Thursday, October 27, 2011

The greatest mercy of Providence

I will cry unto God most high; unto God that performeth all things for me. Psalm 57:2 (KJV)

With typical Puritan thoroughness John Flavel mines that text in The Mystery of Providence. Here David is declaring under perilous duress his faith in a God who is intimately involved in his affairs. Another translation renders the second phrase as "God the transactor of my affairs" and the ESV helpfully translates it "God who fulfills his purpose for me." God is not a dispassionate puppet-master pulling the strings. His providential ordering of the lives of those like David who set him apart as "God most high" is motivated by steadfast love and faithfulness. That's why David can confess in Psalm 16: I say to Yahweh, "You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you."

That's quite a statement! No good apart from you, Lord.

Flavel's exposition of the various performances of Providence in the lives of the saints crescendos with a chapter on conversion. Were you born into a Christian home and can't remember a time when you didn't know Christ? This was Providence. Did you respond to the preaching of the gospel as an adult? This too was Providence. Many there are who have heard and not responded. Were you led to Christ by the witness of a roommate in college? Again, this was orchestrated by Providence. Salvation is the greatest blessing that Providence has to give.

Flavel writes:

There are mercies of all sizes and kinds in the hands of Providence to dispense to the sons of men. Its left hand is full of blessings as well as its right. It has health and riches, honours and pleasures, as well as Christ and salvation to dispense. The world is full of its left hand favours, but the blessings of its right hand are invaluably precious and few there be that receive them. It performs thousands of kind offices for men; but among them all, this is the chiefest, to lead and direct them to Christ.

Flavel's distinction between "left hand" and "right hand" blessings mirrors the distinction often made by Reformed theologians between "common grace" and "saving grace". An example of common grace is the rain that God sends on the "just" and the "unjust" (see Matt. 5:45). The most virulent atheist benefits in hundreds of ways from the common grace gifts of God, but absent the mercy of saving grace those good gifts have an expiration date. All the good things once enjoyed will be taken away, just as they were taken away from Jesus on the cross.

Another writer has said that God is kind to all in some ways, and kind to some in all ways. If you're in the second group you can say with Paul: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Quote from The Mystery of Providence, pp. 73-4

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