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John Calvin, Predestination, and Means

John Calvin, Predestination, and Means

"We must also carefully bear in mind the principle that I have laid down before, that when God displays his power through means (media) and secondary causes, that power of his is never to be separated from those means or inferior causes. It is the excess of a drunkard to say, 'God has decreed all that is to come to pass and that must come to pass; therefore, to interpose any care, study, or endeavor of ours is superfluous and vain.' But since God prescribes to us what we ought to do and wills that we should be the instruments of the operation of his power, let us ever deem it unlawful in us to break asunder those things that he has joined together. For instance, God 'in the beginning' commanded the earth to bring forth every kind of herb and fruit without any human art or culture. But now he makes use of the hand of man as the instrument of his operation. If anyone should boastingly desire to receive bread by merely opening his indolent mouth because the blessing of God fructifies the earth, he would not only by such a boast trample underfoot the providence of God, but also would do away with it altogether, for he would separate and rend asunder those things that God has joined together by an inseparable connection.

Therefore, with reference to the time future, since the events of things are as yet hidden and unknown, everyone ought to be as intent upon the performance of his duty as if nothing whatever had been decreed concerning the issue in each particular case. Or, to speak more properly, every man ought so to hope for success in all things that he undertakes at the command of God as to be freely prepared to reconcile every contingency with the sure and certain providence of God. The Lord, moreover, promises his blessing upon the work of our hands. By this promise each godly man will acknowledge himself to be appointed of God, an instrument of his glorious providence. And such a godly one, relying on this same promise, will gird himself with alacrity to his undertaking and will be persuaded that he is not casting labor in vain into the air; but, resting on the word of God, he will believe that God, by his secret counsel, will direct all his labor to the issue that shall be best. In a word, as the providence of God, rightly considered, does not bind our hands but frees them for work, so it not only does not hinder prayer, but also strengthens and confirms its earnestness.

A like sobriety of mind ought to temper our judgments concerning the time past and in reference to things that may have already taken place. There is no exhortation more conducive to patience than our hearing that nothing happens by chance, but in fulfillment of what has been decreed by “the good pleasure” of God. Meanwhile, it by no means follows that our own indolence, rashness, thoughtlessness, or some other fault is not the immediate cause of any adversity under which we may be suffering. Although the causes of events are not always clearly seen or understood, godly minds will not, even under such ignorance, cease to render unto God the praise of his wisdom and justice in every event that transpires." ~ John Calvin, "God’s Eternal Predestination and Secret Providence," in Calvin's Calvinism: God's Eternal Predestination and Secret Providence (Jenison, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2009), 183-184.

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