes mention of a Mr. Dod. The story is told that he was agitated and moved to visit a neighbor. Upon his arrival he learned the man was about to hang himself. Here is the account:

Mr. Dod Saves a ManFrom
The Christian's penny magazine, and friend of the people [ed. by J. Campbell ... By Congregational union of England and Wales

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