by John Stott
First, the works of the Lord are to be the subjects of our study. Listen to Psalm 111:2 (RSV), to which I will refer again later: “Great are the works of the Lord, studied (NIV says “pondered”) by all who have pleasure in them.” Or Psalm 77:12: “I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.”
I think it was Sir Francis Bacon, the seventeenth-century essayist, who was the first to say that “God has, in fact, written two books, not just one. Of course, we are all familiar with the first book he wrote, namely Scripture. But he has written a second book called creation.” That is to say, God has revealed himself both in the created order and in Christ and the biblical witness to Christ. To be sure, there are a number of important differences between the two books of God, between the general revelation of his glory in nature and the special revelation of his grace in Scripture. Yet both are divine revelation. Now here is the point: What God has revealed, we are to study, to explore, to ponder, to meditate on, to make our own, and to rejoice in. We should be fascinated by the self-revelation of God and want to study his mighty works.
The seventh-century astronomer, Johann Kepler, said that when he was studying the universe, he was “thinking God’s thoughts after him.” These words are equally applicable to Bible readers. Bible study and nature study are both Christian obligation, a necessary response to God’s double self-revelation in creation and in Christ. This brings me back to Psalm 111:2 (RSV): “Great are the works of the Lord, studied, by all who have pleasure in them.”
These words were inscribed in the middle of the last century of the old Cavendish Laboratory on Free School Lane in Cambridge. They were inscribed in Latin, in the Vulgate version, but when translated they say, “The works of the Lord are great, pondered by all who have pleasure in them.” It is widely believed that these words were inscribed over the entrance to the laboratory at the instigation of the great physicist James Clerk Maxwell, who became the first Cavendish Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Cambridge in 1871, when he was only forty years old. It was Maxwell who ushered in the new era of post-Newtonian physics. He was a Christian man; he believed in God the Creator. When he was only twenty and still a student, he affirmed his confidence as a Scot and Presbyterian “that man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”
Now, when the New Cavendish Laboratory came to be built in 1976, less than twenty years ago, just off Madingley Road in Cambridge, it was, I understand, Christian influence that persuaded the authorities to inscribe the same text over the front door, this time in Coverdale’s English: “The works of the Lord are great, sought out by all those who have please therin.” I have been very interested to discover the same text from Psalm 111 was the motto adopted by Lord Rutheford, whose pioneer work in nuclear physics led to the first splitting of the atom in the 1930s. These were Christian men, godly scientists, who were anxious not only to recognize the works of the Lord but to study his revelation. Bible study and nature study are twin obligations.
Adapted from a sermon given by John Stott on the tenth anniversary celebration of the A Rocha Trust on September 25, 1993, at St. Paul’s, Robert Adam Street, London, United Kingdom. This is the first of two posts in a series.