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Before the end of the year, I hope to have reread Calvin’s Institutes. This morning I completed Book 1, which concludes with Calvin’s teaching on God’s providence.
To aid me in my readings, I am using David Calhoun’s fine devotional volume on the Institutes. I found these words especially helpful:
The doctrine of providence for Calvin is not so much a matter of explanation of what happens as it is a confession of faith. It does not answer all our questions, but it enables us to live without answers until the time comes when we will live without questions.
Calvin’s understanding of the Bible’s teaching on providence has immensely practical application. “Gratitude of mind for the favorable outcome of things, patience in adversity, and also incredible freedom from worry about the future all necessarily follow upon this knowledge [of the promises and examples of scripture]” – words that prompt Calhoun to offer this sage pastoral counsel:
Make three lists: the things that have worked out well for you, the troubles you are now facing, and the things you are worried about. Express your gratitude to God for the things in the first list. Ask God for patience for the things in the second list. Cross out the things in the third list, and enjoy the “incredible freedom from worry about the future” that is yours as a Christian.
The hymn writer expresses well the comfort that belongs to the believer who trusts in his all-sovereign King and loving heavenly Father:
Whate’er my God ordains is right,
Here shall my stand be taken;
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
Yet am I not forsaken,
My Father’s care
Is round me there,
He holds me that I shall not fall,
And so to Him I leave it all.
David B. Calhoun, Knowing God and Ourselves: Reading Calvin’s Institutes Devotionally (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2016), 73,75.
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill; trans. Ford Lewis Battles; vol. 1 (Louisville, KY: Westminster Press, 1960), 219.
Samuel Rodigast, “Whate’er My God Ordains is Right,” trans. Catherine Winkworth, in Trinity Hymnal, no. 108.
On Psalm 6 William Plumer comments:
“With believers when things get to the worst then they get better. To them darkness is the harbinger of light; grief, of gladness; humility, of exaltation; death, of life. The whole Psalm teaches thus . . . The pious man has a friend in heaven, and on that account has no reason to be violently overcome by his sorrow.”
And Matthew Henry on Psalm 4:6:
“It has often been the the lot of the best of men to be men of sorrows; our Lord Jesus himself was so.”
– William S. Plumer, Psalms: A Critical and Expository Commentary with Doctrinal and Practical Remarks. 1867 (Carlise, PA: Banner of Truth, 1990), 101.
– Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. 3. 1710. (McLean, Virginia: MacDonald Publishing Company, 1985), 259.
Charles Simeon (1759-1836) argues that “it is under sufferings that the superiority of the Christian’s state is to be seen to the greatest advantage.” He comments on Romans 8:28:
“The Christian may be called to bear the heaviest afflictions; but they shall bring him to consideration, stir him up to prayer, wean him from the world, and lead him to seek his rest above — He maybe assaulted also with the most distressing temptations; but these will shew him the evil of his heart, and the faithfulness of his God: they will also teach him to sympathize with his tempted brethren: even death itself will be among the number of the things that shall prove beneficial to him. This is the most formidable enemy to fallen man: it cuts him off from all means and opportunities of salvation, and seals him up under endless and irremediable misery; but to a true Christian it is a most-invaluable treasure. It puts a period to all his sorrows and temptations, and introduces him to the immediate, everlasting enjoyment of his God.”
– Charles Simeon, Horae Homileticae Vol. 15, Discourse 1877.
Yesterday I finished reading Bruce Gordon’s masterful biography of John Calvin. The highest praise I can give Calvin is that it compares positively with my two favorite biographies, Peter Brown’s Augustine of Hippo: A Biography and George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life.
Calvin was a towering figure of his age. But above all Calvin was a pastor, his heart attuned to the realities of life in God’s persecuted church. Gordon observes that
“Resignation to fate and delusions of perfection were equally abhorrent to Calvin. God’s providence is an excuse for neither inaction nor wickedness; it encourages joy among the faithful, and fortifies them to face the hardships of the world, but it is not an inoculation. The Gospel teaches God’s everlasting kindness and love; it is the source of comfort, and that is its chief power. Christian should wait on God with patience and perseverance, and submit to the divine will.”
– Bruce Gordon, Calvin (New Haven: Yale, 2009), 278.
When does effective preaching become possible?
“Dr. Wilbur Chapman has this to say of the handicaps which befall the minister: ‘when trials are many, when burdens are heavy, when tears are blinding, when the heart is almost broken, then, as a rule, ministers come to an experience when effective preaching is possible.'” – William Childs Robinson, The Certainties of the Gospel (Zondervan: 1935), 130.
“In the older world we left behind, people thought of adversity as inevitable. Adversity was a consequence of the fall for those of a Christian outlook. But even for non-Christians it was never seen as an unexpected intruder in life. It was never thought that life should be without pain. Pain, disease, setbacks, disappointments, and wrong done to us were all seen as part of our life in this world, part of its texture, a thread woven with all the other threads through the fabric of our daily experience. Adversity was seen, even, as a necessary component in life. Today we resent adversity as an interruption in our pleasure seeking, a rude disruption of our opportunities and our sense of calm. It is a gross injustice. Why should bad things happen to good people? Where is the justice of that? We are entitled to better. Indeed, we are demanding better! Adversity of any kind is unacceptable.”
– David F. Wells The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2008), 161.
From a speech at Hillsdale College by former Congressman Mike Pence. Mr. Pence was elected governor of Indiana last year:
There is no finer, more moving, or more profound understanding of the nature of the presidency and the command of humility placed upon it than that expressed by President [Calvin] Coolidge. He, like Lincoln, lost a child while he was president, a son of sixteen. “The day I became president,” Coolidge wrote, “[Calvin, Jr.] had just started to work in a tobacco field. When one of his fellow laborers said to him, ‘If my father was president I would not work in a tobacco field,’ Calvin replied, ‘If my father were your father you would.”‘ His admiration for the boy was obvious.
Young Calvin contracted blood poisoning from an incident on the South Lawn of the White House. Coolidge wrote, “What might have happened to him under other circumstances we do not know, but if I had not been president . . .” And then he continued, “In his suffering he was asking me to make him well. I could not. When he went, the power and glory of the Presidency went with him.”
A sensibility such as this, and not power, is the source of presidential dignity, and must be restored. It depends entirely upon character, self-discipline, and an understanding of the fundamental principles that underlie not only the republic, but life itself. It communicates that the president feels the gravity of his office and is willing to sacrifice himself; that his eye is not upon his prospects but on the storm of history, through which he must navigate with the specific powers accorded to him and the limitations placed on those powers both by God and man.
– Mike Pence, “The Presidency and the Constitution,” Imprimis (October 2010), 3-4