Making Nature Sacred: Literature, Religion, and Environment in America from the Puritans to the Present

By John Gatta | Go to book overview
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Meditating on the Creatures
in Early American Life
and Letters

Visible Wonders of the Invisible World

The Calvinist legacy of New England Puritanism confirmed the inaccessible, unknowable character ofGod's essence. At the same time, seventeenth-century Puritans affirmed that God had revealed in Scripture and the person of Christ all that elect humanity needed to know about the way to salvation. God's will touching proper organization of the church, God's provision for covenant relations with humankind, and God's expectations in the realm of moral law could likewise be discerned with confidence. Moreover, souls were urged to assume active roles in the quest for salvation by inwardly preparing themselves for saving grace and outwardly confirming their visible sanctity. Following Perry Miller, intellectual historians have commonly interpreted Puritan doctrines of “preparation” for conversion and participation in the covenant of grace as endorsing the capability of souls to influence their spiritual development despite predestination and the infirmity of the human will. From Saint Paul's dictum that “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:17), it followed that saints were called to participate in God's consummation of the new Creation. The evangelical imperative of Reformation gave saints a dynamic vocation to advance God's kingdom in the world—to render them, by today's parlance, “cocreators” with God.

Puritans assumed that, beyond the definitive revelation of Scripture, signs in the phenomenal world also declared God's glory and will. I have already examined the case of William Bradford, a writer diligent about recording signs ofGod's intention in cloudbursts, earthquakes, and other natural occurrences. Attentiveness to natural

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