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Calvin as Gadfly: a wide berth

31 March 2011 by FX Turk

Some who are trying to be clever would say that God doesn't only foreknow, but he also governs with his every wish whatever it is that is done in this world. However, they imagine that government as confused, as if God gives liberty to his creatures to do anything but what he requires. They say that the sun is ruled by the will of God, because, in giving light to us, it does what it must, which he set in motion but doesn't continually keep up with. They think that man has free-will in the same way, because his nature is disposed or inclined to the free choice of good or evil. But by doing this they think God is just sitting around in Heaven like an idle man. The Scripture teaches us something else, which marks out that God has a special government over all things, and also in man’s actions.

Just so, it is our duty to ponder and consider to what end it teaches this; for we must beware of dreaming up new things which are not actually in the Scripture. The Scripture will make our faith fit, so that we may know that we are defended by the hand of God, or else we'll be subject to the attacks of Satan and the wicked.

It's good for us to embrace this one thing, namely exactly what Peter meant in this verse of Acts. We have an example set before us in Christ, from which we may learn to be wise and even-tempered. For it is out of question, that his flesh was subject to corruption, according to nature. But the providence of God actually set his flesh free. If any man asks whether the bones of Christ could be broken or no? it is not to be denied, that they were subject to breaking naturally, yet could there no bone be broken, because God had so appointed and determined, (John 19:36.) By this example (I say) we are taught so to give a wide berth to God’s providence, that we keep ourselves within our boundaries, and that we thrust not ourselves rashly and indiscreetly into the secrets of God, where our eyesight does not have a chance to look.

--Calvin, Commentary on Acts Vol. 1, verse 2:23


Strong Tower

It is of course the essence of rebellion to desire anything that could take place outside the boundaries of the will of God.

He has inscribed a circle on the face of the waters at the boundary between light and darkness.

You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth

You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth.

(He) placed the sand as the boundary for the sea, a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass; though the waves toss, they cannot prevail; though they roar, they cannot pass over it.

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for 'In him we live and move and have our being’

You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.


What does this mean?
By this example (I say) we are taught so to give a wide berth to God’s providence, that we keep ourselves within our boundaries, and that we thrust not ourselves rashly and indiscreetly into the secrets of God, sheer our eyesight does not have a chance to look.

I cling to God's divine control and providence over all things, that man has no freedom over anything, relative to God. But, is this also not giving a wide berth to God's providence? For perhaps I'm not keeping myself from the secrets? I don't know, just curious.

FX Turk

Well, I think the corrected typo in the last sentence makes more sense of the statement, but here's food for thought: we can believe and take refuge in God's decrees and his willingness to sustain all things but we don't have to understand how it works that he is the sustainer of all things. We don't need a physics of God's omnipotence to believe that what he decrees must come to pass.

Rachael Starke

That one idea - that there are things no created being has the right nor the capacity to understand- is why God calls mainly the foolish and weak. TED-types just won't stand for it.

This series has been a lifeline for me as I wrestle with God appearing to be sovereignly be creating a lengthy series of doors, only to have them all be stuck shut, locked, or open a fraction, then slammed. It's been really hard. I appreciate the reminder that my inability to understand what's going on has precisely zero to do with God's character and His disposition towards me as His child.

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