(Calvin, Institutes on the Christian Religion 1, part 17)

Chapter 17 
17, Use to be made of the doctrine of providence. 
This chapter may be conveniently divided into two parts: - I. A 
general explanation is given of the doctrine of Divine Providence, 
in so far as conducive to the solid instruction and consolation of 
the godly, sect. 1, and specially sect. 2-12. First, however, those 
are refuted who deny that the world is governed by the secret and 
incomprehensible counsel of God; those also who throw the blame of 
all wickedness upon God, and absurdly pretend that exercises of 
piety are useless, sect. 2-5. Thereafter is added a holy meditation 
on Divine Providence, which, in the case of prosperity, is painted 
to the life, sect. 6-11. 
    II. A solution of two objections from passages of Scripture, 
which attribute repentance to God, and speak of something like an 
abrogation of his decrees. 
1. Summary of the doctrine of Divine Providence. 1. It embraces the 
    future and the past. 2. It works by means, without means, and 
    against means. 3. Mankind, and particularly the Church, the 
    object of special care. 4. The mode of administration usually 
    secret, but always just. This last point more fully considered. 
2. The profane denial that the world is governed by the secret 
    counsel of God, refuted by passages of Scripture. Salutary 
3. This doctrine, as to the secret counsel of God in the government 
    of the world, gives no countenance either to the impiety of 
    those who throw the blame of their wickedness upon God, the 
    petulance of those who reject means, or the error of those who 
    neglect the duties of religion. 
4. As regards future events, the doctrine of Divine Providence not 
    inconsistent with deliberation on the part of man. 
5. In regard to past events, it is absurd to argue that crimes ought 
    not to be punished, because they are in accordance with the 
    divine decrees. 1. The wicked resist the declared will of God. 
    2. They are condemned by conscience. 3. The essence and guilt 
    of the crime is in themselves, though God uses them as 
6. A holy meditation on Divine Providence. 1. All events happen by 
    the ordination of God. 2. All things contribute to the 
    advantage of the godly. 3. The hearts of men and all their 
    endeavours are in the hand of God. 4. Providence watches for 
    the safety of the righteous. 5. God has a special care of his 
7. Meditation on Providence continued. 6. God in various ways curbs 
    and defeats the enemies of the Church. 7. He overrules all 
    creatures, even Satan himself, for the good of his people. 
8. Meditation on Providence continued. 8. He trains the godly to 
    patience and moderation. Examples. Joseph, Job, and David. 9. 
    He shakes off their lethargy, and urges them to repentance. 
9. Meditation continued. 10. The right use of inferior causes 
    explained. 11. When the godly become negligent or imprudent in 
    the discharge of duty, Providence reminds them of their fault. 
    12. It condemns the iniquities of the wicked. 13. It produces a 
    right consideration of the future, rendering the servants of 
    God prudent, diligent, and active. 14. It causes them to resign 
    themselves to the wisdom and omnipotence of God, and, at the 
    same time, makes them diligent in their calling. 
10. Meditation continued. 15. Though human life is beset with 
    innumerable evils, the righteous, trusting to Divine 
    Providence, feel perfectly secure. 
11. The use of the foregoing meditation. 
12. The second part of the chapter, disposing of two objections. 1. 
    That Scripture represents God as changing his purpose, or 
    repenting, and that, therefore, his Providence is not fixed. 
    Answer to this first objection. Proof from Scripture that God 
    cannot repent. 
13. Why repentance attributed to God. 
14. Second objection, that Scripture speaks of an annulment of the 
    divine decrees. Objection answered. Answer confirmed by an 
    1. Moreover, such is the proneness of the human mind to indulge 
in vain subtleties, that 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. It will, 
therefore, be proper here to advert to the end which Scripture has 
in view in teaching that all things are divinely ordained. And it is 
to be observed, first, that the Providence of God is to be 
considered with reference both to the past and the future; and, 
secondly, that in overruling all things, it works at one time with 
means, at another without means, and at another against means. 
Lastly, the design of God is to show that He takes care of the whole 
human race, but is especially vigilant in governing the Church, 
which he favours with a closer inspection. Moreover, we must add, 
that although the paternal favour and beneficence, as well as the 
judicial severity of God, is often conspicuous in the whole course 
of his Providence, yet occasionally as the causes of events are 
concealed, the thought is apt to rise, that human affairs are 
whirled about by the blind impulse of Fortune, or our carnal nature 
inclines us to speak as if God were amusing himself by tossing men 
up and down like balls. It is true, indeed, that if with sedate and 
quiet minds we were disposed to learn, the issue would at length 
make it manifest, that the counsel of God was in accordance with the 
highest reason, 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," (Ps. 40: 5.) For while our adversities ought 
always to remind us of our sins, that the punishment may incline us 
to repentance, we see, moreover, how Christ declares there is 
something more in the secret counsel of his Father than to chastise 
every one as he deserves. For he says of the man who was born blind, 
"Neither has this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of 
God should be made manifest in him," (John 9: 3.) Here, where 
calamity takes precedence even of birth, our carnal sense murmurs as 
if God were unmerciful in thus afflicting those who have not 
offended. But Christ declares that, provided we had eyes clear 
enough, we should perceive that in this spectacle the glory of his 
Father is brightly displayed. 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. And certainly in this matter many 
display monstrous infatuation, presuming to subject the works of God 
to their calculation, and discuss his secret counsels, as well as to 
pass a precipitate judgement on things unknown, and that with 
greater license than on the doings of mortal men. What can be more 
preposterous than to show modesty toward our equals, and choose 
rather to suspend our judgement than incur the blame of rashness, 
while we petulantly insult the hidden judgements of God, judgements 
which it becomes us to look up to and revere. 
    2. No man, therefore, will duly and usefully ponder on the 
providence of God save he who recollects that he has to do with his 
own Maker, and the Maker of the world, and in the exercise of the 
humility which becomes him, manifests both fear and reverence. Hence 
it is, that in the present day so many dogs tear this doctrine with 
envenomed teeth, or, at least, assail it with their bark, refusing 
to give more license to God than their own reason dictates to 
themselves. With what petulance, too, are we assailed for not being 
contented with the precepts of the Law, in which the will of God is 
comprehended, and for maintaining that the world is governed by his 
secret counsels? As if our doctrine were the figment of our own 
brain, and were not distinctly declared by the Spirit, and repeated 
in innumerable forms of expression! Since some feeling of shame 
restrains them from daring to belch forth their blasphemies against 
heaven, that they may give the freer vent to their rage, they 
pretend to pick a quarrel with us. But if they refuse to admit that 
every event which happens in the world is governed by the 
incomprehensible counsel of God, let them explain to what effect 
Scripture declares, that "his judgements are a great deep," (Ps. 36: 
7.) For when Moses exclaims that the will of God "is not in heaven 
that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring 
it unto us? Neither is it beyond the sea that thou shouldest say, 
Who shall go over the sea and bring it unto us?" (Deut. 30: 12, 13,) 
because it was familiarly expounded in the law, it follows that 
there must be another hidden will which is compared to " a great 
deep." It is of this will Paul exclaims, "O! the depths of the 
riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his 
judgements, and his ways past finding out! For who has known the 
mind of the Lord, or who has been his counsellor?" (Rom. 11: 33, 
34.) It is true, indeed, that in the law and the gospel are 
comprehended mysteries which far transcend the measure of our sense; 
but since God, to enable his people to understand those mysteries 
which he has deigned to reveal in his word, enlightens their minds 
with a spirit of understanding, they are now no longer a deep, but a 
path in which they can walk safely - a lamp to guide their feet - a 
light of life - a school of clear and certain truth. But the 
admirable method of governing the world is justly called a deep, 
because, while it lies hid from us, it is to be reverently adored. 
Both views Moses has beautifully expressed in a few words. "Secret 
things," saith he, "belong unto the Lord our God, but those things 
which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever," 
(Deut. 29: 29.) We see how he enjoins us not only studiously to 
meditate on the law, but to look up with reverence to the secret 
Providence of God. The Book of Job also, in order to keep our minds 
humble, contains a description of this lofty theme. The author of 
the Book, after taking an ample survey of the universe, and 
discoursing magnificently on the works of God, at length adds, "Lo, 
these are parts of his ways: but how little a portion is heard of 
him?" (Job 26: 14.) For which reason he, in another passage, 
distinguishes between the wisdom which dwells in God, and the 
measure of wisdom which he has assigned to man, (Job 28: 21, 28.) 
After discoursing of the secrets of nature, he says that wisdom "is 
hid from the eyes of all living;" that "God understandeth the way 
thereof." Shortly after he adds, that it has been divulged that it 
might be investigated; for "unto man he said, Behold the fear of the 
Lord, that is wisdom." To this the words of Augustine refer, "As we 
do not know all the things which God does respecting us in the best 
order, we ought, with good intention, to act according to the Law, 
and in some things be acted upon according to the Law, his 
Providence being a Law immutable," (August. Quest. lib. 83 c. 27.) 
Therefore, since God claims to himself the right of governing the 
world, a right unknown to us, let it be our law of modesty and 
soberness to acquiesce in his supreme authority regarding his will 
as our only rule of justice, and the most perfect cause of all 
things, - not that absolute will, indeed, of which sophists prate, 
when by a profane and impious divorce, they separate his justice 
from his power, but that universal overruling Providence from which 
nothing flows that is not right, though the reasons thereof may be 
    3. Those who have learned this modesty will neither murmur 
against God for adversity in time past, nor charge him with the 
blame of their own wickedness, as Homer's Agamemnon does. - "Ego d' 
ouk haitios eimi, alla Zeus kai moira." "Blame not me, but Jupiter 
and fate." On the other hand, they will note like the youth in 
Plautus, destroy themselves in despairs as if hurried away by the 
Fates. "Unstable is the condition of affairs; instead of doing as 
they list, men only fulfil their fate: I will hie me to a rock, and 
there end my fortune with my life." Nor will they, after the example 
of another, use the name of God as a cloak for their crimes. For in 
another comedy Lyconides thus expresses himself: - "God was the 
impeller: I believe the gods wished it. Did they not wish it, it 
would not be done, I know." They will rather inquire and learn from 
Scripture what is pleasing to God, and then, under the guidance of 
the Spirit, endeavour to attain it. Prepared to follow whithersoever 
God may call, they will show by their example that nothing is more 
useful than the knowledge of this doctrine, which perverse men 
undeservedly assail, because it is sometimes wickedly abused. The 
profane make such a bluster with their foolish puerilities, that 
they almost, according to the expression, confound heaven and earth. 
If the Lord has marked the moment of our death, it cannot be 
escaped, - it is vain to toil and use precaution. Therefore, when 
one ventures not to travel on a road which he hears is infested by 
robbers; when another calls in the physician, and annoys himself 
with drugs, for the sake of his health; a third abstains from 
coarser food, that he may not injure a sickly constitution; and a 
fourth fears to dwell in a ruinous house; when all, in short, 
devise, and, with great eagerness of mind, strike out paths by which 
they may attain the objects of their desire; either these are all 
vain remedies, laid hold of to correct the will of God, or his 
certain decree does not fix the limits of life and death, health and 
sickness, peace and war, and other matters which men, according as 
they desire and hate, study by their own industry to secure or 
avoid. Nay, these trifles even infer, that the prayers of the 
faithful must be perverse, not to say superfluous, since they 
entreat the Lord to make a provision for things which he has decreed 
from eternity. And then, imputing whatever happens to the providence 
of God, they connive at the man who is known to have expressly 
designed it. Has an assassin slain an honest citizen? He has, say 
they, executed the counsel of God. Has some one committed theft or 
adultery? The deed having been provided and ordained by the Lord, he 
is the minister of his providence. Has a son waited with 
indifference for the death of his parent, without trying any remedy? 
He could not oppose God, who had so predetermined from eternity. 
Thus all crimes receive the name of virtues, as being in accordance 
with divine ordination. 
    4. As regards future events, Solomon easily reconciles human 
deliberation with divine providence. For while he derides the 
stupidity of those who presume to undertake anything without God, as 
if they were not ruled by his hand, he elsewhere thus expresses 
himself: "A man's heart deviseth his ways but the Lord directeth his 
steps," (Prov. 16: 9;) intimating, that the eternal decrees of God 
by no means prevent us from proceeding, under his will, to provide 
for ourselves, and arrange all our affairs. And the reason for this 
is clear. For he who has fixed the boundaries of our life, has at 
the same time entrusted us with the care of it, provided us with the 
means of preserving it, forewarned us of the dangers to which we are 
exposed, and supplied cautions and remedies, that we may not be 
overwhelmed unawares. Now, our duty is clear, namely, since the Lord 
has committed to us the defence of our life, - to defend it; since 
he offers assistance, - to use it; since he forewarns us of danger, 
- not to rush on heedless; since he supplies remedies, - not to 
neglect them. But it is said, a danger that is not fatal will not 
hurt us, and one that is fatal cannot be resisted by any precaution. 
But what if dangers are not fatal, merely because the Lord has 
furnished you with the means of warding them off, and surmounting 
them? See how far your reasoning accords with the order of divine 
procedure: You infer that danger is not to be guarded against, 
because, if it is not fatal, you shall escape without precaution; 
whereas the Lord enjoins you to guard against its just because he 
wills it not to be fatal. These insane cavillers overlook what is 
plainly before their eyes, viz., that the Lord has furnished men 
with the artful of deliberation and caution, that they may employ 
them in subservience to his providence, in the preservation of their 
life; while, on the contrary, by neglect and sloth, they bring upon 
themselves the evils which he has annexed to them. How comes it that 
a provident man, while he consults for his safety, disentangles 
himself from impending evils; while a foolish man, through unadvised 
temerity, perishes, unless it be that prudence and folly are, in 
either case, instruments of divine dispensation? God has been 
pleased to conceal from us all future events that we may prepare for 
them as doubtful, and cease not to apply the provided remedies until 
they have either been overcome, or have proved too much for all our 
care. Hence, I formerly observed, that the Providence of God does 
not interpose simply; but, by employing means, assumes, as it were, 
a visible form. 
    5. By the same class of persons, past events are referred 
improperly and inconsiderately to simple providence. As all 
contingencies whatsoever depend on it, therefore, neither thefts nor 
adulteries, nor murders, are perpetrated without an interposition of 
the divine will. Why, then, they ask, should the thief be punished 
for robbing him whom the Lord chose to chastise with poverty? Why 
should the murderer be punished for slaying him whose life the Lord 
had terminated? If all such persons serve the will of God, why 
should they be punished? I deny that they serve the will of God. For 
we cannot say that he who is carried away by a wicked mind performs 
service on the order of God, when he is only following his own 
malignant desires. He obeys God, who, being instructed in his will, 
hastens in the direction in which God calls him. But how are we so 
instructed unless by his word? The will declared by his word is, 
therefore, that which we must keep in view in acting, God requires 
of us nothing but what he enjoins. If we design anything contrary to 
his precept, it is not obedience, but contumacy and transgression. 
But if he did not will it, we could not do it. I admit this. But do 
we act wickedly for the purpose of yielding obedience to him? This, 
assuredly, he does not command. Nay, rather we rush on, not thinking 
of what he wishes, but so inflamed by our own passionate lust, that, 
with destined purpose, we strive against him. And in this way, while 
acting wickedly, we serve his righteous ordination, since in his 
boundless wisdom he well knows how to use bad instruments for good 
purposes. And see how absurd this mode of arguing is. They will have 
it that crimes ought not to be punished in their authors, because 
they are not committed without the dispensation of God. I concede 
more - that thieves and murderers, and other evil-doers, are 
instruments of Divine Providence, being employed by the Lord himself 
to execute the judgements which he has resolved to inflict. But I 
deny that this forms any excuse for their misdeeds. For how? Will 
they implicate God in the same iniquity with themselves, or will 
they cloak their depravity by his righteousness? They cannot 
exculpate themselves, for their own conscience condemns them: they 
cannot charge God, since they perceive the whole wickedness in 
themselves, and nothing in Him save the legitimate use of their 
wickedness. But it is said he works by their means. And whence, I 
pray, the fetid odour of a dead body, which has been unconfined and 
putrefied by the sun's heat? All see that it is excited by the rays 
of the sun, but no man therefore says that the fetid odour is in 
them. In the same way, while the matter and guilt of wickedness 
belongs to the wicked man, why should it be thought that God 
contracts any impurity in using it at pleasure as his instrument? 
Have done, then, with that dog-like petulance which may, indeed, bay 
from a distance at the justice of God, but cannot reach it! 
    6. 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. 
    7. The servant of God being confirmed by these promises and 
examples, will add the passages which teach that all men are under 
his power, whether to conciliate their minds, or to curb their 
wickedness, and prevent it from doing harm. For it is the Lord who 
gives us favour, not only with those who wish us well, but also in 
the eyes of the Egyptians, (Exod. 3: 21,) in various ways defeating 
the malice of our enemies. Sometimes he deprives them of all 
presence of mind, so that they cannot undertake anything soundly or 
soberly. In this ways he sends Satan to be a lie in the mouths of 
all the prophets in order to deceive Ahab, (1 Kings 22: 22,) by the 
counsel of the young men he so infatuates Rehoboam, that his folly 
deprives him of his kingdom, (1 Kings 12: 10, 15.) Sometimes when he 
leaves them in possession of intellect, he so fills them with terror 
and dismays that they can neither will nor plan the execution of 
what they had designed. Sometimes, too, after permitting them to 
attempt what lust and rage suggested, he opportunely interrupts them 
in their career, and allows them not to conclude what they had 
begun. Thus the counsel of Ahithophel, which would have been fatal 
to David, was defeated before its time, (2 Sam. 17: 7, 14.) Thus, 
for the good and safety of his people, he overrules all the 
creatures, even the devil himself who, we see, durst not attempt any 
thing against Job without his permission and command. This knowledge 
is necessarily followed by gratitude in prosperity, patience in 
adversity, and incredible security for the time to come. Every 
thing, therefore, which turns out prosperous and according to his 
wish, the Christian will ascribe entirely to God, whether he has 
experienced his beneficence through the instrumentality of men, or 
been aided by inanimate creatures. For he will thus consider with 
himself: Certainly it was the Lord that disposed the minds of these 
people in my favour, attaching them to me so as to make them the 
instruments of his kindness. In an abundant harvest he will think 
that it is the Lord who listens to the heaven, that the heaven may 
listen to the earth, and the earth herself to her own offspring; in 
other cases, he will have no doubt that he owes all his prosperity 
to the divine blessing, and, admonished by so many circumstances, 
will feel it impossible to be ungrateful. 
    8. If any thing adverse befalls him, he will forthwith raise 
his mind to God, whose hand is most effectual in impressing us with 
patience and placid moderation of mind. Had Joseph kept his thoughts 
fixed on the treachery of his brethren, he never could have resumed 
fraternal affection for them. But turning toward the Lord, he forgot 
the injury, and was so inclined to mildness and mercy, that he even 
voluntarily comforts his brethren, telling them, "Be not grieved nor 
angry with yourselves that ye sold me hither; for God did send me 
before you to preserve life." "As for you, ye thought evil against 
me; but God meant it unto good," (Gen. 45: 5; 50: 20.) Had Job 
turned to the Chaldees, by whom he was plundered, he should 
instantly have been fired with revenge, but recognising the work of 
the Lord, he solaces himself with this most beautiful sentiment: 
"The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of 
the Lord," (Job 1: 21.) So when David was assailed by Shimei with 
stones and curses, had he immediately fixed his eyes on the man, he 
would have urged his people to retaliate the injury; but perceiving 
that he acts not without an impulse from the Lord, he rather calms 
them. "So let him curse," says he, "because the Lord has said unto 
him, Curse David." With the same bridle he elsewhere curbs the 
excess of his grief, "I was dumb, I opened not my mouth, because 
thou didst it," (Ps. 39: 9.) If there is no more effectual remedy 
for anger and impatience, he assuredly has not made little progress 
who has learned so to meditate on Divine Providence, as to be able 
always to bring his mind to this, The Lord willed it, it must 
therefore be borne; not only because it is unlawful to strive with 
him, but because he wills nothing that is not just and befitting. 
The whole comes to this. When unjustly assailed by men, overlooking 
their malice, (which could only aggravate our grief, and whet our 
minds for vengeance,) let us remember to 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. 
Paul, in order to suppress our desire to retaliate injuries, wisely 
reminds us that we wrestle not with flesh and blood, but with our 
spiritual enemy the devil, that we may prepare for the contest, 
(Eph. 6: 12.) But to calm all the impulses of passion, the most 
useful consideration is, that God arms the devil, as well as all the 
wicked, for conflict, and sits as umpire, that he may exercise our 
patience. But if the disasters and miseries which press us happen 
without the agency of men, let us call to mind the doctrine of the 
Law, (Deut. 28: 1,) that all prosperity has its source in the 
blessing of God, that all adversity is his curse. And let us tremble 
at the dreadful denunciation, "And if ye will not be reformed by 
these things, but will walk contrary unto me; then will I also walk 
contrary unto you," (Lev. 26: 23, 24.) These words condemn our 
torpor, when, according to our carnal sense, deeming that whatever 
happens in any way is fortuitous, we are neither animated by the 
kindness of God to worship him, nor by his scourge stimulated to 
repentance. And it is for this reason that Jeremiah, (Lament. 3: 
38,) and Amos, (Amos 3: 6,) expostulated bitterly with the Jews, for 
not believing that good as well as evil was produced by the command 
of God. To the same effect are the words in Isaiah, "I form the 
light and create darkness: I make peace and create evil. I the Lord 
do all these things," (Is: 45: 7.) 
    9. At the same time, the Christian will not overlook inferior 
causes. For, while he regards those by whom he is benefited as 
ministers of the divine goodness, he will not, therefore, pass them 
by, as if their kindness deserved no gratitude, but feeling 
sincerely obliged to them, will willingly confess the obligation, 
and endeavour, according to his ability, to return it. In fine, in 
the blessings which he receives, he will revere and extol God as the 
principal author, but will also honour men as his ministers, and 
perceive, as is the truth, that by the will of God he is under 
obligation to those, by whose hand God has been pleased to show him 
kindness. If he sustains any loss through negligence or imprudence, 
he will, indeed, believe that it was the Lord's will it should so 
be, but, at the same time, he will impute it to himself. If one for 
whom it was his duty to care, but whom he has treated with neglect, 
is carried off by disease, although aware that the person had 
reached a limit beyond which it was impossible to pass, he will not, 
therefore, extenuate his fault, but, as he had neglected to do his 
duty faithfully towards him, will feel as if he had perished by his 
guilty negligence. Far less where, in the case of theft or murder, 
fraud and preconceived malice have existed, will he palliate it 
under the pretext of Divine Providence, but in the same crime will 
distinctly recognise the justice of God, and the iniquity of man, as 
each is separately manifested. But in future events, especially, 
will he take account of such inferior causes. If he is not left 
destitute of human aid, which he can employ for his safety, he will 
set it down as a divine blessing; but he will not, therefore, be 
remiss in taking measures, or slow in employing the help of those 
whom he sees possessed of the means of assisting him. Regarding all 
the aids which the creatures can lend him, as hands offered him by 
the Lord, he will avail himself of them as the legitimate 
instruments of Divine Providence. And as he is uncertain what the 
result of any business in which he engages is to be, (save that he 
knows, that in all things the Lord will provide for his good,) he 
will zealously aim at what he deems for the best, so far as his 
abilities enable him. In adopting his measures, he will not be 
carried away by his own impressions, but will commit and resign 
himself to the wisdom of God, that under his guidance he may be led 
into the right path. However, his confidence in external aid will 
not be such that the presence of it will make him feel secure, the 
absence of it fill him with dismay, as if he were destitute. His 
mind will always be fixed on the Providence of God alone, and no 
consideration of present circumstances will be allowed to withdraw 
him from the steady contemplation of it. Thus Joab, while he 
acknowledges that the issue of the battle is entirely in the hand of 
God, does not therefore become inactive, but strenuously proceeds 
with what belongs to his proper calling, "Be of good courage," says 
he, "and let us play the men for our people, and for the cities of 
our God; and the Lord do that which seemeth him good," (2 Sam. 10: 
12.) The same conviction keeping us free from rashness and false 
confidence, will stimulate us to constant prayer, while at the same 
time filling our minds with good hope, it will enable us to feel 
secure, and bid defiance to all the dangers by which we are 
    10. Here we are forcibly reminded of the inestimable felicity 
of a pious mind. Innumerable are the ills which beset human life, 
and present death in as many different forms. Not to go beyond 
ourselves, since the body is a receptacle, nay the nurse, of a 
thousand diseases, a man cannot move without carrying along with him 
many forms of destruction. His life is in a manner interwoven with 
death. For what else can be said where heat and cold bring equal 
danger? Then, in what direction soever you turn, all surrounding 
objects not only may do harm, but almost openly threaten and seem to 
present immediate death. Go on board a ship, you are but a plank's 
breadth from death. Mount a horse, the stumbling of a foot endangers 
your life. Walk along the streets, every tile upon the roofs is a 
source of danger. If a sharp instrument is in your own hand, or that 
of a friend, the possible harm is manifest. All the savage beasts 
you see are so many beings armed for your destruction. Even within a 
high walled garden, where everything ministers to delight, a serpent 
will sometimes lurk. Your house, constantly exposed to fire, 
threatens you with poverty by day, with destruction by night. Your 
fields, subject to hail, mildew, drought, and other injuries, 
denounce barrenness, and thereby famine. I say nothing of poison, 
treachery, robbery, some of which beset us at home, others follow us 
abroad. Amid these perils, must not man be very miserable, as one 
who, more dead than alive, with difficulty draws an anxious and 
feeble breath, just as if a drawn sword were constantly suspended 
over his neck? It may be said that these things happen seldom, at 
least not always, or to all, certainly never all at once. I admit 
it; but since we are reminded by the example of others, that they 
may also happen to us, and that our life is not an exception any 
more than theirs, it is impossible not to fear and dread as if they 
were to befall us. What can you imagine more grievous than such 
trepidation? Add that there is something like an insult to God when 
it is said, that man, the noblest of the creatures, stands exposed 
to every blind and random stroke of fortune. Here, however, we were 
only referring to the misery which man should feel, were he placed 
under the dominion of chance. 
    11. But when once the light of Divine Providence has illumined 
the believer's soul, he is relieved and set free, not only from the 
extreme fear and anxiety which formerly oppressed him, but from all 
care. For as he justly shudders at the idea of chance, so he can 
confidently commit himself to God. This, I say, is his comfort, that 
his heavenly Father so embraces all things under his power - so 
governs them at will by his nod - so regulates them by his wisdom, 
that nothing takes place save according to his appointment; that 
received into his favour, and entrusted to the care of his angels 
neither fire, nor water, nor sword, can do him harm, except in so 
far as God their master is pleased to permit. For thus sings the 
Psalm, "Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, 
and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his 
feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust; his truth shall be 
thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by 
night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; nor for the pestilence 
that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at 
noonday" &c. (Ps. 91: 2-6.) Hence the exulting confidence of the 
saints, "The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do 
unto me? The Lord taketh my part with them that help me." "Though an 
host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear." "Yea, 
though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear 
no evil." (Ps. 118: 6; 27: 3; 23: 4.) 
    How comes it, I ask, that their confidence never fails, but 
just that while the world apparently revolves at random, they know 
that God is every where at work, and feel assured that his work will 
be their safety? When assailed by the devil and wicked men, were 
they not confirmed by remembering and meditating on Providence, they 
should, of necessity, forthwith despond. But when they call to mind 
that the devil, and the whole train of the ungodly, are, in all 
directions, held in by the hand of God as with a bridle, so that 
they can neither conceive any mischief, nor plan what they have 
conceived, nor how much soever they may have planned, move a single 
finger to perpetrate, unless in so far as he permits, nay, unless in 
so far as he commands; that they are not only bound by his fetters, 
but are even forced to do him service, - when the godly think of all 
these things they have ample sources of consolation. For, as it 
belongs to the lord to arm the fury of such foes and turn and 
destine it at pleasure, so it is his also to determine the measure 
and the end, so as to prevent them from breaking loose and wantoning 
as they list. Supported by this conviction, Paul, who had said in 
one place that his journey was hindered by Satan, (1 Thess. 2: 18,) 
in another resolves, with the permission of God, to undertake it, (1 
Cor. 16: 7.) If he had only said that Satan was the obstacle, he 
might have seemed to give him too much power, as if he were able 
even to overturn the counsels of God; but now, when he makes God the 
disposer, on whose permission all journies depend, he shows, that 
however Satan may contrive, he can accomplish nothing except in so 
far as He pleases to give the word. For the same reason, David, 
considering the various turns which human life undergoes as it 
rolls, and in a manner whirls around, retakes himself to this 
asylum, "My times are in thy hand," (Ps. 31: 15.) He might have said 
the course of life or time in the singular number, but by times he 
meant to express, that how unstable soever the condition of man may 
be, the vicissitudes which are ever and anon taking place are under 
divine regulation. Hence Rezin and the king of Israel, after they 
had joined their forces for the destruction of Israel, and seemed 
torches which had been kindled to destroy and consume the land, are 
termed by the prophet "smoking fire brands." They could only emit a 
little smoke, (Is. 7: 4.) So Pharaoh, when he was an object of dread 
to all by his wealth and strength, and the multitude of his troops, 
is compared to the largest of beasts, while his troops are compared 
to fishes; and God declares that he will take both leader and army 
with his hooks, and drag them whither he pleases, (Ezek. 29: 4.) In 
one word, not to dwell longer on this, give heed, and you will at 
once perceive that ignorance of Providence is the greatest of all 
miseries, and the knowledge of it the highest happiness. 
    12. On the Providence of God, in so far as conducive to the 
solid instruction and consolation of believers, (for, as to 
satisfying the curiosity of foolish men, it is a thing which cannot 
be done, and ought not to be attempted,) enough would have been 
said, did not a few passages remain which seem to insinuate, 
contrary to the view which we have expounded, that the counsel of 
God is not firm and stable, but varies with the changes of sublunary 
affairs. First, in reference to the Providence of God, it is said 
that he repented of having made man, (Gen. 6: 6,) and of having 
raised Saul to the kingdom, (1 Sam. 15: 11,) and that he will repent 
of the evil which he had resolved to inflict on his people as soon 
as he shall have perceived some amendment in them, (Jer. 18: 8.) 
Secondly, his decrees are sometimes said to be annulled. He had by 
Jonah proclaimed to the Ninevites, "Yet forty days and Nineveh shall 
be overthrown," but, immediately on their repentance, he inclined to 
a more merciful sentence, (Jonah 3: 4-10.) After he had, by the 
mouth of Isaiah, given Hezekiah intimation of his death, he was 
moved by his tears and prayers to defer it, (Is. 38: 15; 2 Kings 20: 
15.) Hence many argue that God has not fixed human affairs by an 
eternal decree, but according to the merits of each individual, and 
as he deems right and just, disposes of each single year, and day, 
and hour. As to repentance, we must hold that it can no more exist 
in God than ignorance, or error, or impotence. If no man knowingly 
or willingly reduces himself to the necessity of repentance, we 
cannot attribute repentance to God without saying either that he 
knows not what is to happen, or that he cannot evade it, or that he 
rushes precipitately and inconsiderately into a resolution, and then 
forthwith regrets it. But so far is this from the meaning of the 
Holy Spirit, that in the very mention of repentance he declares that 
God is not influenced by any feeling of regret, that he is not a man 
that he should repent. And it is to be observed, that, in the same 
chapter, both things are so conjoined, that a comparison of the 
passages admirably removes the appearance of contradiction. When it 
is said that God repented of having made Saul king, the term change 
is used figuratively. Shortly after, it is added, "The Strength of 
Israel will not lie nor repent; for he is not a man, that he should 
repent," (1 Sam. 15: 29.) In these words, his immutability is 
plainly asserted without figure. Wherefore it is certain that, in 
administering human affairs, the ordination of God is perpetual and 
superior to every thing like repentance. That there might be no 
doubt of his constancy, even his enemies are forced to bear 
testimony to it. For, Balaam, even against his will, behaved to 
break forth into this exclamation, "God is not a man, that he should 
lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: has he said, and 
shall he not do it? or has he spoken, and shall he not make it 
good?" (Num. 23: 19.) 
    13. What then is meant by the term repentance? The very same 
that is meant by the other forms of expression, by which God is 
described to us humanly. Because our weakness cannot reach his 
height, any description which we receive of him must be lowered to 
our capacity in order to be intelligible. And the mode of lowering 
is to represent him not as he really is, but as we conceive of him. 
Though he is incapable of every feeling of perturbation, he declares 
that he is angry with the wicked. Wherefore, as when we hear that 
God is angry, we ought not to imagine that there is any emotion in 
him, but ought rather to consider the mode of speech accommodated to 
our sense, God appearing to us like one inflamed and irritated 
whenever he exercises judgement, so we ought not to imagine any 
thing more under the term repentance than a change of action, men 
being wont to testify their dissatisfaction by such a change. Hence, 
because every change whatever among men is intended as a correction 
of what displeases, and the correction proceeds from repentance, the 
same term applied to God simply means that his procedure is changed. 
In the meantime, there is no inversion of his counsel or will, no 
change of his affection. What from eternity he had foreseen, 
approved, decreed, he prosecutes with unvarying uniformity, how 
sudden soever to the eye of man the variation may seem to be. 
    14. Nor does the Sacred History, while it relates that the 
destruction which had been proclaimed to the Ninevites was remitted, 
and the life of Hezekiah, after an intimation of death, prolonged, 
imply that the decrees of God were annulled. Those who think so 
labour under delusion as to the meaning of threatening, which, 
though they affirm simply, nevertheless contain in them a tacit 
condition dependent on the result. Why did the Lord send Jonah to 
the Ninevites to predict the overthrow of their city? Why did he by 
Isaiah give Hezekiah intimation of his death? He might have 
destroyed both them and him without a message to announce the 
disaster. He had something else in view than to give them a warning 
of death, which might let them see it at a distance before it came. 
It was because he did not wish them destroyed but reformed, and 
thereby saved from destruction. When Jonah prophesies that in forty 
days Nineveh will be overthrown, he does it in order to prevent the 
overthrow. When Hezekiah is forbidden to hope for longer life, it is 
that he may obtain longer life. Who does not now see that, by 
threatening of this kind, God wished to arouse those to repentance 
whom he terrified, that they might escape the judgement which their 
sins deserved? If this is so, the very nature of the case obliges us 
to supply a tacit condition in a simple denunciation. This is even 
confirmed by analogous cases. The Lord rebuking King Abimelech for 
having carried off the wife of Abraham, uses these words: "Behold, 
thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for 
she is a man's wife." But, after Abimelech's excuse, he thus speaks: 
"Restore the man his wife, for he is a prophet, and he shall pray 
for thee, and thou shalt live; and if thou restore her not, know 
thou that thou shalt surely die, thou and all that art thine," (Gen. 
20. 3, 7.) You see that, by the first announcement, he makes a deep 
impression on his mind, that he may render him eager to give 
satisfaction, and that by the second he clearly explains his will. 
Since the other passages may be similarly explained, you must not 
infer from them that the Lord derogated in any respect from his 
former counsel, because he recalled what he had promulgated. When, 
by denouncing punishment, he admonishes to repentance those whom he 
wishes to spare, he paves the way for his eternal decree, instead of 
varying it one whit either in will or in language. The only 
difference is, that he does not express, in so many syllables, what 
is easily understood. The words of Isaiah must remain true, "The 
Lord of hosts has purposed, and who shall disannul it? And his hand 
is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?" (Isaiah 14: 27.)

Calvin, Institutes on the Christian Religion, Volume 1
(continued in part 16...)

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