The Mystery of Providence

by John Flavel


Chapter 1: The Work of Providence for the Saints

First, I shall undertake the proof and defense of the great truth that the affairs of the saints in this world are certainly conducted by the wisdom and care of special Providence. And in doing so I address myself with cheerfulness to perform, as I am able, a service for that Providence which has throughout my life ‘performed all things for me,’ as the text speaks.

There is a twofold consideration of Providence, according to its twofold object and manner of dispensation; the one in general, exercised about all creatures, rational and irrational, animate and inanimate; the other special and peculiar. Christ has a universal empire over all things (Eph. 1. 22); He is the head of the whole world by way of dominion, but a head to the Church by way of union and special influence (John 17. 2). He is ‘the Saviour of all men, especially of those that believe’ (1 Tim. 4. 10). The Church is His special care and charge. He rules the world for its good, as a head consulting the welfare of the body.

Heathens generally denied Providence, and no wonder, since they denied a God; for the same arguments that prove one will prove the other. Aristotle, the prince of heathen philosophers, could not by the utmost search of reason find out how the world originated, and therefore concludes it was from eternity. The Epicureans did, in a way, acknowledge a God, but yet denied a Providence, and wholly excluded Him from any interest or concern in the affairs of the world, as being inconsistent with the felicity and tranquillity of the divine Being, to be diverted and cumbered with the care and labour of government. This assertion is so repugnant to reason that it is a wonder they did not blush at its absurdity; but I guess the reason, and one of them (according to Cicero) speaks it out in broad language: Itaque imposuistis cervicibus nostris sempiternum dominum, quem dies & noctes timeremus. Quis enim non timeat omnia providentem, & cogitantem, & animadvertentem, & omnia ad se pertinere putantem, curiosum & plenum negotii Deum? (If this is so you have yoked us to an eternal master, such as we would fear day and night. For who would not be rrightened of a prying busybody of a God who provides, plans and observes everything and who considers that everything is his concern?) They foresaw that the concession of a Providence would impose an eternal yoke upon their necks, by making them accountable for all they did to a higher tribunal, so that they must necessarily ‘pass the time of their sojourning here in fear,’ while all their thoughts, words and ways were strictly noted and recorded, for the purpose of an account by an all-seeing and righteous God. They therefore laboured to persuade themselves that what they had no mind for did not exist. But these atheistical and foolish conceits fall flat before the undeniable evidence of this so great and clear a truth.

Now my business here is not so much to deal with professed atheists who deny the existence of God and consequently deride all evidences brought from Scripture of the extraordinary events that fall out in favour of that people that are called His, but rather to convince those that professedly own all this, yet, never having tasted religion by experience, suspect, at least, that all these things which we call special providences to the stains, are but natural events or mere contingencies. Thus, while they profess to own a God and a Providence (which profession is but the effect of their education) they do in the meantime live like atheists, and both think and act as if there were no such things; and really, I fear this is the case with the greater part of the men of this generation.

But if it were indeed so, that the affairs of the world in general, and more especially those of the saints, were not conducted by divine Providence, but, as they would persuade us, by the steady course of natural causes, beside which, if at any time we observe any event to fall out, it is merely casual and contingent, or proceeds from some hidden and secret cause in nature - if this indeed were so, let them that are tempted to believe it, give a rational answer to the following questions:

How comes it to pass that so many signal mercies and deliverances have befallen the people of God, above the power and against the course of natural causes, to make way for which there has been an obvious suspension and stop put to the course of nature?

It is most evident that no natural effect can exceed the power of its natural cause. Nothing can give to another more than it has in itself, and it is as clear that whatsoever acts naturally, acts necessarily. Fire burns to the uttermost of its power; while waters overflow and drown all that they can. Lions and other rapacious and cruel beasts, especially when hungry, tear and devour their prey; and arbitrary and rational agents also act according to the principles and laws of their natures. A wicked man when his heart is fully set in him, and his will stands in a full bent of resolution, will certainly, if he has power in his hand and opportunity to execute his conceived mischief, give it vent, and perpetrate the wicked devices of his heart. Having once conceived mischief, and ‘travailing in pain with it,’ according to the course of nature, he must ‘bring it forth’ (Ps. 7. 14). But if any of these inanimate, brute, or rational agents, when there is no natural obstacle or hindrance, have their power suspended, and that when the effect is near the birth and the design at the very point of execution, so that though they would, yet cannot hurt; to what, do you think, is this to be assigned and referred? Yet so it has often been seen, where God’s interest has been immediately concerned in the danger and evil of the event. The sea divided itself in its own channel, and made a wall of water on each side, to give God’s distressed Israel a safe passage, and that not in a calm, but when its waves roared (Isa. 51. 15). The fire, when blown up to the most intense and vehement flame, had no power to singe one hair of God’s faithful witnesses, when at the same instant it had power to destroy their intended executioners at a greater distance (Dan. 3. 22). Yea, we find it has sometimes been sufficient to consume, but not to torment the body, as in that known instance of blessed Bainham, who told his enemies: ‘The flames were to him as a bed of roses.’ The hungry lions put off their natural fierceness and became gentle and harmless when Daniel was cast among them for a prey. The like account we are given of Polycarp, and Dionysius the Areopagite, whom the fire would not touch, but stood after the manner of the shipman’s sail filled with the wind about them.

Are these things according to the course and law of nature? To what secret natural cause can they be ascribed? In like manner we find the vilest and fiercest of wicked men have been withheld by an invisible hand of restraint from injuring the Lord’s people. By what secret cause in nature was Jeroboam’s hand dried up and made inflexible at the same instant it was stretched out against the man of God (1 Kings 13. 4)? No wild beasts rend and devour their prey more greedily than wicked men would destroy the people of God that dwell among them, were it not for this providential restraint upon them. So the Psalmist expresses his case in the words following my text: ‘My soul is among lions, and I lie among them that are set on fire.’ The disciples were sent forth ‘as sheep into the midst of wolves’ (Matt. 10. 16). It will not avail in this case to object that those miraculous events depend only upon Scripture testimony, which the atheist is not convinced by, for beside all that may be alleged for the authority of that testimony (which is needless to produce to men that own it), what is it less that every eye sees or may see at this day? Do we not behold a weak, defenceless handful of men wonderfully and otherwise unaccountably preserved from ruin in the midst of potent, enraged and turbulent enemies that fain would, but cannot, destroy them; when as yet no natural impediment can be assigned why they cannot?

And if this puzzle us, what shall we say when we see events produced in the world for the good of God’s chosen, by those very hands and means which were intentionally employed for their ruin? These things are as much beside the intentions of their enemies as they are above their own expectations; yet such things are no rarities in the world. Was not the envy of Joseph’s brethren, the cursed plot of Haman, and the decree procured by the envy of the princes against Daniel, with many more of the same kind, all turned by a secret and strange hand of Providence to their greater advancement and benefit? Their enemies lifted them up to all that honour and preferment they had.

How is it if the saints’ affairs are not ordered by a special divine Providence that natural causes unite and associate themselves for their relief and benefit in so strange a manner as they are found to do?

It is undeniably evident that there are marvellous coincidences of Providence, confederating and agreeing, as it were, to meet and unite themselves to bring about the good of God’s chosen. There is a similar face of things showing itself in several places at the same time, whenever any work for the good of the Church is come upon the stage of the world. As when the Messiah, the capital mercy, came to the temple, then Simeon and Anna were brought there by Providence as witnesses to it. So in Reformation work, when the images were pulled down in Holland, one and the same spirit of zeal possessed them in every city and town, that the work was done in a night. He that carefully reads the history of Joseph’s advancement to be the lord of Egypt may number in that story twelve remarkable acts or steps of Providence by which he ascended to that honour and authority. If but one of them had failed, in all likelihood the event had done so too; but every one occurred in its order, exactly keeping its own time and place. So in the Church’s deliverance from the plot of Haman, we find no less than seven acts of Providence concurring strangely to produce it, as if they had all met by appointment and consent to break that snare for them, one thing so aptly suiting with and making way for another that every careful observer must needs conclude that this cannot be the result of accident but wise counsel. Even as in viewing the accurate structure of the body of a man, the figure, position, and mutual relationships of the several members and vessels has convinced some, and is sufficient to convince all, that it is the work of divine wisdom and power; in like manner, if the admirable adaptation of the means and instruments employed for mercy to the people of God are carefully considered, who can but confess that as there are tools of all sorts and sizes in the shop of Providence, so there is a most skilful hand that uses them, and that they could no more produce such effects of themselves than the axe, saw, or chisel can cut or carve a rough log into a beautiful figure without the hand of a skilful artificer?

We find, by manifold instances, that there certainly are strong combinations and predispositions of persons and things to bring about some issue and design for the benefit of the Church, which they themselves never thought of. They hold no conference, they do not communicate their counsels to each other, yet meet together and work together as if they did, which is as if ten men should all meet together at one place, and in one hour, about one and the same business, and that without any previous appointment between themselves. Can any question that such a meeting of means and instruments is certainly, though secretly, over-ruled by some wise invisible agent?

If the concerns of God’s people are not governed by a special Providence, how is it that the most apt and powerful means employed to destroy them are rendered ineffectual, while weak, contemptible means employed for their defence and comfort are crowned with success?

This could never be if things were wholly swayed by the course of nature. If we judge by that rule, we must conclude that the more apt and powerful the means are, the more successful and prosperous they must needs be; and where they are inept, weak, and contemptible, nothing can be expected of them. Thus reason lays it, according to the rules of nature, but Providence crosses its hands, as Jacob did in blessing the sons of Joseph, and orders quite contrary issues and events. Such was the mighty power and deep policy used by Pharaoh to destroy God’s Israel, that to the eye of reason it was as impossible to survive it as for crackling thorns to abide unconsumed amidst devouring flames. By this emblem their miraculous preservation is expressed; the bush was all in a flame, but not consumed (Exod. 3. 2). The heathen Roman emperors, who made the world tremble and subdued the nations under them, employed all their power and policy against the poor, naked, defenceless Church, to ruin it, yet could not accomplish it (Rev. 12. 3, 4). O the seas of blood that heathen Rome shed in the ten persecutions! yet the church lives. And when the dragon gave his power to the beast, (Rev. 13. 2) that is, the state of Rome became antichristian, O what slaughters were made by the beast in all his dominions, so that the Holy Ghost represents him as drunken with the blood of the saints (Rev. 17. 6). And yet all will not do; the gates, that is, the powers and policies of hell, cannot prevail against it. how manifest is the care and power of Providence herein! Had half that power been employed against any other people, it had certainly swallowed them up immediately, or, in the hundredth part of the time, worn them out. How soon was the Persian monarchy swallowed up by the Grecian, and that again by the Roman! Diocletian and Maximinus, in the height of their persecutions, found themselves so baffled by Providence that they both resigned the government and lived as private men. But in this wonderful preservation God makes good that promise: ‘Though I make a full end of all nations, yet will I not make a full end of thee’ (Jer. 30. 11), and ‘No weapon formed against thee shall prosper’ (Isa. 54.17).

On the contrary, how successful have weak and contemptible means been made for the good of the Church! Thus in the first planting of Christianity in the world, by what weak and improbable instruments was it done! Christ did not choose the eloquent orators, or men of authority in the courts of kings and emperors, but twelve poor artisans and fishermen; and these not sent together in a troop, but some to take one country to conquer it, and some another. The most ridiculous course, in appearance, for such a design as could be imagined, and yet in how short a time was the Gospel spread and the Churches planted by them in the several kingdoms of the world! This the Psalmist foresaw by the Spirit of prophecy when he said: ‘Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength, to still the enemy and the avenger’ (Ps. 8. 2). At the sound of rams’ horns Jericho is delivered into the hands of Israel (Josh. 6. 20). By three hundred men, with their pitchers and lamps, the huge host of Midian is discomfited (Judges 6. 19). The Protestants besieged in Beziers in France are delivered by a drunken drummer who, going to his quarters at midnight, rang the alarm-bell of the town, not knowing what he did; and just then their enemies were making their assault. And as weak and improbable means have been blessed with success to the Church in general, so to the preservation of its particular members also. A spider, by weaving her web over the mouth of an oven, shall hide a servant of Christ, Du Moulin, from his enemies, who took refuge there in that bloody Parisian massacre. A hen shall sustain another many days at the same time by lodging her egg every day in the place where he had hid himself from the cut-throats. Examples might be easily multiplied, but the truth is too plain and obvious to the observation of all ages to need them. And can we but acknowledge a divine and special Providence overruling these matters, when we see the most apt and potent means for the Church’s ruin frustrated, and the most silly and contemptible means granted success and prospered for its good?

If all things are governed by the course of nature and force of natural causes, how then comes it to pass that, like a bowl when it strikes another, men are turned out of the way of evil, along which they were driving at full speed?

Good men have been going along the way to their own ruin, and did not know it; but Providence has met them in the way and preserved them by strange diversions, the meaning of which they did not understand till the event revealed it. When Paul lay bound at Caesarea, the high priest and chief of the Jews request Festus that he might be brought bound to Jerusalem, having laid wait in the way to kill him; but Festus, though ignorant of the plot, utterly refuses it, and chooses rather to go with them to Caesarea and judge him there. By this diversion their bloody design is frustrated (Acts 25. 3, 4).

Possidonius, in the life of Augustine, tells us that the good father, going to teach the people of a certain town, took a guide with him to show him the way. The guide mistook the usual road and unwittingly took a by-path, by which means Augustine escaped ruin by the hands of the bloody Donatists who, knowing his intention, waylaid him to kill him on the road.

And as memorable and wonderful are those rubs and diversions wicked men have met with in the way of perpetrating the evils conceived and intended in their own hearts. Laban and Esau came against Jacob with mischievous purposes, but no sooner are they come near him but the shackles of restraint are immediately clapped upon them both, so that their hands cannot perform their enterprises. Balaam runs greedily, for reward, to curse Israel, but meets with an unexpected check at his very outset; and though that did not stop him, he tried every way to do them mischief, yet he still finds himself fettered by an effectual bond of restraint that he can in no way shake off (Num. 22. 25, 28). Saul, the high priest’s bloodhound, breathes out threatenings against the Church, and goes with a bloody commission towards Damascus, to hale the poor flock of Christ to the slaughter; but when he comes near the place he meets an unexpected stop on the way, by which the mischief is not only diverted, but he himself is converted to Christ (Acts 9. 1-4). Who can fail to see the finger of God in these things!

If there is not an over-ruling Providence ordering all things for the good of God’s people, how comes it to pass that the good and evil which is done to them in this world is accordingly repaid into the bosoms of them that are instrumental therein?

How clear is it to every man’s observation, that the kindnesses and benefits any have done to the Lord’s people have been rewarded with full measure into their bosoms! The Egyptian midwives refused to obey Pharaoh’s inhuman command, and saved the male children of Israel; for this ‘the Lord dealt well with them and built them houses’ (Exod. 1. 21). The Shunammite was hospitable and careful for Elisha, and God recompensed it with the desirable enjoyment of a son (2 Kings 4. 9, 17). Rahab hid the spies, and was exempted from the destruction of Jericho (Heb. 11. 31). Publius, the chief man of the island of Melita, courteously received and lodged Paul after his shipwreck; the Lord speedily repaid him for that kindness, and healed his father, who lay sick at that time of a bloody flux and fever (Acts 28. 7, 8).

In like manner, we find the evils done to God’s people have been repaid by a just retribution to their enemies. Pharaoh and the Egyptians were cruel enemies to God’s Israel, and designed the ruin of their poor innocent babes; and God repaid it in smiting all the first-born of Egypt in one night (Exod. 12. 29). Haman erected a gallows fifty cubits high for good Mordecai, and God so ordered it that he himself and his ten sons were hanged on it. And indeed it was but meet that he should eat the fruit of that tree which he himself had planted (Esther 7. 10). Ahithophel plots against David, and gives counsel like an oracle how to procure his fall; and that very counsel, like an overcharged gun, recoils upon himself, and procures his ruin. Seeing his good counsel rejected (good politically, not morally), it was now easy for him to guess the outcome, and so his own fate (2 Sam. 17. 23).

Charles IX most inhumanly made the very canals of Paris flow with Protestant blood, and soon after he died miserably, his blood flowing from all parts of his body. Stephen Gardiner, who burnt so many of God’s dear servants to ashes, was himself so scorched up by a terrible inflammation that his very tongue was black and hung out of his mouth, and in dreadful torments he ended his wretched days. Maximinus, that cruel emperor, who set forth his proclamation engraven in brass for the utter abolishing of the Christian religion, was speedily smitten like Herod with a dreadful judgment, swarms of lice preying upon his entrails, and causing such a stench that his physicians could not endure to come near him, and for refusing to do so were slain. Hundreds of like instances might easily be produced to confirm this observation. And who can but see by these things that ‘verily there is a God that judgeth in the earth!’

Yea, so exact have been the retributions of Providence to the enemies of the Church, that not only the same persons, but the same members, that have been the instruments of mischief, have been made the subjects of wrath. The same arm which Jeroboam stretched out to smite the prophet, God smites. The emperor Aurelian, when he was ready to subscribe the edict for the persecution of the Christians, was suddenly cramped in his knuckles that he could not write. Greenhill, in his exposition upon Ezekiel 11. 13, tells his hearers that there was one then present in the congregation who was an eye-witness of a woman scoffing at another for purity and holy walking, who had her tongue stricken immediately with the palsy, and died of it within two days. Henry II of France, in a great rage against a Protestant counsellor, committed him to the hands of one of his nobles to be imprisoned, and that with these words, that ‘he would see him burned with his own eyes.’ But, mark the righteous providence of God, within a few days after, the same nobleman, with a lance put into his hands by the king, did at a tilting march run the said king into one of his eyes, from which he died.

Yea, Providence has made the very place of sinning the place of punishment: ‘In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth, shall dogs lick thy blood’ (1 Kings 21. 19); and it was exactly fulfilled (2 Kings 9. 26). Thus Tophet is made a burying-place for the Jews, till there was no room to bury; and that was the place where they had offered up their sons to Moloch (Jer. 7. 31, 32). The story of Nightingale is generally known, which Foxe relates, how he fell out of the pulpit and broke his neck, while he was abusing that Scripture (1 John 1. 10). And thus the Scriptures are made good by Providence. ‘Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein; and he that rolleth a stone, it shall return upon him’ (Prov. 26. 27), and ‘with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again’ (Matt. 7. 2).

If any shall still say that these things may fall out accidentally, and that many thousands of the Church’s enemies have died in peace, and their end been like other men, we answer with Augustine: ‘If no sin were punished here, no Providence would be believed; and if every sin should be punished here, no judgment would be expected.’ But, that none may think these events to be merely casual and accidental, we shall enquire yet further.

If these things are merely accidental, how is it that they square and agree so exactly with the Scriptures in all particulars?

We read: ‘Can two walk together except they be agreed?’ (Amos 3. 3). If two men travel along one road, it is likely they are agreed to go to the same place. Providences and Scriptures go all one way, and if they seem at any time to go different or opposite ways, be sure they will meet at the journey’s end. There is an agreement between them so to do.

Does God miraculously suspend the power of natural causes? Why, this is no accidental thing, but what harmonizes with the Word ‘When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee. When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee’ (Isa. 43. 2).

Do natural causes unite and associate themselves for the good of God’s people? Why, this is no more than what is contained in the promises, and is but the fulfilling of that Scripture: ‘All is yours, for ye are Christ’s’ (1 Cor. 3. 22); that is, the use, benefit and service of all the creatures is for you, as your need shall require.

Are the most apt and powerful means employed for their ruin frustrated? Who can but see the Scriptures fulfilled in, and expounded by such providences (see Isa. 8. 8-10; 54. 15-17; expounded by 2 Kings 18. 17, etc.)!

Do you see at any time a rub of Providence diverting the course of good men from falling into evil, or wicked men from committing evil? How loudly do such Providences proclaim the truth and certainty of the Scriptures, which tell us that ‘the way of man is not in himself, neither is it in him that walketh to direct his steps’ (Jer. 10. 23), and that ‘a man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps’ (Prov. 16. 9)!

Do you see adequate retributions made to those that injure or befriend the people of God? Why, when you see all the kindness and love they have shown the saints returned with interest into their bosoms, how is it possible but you must see the accomplishment of these Scriptures in such providences! ‘But the liberal soul deviseth liberal things, and by liberal things he shall stand’ (Isa. 32. 8; 2 Cor. 9. 6).

And when you see the evils men have done, or intended to do to the Lord’s people, recoiling upon themselves, he is perfectly blind that does not see the harmony such providences bear with such Scriptures as Psalm 7. 14-16; 9. 16; and 140. 11, 12.

O what exact proportions do providences and Scriptures hold! Little do men take notice of it. Why did Cyrus, contrary to all rules of state policy, freely dismiss the captives, except to fulfil the Scripture (Isa. 45. 13)? So that it was well observed by one that, ‘as God hath stretched out the expansum or firmament over the natural; so he hath stretched out his Word over the rational world.’ And as the creatures on earth are influenced by those heavenly bodies, so are all creatures in the world influenced by the Word, and do infallibly fulfil it, when they design to thwart it.

If these things are contingent, how is it that they fall out so remarkably in the nick of time, which makes them so greatly observable to all that consider them?

We find a multitude of providences so timed to a minute, that had they occurred just a little sooner or later, they had mattered little in comparison with what now they do. Certainly, it cannot be chance, but counsel, that so exactly works in time. Contingencies keep to no rules.

How remarkable to this purpose were the tidings brought to Saul, that ‘the Philistines have invaded the land’ (1 Sam. 23. 27), just as he was ready to grasp the prey! The angel calls to Abraham, and shows him another sacrifice just when his hand was giving the fatal stroke to Isaac (Gen. 22. 10, 11). A well of water is shown to Hagar just when she had left the child, as not able to see its death (Gen. 21. 16, 19). Rabshakeh meets with a blasting providence, hears a rumour that frustrated his design, just when ready to make an assault upon Jerusalem (Isa. 37. 7, 8). So when Haman’s plot against the Jews was ripe, and all things ready for execution, ‘on that night could not the king sleep’ (Esth. 6. 1). When the horns are ready to gore Judah, immediately carpenters are prepared to fray them away (Zech. 1. 18-21).

How remarkable was the relief of La Rochelle by a shoal of fish that came into the harbour when they were ready to perish with famine, such as they never observed before, nor after that time! Mr Dod could not go to bed one night, but has a strong impulse to visit, though unseasonably, a neighbour gentleman, and just as he came there, he meets him at his door, with a halter in his pocket, just going to hang himself. Dr Tate and his wife, in the Irish rebellion, were flying through the woods with a sucking-child, which was just ready to expire. The mother going to rest it upon a rock, puts her hand upon a bottle of warm milk, by which it was preserved. A good woman, from whose mouth I received it, being driven to a great extremity, all supplies failing, was exceedingly plunged into unbelieving doubts and fears, not seeing where supplies should come from; when, lo! in the nick of time, turning over some things in a chest, unexpectedly she lights upon a piece of gold, which supplied her present needs till God opened another door of supply. If these things fall out by accident, how is it they come in the very nick of time so exactly, as that it is become proverbial in Scripture, ‘In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen’ (Gen. 22. 14)?

Lastly, were these things accidental and contingent, how can it be that they should fall out so immediately upon and consonantly to the prayers of the saints? So that in many providences they are able to discern a very clear answer to their prayers, and are sure they have the petitions they asked (1 John 5. 15).

Thus the sea divided itself just at the time of Israel’s cry to heaven (Exod. 14. 10). So signal a victory is given to Asa immediately at the time of that passionate cry to heaven: ‘Help us, O Lord our God’ (2 Chron. 14. 11, 12). Ahithophel goes and hangs himself, just at the time of that prayer of distressed David (2 Sam. 15. 31). Haman falls and his plot is broken, just at the time of the fast kept by Mordecai and Esther (Esth. 4. 16). Our own Speed, in his History of Britain, tells us that Richard I besieged a castle with his army; they offered to surrender if he would save their lives; he refuses, and threatens to hang them all. Upon this an arbalester charged his bow with a square arrow, making first his prayer to God that he would direct the shot and deliver the innocent from oppression; it struck the king himself, from which he died, and they were delivered. Abraham’s servant prayed for success; and see how it was answered (Gen. 24. 45). Peter was cast into prison, and prayer was made for him by the Church, and see the event (Acts 12. 5, 6, 7, 12). I could easily add to these the wonderful examples of the return of prayers which was observed in Luther, and Dr Winter in Ireland, and many more; but I judge it needless because most Christian have a stock of experience of their own, and are well assured that many of the providences that befall them are, and can be no other than the return of their prayers.

And now who can be dissatisfied in this point that wisely considers these things? Must we not conclude that ‘he withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous’ (Job 36. 7) and that ‘The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect towards him’ (2 Chron. 16. 9). His providences proclaim Him to be a God who hears prayer.


John Flavel (1628-1691), son of a Puritan minister who died in prison for his Nonconformity, was educated at University College, Oxford, and laboured for almost the entire period of his ministry at Dartmouth, Devon. Having all the characteristics of the tradition to which he belonged — a tradition which believed that preaching should be "hissing hot", searching and expository — Flavel attained to pre-eminence in his ability to combine both instruction and an appeal to the heart. Some Puritans might be more learned than he, and some more quaint, but for all-round usefulness none was his superior.

This article is taken from Volume 4 of Flavel’s Works.


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