John Calvin on Divine Mercy

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism   in God is Merciful

Commentaries (sample)

1) A great proportion of men obstinately resist and reject the government of God. Hence the Psalmist was forced to exhibit God in his severer aspect, to teach the wicked that their perverse opposition will not pass unpunished. When God draws near to men in mercy, and they fail to welcome him with becoming reverence and respect, this implies impiety of a very aggravated description; on which account it is that the language of denunciation suits with the kingdom of Christ. The Psalmist intimates that those who should despise God in the person of his only-begotten Son, will feel in due time and certainly the awful weight of his majesty. So much is implied in the expression used The earth SHALL SEE. For the wicked, when they find that their attempts are vain in fighting against God, resort to subterfuge and concealment. The Psalmist declares that they would not succeed by any such vain artifice in hiding themselves from God. Calvin, Psalms 97:1-5.

2) “He sendeth his word.” Again, in saying that they are delivered from destruction, the prophet shows that he is here alluding to those diseases which, in the opinion of men, are incurable, and from which few are delivered. Besides, he contrasts God’s assistance with all the remedies which are in the power of man to apply; as if he should say, that their disease having baffled the skill of earthly physicians, their recovery has been entirely owing to the exertion of God’s power. It is proper also to notice the manner in which their recovery is effected; God has but to will it, or to speak the word, and instantly all diseases, and even death itself, are expelled. I do not regard this as exclusively referring to the faithful, as many expositors do. I own, indeed, that it is of comparatively little consequence to us to be the subjects of bodily care, if our souls still remain unsanctified by the word of God; and hence it is the intention of the prophet that we consider the mercy of God as extending to the evil and unthankful. Calvin, Psalms 107:20.

3) “O Jehovah! the earth is full of thy mercy.” Here the prophet beseeches God, in the exercise of his infinite goodness, which is reflected in every part of the world, graciously to make him a partaker of the treasure of heavenly wisdom a manner of prayer which is very emphatic. When, therefore, he says that the earth is full of God’s mercy, it is a kind of earnest entreaty. He not only magnifies the goodness of God, in general, (as he does in other places,) in leaving no part of the world devoid of the proofs of his liberality, and in exercising it not only towards mankind, but also towards the brute creation. What does he then? He desires that the mercy of God, which is extended to all creatures, may be manifested towards him in one thing, and that is, by enabling him to make progress in the knowledge of the Divine law. Whence we gather, that he accounted the gift of understanding as an inestimable treasure. No if to be endued with the spirit of understanding is a chief token of God’s favor, our want of this, proceeding from our own unbelief, is an indication of our alienation from him. It behooves us to remember what we have stated elsewhere, that it is an evidence that we have given ourselves up to the most shameful sloth, when, contented with a superficial knowledge of Divine truth, we are, in a great measure, indifferent about making further progress, seeing so renowned a teacher of the Church labored with the greatest ardor to become more and more acquainted with God’s statutes. Besides, it is certain that he does not here treat of external teaching, but of the inward illumination of the mind, which is the gift of the Holy Spirit. The law was exhibited to all without distinction; but the prophet, well aware that unless he were enlightened by the Holy Spirit, it would be of little advantage to him, prays that he may be taught effectually by supernatural influence. Calvin, Psalms 119:64.

4) “O Jehovah! what is man, etc.” He amplifies the goodness shown by God by instituting a comparison. Having declared how singularly he had been dealt with, he turns his eyes inward, and asks, “Who am I, that God should show me such condescension? ” He speaks of man in general; only the circumstance is noticeable that he commends the mercy of God, by considering his lowly and abject condition. In other places he mentions grounds of humiliation of a more personal or private nature, here he confines himself to what has reference to our common nature; and though even in discussing the nature of man there are other reasons he might have specified why he is unworthy of the regard and love of God, he briefly adverts to his being like the smoke, and as a shadow. We are left to infer that the riches of the divine goodness are extended to objects altogether unworthy in themselves. We are warned, when apt at any time to forget ourselves, and think we are something when we are nothing, that the simple fact of the shortness of our life should put down all arrogance and pride. The Scriptures, in speaking of the frailty of man, comprehend whatever is necessarily connected with it. And, indeed, if our life vanish in a moment, what is there stable about us? We taught this truth also that we cannot properly estimate the divine goodness, unless we take into consideration what we are as to our condition, as we can only ascribe to God what is due unto him, by acknowledging that his goodness is bestowed upon undeserving creatures. The reader may seek for further information upon this point in the eighth Psalm, where nearly the same truth is insisted upon. Calvin, Psalms 144:3.

5) “Happy the people, etc.” He thus concludes that the divine favor had been sufficiently shown and manifested to his people. Should any object that it breathed altogether a gross and worldly spirit to estimate man’s happiness by benefits of a transitory description, I would say in reply that we must read the two things in connection, that those are happy who recognize the favor of God in the abundance they enjoy, and have such a sense of it from these transitory blessings as leads them through a persuasion of his fatherly love to aspire after the true inheritance. There is no impropriety in calling those happy whom God blesses in this world, provided they do not show themselves blinded in the improvement and use which they make of their mercies, or foolishly and supinely overlook the author of them. The kind providence of God in not suffering us to want any of the means of life is surely a striking illustration of his wonderful love. What more desirable than to be the objects of God’s care, especially if we have sufficient understanding to conclude from the liberality with which he supports us he is our Father? For everything is to be viewed with a reference to this point. Better it were at once to perish for want than have a mere brute satisfaction, and forget the main thing of all, that they and they only are happy whom God has chosen for his people. We are to observe this, that while God in giving us meat and drink admits us to the enjoyment of a certain measure of happiness, it does not follow that those believers are miserable who struggle through life in want and poverty, for this want, whatever it be, God can counterbalance by better consolations. Calvin, Psalms 144:15.


1) Belonging to this theme are the praises of God’s power from the testimonies of nature which one meets here and there especially indeed in The Book of Job and in Isaiah. These I now intentionally pass over, for they will find a more appropriate place where I shall discuss from the Scriptures the creation of the universe Now I have only wanted to touch upon the fact that this way of seeking God is common both to strangers and to those of his household, if they trace the outlines that above and below sketch a living likeness of him. This very might leads us to ponder his eternity; for he from whom all things draw their origin must be eternal and have beginning from himself. Furthermore, if the cause is sought by which he was led once to create all these things, and is now moved to preserve them, we shall find that it is his goodness alone. But this being the sole cause, it ought still to be more than sufficient to draw us to his love, inasmuch as there is no creature, as the prophet declares, upon whom God’s mercy has not been poured out [Psalm 145:9; cf. Ecclesiasticus 18:11; 18:9, Vg.]. Calvin, Institutes 1.5.6.

mercy to israel


1) “Neither go”, he says, “to lament, nor be moved on their account”. and why? “or I have taken away my peace from this people,”that is, all prosperity; for under the term, peace, the Jews included whatever was desirable. God then says, that he had taken away peace from them, and his peace, because he had pronounced that wicked nation accursed. He then adds, that he had taken away his kindness and his mercies. For the Prophet might have raised an objection and said, that this was not consistent with the nature of God, who testifies that he is ready to shew mercy; but God meets this objection and intimates, that there was now no place for kindness and mercy, for the impiety of the people had become past all hope.Calvin, Jeremiah 16:5.

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