Wednesday, March 17, 2010

God's Directing the God-fearing and the Godless

We know from reading Scripture that God uses all people to accomplish his will.  Not just his chosen people, but even the godless people are used.  Calvin illustrates this by pointing out a number of passages in Scripture where God uses the godless for his purpose.  One of the best known examples is in the case of God hardening Pharaoh's heart in Exodus 4:21; 7:3-4; 10:1; 10:20,27; 11:10; 14:8; and Psalm 105:25.  Then Calvin lists a number of passages where God controls the wicked.  "Accordingly he threatens to call them forth by his whistle [Isaiah 5:26; 7:18], then to use them as a snare to catch [Ezekiel 12:13; 17:20], then as a hammer to shatter the Israelites [Jeremiah 50:23].  But he expressly declared that he did not idly stand by when he called Sennacherib an ax [Isaiah 10:15] that was aimed and impelled by His own hand to cut them down.  Augustine wrote about God controlling the wicked, "The fact that men sin is their own doing; that they by sinning do this or that comes from the power of God, who divides the darkness as he pleases."

Even Satan must serve God.  A passage that used to make me squirm was about God sending an evil spirit to Saul.  "For in Samuel it is often said that 'an evil spirit of the Lord' and 'an evil spirit from the Lord' has either 'seized' or 'departed from' Saul [I Samuel 16:14; 18:10; 19:9].  It is unlawful to refer this to the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, the impure spirit is called 'spirit of God' because it responds to his will and power, and acts rather as God's instrument than by itself as the author."  Calvin explains this by saying, "Yet in the same work there is always a great difference between what the Lord does and what Satan and the wicked try to do.  God makes these evil serve his justice."

The next section Calvin speaks more about the will.  For the first time it seems that Calvin concedes that man may have a hint of free will in civil matters, but he also believes this is a "matter of no great importance."  When it does matter, God's special grace is given to us to incline our hearts in a particular direction.  God's special grace works to our advantage and steers us away from harm.  Once again, Calvin uses a number of passages to defend this position: Jacob speaking of Joseph [Genesis 43:14], God taming the nations [Psalm 106:46], Saul preparing for war [I Samuel 11:6], Absalom changing his mind [II Samuel 17:14], Rehoboam listening to the young men's counsel [I Kings 12:10-14], Rahab confessing that this was done by God [Joshua 2:9], and the nation of Israel receiving a "trembling heart" [Deuteronomy 28:65; Leviticus 26:36].

Even if we have a hint of free choice in civil matters, Calvin is emphatic that God's will trumps our own.  "God, whenever he wills to make way for his providence, bends and turns men's wills even in external things; nor are they so free to choose that God's will does not rule over their freedom.  Whether you will or not, dauly experience compels you to realize that your mind is guided by God's prompting rather than by your own freedom to choose."

At the end of chapter 4, Calvin differentiates between will and ability.  Even if we do have the will to do something, we may not have the ability to accomplish it.  The illustration he uses is that Augustus Caesar has no more free will than Atilius Regulus who was trapped inside a wine cask.  Caesar certainly had more ability being the leader of the Roman empire than Regulus who could not escape even the barrel in which he was trapped, but their will was equal.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.5.1-2.5.4

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