No Foolin’ Around

Institutes 1.16.4 – 1.16.8

In 1967, the Beatles’ Paul McCartney wrote a song entitled “Fool On The Hill.” It was written after he had had a discussion with a friend about the existence of God. The song was recorded and released on the Magical Mystery Tour album.

There were, and are, many interpretations as to what the song is about. Many thought that McCartney was saying that after God had created the world and man that He simply sat back, like the gods of Greek mythology, and watched with amusement as the world spun in space and man lived out his life on earth. Only occasionally would God become involved in the lives and affairs of men.

Calvin begins this particular reading of the Institutes that deals with the general and special providence of God by saying 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.” (1.16.4)

In other words, God is not an absentee God. He is a very involved and in- control God Who governs not only by power, but by decree. Calvin says that He disposes and directs “everything to its proper end by incomprehensible wisdom.(1.16.4) Nothing is left to chance or fortune.

Rather than arguing points with people over the question of God’s providence, Calvin chooses rather to “let the authority of God suffice” in the matter. He provides many Scriptures from the Old Testament to prove the Lord’s providence over creation, all it contains, and man.

Calvin makes several statements in this reading, as always, that  grabbed my attention.

 … providence consists in action.” (1.16.4)

 … single events are so regulated by God, and all events so proceed from his determinate counsel, that nothing happens fortuitously.” (1.16.4)

Even those things that seem fortuitous to us, Calvin would say, are subject to Him.

After sharing Exodus 16:13, Numbers 11:31, and Jonah 1:4, Calvin infers

  … 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.” (1.16.7)

 … we hold that God is the disposer and ruler of all thing, – 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.” (1.16.8)

The final statement from this reading, one that speaks very profoundly to me about the LORD’s providence over all that He has created and sustains is,

 … that the will of God is the supreme and primary cause of all things, because nothing happens without his order or permission.”


When Calvin said that the LORD disposes and directs “everything to its proper end by incomprehensible wisdom,” what does he mean by “proper end”?

I believe that “proper end” means  the “certain and special purpose” (1.16.7) that everything, every person and every event has in and for the working out of the LORD’s perfect will for His glory and eternal purposes.

Explore posts in the same categories: Bible, Prayer, Reformation, Reformed Theology

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