THE SECRET PROVIDENCE OF GOD:
BY WHICH HE EXECUTES HIS ETERNAL DECREES
TO THE "SLANDEROUS REPORTS" (Rom. iii. 8)
A CERTAIN WORTHLESS CALUMNIATOR
THE SECRET PROVIDENCE OF GOD.
By JOHN CALVIN.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT GENEVA A.D. 1558; AND NOW FIRST
TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH
By HENRY COLE, D.D.
OF CLARE HALL, CAMBRIDGE.
SOVEREIGN GRACE UNION, 98 CAMBERWELL GROVE,
IT is an awful and deplorable fact that the adorable Redeemer and only Saviour of men is, according to the prophetic declaration of the Scripture concerning Him, "A stone of stumbling and rock of offence" (Isa viii. 14; 1 Pet. ii. 8), wherever He comes in His Spirit, life and power. Equally lamentable are the sure consequences which follow the written or preached proclamation of the essential doctrines of His everlasting Gospel. Nor have any of those doctrines met with a greater degree of enmity, hatred and violent opposition from men, than the two all-high and glorious truths of His revealed Word which are now immediately before usó"THE ETERNAL PREDESTINATION OF GOD" and the "wonderful counsel and excellent working" (Isa. xxviii. 29) of "THE SECRET PROVIDENCE OF GOD," by which He works out, in His sovereign way, the decrees of His sovereign will.
The former of these momentous doctrines forms the subject and object of the preceding Treatise, for a view of the nature of which, and of Calvin's success in its unequalled execution, the reader is referred to the Preface, by which it is introduced to the English Church of Christ.
The present Treatise of the same beloved Reformer of undying memory and of imperishable "high esteem, in love, for His works' sake" (1 Thess. V. 13), is devoted to a discussion of that equally sublime and equally incomprehensible subject, "THE SECRET PROVIDENCE OF GOD." This unfathomable and incomprehensible deep Calvin enters with the same acute and powerful intellect which characterises the preceding Treatise, and with a holiness and reverence of spirit correspondently profound. He states, in all its fulness, the mysterious and inscrutable depth of the mind of God in the awe-filling dispensations of His "secret providence," and presents a noble, admirable and unanswerable DEFENCE of their sure justice, Divine holiness and infinite wisdom.
Neither of these glorious doctrines of the Bible has been declared, in any age or place, by the tongue or by the pen of the servants of God without exciting (as we have already stated) the hostile enmity and, more or less, violent opposition of men. It is no marvel, therefore, that Calvin, who was called to so prominent a ministration of them, should have met with a parallel amount of hatred, malignity and violence, in his day and generation, nor that he should therefore have been necessitated to employ as much time and toil in their public defence as in their public ministration.
Luther and Calvin, therefore, each bore his large and inevitable share of the "offence of the cross" (Gal. v. 11). But while Luther's heavy share exceeded, perhaps, that of Calvin in the number, rage, hostility and mightiness of his adversaries; the enemies of Calvin surpassed those of Luther in hatred, malignity, misrepresentation, contumely, slander and violence. And these peculiarities of hostile and determined opposition were in exact accordance with the natures of the ministerial works of these two blessed and prominent servants of the Most High.
Luther's mighty work lay in the exposure and demolition of the principles and authorities of churches and of kingdoms, and in the defiance of the power of popes, kings, princes and potentates of the earth. But the work of Calvin lay more directly with the hearts, principles and spirits of men ?filled with hatred against those very truths which he was expressly called of God to declare almost anew, with all the light and penetrating power of his ministry, to a truth-hating world.
Both these pre-eminent servants of God, however, "hidden in the hollow of His hand" (Isa. xlix. 2), defended from without by His omnipotent power, and sustained within by the consolations of His Spirit, "finished the work which He gave them to do," and are now wearing in eternal glory the crowns "which the Lord, the righteous Judge, had laid up for them," from all eternity, as their sure reward (2 Tim. iv. 7, 8).
Those enemies of the loved and noble Swiss Reformer, who resisted his testimony concerning "The secret providence of God," were, if possible, more numerous, more hostile, more acrimonious and violent, and certainly more false, misrepresentative, scandalising and malignant, than those who resisted his witness concerning "The eternal predestination of God." Though these twin cardinal truths of the Bible ever stand, in all direct consequence, necessarily and inseparably connected, this excess of virulent hostility to the former glorious doctrine is strikingly manifest from the present attack of "a certain worthless calumniator," whose malicious and mendacious violence called forth that DEFENCE which forms the burden of the present Treatise.
The method of defensive reply adopted by Calvin is characteristically plain, honest and satisfactory. He gives the articles of accusation (or slanders) in the order in which they were published by the calumniator, and he makes his replies to them consecutively in defence of the sovereignty and secrecy of "The Providence of God." But the reader is informed, by way of premonition, that the parenthesis? (that is, "Slander I., II., III., etc.") ?which are found in all the headings to the sections, are Calvin's parenthetical comments, as it were, on the calumniator's terms, "Article I., II., III.," etc., by which parenthesis in each case Calvin testifies that each article is the basest calumny!
Who this prominent calumniator was is now unknown. It was very probably Servetus, to whose insidious designs and persecuting animosity Calvin himself makes so much allusion in the preceding Treatise. One thing is certain?and it is worthy our recollection?that this calumniator of Calvin, and of his doctrine and ministry, was a deadly enemy to the truth, and that he was as industrious in his researches for hostile materials, as subtle in his reasonings, and as indefatigable in his inventions of opposing arguments, as he was malicious and violent in his opposition. So that it may with much safety be concluded that the following sheets contain the most of, if not all, the strongest (or rather vilest) arguments which the utmost efforts of the rationalist, the sceptic, and the infidel can bring against those two essential doctrines of the revealed Word, which the two present Treatises so admirably state and defend. For "there is no discharge in this war" of the truth (Eccles. viii. 8). Wherever it is written or preached, conflicts, persecutions and sufferings for its sake by writers and by preachers must, with solemn certainty, be endured (2 Tim. iii. 11; 2 Peter ii. 2).
No! The "offence of the cross" of the Redeemer and of His truth has not "ceased" (Gal. v. 11), nor will it cease till time shall be no more. The same false accusations, slanders, misrepresentations, and perversions of the doctrines, principles and actions of the true servants of Christ (especially with reference to the two great doctrines of the everlasting Gospel now immediately under discussion). which have existed in all ages, in various forms of violence and malignity, still prevail on every side.
Wherefore (to make a few condensed and concluding observations upon the completion and issue of this Second Volume) the excellency and usefulness of these Treatises of the beloved, able and immortal Calvin will be found, it is hoped, as originally designed by the translator to be threefold.
First, the clear and truthful statement of the sublime doctrines of God's sovereign grace, sustained by the Scriptures and by the experience of the just, throughout the Treatises will be edifying and establishing, it is trusted, to all those members of the Church of Christ who can trace, with any degree of comfort, by the light and testimony of the Spirit and of the Word their "calling" of God. While the divine and powerful arguments, by which the scriptural statements are illustrated and confirmed, will strengthen the assurance of their salvation, by showing them that its security rests on the very nature and attributes of God as its "sure foundation." The blessed and beloved "poor" of God's family, indeed, who form the greater portion of His heavenly household, may not feel themselves competent to follow the acute and deep Calvin throughout the extent of his arguments; yet some, even of them, may be able, in a profitable measure, to do so with admiration and thankfulness, to the strengthening of their faith and hope. For a "poor wise man" (Eccles. ix. 15), in whom dwells the Spirit of wisdom and of truth, has more mental power and judgment in such things than the world, and even the saints themselves, generally give him credit for. And though we are instructed to look around us, and to mark who they are that compose the generality of the disciples of Christ? "For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called" (1 Cor. i. 26) ?yet we have great cause to glorify God (as a certain "noble" disciple once observed) that the Word does not say not any noble, or wise, or learned, or educated, or intelligent, are called. Into the hands of some of these, therefore, who may be able to follow, understand and appreciate the divine and deep arguments of Calvin, these his Treatises may fall and, by the glad and thankful perusal of them, their minds may be informed and enlarged into the length, breadth and depth of that "sure foundation" on which their faith and hope repose for eternity.
But secondly, Calvin speaks and writes in these Treatises not to the Church of Christ only, but also to the unregenerate, human-reasoning and profane world at large. He shows the world, as well as the Church of Christ, that the sublime doctrines of "the eternal predestination of God" and of "His secret providence" must, of consequent necessity, be true, not only from the declarations of the Holy Scripture, but from the very nature and attributes of the adorable God Himself. Wherefore, these volumes carry with them Calvin's holy, masterly and unanswerable testimony to the whole English nation, wheresoever they may come; and this is what it was also intended by the translator they should do, and which it is hoped they will do, successfully, to the eternal profit of men and to the glory of God. Hence, these Treatises will arm the disciples of Christ with weapons for their defence of the truth, as well as feed them with "strong meat " for their enjoyment, nourishment and strength (Heb. V. 14).
Nor do we despair of these same volumes being made profitable to the ministers of Christ, especially to His younger servants, equipping them also with insubvertible arguments for the Truth's defence, as well as enriching them with sound doctrine for its proclamation. And the present day is one of widely prevailing rationalism, scepticism and infidelity. The "wise," the "scribes," and "the disputers of this world," with their "doubtful disputations" and their "oppositions of science, falsely so-called" (1 Cor. i. 20; 1 Tim. vi 20), abound in every direction. Against all this, and all these, Calvin furnishes, in the present Treatises, the twofold materials of Scripture and argument for erecting, in any place, at any time, an impregnable tower in defence of the truth; while the same testimonies, as being heaven-commissioned, contain in them "the arrows of the Almighty," some of which may perhaps hit, with the sharpness of saving mercy, the hearts of a few of the enemies of the "King of kings," and bring them to His feet! (Ps. xlv. 5.)
In this twofold respect, indeed, Calvin has commanded a field, trodden a path, and pursued a "line of things" unoccupied by any minister of Christ with anything like the same prominence, ability and effect, either before his day or since he left earth for heaven. Many true servants of Christ have set forth, and still do set forth, the sublime doctrines of grace scripturally; but they are not gifted with mental powers to prove the necessity of their truth from the very nature of God Himself, and from the ever unchangeable and inseparable harmony of His eternal attributes, as Calvin did throughout his ministry, and as he has done in these his two admirable productions. No man has occupied this sphere, nor wrought in this line of ministerial labour, with anything approaching to competent ability since the sixteenth century?the glorious era of the Reformation. Nor has anyone appeared qualified to perform such service to God and His Church in the present century. In the last and the preceding centuries there were a Dr. Owen, a Dr. Gill, a Romaine, and perhaps a few others, who possessed the mental ability, the learning and the spiritual gifts for the task. But they had not the "calling" of God to that branch of His service. God did not set that "line of things" before them. The only man in the last century who stood at this post, with spiritual and mental endowments at all adequate to the work, was that talented servant of God, that accomplished scholar, that "burning and shining light" of the Church of England and of the Church of Christ?Toplady. His ministry, however, by the inscrutable will of the sovereign Disposer of all things, was as short as it was brilliant. He died at the lamented age of thirty-six, after a ten or twelve brief years' ministration, and left no successor his like, either in the Church of England or out of it. Nor has any equal to him, in rich experience of Divine truth, in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, or in sanctified mental talent, since appeared. Toplady did enter upon Calvin's peculiar twofold field, and his written testimonies on the stupendous doctrines now in question are an enduring treasure to the British Church of Christ and to her whole nation.
The above remarks, intended merely to describe the nature and merits of the two present Treatises, will not, it is hoped, be deemed invidious or partial. They are designed to be solely explanatory of the state of the case in reference to these productions of the immortal Swiss Reformer. Even those distinguished one-in-a-century servants of God, Bunyan, equally immortal with Calvin, and that widely useful and highly-honoured "master in Israel," Huntington, were wholly incompetent to execute such works as these Treatises. Those great and good men were each of memorable value and profit to the Church of Christ in their respective centuries, and their bequeathed works and services will probably continue, especially those of the former, to the end of time; but neither of them could have occupied the field or performed the work of Calvin. No servant of God, however great or useful, could have done, or could now do, that, but one who, to a deep experience of Divine Truth and to commanding natural powers, should have added, or should now add, a sound classical, mathematical and logical mental training. And a servant of Christ, thus divinely, naturally and acquiredly qualified for his highest services, scarcely appears, we repeat, once in a century; nay, as the course of centuries has proved, in the bright and pre-eminent instances of Luther and Calvin, scarcely once in three centuries. That no one has stood forth in the present century, or can now be found, prepared of God with this threefold equipment of grace (1 Cor. xv. 10), nature and acquirement for his high service, both before the redeemed Church and before the more learned world, trained both at the feet of Christ and at the feet of Gamaliel (Luke x. 39; Acts xxii. 3), is a source of lamentation to all who are competent to form a right judgment.
And thirdly, these Treatises, it is confidently believed (and this was a third motive for their translation and publication), will fully vindicate the doctrine and character of John Calvin, and unload his revered name (in the English mind at least) from that mountain of malignant obloquy and slander which has been heaped upon it, more or less, for these three centuries past. These, his own unequalled testimonies, will not only prove the might and invincibleness of his spiritual and mental powers, but will make equally manifest the holiness, the humbleness, and the adoration of his soul as one of "the redeemed from the earth," one of the "sealed" among men, as God's own (Rev. xiv. 3; vii. 4).
Nor can the translator refrain from offering, ere he close these observations, his sincere expressions of gratitude to those "Brethren and Friends" who have come thus readily and liberally forward with their "gold and silver," on public grounds, not for themselves only, to insure the publication of these volumes, when no other means of their publicity was attainable. And in these his grateful acknowledgments, he is fully assured that he is joined by those few much interested friends by whose counselling and arranging aid the original "proposal" was put forth.
Should, then, these two Treatises of the truthful, faithful and able Calvin be so honoured as to be made of any sacred service in edifying the disciples of Christ, and building them up in their most holy faith; should they be found in any degree useful in equipping the friends of the Truth with armour for its effective defence; should they lend aid in silencing the clamours, shaming the slanders, refuting the doctrines, and defeating the designs of the enemies of God and of His revealed truth in the present day, or in future generations of the English Church of Christ; these feeble labours of their translation will have received the highest reward with which their author ever wished to be honoured.
3 Upper Islington Terrace, London.