Saturday, March 7, 2009

I0307-Use of the Doctrine of Providence 1.17.1

This post is part of our group read of the Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.


WOW, this chapter opens up with a very solemn warning which serves as a strong motivation to truly understand and seek to understand the doctrine of Providence.

it becomes almost impossible for those who do not see the sound and proper use of this doctrine, to avoid entangling themselves in perplexing difficulties." 1.17.1
Said another way -- YOU WILL BE entangled in perplexing difficulties if you do not see the proper use of the doctrine of providence.

Once again, I'm reminded of the great bondage that ensnares those caught up in the Faith Movement. By ascribing so much power to Satan, and so much power to themselves they UNGOD our great God and purchase for themselves great troubles.

Let me explain.

Faith Movement teaches that all sickness comes from the Devil. If you are sick He receives blame.

Faith Movement teaches also that these bad things come upon you, because you lacked Faith. You made a negative confession. A cardinal tenet of the Faith Movement being "Never, Never, never say anything negative or you will perpetuate the problem and doom yourself."

Consider two examples I witnessed personally. A friend was joyfully telling me that God had miraculously healed his back. But then he added, "My back doesn't know it yet. But it is healed." Wrongly ascribing the power of miraculous healing to the necessary magnitude of his own faith.

Second example: several years back an acquaintance made the comment, "oh my eyes hurt." but then immediately with horror upon her face said again, "no they don't -- they don't hurt -- there is nothing wrong with my eyes." Real terror had gripped her having just made a 'negative confession.'

In both examples above, neither individual is really exhibiting true Faith in Christ alone. But rather a faith in the devils ability to torment them if they don't act properly in confessing positively. Or a faith in their own ability and responsibility of 'positively confessing' themselves into health. Neither of them, in these actions, exhibited a trust in our Sovereign, Powerful, Omnipotent God who works all his own purposes according to his own counsel. Neither of them perceived that God truly governed the world by his mighty hand --- so that nothing comes to pass but what he wills and purposes. (this is not to embrace cold, dead, lifeless fatalism - but an embracing of our God, who is our Heavenly Father, who will always do good and right even in the face of apparent present calamity.)

Interestingly I think both the individuals above would affirm the verses that declare the opposite of their present behaviour, ie:

Job 42:2 I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee.

Psalms 115:3 But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.

Psalms 135:6 Whatsoever the LORD pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places.

Isaiah 43:13 Yea, before the day was I am he; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand: I will work, and who shall let it? (Read Isaiah 43:10-25)

Ver. 13. Yea, before the day was I am he, &c.] Before there was a day, before the first day of the creation; that is, before time was, or from all eternity, I am he that resolved upon and contrived this method of saving men; "and ever since that day was" {k}, as it may be rendered, I am he that have spoken of it by all the prophets, from the beginning of the world, and now it is accomplished:

and there is none can deliver out of my hand: either such whom the Lord determines to punish, or such whom he resolves to save; none can snatch them out of his hands, there they are safe:

I will work, and who shall let it? as when he wrought the work of creation, there was no opposition to it, or hinderance of him; and in providence all things are done as he pleases; so all his purposes and decrees, which are his works within him, are exactly accomplished according to his pleasure, and none can resist his will. The work of redemption is finished just according to the draught of it in his eternal mind; and when he works upon the heart of a sinner at conversion, whatever obstructions and difficulties are in the way, these are removed, and the work is begun, and carried on, and performed, until the day of Christ. The work of the Lord in his churches, and the setting up of his kingdom in the world, in a more visible and glorious manner, shall be done, and none will be able to hinder it:

who can turn it back? either his work, or his hand in working; his purposes cannot be disannulled; his power cannot be controlled; his work cannot be made void, or of no effect; he always succeeds, for he has no superior that can obstruct him. [John Gill's Commentary, Online Bible 8.0]

Habakkuk 3:6 He stood, and measured the earth: he beheld, and drove asunder the nations; and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow: his ways are everlasting.

Matthew 19:26 But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.

Mark 14:36 And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.

Luke 1:37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.

Revelation 19:6 And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.

But regarding my two exemplar individuals somehow there is a disconnect between truth and practice. Or perhaps an inability to see the conflict and inconsistency between embracing one truth and another truth (which is not truth at all)

OF Course this is but a blatant example where a true understanding of the proper use of the doctrine of providence and other truths as well would serve to alleviate both fears and bondage. Think how terrifying our present economic situation would be, without trusting that even this is of the Lord. Even this is serving his purposes. Think what despair should grasp all of us as we contemplate the destruction of Katrina or the devastation and destruction of 100,000's by tsunami. Think also, what comfort we are robbed at the death of a dear loved one, if we do not know that 'not a sparrow falls without our Father' and 'ye are much more than a sparrow.' Think what fears we bring upon ourselves not truly believing that our future is in the hands of our Heavenly Father who loves us. Who having given for us his son will also with him freely give us all things.

SO Calvin introduces this chapter: "It will, therefore, be proper here to advert to the end which Scripture has in view in teaching that all things are divinely ordained."

Calvin in this chapter intending to show what GOAL and PURPOSE the scriptures have in view when they teach that all things are ordained of GOD. God has given us these scriptures - they are His Word and by these words he absolutely teaches that he is absolutely in control of absolutely all things. Why - it isn't enough to affirm this to be somewhat true in theory - but how do we then make use of them?

Providence embraces the Past and the Future, God overrulling all things, sometimes with means, sometimes without means, and sometimes against means.

God has undertaken the care of the "whole human race, but is especially vigilant in governing the church."

Calvin's words here simply declaring what God has said:
1 Timothy 4:10 For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.

John Gill explains this verse very well as follows:
Who is the Saviour of all men; in a providential way, giving them being and breath, upholding them in their beings, preserving their lives, and indulging them with the blessings and mercies of life; for that he is the Saviour of all men, with a spiritual and everlasting salvation, is not true in fact. Specially of those that believe; whom though he saves with an eternal salvation; yet not of this, but of a temporal salvation, are the words to be understood: or as there is a general providence, which attends all mankind, there is a special one which relates to the elect of God; these are regarded in Providence, and are particularly saved and preserved before conversion, in order to be called; and after conversion, after they are brought to believe in Christ, they are preserved from many enemies, and are delivered out of many afflictions and temptations; and are the peculiar care and darlings of providence, being to God as the apple of his eye: and there is a great deal of reason to believe this, for if he is the Saviour of all men, then much more of them who are of more worth, value, and esteem with him, than all the world beside; and if they are saved by him with the greater salvation, then much more with the less; and if he the common Saviour of all men, and especially of saints, whom he saves both ways, then there is great reason to trust in him for the fulfilment of the promises of life, temporal and eternal, made to godliness, and godly persons.
[John Gill, John Gill's Commentary, e-sword, 1Tim 4:10.]

A. T. Robertson adds also:
Not that all men “are saved” in the full sense, but God gives life (1Tim 6:13) to all (Acts 17:28).
[A. T. Robertson, Robertson's Word Pictures, e-sword, 1Tim 4:10]

Matthew Poole:
who is the Saviour, that is, the Preserver, of all men, the Preserver of man and beast, as the psalmist speaketh, is in a more especial manner the Saviour of those that believe, Psa_33:18,19. This seemeth rather to be the sense of the text, than to understand it of eternal salvation, for so God is not the actual Saviour of all; besides that the text seemeth to speak of a work proper to the Father, rather than to the Son.
[Matthew Poole, Commentary by Matthew Poole, e-sword, , 1Tim 4:10.]

John Calvin's Commentary: click here
for the word σωτὴρ Le mot Grec que nous traduisons Sauveur.” — “The Greek word which we translate Savior.” is here a general term, and denotes one who defends and preserves. He means that the kindness of God extends to all men. And if there is no man who does not feel the goodness of God towards him, and who is not a partaker of it, how much more shall it be experienced by the godly, who hope in him? Will he not take peculiar care in them? Will he not more freely pour out his bounty on them? In a word, will he not, in every respect, keep them safe to the end?

Footnote found in Calvin's Commentaries on verse 1Tim 4:10:
" “The word Savior is not here taken in what we call its proper and strict meaning, in regard to the eternal salvation which God promises to his elect, but it is taken for one who delivers and protects. Thus we see that even unbelievers are protected by God, as it is said (Matthew 5:46) that “he maketh his sun to shine on the good and the bad;” and we see that all are fed by his goodness, that all are delivered from many dangers. In this sense he is called “the Savior of all men,” not in regard to the spiritual salvation of their souls, but because he supports all his creatures. In this way, therefore, our Lord is the Savior of all men, that is, his goodness extends to the most wicked, who are estranged from him, and who do not deserve to have any intercourse with him, who ought to have been struck off from the number of the creatures of God and destroyed; and yet we see how God hitherto extends his grace to them; for the life which he gives to them is a testimony of his goodness. Since, therefore God shows such favor towards those who are strangers to him, how shall it be with us who are members of his household? Not that we are better or more excellent than those whom we see to be cast off by him, but the whole proceeds from his mercy and free grace, that he is reconciled to us through our Lord Jesus Christ, since he hath called us to the knowledge of the gospel, and then confirms us, and seals his bounty toward us, so that we ought to be convinced that he reckons us to be his children. Since, therefore, we see that he nourishes those who are estranged from him, let us go and hide ourselves under his wings; for, having taken us under his protection, he has declared that he will show himself to be a Father toward us.”

Whatever the out workings of God's providence may appear to be, we can be convinced that:
"that the counsel of God was in accordance with the highest reason" 1.17.1

Psa 147:5 Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite.

...that his purpose was either: to train his people to patience, correct their depraved affections, tame their wantonness, inure them to self-denial, and arouse them from torpor; or, on the other hand, to cast down the proud, defeat the craftiness of the ungodly, and frustrate all their schemes. How much soever causes may escape our notice, we must feel assured that they are deposited with him, and accordingly exclaim with David, "Many, O Lord my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered," (Psa 40:5.)

Walking through the valley of the shadow of death is difficult indeed, we are tested, there is a true trying of our Faith. Trials are trying. Difficulties are difficult. But how much more difficult they are when we do not know the comfort of faith trusting that none of these things are without our God. None of these take him by surprise, none of these things are outside His purpose. None of these things are without Him who works all things together for our good.
"We must use modesty, not as it were compelling God to render an account, but so revering his hidden judgements as to account his will the best of all reasons. When the sky is overcast with dense clouds, and a violent tempest arises, the darkness which is presented to our eye, and the thunder which strikes our ears, and stupefies all our senses with terror, make us imagine that every thing is thrown into confusion, though in the firmament itself all continues quiet and serene. In the same way, when the tumultuous aspect of human affairs unfits us for judging, we should still hold, that God, in the pure light of his justice and wisdom, keeps all these commotions in due subordination, and conducts them to their proper end."

Think of the IMMODESTY of the pastor whose funeral message is: "God did not want this man to pass from us. God did everything he could to prevent his dying. God tried all but it was not enough it was his time."

Let's not in our hearts follow this example.

So I say to my own soul: "purpose to understand the true use of the doctrine of providence. Purpose my soul to acknowledge God as the supreme and only ruler. Purpose my soul not to kick against the providences of God, but to acquiesce, to beleive and trust Him whose ways are perfect, who rules with the highest reason, whose understanding is infinite."


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