Rugged Providences

Brooks Precious Remedies

Providence is God’s “most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions” (The Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.11). So God not only preserves all things as He sees fit, but also governs all things as well. Providence is basically God’s sovereignty in action. It is what the Apostle Paul is speaking of when he tells us that God “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11, ESV).

Providence is a comforting truth for believers. It assures us that, no matter what happens in our lives, God is still firmly in control. And not only is He in control of all things, but He is in control of all things for our good, even for our salvation (Romans 8:28).

But that doesn’t mean that we will always immediately perceive how God is making all things work together for our good. Sometimes His providence is not only hard to understand, but at times it can also be hard to experience and endure.

Thomas Brooks (1608-1680) calls this “rugged providence.” In his classic book, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, he writes:

“As the waters lifted up Noah’s ark nearer heaven, and as all the stones that were about Stephen’s ears did but knock him closer to Christ, the corner-stone, so all the strange rugged providences that we meet with, they shall raise us up nearer heaven, and knock us nearer to Christ, that precious cornerstone.” (p.154)

What a wonderfully helpful and encouraging reminder! Sometimes God’s providence in our lives can indeed be strange, and even rugged, but we can be sure that it is always good. God’s providences in our lives, no matter how rugged, will never harm us, but will actually serve only to bring us closer to heaven.

Thomas Brooks on the Nature of True Repentance

Brooks Precious RemediesIn his book, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, Thomas Brooks notes that there are three (3) essential aspects of true repentance:

First, “The formal act of repentance is a changing and converting” (p.57). In other words it involves a turning of one’s life from darkness to light; it is a conversion. It is no mere oblique change of direction in a person’s life.

Second, “The subject changed and converted is the whole man” (ibid). It involves not just a change of the outward actions, but also of the heart, the innermost part of a person. Not just the practice, but the very person is also changed.

Third, this conversion of heart and life is a change (or turning) “from sin to God” (ibid). Brooks writes, The heart must be changed from the state and power of sin, the life from the acts of sin, but both unto God; the heart to be under his power in a state of grace, the life to be under his rule in all new obedience” (ibid).

The point he makes here is to show what a difficult thing it is to truly repent. In fact, it is humanly impossible to convert one’s self. He writes, “It is not in the power of any mortal to repent at pleasure” (p.56). God Himself must grant and work repentance in the heart and life of a sinner (2 Timothy 2:25).

Satan often deceives sinners into thinking that they are more than able to repent whenever they want (as if it were within their own power and ability to do so), and so leads men and women to keep putting off repentance until a later date. But Brooks warns that “it is as hard a thing to repent as it is to make a world, or raise the dead” (p.60). In other words, it takes the power of God Himself. No wonder Hebrews 13:3 warns us about being “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” It is a difficult (even impossible) thing as it is for a man to repent and turn to God, but even more difficult if one continues to put it off and so becomes even more hardened in sin and unbelief!

May God in His mercy grant repentance to many, to the praise of His glorious grace.

The Resurrection as a “Comfortable Sign” of the Believer’s Justification

GoodwinIn his book, Christ Set Forth, Puritan writer Thomas Goodwin (1600-1679) includes a chapter about how the Christian’s faith is supported by the resurrection of Christ. In other words, Christ’s resurrection from the dead on the 3rd day provides us with assurance that the price for our redemption really has been fully paid by Christ on the cross, and has been accepted by God as satisfaction for our sin.  Goodwin writes,

“Although Christ’s obedience in this life and his death past do alone afford the whole matter of our justification, and make up the sum of that price paid for us . . . , so as faith may see a fullness of worth and merit therein, to discharge the debt; yet faith has a comfortable sign and evidence to confirm itself in the belief of this, from Christ’s resurrection after his death. It may fully satisfy our faith, that God himself is satisfied, and that he reckons the debt as paid.” (p.62)

Have you ever thought about the resurrection that way? If you are a believer in Christ, you can look to Christ’s resurrection as a “comfortable sign” (i.e. a sign that gives you comfort and assurance) of the reality of your justification in Christ!

This is just part of what Goodwin understands the Apostle Paul to be saying in Romans 8:34, where we read:

“Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”

Christ’s resurrection puts God’s exclamation point on the gospel!

The Covenant of Grace as a Remedy for Sinful Fear

FlavelWhy study covenant theology? Is there any real benefit in studying the covenant of grace?

In his book, Triumphing Over Sinful Fear, John Flavel writes,

“The first rule for relieving slavish fear is to consider seriously and study thoroughly the covenant of grace in which all believers stand. A clear understanding of the covenant’s nature, extent, and stability, along with our interest in it, will go a long way to cure our sinful and slavish fear.” (p.63)

That quote is found in the chapter entitled “Remedies for Sinful Fear.” In that chapter Flavel discusses no less than 12 different remedies for sinful fear, including things like confirming your interest in Christ (seeking assurance), keeping your conscience pure, recording your experience’s of God’s past faithfulness (journaling!), and considering the providential rule of Christ over all things.

But what is the very first remedy that Flavel suggests? Serious consideration and thorough study of the covenant of grace! He goes on to remind us about what a covenant is:

“A covenant is more than a naked promise. In the covenant, God has graciously considered our fears, doubts, and weaknesses; therefore, He proceeds with us in the highest way of solemnity, confirming His promises by way of oath (Heb. 6:13, 17) and seals (Romans 6:11). He places Himself under the most solemn ties and engagements to His people so that we might take strong comfort from so firm a ratification of the covenant (Hebrews 6:18).” (p.63-64)

A covenant is more than just a promise. The promise of God is sure. But by His grace He gives us even more than that – He gives us a guarantee of His promise to us in Christ by way of an oath!

Filler in the Shorter Catechism?

Westminster Assembly 2Is there filler in the Shorter Catechism?  If you have ever written (or graded!) a research paper, you know exactly what filler is, don’t you?

In their works on the Shorter Catechism, neither Thomas Vincent (The Shorter Catechism Explained from Scripture) nor Thomas Watson (A Body of Divinity) offer a single comment on Shorter Catechism Q.32. (Watson actually skips over it entirely!) What is Q.32, you ask?

Q.32. What benefits do they that are effectually called partake of in this life? A. They that are effectually called do in this life partake of justification, adoption, and sanctification, and the several benefits which in this life do either accompany or flow from them.

Sure, it’s an outline of sorts for Q.33-38, but not one comment? Not even the obligatory “no justification without sanctification” note???

Of course, there are reasons for their lack of commentary on Q.32. Each of the benefits spoken of there are dealt within greater detail in the questions that follow (i.e. justification in Q.33, adoption in Q.34, sanctification in Q.35, etc.), and both Vincent and Watson discuss those benefits of redemption in Christ when they deal with those other questions from the catechism.

If nothing else, let it never be said that the Puritans were incapable of brevity! 🙂