Tag Archives: Reformed theology

Puritan Wisdom from John Flavel

John Flavel (1627?-1691) was a 17th-century Puritan Presbyterian minister. He accepted a call to a church in Dartmouth, England in 1656. I am currently reading The Method of Grace, a book of 34 of his (long!) sermons, and I find their content substantive and compelling. I am reprinting this brief excerpt because I find it especially so.

First, One that is truly burdened with sin, will not allow himself to live in the secret practice of sin; either your trouble will put an end to your course of sinning, or your sinning will put an end to your troubles. Consult 2 Corinthians 7:11 –John Flavel: The Method of Grace, Sermon No. 9

John Flavel

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Filed under Faith, Reflections, Thoughts & Reading

Bud swell

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Our lilacs budded yesterday: a happy, unexpectedly early—though our grass was already returning and already green—harbinger of an early Spring. Today, I began noticing all the withered blooms of past seasons, and branches without buds, and determined to undertake pruning them, however many days it would take, until there would be space for the new blooms without their being surrounded by withered undergrowth.

I spent about an hour and a half on two bushes today, and made some visible progress before the wind came up and chilled the back of my neck—not a welcome sensation while I’m still on antibiotics for a sinus infection. The frustrating thing about my project was the difficulty of snipping away only completely dead sprigs; the sprigs with buds on them frequently grew on the same branches, close to the dead foliage. I tried to cut away only the dead foliage, but sometimes failed to notice a thin shared branch, and wound up snipping off a sprig with green buds.

My pruners are sharp; they don’t leave room for second chances, but respond, as cold steel will, to erring and cautious hands with equal precision. This thought caused me to spend most of my pruning time contemplating the Reformed doctrine of election. Two twigs on one branch: one destined to bloom, the other to perish. Two sinners, perhaps born to the same parents, one elected to salvation, one to condemnation. The theme recurs over and over in the inerrant Word of our inerrant God.

How grateful I am, that God does not err as I do! I miss a bud on a branch I meant to preserve but carelessly cut. God does not accidentally consign to condemnation a soul He has predestinated to salvation. Ever.

And I look to our lilacs, and I think, “Hang in there—bloom day’s coming. . . .”

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Loved

A powerful message our pastor preached yesterday shifted my attention radically, from feeling crummily under the weather, to feeling loved. How many times have I read John 11 — hundreds? How did I miss the glisten in the intonation of Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus: “Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick” (v. 3). But preaching is God’s intended means of imparting the power of his Word to us. The Westminster Catechism teaches,

“The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the word an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.”

Lazarus became sick. Lazarus died. And Jesus loved him. We all become sick. We all will die. And Jesus loves those who are his. He brought Lazarus back to life. He will bring us all back to life. He already has, once. We were all born dead: breathing, but dead in our sin. Jesus loves those who are his, dead and alive, and becoming sick is no evidence whatever to the contrary. He loved him who was sick. And, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).

Our pastor provided this quote from Spurgeon:

“The love of Jesus does not separate us from the common necessities and infirmities of human life. Men of God are still men. The covenant of grace in not a charter of exemption from consumption, or rheumatism, or asthma.”

The Scriptures are rife with examples of God’s love for his people whom he afflicts with illness, sorrow, and tragedy. I often meditate on Psalm 119:75: “In faithfulness you have afflicted me.” Completely absent, our pastor observed, is anything whatsoever to vindicate the health and wealth so-called Gospel.

Faith is understanding our own weakness and our need for God’s help. I need constantly to be reminded of this. Apparent delay in God’s response does not mean he is not working, nor does it mean he does not love us. Faith is submitting to God’s providence as it is presented.

And faith is not trying harder and harder to love God enough, because we never can; faith is knowing and receiving God’s love for us. Remembering this releases so much bondage and baggage; and rather than feeling oppressed by inevitable burdens of life, we may be uplifted, knowing that God, by whom we are loved, is working, for his glory and our good, always.

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Filed under Pneumatos