If Not God, Who? ~ Mystery of Providence by John Flavel (Chapter 1)

Image courtesy of amenic181 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of amenic181 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

And Today it begins! Two weeks ago we said that we would join Tim Challies’ reading of The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel. So hopefully you have read chapter one, but if not, don’t worry. Read it on your own when you have time and in the meantime, see what others are saying about it. Here you can read my thoughts and post your own in the comments. Likewise, you can go here to read the thoughts of Tim Challies and others.

Want more information about what we are doing, click here to read about our Fellowship in Reading.
And now our fellowship really begins. So pull up your coffee cup, bring out your book and notes, and let’s encourage one another in our relationship with God through this work of John Flavel!
I strikes me as fascinating that the sovereignty of God is so often debated. The Word of God is quite clear that everything that exists does so at the will of the Lord and operates according to the order by which He established it. In others, He controls everything and nothing operates outside of His will. Yet, the debate today wages on about just how sovereign the Lord is. Is God sovereign over my life, or do I have the control and only when I yield it to Him? How refreshing it is to see John Flavel begin with such a firm foundation. Through his writing it is clear that all things work according to God and not the other way around. In fact the Lordship of Christ is affirmed when he notes that Christ is over all things as:
  • the head of the whole world by way of dominion, and
  • the head of the church by way of union.
This is a powerful description that should make its way into our discussion today.
In his conversation with readers, as he asserts such authority of God, the flow of conversation naturally brings forth several questions that must be answered. Quite simply, he points us to an overarching inquiry: If not God, who or what? With so many ‘coincidences’ who or what is responsible for such spectacular timing if it was not according to the providence of God. In fact, he places the following eight questions before readers to consider and and answer:
  1. How can events give more than what is natural for them to give?
  2. How is it that natural events benefit, and at times provide relief, for God’s people (especially in such an unexplainable way)?
  3. How are God’s people protected against such forces of destruction if it were not for God?
  4. How is it that those intent on evil turn from it without the work of providence?
  5. How can good and evil be repaid accordingly under non-providence?
  6. How does Scripture match events so well if random chance ordered the events?
  7. How is it that the timing always seems to be ‘just right’?
  8. How is it that events are ordered as answers to prayer if Providence were not the influence?
As John Flavel sets the foundation for what is to come in his writing here, he does something very important with these questions. He places the burden of proof squarely on those who deny Providence, which is exactly where it should be. What’s even more important is the foundation itself that he sets. It is clear that he operates with a very high view of God, which is exactly where we must be. With such a high view of God and a low view of self, that gap that was conquered by the work of Christ is seen as substantial. Conversely, with a low view of God and a high view of self, the gap bridged by Christ is inconsequential, and thus the need for Christ is left unrevealed. Thus, Flavel’s firm foundation on God’s sovereignty must not be left under-appreciated.
It is this foundation that leads to an interesting conclusion worth looking at. He asserts that “If no sins were punished here, no providence would be believed; and if every sin should be punished here, no judgment would be expected.” It is true, when God’s judgment is removed here, we would quickly forget about its future coming as well. Likewise though, if punishment was all the time, there would be no need for the last judgment of Christ. Punishment serves as a reminder of the judgment to come.
It is with these conclusions we can look forward to the rest of the book, and next week we will explore chapter two. For now though, what impressions has chapter one left on you? Are there any legitimate answers to the eight questions that Flavel asks? Feel free to share your thoughts.
It’s not too late to join us! Pick up the book and join us as we explore chapter two next week!

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