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The Mystery of Providence: Chapter 12 - Practical Problems in Connection with Providence

By John Flavel

      How may a Christian discover the will of God and his own duty under dark and doubtful providences?

      In order to answer this question we must consider what is meant by the will of God and what by those doubtful providences that make the discovery of His will difficult and what rules are to be observed for ascertaining God's will for us under such difficult and puzzling providences.

      As to the will of God, it falls under a twofold consideration of His secret and revealed will. This distinction is found in that Scripture: 'The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us' (Deuteronomy 29:29). The first is the rule of His own actions; the latter of ours, and this only is concerned in the query.

      This revealed will of God is either manifested to us in His Word or in His works. The former is His commanding will, the latter His effecting or permitting will, the one concerning good, the other evil. In these ways God manifests His will to men, but yet with great variety and difference, both as to the things revealed, the persons to whom He reveals them, and the degrees of clearness in which they are revealed.

      As to the things revealed, there is great difference. The great and necessary duties of religion are revealed to us in the Word with the greatest perspicuity and evidence; about these there can he no hesitation. But things of a lower nature and lesser concern are bit more obscure. As to the persons to whom God reveals His will, there is great difference. Some are strong men, others babes (1 Corinthians 3:1). Some have senses exercised, others are of weak and dull understanding; and we know everything is received according to the ability and measure of the person receiving it. Hence it is that one man's way is very plain before him, he knows what he ought to do; the other is ever and anon at a loss, dubious and uncertain what to do.

      The manner of God's revealing His will to men is also very varied. Some have had special, personal and peculiar discoveries of it made to them. So had Samuel about the choice of the person whom he should anoint king (1 Samuel 9:15, 16). And so had David, for you find upon his inquiry of God, (probably by the Urim and Thummim), God told him what was his duty as to that expedition and what would be the event of it (1 Samuel 23:2, 4, 9-12).

      But now, all are tied up to the ordinary standing rule of the written word and must not expect any such extraordinary revelations from God. The way we now have to know the will of God concerning us in difficult cases is to search and study the Scriptures, and where we find no particular rule to guide us in this or that particular case, there we are to apply general rules and govern ourselves according to the analogy and proportion they bear towards each other.

      Now it often falls out that in such doubtful cases we are entangled in our own thoughts, and put to a loss what course to take. We pray with David that God would make His way straight before us (Psalm 5:8). Afraid we are of displeasing God and yet fearful we may do so, whether we resolve this way or that. And this comes to pass not only through the difficulty of the case but from our own ignorance and carelessness; and very frequently from those providences that lie before us, in which God seems to hint His mind to us, this way or that, and whether we may safely guide ourselves by those intimations of Providence is doubtful to us.

      That God does give men secret hints and intimations of His will by His Providence cannot be doubted; but yet providences in themselves are no staple rule of duty nor sufficient discovery of the will of God. We may say of them: 'Behold, I go forward, but he is not there: and backward, but I cannot perceive him: on the left hand where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him' (Job 23:8, 9).

      If Providence in itself is allowed to be a sufficient means of knowing God's will for us, then we shall often be forced to justify and condemn the same cause or person, forasmuch as there is one event happens to all, and as it falls out to the good, so to the wicked (Ecclesiastes 9:2). Besides, if Providence alone were the rule to judge any action or design by, then a wicked undertaking would cease to be so, if it should succeed well; but sin is sin still and duty is duty still whatever the events and issues.

      The safest way therefore to make use of providences in such cases is to consider them as they follow the commands or promises of the Word and not singly and separately in themselves. If you search the Scriptures with an impartial and unbiased spirit, in a doubtful case, pray for counsel and direction from the Lord, attend to the dictates of conscience. And when you have done all, you will find the providences of God falling out agreeably to the dictates of your own conscience and the best light you can find in the Word. You may in such cases make use of it as an encouragement to you in the way of your duty. But the most signal demonstrations of Providence are not to be accepted against a Scripture rule. No smiles or successes of Providence may in this encourage us to proceed; and on the other side, no frowns or discouragements of Providence should discourage us in the way of our duty, however many we should encounter therein. Holy Job could not find the meaning of God in His works, yet would he not go back from the commandments of His lips (Job 23:12). The like resolution you find in David to proceed in his duty and cleave to the Word, however many stumbling-blocks Providence should permit to be laid in his way. 'For I am become,' saith he, 'like a bottle in the smoke,' not only black, but withered up by troubles, 'yet do I not forget thy statutes' (Psalm 119:83), and 'They had almost consumed me upon earth: but I forsook not thy precepts' (verse 87).

      Paul, by the direction of the Spirit, was engaged to go to Jerusalem (Acts 20:22). After a clear revelation of the mind of God to him in that matter, how many difficult and discouraging providences befell him in his way! The disciples at Tyre said to him 'through the Spirit,' though in that they followed their own spirits, 'that he should not go to Jerusalem' (Acts 21:4).

      Then at Caesarea he met Agabus a prophet, who told him what should befall him when he came there (Acts 21:10, 11), but all this will not dissuade him. And after all this, how passionately do the brethren beseech him to decline that journey (verses 12, 13)! Yet knowing his rule and resolving to be faithful to it, he puts by all and proceeds in his journey.

      Well then, Providence in concurrence with the Word may give some encouragement to us in our way; but no testimony of Providence is to be accepted against the Word. If Scripture and conscience tell you such a way is sinful, you may not venture upon it, however many opportunities and encouragements Providence may permit to offer themselves to you, for they are only permitted for your trial, not your encouragement. Take this therefore for a sure rule, that no providence can legitimize or justify any moral evil. Nor will it be a plea before God for any man to say, The providence of God gave me encouragement to do it, though the Word gave me none. If therefore in doubtful cases you would discover God's will, govern yourselves in your search after it by the following rules:

      (1) Get the true fear of God upon your hearts. Be really afraid of offending Him. God will not hide His mind from such a soul. 'The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant' (Psalm 25:14).

      (2) Study the Word more, and the concerns and interests of the world less. The Word is a light to your feet (Psalm 119:105), that is, it has a discovering and directing usefulness as to all duties to be done and dangers to be avoided. It is the great oracle at which you are to inquire. Treasure up its rules in your hearts, and you will walk safely. 'Thy Word have I hid in mine heart that I might not sin against thee' (Psalm 119:11).

      (3) Reduce what you know into practice, and you shall know what is your duty to practice. 'If any man do his will he shall know of the doctrine' (John 7:17). 'A good understanding have all they that do his commandments (Psalm 111:10).

      (4) Pray for illumination and direction in the way that you should go. Beg the Lord to guide you in straits and that He would not permit you to fall into sin. This was the holy practice of Ezra: 'Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance' (Ezra 8:21).

      (5) And this being done, follow Providence so far as it agrees with the Word and no further. There is no use to be made of Providence against the Word, but in subservience to it. And there are two excellent uses of Providence in subservience to the Word. Providences, as they follow promises and prayer are evidences of God's faithfulness in their accomplishment. When David languished under a disease, and his enemies began to triumph in the hopes of his downfall, he prays that God would be merciful to him and raise him up (Psalm 41:10); and by that, he says, he knew the Lord favored him, because his enemy did not triumph over him (verse 11). This providence he looked upon as a token for good, as elsewhere he calls it (Psalm 86:17). Also providences give us loud calls to those duties which the command lays upon us and tell us when we are actually and presently under the obligation of the commands as to the performance of them. Thus when sad providences befall the Church or ourselves, they call us to humiliation; and let us know that then the command upon us to humble ourselves at the feet of God is in force upon us. 'The LORD's voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall see thy name. Hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it' (Micah 6:9). The rod has a voice, and what does it speak? Why, now is the time to humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God. This is the day of trouble, in which God has bid you to call upon Him. And on the contrary, when comfortable providences refresh us, it now informs us this is the time to rejoice in God, according to the rule: 'In the day of prosperity be joyful' (Ecclesiastes 7:14). These precepts bind always, but not to always. It is our duty therefore and our wisdom to distinguish seasons, and know the proper duties of every season; and Providence is an index that points them out to us. Thus far with the first case.

      How may a Christian be supported in waiting upon God, while Providence delays the performance of the mercies to him for which he has long prayed and waited?

      It is supposed in this case that Providence may linger and delay the performance of those mercies to us that we have long waited and prayed for, and that during that delay and suspense our hearts and hopes may be very low and ready to fail.

      Providence truly may long delay the performance of those mercies we have prayed and waited upon God for. For the right understanding of this, know that there is a twofold term or season fixed for the performance of mercy to us: one by the Lord our God in whose hand are times and seasons (Acts 1:7), another by ourselves who raise up our own expectations of mercies, sometimes merely through the eagerness of our desires after them and sometimes upon uncertain conjectural grounds and appearances of encouragement that lie before us.

      Now nothing can be more precise, certain and punctual than is the performance of mercy at the time and season which God has appointed, however long it is, or however many obstacles lie in the way of it. There was a time prefixed by God Himself for the performance of that promise of Israel's deliverance out of Egypt; and it is said: 'And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the self-same day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the LORD went out of the land of Egypt' (Exodus 12:41). Compare this with Acts 7:17, and there you have the ground and reason why their deliverance was not, nor could be delayed one day longer, because 'the time of the promise was now come.' Promises, like a pregnant woman, must accomplish their appointed months, and when they have so done, Providence will midwife the mercies they go big with into the world, and not one of them shall miscarry.

      But for the seasons which are of our own fixing and appointment, as God is not tied to them, so His providences are not governed by them; and here are our disappointments, 'We looked for peace, but no good came; and for a time of health, and behold trouble' (Jeremiah 8:15), and this is why we fret at the delays of Providence, and suspect the faithfulness of God in their performance, but His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). 'The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness' (2 Peter 3:9). It is slackness if you reckon by your own rule and measure, but it is not so if you reckon and count by God's. The Lord does not compute and reckon His seasons of working by our arithmetic. You have both these rules compared, and the ground of our mistake detected in that Scripture: 'For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it: because it will surely come, it will not tarry' (Habakkuk 2:3). God appoints the time; when that appointed time is come the expected mercies will not fail. But in the meantime, 'though it tarry,' says the prophet, 'wait for it, for it will not tarry.' Tarry, and not tarry, how shall this be reconciled? The meaning is, it may tarry much beyond your expectation, but not a moment beyond God's appointment.

      During this delay of Providence the hearts and hopes of the people of God may be very low and much discouraged. This is too plain from what the Scriptures have recorded of others, and every one of us may find in our own experiences. We have an instance of this in Isaiah, where you have God's faithful promise that He will comfort His people, 'and will have mercy upon his afflicted' (49:13). Enough, one would think, to raise and comfort their hearts. But the mercy promised was long in coming, they waited from year to year, and still the burden pressed them and was not removed. And therefore 'Zion said, the LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me' (verse 14); that is, it is in vain to look for such a mercy. God has no regard to us, we are out of His heart and mind; He neither cares for us nor minds what becomes of us.

      So it was with David, after God had made him such a promise, and in due time so faithfully performed it, that never was mercy better secured to any man, for they are called, 'the sure mercies of David' (Isaiah 55:3), yet Providence delayed the accomplishment of them so long, and permitted such difficulties to intervene, that he despairs to see the accomplishment of them, but even concludes God had forgotten him too, 'How long wilt thou forget me, O LORD? for ever?' (Psalm 13:1), and what he speaks here by way of question, he elsewhere turns into a positive conclusion: 'All men are liars' (Psalm 116:11), 'I shall one day perish by the hand of Saul.' And the causes of these despondencies and sinkings of heart are partly from ourselves and partly from Satan.

      If we duly examine our own hearts about it, we shall find that these sinkings of heart are the immediate effects of unbelief. We do not depend and rely upon the Word with that full trust and confidence that is due to the infallible Word of a faithful and unchangeable God. You may see the ground of this faintness in that Scripture: 'I had fainted unless I had believed' (Psalm 27:13). Faith is the only cordial that relieves the heart against these faintings and despondencies. Where this is wanting, or is weak, no wonder our hearts sink at this rate, when discouragements are before us.

      Our judging and measuring things by the rules of sense, this is a great cause of our discouragements. We conclude that according to the appearance of things will be their issues. If Abraham had done so, in that great trial of his faith, he had certainly lost his footing; but 'against hope', that is, against natural probability, he 'believed in hope, . . . giving glory to God' (Romans 4:18, 20). If Paul had done so, he had fainted under his trials. We faint not, said he, while we look not at the things that are seen (2 Corinthians 4:16, 18); as much as to say, that which keeps up our spirits is our looking off from things present and visible, and measuring all by another rule, viz., the power and fidelity of God firmly engaged in the promises.

      In all these things Satan schemes against us. Hence he takes occasion to suggest hard thoughts of God, and to beat off our souls from all confidence in Him, and expectations from Him. He is the great mischief-maker between God and the saints. He reports and exploits the difficulties and fears that are in our way, and labours to weaken our hands and discourage our hearts in waiting upon God. And these suggestions gain the more credit with us, because they are confirmed and attested by sense and feeling.

      But here is a desperate design carrying on under very plausible pretenses against our souls. It concerns us to be watchful now, and maintain our faith and hope in God. Now blessed is he that can resign all to God, and quietly wait for His salvation (Lamentations 3:26). To assist the soul in this difficulty, I shall offer some further help in the following considerations:

      Though Providence does not yet perform the mercies you wait for, yet you have no ground to entertain hard thoughts of God, for it is possible God never gave you any ground for your expectation of these things from Him.

      It may be you have no promise to build your hope upon, and if so, why shall God be suspected and dishonored by you in a case in which His truth and faithfulness was never engaged to you? If we are thwarted in our outward concerns, and see our expectations of prosperity dashed, if we see such and such an outward comfort removed, from which we promised ourselves much, why must God be blamed for this? These things you promised yourselves, but where did God promise you prosperity and the continuance of those comfortable things to you? Produce His promise, and show where He has broken it. It is not enough for you to say there are general promises in the Scripture, that God will withhold no good thing, and these are good things which Providence withholds from you; for that promise (Psalm 84:11) has its limitations, it is expressly limited to such as 'walk uprightly.' It concerns you to examine whether you have done so, before you quarrel with Providence for non-performance of it. Ah, friend, search your own heart, reflect upon your own ways. Do you not see so many flaws in your integrity, so many turnings aside from God, both in heart and life, that may justify God, not only in withholding what you look for, but in removing all that you enjoy? And besides this limitation as to the object, it is limited (as all other promises relating to externals are) in the matter or things premised by the wisdom and will of God, which is the only rule by which they are measured out to men in this world, that is, such mercies in such proportions as He sees needful and most conducive to your good; and these given out in such times and seasons as are of His own appointment, not yours.

      God never came under an absolute unlimited tie for outward comforts to any of us, and if we are disappointed, we can blame none but ourselves. Who bid us expect rest, ease, delight, and things of that kind in this world? He has never told us we shall be rich, healthy, and at ease in our habitations, but on the contrary, He has often told us we must expect troubles in the world (John 16:33), and that we must 'through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God' (Acts 14:22). All that He stands bound to us by promise for is to be with us in trouble (Psalm 91:15), to supply our real and absolute needs. 'When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the LORD will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them' (Isaiah 41:17); and to sanctify all these providences to our good at last. 'And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose' (Romans 8:28). And as to all these things, not one tittle ever did or shall fail.

      If you say you have long waited upon God for spiritual mercies to your souls according to the promise, and still those mercies are deferred, and your eyes fail while you look for them, I would desire you seriously to consider of what kind those spiritual mercies are for which you have so long waited upon God.

      Spiritual mercies are of two sorts: such as belong to the essence, the very being of the new creature, without which it must fail, or to its well-being and the comfort of the inner man, without which you cannot live so cheerfully as you would. The mercies of the former kind are absolutely necessary, and therefore put into absolute promises, as you see, 'And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me' (Jeremiah 32:40). But for the rest they are dispensed to us in such measures and at such seasons as the Lord sees fit, and many of His own people live for a long time without them. The donation and continuation of the Spirit, to quicken, sanctify, and unite us with Christ, is necessary, but His joys and comforts are not so. A child of light may walk 'in darkness' (Isaiah 50:10). He lives by faith, and not by feeling.

      You complain that Providence delays to perform to you the mercies you have prayed and waited for, but have you right ends in your desires after these mercies?

      It may be that this is the cause you ask and receive not (James 4:3). The lack of a good aim is the reason why we lack good success in our prayers. It may be we pray for prosperity, and our aim is to please the flesh. We look no higher than the pleasure and accommodation of the flesh. We beg and wait for deliverance from such a trouble and affliction, not that we might be the more ready and prepared for obedience, but freed of what is grievous to us and destroys our pleasure in the world. Certainly, if it is so, you have more need to judge and condemn yourselves, than to censure and suspect the care of God.

      You wait for good, and it does not come; but is your will brought to a due submission to the will of God about it?

      Certainly, God will have you come to this before you enjoy your desires. Enjoyment of your desires is the thing that will please you, but resignation of your wills is that which is pleasing to God. If your hearts cannot come to this, mercies cannot come to you. David was made to wait long for the mercy promised him, yea, and to be content without it before he enjoyed it. He was brought to he 'as a weaned child' (Psalm 131:2), and so must you.

      Your betters have waited long upon God for mercy, and why should not you?

      David waited till his 'eyes failed' (Psalm 69:3). The Church waited for Him in the way of His judgments (Isaiah 26:8). Are you better than all the saints that are gone before you? Is God more obliged to you than to all His people? They have quietly waited, and why should not you?

      Will you lose anything by patient waiting upon God for mercies?

      Certainly not! Yea, it will turn to a double advantage to you to continue in a quiet submissive waiting posture upon God. For though you do not yet enjoy the good you wait for, yet all this while you are exercising your grace; and it is more excellent to act grace than to enjoy comfort. All this time the Lord is training you up in the exercise of faith and patience, and bending your wills in submission to Himself, and what do you lose by that? Yea, and whenever the desired mercy comes, it will be so much the sweeter to you, for look how much faith and prayer has been employed to produce it, how many wrestlings you have had with God for it, so many more degrees of sweetness you will find in it when it comes. O therefore faint not, however long God delays you.

      Are not those mercies you expect from God worth waiting for?

      If not, it is your folly to be troubled for the lack of them. If they are, why do you not continue waiting? Is it not all that God expects from you for the mercies He bestows upon you, that you wait upon Him for them? You know you have not deserved the least of them at His hands. You expect them, not as a recompense, but as a free favour; and if so, then certainly the least you can do is to wait upon His pleasure for them.

      Consider how many promises are made in the Word to waiting souls.

      One Scripture declares, 'Blessed are all they that wait for him' (Isaiah 30:18). Another tells us that none that wait for him shall be ashamed (Psalm 25:3), that is, they shall not be finally disappointed, but at last be made partakers of their hopes. A third Scripture tells us, 'They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength' (Isaiah 40:31), a promise you had need make much use of in such a fainting time, with many more of like nature; and shall we faint at this rate in the midst of so many cordials as are prepared to revive us in these promises?

      How long has God waited for you to comply with His commands, to come up to your engagements and promises?

      You have made God wait long for your reformation and obedience; and therefore you have no reason to think it much if God makes you wait long for your consolation. We have our 'how longs,' and has not God His? We cry: 'But thou, O LORD, how long?' (Psalm 6:3). 'How long wilt thou forget me, O LORD? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?' (Psalm 13:1, 2). But surely we should not think these things long, when we consider how long the Lord has exercised His patience towards us. We have made Him say, How long, how long? Our unbelief has made Him cry, 'How long will it be ere they believe me?' (Numbers 14:11). Our corrupt hearts have made Him cry, 'How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee?' (Jeremiah 4:14). Our impure natures and ways have made Him cry, 'How long will it be ere they attain to innocency?' (Hosea 8:5). If God wait for you with so much patience for your duties, well may you wait upon Him for His mercies.

      This impatience and infidelity of yours, expressed in your weariness to wait any longer is a great evil in itself.

      Very probably it is that evil which obstructs the way of your expected mercies. You might have your mercies sooner if your spirits were quieter and more submissive. And so much for the second case.

      How may a Christian discern when a providence is sanctified, and comes from the love of God to him?

      There are two sorts or kinds of providences which come to men in this world, the issues and events of which are vastly different, yea, contrary to each other.

      To some all providences are overruled and ordered for good, according to that blessed promise (Romans 8:28); not only things that are good in themselves, as ordinances, graces, duties and mercies, but things that are evil in themselves, as temptations, afflictions, and even their sins and corruptions, shall turn in the issue to their advantage and benefit. For though sin is so intrinsically and formally evil in its own nature, that in itself it is not capable of sanctification, yet out of this worst of evils God can work good to His people. And though He never makes sin the instrument of good, yet His providence may make it the occasion of good to His people, so that spiritual benefits may, by the wise overruling of Providence, be occasioned by it.

      And so for afflictions of all kinds, the greatest and sorest of them, under the influence of Providence bring a great deal of good to the saints, and that not only as the occasions, but as the instruments and means of it. 'By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged' (Isaiah 27:9); that is, by the instrumentality of this sanctified affliction.

      To others nothing is sanctified, either as an instrument or occasion of any spiritual good; but as the worst things are ordered to the benefit of the saints, so the best things wicked men enjoy do them no good. Their prayers are turned into sin (Psalm 109:7), the ordinances are the savour of death (2 Corinthians 2:16), the grace of God turned into wantonness (Jude 4), Christ Himself a rock of offense (1 Peter 2:8), their table a snare (Psalm 69:22), their prosperity their ruin (Proverbs 1:32). As persons are, so things work for good or evil. 'Unto the pure all things are pure; but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure' (Titus 1:15).

      Seeing therefore the events of Providence fall out so opposite to each other upon the godly and ungodly, everything furthering the eternal good of the one, and the ruin of the other, it cannot but be acknowledged a most important case, in which every soul is deeply concerned, whether the providences under which he is, are sanctified to him or not?

      For the understanding of this I shall premise two necessary considerations, and then give the rules which will be useful for the resolution of the question.

      First, let it be considered that we cannot know from the matter of the things before us, whether they are sanctified or unsanctified to us; for 'no man knoweth either love or hatred by all the things that are before him; all things come alike to all' (Ecclesiastes 9:1, 2). We cannot understand the mind and heart of God by the things He dispenses with His hand. If prosperous providences befall us, we cannot say, This is a sure sign that God loves me, for who have more of those providences than the people of His wrath? 'They have more than heart could wish' (Psalm 73:7). Surely that must be a weak evidence for heaven, which accompanies so great a part of the world to hell. By these things we may testify our love to God, but from ten thousand such enjoyments we cannot get any solid assurance of His love to us.

      And from adverse afflictive providences we cannot know His hatred. If afflictions, great afflictions, many afflictions, long-continued afflictions, should set a brand or fix a character of God's hatred upon the persons on whom they fall, where then shall we find God's people in the world? We must then seek out the proud, vain, sensual wantons of the world, who spend their days in pleasure, and say these are the men whom God loves.

      Outward things are promiscuously dispensed, and no man's spiritual state is discernible by the view of his temporal. When God draws the sword, it may 'cut off the righteous as well as the wicked' (Ezekiel 21:3).

      Secondly, though the providences of God materially considered afford no evidence of God's love to us, yet the manner in which they befall us, and the effects and fruits they produce in us, do distinguish them very manifestly; and by them we may discern whether they are sanctified providences and fruits of the love of God, or not. Yet these effects and fruits of providences by which we discern their nature do not always appear immediately; but time must be allowed for the soul's exercise under them. 'Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterwards it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby' (Hebrews 12:11).

      The benefit of a providence is discerned as that of a medicine is. For the present it gripes, and makes the stomach sick and loathing, but afterwards we find the benefit of it in our recovery of health and cheerfulness. Now the providences of God are some of them comfortable, and others sad and grievous to nature, and the way to discern the sanctification and blessing of them is by the manner in which they come, and their operations upon our spirits. I shall consider the case as it respects both sorts of providences, and show you what effects of our troubles or comforts will show them to be sanctified and blessed to us.

      And first for sad and afflictive providences, in whatever kind or degree they befall us, we may warrantably conclude they are blessings to us, and come from the love of God, when they come in a proper season, when we have need of them, either to prevent some sin we are falling into, or recover us out of a remiss, supine, and careless frame of spirit into which we are already fallen. 'If need be, ye are in heaviness' (1 Peter 1:6). Certainly, it is a good sign that God designs your good by those troubles which are so fitted and wisely ordered to meet the need. If you see the husbandman pruning a tree in the proper season, it argues he aims at the fruitfulness and flourishing of it; but to do the same thing at midsummer speaks no regard to it yea, his design to destroy it.

      When our troubles are fitted both for quality and degree to work properly upon our most predominant corruptions, then they look like sanctified strokes. The wisdom of God is much seen in the choice of His rods. It is not any kind of trouble that will work upon and purge every sin; but when God chooses for us such afflictions as, like medicine, are suited to the disease the soul labours under, this speaks divine care and love. Thus we may observe that it is usual with God to smite us in those very comforts which stole away too much of the love and delight of our souls from God, and to cross us in those things from which we raised up too great expectations of comfort. These providences show the jealousy of God over us, and His care to prevent far worse evils by these sad but needful strokes. And so for the degrees of our troubles, sanctified strokes are ordinarily fitted by the wisdom of God to the strength and ability of our inherent grace. 'In measure, when it shooteth forth, thou wilt debate with it: he stayeth his rough wind in the day of the east wind' (Isaiah 27:8). It is an allusion to a physician, who exactly weighs and measures all the ingredients which he mingles in a potion for his sick patient, that it may be proportionate to his strength, and no more. And so much the next words intimate: 'By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged' (verse 9).

      It is a good sign that our troubles are sanctified to us when they turn our hearts against sin, and not against God. There are few great afflictions which befall men, but they make them quarrelsome and discontented. Wicked men quarrel with God, and are filled with discontent against Him. So the Scripture describes them: 'And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues' (Revelation 16:9). But godly men, to whom afflictions are sanctified, they justify God and fall out with sin, they condemn themselves and give glory to God. 'O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of faces' (Daniel 9:7), and 'Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?' (Lamentations 3:39). Happy afflictions, which make the soul fall out and quarrel only with sin.

      It is a sure sign that afflicting providences are sanctified when they purge the heart from sin, and leave both heart and life more pure, heavenly, mortified, and humble than they found them. Sanctified afflictions are cleansers, they pull down the pride, refine earthliness, and purge out the vanity of the spirit. So you read (Daniel 11:35) that it purifies and makes their souls white. Hence it is compared to a furnace which separates the dross from the pure metal: 'Behold I have refined thee but not with silver: I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction' (Isaiah 48:10). But for wicked men, let them be never so long in the furnace, they lose no dross (Ezekiel 24:6). How many Christians can bear witness to this truth! After some sharp affliction has been upon them, how is the earthliness of their hearts purged! They see no beauty, taste no more relish in the world than in the white of an egg. O how serious, humble and heavenly are they, till the impressions made upon them by afflictions are worn off, and their deceitful lusts have again entangled them! And this is the reason why we are so often under the discipline of the rod. Let a Christian, says a late writer, be but two or three years without an affliction, and he is almost good for nothing. He cannot pray, nor meditate, nor discourse at that rate he was wont to do; but when a new affliction comes, now he can find his tongue, and come to his knees again, and live at another rate.

      It is a good sign that afflictive providences are sanctified to us when we draw near to God under them and 'turn to him that smites us.' A wicked man under affliction 'revolts more and more' (Isaiah 1:5), 'turneth not unto him that smiteth him' (Isaiah 9:13), but grows worse than before; formality is turned into stupidity and indolence.

      But if God afflicts His own people with a sanctified rod, it awakens them to a more earnest seeking of God, it makes them pray more frequently, spiritually, and fervently than ever. When Paul was buffeted by Satan he 'besought the Lord thrice' (2 Corinthians 12:8).

      We may conclude our afflictions to be sanctified, and to come from the love of God to us, when they do not alienate our hearts from God, but inflame our love to Him. This is a sure rule: whatever ends in the increase of our love to God proceeds from the love of God to us. A wicked man finds his heart rising against God when He smites him, but a gracious heart cleaves the closer to Him; he can love as well as justify an afflicting God. 'All this is come upon us: yet have we not forgotten thee, neither have we dealt falsely in thy covenant. Our heart is not turned hack, neither have our steps declined from thy way: though thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death' (Psalm 44:17-19). Here you have a true account of the attitude and frame of a gracious soul under the greatest afflictions. To be 'broken in the place of dragons, and covered with the shadow of death', imports the most dismal state of affliction; yet even then a gracious heart does not turn back, that is, does not for all this abate one drachm of love to God. God is as good and dear to him in afflictions as ever.

      We may call our afflictions sanctified when divine teachings accompany them to our souls. 'Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O LORD, and teachest him out of thy law' (Psalm 94:12). Sanctified afflictions are eye-salve; they teach us effectually, when the Spirit accompanies them, the evil of sin, the vanity of the creature, the necessity of securing things that cannot be shaken. Never does a Christian take a truer measure, both of his corruptions and graces, than under the rod. Now a man sees that filthiness that has been long contracting in prosperity, what interest the creature has in the heart, how little faith, patience, resignation and self-denial we can find when God calls us to the exercise of them. O it is a blessed sign that trouble is sanctified, when a man thus turns in upon his own heart, searches it, and humbles himself before the Lord for the evils of it!

      In the next place, let us take into consideration the other branch of providences, which are comfortable and pleasant. Sometimes it smiles upon us in successes, prosperity, and the gratification of the desires of our hearts. Here the question will be how the sanctification of these providences may be known by us? For resolution in this matter, I shall for clearness sake lay down two sorts of rules: one negative, the other positive.

      1. Negative. It is a sign that comfort is not sanctified to us, which does not come ordinarily in the way of prayer. 'For the wicked boasteth of his heart's desire, and blesseth the covetous whom the LORD abhorreth. The wicked through the pride of his countenance will not seek after God; God is not in all his thoughts' (Psalm 10:3, 4). Here you see Providence may give men 'their hearts' desire,' and yet they never once open their desires to God in prayer about it. But then those gifts of Providence are only such as are bestowed on the worst of men, and are not the fruits of love.

      Whatever success, prosperity or comfort men acquire by sinful means and indirect courses are not sanctified mercies to them. This is not the method in which those mercies are bestowed. 'Better is a little with righteousness, than great revenues without right' (Proverbs 16:8), better upon this account that it comes in God's way and with His blessing, which never follows the way of sin. God has cursed the ways of sin, and no blessing can follow them.

      Whatever prosperity and success makes men forget God and cast off the care of duty is not sanctified to them. It is unsanctified prosperity which lulls men asleep into a deep oblivion of God. 'He made him ride on the high places of the earth, that he might eat the increase of the fields; and he made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock; butter of kine, and milk of sheep, with fat of lambs, and rams of the breed of Bashan, and goats, with the fat of kidneys of wheat; and thou didst drink the pure blood of the grape. But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked; thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation' (Deuteronomy 32:13-15). 'Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee' (verse 18). Rare fumant felicibus arae (there is little stench of sacrifice on the altars of the rich).

      When prosperity is abused to sensuality and merely serves as fuel to maintain fleshly lusts, it is not sanctified. 'They send forth their little ones like a flock, and their children dance. They take the timbrel and harp, and rejoice at the sound of the organ. They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave' (Job 21:11-13).

      It is a sign that prosperity is not sanctified to men, when it swells the heart with pride and self-conceitedness. 'At the end of twelve months he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon. The king spake and said, Is not this great Babylon that I have built for the house of the kingdom, by the might of my power and for the honour of my majesty?' (Daniel 4:29-30).

      That success is not sanctified to men which takes them from off their duty, and makes them wholly negligent or very much indisposed to it. 'O generation, see ye the Word of the LORD. Have I been a wilderness unto Israel a land of darkness? Wherefore say my people, We are lords; we will come no more unto thee?' (Jeremiah 2:31).

      Nor can we think that prosperity sanctified, which wholly swallows up the souls of men in their own enjoyments, and makes them regardless of public miseries or sins. 'They lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall; they chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of music like David. They drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments; but they are not grieved for the afflictions of Joseph' (Amos 6:6).

      2. Positive. Those mercies and comforts are undoubtedly sanctified to men which humble their souls kindly before God in the sense of their own vileness and unworthiness of them. 'And Jacob said, . .I am not worthy of the least of all thy mercies, and of all the truth which thou hast shown unto thy servant' (Genesis 32:9, 10).

      Sanctified mercies are commonly turned into cautions against sin (Ezra 9:13). They are so many bands of restraint upon the soul that has them, to make them shun sin.

      They will engage a man's heart in love to the God of His mercies (Psalm 18:1, cf. title).

      They never satisfy a man as his portion, nor will the soul accept all the prosperity in the world upon that score. 'Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward' (Hebrews 11:26).

      Nor do they make men regardless of public sins or miseries (Nehemiah 2:1-3, compared with Acts 7:23).

      It is a sure sign that mercies are sanctified when they make the soul more ready and enlarged for God in duty. 'Therefore the LORD established the kingdom in his hand: and all Judah brought to Jehoshaphat presents, and he had riches and honour in abundance. And his heart was lifted up in the ways of the LORD' (2 Chronicles 17:5, 6). That which is obtained by prayer and returned to God again in due praise, carries its own testimonials with it, that it came from the love of God, and is a sanctified mercy to the soul.

      And so much for this third case.

      How may we attain an evenness and steadiness of spirit under the changes and contrary aspects of Providence upon us?

      Three things are supposed in this case: (1) that Providence has various and contrary aspects upon the people of God; (2) that it is a common thing with them to experience great disorders of spirit under those changes of Providence; (3) that these disorders may be, at least in a great measure, prevented by the due use and application of those rules and helps that God has given us in such cases.

      That Providence has various, yea, contrary aspects upon the people of God, is a case so plain that it needs no more than the mentioning to commend it to all our understandings. Which of all the people of God have not felt this truth? Providence rings the changes all the world over. 'He increaseth the nations, and destroyeth them; he enlargeth the nations, and straiteneth them again' (Job 12:23). The same it does with persons: 'Thou hast lifted me up, and cast me down' (Psalm 102:10). See what a sad alteration Providence made upon the Church: 'How doth the city sit solitary that was full of people! how is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!' (Lamentations 1:1). 'Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the LORD hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger' (verse 12). And how great an instance was Job of this truth? (Job 29 and Job 30 compared). How many thousands have complained with Naomi, whose condition has been so strangely altered, that others have said, as the people of Bethlehem did of her: 'Is this Naomi?' (Ruth 1:19).

      These vicissitudes of Providence commonly cause great disorders of spirit in the best men. As intense heat and cold try the strength and soundness of the constitution of our bodies, so the alterations made by Providence upon our conditions try the strength of our graces, and too often reveal the weakness and corruption of holy men. Hezekiah was a good man, but yet his weakness and corruption was betrayed by the alterations Providence made upon his conditions. When sickness and pains summoned him to the grave, what bitter complaints and despondencies are recorded (Isaiah 38)! And when Providence lifted him up again into a prosperous condition, what ostentation and vain-glory did he show (Isaiah 39:2)! David had more than a common stock of inherent grace, yet not enough to keep him in an evenness of spirit under great alterations. 'And in my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved; thou didst hide thy face and I was troubled' (Psalm 30:6, 7). It is not every man that can say with Paul, 'I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound; everywhere and in all things I am instructed, both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need' (Philippians 4:12). He is truly rich in grace whose riches or poverty neither hinders the acting nor impoverishes the stock of his graces.

      Though the best men are subject to such disorders of heart under the changes of Providence, yet these disorders may in a great measure be prevented by the due application of such rules and helps as God has given us in such cases, and these shall be considered accordingly.

      How may we attain to an evenness and steadiness of heart under the comfortable aspects of Providence upon us?

      Under providences of this kind, the great danger is lest the heart he lifted up with pride and vanity, and fall into a drowsy and remiss condition. To prevent this, we had need urge humbling and awakening considerations upon our own hearts, such as the following:

      These gifts of Providence are common to the worst of men, and are no special distinguishing fruits of God's love. The vilest of men have been filled even to satiety with these things. 'Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish' (Psalm 73:7).

      Think how unstable and changeable all these things are. What you glory in today may be none of yours tomorrow. 'For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle towards heaven' (Proverbs 23:5). As the wings of a fowl grow out of the substance of its body, so the cause of the creature's transitoriness is in itself. It is subjected to vanity, and that vanity, like wings, carries it away; they are but fading flowers (James 1:10).

      The change of providences is never nearer to the people of God than when their hearts are lifted up, or grown secure by prosperity. Does Hezekiah glory in his treasures? The next news he hears is of an impoverishing providence at hand (Isaiah 39:2-7). Others may be left to perish in unsanctified prosperity, but you shall not.

      This is a great revelation of the carnality and corruption that is in your heart. It argues a heart little set upon God, little mortified to the world, little acquainted with the vanity and ensnaring nature of these things. O you do not know what hearts you have till such providences try them! And is not such a discovery matter of deep humiliation?

      Was it not better with you in a low condition than it is now? Reflect, and compare state with state, and time with time. How is the frame of your hearts altered with the alteration of your condition? So God complains of Israel: 'I did know thee in the wilderness, in the land of great drought. According to their pasture, so were they filled: they were filled, and their heart was exalted; therefore have they forgotten me' (Hosea 13:5, 6); as much as to say, You and I were better acquainted formerly when you were in a low condition; prosperity has estranged you and altered the case. How sad it is that God's mercies should be the occasion of our estrangement from Him!

      How may our hearts be established and kept steady under calamitous and adverse providences?

      Here we are in equal danger of the other extreme, viz., despondency and sinking under the frowns and strokes of contrary providences. Now, to support and establish the heart in this case, consider the following:

      Afflictive providences are of great use to the people of God; they cannot live without them. The earth does not need more chastening frosts and mellowing snows than our hearts do nipping providences. Let the best Christian be but a few years without them, and he will be aware of the need of them; he will find a sad remissness and declining upon all his graces.

      No stroke of calamity upon the people of God can separate them from Christ. 'Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation?' (Romans 8:35). There was a time when Job could call nothing in this world his own but trouble. He could not say, My estate, my honour, my health, my children, for all these were gone; yet then he could say: 'My Redeemer' (19:25). Well then, there is no cause to sink while interest in Christ remains sure to us.

      All your calamities will have an end shortly. The longest day of the saints' troubles has an end; and then no more troubles for ever. The troubles of the wicked will be to eternity, but you shall suffer but a while (1 Peter 5:10). If a thousand troubles are appointed for you, they will come to one at last, and after that no more. Yea, and though 'our light afflictions are but for a moment,' yet they work 'for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory' (2 Corinthians 4:17). Let that support your hearts under all your sufferings.

      Next, let us consider what may be useful to support and quieten our hearts under doubtful providences when our dear concerns hang in a doubtful suspense before us, and we do not know which way the providence of God will cast and determine them.

      Now the best hearts are apt to grow concerned and pensive, distracted with anxiety about the event and outcome. To relieve and settle us in this case, the following considerations are very useful.

      Let us consider the vanity and uselessness of such anxiety. 'Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?' (Matthew 6:27). We may break our peace and waste our spirits, but not alter the case. We cannot turn God out of His way. 'He is in one mind' (Job 23:13). We may, by struggling against God, increase, but not avoid or lighten our troubles.

      How often do we afflict and torment ourselves by our own restless thoughts, when there is no real cause or ground for so doing? 'And hast feared continually every day because of the fury of the oppressor, as if he were ready to destroy; and where is the fury of the oppressor?' (Isaiah 51:13). O what abundance of disquiet and trouble might we prevent by waiting quietly till we see the issues of Providence, and not bringing as we do the evils of the morrow upon today?

      How great a ground of quietness it is that the whole disposal and management of all our affairs and concerns is in the hand of our own God and Father. No creature can touch us without His commission or permission. 'Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above' (John 19:11). Neither men nor devils can do anything without God's leave, and be sure He will sign no order to your prejudice.

      How great satisfaction must it be to all that believe the divine authority of the Scripture that the faithfulness of God stands engaged for every line and syllable found therein! And how many blessed lines in the Bible may we mark, that respect even our outward concerns and the happy issue of them all!

      Upon these two rounds, viz,, that our outward concerns with their steady direction to a blessed end is found in the Word; and this Word being of divine authority, the faithfulness and honour of God stands good for every tittle that is found there; I say these are grounds of such stability that our minds may repose with the greatest security and confidence upon them, even in the cloudiest day of trouble. Not only your eternal salvation but your temporal interests are there secured. Be quiet therefore in the confidence of a blessed outcome.

      How great and sure a means have the saints ever found it to their own peace, to commit all doubtful outcomes of Providence to the Lord, and devolve all their cares upon Him! 'Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established' (Proverbs 16:3). By works he means any doubtful, intricate, perplexing business, about which our thoughts are racked and tortured. Roll all these upon the Lord by faith, leave them with Him, and the present immediate benefit you shall have by it, besides the comfort in the last issue, shall be tranquillity and peace in your thoughts. And who is there of any standing or experience in religion that has not found it so?

      How may a Christian work his heart into resignation to the will of God when sad providences approach him and forebode great troubles and afflictions coming on towards him?

      For the right stating and resolving of this important case it will be needful to show what is not included and intended in the question, what it does suppose and include in it, and what help and directions are necessary for the due performance of this great and difficult duty.

      It must be premised that the question does not suppose the heart or will of a Christian to be at his own command and disposal in this matter. We cannot resign it, and subject it to the will of God whenever we desire so to do. The duty indeed is ours, but the power by which alone we perform it is God's; we act as we are acted upon by the Spirit. It is with our hearts as with meteors hanging in the air by the influence of the sun; while that continues they abide above, but when it fails they fall to the earth. We can do this and all things else, however difficult, through Christ that strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). But without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5). He does not say, Without me ye can do but little, or without me ye can do nothing but with great difficulty, or without me ye can do nothing perfectly, but 'without me ye can do nothing' at all. And every Christian has a witness in his own breast to attest this truth. For there are cases frequently occurring in the methods of Providence in which, notwithstanding all their prayers and desires, all their reasonings and strivings, they cannot quieten their hearts fully in the disposal and will of God; but on the contrary they find all their endeavours in this matter to be but as the rolling of a returning stone against the hill. Till God say to the heart, Be still, and to the will, Give up, nothing can be done.

      Let us consider what this case does suppose and include in it, and we shall find that it supposes the people of God to have a foresight of troubles and distresses approaching and drawing near to them. I confess it is not always so, for many of our afflictions, as well as comforts, come upon us by way of surprise; but often we have forewarning of troubles, both public and personal, before we feel them. As the weather may be discerned by the face of the sky - when we see a morning sky red and lowring, this is a natural sign of a foul and rainy day (Matthew 16:3) - so there are as certain signs of the times by which we may discern when trouble is near, even at the door. And these forewarnings are given by the Lord to awaken us to our duties, by which they may either be prevented (Zephaniah 2:1, 2), or sanctified and sweetened to us when they come. These signs and notices of approaching troubles are gathered partly from the observation and collation of parallel Scripture cases and examples, God generally holding one tenor and steady course in the administrations of His providences in all ages (1 Corinthians 10:6), and partly from the reflections Christians make upon the attitude and disposition of their own hearts, which greatly need awakening, humbling and purging providences. For let a Christian be but a few years or months without a rod, and how formal, earthly, dead and vain will his heart grow! And such a disposition presages affliction to them that are beloved of the Lord, as really as the giving or sweating of the stones does rain. Lastly, the ordering and disposing of the next causes into a posture and preparation for our trouble, plainly warns us that trouble is at the door. Thus when the symptoms of sickness begin to appear on our own bodies, the wife of our bosom, or our children, that are as our own souls, Providence herein awakens our expectations of death and doleful separations. So when enemies combine together and plot the ruin of our liberties, estates or lives, and God seems to loose the bridle of restraint upon their neck, we cannot but be alarmed with the near approach of troubles, especially when at the same time our conscience reflects upon the abuse and non-improvement of these our threatened comforts.

      The case before us supposes that these premonitions and forerunners of affliction do usually very much disturb the order and break the peace of our souls; they put the mind under great discomposure, the thoughts under much distraction, and the affections into tumults and rebellion.

      Ah, how unwilling we are to surrender to the Lord the loan which He lent us! to be disquieted by troubles when at ease in our enjoyments! How unwelcome are the messengers of affliction to the best men! We are ready to say to them as the widow to Elijah: 'What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God; art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?' (1 Kings 17:18). And this arises partly from the remains of corruption in the best souls, for though every sanctified person is come by his own consent into the kingdom and under the government and sceptre of Christ, and every thought of his heart by right must be subjected to Him (2 Corinthians 10:5), yet in fact the conquest and power of grace is but incomplete and in part, and natural corruption, like Jeroboam with his vain men, rises up against it, and causes many mutinies in the soul, whilst grace, like young Abijah, is weak-handed and cannot resist them; and partly from the advantage Satan makes upon the season to irritate and assist our corruptions. He knows that what is already in motion is the more easily moved. In this confusion and hurry of thoughts he undiscernedly slips in his temptations, sometimes aggravating the evils which we fear with all the sinking and overwhelming circumstances imaginable, sometimes divining and forecasting such events and evils as, haply, never fall out, sometimes repining at the disposals of God as more severe to us than others, and sometimes reflecting with very unbelieving and unworthy thoughts upon the promises of God, and His faithfulness in them, by all which the affliction is made to sink deep into the soul before it actually comes. The thoughts are so disordered that duty cannot be duly performed. And the soul is really weakened and disabled to bear its trial when it comes indeed; just as if a man should be kept waking and restless all the night with the thoughts of his hard journey which he must travel tomorrow, and so when tomorrow is come he faints midway on his journey for want of rest.

      It is here supposed to be the Christian's great duty, under the apprehensions of approaching troubles, to resign his will to God's and quietly commit the events and their outcome to Him, whatever they may prove. Thus did David in the like case and circumstances: 'And the king said unto Zadok, Carry back the ark of God into the city; if I shall find favour in the eyes of the LORD, he will bring me back again, and show me both it and his habitation: But if he thus say, I have no delight in thee: behold here am I, let him do to me as seemeth good unto him' (2 Samuel 15:25, 26). O lovely and truly Christian attitude! As much as to say, Go Zadok, return with the ark to its place; though I have not the symbol, yet I hope I shall have the real presence of God with me in this sad journey. How He will dispose the events of this sad and doubtful providence I know not. Either I shall return again to Jerusalem or I shall not. If I do, then I shall see it again, and enjoy the Lord in His ordinances there. If I do not, then I shall go to that place where there is no need or use of those things. And either way it will be well for me. I am content to refer all to the divine pleasure, and commit the issue, be it whatever it will, to the Lord.

      And till our hearts come to the like resolve, we can have no peace within. 'Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established' (Proverbs 16:3). By works he means not only every enterprise and business we undertake, but every puzzling, intricate and doubtful event we fear. These being once committed by an act of faith, and our wills resigned to His, besides the comfort we shall have in the issue, we shall have the present advantage of a well-composed and peaceful spirit.

      But this resignation is the difficulty. There is no doubt of peace, could we once bring our hearts to that. And therefore I shall here give such helps and directions as may, through God's blessing and in the faithful use of them, assist and facilitate this great and difficult work.

      Labour to work into your hearts a deep and fixed sense of the infinite wisdom of God and your own folly and ignorance. This will make resignation easy to you. Whatsoever the Lord does is by counsel (Ephesians 1:11), His understanding is infinite (Psalm 147:5), His thoughts are very deep (Psalm 92:5), but as for man, yea, the wisest among men, how little does his understanding penetrate the works and designs of Providence! And how often we are forced to retract our rash opinions and confess our mistakes, and to acknowledge that if Providence had not seen with better eyes than ours, and looked farther than we did, we had precipitated ourselves into a thousand mischiefs, which by its wisdom and care we have escaped. It is well for us that the 'seven eyes of Providence' are ever awake and looking out for our good. Now if one creature can and ought to be guided and governed by another that is more wise and skillful than himself, as the client by his learned counsel, the patient by his skillful physician, much more should every one give up his weak reason and shallow understanding to the infinite and omniscient God.

      It is nothing but our pride and arrogance over-valuing our own understandings that makes resignation so hard. Carnal reason seems to itself a wise disputant about the concerns of the flesh, but how often has Providence baffled it! The more humility, the more resignation.

      How few of our mercies and comforts have been foreseen by us! Our own projects have come to nothing, and that which we never thought of or contrived has taken place; not our choice of the ground, or skill in weighing and delivering the bowl, but some unforeseen providence, like a rub in the green, was that which made the cast.

      Deeply consider the sinfulness and vanity of torturing your own thoughts about the issues of doubtful providences.

      There is much sin in so doing, for all our anxious and agitated emotions, what are they other than the immediate outcome and fruits of pride and unbelief? There is not a greater display of pride in the world than in the contests of our wills with the will of God. It is a presumptuous invading of God's prerogative to dictate to His providence and prescribe to His wisdom.

      There is a great deal of vanity in it. All the thoughtfulness in the world will not make one hair white or black. All our discontents will not prevail with God to call back, or as the word may be rendered, make void His Word (Isaiah 31:2). He is in one mind (Job 23:13), the thoughts of His mind are from everlasting (Psalm 33:11).

      Set before you those choice Scripture patterns of submission to the Lord's will in as deep, yea, much deeper points of self-denial than this before you, and shame yourselves out of this quarreling attitude with Providence.

      You know what a close trial that providence was to Abraham, that called him from his native country and father's house to go he knew not where; and yet it is said that he came to God's foot, as readily obeying his call as a servant when his master knocks for him with his foot (Isaiah 41:2).

      Paul's voyage to Jerusalem had a dismal aspect upon himself. He could expect nothing but bonds and prisons, as he tells us (Acts 20:23), and a great trial it was to the saints, who could not tell how to give up such a minister; yet he resigns up his will to God's (20:22), and so do they: 'The will of the Lord be done' (21:14).

      But far beyond these, and all other patterns, what an example has our dear Lord Jesus set before us in the deepest point of self-denial that ever was in the world! When the Father gave the cup of sufferings into his hands in the garden, a cup of wrath, the wrath of the great and terrible God, and that without mixture, the very taste of which put nature into an agony and astonishment, a sore amazement, a bloody sweat, and forced from him that vehement and sad cry: 'Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me'; yet still with submission, 'nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt' (Mark 14:36). O blessed pattern of obedience and resignation to the pleasure of God! What is your case in comparison to this? Study the singular benefits and advantages of a will resigned up and melted into the will of God.

      Such a spirit has a continual Sabbath within itself. The thoughts are established (Proverbs 16:3), and truly, till a man come to this, he does but too much resemble the devil, who is a restless spirit seeking rest but finding none. It was an excellent expression of Luther to one that was much perplexed in his spirit about the doubtful events of some affairs of his that were then depending: 'The Lord shall do all for thee, and thou shalt do nothing but be the Sabbath of Christ.' It is by this means that the Lord 'giveth his beloved sleep' (Psalm 127:2); he does not mean the sleep of the body, but of the spirit. As one has said on this verse: 'Though believers live in the midst of many troubles here, yet with quiet and composed minds they keep themselves in the silence of faith, as though they were asleep.' Besides, it fits a man's spirit for communion with God in all his afflictions, and this alleviates and sweetens them beyond anything in the world.

      And surely a man is never nearer the mercy he desires, or the deliverance he expects, as one truly observes, than when his soul is brought into a submissive attitude. David was never nearer the kingdom than when he became as a weaned child.

      Think how repugnant an unsubmissive attitude is both to your prayers and professions.

      You pray that the will of God may be done on earth as it is in heaven, and yet when it seems contrary to your will or interest, you struggle or fret against it. You profess to have committed your souls to His keeping, and to leave your eternal concerns in His hands, and yet cannot commit things infinitely less valuable unto Him. How contradictory are these things!

      You profess as Christians to be led by the Spirit, but this practice shows you follow the perverse counsels of your own spirits. O then, regret no more, dispute no more, but lie down meekly at your Father's feet, and say in all cases and at all times, 'The will of the Lord be done.'

      And thus I have, through the aid of Providence, performed what I designed to speak from this Scripture. I acknowledge that my performances have been accompanied with much weakness, yet I have endeavored to speak of Providence the things that are right. Blessed be the Lord who has thus far assisted and protected me in this work.

      How Providence will dispose of my life, liberty and labours for time to come, I know not; but I cheerfully commit all to Him who has hitherto performed all things for me (Psalm 57:2).

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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