Quotable Creation Care: John Calvin on Creation’s “Bright Lamps”

April 1, 2011


(cc image courtesy of Lenny Montana via Flickr)

“Since complete happiness is knowing God, in order that no one should be prevented from finding that happiness, he has kindly put in our minds the seed of true religion we have already spoken of and has also displayed his perfection in the whole structure of the universe. So he is constantly in our view and we cannot open our eyes without being made to see him. His nature is incomprehensible, far beyond all human thought, but his glory is etched on his creation so brightly, clearly, and gloriously that no one however obtuse and illiterate can plead ignorance as an excuse. So with absolute truth the Psalmist exclaims, “He wraps himself in light as with a garment” (Psalm 104:2). It is as though he was saying that when God created the world for the first time, he put on outer clothes. He hung up gorgeous banners on which we see his perfection clearly portrayed. In the same place the Psalmist aptly compares the spread of the heavens with God’s royal tent and says he, “lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind” (Psalm 104:3): sending out he wind and lightning as his swift messengers. Because the glory of his power and wisdom is more ablaze in the heavens, it is frequently called his palace. Wherever you look, there is no part of the world however small that does not show at least some glimmer of beauty; it is impossible to gaze at the vast expanse of the universe without being overwhelmed b y such tremendous beauty. So the author of the epistle to the Hebrews sensitively describes the visible world as an image of the invisible (Hebrews 11:3). The superb structure of the world acts as a sort of mirror in which we may see God, who would otherwise be invisible. For the same reason the Psalmist attributes language to heavenly bodies, a language which all nations can understand (Psalm 19:1)… However, although the display which God gives of himself and his eternal kingdom is brightly reflected in the mirror of creation, we are so stupid and dim that we deserve no benefit from them. How few of us, as we look up to the skies or around at the earth, ever think of the Creator! We tend to overlook him and content ourselves with simply looking at the creation… Creation lights up all these bright lamps to demonstrate the glory of the Creator to us, all in vain. Although they shine on us from every direction, they are quite insufficient in themselves to lead us into the right way. They do, undoubtedly, throw out some sparks, but these are put out before they can give a brighter glow.”

-John Calvin. The Institutes of the Christian Religion.

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