Doctrine Considered and Applied: Calvin and Providence, pt. 5
In spite of all of these challenges, Calvin accomplished far more than any of us could ever dream of accomplishing. He wrote the first edition of the Institutes by the time he was 27. He wrote thousands of sermons, often preaching five to seven times a week; he lectured regularly, and he wrote thousands of pages of theological works and letters. Yet, with all of this success and tragedy he experienced, Calvin came to the end of his life never exalting in his success or complaining to God about his tragedy.
Note what Calvin writes in his last will and testament:
In the first place, I render thanks to God, not only because he has had compassion on me, his poor creature, to draw me out of the abyss of idolatry in which I was plunged, in order to bring me to the light of the gospel and make me a partaker of the doctrine of salvation, of which I was altogether unworthy, and continuing his mercy he has supported me amid so many sins and short-comings, which were such that I well deserved to be rejected by him a hundred thousand times--but what is more, he has so far extended his mercy towards me as to make use of me and of my labor, to convey and announce the truth of his gospel; protesting that it is my wish to live and die in this faith which he has bestowed on me, having no other hope nor refuge except in his gratuitous adoption, upon which all my salvation is founded; embracing the grace which he has given me in our Lord Jesus Christ, and accepting the merits of his death and passion, in order that by this means all my sins may be buried; and praying him so to wash and cleanse me by the blood of this great Redeemer, which has been shed for us poor sinners, that I may appear before his face, bearing as it were his image. . . . But alas! the desire which I have had, and the zeal, if so it must be called, has been so cold and so sluggish that I feel myself a debtor in everything and everywhere, and that, were it not for his infinite goodness, all the affection I have had would be but as smoke, nay, that even the favors which he has accorded me would but render me so much the more guilty; so that my only recourse is this, that being the Father of mercies he will show himself the Father of so miserable a sinner” (Tracts & Letters, p. 7.366).
What is incredible is that Calvin not only expounded and articulated the biblical doctrine of providence, but he lived it out. Doctrine was never something for idle speculation or musing; rather, it was life-changing—doctrine that was aimed at teaching others of the truth of God’s desire to conform us to the image of his Son. Doctrine was supposed to reform the way we think and live. It is my hope that we would, with Calvin, learn not only to understand the doctrine of Providence, but that we would apply it in all of its fullness in our lives and that we would promptly and sincerely, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, give our hearts in passionate service of our Lord and our God and desire conformity to Christ above all else. It is also my prayer, that as we run this race we call life, that we would take a look around at those who are cheering the church on, the great cloud of witnesses, that we would stand on the shoulders of the titans of the faith, learn from their wisdom, and be inspired by their passion for Christ. It seems fitting to close, then, with Paul's famous passage from Romans 8, a passage that points us to the Christ-centered nature of our conformity to Christ, something that occurs under the blanket of God's Providence:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8.31-39).