I went through such a stage of reading through the puritans in my late twenties and early thirties and that does something to you. Most of it is good, of course, but you do develop some quirks. For instance, I began thinking in long-winded sentence form. But I digress. It was a providential blessing for WTS Books to advertise John Flavel’s The Mystery of Providence on sale a couple of weeks ago. I couldn’t resist.
I’m not going to review it. How can I? But I did want to share a reflection I had while reading. Providence is a most comforting doctrine, but it also causes us to wrestle with the Godness of God. This often comes up in an indirect way with unbelievers…they are really untrusters. A popular argument is “If there is such a thing as a loving and merciful God, how could he allow ‘such and such’ to happen?” This question reveals a core accusation against God—it’s not so much that they don’t know that there is a God, but that they don’t approve of the way he is doing his job. And we all struggle with thinking we have a better way of how things should be. But the Christian knows that God is loving and merciful, and the end of all his works is for his glory and the good of his covenant people.
Flavel highlights how meditating on God’s providence puts us in a special communion with him. He asks the reader, “Does communion with the Lord enlarge the heart for obedience and service? Surely it is as oil to the wheels, that makes them run on freely and nimbly in their course” (158). This reminded me of a sermon I read by one called the last of the puritans, Charles Spurgeon, titled God’s Providence. If you want to take a read, I was able to find it online here. It was on Ezekiel 1:15-19, which begins:
Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them…
Spurgeon explains how providence is like a wheel. Sometimes we seem to be on top, but in one simple rotation, we find ourselves on the bottom. While there are many spokes in a wheel, many angelic workings and events set in motion, when the wheel is moving, we only see the circle of the rim and the axle. Spurgeon explains that the axle, which is always in the same place, is the one great thing, God working his everlasting purposes in the world. There’s much more to the sermon than this, but you see the illustration here. It has always comforted me. And Flavel oiled the wheels even more with Psalm 85:10:
Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed.
This Psalm is a reflection and praise of God’s providence to Israel in it’s deliverance from Babylonian captivity. Mercy seems so far from truth, and righteousness from peace. How do they kiss? Flavel explains, “The truth and righteousness of God in the promises did, as it were, kiss and embrace the mercy and peace that was contained in the performance of them, after they had seemed for seventy years to be at a great distance from each other” (147). But there is an even further reference in this verse to how this meeting takes place. The axle of God’s wheel of providence is Jesus Christ himself. “In Him it is that these divine attributes, which before seem to clash and contradict one another in the business of our salvation, have a sweet agreement and accomplishment. Truth and righteousness do in Him meet with mercy and peace in blessed agreement” (148).
This is oil to the wheels indeed. And it answers the objection above. God has demonstrated in Jesus Christ why we can trust him. The wheels of providence are not random and impersonal, but full of mercy, truth, righteousness, and peace. As the Ezekiel passage tells us in verse 18, the wheels are full of eyes. This is very different from the cold fate that an untruster thinks he has to resign to. God ordains with a purpose in Christ. Spurgeon put it well in his sermon:
The doctrine of Providence is not, that what is; must be; but that, what is, works together for the good of our race, and especially for the good of the chosen people of God. The wheels are full of eyes; not blind wheels.
Doesn’t this enlarge our hearts for obedience and service?