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Calvin on God’s goodness to all without exception

April 10, 2008

“The righteous shall see that, and shall rejoice.” The prophet now draws the conclusion, that so many evident tokens of God’s superintending and overruling providence could not transpire before the righteous without attracting their notice, and that their vision being illuminated by faith, these scenes are contemplated by them with unfeigned delight; while the wicked remain perplexed and mute. For he very judiciously makes a distinction between these two classes of persons. In whatever manner the wicked may be constrained to recognize God as the supreme ruler of the universe, nevertheless, in seeing they see not, and derive nothing from the sight, except that their conduct is rendered the more inexcusable. But the righteous are not only able to form a good and sound judgment of these events, they also spontaneously open their eyes to contemplate the equity, goodness, and wisdom of God, the sight and knowledge of which are refreshing to them. For the joy which they experience in this exercise is a pledge that their thus observing these things was the spontaneous effusion of their hearts. With regard to the despisers of God, it is not meant that they are so deeply impressed as truly to acknowledge that the world is under his superintending care, but that they are merely so far kept in check as not to presume to deny the existence of that providence as their natural inclination would lead them to do; or, at least, that they meet with a vigorous repulse whenever they attempt to speak in opposition to it. Although the judgments of God are before their eyes, yet is their understanding so darkened, that they cannot perceive the clear light. And this manner of speaking is more energetic than if it had been said, that the wicked themselves are become mute. In fact, they do not cease from murmuring against God’s dispensations of providence; for we see with what arrogance and contempt they set themselves in opposition to our faith, and have the hardihood to pour forth horrid blasphemies against God. This does not impeach the veracity of the prophet’s statement, that the mouth of wickedness is stopped, because, in fact, the more proudly and violently they assail God, the more notorious does their impiety appear. Besides, the joy here mentioned arises from this, that there is nothing more calculated to increase our faith, than the knowledge of the providence of God; because, without it, we would be harassed with doubts and fears, being uncertain whether or not the world was governed by chance. For this reason, it follows that those who aim at the subversion of this doctrine, depriving the children of God of true comfort, and vexing their minds by unsettling their faith, forge for themselves a hell upon earth. For what can be more awfully tormenting than to be constantly racked with doubt and anxiety? And we will never be able to arrive at a calm state of mind until we are taught to repose with implicit confidence in the providence of God. Moreover, it is declared in this verse, that God manifests his goodness to all men without exception, and yet there are comparatively few of them who benefit by it. Wherefore, when he formerly called upon all to celebrate the goodness of God, it was in order that the ingratitude of the majority of them might the more plainly appear. Calvin, Psalm 107:42.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Christian (real name) permalink
    July 29, 2010 12:43 pm

    Providence = goodness? Calvin states in your offering, that God manifests His goodness. “MANIFESTS goodness to all” does not mean the giving of goodness to all. Calvin repeatedly states this. The PRC believes that He calls ALL, but as Calvin states, for different reasons. How is it that you’ve twisted Calvin’s intentions by claiming that “goodness” is GIVEN to all? If you agree that goodness is not GIVEN to all, then how does one preach that the Gospel is a conditional offer to all? The writings from Calvin that you use to defend your position, do not indeed accomplish your goal. The PRC believes that GRACE is not given to all – that is, undeserved merit. When God shows His providence across the globe, it does not equate to grace, goodness, or undeserved merit, it equates to the effect of giving no one an excuse for their unbelief – exactly what Calvin writes and what Paul writes in Romans.

  2. Flynn permalink*
    August 3, 2010 1:53 pm

    Christian: Providence = goodness? Calvin states in your offering, that God manifests His goodness. “MANIFESTS goodness to all” does not mean the giving of goodness to all. Calvin repeatedly states this. The PRC believes that He calls ALL, but as Calvin states, for different reasons. How is it that you’ve twisted Calvin’s intentions by claiming that “goodness” is GIVEN to all? If you agree that goodness is not GIVEN to all, then how does one preach that the Gospel is a conditional offer to all? The writings from Calvin that you use to defend your position, do not indeed accomplish your goal. The PRC believes that GRACE is not given to all – that is, undeserved merit. When God shows His providence across the globe, it does not equate to grace, goodness, or undeserved merit, it equates to the effect of giving no one an excuse for their unbelief – exactly what Calvin writes and what Paul writes in Romans.

    [Bold mine]

    David:

    I would encourage you to read more of Calvin.

    Some sources on Calvin on general goodness and general love:

    John Calvin on God’s Goodness To All

    John Calvin on General Love

    John Calvin’s Doctrine of the Grace of God

    John Calvin on Special and Common Grace

    John Calvin on Divine Mercy

    John Calvin (1509-1564) on Christ Coming For and Seeking the Salvation of the World and Reprobates

    I would seriously challenge you to read these files.

    David

  3. Christian (real name) permalink
    August 24, 2010 7:12 pm

    David,

    I have read the above references. With regard to the immediate context above, I reviewed Psalm 107. This speaks of what Calvin speaks of in his Institutes, in reference to Providence recognized “properly” by the elect. God shows His goodness in Providence to all, but the elect are the only ones who “properly” ascend to it by way of God’s special revealing. Thus, his goodness, in Providence is perverted and stomped on by the wicked. So it goes, that God manifests His goodness to all, but all do not see it in its true essence. They pervert it in fact. When God sends drought into a land, this is also the Providence of God, showing to the enlightened Christian that God provides, by the evidence that He also takes away – that He is sovereign in all things. To the wicked or the blind, God’s “providing” is, in fact, evidence of His intended purpose, in Providence, to manifest His goodness for the sake of His eternal purposes. For the wicked, the intended purpose of His manifested goodness is their justified condemnation. To the elect, his Providence is intended to purpose our affirmation of the character of God revealed in Scripture, and the proper worship of His name. One cannot confuse the difference between Providence and Purpose. Purpose is the subject, and Providence is the means – not, Providence proves His purpose to all. And when you say that grace is offered to all for a particular purpose (that all flesh be saved, contrasting with, all types or distinctions), you use grace and providence interchangably – inevitably leading to a belief in common grace. Not always did Calvin make this line between Providence and Grace a little blurry as well – dare I say.

    Christian

  4. Flynn permalink*
    August 26, 2010 2:59 pm

    Hey Christian

    Ive tried to represent you as honestly as I can. I do interpret your wording, at one point, but as I see it, as they stand, my interpretation seems warranted.
    When I “block-quote” you, all emphasis is mine.

    I have read the above references. With regard to the immediate context above, I reviewed Psalm 107. This speaks of what Calvin speaks of in his Institutes, in reference to Providence recognized “properly” by the elect. God shows His goodness in Providence to all, but the elect are the only ones who “properly” ascend to it by way of God’s special revealing.

    David: I assume you are referring to his comment in v43.

    Thus, his goodness, in Providence is perverted and stomped on by the wicked. So it goes, that God manifests His goodness to all, but all do not see it in its true essence. They pervert it in fact. When God sends drought into a land, this is also the Providence of God, showing to the enlightened Christian that God provides, by the evidence that He also takes away – that He is sovereign in all things.

    So far so good.

    But here comes the leap not found in Calvin:

    To the wicked or the blind, God’s “providing” is, in fact, evidence of His intended purpose, in Providence, to manifest His goodness for the sake of His eternal purposes. For the wicked, the intended purpose of His manifested goodness is their justified condemnation.

    Thats not actually there in Calvin. Youve injected it into this sentiment. You read to me as switching categories here, from the wicked not properly appreciating God’s goodness to them, to God’s proper intent (singular) in doing good to them. Youve jumped from their inappropriate response to alleging a true and real divine singular intent behind his apparent goodness to them, making the apparent visible intention to do good, just that, apparent.

    For Calvin, the goodness of God is given to draw and convert all men, even the non-elect. However, on the supposition that they reject it, then the good done to them will further condemn them. This suppositional intention is an intention of God, but it it not the immediate and proper intention of the doing good to them. It is a remote or indirect intention. The immediate intention of the kind act is the appropriate ethical response in gratitude. The intention to condemn them is on the supposition of their rejection. Its a secondary and consequential intention.

    The best illustration of Calvin on this sort of twofold intentionality, one immediate and direct, one supposition and secondary is in his discussions of the intent of the gospel offer to all. See here: John Calvin on How the Gospel Hardens

    Another way of stating it is that for Calvin the ultimate end of God’s doing good to the non-elect is their greater condemnation, on the supposition of their rejection of his goodness. But his proximate end of his goodness is their conversion. God, for Calvin, was not schizophrenic.

    You are making Calvin’s statements that God expresses a fatherly goodness to even the reprobate as just a mere appearance of fatherliness.

    Christian:

    To the elect, his Providence is intended to purpose our affirmation of the character of God revealed in Scripture, and the proper worship of His name. One cannot confuse the difference between Providence and Purpose. Purpose is the subject, and Providence is the means – not, Providence proves His purpose to all. And when you say that grace is offered to all for a particular purpose (that all flesh be saved, contrasting with, all types or distinctions), you use grace and providence interchangably – inevitably leading to a belief in common grace. Not always did Calvin make this line between Providence and Grace a little blurry as well – dare I say.

    David: I dont see how that is relevant. Its standard for Reformed to say that the providence of God expresses a two-fold purpose of God 1) his general grace and well-meaning kindness to all in their daily preservation, 2) the especial and effectual grace and love to the elect in the complete salvation. Check out Amandus Polanus: Amandus Polanus on the Providence of God.

    You are making providence simple an expression of a bifurcated intention of God. For the elect, providence expresses the saving and gracious intention of God. To the non-elect providence expresses only God’s wrath and damning intentionality. This is the apple-pie view of God’s attribute. Each piece represents, exclusively, a divine attribute. The reprobate get the wrath piece, the elect get the love piece.

    Here are some more from Calvin:

    Calvin on Ps 107:43:

    43. Whosoever is wise, so as to observe these things. We are now informed that men begin to be wise when they turn their whole attention to the contemplation of the works of God, and that all others besides are fools. For however much they may pique themselves upon their superior acuteness and subtlety, all this is of no avail so long as they shut their eyes against the light which is presented to them. In employing this interrogatory form of address, he indirectly adverts to that false persuasion which prevails in the world, at the very time when the most daring heaven-despiser esteems himself to be the wisest of men; as if he should say, that all those who do not properly observe the providence of God, will be found to be nothing but fools. This caution is the more necessary, since we find that some of the greatest of philosophers were so mischievous as to devote their talents to obscure and conceal the providence of God, and, entirely overlooking his agency, ascribed all to secondary causes. At the head of these was Aristotle, a man of genius and learning; but being a heathen, whose heart was perverse and depraved, it was his constant aim to entangle and perplex God’s overruling providence by a variety of wild speculations; so much so, that it may with too much truth be said, that he employed his naturally acute powers of mind to extinguish all light. Besides, the prophet not only condemns the insensate Epicureans, whose insensibility was of the basest character, but he also informs us that a blindness, still greater and more detestable, was to be found among these great philosophers themselves. By the term, observe, he informs us, that the bare apprehension of the works of God is not enough,–they must be carefully considered in order that the knowledge of them may be deliberately and maturely digested. And, therefore, that it may be engraven upon our hearts, we must make these works the theme of our attentive and constant meditation. When the prophet says, Whosoever is wise, even they shall understand, the change of the singular into the plural number is beautifully appropriate. By the one he tacitly complains of the fewness of those who observe the judgments of God; as if he should say, How seldom do we meet with a person who truly and attentively considers the works of God! Then he adverts to the fact of their being so visibly before all, that it is impossible that men could overlook them, were it not that their minds are perverted by their own wickedness. And if any person be disposed to inquire how it comes to pass that the prophet, after treating of the judgments and severity of God, now makes mention of his loving-kindness, I answer, that his loving-kindness shines most conspicuously, and occupies a very prominent place in all that he does; for he is naturally prone to loving-kindness, by which also he draws us to himself.

    8. GOD’S SOVEREIGN SWAY OVER THE LIFE OF MEN To this end, the prophet is mindful that in their desperate straits God suddenly and wonderfully and beyond all hope succors the poor and almost lost; those wandering through the desert he protects from wild beasts and at last guides them back to the way [Psalm 107:4-7]; to the needy and hungry he supplies food [v. 9]; the prisoners he frees from loathsome dungeons and iron bands [vs. 10-16]; the shipwrecked he leads back to port unharmed [vs. 23-30]; the half dead he cures of disease [vs. 17-20]; he burns the earth with heat and dryness, or makes it fertile with the secret watering of grace [vs. 33-38]; he raises up the humblest from the crowd, or casts down the lofty from the high level of their dignity [vs. 39- 41]. By setting forth examples of this sort, the prophet shows that what are thought to be chance occurrences are just so many proofs of heavenly providence, especially of fatherly kindness. And hence ground for rejoicing is given to the godly, while as for the wicked and the reprobate, their mouths are stopped [v. 42]. But because most people, immersed in their own errors, are struck blind in such a dazzling theater, he exclaims that to weigh these works of God wisely is a matter of rare and singular wisdom [v. 43], in viewing which they who otherwise seem to be extremely acute profit nothing. And certainly however much the glory of God shines forth, scarcely one man in a hundred is a true spectator of it!Institutes 1.5.8.

    And one psalm clearly teaches that prayers which do not reach heaven by faith still are not without effect. The psalm lumps together those prayers which, out of natural feeling, necessity wrings from unbelievers just as much as from believers, yet from the outcome it proves that God is gracious toward them [Psalm 107:6,13,19]. Is it because he with such gentleness attests the prayers to be acceptable to him? Nay, it is by this circumstance to emphasize or illumine his mercy whenever the prayers of unbelievers are not denied to them; and again to incite his true worshipers to pray the more, when they see that even ungodly wailings sometimes do some good. Institutes 3.20.15.

    The last one is interesting. God hears the prayers of the unbelievers and in so doing displays his grace and mercy to them.

    That just does not jell at all with the view that God’s real and true (singular?) intention in providence is to justify their condemnation. The God you are describing is wicked in his dissembling.

    Hope that helps,
    David

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