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The Mystery of Providence: Chapter 2 - Our Birth and Upbringing

By John Flavel

      Having proved that the affairs of the saints in this world are certainly conducted by the wisdom and care of a special Providence, my next work is to show you in what affairs and concerns of theirs the Providence of God more especially appears, or what are the most remarkable performances of Providence for them in this world.

      And here I am not led directly by my text to speak of the most internal and spiritual performances of Providence immediately relating to the souls of His people, though they all relate to their souls mediately and eventually, but of the more visible and external performances of Providence for them. It is not to be supposed that I should touch all these - they are more than the sands - but what I aim at is to discourse to you on some more special and more observable performances of Providence for you.

      To start with, let us consider how well Providence has performed the first work that ever it did for us: in our formation and protection in the womb. Certainly this is a very glorious and admirable performance; it is that which the Psalmist admires: 'My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth' (Psalm 139:15). The womb is so called for this reason, that as skillful artists, when they have some choice piece in hand, perfect it in private, and then bring it into the light for all to gaze at; so it was here. Two things are admirable in this performance of Providence for us.

      First the rare structure and excellent composition of the body. 'I am wonderfully made'; that word ruchampti is very full. The vulgate renders it, 'painted as with a needle,' i.e., richly embroidered with nerves and veins. O, the skillful workmanship that is in that one part, the eye! How has it forced some to acknowledge a God upon the examination of it! Providence, when it went about this work, had its model or pattern before it, according to which it molded every part, 'In thy book all my members were written' (verse 16). Have you an integral perfection and fullness of members? It is because He wrote them all in His book, or painted your body according to that exact model which He drew of you in His own gracious purpose before you had a being. Had an eye, an ear, a hand, a foot been wanting in the plan, you had now been sadly aware of the defect. This world had been but a dungeon to you without those windows, and you had lived, as many do, an object of pity to others. 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. There is a world of cost bestowed upon your very body. You might have been cast into another mold, and created a worm or a toad. I remember Luther tells us of two cardinals riding in great pomp to the Council of Constance, and by the way they heard a man in the fields bitterly weeping and wailing. When they came to him they found him intently viewing an ugly toad; and asking him why he wept so bitterly, he told them his heart was melted with this consideration, that God had not made him such a loathsome and deformed creature. 'This is what I love to weep at,' said he; whereupon one of them cries out: well said the father, 'The unlearned will rise and take heaven, and we with all our learning shall be cast into hell.' No part of the common lump was so figured and polished as man is. Galen gave Epicurus a hundred years to imagine a more commodious situation, configuration or composition of any one member of a human body. And if all the angels had studied to this day, they could not have cast the body of man into a better mold.

      And yet all this is but the enameling of the case, or polishing the casket in which the rare jewel lies. Providence has not only built the house, but brought the inhabitant (I mean the soul) into the possession of it. A glorious piece it is, that bears the very image of God upon it, being all in all, and all in every part. How noble are its faculties and affections! How nimble, various and indefatigable are its motions! How comprehensive is its capacity! It is a companion for angels, nay, capable of espousal to Christ and eternal communion with God. It is the wonder of earth, and the envy of hell.

      Suppose now (and why should you not suppose what you so frequently behold in the world?) that Providence had so permitted and ordered it, that your soul had entered into your body with one or two of its faculties wounded and defective. Suppose its understanding had been cracked; what a miserable life you would have lived in this world, being capable of neither service nor comfort. And truly, when I have considered those works of Providence, in bringing into the world in all countries and ages some such spectacles of pity; some deprived of the use of reason and differing from beasts in little more than shape and figure; and others, though sound in their understandings, yet deformed or defective in their bodies, monstrous, misshapen and loathsome creatures; I can resolve the design of this Providence into nothing else but a demonstration of His sovereign power unless they are designed as foils to set off the beauty of other rare and exquisite pieces, and intended to stand before your eyes as monitors of God's mercy to you, that your hearts, as often as you behold them, might be melted into thankfulness for distinguishing favour to you.

      Look then, but not proudly, upon your outside and inside. See and admire what Providence has done for you, and how well it has performed the first service that ever it did for you in this world. And yet, this was not all it did for you. Before you saw this world, it preserved you, as well as formed you in the womb, else you had been as those embryos Job speaks of 'which never saw light' (Job 3:16). Abortives go for nothing in the world, and there are multitudes of them. Some never had a reasonable soul breathed into them, but only the rudiments and rough draft of a body; these come not into the account of men, but perish as the beast does. Others die in, or shortly after they come out of the womb, and though their life was but a moment, yet that moment entails an eternity upon them. Had this been your case, as it is the case of millions, then, supposing your salvation, yet you had been utterly unserviceable to God in the world; none had been the better for you, nor you the better for any in the world. You had been utterly incapable of all that good which throughout your life you have either done to others or received from others.

      And if we consider the nature of that obscure life we lived in the womb, how small an accident, had it been permitted by Providence, could have extinguished our life, like a bird in the shell? We cannot therefore but admire the tender care of Providence over us, and say with the Psalmist: 'Thou hast covered me in my mother's womb' (Psalm 139:13): and not only so, 'But thou art he that took me out of the womb' (Psalm 22:9). He preserved you there to the fullness of time and, when that time was come, brought you safely through manifold hazards into that place in the world which He from eternity prepared for you.

      Another great performance of Providence for the people of God respects the place and time of their birth. And truly, this is no small concern to every one of us, but of vast consequence, either to our good or evil, though it is little considered by most men. I am persuaded the thoughts of few Christians penetrate deep enough into this Providence, but slide too slightly and superficially over an abyss of much mercy, rich and manifold mercy wrapped up in this gracious performance of Providence for them.

      Ah friends! can you think it an indifferent thing into what part of the world the womb of nature has cast you out? Does nothing depend upon what spot of the creation, or in what age of the world, your lot has fallen? It may be you have not seriously thought about this matter. And because this point is so seldom touched, I will therefore dive a little more particularly and distinctly into it, and endeavour to warm your affections with a representation of the many and rich benefits you owe to this one performance of Providence for you.

      We will consider it under a double respect or relation, as it respects your present comfort in this world, and as it relates to your eternal happiness in the world to come.

      This performance of Providence for you very much concerns your present comfort in this world. All the rooms in this great house are not alike pleasant and commodious for the inhabitants of it. You read of 'the dark places of the earth,' which 'are full of the habitations of cruelty' (Psalm 74:20); and many such dismal places are found in the habitable earth. What a vast tract of the world lies as a waste wilderness!

      Suppose your mothers had brought you forth in America, among the savage Indians, who herd together as brute beasts, are scorched with heat, and starved with cold, being naked, destitute and defenseless. How poor, miserable, and unprovided with earthly comfort and accommodations are many millions of the inhabitants of this world! What mercies do you enjoy in respect of the amenity, fertility, temperature, and civility of the place of your habitation? What is it but a garden enclosed out of a wilderness? I may without partiality or vanity say, God has, even upon temporal accounts, provided you with one of the healthiest, pleasantest, and in all respects the best furnished room in all the great house of this world. Hear what our own chronicler says of it: 'It is the fortunate island, the paradise of pleasure, the garden of God; whose valleys are like Eden, whose hills are as Lebanon, whose springs are as Pisgah, whose rivers are as Jordan, whose wall is the ocean, and whose defense is the Lord Jehovah.'

      You are here provided with necessary and comfortable accommodations for your bodies, that a great part of the world are unacquainted with. It is not with the poorest among us, as it is said to be with the poor Russians, whose poverty pinches and bites with such sharp teeth that their poor cry at the doors: 'Give me and cut me! give me and kill me!'

      Do not say that the barbarous nations excel you in that they possess the mines of silver and gold, which it may be you think enough to make up for all other inconveniences of life. Alas, poor creatures! better had it been for them if their country had brought forth briars and thorns, instead of gold, silver, and precious stones; for this has been the occasion of ruining all their other comforts in this world, this has invited their cruel avaricious enemies among them, under whose servitude they groan and die without mercy, and thousands of them have chosen death rather than life on the terms they enjoyed it. And why might not your lot have fallen there as well as where it is? Are not they made of the same clay and endowed with as good a nature as yourselves? O what a distinction has divine mercy made, where nature made none! Consider, ungrateful man, you might have fallen into some of those regions where a tainted air frequently cloys the jaws of death, where the inhabitants differ very little from the beasts in the manner of their living; but God has provided for you, and given the poorest among us far better accommodations of life than the greatest among them are ordinarily provided with. O what Providence has done for you!

      But all that I have said is very inconsiderable in comparison with the spiritual mercies and advantages you here enjoy for your souls. O this is such an advantageous cast of Providence for you as obliges you to a thankful acknowledgment of it to all eternity. For let us here make but a few suppositions in the case before us, and the glory of Providence will shine like a sunbeam full in your faces.

      Suppose it had been your lot to have fallen in any of those vast continents possessed by pagans and heathens at this day, who bow down to the stock of a tree, and worship the host of heaven. This is the case of millions, and millions of millions, for pagan idolaters, as that searching scholar, Brerewood, informs us, do not only fill the circumference of nine hundred miles in Europe, but almost the one half of Africa, more than the half of Asia, and almost the whole of America.

      O how deplorable had your case been if a pagan idolatress had brought you forth, and idolatry had been sucked in with your mother's milk! Then, in all probability, you had been at this day worshipping devils, and racing at full speed in the direct road to damnation, for these are the people of God's wrath: 'Pour out thy fury upon the heathen that know thee not, and upon the families that call not upon thy name' (Jeremiah 10:25). How dreadful is that imprecation against them, which takes hold of them and all that is theirs! 'Confounded be all they that serve graven images, that boast themselves of idols' (Psalm 97:7).

      Or suppose your lot had fallen among Mahometans, who next to pagans spread over the greatest tract of the earth, for though Arabia bred that unclean bird, yet that cage could not long contain him; for not only the Arabians, but the Persians, Turks, and Tartars, do all bow down their backs under that grand impostor. This poison has dispersed itself through the veins of Asia, over a great part of Africa, even the circumference of seven thousand miles, and does not stop there, but has tainted a considerable part of Europe also.

      Had your lot fallen here, O what unhappy men and women had you been, notwithstanding the natural amenity and pleasantness of your native soil! You had then adored a grand impostor, and died in a fool's paradise. Instead of God's living oracles, you had been, as they now are, deceived to your eternal ruin with such fond, mad and wild dreams, as whoso considers would think the authors had more need of manacles and fetters than arguments or sober answers.

      Or if neither of these had been your lot, suppose you had been emptied by the womb of nature into this little spot of the earth which is Christianized by profession, but nevertheless for the most part overrun by popish idolatry and anti-christian delusions. What unhappy men and women had you been had you sucked a Popish breast! for his people are to be the subjects of the vials of God's wrath to be poured out successively upon them (Revelation 16), and the Scriptures in round and plain language tell us what their fate must be: 'And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie, that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness' (2 Thessalonians 2:11, 12).

      Nay, you might have fallen into the same land in which your habitation now is, and yet have had no advantage by it as to salvation, if He that chose the bounds of your habitation had not also graciously 'determined the times' for you (Acts 17:26).

      Suppose your lot had fallen where it is, during the pagan state of England, where for many hundred years were gross and vile idolaters. Thick darkness overspread the people of this island and, as in other countries, the devil was worshipped, and his lying oracles zealously believed.

      The shaking of the top of Jupiter's oak in Dodona, the cauldron smitten with the rod in the hand of Jupiter's image, the laurel and fountain in Daphne: these were the ordinances on which the poor deluded wretches waited. So in this nation they worshipped idols also. The sun and moon were adored for gods, together with many abominable idols which our ancestors worshipped and whose memorials are not to this day quite obliterated among us.

      Or suppose our lot had fallen in those later miserable days in which Queen Mary sent so many hundreds to heaven in a fiery chariot, when the poor Protestants skulked up and down in holes and woods to preserve themselves from popish inquisitors, who, like bloodhounds, hunted up and down through all the cities, towns and villages of the nation, to seek out the poor sheep of Christ for a prey.

      But such has been the special care of Providence towards us, that our turn to be brought upon the stage of this world was graciously reserved for better days, so that if we had had our own option, we could not have chosen for ourselves as Providence has done. We are not only furnished with the best room in this great house, but before we were put into it, it was swept with the broom of national Reformation from idolatry, yea, and washed by the blood of martyrs from popish filthiness, and adorned with Gospel lights, shining in as great lustre in our days, as ever they did since the apostles' days. You might have been born in England for many ages, and not have found a Christian in it; yea, and since Christianity was here owned, and not have met a Protestant in it. O what an obligation has Providence laid you under, by such a merciful performance as this for you!

      If you say: 'All this indeed is true, but what is this to eternal salvation? Do not multitudes that enjoy these privileges eternally perish notwithstanding them; yea, and perish with an aggravation of sin and misery beyond other sinners?'

      True, they do so, and it is very sad that it should be so; but yet we cannot deny this to be a very choice and singular mercy, to be born in such a land, and at such a time. For let us consider what helps for salvation men here enjoy, beyond what they could enjoy had their lot fallen according to the forementioned suppositions.

      Here we enjoy the ordinary means of salvation, which elsewhere men are denied and cut off from. So that if any among the heathen are saved and brought to Christ, it must be in some miraculous or extraordinary way, for 'how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard, and how shall they hear without a preacher?' (Romans 10:14). Alas! were there a desire awakened in any of their hearts after a Gospel-discovery of salvation, which ordinarily is not nor can be rationally supposed, yet, poor creatures, they might travel from sea to sea to hear the Word, and not find it; whereas you can hardly miss the opportunities of hearing the Gospel. Sermons meet you frequently, so that you can scarcely shun or avoid the ordinances and instruments of your salvation. And is this nothing? Christ even forces Himself upon us.

      Here, in this age of the world, the common prejudices against Christianity are removed by the advantage it has of a public profession among the people, and protection by the laws of the country. Whereas were your habitation among Jews, Mahometans, or heathen idolaters, you would find Christ and Christianity the common odium of the country, every one defying and deriding both name and thing, and such yourselves likely had been, if your birth and education had been among them. For you may observe that whatever is traditionally delivered down from father to son, every one is fond of and zealous [for] in its defense. The Jews, heathens and Mahometans are at this day so tenacious of their errors that, with spitting, hissing, and clapping of hands, and all other signs of indignation and abhorrence, they chase away all others from among them.

      Is it not then a special mercy to you to be cast into such a country and age, where, as a learned divine observes, the true religion has the same advantages over every false one, as in other countries they have over it? Here you have the presence of precious means, and the absence of soul-destroying prejudices -- two signal mercies.

      Here, in this age of the world, Christianity confronts you as soon as you are capable of any sense or impressions of religion upon you; and so, by an happy anticipation, blocks up the passages by which a false religion would else certainly enter. Here you suck in the first notions and principles of Christianity, even with the mother's milk, and certainly such a prepossession is a choice advantage. Quo semel est imbuta, recens servabit odorem testa diu. (For many a day the pot will keep the scent of that which first it held, when freshly baked.) 'Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it' (Proverbs 22:6).

      Here you have, or may have, the help and assistance of Christians to direct your way, resolve your doubts, support your burdens and help you through those difficulties that attend the new birth. Alas! if a poor soul had any beginnings or faint workings and stirrings after Christ and true religion in many other countries, the hand of every man would presently he against him, and none would be found to relieve, assist or encourage, as you may see in that example of Galeacius. The nearest relations would, in that case, prove the greatest enemies, the country would quickly hoot at him as a monster and cry: 'Away with the heretic to the prison or stake.'

      Whether these eventually prove blessings to your souls or not, certain I am that in themselves they are singular mercies, and helps to salvation that are denied to millions besides you. So that if Plato when he was near his death could bless God for three things, viz., that he was a man and not a beast, that he was born in Greece, and that he was brought up in the time of Socrates, much more cause have you to admire Providence, that you are men and not beasts; that you were born in England, and that you are brought up in Gospel days. This is a land the Lord has espied for you, as the expression is (Ezekiel 20:6), and concerning it you have abundant cause to say, as in another case the Psalmist does: 'The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage' (Psalm 16:6).

      Another performance of Providence which must be carefully noticed and weighed is the designation of the stock and family out of which we should spring and rise. And truly this is of special consideration, both as to our temporal and eternal good. For whether the families in which we grew up were great or small in Israel, whether our parents were of the higher or lower class and rank among men, yet if they were such as feared God and wrought righteousness, if they took any care to educate you religiously and train you up 'in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,' you are bound to reckon it among your chief mercies, that you sprang from the loins of such parents, for from this spring a double stream of mercy rises to you.

      First, temporal and external mercies to your outward man. You cannot but know that as godliness entails a blessing, so wickedness and unrighteousness a curse upon posterity. An instance of the former you have in Genesis 17:18-20; on the contrary you have the threatening, Zechariah 5:4, and both together in this passage 'The curse of the LORD is in the house of the wicked; but he blesseth the habitation of the just' (Proverbs 3:33). True it is that both these imply the children's treading in the steps of their parents (Ezekiel 18), but how frequently is it seen that wicked men breed their children vainly and wickedly; so that as it is said of Abijam: 'and he walked in all the sins of his father, which he had done before him' (1 Kings 15:3); and so the curse is entailed from generation to generation. To escape this curse is a choice providence.

      But especially take notice what a stream of spiritual blessings and mercies flows from this Providence to the inner man. O, it is no common mercy to descend from pious parents. Some of us do not only owe our natural life to them, as instruments of our beings, but our spiritual and eternal life also. It was no small mercy to Timothy to be descended from such progenitors (2 Timothy 1:5), nor to Augustine that he had such a mother as Monica, who planted in his mind the precepts of life with her words, watered them with her tears, and nourished them with her example. We will a little more particularly inspect this mercy, and in so doing we shall find manifold mercies contained in it.

      What a mercy was it to us to have parents that prayed for us before they had us, as well as in our infancy, when we could not pray for ourselves? Thus did Abraham (Genesis 15:2) and Hannah (1 Samuel 1:10, 11), and probably some here are the fruits and returns of their parents' prayers. This was that holy course they continued all their days for you, carrying all your concerns, especially your eternal ones, before the Lord with their own; and pouring out their souls to God so affectionately for you, when their eye-strings and heart-strings were breaking. O put a value upon such mercies, for they are precious. It is a greater mercy to descend from praying parents than from the loins of nobles. See Job's pious practice (Job 1:5).

      What a special mercy was it to us to have the excrescences of corruption nipped in the bud by their pious and careful discipline! We now understand what a critical and dangerous season youth is, the wonderful proclivity of that age to every thing that is evil. Why else are they called youthful lusts (2 Timothy 2:22)? When David asks: 'Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?' it is plainly enough implied in the very question that the way he takes lies through the pollutions of the world in his youth (Psalm 119:9). When you find a David praying that God would 'not remember the sins of my youth' (Psalm 25:7), and a Job bitterly complaining that God 'made me to possess the iniquities of my youth' (Job 13:26), surely you cannot but reflect with a very thankful heart upon those happy means by which the corruption of your nature was happily prevented, or restrained in your youth.

      And how great a mercy was it that we had parents who carefully instilled the good knowledge of God into our souls in our tender years? How diligent was Abraham in this duty (Genesis 18:19), and David (1 Chronicles 28:9)! We have some of us had parents who might say to us, as the apostle: 'My little children of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you' (Galatians 4:19). As they longed for us before they had us and rejoiced in us when they had us, so they could not endure to think that when they could have us no more, the devil should. As they thought no pains, care or cost too much for our bodies, to feed them, clothe and heal them; so did they think no prayers, counsels, or tears, too much for our souls, that they might be saved. They knew a parting time would come between them and us, and did strive to make it as easy and comfortable to them as they could, by leaving us in Christ and within the blessed bond of His covenant.

      They were not glad that we had health and indifferent whether we had grace. They felt the miseries of our souls as much as of our bodies; and nothing was more desirable to them than that they might say in the great day: Lord, here am I and the children which thou hast given me.

      And was it not a special favour to us to have parents that went before us as patterns of holiness, and beat the path to heaven for us by their examples? They could say to us: 'those things ye have heard and seen in me, do' (Philippians 4:9); and 'be ye followers of me, as also I am of Christ' (1 Corinthians 11:1). The parents' life is the child's copy. O, it is no common mercy to have a fair copy set before us, especially in the molding age; we saw what they did, as well as heard what they said. It was Abraham's commendation, 'that he commanded his children, and his household after him, to keep the way of the LORD.' And such mercies some of us have had also.

      Ah, my friends, let me beg you that you will take special notice of this Providence which so graciously wrought for you; and that your hearts may be more thoroughly warmed in the sense of it, compare your condition with others, and seriously consider the following.

      How many children there are among us that are drawn headlong to hell by their cruel and ungodly parents, who teach them to curse and swear as soon as they can speak! Many families there are in which little other language is heard but what is the dialect of hell. These, like the old logs and small spray, are preparing for the fire of hell, where they must burn together. Of such children that Scripture will one day be verified, except they repent: 'He shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light' (Psalm 49:19).

      And how many families there are, though not so profane, who yet breed up their children vainly and sensually, and take no care what becomes of their souls, if they can but provide for their bodies (Job 21:11)! If they can but teach them to carry their bodies, no matter if the devil actuate their souls. If they can but leave them lands or monies, they think they have very fully discharged their duties. O, what will the language be with which such parents and children shall greet each other at the judgment-seat, and in hell for ever!

      And how many there are who are more sober and yet hate the least appearances of godliness in their children. Instead of cherishing, they do all that they can to break bruised reeds and quench smoking flax, to stifle and strangle the first appearances and offers they make towards Christ! They would rather accompany them to their graves than to Christ, doing all that in them lies, Herod-like, to kill Christ in the cradle! Ah, sirs, you little know what a mercy you enjoy or have enjoyed in godly parents and what a good lot Providence cast for you in this affair of your bodies and souls.

      If any shall say this was not their case, they had little help heavenward from their parents, to such I reply as follows.

      If you had little furtherance, yet own it as a special providence that you had no hindrance; or if you had opposition, yet admire the grace of God in plucking you out by a wonderful distinguishing hand of mercy from among them and keeping alive the languishing sparks of grace amidst the floods of opposition. And learn from hence, if God give you a posterity of your own, to be so much the more strict and careful of family duties, by how much you have acutely felt the want of it in yourselves.

      But seeing such a train of blessings, both as to this life and that to come, follow upon an holy education of children, I will not dismiss the point till I have discharged my duty in exhorting parents and children to their duties.

      And first for you that are parents, or to whom the education of children is committed, I beseech you mind the duty which lies on you. That I may effectually press it, consider how near the relation is between you and your children, and therefore how much you are concerned in their happiness or misery. Consider but the Scripture account of the dearness of such relations, expressed by longings for them (Genesis 15:2; 30:1), by our joy when we have them, as Christ expresses it (John 16:21), the high value set on them (Genesis 42:38), the sympathy with them in all their troubles (Mark 9:22) and by our sorrow at parting (Genesis 37:35). Now shall all this be to no purpose? For to what purpose do we desire them before we have them, rejoice in them when we have them, value them so highly, sympathize with them so tenderly, grieve for their death so excessively, if in the meantime no care be taken what shall become of them to eternity?

      Consider how God has charged you with their souls, as well as bodies, and this appears by precepts directly laid upon you (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7; Ephesians 6:4) and by precepts laid on them to obey you (Ephesians 6:1), which plainly implies your duty as well as expresses theirs.

      What shall comfort you at the parting time, if they die through your neglect in a Christless condition? O this is the cutting consideration: My child is in hell, and I did nothing to prevent it! I helped him there. Duty discharged is the only root of comfort in that day.

      If you neglect to instruct them in the way of holiness, will the devil neglect to instruct them in the way of wickedness? No, no, if you will not teach them to pray, he will teach them to curse, swear and lie. If ground be uncultivated, weeds will spring up.

      If the season of their youth is neglected, how little probability is there of any good fruit afterwards? Youth is the molding age (Proverbs 22:6). How few are converted in old age? A twig is brought to any form, but grown limbs will not bend.

      You are instrumental causes of all their spiritual misery, and that by generation and imitation. They lie spiritually dead of the plague which you brought home among them: 'Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive [or warm] me' (Psalm 51:5)

      There is none in the world so likely as you to be instruments of their eternal good. You have peculiar advantages that no one else has; such as the interest you have in their affections; your opportunities to instill the knowledge of Christ into them, being daily with them (Deuteronomy 6:7); your knowledge of their character. If therefore you neglect, who shall help them?

      Again, the consideration of the great day should move your bowels of pity for them. O remember that text: 'And I saw the dead small and great stand before God' (Revelation 20:12). What a sad thing will it be, to see your dear children at Christ's left hand? O friends, do your utmost to prevent this misery. 'Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.'

      And you, children, especially you that sprang from religious parents. I beseech you, obey their counsels, and tread in the steps of their pious examples. To press this, I offer the following considerations:

      Your disobedience to them is a resisting of God's authority: 'Children, obey your parents in the Lord' (Ephesians 6:1). There is the command; your rebellion therefore runs higher than you think. It is not man, but God that you disobey; and for your disobedience God will punish you. It may be their tenderness will not suffer them, or you are grown beyond their correction. All they can do is to complain to God, and if so, He will handle you more severely than they could do.

      Your sin is greater than the sin of young heathens and infidels; and so will your account be also. O better, if a wicked child, that you had been the offspring of savage Indians, nay, of beasts, than of such parents. So many counsels disobeyed, hopes and prayers frustrated, will turn to sad aggravations.

      It is usual with God to retaliate men's disobedience to their parents in kind; commonly our own children shall pay us home for it. I have read in a grave author of a wicked wretch that dragged his father along the house. The father begged him not to drag him beyond such a place, for, said he, I dragged my father no further. Oh, the sad, but just retributions of God!

      And for you in whose hearts grace has been planted by the blessing of education, I beseech you to admire God's goodness to you in this providence. O what a happy lot has God cast for you! How few children are partakers of your mercies!

      See that you honour such parents; the tie is double upon you so to do. Be you the joy of their hearts, and comfort of their lives, if they are alive. If not, yet still remember the mercy while you live, and tread in their pious path, that you and they may both rejoice together in the great day, and bless God for each other to all eternity.

Back to John Flavel index.

See Also:
   Author's Introduction
   Chapter 1 - The Work of Providence for the Saints
   Chapter 2 - Our Birth and Upbringing
   Chapter 3 - The Work of Conversion
   Chapter 4 - Our Employment
   Chapter 5 - Family Affairs
   Chapter 6 - Preservation of the Saints from Evil
   Chapter 7 - The Work of Sanctification
   Chapter 8 - The Duty of Meditation on Providence
   Chapter 9 - How to Meditate on the Providence of God
   Chapter 10 - The Advantages of Meditating on Providence
   Chapter 11 - Practical Implications for the Saints
   Chapter 12 - Practical Problems in Connection with Providence
   Chapter 13 - The Advantages of Recording our Experiences of Providence


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