Were he to have had access to modern technology and therefore able to view the likes of Saturn in this photo would John Calvin have referred to it, though stunningly bright and glorious, still vain in some respect?
Absolutely. Creation, though brilliantly putting the glory of God on display, especially in the far reaches of the universe, serves only to leave man without excuse as to God’s existence. It cannot, in and of itself, lead man to a personal knowledge of God and rescue him from his condition of fallen sinner (Rom. 1:20).
This is why Calvin, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, speaks of the vanity, of even so many bright lamps.
In vain for us, therefore, does Creation exhibit so many bright lamps lighted up to show forth the glory of its Author. Though they beam upon us from every quarter, they are altogether insufficient of themselves to lead us into the right path. Some sparks, undoubtedly, they do throw out; but these are quenched before they can give forth a brighter effulgence. Wherefore, the apostle, in the very place where he says that the worlds are images of invisible things, adds that it is by faith we understand that they were framed by the word of God (Heb. 11:3); thereby intimating that the invisible Godhead is indeed represented by such displays, but that we have no eyes to perceive it until they are enlightened through faith by internal revelation from God (Book First, Chapter 5, No. 14).
At this Christmas Eve of 2009 are we not indeed grateful for not just the general revelation of creation, but even more so the special revelation of the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ (John 1:14), and the sacred writings that are able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:15)?
A million Saturns on display in the universe cannot bring forth that necessary internal revelation from God which only His Son and the holy Scriptures can. The people who walked in darkness have indeed seen a great light (Isaiah 9:2)!