God’s Visible Glory: The Beauty of Nature in the Thought of John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards -- By: Diana Butler

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 52:1 (Spring 1990)
Article: God’s Visible Glory: The Beauty of Nature in the Thought of John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards
Author: Diana Butler


God’s Visible Glory: The Beauty of Nature in the Thought of John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards

Diana Butler

One of Calvin’s earliest statements of Protestant ideas,1 the 1534 preface to Pierre Olivétan’s translation of the NT, begins with his joy in creation:

God the Creator, the most perfect and excellent Maker of things, who had already shown himself more than admirable in their creation, made man as his masterpiece…formed him in his own image and likeness, in which we see a bright refulgence of God’s glory.

Calvin’s praise continued as he considered all of nature:

For he has raised everywhere, in all places and in all things, his ensigns and emblems, under blazons so clear and intelligible that no one can pretend ignorance in not knowing such a sovereign Lord…. It is evident that all creatures, from those in the firmament to those which are in the center of the earth, are able to act as witnesses and messengers of his glory to all men…. For the little birds that sing, sing of God; the beasts clamor for him; the elements dread him, the mountains echo him, the fountains and flowing waters cast their glances at him, and the grass and flowers laugh before him.2

Two hundred years later, in the small town of Northampton, Massachusetts, one of John Calvin’s heirs, Jonathan Edwards, echoed the reformer’s words while preaching on Psalm 89:

The beauty of trees, plants, and flowers, with which God has bespangled the face of the earth is delightsome, the beautiful frame of the body of men, especially in its perfection is astonishing, the beauty of the moon and stars, is wonderful, the beauty of highest heavens, is transcendent, [and] the excellency of angels and the saints in light is very glorious.3

In 1948, Edwards’ poetic observations on nature were published as Images or Shadows of Divine Things. Since that time, scholars, beginning with Perry Miller, have sought to make sense of Edwards’ use of the images of nature.4 In his introductory essay to Edwards’ Images, Miller argued that Edwards used nature typologically to fuse nature and revelation: “In this way of thinking, the image was no longer a detachable adornment on the surface of truth; it was truth.”5 Edwards appropriated Locke and Newton, extended typology to include nature and history, and accomplished a “radical break with th...

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