Dateline: 18 August 2013
This book aims to present a Puritan theology of suffering by looking at one of Puritanism’s greatest leaders, writers, and sufferers—John Flavel. In particular, it will examine Flavel’s theology of suffering within the seventeenth-century context to show his understanding of the origin and nature of suffering, how God is sovereign over suffering, why God ordains suffering,how the believer ought to respond to suffering, and how biblical doctrine can bring comfort and consolation to the believer in the midst of suffering.
God is Sovereign
The world, according to the Puritans, “Was not a machine that ran automatically according to an initial plan.” Rather, God created the world and subsequently orders and governs His creation by His providence.
According to Flavel, God is immanent, active, and involved in every movement of a cloud, every flight of a bird, and every “motion” of humanity.
Flavel argues that the providence of God is “holy,”which means that it is morally righteous.
Flavel... sees divine providence as a supporting and encouraging doctrine for the believer, especially in times of suffering. He adds this doctrinal conclusion: “It is the duty of the saints, especially in times of straits, to reflect upon the performances of providence for them in all the states, and through all the stages of their lives.
"In all the sad and afflictive providences that befal you, eye God as the author and orderer of them.”
...Flavel is careful not to assign evil to God. Rather, God permits it, restrains it, and overrules it—for His glory and the good of His people.
Thus Flavel calls afflictions that are used by God in the lives of the elect “sanctified afflictions.”
Stating it positively, God permits evil [through afflictions]. Stating it negatively, God withholds the restraints of evil. Either way, Flavel argues, God remains holy.
Afflictions Are Not Eternal...
For God’s People
While sin first brought affliction into the world, eternal affliction was taken out of the world by the affliction of Christ for all who receive Him as Savior and Lord.
1. To reveal, deter, and mortify sin.
2. To produce godliness and spiritual fruit.
3. To reveal the character of God.
4. To relinquish the temporal for the eternal.
5. To produce a sincere faith, devoid of hypocrisy.
6. To encourage fellowship with God through word, prayer, and the sacrament of theLord’s Supper.
7. To bear witness to the world.
8. To cultivate communion with Christ, the greatest sufferer.
”Affliction is a furnace to separate the dross from the more pure and noble gold. Multitudes of hypocrites, like flies in a hot summer, are generated by the church’s prosperity; but this winter weather kills them.”
The unbeliever—who Flavel calls a “false professor”—experiencing suffering often “quits religion to save himself.” While suffering causes the elect to “cleave to [religion,]” it causes the unbeliever to “forsake” it. God ordains suffering to produce a greater sincerity of faith and to separate the Christian from the non-Christian.