Have you ever looked upon the enchanting sunbeams of the morning, observed its splendor, and wondered why God made it so? Now that the warmth, colorful flowers, and blue sky of summer have once again greeted Chicagoland, I find myself reflecting on the beauty of God’s creation. It raises the question: is there a relationship between God and the beauty that we encounter in this life?
The grandson of Jonathan Edwards and a minister in his own right, Timothy Dwight (1752-1817) served as president of Yale from 1795 until his death in 1817. When he arrived at Yale, the campus was in poor spiritual condition, much influenced by the French skepticism of Voltaire and Rousseau, but under his teaching and leadership, revival came to the campus, contributing to the Second Great Awakening in America. He was a prolific writer—of sermons, verse, essays, and hymns, of which the best known is “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord.” Many of those sermons were published after his death in the five volume set, Theology Explained and Defended, from which the following passage is taken.
Here, Dwight glorifies God for His kindness in “gratuitously superinducing” nature with pleasurable variety and beauty. The world could have worked without it, but more drearily so. Human constructions can entertain one for awhile, but there is no substitute for the splendor of God’s creation. Though Dwight fails to see that even the desert can have a severe beauty all its own, he provides Christians a model for treasuring their environment as a wonderful gift from God.
Were all the interesting diversities of color and form to disappear, how unsightly, dull, and wearisome, would be the aspect of the world! The pleasures conveyed to us by the endless varieties with which these sources of beauty are presented to the eye, are so much things of course, and exist so much without intermission, that we scarcely think either of their nature, their number, or the great proportion which they constitute in the whole mass of our enjoyment. But were an inhabitant of this country to be removed from its delightful scenery to the midst of an Arabian desert, a boundless expanse of sand, a waste spread with uniform desolation, enlivened by the murmur of no stream and cheered by the beauty of no verdure, although he might live in a palace and riot in splendor and luxury, he would, I think, find life a dull, wearisome, melancholy round of existence, and amid all his gratifications would sigh for the hills and valleys of his native land, the brooks and rivers, the living lustre of the spring, and the rich glories of the autumn. The ever-varying brilliancy and grandeur of the landscape, and the magnificence of the sky, sun, moon, and stars, enter more extensively into the enjoyment of mankind than we, perhaps, ever think, or can possible apprehend, without frequent and extensive investigation. This beauty and splendor of the objects around us, it is ever to be remembered, are not necessary to their existence, nor to what we commonly intend by their usefulness. It is therefore to be regarded as a source of pleasure gratuitously superinduced upon the general nature of the objects themselves, and in this light, as a testimony of the divine goodness peculiarly affecting.1
1 Timothy Dwight, Theology Explained and Defended, quoted in Crowned Masterpieces of Literature That Have Advanced Civilization, vol. 10, ed. David J. Brewer (St. Louis: Ferdinand P. Kaiser Publishing Company, 1902), 3964-3965.