Sovereignty of God by John Calvin
Sovereignty of God by John Calvin
Est. Date. 1509-1594
Orig. Language. English
Orig. Writer. John Calvin
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....
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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.
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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
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.