The Duty of Meditation on Providence
The following excerpt is Chapter 8 of John Flavel’s The Mystery of Providence.
Having proved the affairs of the people of God to be conducted by the care of special Providence, and given instances of what influence Providence has upon those interests and concerns of theirs, we come in the next place to prove it to be the duty of the people of God to meditate upon these performances of Providence for them, at all times, but especially in times of difficulty and trouble. This is our duty because God has expressly commanded it, and called his people to make the most serious reflections upon his works, whether of mercy or judgment.
So when that most dreadful of all judgments was executed upon his professing people for their apostasy from God, and God had removed the symbols of his presence from among them, the rest are bidden to go, that is, by their meditations, to send at least their thoughts to Shiloh, and see what God did to it (Jer. 7:12).
So for mercies, God calls us to consider and review them. ‘O my people, remember now what Balak king of Moab consulted, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him from Shittim unto Gilgal; that ye may know the righteousness of the Lord’ (Mic. 6:5). As much as to say, if you do not reflect upon that signal providence, my righteousness will be covered, and your unrighteousness uncovered.
So for God’s works of providence concerning the creatures, we are called to consider them, that we may prop up our faith by those considerations for our own supplies (Matt. 6:28). It is plain that this is our duty because the neglect of it is everywhere in Scripture condemned as a sin. To be careless and unobservant is very displeasing to God, and so much appears by that Scripture: ‘Lord, when thy hand, is lifted up they will not see’ (Isa. 26:11). Nay, it is a sin which God threatens and denounces woe against in his word (Psa. 28:4, 5; Isa. 3:12, 13). Yea, God not only threatens, but smites men with visible judgments for this sin (Job. 34:26, 27). And for this end and purpose it is that the Holy Ghost has affixed notes of attention such as ‘behold’ to the narratives of the works of providence in Scripture. All these invite and call men to a due and deep observation of them.
For example, in that great and celebrated work of Providence in delivering Israel out of Egyptian bondage, you find a note of attention twice affixed to it (Exod. 3:2, 9). Again, when that daring enemy Rabshakeh that put Hezekiah and all the people into such a consternation was defeated by Providence, there is a note of attention prefixed to that providence, ‘Behold, I will send a blast upon him’ (2 Kings 19:7). When God glorifies his wisdom and power in delivering his people from their enemies, and ensnaring the latter in the works of their own hands, a double note of attention is affixed to that double work of Providence: ‘Higgaion selah’ (Psa. 9:16). Also at the opening of every seal which contains a remarkable series or branch of Providence, how particularly is attention commanded to every one of them: ‘Come and see, come and see’ (Rev. 6:1-7). All these are very useless and superfluous additions in Scripture, if no such duty lies upon us (see Psa. 66:5).
Without due observation of the works of Providence no praise can be rendered to God for any of them. Praise and thanksgiving for mercies depend upon this act of observation of them, and cannot be performed without it.
Psalm 107 is spent in narrating God’s providential care of men: to his people in difficulties (4-6); to prisoners in their bonds (10-12); to men that lie languishing upon beds of sickness (17-19); to seamen upon the stormy ocean (23); to men in times of famine (33-40). Yea, his providence is displayed in all those changes that occur in the world, debasing the high, and exalting the low (40-41), and at every paragraph men are called upon to praise God for each of these providences. Verse 43 shows you what a necessary ingredient to that duty observation is: ‘Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the lovingkindness of the Lord.’ So that of necessity, God must be defrauded of his praise if this duty is neglected. Without this we lose the usefulness and benefit of all the works of God for us or others, which would be an unspeakable loss indeed to us. This is the food our faith lives upon in days of distress: ‘Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness’ (Psa. 74:14), that is, food to their faith. From providences past saints argue to fresh and new ones to come. So David: ‘The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine’ (1 Sam. 17:37). So Paul: ‘Who hath delivered, and in whom also we trust that he will yet deliver’ (2 Cor. 1:10). If these are forgotten or not considered, the hands of faith hang down. ‘How is it that ye do not remember, neither consider?’ (Matt. 16:9).
This is a topic from which the saints have often drawn their arguments in prayer for new mercies. As when Moses prays for continued or new pardons for the people, he argues from what was past: ‘As thou hast forgiven them from Egypt until now’ (Num. 14:19); so the church argues for new providences upon the same ground Moses pleaded for new pardons (Isa. 51:9, 10). It is a vile slighting of God not to observe what he manifests of himself in his providences. For in all providences, especially in some, he comes near to us. He does so in his judgments: ‘I will come near to you in judgment’ (Mal. 3:5). He comes near in mercies also: ‘The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him’ (Psa. 145:18), Yea, he is said to visit us by his providence when he corrects (Hos. 9:7), and when he saves and delivers (Psa. 106. 4). These visitations of God preserve our spirits (Job 10. 12), and it is a wonderful condescension in the great God to visit us so often, ‘every morning and … every moment’ (Job 7:18).
But not to take notice of it is a vile and brutish contempt of God (Isa. 1:3; Zeph. 3:2). You would not do so to a man for whom you have any respect. It is the character of the wicked not to regard God’s favours (Isa. 26:10) or frowns (Jer. 5:3). In a word, men can never order their addresses to God in prayer, suitable to their conditions, without due observation of his providences. Your prayers are to be suitable to your conditions: sometimes we are called to praise, sometimes to humiliation. In the way of his judgments you are to wait for him (Isa. 26. 8), to prepare to meet him (Zeph. 2:1, 2; Amos 4:12). Sometimes your business is to turn away his anger which you see approaching, and sometimes you are called to praise him for mercies received (Isa. 12:1, 2), but then you must first observe them. Thus you find the matter of David’s psalms still varied, according to the providences that befell him: but one who is unobservant and careless can never do it. And thus you have the grounds of the duty briefly presented.
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