Few writers in the history of the church have written more encouraging words for Christians than John Calvin.
In his famous book, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin dedicates two whole chapters on the doctrine of God’s providence. And in this article, I’d like to encourage you with some of those words.
R.C. Sproul says, “The word ‘providence’ has all but disappeared from the vocabulary of the contemporary Christian. It is becoming obsolete and archaic. This word that once was commonplace and indeed, central to Christian expression, now seems doomed to the ash heap of useful verbiage.”
I think the doctrine of God’s providence should be mentioned more often in our churches, in our pulpits, and in our fellowship because, as you’ll see, providence can breathe life into your weary soul.
Let’s get started.
Here’s 5 quotes from Calvin on providence that will encourage you:
Quote #1: “He sustains, nourishes, and cares for everything he has made, even to the least sparrow.”
Jesus says that a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without the Father’s permission (Matthew 10:29).
If God takes care of seemingly insignificant creatures, won’t he also take care of you?
Maybe you’re anxious about money or grades. Or maybe it’s your kids or issues in your church. Whatever it is — you can trust God to sustain, nourish, and care for you during this time.
Quote #2: “God’s providence, as it is taught in Scripture, is opposed to fortune and fortuitous happenings.”
Calvin continues, “There is no such thing as fortune or chance. . . ’fortune’ and ‘chance’ are pagan terms, with whose significance the minds of the godly ought not to be occupied.”
He also adds:
“All events are governed by God’s secret plan.”
“Not one drop of rain falls without God’s sure command.”
“He so regulates all things that nothing takes place without his deliberation.”
God is not the author of evil, but he does govern all things that come to pass— including hardships and suffering. But he is not just sovereign; he is also good. And because God is both sovereign and good, you can trust his wise disposition to your current circumstances, even if you don’t like them.
Quote #3: “Each year, month, and day is governed by a new, a special, providence of God.”
In this section, Calvin puts emphasis on the sun.
“No creature has a force more wondrous or glorious than that of the sun . . . the sun does not daily rise and set by blind instinct of nature but that he himself, to renew our remembrance of his fatherly favors toward us, governs its course,” says Calvin.
Everyday when the sun rises you know that trouble awaits you (Matthew 6:34). But you also know that his new mercies will sustain you (Lamentations 3:23). Providence tells you that you can be at peace because the one who has the power to control the sun also has the power to govern your life.
Quote #4: “Ignorance of providence is the ultimate of all miseries; the highest blessedness lies in the knowledge of it.”
The highest form of blessedness comes from a certain sort of knowledge — namely, the knowledge of God’s providence.
If this is true, why wouldn’t we seek to understand it more?
Quote #5: “In times of adversity, believers comfort themselves with the solace that they suffer nothing except by God’s ordinance and command, for they are under his hand.”
Adversity is something all Christians will face. And it’s something that Calvin knew well.
• Calvin had multiple childhood weaknesses that he was not able to shake.
• Calvin never recovered from a strict Monastic regime — a regime in which he would go to bed late and wake up very early, often operating on little sleep.
• Calvin’s eyes were destroyed through reading with a candle light.
• Calvin’s wife died less than nine years after they married and he never remarried.
• Calvin and his wife had one miscarriage and were unable to have kids.
• Calvin’s critics said his wife died of boredom, and they named their dogs after him.
• Calvin suffered with chronic asthma, migraine headaches that kept him up at night, pleurisy, kidney stones, hemorrhoids, gallstones, severe arthritis and frequent influenza accompanied with raging fevers.
On top of that, he was constantly harassed by the city council as they often tried to control his church, and he felt the pressure and demands from a seemingly incessant workload.
After Calvin’s wife died, he said, “May the Lord Jesus Christ support me also under this heavy affliction, which would certainly overcome me, had not he, who raises up the prostrate, strengthens the weak, and refreshes the weary, stretch forth his hand from heaven to me.”
John Calvin was an influential figure, but also an afflicted one. He experienced both success and suffering. The secret of his endurance, it seems, is trust in God’s providence. As he once said, “Thou, O Lord, thou bruises me, it is enough for me to know it is thy hand.”
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