Well I’ve begun my part of the Puritan Reading Challenge by delving into Flavel this week. I am encouraged by what I’ve read so far and look forward to what’s ahead in this work.
With that said, I will admit I found myself becoming concerned when early in the introduction Flavel writes, ” . . . how cheering, supporting and encouraging must the consideration of these things be in a day of distress and trouble! What life and hope will it inspire our hearts and prayers with when great pressures lie upon us! It had such a cheering influence upon the Psalmist at this time when the state of his affairs was, to the eye of sense and reason, forlorn and desperate; there was now but a hair’s breadth (as we say) between him and ruin.” (p. 19)
Flavel seemed to me to be painting an overly pretty picture of Providence. A picture that is partly necessary to sustain us in times of great trial, but that doesn’t go far enough, as sometimes we simply suffer in the flesh so the that life of Christ and His glory is clearly revealed. The other part of God’s Providence that is needed is reflected in Job’s words of “though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him”, and Paul’s “to die is gain.”
In Flavel’s defense, he takes as his starting point Ps 57:2, where David exclaims that he ” . . will cry out unto God most high; unto God, that performeth all things for me.” David is holed up in a cave with Saul, the man who wants to kill him, within arm’s reach. Will God’s Providence work out for good? Absolutely! Does that assume automatic deliverance for David? No.
We know from Scripture that in David’s case Providence did work to deliver David’s life from his enemies. But in Stephen’s case, who extolled God’s sovereign Providence no less than David did here, it did not. Stephen died a martyr, glorified God in a magnificent way, and went into eternity to fully enjoy His Savior. That too was God’s Providence on display. But as I would argue, that form of Providence would have been received by Stephen as a dark Providence as he bore the pain of soul in the unbelief and anger of his enemies, and has he bore the pain of stones pounding his flesh.
With that said, I was greatly relieved to later read, “All the dark, intricate, puzzling providences at which we were sometimes so offended, and sometimes amazed, which we could neither reconcile with the promise nor with each other, nay, which we so unjustly censured and bitterly bewailed, as if they had fallen out quite against our happiness, we shall then see to be to us, as the difficult passage through the wilderness was to Israel, ‘the right way to a city of habitation’ (Ps. 107:7).