By John Flavel
In consideration of the great and manifold advantages resulting from a humble and careful observation of Providence, I cannot but judge it the concern of Christians that have time and ability for such a work, to keep written memorials or journals of Providence by them; for their own and others' use and benefit. For want of collecting and communicating such observations, not only ourselves, but the Church of God is greatly impoverished.
Some say the art of medicine was acquired and perfected thus. When anyone had met with some rare medicinal herb, and accidentally discovered the virtues of it, he would post it up in some public place; and so the physician attained his skill by a collection of those posted experiments and recipes.
I am not for posting up all that a Christian knows or meets with in his experience, for, as I have said before, religion does not lay all open; yet there is a prudent, humble and seasonable communication of our experiences and observations of Providence which is exceeding beneficial both to ourselves and our brethren.
If Christians in reading the Scriptures would judiciously collect and record the providences they shall meet with there, and (if destitute of other helps) but add those that have fallen out in their own time and experience, O what a precious treasure would these make! What an antidote would it be to their souls against the spreading atheism of these days, and satisfy them beyond what many other arguments can do, that 'The LORD he is the God; the LORD he is the God' (1 Kings 18:39).
Whilst this work was under my hand, I was both delighted and assisted by a pious and useful essay of an unknown author, who has to very good purpose used many Scriptural passages of Providence which seem to lie out of the road of common observation. Some passages I have noted out of it which have been sweet to me. O that Christians would everywhere set themselves to such work! Providence carries our lives, liberties and concerns in its hand every moment. Your bread is in its cupboard, your money in its purse, your safety in its enfolding arms; and surely it is the least part of what you owe to record the favours you receive at its hands.
Do not trust your slippery memories with such a multitude of remarkable passages of Providence as you have, and shall meet with in your way to heaven. It is true, things that greatly affect us are not easily forgotten by us; and yet, how ordinary is it for new impressions to raze out former ones? It was a saying of that worthy man, Dr. Harris: 'My memory never failed me in all my life; for indeed, I durst never trust it.' Written memorials secure us against that hazard, and besides, make them useful to others when we are gone, so that you do not carry away all your treasure to heaven with you, but leave these choice legacies to your surviving friends. Certainly it were not so great a loss to lose your silver, your goods and chattels, as it is to lose your experiences which God has this way given you in this world.
Take heed of clasping up those rich treasures in a book, and thinking it enough to have noted them there; but have frequent recourse to them, as oft as new needs, fears or difficulties arise and assault you. Now it is seasonable to consider and reflect, Was I never so distressed before? Is this the first plunge that ever befell me? Let me consider the days of old, the years of ancient times, as Asaph did (Psalm 77:5).
Beware of slighting former straits and dangers in comparison with present ones. That which is next to us always appears greatest to us, and as time removes us farther and farther from our former mercies or dangers, so they grow less in our eyes, just as the land does from those who sail. Know that your dangers have been as great, and your fears no less formerly than now. Make it as much your business to preserve the sense and value as the memory of former providences, and the fruit will be sweet to you.