John Calvin on Providence

It is always easier to believe in a Biblical doctrine with a certain head knowledge than to actually make that doctrine applicable in our daily life. This can be especially true when it comes to the sovereignty of God; we so often forget what that doctrine means in our day to day lives. We fret and worry about so many things: the health of our bodies, ensuring that we have enough money, marks in school, the weather, the crops, the government over us, coming elections, trouble and strife in the church, persecution, and the list goes on and on.

But John Calvin reminds us of the great comfort for the believer that comes from God’s sovereignty, especially as it is revealed in the doctrine of providence. He states beautifully in his Institutes, 

“These calumnies, or rather frenzied dreams, will easily be dispelled by a pure and holy meditation on Divine Providence, meditation such as piety enjoins, that we may thence derive the best and sweetest fruit. The Christian, then, being most fully persuaded, that all things come to pass by the dispensation of God, and that nothing happens fortuitously, will always direct his eye to him as the principal cause of events, at the same time paying due regard to inferior causes in their own place. Next, he will have no doubt that a special providence is awake for his preservation, and will not suffer anything to happen that will not turn to his good and safety. But as its business is first with men and then with the other creatures, he will feel assured that the providence of God reigns over both. In regard to men, good as well as bad, he will acknowledge that their counsels, wishes, aims, and faculties, are so under his hand, that he has full power to turn them in whatever direction, and constrain them as often as he pleases. The fact that a special providence watches over the safety of believers, is attested by a vast number of the clearest promises. “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” “Casting all your care upon him: for he careth for you.” “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” “He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of mine eye.” “We have a strong city: salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks.” “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.” Nay, the chief aim of the historical books of Scripture is to show that the ways of his saints are so carefully guarded by the Lord, as to prevent them even from dashing their foot against a stone. Therefore, as we a little ago justly exploded the opinion of those who feign a universal providence, which does not condescend to take special care of every creature, so it is of the highest moment that we should specially recognise this care towards ourselves. Hence, our Saviour, after declaring that even a sparrow falls not to the ground without the will of his Father, immediately makes the application, that being more valuable than many sparrows, we ought to consider that God provides more carefully for us. He even extends this so far, as to assure us that the hairs of our head are all numbered. What more can we wish, if not even a hair of our head can fall, save in accordance with his will? I speak not merely of the human race in general. God having chosen the Church for his abode, there cannot be a doubt, that in governing it, he gives singular manifestations of his paternal care.” – John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1845), 255–256.

This is what doctrine is for. This is why we must study doctrine. It is not to make us wiser with no application in our lives. It is not to fill us with head knowledge so that we are smarter than everybody else. Rather it is to draw us closer to God personally as we see all the wonders of His attributes. It is to help us understand God so that we might praise Him for His everlasting grace and special, providential care for His people.

2 thoughts on “John Calvin on Providence

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s