John Calvin on Wrestling with Ourselves

The first verse [ed. Psalm 22:1] contains two remarkable sentences, which, although apparently contrary to each other, are yet ever entering into the minds of the godly together. When the Psalmist speaks of being forsaken and cast off by God, it seems to be the complaint of a man in despair; for can a man have a single spark of faith remaining in him, when he believes that there is no longer any succour for him in God? And yet, in calling God twice his own God, and depositing his groanings into his bosom, he makes a very distinct confession of his faith. With this inward conflict the godly must necessarily be exercised whenever God withdraws from them the tokens of his favour, so that, in whatever direction they turn their eyes, they see nothing but the darkness of night. I say, that the people of God, in wrestling with themselves, on the one hand discover the weakness of the flesh, and on the other give evidence of their faith. With respect to the reprobate, as they cherish in their hearts their distrust of God, their perplexity of mind overwhelms them, and thus totally incapacitates them for aspiring after the grace of God by faith. That David sustained the assaults of temptation, without being overwhelmed, or swallowed up by it, may be easily gathered from his words. He was greatly oppressed with sorrow, but notwithstanding this, he breaks forth into the language of assurance, My God! my God! which he could not have done without vigorously resisting the contrary apprehension that God had forsaken him. There is not one of the godly who does not daily experience in himself the same thing. According to the judgment of the flesh, he thinks he is cast off and forsaken by God, while yet he apprehends by faith the grace of God, which is hidden from the eye of sense and reason; and thus it comes to pass, that contrary affections are mingled and interwoven in the prayers of the faithful. Carnal sense and reason cannot but conceive of God as being either favourable or hostile, according to the present condition of things which is presented to their view. When, therefore, he suffers us to lie long in sorrow, and as it were to pine away under it, we must necessarily feel, according to the apprehension of the flesh, as if he had quite forgotten us. When such a perplexing thought takes entire possession of the mind of man, it overwhelms him in profound unbelief, and he neither seeks, nor any longer expects, to find a remedy. But if faith come to his aid against such a temptation, the same person who, judging from the outward appearance of things, regarded God as incensed against him, or as having abandoned him, beholds in the mirror of the promises the grace of God which is hidden and distant. Between these two contrary affections the faithful are agitated, and, as it were, fluctuate, when Satan, on the one hand, by exhibiting to their view the signs of the wrath of God, urges them on to despair, and endeavours entirely to overthrow their faith; while faith, on the other hand, by calling them back to the promises, teaches them to wait patiently and to trust in God, until he again show them his fatherly countenance.”[1]

1. Calvin, John. Calvin’s Commentaries (Volume IV), translated by Henry Beveridge. Grand Rapids: Baker Books House, 1981, pages 357-358. 

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