The life of the Christian is a life that ebbs and flows in our love for God. We may not always want to admit that–but in our heart of hearts, we know it to be true. Sometimes our love for God grows cold. Oftentimes that coldness comes from what I would call “hardening providences.” Difficulties, frustrations, sicknesses, and other such providences in our lives can cause us to slowly harden in our heart of hearts. Our love for Christ can grow cold under the many pressures and difficulties of life in a fallen world.
What should the Christian do when he or she finds him or herself in such a position? Maybe you’ve found yourself in such a position?
John Flavel, the English Puritan, upon realizing that several in his congregation were struggling under heavy weights and hardening providences, preached a series of sermons on Psalm 57:2, “I will cry unto God most high; unto God that performeth all things for me.” These sermons are filled with pastoral warmth as he pointed his people to the Lord Jesus Christ. Among the applications were some designed to “melt” the believer as he or she looks to Christ. Flavel asked, “How can a sanctified heart do less than melt into tears while it considers God’s dealings with it from time to time, or while it compares the mercies received with the sins committed, or the different administrations of providence towards itself and others!”
Here are several of the applications that he gave, and hopefully they will prove to be useful in those times of needing to return to Christ with a melted heart towards him and his grace:
(1) Go back and seriously think about the beginning of God’s ways with you, the mercies that broke out early in your youth, even the first-born mercies from the womb of providence; and you will say, What need is there to go further? Here is enough, not only to move, but to overwhelm my heart. “Will you not from this time cry to me, my Father, that you are the guide of my youth?” (Jer 3:4). What a critical time is the time of youth! It is the molding age; and, ordinarily, according to the course of those leading providences after-providences steer their course. What levity, rashness, ignorance and strong propensities to sin and ruin accompanied that age! How many being left then to the sway of their own lusts run themselves into those sins and miseries which they never recover from to their dying day! These, like the errors of the first concoction, are rarely rectified afterwards. Did the Lord guide you by His providence when you were but a child? Did He then preserve you from those follies and misdemeanors which blast the very blossom and nip the bud, so that no good fruit can be expected afterwards? Did He then put you into such families, or among such company and acquaintances, as molded and formed your spirit into a better disposition? Did He then direct you into that way of employment in which you have seen so large a train of happy consequences following you ever since? And will you not from then on say: “My Father, you are the guide of my youth”? (Jer 3:4)
(2) Let us but bring our thoughts close to the providences of after-times, and consider how the several changes and removals of our lives have been ordered for us. Things we never foresaw or designed, but which were much better for us than what we did design, have been ordered for us all along. The way of man is not in himself. God’s thoughts have not been our thoughts, nor His ways our ways (Isaiah 55:8). Among the eminent mercies of your life, reader, how many of them have been mere surprises to you? Your own projects have been thrust aside to make way for better things designed for you by providence.
(3) No, just observe the springs and autumns of providence, in what order they have flourished and faded with you, and you will find yourself overpowered with the sense of divine wisdom and goodness. When necessity required, such a friend was stirred up to help you; such a place opened to receive you; such a relation raised up or continued to refresh you. And no sooner does providence deprive you of any of them, but either your need of them ceases, or some other way is opened to you. O the depth of God’s wisdom and goodness! O the matchless tenderness of God for His people!
(4) Compare how providence has dealt with you and others, indeed, with others that sprang up with you in the same generation; or it may be in the same families and from the same parents; it may be in families greater and more flourishing in the world than yours – and see the difference on many great accounts, that it has made between you and them. I knew a Christian who, after many years’ separation, was visited by his own brother. The very sight of him worked on him much as the sight of Benjamin worked on Joseph, so that he could not refrain from falling upon his neck and weeping for joy. But after a few hours spent together, he found the spirit of his brother was not only estranged from all that is spiritual and serious, but also very vain and profane. He hastened to his chamber, shut the door on him, and threw himself down at the feet of God. With flowing eyes and a melting heart, he admired the distinguishing grace of God, saying, “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” (Malachi 1:2). O grace, grace, astonishing grace!
(5) Compare the behavior of providence towards you, with your own behavior towards the Lord. It must melt your hearts to find so much mercy bestowed where so much sin has been committed. Where did you ever live that you cannot remember great provocations that you committed, and notwithstanding that, manifold mercies were received? O with how many notwithstandings and neverthelesses has the Lord done you good in every place! What relationship has not been abused by sin? And yet it was both raised up and continued by providence for your comfort! In every place, God has left the marks of His goodness and the remembrances of your sinfulness. Give yourselves but leave to think of these things, and it will be strange if your hearts do not melt at the remembrance of them.
(6) Or lastly, just compare your dangers with your fears, and compare both with the strange outlets and doors of escape that providence has opened; it cannot do less than overpower you with a full sense of divine care and goodness. There have been dark clouds seen to rise over you, judgment even at your door, sometimes threatening your life, sometimes your liberty, sometimes your estates, and sometimes your dearest relatives, in whom, it may be, your life was bound up. Remember in that day what faintness of spirit seized you, what charges of guilt stirring up fears of the issue within you. You turned to the Lord in that distress, and has He not made a way to escape, and delivered you from all your fears? (Psa 34:4)
May your heart melt under the gracious hand of Christ as you consider all that your heavenly father has done to redeem you, conform you to the image of his son, and in Christ give you all things.
Rev. Flavel’s sermon series on Psalm 57:2 can be purchased here.