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Suffering and Sovereignty: John Flavel and the Puritans on Afflictive Providence (Cosby)

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Reformation Heritage Books
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John Flavel wrote extensively on the subject of human suffering and how it relates to divine sovereignty. He himself experienced great suffering through the deaths of three wives and a son and continual persecution from state officials. Because many of his writings deal directly with the theme of suffering and because of his own experience with it, Flavel is a significant resource for understanding a Puritan theology of human suffering and divine sovereignty.

In this book, Brian H. Cosby examines Flavel’s teachings on suffering and how that theology translated into practical application for suffering believers. Serious consideration is given to issues related to the origin and nature of suffering, how it relates to divine sovereignty, God’s purpose for it, how people were encouraged to respond to it, and the benefits of comfort and consolation such understandings produce in believers. Cosby ably gathers these elements together so as to present a Puritan theology of suffering drawn from Flavel’s writings. 

Table of Contents:

  1. Toward a Puritan Theology of Suffering
  2. Origin and Nature of Suffering
  3. Divine Sovereignty and Human Suffering
  4. God’s Purposes in Ordaining Suffering
  5. The Right Response to Suffering
  6. Assurance of Salvation
  7. The Cessation of Suffering



Brian H. Cosby is pastor of Wayside Presbyterian Church (PCA) on Signal Mountain, Tennessee and adjunct professor of church history at Metro Atlanta Seminary. He is the author of several books and regularly contributes to various journals and magazines.



“It is my great joy and privilege to be able to commend this book and its author to a wider public. I have known Brian for many years as a student and as a pastor, and it is largely thanks to him that I have come to know John Flavel too. My prayer is that this introduction to his work will be used to bring many to a similar knowledge and understanding of one of the great men of our church and that those called to pastor today will learn from his example and be encouraged by one who suffered the loss of all things so that Christ might reign in splendor in the hearts and minds of the people committed to his care. If you are a child of God, may He do a work in you as great as the one He did in John Flavel, and may you go on your way rejoicing, knowing that in reading these pages, you have been with Jesus.” — Gerald Bray, Research Professor of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School, Samford University (from the foreword)

“Let’s be clear—suffering is not something we want for ourselves or for those we love. Yet it is a reality of living in a compromised creation. But what does this mean for our view of God and our relationship with Him? In this brief book, Brian Cosby attempts to review the theological logic that informs John Flavel’s view of God’s providence amid these difficulties. Some of what Flavel argues may be hard for us to swallow, but here is someone creatively trying to uphold both God’s sovereignty and love amid the painful realities that arise in our lives. This book, filled with provocative quotes from Flavel and ably arranged and explicated by Cosby, helps us understand Flavel’s pastoral advice for how Christians might view these seasons of suffering.” — Kelly M. Kapic, Associate Professor of Theological Studies at Covenant College and Coeditor of The Devoted Life: An Invitation to Puritan Classics