Light, Natural, and Spiritual
"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.”—Genesis i. 1—5.
THIS is, no doubt, a literal and accurate account of God's first day's work in the creation of the world, but the first creation is not the subject of this morning's discourse: we would rather direct your minds to the second creation of God. Every man who is saved by grace is a new creation. The great work which Jesus Christ is accomplishing in the world, by the Holy Spirit through the Word, is the making of all things new. We believe the old creation to have been typical of the new, and we shall so use it; may we all be taught of the Lord while so doing.
Observe, dear friends, the state of the world; it is said to have been “without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep." Such is the state of every human heart till God the Holy Spirit visits it. So far as spiritual things are concerned, the human heart is in a state of chaos and disorder. There is no thought of faith, of love, of hope, of obedience; it is spiritually a confused mass o dead sinfulness, in which everything is misplaced. It is void or utterly empty. Search the human heart through, and it is true of it as Paul saith, “In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing. Over the whole, as in the old creation, a thick darkness reigns, comparable to that of Egypt, a darkness that might be felt. This is true of all men—not of the ignorant in the lowest haunts of London, whose depraved parentage and education have prevented them from knowing divine things—but this is true of those who are trained up under the sound of the gospel, and whose morals are good and exemplary, they are still darkness, naturally, until God the Holy Spirit comes to renew them. In the whole world, whether it be among kings, statesmen, or divines, there is not one who has so much as a spark of spiritual light, unless he has received it from above, and he can only have received it from above through him who is “the true Light which lighteth every man which cometh into the world,” who is enlightened at all. Dark, dark, dark is the whole of humanity: it dwells in the black darkness of sin, and must perish there unless the same divine power which said, “Let there be light,” of old, shall bestow spiritual light.
You observe that the first divine action in connection with the formation and shaping of the world, was this: “The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” The secret work of the Holy Spirit begins in the human heart—we cannot always say precisely when or how. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” In the hearts of God's chosen ones this Spirit works mysteriously and silently, but most efficaciously. The expression translated “moved upon,” conveys in the original the idea of a bird brooding over its nest. The Holy Ghost mysteriously quickens the dead heart, excites emotions, longings, desires. It may be some of you are feeling his operations this morning. You have not yet received the divine light, but there are workings of the divine energy in your spirit. You are not easy in your present lost estate: you are discontented to be what you now are; you are desirous to enter into God's marvellous light. For this I thank God, and take it as a hopeful symptom, but I pray that he may, this morning, if it be his gracious will, lead you farther, and make you feel to-day y that early operation of divine grace, by which light is given to the darkened soul.
I. In considering the text, we shall notice FIRST THE DIVINE FIAT. God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. The Lord himself needeth no light to enable him to discern his creatures;
“Darkness and light in this agree,
Great God they're both alike to thee.”
He looked upon the darkness, and resolved that he would transform its shapeless chaos into a fair and lovely world. We shall observe that the work of grace by which light enters the soul, is a needful work. God’s plan for the sustaining of vegetable and animal life, rendered light necessary. Light is essential to life. There are few operations which can be carried on in the world at all, without some degree of light, and certainly no heart can be saved without spiritual light. It is light, my brethren, which first shows us our lost estate; for we know nothing of it naturally. We think that we are righteous, that all is well with our souls; but when the divine light comes in, we discover that we are fallen in Adam, and are terribly undone. Naturally we think that we are no worse than others, that if we have offended, our offences are very venial, and almost deserve to be pardoned; but when light enters, the exceeding sinfulness of sin is discovered. This causes pain and anguish of heart; but that pain and anguish are necessary, in order to bring us to lay hold on Jesus Christ, whom the light next displays to us. No man ever knows Christ till the light of God shines on the cross. You may look at a picture of the bleeding Jesus, you may read the story of his wounds, but you have not seen Christ, so as to be saved by his death, unless the light of his Spirit has revealed him to you as the great substitute for sinners, the surety of the new covenant, suffering in your room, and place, and stead. You know him not, unless the mysterious light has led you to read these words as your own, “He loved me, and gave himself for me.” Neither our state, nor our sin, nor our Saviour, can we see without light. Ye who worship God, but are not converted, are like the men of Athens who worshipped an unknown God. You do not feel him to be a real existence; you do not come near to him, you have no true love to him; you cannot cry, “ Abba Father,” you are not made partakers of the divine nature, and you can never be thus brought nigh to God unless heavenly light shall manifest God to you as your God who in eternal purposes chose you to be his, and by the gift of his dear Son has bought you to be his own for ever. The great truths of heaven, hell, and immortality, are not clearly perceived till the light shines on them. You receive them as matter of settled doctrine, because you have been taught them from your youth up; but he who brings life and immortality to light is Christ Jesus, and, without the light, life and immortality are mere names, and not real things to you. Beloved, if we could save men by the application of drops of water, or by giving them bread and wine to eat and drink; if we were so besotted as to believe that souls could be affected by physical substances and that the hearts of men could be renewed by external observances, there would be no need of light, but ours is a religion which appeals to the understanding, which acts upon the will, which moves the heart, and herein little enough can be done with men while they are in spiritual darkness. They must have light, or else they cannot see; and if they cannot see, they cannot receive; for looking to Jesus is the gospel mode of receiving. So, beloved, the making of light was absolutely necessary in the world, and the creation of God's light in the heart of man is a most necessary work.
Next observe it was a very early work. Light was created on the first day, not on the third, fourth, or sixth, but on the first day; and one of the first operations of the Spirit of God in a man’s heart is to give light enough to see his lost estate, and to perceive that he cannot save himself from it but must look elsewhere. Come, dear hearer, have you seen the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ? Are you resting upon him as all your salvation and all your desire. Have you light enough to look to him and to be saved, leaving all your own former boastings, nailing them all to his cross, and taking him to be your all in all? It is a very early work of divine grace, I say, to show you that you are a sinner, and to reveal to you that you have a Saviour; it is the first day’s work, and I have no right to believe myself to be a new creature in God at all unless I have received light enough to know those two great and weighty facts— myself lost in Adam but saved in the second Adam, undone by sin but restored by the Saviour’s righteousness.
It is well for us to remember that light-giving is a divine work. God said “Let there be light,’’ and there was light. O beloved, how often have I said it and there has been no light whatever! These eyes have often wept over benighted souls, but my glistening tears could not give them a ray of light. Have I not bowed my knee and prayed full many a time for the conversion of men, and though prayer has power because it links man with God, yet in itself it has none, for our prayers for others can do nothing whatever for them till Jehovah himself says “Let there be light.” Dear hearer, the Lord must come into distinct and direct contact with your spirit or else your darkness will become the outer darkness of eternal ruin. Speak of what your free will can do, of what your creature ability can do! Alas, these can do nothing whatever for you; they will plunge you deeper and deeper into the blackness of darkness for ever, but into the light of God you never can come and never will come, unless that eternal voice shall say, “Let there be light.” Let us always remember this in preaching the gospel, and never depend upon the man, or upon the word alone, but be this our prayer, “Oh God, do thou work, for thou alone canst do so effectually.
This divine work is wrought by the Word. God did not sit in solemn silence and create the light, but he spake. He said, “Light be,” and light was. So the way in which we receive light is by the Word of God. Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Christ himself is the essential Word, and the preaching of Christ Jesus is the operative Word. We receive Christ actually when God's power goes with God’s Word—then have we light. Hence the necessity of continually preaching the Word of God. If I preach my own word, no light will go with it; but when it is God's Word, then I may expect that light will follow. Oh! to preach Christ's cross. My brethren and sisters, choose no ministry but that which savours much of God's Word, and especially of the Word Christ Jesus. Better to preach one sermon full of Christ, than a thousand in which he shall be left out. “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.” The great magnet and loadstone of gospel attraction is Christ himself; and if we leave him out, it is as though we should expect the world to receive light without the Almighty Word.
While light was conferred in connexion with the mysterious operation of the Holy Spirit, it was unaided by the darkness itself. How could darkness assist to make itself light? Nay, the darkness never did become light. It had to give place to light, but darkness could not help God. If your understanding could resolve darkness into its elements, can you see anything in it which can help to bring the day? If you can, I cannot. Look at your own fallen nature: is there anything there which could assist in the great work of salvation? If you think so, you know not yourself. The power which saves a sinner is not the power of man. The power of man must die, for its only use is to stand out as far as it is able against the power of God; for the carnal mind is enmity against God, and is not reconciled to God, neither indeed can be. You cannot extract out of any amount of darkness a single beam of light; and you cannot extract out of any amount of flesh, purify it, educate it, direct it, guide it as you may, you cannot extract anything like spiritual light: that must come from above. “Ye must be born again.” Do not think Christians are made by education; they are made by creation. You may wash a corpse as long as ever you please, and even a corpse should be clean, but you cannot wash life into it; and you may deck it in flowers, and robe it in scarlet and fine linen, but you cannot make it live: the vital spark must come from above. Regeneration is not of the will of man, nor of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, but by the power and energy of the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of God alone.
As this light was unassisted by darkness, so was it also unsolicited. There came no voice out of that thick darkness, “Oh God, enlighten us,” there was no cry of prayer, no note of desire that God would send light: the desire and the thought began with Deity not with the darkness. He said “Let there be light,” and there was light. The first work of grace in the heart does not begin with man's desire, but with God's implanting the desire. Dear hearer, if thou desirest to be saved by grace, God gave thee that desire, for thou couldst never get so far as that apart from him. Thy darkness can be darkness, and that is all it can be. It cannot long for or aspire after light; in fact if thy soul longa after light it has some light already: a sincere desire is a part of that divine light and life, and must have come from above. See then the ruin of nature and the freeness of grace. Void and dark, a chaos given up to be covered with blackness and darkness for ever, and, while yet it is unseeking God, the light arises, and the promise is fulfilled, "I am found of them that sought me not: I said, behold me! behold me! to a people that were not a people.” While we were lying in our blood, filthily polluted, defiled, he passed by, and he said in the sovereignty of his love, “Live,” and we do live. The whole must be traced to sovereign grace: from this sacred well of discriminating distinguishing grace we must draw water this morning, and we must pour it out, saying, “Oh Lord, I will praise thy name, for the first origin of my light was thy sovereign purpose, and nothing in me.”
Before we leave this point I must have you notice that this light came instantaneously. The Hebrew suggests this better far than our translation, it is sublimely brief. “Light be: light was.” Here let us observe that the work of giving spiritual light is instantaneous. No matter through what process you may go which you may conclude afterwards wards to have been prepatatory to the light, and there is such a process, the Spirit of God brooded over the face of the waters before the light came, yet the absolute flash which brings salvation is instantaneous. A man is saved in a moment. From death to life is not the work of years, it is done at once. Saul of Tarsus rides to Damascus foaming at the mouth with threatenings against God's saints: Jesus Christ appears to him, and Saul of Tarsus becomes Paul the humble follower of Jesus, in a moment; and all conversions, though they may seem to you gradual, must be like this, for Paul says, “To me first God showed forth all longsuffering for a pattern to them that believe,” as if Paul’s salvation was the pattern upon which all others are cut. There must be a time in which you were dead, and then another instant in which you were alive. So with darkness: there must be a period in which you have no light, and another period in which you have some light, and that transition must be an instantaneous one. O that the Lord would work a great work this morning: it is in his power, if so he wills it, to turn every one of your hearts to himself. Let him but speak the word and say, “Light be!” and no matter how dark the sinner’s mind, if the divine fiat shall go forth “Light be,” that depraved, foolish, drunken sinner, will in a moment feel his heart begin to melt.
As it is instantaneous, so it is irresistible. Darkness must give place when God speaks. Some ascribe omnipotence to the will of man, and lift man up to a sort of rivalship with God. Beloved, man has power to resist the ordinary motions of the Spirit; but when the Holy Ghost comes to effectual work, and puts forth his mighty power, who shall stay his hand, or say unto him, “What doest thou?” “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion,” is the divine claim of old, and it is true of our God to this day. Oh! how glorious is God when we think of him thus! I could not worship a little God; but when I think of my great God as looking down upon the blackness and darkness of human nature, and saying, “Let there be light,” and light comes at once: then I magnify God for his grace, and bless his name.
II. The second point is DIVINE OBSERVATION.
We read in the fourth verse, “And God saw the light” Does he not see everything? Yes, beloved, he does; but this does not refer to the general perception of God of all his works, but is a something special. “God saw the light”—he looked at it with complacency, gazed upon it with pleasure. I received, this morning, great satisfaction in turning over those few words in my own mind, “God saw the light.” I thought to myself—Ah! the Lord looks with special observation upon his own work of grace in his people. If the Lord has given you light, dear friend, no matter though you may only just now have received it, God looks on that light with an eye with which he does not view other things. He sees all other things in his omniscience, but he sees this light in you as his offspring, as dear to himself as his own handiwork: he looks upon it with complacency; he sees it with tender observation. A father looks upon a crowd of boys in a school and sees them all, but there is one boy whom he sees very differently from all the rest: he watches him with care: it is his own child, and his eye is specially there. Brethren, though you have come here sighing and groaning because of inbred sin, yet the Lord sees what is good in you, for he has put it there. Satan can see the light and he tries to quench it: God sees it and preserves it. The world can see that light and hates it, and would, if possible, extinguish it; but God sees it, and he restrains the world, that it cannot utterly take from you the vital spark. Sometimes you cannot see the light, and I do not suppose it is in the nature of light to perceive itself, but God saw the light, and that is better. It is better that God should see grace in me than that I should see grace in myself. It is very comfortable for me to know that I am one of God's people—I cannot have much joy and peace in believing, unless I have the gracious assurance of this fact, but still that fact is not the foundation of my hope, for, whether I know it or not, if the Lord knows it, I am still safe. This is the foundation, “The Lord knoweth them that are his.” You and I are apt to say of such an one, “What a Christian he is.” Very likely his religion is all external show, and the Lord hath no regard unto his offering any more than he had unto the offering of Cain. We look at that Pharisee, standing in the Temple, with his pyhlacteries and hear him saying, “ God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are,” and we envy him and think what a noble saint he is, but the Lord knows him and sees no light in him; but that poor humble publican who stands in the corner and dares not lift so much as his eyes unto heaven cannot see any light in himself, but God sees the light in him and he goes down to his house justified rather than the other. You may be going to-day down, down into the vaults of despondency and even despair: ah, but if your soul has any longing towards Christ, and if you are still seeking to rest in him, God sees the light and he will take care to discern between you and the darkness and to preserve you even to the day of his Son's appearing. Beloved, it is most pleasant to the believer to know that God's eye is never taken off from that work of grace which he has begun. Here is a promise. “I, the Lord do keep it: I will water it every moment lest any hurt it: I will keep it night and day.” Now this is—I must say again—this is a precious thought to those of you who have watched and guarded yourselves, and felt your own powerlessness to do so, and who are ready to give it up because you have thought, “Well, I cannot watch always and I fear I shall become a prey to temptation.” The Lord watches you, and he sees the light. He has his eye always fixed upon the work of grace that is in your soul. It is observable that in the New Testament we find the apostles mentioning the virtues of the saints, but it is very seldom that they say anything about their faults. Take, for instance, Abraham. His faith is extolled, but nothing is said about his equivocation. In the case of Rahab, her faith is magnified, but nothing is said about her lying. Why is that? Is it not because God saw the light, and when he was writing this Book of the new creation, he said nothing of the darkness. He saw his own work and would not regard the devil's work, and the work of fallen human nature too; but he had respect only to the light.
III. We pass on to the third point, and that is, DIVINE APPROBATION.
“God saw the light, that it was good. Light is good in all respects. The natural light is good. Solomon says, “It is a pleasant thing to behold the sun;” but you did not want Solomon to inform you upon that point. Any blind man who will tell you the tale of his sorrows will be quite philosopher enough to convince you that light is good. Gospel light is good. “Blessed are the eyes which see the things which ye see.” You only need to travel into heathen lands, and witness the superstition and cruelty of the dark places of the earth, to understand that gospel light is good. As for spiritual light, those that have received it long for more of it, that they may see yet more and more the glory of heaven's essential light! O God, thou art of good the unmeasured Sea; thou art of light both soul, and source, and centre. Whether, then, we take natural light, gospel light, spiritual light, or essential light, we may say of it, as God did, that it was good. But we are speaking now of light spiritual. Why is that good? Well, it must be so, from its source. The light emanates from God, in whom is no darkness at all, and, as it comes absolutely and directly from him, it must be good. As every good gift, and every perfect gift is from above, so everything which comes from above is good and perfect. The Lord distributes no alloyed metal: he never gives his people that which is mixed and debased. Thy words, O God, are pure; as silver tried in the furnace of earth purified seven times. The light of the new nature is good when we consider its origin.
It is good, again, when we consider its likeness. Light is like to God. It is a thing so spiritual, so utterly to be ungrasped by the hand of flesh, that it has often been selected as the very type of God. Certainly the new nature in man is like to God. It is, in fact, the nature of God implanted in us. The Holy Ghost dwells in us, and is the radix—the root of the new nature by which we become akin with the Most High. The Spirit of adoption by which we cry, “Abba, Father,” is the Holy Spirit himself working in us to will and to do of his own good pleasure. Ignatius used to call himself, Theophorus, or the God-bearer. The title might seem eccentric, but the fact is true of all the saints—they bear God about with them. God dwelleth in his saints as in a temple.
It is good, also in its effect It is good for a man to know his danger—it makes him start from it. It is good for him to know the evil of his sin—it makes him avoid it, and repent of it. It is good for him to know a Saviour's love—it leads him to trust the Saviour, and brings him to pardon, to justification, and to eternal life. It is good to have the light which reveals the God of love, for without him we are aliens, orphans, houseless wanderers. It is good to have the light to see the world to come, that we may escape its agonies, that we may seek after its glories. It is good to have light in all respects, for otherwise, like blind men, we should wretchedly and miserably wander in a labyrinth, and miss our way to glory and to God. Light is good in its effects.