Thoughts of a Living Christian

Musings of an amateur theologian and hopeful writer

Archive for the month “August, 2012”



Calvin’s influence is undeniable, particularly regarding doctrines such as the providence of God. Chapters 16 through 18 of his Institutes book one deal with this doctrine, heavily asserting the absolute sovereignty of God, arguing that everything eventuates as a result of God’s holy decree. Chapter 16 argues fervently for God’s sovereign governance over creation, including the plans of humanity; 17 discusses how this governance is important and how it should be applied; and 18 argues for God’s freedom from the responsibility of sin, despite foreordaining such events. Permeating his entire argument is an obvious desire and passion for correct reverence of God, a humble submission to his sovereignty that results in great comfort, knowing God, who is in control of all things, cares for and preserves his Church. This essay systematically analyses Calvin’s discussion on providence, followed by a criticism on several areas, such as his determinism, theodicy and classical doctrine of God. Finally, an application in light of these criticisms is offered for a pastoral context, focusing on the encouragement that should come from such a doctrine.

God’s Providential Care

For Calvin, providence is linked with creation, for, he argues, God is not a momentary creator. We cannot know him as Creator until we recognize his providence. He is Governor and Preserver; sustaining, cherishing, superintending all things, and in whom we have our being.[1] He argues in his Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God that God “is not a creator of a moment, but the perpetual governor.”[2] As Helm states, “According to Calvin, God not only created the universe, he also rules or governs it, including ruling or governing evil events and actions,”[3] and elsewhere, “The whole of the creation…is subject to his decree and sovereign control.”[4] In this, there is no distinction between foreknowledge and providence;[5] his is “a doctrine of meticulous divine providence.”[6] This is contrary to the philosophy of fate, obscuring God’s providence, for things happen by the “secret council of God,”[7] rather than fortuitously.

Even inanimate objects act as his instruments, including the sun, which acts not by blind instinct, but by God’s governance.[8] As Hohne notes, “whether one points to the power of the sun, the fruits of the earth or the richness of the loaves that could be made from her harvest, God is the one who gives life and strength and nourishment via these instruments.”[9] Nothing acts independently of God, and we must see through the veil of these secondary causes to recognize God’s governance,[10] so that the Lord “might claim the entire glory of these things as his own.”[11] Indeed, God does not need the sun to give life, since life came before the sun in the Genesis account; the sun is contingent on God’s command,[12] as Calvin states in his commentary on Psalm 104, “nothing in the world is stable except in as far as it is sustained by the hand of God.”[13]

Quoting Psalm 115:3, Calvin argues that “nothing happens without [God’s] counsel,”[14] for there is no random power, nor does he distantly observe. Rather, he “holds the helm, and overrules all events.”[15] This is contrary to Epicureanism, which Calvin labels as a pest. While there is a natural order, this is secondary to God’s governance.[16] God did not set things in motion and leave, an argument leaving no space for “the paternal favour or the judgment of God,”[17] for ‘particular’ events occur as examples of his intervention. Examples include drought or excessive rain, of which the Old Testament regularly claims are caused by God;[18] the plans and counsels of men;[19] rising or raging wind;[20] and childbirth, that while some remain childless, others receive children as a gift from God.[21] Calvin fervently argues that there is no room for a philosophy such as fate, for all things happen by his decree, moving exactly where God destines.[22] Even murders are not only foreknown by God, but decreed.[23] Calvin relegates why and how this happens to God’s ‘secret council’ and a hidden reason.[24]

Regarding human will, Engel argues Calvin understands it as being in conjunction with the Imago Dei. She proposes a perspectival understanding of Calvin’s approach, i.e. from humanity’s perspective, free will is a divine gift retained after the Fall; from the perspective of God as Redeemer, free will is lost after the Fall.[25] Calvin argues, according to Engel, for a divine determinism that does not deny human will;[26] he deals with predestination later in Institutes, but, as Helm notes, predestination and providence were closely connected for Calvin,[27] and Helm argued his doctrine of providence is predestinarian.[28] Engel’s perspectival understanding is easily applicable to Calvin’s statement in The Secret Providence of God:

The one who is supremely good wisely uses evil for damnation of those he justly predestines to punishment and for the salvation of those he predestined to grace. So far as men are concerned, they did what God did not will; but as far as the omnipotence of God is concerned, it was impossible for them to accomplish anything without it. So when they were acting contrary to the will of God, they were in fact accomplishing his will.[29]

In chapter 17 Calvin discusses the purpose and application of the doctrine of providence. It is to show that he cares for all humanity, especially his Church,[30] humbly leading people to a fear and reverence of God,[31] and away from superstition.[32] It should lead us to proclaim, as Paul did in Rom. 11:33-34, meditating on what God has revealed to us, whilst acknowledging the great deep that is providence.[33] Those who recognize the need for such humility will never blame God for their sin, nor “murmur against God for adversity in time past.”[34] However, this humility should not lead us to avoid action and caution,[35] for “the Lord has furnished men with the arts of deliberation and caution, that they may employ them in subservience to his providence, in the preservation of their life.”[36] God has provided us with the means of preserving our lives and guarding against danger.[37] If we do not use what God has provided us with for preserving our lives, “we have no right to take comfort in the thought of the divine providence.”[38]

Sin cannot be argued to be obedience, for obedience means following after God’s leading, through the discernment of his will, found in his word. However, we cannot do anything without God willing it. All sin and evil actions “serve his righteous ordination,”[39] and are his instruments, but sinners are not excused, for God merely uses the evil in them.[40] A recognition and acknowledgment of this providence, focusing on God as cause of all events, will bring comfort to the Christian, knowing that nothing will happen that will not eventuate as good and helpful.[41] Further comfort should come in knowing that there is no independent ruler opposing God; God is absolutely sovereign.[42] Providence is “God’s ceaseless, meticulous care and control of” all creation and “the proper response…is not to bridle at it, but to submit to it with awe and wonder, with a combination of fear and confidence.”[43] His providence reveals his paternal care for his Church,[44] the “comforting doctrine that we and all things are in the hands of our almighty heavenly Father.”[45]

God rules all creatures to bring safety to his people, including Satan himself who could do no more to Job than God allowed. Knowledge of this providence leads to gratitude, patience and security.[46] However, when adversity comes, we should lift our eyes toward God, like Joseph who was given compassion for his brothers, or Job who did not seek revenge. We must “ascend to God, and learn to hold it for certain that whatever an enemy wickedly committed against us was permitted and sent by his righteous dispensation.”[47] Blessings received lead to reverence of God, recognizing those whom God used. This encourages us to pray, helping us feel secure,[48] recognizing that it is an insult to God to suggest that humanity is subject to fate.[49] Knowledge of God’s providence further brings relief and freedom from fear and anxiety. It brings encouragement, knowing that “neither fire, nor water, nor sword, can do him harm, except in so far as God their master is pleased to permit.”[50] He prosecutes “with unwavering uniformity” that which he has decreed and foreseen from eternity.[51]

Chapter 18 largely deals with the issue of God remaining guilt-free of sin, despite decreeing all sinful actions. As we read of God bending the will of Satan and the reprobate to his will, the difficult question of how God remains untainted by sin and can justly condemn sinners arises. Before detailing God’s freedom from responsibility of sin, Calvin reiterates God’s providential decree of evil, arguing, “Whatever men or Satan himself devise, God holds the helm, and makes their efforts contribute to the execution of his judgments.”[52] He further references Acts 2:23 and 4:28 to show how Jesus’ death exemplifies this point. It is not that God merely permits evil, rather he decrees evil actions.[53] He states,

Since the will of God is said to be the cause of all things, all the counsels and actions of men must be held to be governed by his providence; so that he not only exerts his power in the elect, who are guided by the Holy Spirit, but also forces the reprobate to do him service.[54]

According to Engel, the two main reasons Calvin offers to support God’s freedom from responsibility of evil are: 1) “God is the principle cause though not the immediate author of all actions,” and 2) “Human freedom from coercion is not obliterated by sin.”[55] By this, he asserts human will, though a corrupted version of it.[56] Elsewhere, Calvin states that “nothing is decreed that is not just and wise.”[57] Responding to those who argue God must have two wills, Calvin argues that there is no variance within his will and it does not change.[58] We cannot possibly understand;

When we cannot comprehend how God can will that to be done which he forbids us to do, let us call to mind our imbecility, and remember that the light in which he dwells is not without cause termed inaccessible (1 Tim. vi.16), because shrouded in darkness.[59]

Responding to another objection, that God unjustly condemns sinners because of his governing their actions, Calvin argues that sin is disobedience to God’s will, violating God’s laws out of lust, even though God had secretly decreed their wicked actions.[60] He argues elsewhere that “it must be observed that the will of God is the cause of all things that happen in the world; and yet God is not the author of evil…Whatever things are done wrongly and unjustly by man, these very things are the right and just works of God.”[61] Calvin uses Judas’ treachery as example; “Judas…had no intention of obeying the declared commandment of God, but acted in opposition to it…yet God’s gracious will used Judas’s crime for the redemption of mankind.”[62] Calvin was perturbed by the possibility of injustice in God’s actions, but said that it is within his hidden council, quoting Augustine, “they who measure divine justice by the standard of human justice are acting perversely.”[63]

Critical Analysis and Application

Firstly, it is important to note that Calvin’s doctrine of providence was not new or radical, but was a fairly standard view, similar to what Aquinas had already asserted.[64] Whereas much discussion surrounding providence today has more to do with the existence of God and theodicy, Calvin presupposed God’s existence, taking it as the basis to his approach to the discussion of providence and evil; and God exists and is good, hence evil must be able to be reconciled with God’s righteousness.[65] However, contemporary theologians have criticised Calvin’s approach from several directions. Firstly, some consider his doctrine of God to be too aligned with the classical doctrine of God, “including divine simplicity, aseity, immutability and atemporality.”[66]This is problematic due to the increase of theologians becoming disenchanted with this doctrine. However, it is easy to go too far and remove too much of God’s essential aseity to endorse a form of panentheism.[67]

Secondly, Calvin’s doctrine has been considered by many as not being Christological enough.[68]  However, despite the obvious emphasis[69] on the Old Testament in his treatment of providence in Institutes, careful reading of his broader spectrum of work, so Crisp effectively argues, reveals a thoroughly Christological approach.[70] Thirdly, Calvin’s doctrine poses problems for theodicy, of which Crisp does not, nor Calvin it seems, explains satisfactorily.[71] However, it could be argued that theodicy wasn’t as much of an issue then as it is today, hence Calvin didn’t deal greatly with it.

Fourthly, much contemporary thought has declared Calvin’s view as too deterministic.[72] His determinism relies on his argument that God sovereignly ordains all events, both good and evil. However, his often confusing argument seems contradictory. All good events, both primary and secondary, can be attributed to God, yet any evil event that occurs as a result of a secondary event[73] can not be attributed to God. Calvin’s attempt at keeping God free from responsibility of sin, thus, seems contradictory. It seems very similar to a mob boss who gets hitmen to do the necessary, yet evil job done and retain his freedom from responsibility – at least in the eyes of the police. Engel’s perspectival understanding of Calvin’s doctrine is adequate for explaining Calvin’s position, but does not cause his contradictory argument to make sense. Calvin’s attempt at explaining how this is so is to argue for our inability to understand God’s ‘secret council,’ yet, ironically, he still makes such a bold argument.

Throughout his discussion, Calvin has a pastoral focus.[74] We should not see God as distant or inactive,[75] but as a father faithfully protecting his Church,[76] whom we can trust,[77] call upon and set our hope in.[78] Parker states, regarding how the doctrine affects our lives,

We might shift the blame for our sins from ourselves to God – all things happen by God’s will, so how could I help sinning? We could let it drive us to despair and ultimately to suicide – ‘this is my destined fate’. We could, on the other hand, neglect to take any precautions…we could regard it as reasonable to give up praying…we could lapse into irresponsibility…But God has given us both foresight and the means to preserve life. It is, therefore, our duty to use the means.[79]

For a contemporary pastoral setting, therefore, five points can be learned and applied from Calvin’s doctrine. Firstly, though Calvin’s classical doctrine of God is progressively becoming less apparent, an understanding of Heb. 13:8 allows us to recognize that Christ’s love will never be outdated and so we can be sure of God’s paternal care, which Calvin was adamant on portraying. How this is done, and the second point, will always be a mystery, our human minds can never – as Calvin argued – comprehend the ‘secret council’ of God. However, thirdly, we should be careful not to make bold, vast doctrines, as Calvin did, based on an idea that we admit we cannot comprehend. Fourthly, though we do not need as deterministic an approach as Calvin takes, we must agree with Calvin that God is never responsible for evil. Instead, we can agree with Gunton’s Trinitarian approach, understanding the Spirit as giving the world space to move within the structure that the Son gives,[80] an approach which gives way for both free will and God’s providential care. Thus, lastly, we must, as Calvin implores, take comfort in God’s fatherly care for his Church, knowing that God will work all things toward an eventual positive result.


As has been seen, Calvin’s doctrine on providence is heavily weighted toward a deterministic sovereignty of God, in whom all things exist and through whom all events are caused. God does not just create and leave, but stays and governs, cares and preserves. Rejecting fate, Stoicism and Epicureanism, Calvin asserts a meticulous divine providence, which gives life and nourishment, through both primary and secondary causes. This understanding should result in reverence of God, and a comfort in God, knowing God will providentially care for his Church. Furthermore, Calvin passionately argues that God is not responsible for sin, a doctrine which should be embraced. Unlike Calvin, however, we must not reject free will, but understand that the Spirit, while allowing the Church to move independently, still maintains structure, ever leading the Church toward eschatological glorification. This has important implications for the contemporary Church: the Church must remember Christ’s eternal love, an incomprehensible truth; the Church must never place the responsibility of evil upon God; and most importantly, the Church can take comfort in the fact that God ultimately desires to preserve, protect and build up his Church. The doctrine of providence is clearly a liberating truth and encouraging promise of hope.


Calvin, John. Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God. Translated by J. K. S. Reid. Cambridge: James Clark & Co., 1961.

Calvin, John. Commentary on the Book of Psalms. Translated by James Anderson. Vol. IV. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1984.

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Translated by Henry Beveridge. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989.

Calvin, John. The Secret Providence of God. Translated by Keith Goad, Edited by Paul Helm. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2010.

Crisp, Oliver D. “Calvin on Creation and Providence.” In John Calvin and Evangelical Theology: Legacy and Prospect, edited by Sung Wook Chung. Milton Keynes, Bucks: Paternoster, 2009.

Engel, Mary Potter. John Calvin’s Perspectival Anthropology. Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1988.

Gunton, Colin E. The Triune Creator. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998.

Helm, Paul. “Calvin (and Zwingli) on Divine Providence.” Calvin Theological Journal 29, no. 2 (1994): 388-405.

Helm, Paul. John Calvin’s Ideas. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Helm, Paul. Calvin: A Guide for the Perplexed. London: T & T Clark, 2008.

Hohne, David A. “The Secret Agent of Natural Causes: Providence, Contingency and the Perfecting Work of the Spirit.” In Engaging with Calvin: Aspects of the Reformer’s Legacy for Today, edited by Mark D. Thompson. Nottingham: Inter-Varisty Press, 2009.

Kirby, W. J. Torrance. “Stoic and Epicurean? Calvin’s Dialectical Account of Providence in the Institutes.” International Journal of Systematic Theology 5, no. 3 (2003): 309-322.

Lane, Anthony N. S. A Reader’s Guide to Calvin’s Institutes. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009.

McDermott, Gerald R. The Great Theologians. Downer’s Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2010.

Niesel, Wilhelm. The Theology of Calvin. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1956.

Parker, T. H. L. Calvin: An Introduction to His Thought. London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1995.

Pipa, Joseph A. “Creation and Providence.” In A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes, edited by David W. Hall and Peter A. Lillback. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing Company, 2008.

Rogers, Eugene F. “The Mystery of the Spirit in Three Traditions: Calvin, Rahner, Florensky.” Modern Theology 19, no. 2 (2003): 243-260.

VanderMolen, Ronald J. “Providence as Mystery, Providence as Revelation: Puritan and Anglican Modifications of John Calvin’s Doctrine of Providence.” Church History 47, no. 1 (1978): 27-47.

[1] Cf. Acts 17:28. According to Crisp, “too strict a division between creation and providence is…artificial,” (Oliver D. Crisp, “Calvin on Creation and Providence,” in John Calvin and Evangelical Theology: Legacy and Prospect, ed. Sung Wook Chung(Milton Keynes, Bucks: Paternoster, 2009). 47). Cf. Wilhelm Niesel, The Theology of Calvin (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1956). 63.

[2] John Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, trans., J. K. S. Reid (Cambridge: James Clark & Co., 1961). 162. Cf. Crisp. 58; Joseph A. Pipa, “Creation and Providence,” in A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes, ed. David W. Hall and Peter A. Lillback(Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing Company, 2008). 137.

[3] Paul Helm, John Calvin’s Ideas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). 93. Cf. Anthony N. S. Lane, A Reader’s Guide to Calvin’s Institutes (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009). 57. Also, Paul Helm, Calvin: A Guide for the Perplexed (London: T & T Clark, 2008). 89-90. Furthermore, Calvin states in Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, “By His providence God rules not only the whole fabric of the world and its several parts, but also the hearts and even the actions of men,” (Calvin. 162).

[4] Paul Helm, “Calvin (and Zwingli) on Divine Providence,” Calvin Theological Journal 29, no. 2 (1994). 390.

[5] Mary Potter Engel, John Calvin’s Perspectival Anthropology (Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1988). 130. Cf. Pipa. 139 – “By providence God actively governs all things.”

[6] Crisp. 58. Cf. Pipa. 137.

[7] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans., Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989). 1.xvi.2.

[8] Ibid. Calvin references Josh. 10:13 and 2 Kings 20:11 as examples of God’s control over the sun. Cf. Pipa. 138.

[9] David A Hohne, “The Secret Agent of Natural Causes: Providence, Contingency and the Perfecting Work of the Spirit,” in Engaging with Calvin: Aspects of the Reformer’s Legacy for Today, ed. Mark D. Thompson(Nottingham: Inter-Varisty Press, 2009). 162.

[10] Ibid. Cf. Engel. 126; Helm, John Calvin’s Ideas. 104 – “we are not to focus exclusively on secondary causes, but to pass through the ‘veil’ of secondary causes to the hand of God.”

[11] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. 1.xvi.2.

[12] Hohne. 164. Any secondary cause is attributed to God’s providence, for God’s glory, (ibid. 167).

[13] John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, trans., James Anderson, vol. IV (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1984). 149. He further argues that all of creation is bound by God, whether sea or land, mountain or valley, God continually holds them within his control and power, (pp.143-171). Cf. Pipa. 138; Hohne. 162.

[14] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. 1.xvi.3. Cf. Pipa. 138.

[15] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. 1.xvi.4. Where God says he will provide in Gen. 22:8, he means God does not simply foresee the provision, but intervenes and proactively causes the act of provision himself. Cf. Helm, John Calvin’s Ideas. 96 – nothing, at all, takes place without God’s deliberation.

[16] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. According to Hohne, “it seems clear that the reformer was more than capable of allowing for a definite sense of contingency, or secondary causality, without ambivalence,” (Hohne. 178). Kirby discusses Calvin’s relation to philosophies, such as Stoicism and Epicureanism,

“For Calvin a Stoical ‘infusion’ of divine energy…represents a collapse of the right distinction between God and nature; it is, for him, tantamount to a pantheistic deification of nature. On this point, at least, it would appear that in the name of preserving the divine transcendence Calvin leans somewhat toward Epicurus – better that the gods be removed to the interstices of the cosmos, than that divine power be thought to be ‘infused’ into mere creatures. Yet, on the other side, and virtually in the same breath, Calvin insists upon the penetration of the eye of faith to the knowledge that the Creator is nonetheless engaged in superintending the most minute detail of the creation and is not merely ‘producing a kind of general motion in the machine of the globe.’ In his assertion of a ‘special providence’ Calvin upholds an intimate involvement of divine governance with the infinitesimal detail of secondary causality, an involvement which must finally be regarded as even more radical than that proposed by the Stoics.” (W. J. Torrance Kirby, “Stoic and Epicurean? Calvin’s Dialectical Account of Providence in the Institutes,” International Journal of Systematic Theology 5, no. 3 (2003). 316).

[17] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. 1.xvi.5.

[18] Ibid. While Calvin does not specifically reference any of the Law or Prophets he mentions, he does reference Matt. 10:29 as an example of God’s particular providence.

[19] Ibid. 1.xvi.6; 1.xvi.8. Calvin quotes Prov. 16:1 and Ps. 75:6, 7. Cf. Pipa. 140 – “If providence applied only generally to men, they would ultimately be in control of their fate. But man, in fact, is the special object of providence; his actions are under the absolute disposal of God.”

[20] Calvin quotes Exod. 19:13 and God sending Jonah into the sea, as examples of God controlling the wind.

[21] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. 1.xv.7.

[22] Ibid. 1.xvi.6-8.

[23] Ibid. 1.xvi.9.

[24] Ibid. 1.xvi.6, 9.

[25] Engel. 124. Furthermore, “the distinction between the divine and human perspectives enable him to affirm freedom of the will as constitutive of human beings and deny freedom of choice as destructive of God’s free grace,” (ibid.). Cf. T. H. L. Parker, Calvin: An Introduction to His Thought (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1995). 46.

[26] Engel. 126. Furthermore, “Calvin indirectly defends the will…and freedom from coercion in his divine determinism in his argument against the determinisms of the Stoics, the Sorbonnists, and the Libertines, and in his response to the objections of Phigius. He distinguishes his view from the determinism of the Stoics by emphasizing God’s fatherly and purposeful care in both universal and particular providence,” (ibid. 131).

[27] John Calvin, The Secret Providence of God, ed. Paul Helm, trans., Keith Goad (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2010). 21. Helm argues that in Calvin’s Secret Providence of God, Calvin “presents providence and predestination together…though, as is well known, in the 1959 Institutes he was to separate the treatment of providence from that of predestination. However, the two ideas closely connected in his thought. Such providence/predestination was “absolute”; that is, it was not conditioned by any human merit or by God’s foreknowledge of any other such preconditions, nor is providence to be regarded as a mere general superintendence of the creation. Rather it reaches down to every detail, including the intricacies of human action,” (ibid.).

[28] Helm, “Calvin (and Zwingli) on Divine Providence.” 389. Cf. Helm, Calvin: A Guide for the Perplexed. 85.

[29] Calvin, The Secret Providence of God. 81.

[30] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. 1.xvii.1. Cf. Niesel. 63 – “God has called all things into being for the sake of man, and has ordered all things for our good and well-being.”

[31] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. 1.xvii.2.

[32] Pipa. 139. Cf. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. 1.xvi.3.

[33] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin also quotes Deu. 29:29 and argues that we must “look up with reverence to the secret Providence of God.” Furthermore, we must not separate God’s power from his justice, for he does nothing that is not right, even is the reasons are obscure, (ibid.); Engel argues that for Calvin, “God’s providence, therefore, is best understood not as power but as righteousness,” (Engel. 132) or, in other words, his providential decrees are intertwined with his being, which is absolutely good and holy. Cf. Pipa. 142.

[34] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. 1.xvii.3.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid. 1.xvii.4. Calvin argues it would be stupid to act without God, but it would be equally stupid to expect God to act without our participation. Quoting Prov. 16:9 he further argues, “The eternal decrees of God by no means prevent us from proceeding, under his will, to provide for ourselves,” (ibid.).

[37] Ibid. Cf. Pipa. 143 – “Calvin teaches that providence does not excuse the need for prudence, or the necessity to plan for the future, or the use of means that are consistent with God’s Word.”

[38] Niesel. 75.

[39] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. 1.xvii.5.

[40] Ibid.

[41] This is attested by Ps. 55:22; 91; Isa. 26:4-8; 1 Pet. 5:7.

[42] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. 1.xvii.5. Cf. Niesel. 77.

[43] Helm, John Calvin’s Ideas. 104.

[44] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. 1.xvii.6.

[45] Parker. 43. Cf. Lane. 58 – “Calvin is concerned not with philosophical theories about determinism and sovereignty, but with God’s special care and fatherly favor for his people.”

[46] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. 1.xvii.7.

[47] Ibid. 1.xvii.8.

[48] Ibid. 1.xvii.9. Cf. Pipa. 145 – “The recipient of blessing will honor God and thank those who have been his instruments.”

[49] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. 1.xvii.10.

[50] Ibid. 1.xvii.11. Calvin references Ps. 27:3; 91:1-6; 118:6. He further argues that “ignorance of Providence is the greatest of all miseries,” (ibid.).

[51] Ibid. 1.xvii.13. Furthermore, when God threatened destruction, it was to bring reform; Calvin uses the example of Jonah and Nineveh, (ibid. 1.xvii.14).

[52] Ibid. 1.xviii.1. Cf. Pipa. 144 – “God uses men without being party to their wickedness….God is the primary cause, but man and the devil are secondary causes. By this distinction, he frees God from the accusation of being the author of sin.”

[53] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion.

[54] Ibid. 1.xviii.2.

[55] Engel. 135. God holds the reins of the sinful horses, directing them where he pleases, yet it is the horses, and not he, who run, (ibid.). Cf. Pipa. 145 – “Without the certainty of a good, all-powerful God directing our lives, life would be intolerable.”

[56] Engel. 137. Cf. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. 2.iii.5.

[57] Calvin, The Secret Providence of God. 64. Cf. Niesel. 63.

[58] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. 1.xviii.3.

[59] Ibid. Cf. Ronald J. VanderMolen, “Providence as Mystery, Providence as Revelation: Puritan and Anglican Modifications of John Calvin’s Doctrine of Providence,” Church History 47, no. 1 (1978). 32-33. According to Niesel, our inability to understand God’s providence should not cause us to doubt God’s wisdom, but cause us to humbly confess our weakness, (Niesel. 76). Cf. Pipa. 148.

[60] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. 1.xviii.4.

[61] Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God. 169. Cf. Helm, Calvin: A Guide for the Perplexed. 89-90. Cf. Pipa. 148.

[62] Parker. 48. Cf. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. 1.xviii.4. Parker later states, “Why should crimes be punished if they are predetermined? Answer: God has told us in his Word what he demands of us; it is this that we must follow…But unless God willed it, the crime would not have been committed. Answer: True, but it does not excuse the criminal, whose motive has been wrong. He was not acting in order to obey God’s will, but from some form of selfishness. Yet God knows how to use even evil instruments for his own good purpose without being defiled,” (Parker. 48).

[63] Gerald R. McDermott, The Great Theologians (Downer’s Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2010). 100.

[64] Helm, Calvin: A Guide for the Perplexed. 90.

[65] Helm, John Calvin’s Ideas. 93.

[66] Crisp. 61.

[67] Ibid.

[68] E.g. Bruce McCormack.

[69] And arguably over-emphasis.

[70] Crisp. 62. He quotes Calvin’s reflections on John’s gospel, “So far, he [the Evangelist, in John 1:4] has taught that all things were created by the Word of God. He now likewise attributes to Him the preservation of what had been created; as if he were saying that in the creation of the world His power did not simply suddenly appear only to pass away, but that it was visible in the permanence of the stable and settles order of nature – just as Heb. 1.3 says that He upholds all things by the Word of command of His power.” Furthermore, “Calvin’s doctrines of creation and providence appear much more Christologically focused…only those of faith can see that God creates and sustains the world through Christ, the one who makes the divine nature perceptible to us, through whose work we may be united to God,” (pp.62-63). Cf. Niesel. 70-79.

[71] Crisp. 60.

[72] Hohne. 159; VanderMolen. 30; Crisp. 60.

[73] Remembering that no primary evil events come from God.

[74] Eugene F. Rogers, “The Mystery of the Spirit in Three Traditions: Calvin, Rahner, Florensky,” Modern Theology 19, no. 2 (2003). 247. Rogers argues, “Calvin affirms that “Certainty about God’s providence puts joyous trust toward God in our hearts”, and that “Without certainty about God’s providence life would be unbearable.” But Calvin assigns a pastoral rather than epistemological function to both of those “certainties.” They bespeak no privileged access by unaided human powers, but promise comfort. Their purpose is expressly that the believer “will be relieved and set free from extreme anxiety and fear,” (ibid.). Cf. Helm, Calvin: A Guide for the Perplexed. 110.

[75] Parker. 44.

[76] Niesel. 74 – “God cares for the world and for mankind in general only for the sake of that fatherly protection which He bestows upon His church. The church is indeed the real object of the divine providence.”

[77] Crisp. 60 – “Calvin’s response is the response of Job: trust in God, sometimes despite circumstances, in the knowledge that he works all things to the good.”

[78] Niesel. 78.

[79] Parker. 48.

[80] Colin E. Gunton, The Triune Creator (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998). 192. Gunton further argues, “There is nothing outside God’s ordering activity. But that divine determining is not deterministic, because the action of the Spirit defines the kind of order that there is, or can be. The Spirit’s action is eschatological action, enabling things to be themselves. The future is ‘open’ because the Holy Spirit is the one who enables things to become what they are made to be by relating them to the Father through the one who became incarnate. Providential action is thus that which enables particular human actions and worldly events to become what they will be,” (ibid.).


Post Navigation