S. D. G.
What the Reformers saw, especially through the message of justification by faith alone, was the revelation of an exuberantly happy God who glories in sharing his happiness. He is not stingy or utilitarian, but a God who glories in being gracious. (That is why, according to Rom. 4:20, dependent faith glorifies him.) To steal from his glory by claiming any credit for ourselves would only steal our own joy in so marvelous a God. And the glory of God, Calvin believed, can be seen not just in justification, the cross, and the face of Christ: the whole world, he argued, is a theater of God’s glory.1 Throughout creation we see the sheer largesse of the Creator.
Now if we ponder to what end God created food, we shall find that he meant not only to provide for necessity but also for delight and good cheer. . . . In grasses, trees, and fruits, apart from their various uses, there is beauty of appearance and pleasantness of odor [compare Gen. 2:9]. For if this were not true, the prophet would not have reckoned them among the benefits of God, “that wine gladdens the heart of man, that oil makes his face shine” [Ps. 104:15]. . . . Has the Lord clothed the flowers with the great beauty that greets our eyes, the sweetness of smell that is wafted upon our nostrils, and yet will it be unlawful for our eyes to be affected by that beauty, or our sense of smell by the sweetness of that odor? . . . Did he not, in short, render many things attractive to us, apart from their necessary use?2
Against everything we are told today, happiness is not found in ourselves—in appreciating our own beauty or convincing ourselves of it.
That is just why Johann Sebastian Bach, when satisfied with his compositions, would write on them “S. D. G.” for soli Deo gloria, “glory to God alone.” For through his music he wanted to sound out the beauty and glory of God, so pleasing both God and people. The glory of God, he believed, gratuitously rings out throughout creation, bringing joy wherever it is appreciated. And that is worth living for and promoting.
In fact, wrote Calvin, that is the secret of happiness and the secret of life:
For whatever the philosophers may have ever said of the chief good, it was nothing but cold and vain, for they confined man to himself, while it is necessary for us to go out of ourselves to find happiness. The chief good of man is nothing else but union with God.3
Against everything we are told today, happiness is not found in ourselves—in appreciating our own beauty or convincing ourselves of it. Deep, lasting, satisfying happiness is found in the all-glorious God. All of which is really just another way of saying:
Question: What is the chief end of man?
Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
The Enduring Relevance of the Reformation
The only way the Reformation could possibly not still matter would be if beauty, goodness, truth, joy, and human flourishing no longer mattered. We have been made to enjoy God, but without the great truths the Reformers fought for that display him as glorious and enjoyable, we shall not do so. Seeing less of him, we shall be lesser and sadder. Seeing more of him, we shall be fuller and happier. And on that note we should leave the last words to John Calvin. This is why the Reformation still matters:
It will not suffice simply to hold that there is One whom all ought to honor and adore, unless we are also persuaded that he is the fountain of every good, and that we must seek nothing elsewhere than in him. . . . For until men recognize that they owe everything to God, that they are nourished by his fatherly care, that he is the Author of their every good, that they should seek nothing beyond him—they will never yield him willing service. Nay, unless they establish their complete happiness in him, they will never give themselves truly and sincerely to him.4
This article is adapted from Why the Reformation Still Matters by Tim Chester and Michael Reeves.*
1. Calvin, Commentary, on John 13:31.
2. Calvin, Institutes, 3.10.2.
3. Calvin, Commentary, on Heb. 4:10 (emphasis added).
4. Calvin, Institutes, 1.2.1.