This post is part of our group read of the Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.
As I reflect upon Chapter 16, I'm struck that not only the doctrine of Providence but each chapter thus far, each doctrine, each biblical truth when embraced, believed and delighted in serves to work in me praise and worship to God, deeper admiration for his Holy Name and for the beauty of His Majesty. Also these truths working greater confidence, deeper faith, more comfort, more encouragement, more assurance. Is this what is meant by the scriptures when they speak of going from grace to grace, and glory to glory?
2Co 3:18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
I can say with Matthew Henry:
"from one degree of glorious grace unto another, till grace here be consummated in glory for ever. How much therefore should Christians prize and improve these privileges! We should not rest contented without an experimental knowledge of the transforming power of the gospel, by the operation of the Spirit, bringing us into a conformity to the temper and tendency of the glorious gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."
God's "divine power is conspicuous." A "cold and lifeless" - even meaningless existence if we knew only a God who was but an originator of all things and then left those things to run their own course.
But faith knows that God is not only a creator but also the Governor and Perserver of that He has made. Sovereign to the minutest detail: over the falling of every sparrow, the number of hairs on our head. Drawing from Psa 33:6 and Psa 33:16, Calvin gives us this:
David himself showing that the World was created by God:
Psa 33:6 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.
But David not leaving it there "immediately descends to the continual course of Providence:"
Psa 33:13 The LORD looketh from heaven; he beholdeth all the sons of men.
So David by the Holy Spirit demonstrating that God is the maker of the world, shows in the words "beholding the sons of men" that God is not setting back with no further active and immediate control. In Calvin's words: "no one could seriously believe that he is its Creator without feeling convinced that he takes care of his works; David with good reason, and in admirable order, leads us from the one to the other."
David speaking by the Spirit of God rises to far greater heights than mere philosphers acknowledging a secret something involved in the affairs of the world when he writes:
Psa 104:27 These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season.
Psa 104:28 That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good.
Psa 104:29 Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust.
Psa 104:30 Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth.
There is an opinion, which is present in all ages, Calvin says "almost universally prevailing in our own day" and we would agree most certainly also almost universally in our day as well.
" that all things happen fortuitously, the true doctrine of Providence has not only been obscured, but almost buried."
In otherwords all things happen by chance, by luck. There is an equal an opposite error that also denies the sovereign mighty hand of God, that all things happen according to fate. Cold - Distant - hard and lifeless fate.
BUT "But whose has learned from the mouth of Christ that all the hairs of his head are numbered, (Matt 10:30) will look farther for the cause, and hold that all events whatsoever are governed by the secret counsel of God."
Love the language here - an omnipotence that is vigilant, efficacious, energetic and EVER ACTIVE: "...not the vain, indolent, slumbering omnipotence which sophists feign, but vigilant, efficacious, energetic, and ever active.."
How do you define this word, Omnipotence? All-Powerful. God is all-powerful! All Power is his! None can stand against him! No one and no thing can thwart his eternal perfect plans!
General References from Nave's Topical Reference Bible:
Gen 17:1; Gen 18:14; Job 42:2; Isa 26:4; Mat 19:26; Luk 1:37; Act 26:8; Rev 19:6; Rev 21:22
Also Spurgeon commenting on Psa 135:6 -- click here
Psalms 135:6 Whatsoever the LORD pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places.
Ver. 6. Whatsoever the LORD pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places. His will is carried out throughout all space. The king's warrant runs in every portion of the universe. The heathen divided the great domain; but Jupiter does not rule in heaven, nor Neptune on the sea, nor Pluto in the lower regions; Jehovah rules over all. His decree is not defeated, his purpose is not frustrated: in no one point is his good pleasure set aside. The word "whatsoever" is of the widest range and includes all things, and the four words of place which are mentioned comprehend all space; therefore the declaration of the text knows neither limit nor exception. Jehovah works his will: he pleases to do, and he performs the deed. None can stay his hand. How different this from the gods whom the heathen fabled to be subject to all the disappointments, failures, and passions of men! How contrary even to those so called Christian conceptions of God which subordinate him to the will of man, and make his eternal purposes the football of human caprice. Our theology teaches us no such degrading notions of the Eternal as that he can be baffled by man. "His purpose shall stand, and he will do all his pleasure." No region is too high, no abyss too deep, no land too distant, no sea too wide for his omnipotence: his divine pleasure travels post over all the realm of nature, and his behests are obeyed.
SO the truth of God's Providential Care over all things even to the minutest detail is a great comfort to us who believe - especially when in trials and adversity. How can it not be when everything which we "endure is by the ordination and command of God," we are "under his hand."
[Treasury of David, Charles H. Spurgeon, Online Bible 8.0]
SO THINKING that things move along as they will freely however the course of nature may run is DOUBLY BAD.
1) God is defrauded of his glory.
2) Those thinking thus are robbed of a great comfort.
"for nothing were more wretched than man if he were exposed to all possible movements of the sky, the air, the earth, and the water."
RESOLVE now to be blessed with the DOUBLE BENEFIT:
1) For God is able to reward them who thus honor him in praise of his divine omnipotence.
2) We can rest secure in the protection of God who controls everything that could ever harm us - it is all subject to Him and can go only thus far as His purposes and no further.
There is no "RANDOM POWER" and "nothing happens but what he has knowingly and willingly decreed."
God is not sitting idly by.
He "holds the helm and overrules all events."
Gen 22:8 And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.
God will provide --- God not only knows the future these words mean much more -- Abraham was trusting that the future itself was in God's hands. He could "resign the management of an unknown business to the will of him whose providence is to bring perplexed and dubious matters to a happy result."
A GRIEVOUS ERROR EXPLAINED:
To assert that God only influences and works with contingencies asserting his power to bring his purpose to pass but not certainly -- not by a divine decree - but only by the exercise of a power that REACTS.
This is making man a "partner with God."
Sounds like we are reading here of what is called today, OPEN THEISM. Or maybe it is just old-fashioned arminianism.
TO WITHHOLD Government from God makes God a the ruler of the world in name only.
Jesus and the Father have always been at work from the beginning:
John 5:17 But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.
We live in him and have our being in him:
Act 17:28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.
Upholding all things: Heb 1:3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;
Nothing by Chance Nothing by luck: "The thing to be proved, therefore, is, that single events are so regulated by God, and all events so proceed from his determinate counsel, that nothing happens fortuitously."
1.16.6 Scripture espeically showing that EVERYTHING done in the world is according to God's decree, declares that things that seem most likely ascribed to chance or luck are indeed subject to GOD:
Such as the accidental death of one man at the hands of another:
Exo 21:13 And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee.
Which John Gill explains thus: "it being suffered and ordered by the providence of God, without whose knowledge and will nothing comes to pass, even what may seem to be a contingent thing, or matter of chance, to us; or it is so brought about in providence, that one man falls into the hands of another, and his life is taken away by him, though not purposely and maliciously; "
What could appear to be more the work of chance than the casting of Lots, rolling of dice?:
Pro 16:33 The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD.
Who is poor and who is rich, their "lot" in life we call it - not so that this is Random says the Lord. And so we should learn some contentment:
Pro 29:13 The poor and the deceitful man meet together: the LORD lighteneth both their eyes.
Psa 75:6 For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south.
Psa 75:7 But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.
1.16.7 Particular Events are the special providences of God
Note: Exo 19:13, "where God caused a south wind to blow, and brought the people a plentiful supply of birds."
Note: Psa 104:3-4 "did he not at pleasure drive the clouds and winds and therein manifest the special presence of his power."
See also: Psa 107:25 and Psa 107:29 and Amos 4:9.
God withholding children from Rachel: Gen 30:2
"Nothing in nature is more ordinary than that we should be nourished with bread. But the Spirit declares not only that the produce of the earth is God's special gift, but "that man does not live by bread only," (Deut. 8: 3,) because it is not mere fulness that nourishes him but the secret blessing of God."
GOD MAY EMPLOY all creatures for His own service in whatever way he wishes. Both the righteous and the wicked.
Psa 34:15 The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry.
Psa 34:16 The face of the LORD is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
"Hence we infer, not only that the general providence of God, continuing the order of nature, extends over the creatures, but that by his wonderful counsel they are adapted to a certain and special purpose."
1.16.8 DEFENSE against the accusation that all that is taught here as providence is really just FATE as held by the stoics.
1) The idea of Fate is a "Profane Novelety" which we are to shun: 1Tim 6:20
2) It is the use of an "odious term, to fix a stigma on the truth of God."
3) The stoics teach that there is a necessity of a perpetual chain of causes, and a kind of involved series contained in nature. WE HOLD that God is the disposer and ruler of all things. THIS IS INSIGHTFUL.
4) Contrary to the stoical fate - we believe in a God who decreed by infinite wisdom and according to His own eternal purposes long ago what he was to do, and now HE DOES WHAT HE DECREED HE WOULD.
"by his providence, not heaven and earth and inanimate creatures only, but also the counsels and wills of men are so governed as to move exactly in the course which he has destined."
5) But do we not admit that some things happen by chance, by coincidence, by fortune. "that Fortune and Chance are heathen terms; the meaning of which ought not to occupy pious minds."
6) All Blessings are from God. All calamity and adversity are his curse. What then there is nothing left for chance to bring about.
1.16.9 Our minds are limited
Though we know by revelation and by faith that all things are of the Lord. Yet their movements, their comings about are so hidden from us that they do appear to us to be by chance. Thanks be to God, that we have been made new creatures in Christ, given a new heart, and precious Faith. It is certain to us that all things happen under the government of God. (Calvin makes the parenthetical statement - "far be such a heartless thought from every Christian breast" that should imagine things truly come by chance.) Future events seem uncertain to us. But in our hearts we know that nothing happens outside the eternal purposes of our Great God.
"What seems to us contingence, faith will recognise as the secret impulse of God."
"The reason is not always equally apparent, but we ought undoubtedly to hold that all the changes which take place in the world are produced by the secret agency of the hand of God."
In conclusion, I confess I have not yet learned brevity. These notes are long. But then this truth is precious, and so precious that I am encouraged to search the scriptures further knowing a further and deeper convincing by the Spirit of God awaits me that this doctrine is True, comforting and God exalting. That God who made the heavens and the earth and all that lies within them does also rule over all things bringing to past all His perfect eternal unchanging purposes. It will be for our good, because we are HIS, we are in His Son, we belong to Him and were bought with a precious price, even the blood of Jesus Christ. If God has given for us his only-begotten son how will he not with him freely give us all things. All things working together for good, to them that love God, to the called according to his purpose. Rom 8:28