Calvin’s Institutes (Book I Chapter V Section 7-15)
It has been a long time since I read John Flavel’s book The Mystery of Providence, but I can still remember how piercing and comprehensive his thoughts, how many and varied his arguments, that God rules everything in this world according to his sovereign or providential will. That God guides all the events in the lives of his children, all the tribulations of the church, all the affairs of governments and nations for the good of his people and the final revelation of his justice.
It is to this topic that Calvin turns in the latter part of Chapter 5. Having highlighted the wonder of God’s work in the design of the natural world and the human body, Calvin moves onto consider the evidence for God’s providential hand in all of life. Although he sees evidence for “so many proofs of divine providence” and fatherly love, it should not surprise us by now to realise that mankind does not recognise this, being “lost in a flood of error”.
Calvin recognises that the divine providence is only partially outplayed in this life; as Augustine says “were all sin now visited with open punishment, it might be thought that nothing was reserved for the final judgement; and on the other hand, were no sin now openly punished, it might be supposed there was no divine punishment”. Thus, from our vantage point we can only see glimpses, the complete and perfect picture will only be displayed at the final judgement.
Although the evidence is all around us, it is only with the eye of faith that the believer can see the wonder and tenderness of his care towards us. Only once we come to a place of complete dependence on God do we look back at our lives and realise how gently and persistently he has wooed us. Only with the trust of child can we look forward and anticipate a day when the final chapter will be declared and all will make sense. Until that day we walk by faith.
“All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts O God.” Psalm 139 16+17
Father, how many are your thoughts toward us and how tender your care. We see, as if through a muddy window, your deeds and know that they are good, we look forward to the day when the pane will be clear and we will understand fully. Give us the eye of faith to understand your works in our lives, Amen.