“His marvellous light.” — 1 Peter ii. 9.
October 26th, 1879
EVERYTHING about a true Christian is marvellous. He is a marvel to himself, and a marvel to all who are round about him. Mere professors — men-made Christians — people who have made themselves Christians by their own free will apart from the Spirit of God, have nothing marvellous about them. You can make professors of that sort by the score, and you can see them dissolve by the score, for what man made, man can unmake, and what is merely natural has its season, like the leaves on the trees; and, by-and-by, it withers away because its time to fade has come. But a true Christian is a God-made man, a twice-born man; and he is a partaker of the divine nature. He is a mass of marvels, for he is dead, and yet he is alive; he is one who lives here, and yet his life has gone away up yonder; he is one who is a citizen of earth, and yet his citizenship is in heaven. He is a true man, but he is more than a man, for God has lifted him up above the level of other men, given him a life which other men do not possess, revealed to him secrets which others do not know, and prepared for him a place into which the ungodly can never enter. The longer he looks at himself, the more he wonders at God’s grace, and at what God’s grace has done, is doing, and will yet do for him. He is a riddle to himself, — an enigma made up of a thousand enigmas. Probably, he does not fully understand all that has happened in any single day of his life, and there are certain days in which God’s dealings with him quite stagger him; and though faith seeth all things to be plain, yet, to mere human reason, things often appear to be in a snarl, and intertwisted, and he knows not what to make of them.
Everything about a true Christian is marvellous, as angels know, who often desire to look into the things which concern them, and as he knows who is our Leader and Commander, — who was a Man wondered at, and whose faithful followers are all wondered at still. He himself is the greatest marvel of all; and among the many marvels that surround him is the marvellous light in which he dwells. Those of us, who are now in Christ, lived at one time in the gross darkness of ignorance. I mean even those of us who were brought up in Christian families, and knew the letter of the gospel well. We did not know its inner meaning, and we never felt its power. We were in darkness; though, indeed, there was a certain measure of light which had come to us, which made us responsible for our wrongdoing; yet, still, our heart remained in gross darkness.
And, by-and-by, this darkness was attended with much misery. There came to us a little light, just sufficient to make our darkness visible; so that we perceived the darkness in which we dwelt, and we began to sigh and cry, like prisoners shut up in an underground dungeon, to whom light and fresh air cannot come. Then everything about us seemed to blacken, and the gloom around us deepened. We were in the dark as to our apprehensions of the future. We knew that we must die, yet we feared to die. We clung to life; yet, sometimes, we did not desire even life itself, but said, with Job, “My soul chooseth strangling, and death rather than my life.” The prospect of annihilation would have seemed almost like heaven to us, if we could, thereby, have got rid of our sinful, sorrowful being, clouded with apprehensions of the wrath of God, and of judgments yet to come upon us. I know that I am talking about something which many of you understand. It was a thick Egyptian night in which you were then enveloped, a darkness that might be felt; and you tried your utmost to escape from it, but you could not, for it was in you. Your soul was in darkness, the light within your spirit was quenched, and all around you seemed to darken, and darken, and darken, as though an eternal midnight were surely descending upon you.
Well, at that time, it happened unto me, and I know that it also happened unto some of you, as it did to Peter, that the angel of the Lord suddenly smote us on our side, and a light shone into our prison-house, and we arose, scarcely knowing what we were doing, but we girded our garments about us, and followed our angelic leader, while the prison gates, which had formerly shut us in, opened before us of their own accord, and we found ourselves to be free, and in broad daylight, too; although, for a time, we could scarcely realize those blessed facts. We saw what we had never seen before; we enjoyed what we had never even hoped to enjoy. Ay, as in an instant, we possessed what we thought must for ever be denied to us, and we scarcely knew how to contain our joy; but we made our way, as fast as we could, to the house of Christ’s disciples who had prayed for us aforetime. And how we gladdened them as we told them the story of God’s delivering and enlightening grace, and so showed forth the praises of him who had called us out of darkness into his marvellous light. Truly, it was marvellous light to us at that time. Many days have passed since then with some of us, but it is marvellous light still; and as we look upon it now, it is not any less marvellous than it was at the very first. It is of that marvellous light that I am going to speak; and as I tell of my own experience of it, I pray God to grant that some of you, who
have never known its power in your own souls, may be made to rejoice in it.
I. I have already touched upon the first point, of which I want now to speak somewhat more fully; that is, THIS LIGHT APPEARS MARVELLOUS BECAUSE OF OUR FORMER DARKNESS.
Out of darkness, light comes not. Out of our dark nature no marvellous light ever shone. This light came from above; but how marvellous it was! Imagine, if you can, the condition of a man who has lived all his lifetime in a coal mine. Suppose him never to have had a brighter light than his flickering candle; and then, after a while, to be brought up the shaft, and to see the brightness of the sun at mid-day. I can scarcely picture his amazement; you may fancy what it would be like, but you can hardly realize it. Or suppose a worse case still, that of one born blind, who had heard of a thing called light, but who could never imagine what it was like till a skilful oculist took away the film that was blinding him, and his eye was opened so that he could perceive the light. It would be very difficult to describe all the emotions of one who had never enjoyed the light before; but, certainly, such a person would be full of wonder and amazement. It would be, indeed, marvellous light to him.
You who have never been converted, who never were regenerated, do not know any more about the light of God than the man in the coal mine knows about the sun, or that man born blind knows about the light of day. Perhaps you talk a good deal about it, and, possibly, you write about it; and you form judgments about it; and they are just as wise, and just as accurate, as the verdict of blind men would be concerning colours of which they have no conception. You say, sometimes, concerning the gospel, “It is all nonsense; there is no such thing as the light of truth,” — just because you never saw any, which is a very poor method of argument. I once heard a man say, “I have lived in the world sixty years, and I never had the apprehension of anything spiritual.” When I looked at his face, and especially at his red nose, I thought that what he said was very likely to be true; but I did not, therefore, conclude that there was nothing spiritual because he had not seen it. Any blind man might say, “I have lived so many years, and I have never seen the sun, so there is not any;” bub you would not accept negative evidence of that sort. So, my dear friend, whenever you are going to speak about something which you do not know anything about, just keep silence, and let somebody else talk who does know. If you never knew what it was to be converted, — if you never felt the divine life go coursing through your soul, — if you never had the divine light flashing in the midst of the darkness of your spirit, pray speak with bated breath if you speak at all; and when you are going to write one of those famous articles of yours, just say to yourself, “Perhaps I had better take some subject that I do understand. for this I do not know, as I never had the light.” If you ever had received it, then you might comprehend something of the wondrous change which conversion makes in a man, and you would agree with us that the light of the gospel is indeed marvellous light.
II. Secondly, we perceive that it is marvellous light WHEN WE CONSIDER ITS ORIGIN.
Our text tells us that it is God’s light: “who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” What is God’s light? Can you imagine how that light existed before he made the sun or the moon? Light shone on this world before the sun and the moon were created, for light comes not from them except as God has stored it up in them, or continually supplies it to them. But there is always light in God. He is the great Light-Creator; yet I never read that the light which God created in the world was called his marvellous light. God made the light, but it was not his light even then. There is another light which is natural to him, — a light of brightness and knowledge, clear and heavenly, — a light such as mortal man attains not unto except as the supreme gift of the grace of God shall visit him. It is this light which rests upon the people of God. There is a light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world, but God’s marvellous light comes only to his chosen, and gladdens only those whose eyes have learned to look to Jesus, and who find their souls’ confidence and salvation in him who is the very Light of God.
“Oh!” asks someone, “can a man have this light? I do not believe it.” Again I tell you, my friend, that I did not expect you would believe it. He who has never had any experience of it may well doubt its existence; but he who has ever had the light of God shining into his soul is as conscious of becoming a new man, — as conscious of seeing after another fashion than he ever saw before, — as a blind man would be if his eyes were suddenly opened. I know that this world is not to me now the world that it once was. All things were then seen, if seen at all, as in a mist so thick that I took the transient to be the eternal, and I highly prized trifles while I despised that which was most precious. I put light for darkness, and darkness for light; bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter; for my foolish heart was darkened, and I knew it not. But, now, such a change has come to me that all things have become new; and in speaking of my own experience, I am also telling of the experience, not merely of some of you, but of hundreds of you upon whose hearts the divine light has come changing all things around you. They are not what they seem to others to be, for they are all now seen in the clear white light of God himself, and you know even as you are known.
III. Thirdly, this is marvellous light, BECAUSE OF ITS EXCELLENCE OVER ALL OTHER LIGHT.
This light, which God gives to his people, is far superior to the light which comes of education, or of meditation, or which can be produced by any human effort. When you have gone through a street lighted with the electric light, I have no doubt you have smiled to see, side by side with it, the gas lamp with its little yellow attempt at showing that it could not shine. But how bright was the electric light at the side of it! Yet, if it is left to burn at mid-day, how dim it seems compared with the sun; and how the sun must smile at all our attempts to light up this world without him! Well, now, the best light that a man ever gets by his own unaided effort is no better than that of a candle, or, if you will, than flickering gaslight; but the light — the marvellous light, is the illumination caused by the Holy Ghost shining into the inmost recesses of the soul in full meridian splendour. It is the light of God, and there is no other light that is like that. He who has but a spark of that light may not know so much about some things as the worldly-wise man knows, but he is well acquainted with many things to which the other man is an utter stranger. Cowper said, as some of you may remember, when contrasting the infidel Voltaire with the poor, godly lace-maker, she —
“Just knows, and knows no more, her Bible true,
A truth the brilliant Frenchman never knew.”
Perhaps you smile, and think within yourself, — “That is not knowing much.” Ah! but, to know the Bible to be true, to live in that Bible truth, and to have it all round about you, peopling the air, filling your own soul, filling earth and heaven with wondrous things that the spirit’s eye can see, — this is truly marvellous. He who sees even the most of this world has but the same sort of eyes that birds and beasts have; but he who knows his Bible to be true, and who realizes the truth of it in his soul, has another set of eyes that can peer into another realm altogether. He sees spiritual things, and around him there shines a light which is indeed marvellous.
IV. Fourthly, this is marvellous light BECAUSE OF WHAT IT REVEALS, for that man, who has the light of God shining in his soul sees that which is invisible.
“O utterer of paradoxes!” cries someone. Yes, but I cannot otherwise express the truth. This illuminated man sees God, whom ordinary human eyes can never see. He looks back into1 the ages past and gone, and he sees God making all the worlds that ever existed; while those, who are reckoned as wise men, but who are without that light, spin ingenious but worthless theories about how those worlds grew. These men have such wonderful theories that it really seems surprising that they do not themselves make a few worlds, since they profess to have found out so many ways of making them. But the opened eye sees “that the worlds were framed by the word of God,” and it sees God’s hand in all the histories of all the centuries, — and it even sees God’s hand in the things recorded in the newspaper that most startle us. The man, who has his eyes opened, sees heaven and hell, eternity and everlasting life. He sees them, — not with dull optics, like these eyes of ours which, after all, do not really see, for it is the soul behind the eye that really looks out through that window, and perceives what is to be seen; but, in this marvellous light of God, the soul sees without any optics and without any glass; it has flung away its telescope, for it has come so near the object upon which it is gazing that there is no need of any intervening medium. It walks and talks with the angels; and, what is far better, it speaks with God himself. This is indeed marvellous light which has made us to see the things that, to ordinary mortal eyes, are invisible.
And it is such marvellous light because it enables us to see them so clearly. To the man who has this light, God does not appear to be sitting like the heathen Jove is represented, upon a distant Olympus, and sleeping while the world is troubled. He who lives in this marvellous light sees God here, there, everywhere; within him, and about him, he feels the presence of God, he has an immediate consciousness that God is with him. And, better still, such a man as that sees God to be reconciled by the death of his Son, he sees God to be his Father, for he is made a partaker of the divine nature, “having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” It is indeed marvellous light that enables us thus to see God.
A further characteristic of this light is that it enables us to see right into the heart of things. By this world’s light, you only see that such-and-such a thing is, you see the appearance it presents; but this light lets you see into the innermost heart of truth; and, what is better still, it brings the truth right into your soul. By this light, you not only see the doctrine of election, but you also know yourself to be elect. You see the great truth of redemption, and you know yourself to be redeemed. By this light, you see regeneration, and you feel the pulsings of the life of God within your spirit; and, though mortal eye hath not seen heaven, neither hath the ear of man heard its rapturous harmonies, nor has the true conception of heaven entered into the heart of man, yet the Spirit of God brings heaven down to us, and raises us up to heaven, so that we sit among the heavenlies in Christ Jesus; and “our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.” All this proves that it is a glorious light, does it not?
The man, who has not this light, may believe there is a God. Yes; and he believes that there is a Cham of Tartary, but he does not care about him. He believes that there is a heaven, but it never enters as a factor into his life to operate upon him. He believes that there is such a thing as sin, and he says, “Oh, yes, yes, yes! we are all sinners, no doubt.” But he, who has this marvellous light, sees sin so as to tremble at it, and to hate it. It is a present thing with him which he abhors; he also sees the atoning blood of Jesus, and knows that, by it, he is cleansed from sin, and he rejoices in this as a blessed matter of fact.
“Oh!” says someone, “that is all fancy.” Of course it is only a matter of fancy to you; did I not tell you so when I began my discourse? To a blind man, a picture by Raphael or Titian is all fancy. You say to him, “How splendidly the colours are laid on there! Do you see that wonderful effect of light and shade?” but your wise blind man says, “I do not believe a word of it.” Of course he does not; we cannot hope that he will do so all the while that he is blind; and, in like manner, he who knows nothing of God’s marvellous light, will ask, “Who is he that bears witness concerning this strange thing?” “Well, sir, he is one among a great number who have as much right to be believed as you have, for he is as honest a man as you are.” Hundreds of us, thousands of us, can bear witness concerning the phenomena of grace, — the mysteries of the new creation, — the putting into a man of a new life, — and we have as much right to be believed as gentlemen who bear witness about the backbone of a fish, and who would feel insulted if we said that they told us lies. We have never examined their fish, but we believe their testimony, because we know they have studied the question of which they speak. They have never looked into our inner life, but they have as good reason to believe our testimony as we have to believe theirs; and this is our witness, — that there is such a thing as God’s marvellous light, that the light of divine grace has broken in upon our souls, and brought us to see a new heaven and a new earth, and to live in a new creation altogether, waiting for the time when Christ shall come to take our body, as he has already taken our soul, into that new world, and make us perfect with himself for ever.
V. Fifthly, this light is marvellous, BECAUSE OF WHAT IT PRODUCES.
I have already shown you its marvellous character in that it reveals a new world to a man, a world he once despised, — and it makes him value it, and live worthy of it. Thus it produces a great change in that man, for it makes him love the things he once hated, and hate the things he once loved. I heard someone say, “‘Take care of Number One,’ is a capital rule. Self-love is the first law of nature.” But, when this marvellous light breaks in upon a man, that law of nature ceases to operate, and he says, “No; the first law of my new nature is that I should honour my God, that I should do that which is right, that which is just, that which is true, that which is loving, that which will be like the life of Jesus Christ my Lord.” If you carefully watch that man, you will see him beginning to give up many of the pursuits that once delighted him. Perhaps you will say, “Poor man, he is denying himself;” but he will answer, “No, I am not. I could not enjoy those things now; in fact, I hate them. They were very pleasurable to me once; but, then, I was a blind man. Now that I can see, they give me no pleasure.” Such a man, before his conversion, may have enjoyed a spicy song which had just a little touch of what should not have been in it; but, now, if he hears the sound of it in the street, he is ready to stop his ears, for he cannot bear it. “Sing us one of the songs of Zion,” he says now; — the very songs that he used to call “Methodistic cant, Presbyterian hypocrisy,” and all sorts of evil names. There are new tastes developed now that he has the new life within him.
If this were the proper time, I could tell some remarkable stories of marvellous changes that have been wrought in some people whom I know. I am sure they would not recognize themselves if they were to meet their old selves as they were five years ago; or, if they did, they would cross the road, and get on the other side of the street, so as not to come into contact with their old selves. They would say, “Thank you, no; I would rather not walk with you. You are not good company for me. I hoped you were dead and buried, and I never wanted to see you again. I am dead with Christ, I have been buried with Christ, I have risen from the dead in him, and I am a new creature in him.” This marvellous light makes a wonderful change in a man’s character; that is to say, if it really comes to him; because, you know, there are some who go into the enquiry-room, and kneel down, and cry a good deal, and all the good that can possibly do is to take away some of the superfluous fluid from the brain, for there is no heart in their repentance; it is mere excitement, and nothing else. But it is a very different thing to have the light of God, — to have the Holy Ghost really shed abroad in the heart. Do not any of you be satisfied with saying, “I am converted. Happy day!” Mind that you are converted; be sure that it is heart-work, soul-work, and that the Spirit of God has wrought it, — not the preacher, — not an excited, evangelist, — not a book you read; — but that God himself has come to you, and made you a new creature in Christ Jesus; for, unless this is the case, I shall not be able to speak of the change as I have spoken, and which, to my intense joy, I have seen in hundreds, and in thousands, who have passed from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan into the kingdom of Christ.
One change that always takes place, as the result of receiving this light, is great joy. The joy is not always as great in all to whom the light comes; but, still, it does bring great joy wherever it shines. Talk of true happiness; it is nowhere to be discovered till the light eternal breaks in upon the mind and heart; and, then, heaven has begun below. Some of us have our full share of pain of body and depression of spirit; yet, in our worst moments, we would not change places with the happiest worldling that lives. Not even when most depressed and weary, would we exchange our position, even for a minute, for that of – the greatest emperor in the world who does not know that inner light. I can truly say, and so can many of you, —
“I would not change my blest estate
For all that earth calls good or great;
And while my faith can keep her hold,
I envy not the sinner’s gold.”
VI. Lastly, it is marvellous light, BECAUSE IT WILL NEVER GO OUT. As it is the light of God, the devil cannot blow it out. If all the devils in hell were to try to blow out one single spark that is in a true believer’s heart, they might puff till they died of puffing, but they would never put that spark out. God has lit it, and they cannot quench it. Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” If you do not keep this everlasting life, it is quite clear that you never had it. If you really have eternal life, it must be eternal life, and it shall abide with you for ever.
But, what is better, not only shall you never lose it, but it will continually increase. If you have God’s marvellous light, though it seems only like starlight now, it will be like moonlight soon; then it will be daylight, and soon it will be noontide; for, to whomsoever God has given a little of this divine light, more is sure to follow, for the light of God, which is given to us by the Holy Ghost here, is the very light of heaven; it has only to be fully developed. You have all the elements of eternal happiness within your own spirit now, if the Holy Ghost has truly enlightened you, and made your character like that of the Lord Jesus Christ. As to death, — well, at the moment of death, you will leave your body behind, and you will leave with it all tendency to sin. The root of eternal blessedness is in you now, if the Lord has really looked upon you in love, and you have looked to Christ by faith. You have the upspringing plant of grace; some of you have leaves and buds; so, all that will happen to you in heaven is that the buds will open, and the flower will be perfected, but it is all there now. Christ said, “I give” — not, “I will give,” but “I give unto my sheep eternal life.” You have eternal life if you believe in him; the same life that will develop in glory is in you now.
“I did not know that,” says someone. Well, did you think that you were going to be born again a second time? That can never be. To be born again, is mentioned in Scripture; but to be born again, and again, — I never did read of that in the Word of God; though I have heard certain people talk about falling from grace and being restored; as if they could be born again, and again, and again, and again, no end of times; but there is nothing like that in the Bible. The great change takes place once, and that change is final. If you are born again, you receive the life that you will live in heaven. Just think of this; Christ has gone to heaven to prepare a place for you, but he has left within your bosoms now the life that is to be in heaven. Pray God to develop that life; entreat the Lord to increase it. Think a great deal of it; value it highly; suffer not your body, which is its temple, to be dishonoured by sin. God dwelleth in you; the life divine is within you; so, I beseech you, live as those should live who are not only heirs of heaven, but who have the life of heaven already abiding in their hearts. Come, my brethren and sisters, let us rejoice and be glad as we thus think of this marvellous light which is to be our light for ever and ever; for, up there, the Lord God giveth them light, and he giveth light to us even now; and it is his light, and there cannot be any light better than his; so, in it let us rejoice, and magnify his name.
I wish that some here, who have not this light, could be set a-longing for it. Mr. Bunyan says that, even if we do not invite the sinner to come to Christ, if we spread a good table before him, it makes his mouth water, and that is the next best thing to an invitation. Does any poor soul begin to say, “I do not know anything about that light; I am not going to deny that it may exist, but I should be a fool if I were to go upon negative evidence; I wish I did know it”? Well, you may know. it. Do your soul this piece of justice, — go and pray to God to make you know it. Go and bow before him, and say, “Lord, if thou dost indeed reveal thyself to men by thy Spirit in Christ Jesus, reveal thyself to me.” He will hear you; I am sure of that. Even if he did not, there would be this reflection on your mind, that, having listened to the testimony of one who has no motive for deceiving you, you have at least given enough credence to it to try it, and test it; and you will feel all the easier in your mind even if the experiment should fail. But it will not fail; for never did a soul, in honest, guileless heartiness, seek the light and love of God, and seek in vain; nor will you do so. Go, then, to God through Jesus Christ, and this marvellous light shall break in upon you. God grant it, for Jesus Christ’s sake! Amen.