Calvin’s Institutes — Family Devotional Edition
God as Revealed in Creation
Since the perfection of blessedness consists in the knowledge of God, he has been pleased to manifest his perfections in the whole structure of the universe, that we cannot open our eyes without being compelled to behold him. While his essence is incomprehensible, utterly transcending all human thought, his glory is nevertheless engraved on each of his works in characters so bright, so distinct, and so illustrious, that no one, however dull and illiterate, can plead ignorance as their excuse.
First, wherever you turn your eyes, there is no portion of the world that does not exhibit at least some sparks of beauty. It is impossible to contemplate the vast and beautiful fabric as it extends around without being overwhelmed by the immense weight of glory. Hence, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews elegantly describes the visible worlds as images of the invisible (Heb. 11:3), the elegant structure of the world serving us as a kind of mirror in which we may behold God, though otherwise invisible. For the same reason, the Psalmist attributes language to celestial objects, a language which all nations understand (Psalm 19:1), the manifestation of the Godhead being too clear to escape the notice of any people, however obtuse. The apostle Paul states this still more clearly: “That which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead” (Rom. 1:20).
In attestation of his wondrous wisdom, both the heavens and the earth present us with innumerable proofs; not only those more obscure proofs which astronomy, medicine, and all the natural sciences are designed to illustrate, but proofs which force themselves on the notice of the most illiterate peasant who cannot open his eyes without beholding them. To investigate the motions of the heavenly bodies, to determine their positions, measure their distances, and ascertain their properties demands skill, and a more careful examination. Where these are so employed, the providence of God is more fully unfolded. The same is true in regard to the structure of the human frame. To determine the connection of its parts, its symmetry, and beauty with the skill of a physician requires singular acuteness; and yet all men acknowledge that the human body bears on its face such proofs of ingenious contrivance as are sufficient to proclaim the admirable wisdom of its Maker.
Certain of the philosophers, therefore, have not improperly called man a microcosm (miniature world), as being a rare specimen of divine power, wisdom, and goodness, and containing within himself wonders sufficient to occupy our minds, if we are willing so to employ them. Paul, accordingly, after reminding the Athenians that they “might feel after God and find him,” immediately adds that “he is not far from every one of us” (Acts 17:27); every man having within himself undoubted evidence of the heavenly grace by which he lives, and moves, and has his being. But if, in order to apprehend God, it is unnecessary to go further than ourselves, what excuse can there be for the sloth of any man who will not take the trouble of descending into himself that he may find Him? For the same reason, too, David, after briefly celebrating the wonderful name and glory of God as everywhere displayed, immediately exclaims, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” and again, “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast ordained strength” (Psalm 8:2, 4). Thus he declares not only that the human race are a bright mirror of the Creator’s works, but that infants hanging on their mothers’ breasts have tongues eloquent enough to proclaim his glory without the aid of other orators.
Herein appears the shameful ingratitude of men. They feel how wonderfully God is working in them, and their own experience tells them of the vast variety of gifts they owe to his generosity. Whether they will or not, they cannot but know that these are proofs of his Godhead, yet they inwardly suppress them. Can anything be more detestable than this madness in man, who, finding God a hundred times both in his body and his soul, makes his excellence in this respect a pretext for denying that there is a God?
But what right have mortals to decide on their own authority in a matter which is far above the world? Who can acquiesce in the will of his forefathers or the decrees of the people to the degree that they unhesitatingly receive a god at their hands? Everyone will adhere to his own judgment sooner than submit to the dictation of others. Since, therefore, in regulating the worship of God, the custom of a city or the consent of antiquity is too feeble and fragile a bond. God himself must bear witness to himself from heaven.
Therefore, the apostle, in the very place where he says that the worlds are images of invisible things, adds that it is by faith we understand that they were framed by the word of God (Heb. 11:3); thereby intimating that the invisible Godhead is indeed represented by such displays, but that we have no eyes to perceive it until they are enlightened through faith by internal revelation from God. When Paul says that which may be known of God is manifested by the creation of the world, he does not mean such a manifestation as may be comprehended by the wit of man (Rom. 1:19); on the contrary, he shows that it has no further effect than to render us inexcusable (Acts 17:27).
Some praise the answer of Simonides, who being asked by King Hero what God was, asked a day to consider. When the king next day repeated the question, he asked two days; and after repeatedly doubling the number of days, at length replied, “The longer I consider, the darker the subject appears.” He, no doubt, wisely suspended his opinion when he did not see clearly, but his answer shows that if men are only naturally taught, instead of having any distinct, solid, or certain knowledge, they consequently worship an unknown God.
Questions for Devotion
- In what parts of the universe is God revealed?
- To whom is the revelation of God in his creation not clear? Who has an excuse that they could not see or understand the revelation of God in creation?
- What does fallen man do with this revelation that Calvin says shows his ingratitude?
- Is the revelation of God in creation enough to save man? What is it sufficient for?
- What is required for us to be able to perceive this knowledge of God properly?