The Way to Improve Past Providences
Deuteronomy 8:1-2
All the commandments which I command you this day shall you observe to do, that you may live, and multiply…

I. I AM TO SPECIFY SOME OF THOSE PROVIDENTIAL DISPENSATIONS WHICH WE OUGHT IN A MORE ESPECIAL MANNER TO RECOLLECT AND CONSIDER. And this review ought to be universal. We should not willingly let pass any of the ways and dispensations of Providence towards us without a serious remark. But as we cannot remember them all, we should take the more care to retain the impression of those that are more remarkable, as a testimony of our dutiful acknowledgment of God and our dependence upon Him in all our ways. l. Then we should often call to mind God's afflicting and humbling providences. Have we been afflicted in our bodies? let us remember how it was with us in our low estate; what thoughts we then had of our souls and another world; what serious impressions were made upon our minds which we should endeavour to renew and retain. Again, have we been afflicted in our spirits? By sore temptations, grievous dejections, severe conflicts with sin and Satan, little hopes, great fears, dreadful doubts, and terrifying apprehensions concerning the state of our souls, and what is like to become of them hereafter. These kinds of troubles ought by no means to be forgotten. And when they are remembered, our proper inquiry is, How we got rid of them? For there is a very wrong and dangerous way of getting rid of such spiritual concern of mind. If stupidity and indolence, neglect or worldly-mindedness, carnal security or prevailing vanity, have contributed to overbear and drown those convictions, and banish that serious thoughtfulness and religious sorrow we once had, our state is really worse than it was then; and we have more reason now to be concerned than we had before. Again, have we been afflicted in our family or friends by the death of some, or the sickness and distress of others, let us not soon forget these kinds of afflictions when they are past. It is possible we may know very well from what immediate cause they flowed, yet let us not overlook the sovereign hand of God therein. And if they have in any degree been owing to some neglect or fault in us, they should especially be remembered, to humble us and make us more wise and cautious for the future.

2. We should likewise remember the merciful providences of God towards us. For instance, our temporal mercies should be frequently remembered — the health, the peace, the prosperity, and the worldly advantages we enjoy above so many others. Again, our spiritual mercies and religious advantages should be thankfully recorded by us, and especially that invaluable one of a good and pious education. Again, family mercies should be often remembered by us — family health, peace and prosperity, the comfort of relations, the blessing of children, especially if they be found walking in the way of truth. And so should public mercies; especially the signal interpositions of Providence in preserving us from our enemies and restoring to us the blessings of national prosperity and peace.


1. We should review them very intently and seriously, call to mind as many particulars as we can, reflect upon them, dwell upon the reflection till the heart be deeply impressed with it.

2. We should review past providences with thankfulness (Ephesians 5:20). What! are we to give thanks for afflictions, pains, and crosses; for those humbling providences under which we mourn? Yes; there is no providence, though ever so adverse, in which a Christian may not see much of the Divine goodness, and for which, upon the whole, he will not see abundant cause to be thankful. He hath reason to be thankful that his afflictions are not greater; that when some of his comforts are gone he hath so many others left; that some honey is thrown into his bitter cup; that there is such a mixture of mercy with judgment; that his supports are so seasonable and effectual; that under these strokes he can eye the Father's hand and look upon them as the effect of His love, for He chasteneth every son He loves. But especially are kind favourable providences to be gratefully recorded. It is not to be supposed but that every one of us may call to mind many a merciful providence which has contributed greatly to the comfort of our lives, and laid the foundation of our present happiness and future hopes.

3. Our remembrance of the past providences of God should be improved for the confirmation of our hope and trust in Him. By what God hath done for us we see what He is able to do. Our experience, then, should support our hope, and past mercies establish our trust in God for future.

4. When we call to mind the past ways of God towards us, we should seriously reconsider in what manner we behaved under them and what good we have gained from them. Every providence hath a voice, some a very loud one calling us in a more especial manner to practise some particular duty, or forsake some particular sin. Have merciful providences made us more active, diligent, and steadfast in the service of God? and together with greater power given us a better heart to do good? Again, what effect have providential afflictions had upon us? And all afflictions are to be deemed such excepting those that are the genuine effects of our own sin and folly. Have they humbled us? mortified our worldly-mindedness? checked our false ambition? or subdued any secret lust that before too much prevailed? Have they fixed our hope and dependence on God? and made us think more seriously of death and another world? and, in a word, been the means of making us more circumspect and better Christians?


1. The express command of God should be a sovereign motive to this duty.

2. The duty recommended in the text is necessary as subservient to the great end for which such providences are intended — namely, to do us good in the latter end. So that if we seldom or superficially reflect upon them, we frustrate the chief design of them, and lose the benefit intended thereby.

3. This is a very pleasant as well as useful employment of the mind; and a very happy way of filling up those leisure minutes which, through the vagrancy and dissipation of thought, do so frequently run to waste.

4. Such a serious reflection on past providences may be of use to direct us in our future conduct.

5. The shortness and uncertainty of life makes this duty more especially necessary. What is past we know, what is to come we know not. For anything that we know, by far the most important periods and occurrences of life may be past with us. If the hand of Providence therein hath not yet been properly attended to and improved by us, it is high time it were.

(John Mason, M. A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: All the commandments which I command thee this day shall ye observe to do, that ye may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers.

WEB: You shall observe to do all the commandment which I command you this day, that you may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which Yahweh swore to your fathers.

The Way of the Past
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