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Title: John Calvin - Secret Providence - Article Eleventh
Author: John Calvin
Language: English

00004-0016 Secret Providence - Article Eleventh
God gives will to those doing wrong; he even suggests wicked and dishonorable affections, not only permissively but efficaciously, and that for his own glory.


Against the eleventh they allege: Calvin refers to God what belongs to the Devil, as the Scripture everywhere testifies. Now if God suggests wicked and dishonorable affections, and yet commands us to resist such affections, he commands us to resist himself. Every good gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights. Are wicked affections even, a good gift? Does darkness (for depraved affections are certainly darkness,) descend from the Father of lights! Why then is he not called the father of darkness! James distinctly writes that no man is tempted by God, but every one by his own lust. But to suggest base affections, is to tempt. Now as for your salvo about God doing that for his own glory, they say it is ridiculous, for glory does not ordinarily accrue from lying.

When Nebuchadnezzar experienced the divine justice and power, in being changed for his pride into a brute nature, he ascribed glory to God, for he perceived and concluded that God is just.

It is God’s pleasure to he praised by the nations; “praise the Lord all ye nations.” It behooves him, therefore, to those things, which all nations may be able to know, and moreover praise. But no nation will every acknowledge, that it is just to punish men, for what God himself has suggested. For we ask, if God should punish us for having a beard, would he not do us an injury; when he himself has given us the beard, and it was not optional whether we should have it or not? What man with a beard could ever praise him? Now if Calvin will say that this is the secret Providence of God, and to us unknown to us; but so far as justice is concerned, it is known to us and revealed in the Gospel; according to which revealed Gospel, (as Paul teaches) and not according to that hidden judgment of Calvin, God will judge the world. And so it will be understood by all, both righteous and wicked. For all, both righteous and wicked, will see that it is just that they who have disobeyed the truth, (not hidden like Calvin’s,) but open like that of the Gospel, should be punished; and that they who have obeyed it should receive reward. “They wrath of God,” says Paul, “is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” But if the opinion of Calvin is true, the wrath of God is revealed against all the innocent. For if he suggests depraved affections, he is angry and hates them before the depraved affections. For to suggest depraved affections is a work of hatred; he consequently hates the innocent, inasmuch as sin springs from depraved affections, or rather sin is depraved affection.


You go on imagining monsters, that having vanquished them, you may celebrate a triumph over an unoffending servant of God. The passage where I have ever spoken thus, you will not find; and therefore though I were silent, your mingled folly and impudence are alike powerless. If the wicked defile themselves by slaughter, adultery, rapine, fraud, I teach that this comes of their own wickedness; that God, however, who brings light out of darkness, so rules within them, by his own secret and incomprehensible government, as by means of their wickedness, to execute his just determination. If you oppose this, contend with God himself, who will easily receive your insane assaults. If you had one drop of modesty and docility, this distinction which constantly occurs in my writings, would undoubtedly appease you.

If the wicked examine themselves, the testimony of conscience will abundantly convince them that they must not seek elsewhere for criminality, because they find the root of wickedness within, in their own hearts and yet God by swaying their volitions withersoever he pleaseth, makes a good use of their evil. Murmur as you please I have now clearly shown, that in doing so, your quarrel is not with me but with God. I would that from the heart you did acknowledge God as the Father of lights, just as the Apostle Paul defines him, ( 1 Timothy 6) lest in your audacity you break through to the inaccessible light, nay, lest in your sacrilegious insolence you turn that light into darkness.

Moreover, you absurdly infer from the doctrine of James, because every perfect gift descends from the Father of lights, therefore awful judgments that strike the pious with fear and trembling, do not descend from the same source. You still more absurdly ask me, whether I reckon vicious and perverse affections among good gifts; as if forsooth the spirit of wisdom, judgment and prudence, differed not at all from the spirit of sleep and giddiness; as if too the spirit of regeneration, which renews the faithful in the image of God, were none other than that evil spirit of God, who drives the reprobate to frenzy, as we read of Saul.

With similar shamelessness you clamor about my teaching that God executes his determinations for his own glory, by means of Satan and the reprobate. That Satan is the instrument of his anger, God clearly testifies both by his word, and by experience. Now with what design shall we say that God does work by the hand of Satan, if no to illustrate his glory? You think you elude this by a witty retort, that righteousness is not ascribed to God on account of lying; but will hinder God from bringing forth from your wickedness, the materials of his own glory? Certainly by nothing less than his outrageous pride, could Pharoah prevent the divine glory from shining forth, inasmuch as he had been ordained to this very end.

You allege that Nebuchadnezzar ( Daniel 4:34,) gave glory to God when he confessed his justice; and to show you with what confidence I despise your blunt darts, I willingly lend you a hand in this matter, and suggest what you did not think of; that when Joshua exhorted Achan to give glory to God, it is with no other design than that the latter should disclose the lie, and discover his own sacrilege.

But the question now is, whether there is only one way of illustrating the divine glory, for if this do not shine forth by the lies of men, Paul must have been at fault, when he said, “let God be true and every man a liar,” and immediately asks,” if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, is God himself unrighteous?”

As to your objection, that God would be praised for his benefits, it is indeed true, provided you allow, that the wood out of which God brings and leads forth his praises, is both thick and extensive. And here your pride, in ostentatiously despising the art of reasoning, is suitably punished, as you are always arguing negatively from the species to the genus. Nor will I honor with any long refutation your scurrilous jibe that God were unjust to punish men for having a beard, inasmuch as they only carry the beard which he himself has created. For who has ever said that iniquity was created by God? Though he does ordain it in his incomprehensible counsel, to just and righteous ends. Begone, then, with that foolery of yours, of confounding the beard which naturally grows in sleep, with voluntary wickedness. Play the madman as you please, this will remain fixed with us, that they are justly punished, whose wicked affections are ordained and directed by God to the execution of his judgments, because their own consciences condemn them. And see how you entangle yourself; for while you acknowledge that God’s secrets are unknown to us, you on the other hand object that his justice is known to us. But if any one should ask you, is there any justice in God’s secrets, or is there not, will you deny that there is any?

Moreover, how will you say that God’s justice is known to us, which David and Paul look up to it with astonishment, because their sense fails them? Do the mighty abyss, and the rich depth of wisdom, in the judgment of God, contain justice in themselves? Why then will you deny that God is just, whenever the reason of his operations I concealed from you.

As a distinction worthy of notice, is made in the Book of Job, ( Job 28:1.) between the unsearchable wisdom of God, from which the human race is warned off, and that wisdom which has been delivered to us in the law; so you also, unless you mean to confound everything, should have distinguished between that profound and admirable justice, which cannot be comprehended by the human mind, and the rule of justice which is prescribed in the law, for the regulation of the life of man. I acknowledge that God will judge the world, according to the revealed doctrine of the Gospel; but he will at the same time vindicate the equity of his secret providence against all wranglers.

Now, if you had the smallest experimental acquaintance, with that Gospel which you prate about, you would easily understand how God remunerates the justice which is commanded in his law, and never defrauds those of the promised crown, who heartily obey his precepts; and yet justly punishes all the disobedient, whom he also terms his servants, because he has their hearts in his hand. Thus, Nebuchadnezzar, a furious robber, and slave of Satan, is not without reason, called by Jeremiah a servant of God. ( Jeremiah 25:9) And if I have taught that God opens up a way for his own purposes, by inciting the hearts of men this way and that, why should the statement by imputed to me as a crime, when prophets have said precisely the same thing; these being in fact the words of the sacred history, ( 2 Samuel 24:1) “And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel; and he moved David against them to say, Go, number the people.”