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A book that changed me

October 1995 | by Derek Eagles

My life seemed like a jigsaw puzzle of many pieces. It was not until I read John Flavel’s The mystery of Providence (Banner of Truth) that I realized there was a divine purpose holding every part together, and providing the plan. I was a schoolmaster for many years, eventually becoming the head of a primary school in Stroud in Gloucestershire until my retirement. My own teachers would never have believed that I could have ended up in their profession. I was often kept behind at the end of an afternoon for not working during the day, and I applied myself very little to learning. My Christian mother would warn me that I would never get a job, while I dreamed of playing football for Manchester City or Arsenal.

When I left school I took an office job, but after a while God brought into my life two people who took genuine interest in me. They encouraged me to study, spending hours with me so that eventually I compensated for those wasted opportunities of my early education.

When I obtained a copy of Flavel’s The mystery of Providence I realized that the path which my life had taken had been ordained by God. Reading this book constrained me to worship him for everything that had happened in my life beginning with my own humble upbringing. Flavel says, ‘A great performance of Providence for the people of God respects the place and time of their birth’ (p.46). He adds, ‘Another performance of Providence is the designation of the stock and family out of which we should spring and rise’ (p.53).

As time passed the opportunity arose for me to train as a school-teacher something unthinkable a few years earlier. So began a career in which I was privileged to play a part in influencing the lives of hundreds of children: ‘For settling you in such an employment and calling in the world, as possibly neither you nor your parents could ever have expected you to attain’ you should be ‘obliged to divine Providence’ (p.76).

It was during the first years of teaching that I was converted, though having always been religious, and I came to appreciate the love of God in saving an unworthy person like me. As Flavel puts it, ‘In nothing does Providence shine forth more gloriously in this world than in ordering the occasions, instruments and means of conversion of the people of God … You are more indebted to Providence for this than for all your other mercies’ (p.60).

Another cause for thanksgiving has been the gift of a Christian wife and five children, all of whom have become believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, and four of whom have married fellow Christians. Flavel says, ‘There is very much in Providence seen in appointing the parties for each other … How much of Providence is seen in children, the fruit of marriage’ (p.82).

As Flavel makes clear, the ongoing benefit of all these mercies which we receive is a growing awareness of the Providence of God: ‘Without due observation of the works of Providence no praise can be rendered to God for any of them’ (p.114). No one can pray without a consciousness of divine Providence. This I have found to be true. My debt to John Flavel has been considerable.

Derek Eagles