S.J. Fisher on The Starry Heavens

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It has been wondered aloud “How could any astronomer be an atheist?” John Calvin once wrote that “Job's intent here is to teach us to be astronomers” (Commentary on Job 9). He also famously quoted Ovid who said, “While other animals look downwards towards the earth, he gave to man a lofty face, and bade him look at heaven, and lift up his countenance erect towards the stars” (Ovid, Metamorphoses 1; Institutes 1.15.3).

The starry sky does indeed declare the glory of God (Ps. 19:1). A poem by Samuel Jackson Fisher (found in The Romance of Pittsburgh or Under Three Flags, and Other Poems) reminds us of this. So does the ongoing August Perseid meteor shower.


When I consider Thy Heavens, O Lord!
Those wondrous skies where stream afar
The light of countless suns and worlds.
The rays of blazing moon and star,
The sight of all Thy power hath wrought
O'erwhelms my mind and stifles thought.

When I consider Thy Heavens, O Lord!
And think how through the ages gone,
While myriad souls have lived and died,
These worlds unchanged have nightly shone;
At such a vision of the skies,
Despair is strong, and fond hope dies.

When I consider Thy Heavens, O Lord!
Oh! What is man 'mid scenes so vast!
An insect on the torrent's foam,
A leaf upon the highway cast,
A grain of sand upon the shore,
Forgotten in the ocean's roar.

When I consider Thy Heavens, O Lord!
My heart finds there the glorious sign
Of all Thy Wisdom, Power and Love
Which makes the Life Eternal mine.
The stars no longer teach despair,
My Father's hand has placed them there!

When I consider Thy Heavens, O Lord!
I see a power naught can resist,
A hand divine. Thy might, O Lord,
Which loves Thy children to assist.
Thou, Who didst set the Pleiades,
Will do for me far more than these.

When I consider Thy Heavens, O Lord!
I know that these shall pass away.
For Thou shalt roll them like a scroll.
But Thy true Word shall meet that day;
And in the tempest of that fire
All but Thy promise shall expire.

When I consider Thy Heavens, O Lord!
So radiant in the midnight air,
I hear a whisper: "Fear no more.
Around you is a greater care;
For He Who set those stars aflame
Has called you by His children's name."

John Calvin's Grave: A poem by Samuel J. Fisher

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Samuel Jackson Fisher (1847-1928) was a leading African-American Presbyterian minister in his day, who served as the pastor of the Swissvale Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for 35 years; served as a long-time member of the faculty of Chatham University (then known as the Pennsylvania College for Women; served as President of the Presbyterian Board of Missions to the Freedmen; and who authored many articles, as well as a volume of poetry dedicated to his deceased wife: The Romance of Pittsburgh or Under Three Flags, and Other Poems. We have extracted here one poem which is especially noteworthy; a tribute to the great Reformer who was buried in Geneva, Switzerland, in an unmarked grave.

John Calvin’s Grave

In fair Geneva, near the arrowy Rhone,
John Calvin sleeps,—his grave without a stone.
Unmarked, unknown, yet near the busy street
Which echoed often to his hurrying feet.
While far away he saw those peaks of snow,
The Alps, so radiant in the sunset glow.
And watched Mt. Blanc's upsoaring dome,
Like some huge billow with its crest of foam,
Fit type of him, whose vast majestic mind
In moral grandeur towers o'er mankind.
Around that peak the tempests whirl and lower
And crackling lightnings blaze in hateful power,
Yet pass, and leave it stainless, strong and pure.
So from his foes his fame emerged secure;
And tho' against his work fierce hatred ranged.
Unmoved he stood, in power and aim unchanged.
Frail was his body, and, though racked with pain.
On, on he toiled, ne'er pausing to complain.
Strong were his friendships, pure his love and home;
Christ filled his heart, and not foul passion's foam.
No fear of Pope, — no dread of earthly kings
Turned his calm eyes from truth and heavenly things.
Humbled he spoke of God's wide sovereignty.
Yet taught the lowliest peasant to be free;
And while he bowed before God's boundless plan.
To souls oppressed he taught the rights of man.

Oh, clear-eyed student of the Holy Word,
Thy plea for freedom tyrants trembling heard!
Oh, wide-browed thinker of God's lofty thought,
What growth of nations have thy strong words wrought!
Thine was the task to magnify God's laws.
And trace for each event its first and only cause,
Breaking man's pride by views of God's control,
Yet sure God's child was every human soul.
And he who knelt most humbly to his God,
Secure in faith could walk unblanched abroad.
Thy words made gentle women fear no shame,
They nerved the martyr to await the flame.
From heart to heart they passed around the world,
Till kings were faced, or from their thrones were hurled.
Rest, noble Calvin, take thy well-earned sleep.
Thy fame far time shall undiminished keep.
In that low grave thy fragile body lies,
But God has writ thy name across the skies!