What does the Reformed motto soli Deo gloria actually mean, for both God and us?
While it is often reduced to a call for moral action, David VanDrunen reveals it to be a far more theocentric battle cry. God’s Glory Alone retrieves this rich, nuanced Reformed conception in order to help us rightly view God and enable us to reflect his glory.
Below we briefly engage an early chapter to show how three key Reformed theologians and one foundational confession explain this motto. You will learn what I myself learned: “The glory of God is first and foremost about God himself and how he reveals his glory in the world.” (28)
The Glory of God and Edward Leigh
Edward Leigh may not be as recognized as the others. Yet this Reformed orthodox theologian’s works were influential and displayed “an impressive appreciation for the breadth and richness of the glory of God and its revelation.” (28)
Leigh taught that “God’s glory is internal to his being and, in this sense, unknowable to any but himself. But God also manifests his glory to his creatures, and in this sense it is knowable to us as well.” (30) Internally, God’s glory is “the infinite excellency of the Divine essence,” “the excellency of his Divine nature.” Externally, God’s glory is manifest through his created works, especially “when men and Angels do know, love, and obey him, and praise him to all eternity.”
VanDrunen notes, “God possesses internal glory from all eternity and he can never have any more it that he always has,” but that “Scripture also speaks of God making ‘all things for himself and for his glory.’” (29)
The Glory of God and Jonathan Edwards
In terms reminiscent of Leigh, Jonathan Edwards also described the Bible’s use of “glory” as internal and external:
Sometimes it uis used to signify what is internal, inherent, or in the possession of the person: and sometimes for emanation, exhibition, or communication of this internal glory; and sometimes for the knowledge, or sense of these, in those to whom the exhibition or communication is made; or an expression of this knowledge, sense, or effect.
VanDrunen explores another key theme in Edwards’s treatment of God’s glory: “God finds chief delight in his own glory, that is, in himself, but this is not something different from his delight in the happy state of his creatures, insofar as they reflect the image of his own nature and beauty.” (31)
As Edwards framed it, “It is the necessary consequence of his [God’s] delighting in the glory of his nature that he delights in the emanation and effulgence of it.”
The Glory of God and Herman Bavinck
VanDrunen insists Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics best reflects the spirit of Reformed orthodoxy, drawing together many of the previous themes of God’s glory:
The “glory of the Lord” is the splendor and brilliance that is inseparably associated with all of God’s attributes and his self-revelation in nature and grace, the glorious form in which he everywhere appears to his creatures.
We can see in Bavinck’s definition of the glory of God a similar internal/external trajectory: the glory of God is “an internal and external divine attribute, revealed in this world everywhere, yet especially to Israel of old and in these last days through his Son, in whose glorious second coming we find our own blessed hope.” (33)
VanDrunen finds in this trajectory “an impressive paradigm to inspire and guide our own biblical study of soli Deo gloria…” (33)
The Glory of God and the Westminster Standards
Finally, the Westminster Standards. Consider how the Catechism begins:
Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
Straight away, it directs our attention to God’s glory, a theme appearing throughout the confession and catechisms. VanDrunen notes how examining them brings a two-fold truth to light: 1) God is all glorious; 2) God glorifies himself in all his works.
The confession views God’s glory as an attribute, an essential aspect of his nature. But God also “reveals externally, in the created world, the internal glory he has always possessed.” (35) Where humans give glory to God the “emphasis is not on our own conduct and how we bring glory to God through some sort of moral or cultural agenda;” they speak of our giving glory to God in the context of worship. (35, 38)
VanDrunen argues, “Soli Deo gloria would not be a bad way to summarize the Westminster Confession and Catechisms.” (39)
Soli Deo gloria, “is about God from first to last, yet by his grace it has everything to do with his work in us and through us.” (40)
Get and read God’s Glory Alone to better understand our call to glorify God for what it really is—the majestic heart of Christian faith and life—and why it still matters.