Providencial occurances

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Johan Mortensen

Puritan Board Freshman
(This is my first post - other than introducing my self)

I am currently writing my MA-thesis on providential occurances ("prodigies") in Denmark during the 30 Year's war and how they were used to teach piety to the people.

Also the Puritans made much of prodigies and many pamphlets were issued declaring some exraordinary or supernatural work of God. It could be "monstrous births", natural calamities, plagues. They viewed such things as the hand of God calling us to repentance.

(For further reading on the Puritans from a historian's perspective cf. A. Walsham's "Providence in Early Modern England"; for a broader, more seminal treatment K. Thomas' "Religion and the decline of magic"; for a reformed look at westminster cessationism see Milne's "The Westminster Confession of Faith and the cessation of Special revelation")

Well, how should we view such things? What do you think? A further question, how should such things be "interpreted"? The early modern protestants would give quite particular interpretations to each occurance e.g. a monstrous birth should lead us to ponder our monstrous sinful nature and how God abhors our sins even as we are revolted at the sight of a misshapen baby.

Some starters: I believe...
1. We should be unashamedly supernaturalistic! We should affirm God's interventions and his providential governance.

2. I am a cessationist... BUT we should believe that God's revelation through nature and providence is a very "active", living, ongoing sort of revelation.

3. Revelation 9:20-21 is spoken of such things. And therefore we should also warn people e.g. in light of the corona virus, that life is short and judgment is coming and that the LORD is speaking through such natural disasters.
And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.​
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
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Hello JM,
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Thank you.

As to your subject, Milne has been favorably cited on the PB before. The Reformation era did provide considerable fodder (more than a few) of cases-extraordinary, which reports, taken at face value, do supply us with what seem like undeniable instances of divine intervention, prediction, approval/disapproval, etc.

Providence--even extraordinary Providence--does not come (as with miracles-proper) with explanation, that is, with accompanying special, intelligible revelation to interpret such Providence infallibly. So, we have to be careful in the manner of which we ascribe to events God's purposes in those events. This means that we cannot say: God did X (wonderful thing) in order to attest to Y, for example his approval of so-and-so.

So, is a "monstrous birth" an occasion of his frowning providence, or his pitiful providence? We could say, "Here is an occasion for us to consider Y in the light of X," being careful not to prejudice all such like events. It can seem easier if the case of many deaths, a hecatomb, looking to us like an awful tragedy, a precursor to Final Judgment, a reason to bewail our sins. But what if those many deaths are more aptly compared to the 185,000 dead Assyrians, 2Ki.19:35, and a reason to think God has spared us (think of the defeat of the Spanish Armada)?

We may not be able to tell what "divine lesson" applies to us the most, or if multiple "lessons" are bound together with the occasion.
 

Seeking_Thy_Kingdom

Puritan Board Freshman
I am not in any place to give a meaningful response, but I do find it a good question. For no specific reason I have been reading Puritan sermons from the time great plague of London (1665/66), very interesting reading and to contrast with modern situations.
 
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Johan Mortensen

Puritan Board Freshman
Providence--even extraordinary Providence--does not come (as with miracles-proper) with explanation, that is, with accompanying special, intelligible revelation to interpret such Providence infallibly. So, we have to be careful in the manner of which we ascribe to events God's purposes in those events. This means that we cannot say: God did X (wonderful thing) in order to attest to Y, for example his approval of so-and-so.
I agree completely. Some of the documents/stories I read have quite specific interpretations. That I find unwarrented. At least it is unwarrented to make such interpretations the only right one. I believe God may speak to an individual through such things and bring a "message" that is quite specific home to his conscience. But it is always the WORD that defines how we should react.

We may not be able to tell what "divine lesson" applies to us the most, or if multiple "lessons" are bound together with the occasion.
I think we should meditate upon the various applications which may be inherent in a providential occurance and apply them all to our conscience. What I mean is: for instance, after 9/11 we should think: 1) how it could have been us that died, 2) how we are no better than those who died, 3) how God is so gracious toward us, 4) how God is right to kill, 5) how God humbles the pride of man, 6) how his judgment will fall upon the earth 7) how God warns the US and the west of his judgment.

If a person is an unbeliever or a believer the lesson is of course different. A believer need not worry, but may rest in God's promises. An unbeliever is by such an occurance called to repentance.

And we shouldn't be afraid of expressing such things even if most people won't like it.
 

Seeking_Thy_Kingdom

Puritan Board Freshman
7) how God warns the US and the west of his judgment.
This point is what is occupying my mind. To what extent do ministers have a prophetic voice when speaking of the judgment of God? The book I am currently reading gave a response:

Ҥ. 10. Of the grounds that Ministers now have to foretell judgements.

Ob. MInisters have not now such certaine knowledge of Gods minde, as of old the Prophets and Apostles had, to whom God did immediatly and infallibly make knowne his minde.

Answ. We have a more sure word, namely the holy Scriptures, which are given by inspiration of God. These shew what sinnes do most offend God, and what doe soonest pull downe vengeance from God, upon the committers of them. So as when Ministers see such sinnes impudently and impenitently committed, they may well inferre that God purposeth to send some judgment to such a people. To this purpose is it that the Apostle reckoneth up sundry sinnes that the Israelites committed in the wildernesse, and judgements that followed thereupon, that we should not sinne as they did, and fall after the same example of unbelief or disobedience.

On this ground many Ministers well noting the sinnes of these times, did foretell that God would bring on this City, or a Plague, or some other judgment. And in the beginning of the yeare many did particularly foretell the Plague it selfe. Their threatning was little regarded; little or no amendment followed thereupon: now therefore is the Plague among us.

Excerpt From
Gods three arrovves plague, famine, svvord, in three treatises. I. A plaister for the plague. II. Dearths death. III. The Churches conquest over the sword. By William Gouge Doctor in Divinity, and preacher of Gods Word in Black-Friers, London.
Gouge, William
This material may be protected by copyright.

It would be interesting to know what these sins were that provoked the wrath and if London did indeed repent of them.
As for the current pandemic, who is to say which of the many national and even global sins triggered Gods justice... or is it a birth pang on our way towards His return? Who can know the mind of God?

If a person is an unbeliever or a believer the lesson is of course different. A believer need not worry, but may rest in God's promises. An unbeliever is by such an occurance called to repentance.

And we shouldn't be afraid of expressing such things even if most people won't like it.
Indeed, the Church has a fantastic opportunity for evangelism among those who are afraid!
 
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