Blog 39: 1.18.3 - 1.18.4

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Calvin takes up two further objections to the biblical doctrine of providence. First, "if nothing happens apart from God's will," does it not follow that "there are in him two contrary wills because by his secret plan he decrees what he has openly forbidden by his law"? (1.18.3). It is true that God wills all things, Calvin observes (Job 1:21, 1 Sam 2:25, Psa 115:3, Isa 45:7, Amos 3:6, Deut 19:5, Acts 4:28). It is not true that there are two contrary wills in God. The divine will is "one and simple," but "it appears manifold to us because, on account of our mental incapacity, we do not grasp how in diverse ways it wills and does not will something to take place" (ibid.). The doctrine, therefore, is not inherently contradictory. It does, however, remind us that our minds are incapable of comprehending fully the divine will.

Second, if God wills the "work, plans, and intentions" of the ungodly, then aren't "men undeservedly damned if they carry out what God has decreed because they obey his will"? (1.18.4). The objection, Calvin replies, "confuses" God's "will" with his "precept": "while God accomplishes through the wicked what he has decreed by his secret judgment, they are not excusable, as if they had obeyed his precept which out of their own lust they deliberately break" (ibid.). Quoting Augustine, Calvin observes that, while both the Father and Judas delivered up Jesus, "in the one thing they have done, the cause of their doing it is not one" (ibid.). Judas therefore deserves blame and not praise for delivering up Jesus to the authorities.

Calvin closes the chapter with the reminder that God has revealed these difficult matters to us because he has judged them "useful for men to know." Our proper response, therefore, is not to "scoff" but to "embrace with humble teachableness ... whatever is taught in Sacred Scripture" (ibid.).

Posted February 26, 2009 @ 6:21 PM by Guy Waters

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