Sovereignty of God by John Calvin

Sovereignty of God by John Calvin



Est. Date. 1509-1594

Orig. Language. English

Orig. Writer. John Calvin

Translated by.

John Calvin was one of the most influential theologians in all of Church Reformation history. He was very

big on explaining the sovereignty of God and pre-destination. He covered a few of his main point of

theology in 4 books called the institutes to explain the whole of Christian theology.


The Institutes of the Christian Religion

by John Calvin.

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


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 those who have learned from the mouth of Christ that all the hairs of his head

are numbered (Matthew 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 appropriate,

and turns and converts to any purpose at his pleasure. No created object makes a more wonderful or

glorious display than the sun.... 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 (Joshua 10:13); that

as a favor 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 favor toward us....


Sovereignty of God by John Calvin

3. Truly God claims omnipotence to himself, and would have us to acknowledge it,——not the vain,

indolent, slumbering omnipotence which sophists [quibblers] 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 everything 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 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 (Psalm 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


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,” (Jeremiah 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.

6. 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.


Sovereignty of God by John Calvin

The prophet Jeremiah exclaims, “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man

that walks to direct his steps,” (Jeremiah 10:23). Solomon again says, “Man’s goings are of the Lord: how

can a man then understand his own way?” (Proverbs 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,” (Proverbs 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


Scriptures moreover, the better to show that everything done in the world is according to his decree,

declare 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 traveler? But the

Lord sees very differently, and declares that He delivered him into the hand of the slayer (Exodus.

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 (Proverbs 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

lightens both their eyes,” (Proverbs 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 endeavor to shake off a burden which God has imposed upon


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 honor. “Promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from

the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he puts down ones and sets up another,” (Psalms

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 honor.