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Calvin’s Proclamation of the Glory of God

In parallel to the term glory, Calvin uses terms like splendour, brightness, fame, pleasure, exaltation, peace, happiness and beauty. According to Calvin God’s glory has three dimensions.

1. “The heavenly glory of God”

Calvin (Institutes IV.5.17) writes that God’s dwelling in “heaven” is to be understood to mean “that he is not confined to any region, but diffused over all space. But as our gross minds are unable to conceive of his ineffable glory, it is designated to us by heaven” (III.20.40). This glory is part of God’s very essence: God is glorious. The presence of heaven depends on the presence of our glorious God. In his absence “heaven is remote”. When his glory shines, all is heavenly.

God in his glory must not therefore be placed in another world beyond that which is visible. On the contrary, we are constantly surrounded by a wealth of visible pointers to God’s glory. “Wherever you turn your eyes, there is no portion of the world, how-ever minute, that does not exhibit at least some sparks of beauty” (I.5.1). God the creator seeks to display his glory “as in a mirror,” reflected particularly in human be-ings created in the image of God (II.12.6). But even if God’s glory gleams forth through outward signs, it must still be understood spiritually (I.51.3).

For the moment we can perceive the glory of God the Father only indirectly. To be more precise, we could do so, but we in fact do not as the result of human sin. “Eve-rything that is glorious must be made subject to the Lord” (IV.5.17). But if we stop at the splendour of earthly things, then “the world, which has been created as the mirror of God, must be its own creator”. This would then mean that “nature is God” (I.5.5) and that “as long as the sight of the world appears great to our eyes, it blinds our eyes so that God’s glory is occluded as in darkness” (on Titus 2.13; CO 52.424).

2. The glory of the mediator

The mediator between God and human beings is our “God of ineffable glory” (Insti-tutes I.13.10), not God the Father, but his one Son. His divinity is characterized by his glory. In him, true God and true man, the glory of God is to become visible to human beings that are blinded by their sin. “‘If you hear that the Son of God is the splendour of the glory of his Father, remember that the glory of the Father is invisible to you un-til it shines forth in Christ… For although God is the sole light that must illuminate us all, only in this radiance can it reach us” (on Heb.1.3; CO.55.12). We will find the glory of an unveiled God to be deeply alarming “until Christ interposes, and converts a throne of dreadful glory into a throne of grace” (Institutes III.20.17). God’s grace and God’s glory are intertwined. “The term glory ... denotes that which shines forth in God’s goodness. For nothing is more essential to him in his will to glorify himself than his goodness ” (on Eph. 1.11; CO 51.152). He “shows his power at its most glorious when he comes to help us in our weakness” (on Col.1.11; CO 52.82).

But do we truly see the glory of God once it has become visible in this way? Calvin replies that human beings “can perceive in Christ the glory that … was the sure tes-timony of his deity”. But “although the glory of Christ could have become visible to all, it remained unknown to most because of their blindness. Only the few whose eyes were opened by the Holy Spirit have looked upon the manifestation of his glory” (John 1.14; CO 47, 15). The revelation of God in Christ does not become a revelation that just anyone can share in. It is only in the Holy Spirit that we are opened to the glory of God in Jesus Christ, but in such a way that we realize this in the promise of his future revelation.

And thus: “Wherever this living faith exists, it must have the hope of eternal life as its inseparable companion” (Institutes III.2.42). Yet again, hope cannot be separated from faith. For “Christ [is] the hope of glory” (on Col.1.27; CO 52.97). “The splendour of the future glory that God wills for us reaches us through the gospel” (on Rom. 5.2; CO 49.89f.). This means that: (1) the gospel of Jesus Christ gives us hope for future glory; (2) this glory already begins to appear to us in the gospel; and that (3) this glory brings us joy because it reveals the grace of God granted in Christ.

3. The glory of the children of God

In the awaited revelation of God’s glory, it will “shine forth to all sides, so that he will allow all his elect to share in it” (Titus 2.13; CO 52.424). This is then granted to us by grace alone (Institutes III.21.7). “It is a wondrous act of God that the hope of heavenly glory dwells in earthen and fragile vessels” (on Col.1.27; CO 52.97). “Although our salvation has long been shrouded in hope with regard to ourselves, we already pos-sess blessed immortality and glory in Christ” (on Eph. 2.6; CO 49.89f.) And “though we are … told that the kingdom of God will be full of … glory, yet the things meant by these words remain … as it were involved in enigma, until the day arrives on which he will manifest his glory to us face to face” (Institutes III.25.10). We will approach that day “longing for God’s glory” (on Matt. 6.13; CO 45.203). Until then, we continue to live in affliction. Only then “will the Lord bring his own … from ignominy to glory” (Institutes III 8.4). Meanwhile we are not to let ourselves be led astray but to put eve-rything behind to follow God and his just will.

And what then? “In his appearance Christ will drive away the smoke of the world so that it no longer obscures the splendour of his glory” (on Titus 2.13; CO 52.141). Then our praise of God will resound, the “praise of his glorious grace” (on Eph. 1.5; CO 51.149). “We will receive God’s glory in its highest when we are no longer any-thing other than the vessels of his mercy” (on Eph. 1.11; CO 51.152). Once there, God will be at the centre of things, but not alone without his creatures. He will receive them and draw them into himself where they will attain peace and repose. “The souls of the righteous, after their warfare is ended, obtain blessed rest where in joy they wait for the fruition of promised glory” (Institutes III 25.6).

Prof. Dr. Eberhard Busch, Göttingen

Translation of the original text in German