Today the words of John Flavel (1628-1691) have once again brought forth a great ocean of sweet thoughts to bless my heart and elicit prayers of thanksgiving to our great God. As you read the following excerpt from Flavel’s The Mystery of Providence, may your heart swell to greater heights of gratitude, whether by the grace of God you are in the first or the fiftieth generation of a family of faithful believers.
O, it is no common mercy to descend from pious parents. Some of us do not only owe our natural life to them, as instruments of our beings, but our spiritual and eternal life also. It was no small mercy to Timothy to be descended from such progenitors (2 Tim. 1. 5), nor to Augustine that he had such a mother as Monica, who planted in his mind the precepts of life with her words, watered them with her tears, and nourished them with her example. We will a little more particularly inspect this mercy, and in so doing we shall find manifold mercies contained in it.
What a mercy was it to us to have parents that prayed for us before they had us, as well as in our infancy, when we could not pray for ourselves? Thus did Abraham (Gen. 15. 2) and Hannah (1 Sam. 1. 10, 11), and probably some here are the fruits and returns of their parents’ prayers. This was that holy course they continued all their days for you, carrying all your concerns, especially your eternal ones, before the Lord with their own; and pouring out their souls to God so affectionately for you, when their eye-strings and heart-strings were breaking. O put a value upon such mercies, for they are precious. It is a greater mercy to descend from praying parents than from the loins of nobles. See Job’s pious practice (1. 5).
What a special mercy was it to us to have the excrescences of corruption nipped in the bud by their pious and careful discipline! We now understand what a critical and dangerous season youth is, the wonderful proclivity of that age to every thing that is evil. Why else are they called youthful lusts (2 Tim. 2. 22)? When David asks: ‘Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?’ it is plainly enough implied in the very question that the way he takes lies through the pollutions of the world in his youth (Ps. 119. 9). When you find a David praying that God would ‘not remember the sins of my youth’ (Ps. 25. 7), and a Job bitterly complaining that God ‘made me to possess the iniquities of my youth’ (13. 26), surely you cannot but reflect with a very thankful heart upon those happy means by which the corruption of your nature was happily prevented, or restrained in your youth.
And how great a mercy was it that we had parents who carefully instilled the good knowledge of God into our souls in our tender years? How diligent was Abraham in this duty (Gen. 18. 19), and David (1 Chron. 28. 9)! We have some of us had parents who might say to us, as the apostle: ‘My little children of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you’ (Gal. 4. 19). As they longed for us before they had us and rejoiced in us when they had us, so they could not endure to think that when they could have us no more, the devil should. As they thought no pains, care or cost too much for our bodies, to feed them, clothe and heal them; so did they think no prayers, counsels, or tears, too much for our souls, that they might be saved. They knew a parting time would come between them and us, and did strive to make it as easy and comfortable to them as they could, by leaving us in Christ and within the blessed bond of His covenant.
They were not glad that we had health and indifferent whether we had grace. They felt the miseries of our souls as much as of our bodies; and nothing was more desirable to them than that they might say in the great day: ‘Lord, here am I and the children which thou hast given me.’
And was it not a special favour to us to have parents that went before us as patterns of holiness, and beat the path to heaven for us by their examples? They could say to us: ‘those things ye have heard and seen in me, do’ (Phil. 4. 9); and ‘be ye followers of me, as also I am of Christ’ (1 Cor. 11. 1). The parents’ life is the child’s copy. O. it is no common mercy to have a fair copy set before us, especially in the moulding age; we saw what they did, as well as heard what they said. It was Abraham’s commendation, ‘that he commanded his children, and his household after him, to keep the way of the Lord.’ And such mercies some of us have had also....
If any shall say this was not their case, they had little help heavenward from their parents, so such I reply as follows.
If you had little furtherance, yet own it as a special providence that you had no hindrance; or, if you had opposition, yet admire the grace of God in plucking you out by a wonderful distinguishing hand of mercy from among them and keeping alive the languishing sparks of grace amidst the floods of opposition. And learn from hence, if God give you a posterity of your own, to be so much the more strict and careful of family duties, by how much you have acutely felt the want of it in yourselves....
Should you wish to read more, Flavel’s work is available online at http://www.reformedliterature.com/flavel-the-mystery-of-providence.php.