Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Necessity of Foresight

"Whoso keepeth the commandment shall feel no evil thing: and a wise man's heart discerneth both time and judgment." (Ecclesiastes 8:5)

Part 8: Preparations for Sufferings

John Flavel[1]* emphasizes the need for believers to exercise biblical discernment, an attribute which he calls "foresight." This is not to be confused with the postmodern heresies of false prophets, seers, or "name it and claim it" positivism. Rather, this is an ability to discern the times based on a study of Scriptures. Flavel emphasizes the need for believers to discern, "Beloved, there are signs of the times, as well as of the weather, Matthew 16:3."[2] Flavel explains,

"[F]oresight and preparation must needs be an excellent thing, because the Spirit of God every where sets an honourable character upon it, and always mentions such persons with some singular commendation and respect. These only were wise men in the judgment of God, and all the rest... are accounted fools, Proverbs 22:3,[3] Ecclesiastes 2:14: "The wise man's eyes are in his head;" that is, he is a fore-seeing man; "but the fool goes on and is punished:"[4] i.e., rushes on without consideration, suspecting no danger that he at present sees not, and so smarts for his folly.

Just because one doesn't SEE danger doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. Just because one is asleep, doesn't mean that there is no danger afoot. Just because pastors and leaders are changing doctrines, eschatology, and using strange Bible versions, doesn't mean that there isn't a time of great tribulation coming. How often people in the pews today have their hands over their eyes and stoppers in their ears! How often they reject warnings from the watchmen on the wall, just like in the days of Jeremiah (6:17): "Also I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they said, We will not hearken." Granted, it is not easy to hear that troublesome times are ahead, but it is a fact of Scripture. Jesus Christ warned his disciples that in latter days there would be difficult days, especially warning that we should "take heed that no man deceive" us (Matthew 24:4).

Flavel insists it is the duty of believers to be both discerners of the times and watchmen, citing Ecclesiastes 8:5b: "a wise man's heart discerneth both time and judgment," and Ezekiel 3:17: "Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me." Discerners should especially watch for and ponder the significance of "those Scripture-prophecies that yet remain to be fulfilled." Flavel suggests that believers exercising foresight should pay attention to

considering what God hath done in like cases in former ages, when nations have been guilty of the same sins as now they are: For God is as just now as then, and hates sin as much as ever He did; and partly by attending to things present, to what fulness and maturity the sins of the nation are grown, Joel 3:16,[5] or what the beginnings of judgment are already upon a people, as harbingers and forerunners of more at hand... 1 Samuel 2:12.[6]

There is a "singular advantage" in exercising discernment, says Flavel, and that is that it can either be used as a means to prevent "approaching calamities," citing Zephaniah 2:1-3,[7] or a way to "take sanctuary in Christ..., to run to the promises and attributes, Isaiah 24:21,[8] and so have a good roof over [one's] head while the storm falls and the weather is tempestuous."

Flavel claims that exercising foresight and discernment gives believers stability in times of temptation and persecution, an attribute which is "a choice and singular mercy" in helping a believer to stand, referring to Revelation 21:7-8[9] and Romans 2:6-7.[10] Believers are encouraged to "respect the enemy that engages you," Ephesians 6:12,[11] and to put on the "whole armour of God."[12] Flavel calls on believers to honestly recognize our own "weakness, who have been so often foiled in lesser trials, Jeremiah 12:5."[13]

Flavel states that "our ability to stand" under trials and persecutions "is not from our own inherent grace," quoting a beautiful verse in 1 Samuel 2:0: "He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail." Only God's grace will give us that ability to stand and withstand in times of trouble. Flavel encourages us that, in addition to God's special strengthening in times of trial, there is a grace which is a direct result of our exercised foresight, which is "excited and prepared for a storm," without which "we cannot expect to stand."

Finally, Flavel links foresight to an act of our will, saying we should be "subdued to the will of God; for till this be done, in a good measure, you cannot stand ready to suffer for Him." He writes that when our wills are conformed to God's will, this is another great act of God's grace in our lives:

Now to have Christ and grace rule that which rules and commands your inner and outer man too, is no small mercy; and a better evidence... that you stand ready, or do seriously prepare yourself to suffer the hardest things for Christ: If your will can like that work, it is an argument grace hath conquered and subdued your wills indeed.

The Truth:

"His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber." (Isaiah 56:10)

1. Works of John Flavel (6 vol set), Banner of Truth Trust (1820, 1968), ISBN 0-85151-060-4. Flavel's dissertation titled "Preparations for Suffering, or The Best Work in the Worst Times" appears in Volume 6, pages 3-83.
2. In Matthew 16:3 Jesus asks:
"And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?"
3. Proverbs 22:3 says,
"A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished."
4. Flavel is taking the liberty of paraphrasing the verse, combining it with Proverbs 22:3 cited above. Ecclesiastes 2:14 in full reads:
"The wise man's eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all."
5. Joel 3:16 says,
"The LORD also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the LORD will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel."
6. This verse notices leaders who are disobedient to Scripture: "Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the LORD."
7. Zephaniah 2:1-3 reads:
"Gather yourselves together, yea, gather together, O nation not desired; Before the decree bring forth, before the day pass as the chaff, before the fierce anger of the LORD come upon you, before the day of the LORD'S anger come upon you. Seek ye the LORD, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD'S anger."
8. We include the two verses leading up to Isaiah 24:21 so that the reader will grasp the context of judgment: Isaiah 24: 19-21 reads,
"The earth is utterly broken down, the earth is clean dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly. The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage; and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it; and it shall fall, and not rise again. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the LORD shall punish the host of the high ones that are on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth."
9. Note the qualifications of those who do not overcome. Revelation 21:7-8 states,
"He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death."
10. Romans 2:6-7 encourages believers with this promise:
"Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life."
11. Flavel is reminding the reader that this familiar passage pertains to times of persecution and tribulation as well as everyday walking with the Lord:
"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."
12. Flavel continues with Ephesians 6:13,
"Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand."
13. Jeremiah 12:5 asks the important question,
"If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, [they wearied thee], then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?"

*ED. NOTE: Emphasis added. We have taken minor liberties to reformat some of the published text by altering some of the punctuation, Roman numerals, and other obsolete forms.