(Calvin, Institutes on the Christian Religion 1, part 14)

Chapter 16 
16. The world, created by God, still cherished and protected by Him. 
Each and all of its parts governed by His providence. 
The divisions of this chapter are, I. The doctrine of the special 
providence of God over all the creatures, singly and collectively, 
as opposed to the dreams of the Epicureans about fortune and 
fortuitous causes. II. The fiction of the Sophists concerning the 
omnipotence of God, and the error of philosophers, as to a confused 
and equivocal government of the world, see. 1-5. All animals, but 
especially mankind, from the peculiar superintendence exercised over 
them, are proofs, evidences, and examples of the providence of God, 
sec. 6, 7. III. A consideration of fate, fortune, chance, 
contingence, and uncertain events, (on which the matter here under 
discussion turns.) 
1. Even the wicked, under the guidance of carnal sense, acknowledge 
    that God is the Creator. The godly acknowledge not this only, 
    but that he is a most wise and powerful governor and preserver 
    of all created objects. In so doing, they lean on the Word of 
    God, some passages from which are produced. 
2. Refutation of the Epicureans, who oppose fortune and fortuitous 
    causes to Divine Providence, as taught in Scripture. The sun, a 
    bright manifestation of Divine Providence. 
3. Figment of the Sophists as to an indolent Providence refuted. 
    Consideration of the Omnipotence as combined with the 
    Providence of God. Double benefit resulting from a proper 
    acknowledgement of the Divine Omnipotence. Cavils of 
4. A definition of Providence refuting the erroneous dogmas of 
    Philosophers. Dreams of the Epicureans and Peripatetics. 
5. Special Providence of God asserted and proved by arguments 
    founded on a consideration of the Divine Justice and Mercy. 
    Proved also by passages of Scripture, relating to the sky, the 
    earth, and animals. 
6. Special Providence proved by passages relating to the human race, 
    and the more especially that for its sake the world was 
7. Special Providence proved, lastly, from examples taken from the 
    history of the Israelites, of Jonah, Jacob, and from daily 
8. Erroneous views as to Providence refuted: - I. The sect of the 
    Stoics. II. The fortune and chance of the Heathen. 
9. How things are said to be fortuitous to us, though done by the 
    determinate counsel of God. Example. Error of separating 
    contingency and event from the secret, but just, and most wise 
    counsel of God. Two examples. 
    1. It were cold and lifeless to represent God as a momentary 
Creator, who completed his work once for all, and then left it. 
Here, especially, we must dissent from the profane, and maintain 
that the presence of the divine power is conspicuous, not less in 
the perpetual condition of the world then in its first creation. 
For, although even wicked men are forced, by the mere view of the 
earth and sky, to rise to the Creator, yet faith has a method of its 
own in assigning the whole praise of creation to God. To this effect 
is the passage of the Apostle already quoted that by faith we 
understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, (Heb. 11: 
3;) because, without proceeding to his Providence, we cannot 
understand the full force of what is meant by God being the Creator, 
how much soever we may seem to comprehend it with our mind, and 
confess it with our tongue. The carnal mind, when once it has 
perceived the power of God in the creation, stops there, and, at the 
farthest, thinks and ponders on nothing else than the wisdom, power, 
and goodness displayed by the Author of such a work, (matters which 
rise spontaneously, and force themselves on the notice even of the 
unwilling,) or on some general agency on which the power of motion 
depends, exercised in preserving and governing it. In short, it 
imagines that all things are sufficiently sustained by the energy 
divinely infused into them at first. But faith must penetrate 
deeper. After learning that there is a Creator, it must forthwith 
infer that he is also a Governor and Preserver, and that, not by 
producing a kind of general motion in the machine of the globe as 
well as in each of its parts, but by a special providence 
sustaining, cherishing, superintending, all the things which he has 
made, to the very minutest, even to a sparrow. Thus David, after 
briefly premising that the world was created by God, immediately 
descends to the continual course of Providence, "By the word of the 
Lord were the heavens framed, and all the host of them by the breath 
of his mouth;" immediately adding, "The Lord looketh from heaven, he 
beholdeth the children of men," (Ps. 33: 6, 13, &c.) He subjoins 
other things to the same effect. For although all do not reason so 
accurately, yet because it would not be credible that human affairs 
were superintended by God, unless he were the maker of the world, 
and no one could seriously believe that he is its Creator without 
feeling convinced that he takes care of his works; David with good 
reason, and in admirable order, leads us from the one to the other. 
In general, indeed, philosophers teach, and the human mind 
conceives, that all the parts of the world are invigorated by the 
secret inspiration of God. They do not, however reach the height to 
which David rises taking all the pious along with him, when he says, 
"These wait all upon thee, that thou mayest give them their meat in 
due season. That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine 
hand, they are filled with good. Thou hidest thy face, they are 
troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to 
their dust. Thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created, and 
thou renewest the face of the earth," (Ps. 104: 27-30.) Nay, though 
they subscribe to the sentiment of Paul, that in God "we live, and 
move, and have our being," (Acts 17: 28,) yet they are far from 
having a serious apprehension of the grace which he commends, 
because they have not the least relish for that special care in 
which alone the paternal favour of God is discerned. 
    2. That this distinction may be the more manifest, we must 
consider that the Providence of God, as taught in Scripture, is 
opposed to fortune and fortuitous causes. By an erroneous opinion 
prevailing in all ages, an opinion almost universally prevailing in 
our own day, viz., that all things happen fortuitously, the true 
doctrine of Providence has not only been obscured, but almost 
buried. If one falls among robbers, or ravenous beasts; if a sudden 
gust of wind at sea causes shipwreck; if one is struck down by the 
fall of a house or a tree; if another, when wandering through desert 
paths, meets with deliverance; or, after being tossed by the waves, 
arrives in port, and makes some wondrous hair-breadth escape from 
death - all these occurrences, prosperous as well as adverse, carnal 
sense will attribute to fortune. But whose has learned from the 
mouth of Christ that all the hairs of his head are numbered, (Matth. 
10: 30,) will look farther for the cause, and hold that all events 
whatsoever are governed by the secret counsel of God. With regard to 
inanimate objects again we must hold that though each is possessed 
of its peculiar properties, yet all of them exert their force only 
in so far as directed by the immediate hand of God. Hence they are 
merely instruments, into which God constantly infuses what energy he 
sees meet, and turns and converts to any purpose at his pleasure. No 
created object makes a more wonderful or glorious display than the 
sun. For, besides illuminating the whole world with its brightness, 
how admirably does it foster and invigorate all animals by its heat, 
and fertilise the earth by its rays, warming the seeds of grain in 
its lap, and thereby calling forth the verdant blade! This it 
supports, increases, and strengthens with additional nurture, till 
it rises into the stalk; and still feeds it with perpetual moisture, 
till it comes into flower; and from flower to fruit, which it 
continues to ripen till it attains maturity. In like manner, by its 
warmth trees and vines bud, and put forth first their leaves, then 
their blossom, then their fruit. And the Lord, that he might claim 
the entire glory of these things as his own, was pleased that light 
should exist, and that the earth should be replenished with all 
kinds of herbs and fruits before he made the sun. No pious man, 
therefore, will make the sun either the necessary or principal cause 
of those things which existed before the creation of the sun, but 
only the instrument which God employs, because he so pleases; though 
he can lay it aside, and act equally well by himself: Again, when we 
read, that at the prayer of Joshua the sun was stayed in its course, 
(Josh. 10: 13;) that as a favour to Hezekiah, its shadow receded ten 
degrees, (2 Kings 20: 11;) by these miracles God declared that the 
sun does not daily rise and set by a blind instinct of nature, but 
is governed by Him in its course, that he may renew the remembrance 
of his paternal favour toward us. Nothing is more natural than for 
spring, in its turns to succeed winter, summer spring, and autumn 
summer; but in this series the variations are so great and so 
unequal as to make it very apparent that every single year, month, 
and day, is regulated by a new and special providence of God. 
    3. And truly God claims omnipotence to himself, and would have 
us to acknowledge it, - not the vain, indolent, slumbering 
omnipotence which sophists feign, but vigilant, efficacious, 
energetic, and ever active, - not an omnipotence which may only act 
as a general principle of confused motion, as in ordering a stream 
to keep within the channel once prescribed to it, but one which is 
intent on individual and special movements. God is deemed 
omnipotent, not because he can act though he may cease or be idle, 
or because by a general instinct he continues the order of nature 
previously appointed; but because, governing heaven and earth by his 
providence, he so overrules all things that nothing happens without 
his counsel. For when it is said in the Psalms, "He has done 
whatsoever he has pleased," (Ps. 115: 3,) the thing meant is his 
sure and deliberate purpose. It were insipid to interpret the 
Psalmist's words in philosophic fashion, to mean that God is the 
primary agent, because the beginning and cause of all motion. This 
rather is the solace of the faithful, in their adversity, that every 
thing which they endure is by the ordination and command of God, 
that they are under his hand. But if the government of God thus 
extends to all his works, it is a childish cavil to confine it to 
natural influx. Those moreover who confine the providence of God 
within narrow limits, as if he allowed all things to be borne along 
freely according to a perpetual law of nature, do not more defraud 
God of his glory than themselves of a most useful doctrine; for 
nothing were more wretched than man if he were exposed to all 
possible movements of the sky, the air, the earth, and the water. We 
may add, that by this view the singular goodness of God towards each 
individual is unbecomingly impaired. David exclaims, (Ps. 8: 3,) 
that infants hanging at their mothers breasts are eloquent enough to 
celebrate the glory of God, because, from the very moment of their 
births they find an aliment prepared for them by heavenly care. 
Indeed, if we do not shut our eyes and senses to the fact, we must 
see that some mothers have full provision for their infants, and 
others almost none, according as it is the pleasure of God to 
nourish one child more liberally, and another more sparingly. Those 
who attribute due praise to the omnipotence of God thereby derive a 
double benefit. He to whom heaven and earth belong, and whose nod 
all creatures must obey, is fully able to reward the homage which 
they pay to him, and they can rest secure in the protection of Him 
to whose control everything that could do them harm is subject, by 
whose authority, Satan, with all his furies and engines, is curbed 
as with a bridle, and on whose will everything adverse to our safety 
depends. In this way, and in no other, can the immoderate and 
superstitious fears, excited by the dangers to which we are exposed, 
be calmed or subdued. I say superstitious fears. For such they are, 
as often as the dangers threatened by any created objects inspire us 
with such terror, that we tremble as if they had in themselves a 
power to hurt us, or could hurt at random or by chance; or as if we 
had not in God a sufficient protection against them. For example, 
Jeremiah forbids the children of God " to be dismayed at the signs 
of heaven, as the heathen are dismayed at them," (Jer. 10: 2.) He 
does not, indeed, condemn every kind of fear. But as unbelievers 
transfer the government of the world from God to the stars, 
imagining that happiness or misery depends on their decrees or 
presages, and not on the Divine will, the consequence is, that their 
fear, which ought to have reference to him only, is diverted to 
stars and comets. Let him, therefore, who would beware of such 
unbelief, always bear in mind, that there is no random power, or 
agency, or motion in the creatures, who are so governed by the 
secret counsel of God, that nothing happens but what he has 
knowingly and willingly decreed. 
    4. First, then, let the reader remember that the providence we 
mean is not one by which the Deity, sitting idly in heaven, looks on 
at what is taking place in the world, but one by which he, as it 
were, holds the helms and overrules all events. Hence his providence 
extends not less to the hand than to the eye. When Abraham said to 
his son, God will provide, (Gen. 22: 8,) he meant not merely to 
assert that the future event was foreknown to Gods but to resign the 
management of an unknown business to the will of Him whose province 
it is to bring perplexed and dubious matters to a happy result. 
Hence it appears that providence consists in action. What many talk 
of bare prescience is the merest trifling. Those do not err quite so 
grossly who attribute government to God, but still, as I have 
observed, a confused and promiscuous government which consists in 
giving an impulse and general movement to the machine of the globe 
and each of its parts, but does not specially direct the action of 
every creature. It is impossible, however, to tolerate this error. 
For, according to its abettors, there is nothing in this providence, 
which they call universal, to prevent all the creatures from being 
moved contingently, or to prevent man from turning himself in this 
direction or in that, according to the mere freedom of his own will. 
In this ways they make man a partner with God, - God, by his energy, 
impressing man with the movement by which he can act, agreeably to 
the nature conferred upon him while man voluntarily regulates his 
own actions. In short, their doctrine is, that the world, the 
affairs of men, and men themselves, are governed by the power, but 
not by the decree of God. I say nothing of the Epicureans, (a pest 
with which the world has always been plagued,) who dream of an inert 
and idle God, and others, not a whit sounder, who of old feigned 
that God rules the upper regions of the air, but leaves the inferior 
to Fortune. Against such evident madness even dumb creatures lift 
their voice. 
    My intention now is, to refute an opinion which has very 
generally obtained - an opinion which, while it concedes to God some 
blind and equivocal movement, withholds what is of principal moment, 
viz., the disposing and directing of every thing to its proper end 
by incomprehensible wisdom. By withholding government, it makes God 
the ruler of the world in name only, not in reality. For what, I 
ask, is meant by government, if it be not to preside so as to 
regulate the destiny of that over which you preside? I do not, 
however, totally repudiate what is said of an universal providence, 
provided, on the other hand, it is conceded to me that the world is 
governed by God, not only because he maintains the order of nature 
appointed by him, but because he takes a special charge of every one 
of his works. It is true, indeed, that each species of created 
objects is moved by a secret instinct of nature, as if they obeyed 
the eternal command of God, and spontaneously followed the course 
which God at first appointed. And to this we may refer our Saviour's 
words, that he and his Father have always been at work from the 
beginning, (John 5: 17;) also the words of Paul, that "in him we 
live, and move, and have our being," (Acts 17: 28;) also the words 
of the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, who, when wishing to 
prove the divinity of Christ, says, that he upholdeth "all things by 
the word of his power," (Heb. 1: 3.) But some, under pretext of the 
general, hide and obscure the special providence, which is so surely 
and clearly taught in Scripture, that it is strange how any one can 
bring himself to doubt of it. And, indeed, those who interpose that 
disguise are themselves forced to modify their doctrine, by adding 
that many things are done by the special care of God. This, however, 
they erroneously confine to particular acts. The thing to be proved, 
therefore, is, that single events are so regulated by God, and all 
events so proceed from his determinate counsel, that nothing happens 
    5. Assuming that the beginning of motion belongs to God, but 
that all things move spontaneously or casually, according to the 
impulse which nature gives, the vicissitudes of day and nights 
summer and winter, will be the work of God; inasmuch as he, in 
assigning the office of each, appointed a certain law, namely, that 
they should always with uniform tenor observe the same course, day 
succeeding night, month succeeding month, and year succeeding year. 
But, as at one time, excessive heat, combined with drought, burns up 
the fields; at another time excessive rains rot the crops, while 
sudden devastation is produced by tempests and storms of hail, these 
will not be the works of God, unless in so far as rainy or fair 
weather, heat or cold, are produced by the concourse of the stars, 
and other natural causes. According to this view, there is no place 
left either for the paternal favour, or the judgements of God. If it 
is said that God fully manifests his beneficence to the human race, 
by furnishing heaven and earth with the ordinary power of producing 
food, the explanation is meagre and heathenish: as if the fertility 
of one year were not a special blessing, the penury and dearth of 
another a special punishment and curse from God. But as it would 
occupy too much time to enumerate all the arguments, let the 
authority of God himself suffice. In the Law and the Prophets he 
repeatedly declares, that as often as he waters the earth with dew 
and rain, he manifests his favour, that by his command the heaven 
becomes hard as iron, the crops are destroyed by mildew and other 
evils, that storms and hail, in devastating the fields, are signs of 
sure and special vengeance. This being admitted, it is certain that 
not a drop of rain falls without the express command of God. David, 
indeed, (Ps. 146: 9,) extols the general providence of God in 
supplying food to the young ravens that cry to him but when God 
himself threatens living creatures with famine, does he not plainly 
declare that they are all nourished by him, at one time with scanty, 
at another with more ample measure? It is childish, as I have 
already said, to confine this to particular acts, when Christ says, 
without reservation, that not a sparrow falls to the ground without 
the will of his Father, (Matth. 10: 29.) Surely, if the flight of 
birds is regulated by the counsel of God, we must acknowledge with 
the prophet, that while he "dwelleth on high," he "humbleth himself 
to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth," (Ps. 113: 
5, 6.) 
    6. But as we know that it was chiefly for the sake of mankind 
that the world was made, we must look to this as the end which God 
has in view in the government of it. The prophet Jeremiah exclaims, 
"O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in 
man that walketh to direct his steps," (Jer. 10: 23.) Solomon again 
says, "Man's goings are of the Lord: how can a man then understand 
his own way?" (Prov. 20: 24.) Will it now be said that man is moved 
by God according to the bent of his nature, but that man himself 
gives the movement any direction he pleases? Were it truly so, man 
would have the full disposal of his own ways. To this it will 
perhaps be answered, that man can do nothing without the power of 
God. But the answer will not avail, since both Jeremiah and Solomon 
attribute to God not power only, but also election and decree. And 
Solomon, in another place, elegantly rebukes the rashness of men in 
fixing their plans without reference to God, as if they were not led 
by his hand. "The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer 
of the tongue, is from the Lord," (Prov. 16: 1.) It is a strange 
infatuation, surely for miserable men, who cannot even give 
utterance except in so far as God pleases, to begin to act without 
him! Scriptures moreover, the better to show that every thing done 
in the world is according to his decree, declares that the things 
which seem most fortuitous are subject to him. For what seems more 
attributable to chance than the branch which falls from a tree, and 
kills the passing traveller? But the Lord sees very differently, and 
declares that He delivered him into the hand of the slayer, (Exod. 
21: 13.) In like manners who does not attribute the lot to the 
blindness of Fortune? Not so the Lord, who claims the decision for 
himself, (Prov. 16: 33.) He says not, that by his power the lot is 
thrown into the lap, and taken out, but declares that the only thing 
which could be attributed to chance is from him. To the same effect 
are the words of Solomon, "The poor and the deceitful man meet 
together; the Lord lighteneth both their eyes," (Prov. 29: 13.) For 
although rich and poor are mingled together in the world, in saying 
that the condition of each is divinely appointed, he reminds us that 
God, Who enlightens all, has his own eye always open, and thus 
exhorts the poor to patient endurance, seeing that those who are 
discontented with their lot endeavour to shake off a burden which 
God has imposed upon them. Thus, too, another prophet upbraids the 
profane, who ascribe it to human industry, or to fortune, that some 
grovel in the mire while others rise to honour. "Promotion cometh 
neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But 
God is the judge: he putteth down ones and setteth up another," (Ps. 
75: 6, 7.) Because God cannot divest himself of the office of judge, 
he infers that to his secret counsel it is owing that some are 
elevated, while others remain without honour. 
    7. Nay, I affirm in general, that particular events are 
evidences of the special providence of God. In the wilderness God 
caused a south wind to blow, and brought the people a plentiful 
supply of birds, (Exod. 19: 13.) When he desired that Jonah should 
be thrown into the sea, he sent forth a whirlwind. Those who deny 
that God holds the reins of government will say that this was 
contrary to ordinary practice, whereas I infer from it that no wind 
ever rises or rages without his special command. In no way could it 
be true that "he maketh the winds his messengers, and the flames of 
fire his ministers;" that "he maketh the clouds his chariot, and 
walketh upon the wings of the wind," (Ps. 104: 3, 4,) did he not at 
pleasure drive the clouds and winds and therein manifest the special 
presence of his power. In like manner, we are elsewhere taught, that 
whenever the sea is raised into a storm, its billows attest the 
special presence of God. "He commandeth and raiseth the stormy wind, 
which lifteth up the waves." "He maketh the storm a calm, so that 
the waves thereof are still," (Ps. 107: 25, 29 ) He also elsewhere 
declares, that he had smitten the people with blasting and mildew, 
(Amos 4: 9.) Again while man naturally possesses the power of 
continuing his species, God describes it as a mark of his special 
favour, that while some continue childless, others are blessed with 
offspring: for the fruit of the womb is his gift. Hence the words of 
Jacob to Rachel, "Am I in God's stead, who has withheld from thee 
the fruit of the womb?" (Gen. 30: 2.) To conclude in one word. 
Nothing in nature is more ordinary than that we should be nourished 
with bread. But the Spirit declares not only that the produce of the 
earth is God's special gift, but "that man does not live by bread 
only," (Deut. 8: 3,) because it is not mere fulness that nourishes 
him but the secret blessing of God. And hence, on the other hand, he 
threatens to take away "the stay and the staff, the whole stay of 
bread, and the whole stay of water," (Is. 3: 1.) Indeed, there could 
be no serious meaning in our prayer for daily bread, if God did not 
with paternal hand supply us with food. Accordingly, to convince the 
faithful that God, in feeding them, fulfils the office of the best 
of parents, the prophet reminds them that he "giveth food to all 
flesh," (Ps. 136: 25.) In fine, when we hear on the one hand, that 
"the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open 
unto their cry," and, on the other hand, that "the face of the Lord 
is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them 
from the earth," (Ps. 34: 15, 16,) let us be assured that all 
creatures above and below are ready at his service, that he may 
employ them in whatever way he pleases. Hence we infer, not only 
that the general providence of God, continuing the order of nature, 
extends over the creatures, but that by his wonderful counsel they 
are adapted to a certain and special purpose. 
    8. Those who would cast obloquy on this doctrine, calumniate it 
as the dogma of the Stoics concerning fate. The same charge was 
formerly brought against Augustine, (lib. ad Bonifac. II, c. 6 et 
alibi.) We are unwilling to dispute about words; but we do not admit 
the term Fate, both because it is of the class which Paul teaches us 
to shun, as profane novelties, (1 Tim. 6: 20,) and also because it 
is attempted, by means of an odious term, to fix a stigma on the 
truth of God. But the dogma itself is falsely and maliciously 
imputed to us. For we do not with the Stoics imagine a necessity 
consisting of a perpetual chain of causes, and a kind of involved 
series contained in nature, but we hold that God is the disposer and 
ruler of all things, - that from the remotest eternity, according to 
his own wisdom, he decreed what he was to do, and now by his power 
executes what he decreed. Hence we maintain, that by his providence, 
not heaven and earth and inanimate creatures only, but also the 
counsels and wills of men are so governed as to move exactly in the 
course which he has destined. What, then, you will say, does nothing 
happen fortuitously, nothing contingently? I answer, it was a true 
saying of Basil the Great, that Fortune and Chance are heathen 
terms; the meaning of which ought not to occupy pious minds. For if 
all success is blessing from God, and calamity and adversity are his 
curse, there is no place left in human affairs for fortune and 
chance. We ought also to be moved by the words of Augustine, 
(Retract. lib. 1 cap. 1,) "In my writings against the Academics," 
says he, "I regret having so often used the term Fortune; although I 
intended to denote by it not some goddess, but the fortuitous issue 
of events in external matters, whether good or evil. Hence, too, 
those words, Perhaps, Perchance, Fortuitously, which no religion 
forbids us to use, though everything must be referred to Divine 
Providence. Nor did I omit to observe this when I said, Although, 
perhaps, that which is vulgarly called Fortune, is also regulated by 
a hidden order, and what we call Chance is nothing else than that 
the reason and cause of which is secret. It is true, I so spoke, but 
I repent of having mentioned Fortune there as I did, when I see the 
very bad custom which men have of saying, not as they ought to do, 
'So God pleased,' but, 'So Fortune pleased.'" In short, Augustine 
everywhere teaches, that if anything is left to fortune, the world 
moves at random. And although he elsewhere declares, (Quaestionum, 
lib. 83.) that all things are carried on, partly by the free will of 
man, and partly by the Providence of God, he shortly after shows 
clearly enough that his meaning was, that men also are ruled by 
Providence, when he assumes it as a principle, that there cannot be 
a greater absurdity than to hold that anything is done without the 
ordination of God; because it would happen at random. For which 
reason, he also excludes the contingency which depends on human 
will, maintaining a little further on, in clearer terms, that no 
cause must be sought for but the will of God. When he uses the term 
permission, the meaning which he attaches to it will best appear 
from a single passage, (De Trinity. lib. 3 cap. 4,) where he proves 
that the will of God is the supreme and primary cause of all things, 
because nothing happens without his order or permission. He 
certainly does not figure God sitting idly in a watch-tower, when he 
chooses to permit anything. The will which he represents as 
interposing is, if I may so express it, active, (actualis,) and but 
for this could not be regarded as a cause. 
    9. But since our sluggish minds rest far beneath the height of 
Divine Providence, we must have recourse to a distinction which may 
assist them in rising. I say then, that though all things are 
ordered by the counsel and certain arrangement of God, to us, 
however, they are fortuitous, - not because we imagine that Fortune 
rules the world and mankind, and turns all things upside down at 
random, (far be such a heartless thought from every Christian 
breast;) but as the order, method, end, and necessity of events, 
are, for the most part, hidden in the counsel of God, though it is 
certain that they are produced by the will of God, they have the 
appearance of being fortuitous, such being the form under which they 
present themselves to us, whether considered in their own nature, or 
estimated according to our knowledge and judgement. Let us suppose, 
for example, that a merchant, after entering a forest in company 
with trust-worthy individuals, imprudently strays from his 
companions and wanders bewildered till he falls into a den of 
robbers and is murdered. His death was not only foreseen by the eye 
of God, but had been fixed by his decree. For it is said, not that 
he foresaw how far the life of each individual should extend, but 
that he determined and fixed the bounds which could not be passed, 
(Job 14: 5.) Still, in relation to our capacity of discernment, all 
these things appear fortuitous. How will the Christian feel? Though 
he will consider that every circumstance which occurred in that 
person's death was indeed in its nature fortuitous, he will have no 
doubt that the Providence of God overruled it and guided fortune to 
his own end. The same thing holds in the case of future 
contingencies. All future events being uncertain to us, seem in 
suspense as if ready to take either direction. Still, however, the 
impression remains seated in our hearts, that nothing will happen 
which the Lord has not provided. In this sense the term event is 
repeatedly used in Ecclesiastes, because, at the first glance, men 
do not penetrate to the primary cause which lies concealed. And yet, 
what is taught in Scripture of the secret providence of God was 
never so completely effaced from the human heart, as that some 
sparks did not always shine in the darkness. Thus the soothsayers of 
the Philistine, though they waver in uncertainty, attribute the 
adverse event partly to God and partly to chance. If the ark, say 
they, "Goes up by the way of his own coast to Bethshemish, then he 
has done us this great evil; but if not, then we shall know that it 
is not his hand that smote us, it was a chance that happened to us." 
(1 Sam. 6: 9.) Foolishly, indeed, when divination fails them they 
flee to fortune. Still we see them constrained, so as not to venture 
to regard their disaster as fortuitous. But the mode in which God, 
by the curb of his Providence, turns events in whatever direction he 
pleases, will appear from a remarkable example. At the very same 
moment when David was discovered in the wilderness of Maon, the 
Philistines make an inroad into the country, and Saul is forced to 
depart, (1 Sam. 23: 26, 27.) If God, in order to provide for the 
safety of his servant, threw this obstacle in the way of Saul, we 
surely cannot say, that though the Philistine took up arms contrary 
to human expectation, they did it by chance. What seems to us 
contingence, faith will recognise as the secret impulse of God. The 
reason is not always equally apparent, but we ought undoubtedly to 
hold that all the changes which take place in the world are produced 
by the secret agency of the hand of God. At the same time, that 
which God has determined, though it must come to pass, is not, 
however, precisely, or in its own nature, necessary. We have a 
familiar example in the case of our Saviour's bones. As he assumed a 
body similar to ours, no sane man will deny that his bones were 
capable of being broken and yet it was impossible that they should 
be broken, (John 19: 33, 36.) Hence, again, we see that there was 
good ground for the distinction which the Schoolmen made between 
necessity, secundum quid, and necessity absolute, also between the 
necessity of consequent and of consequence. God made the bones of 
his Son frangible, though he exempted them from actual fracture; and 
thus, in reference to the necessity of his counsel, made that 
impossible which might have naturally taken place. 

Calvin, Institutes on the Christian Religion, Volume 1
(continued in part 15...)

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