The Child of Light and the Works of Darkness
“Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” — Ephesians v. 11.
SINS, especially the grosser vices, are “works of darkness.” They delight in concealment, they are not fit to be soon, they flourish in the darkness of the unrenewed heart, they are most fully maintained in the ignorance of a soul that is without the knowledge of the ever-blessed God. They are also works of darkness, because those who follow them have a sad life of it, after all; they are not only dark as to knowledge, but they are dark as to comfort as well. There is no true light, no real joy, in sin: “The wages of sin is death.” And they are works of darkness, too, because they tend to further darkness; the man who pursues them goes from blackness to a deeper blackness, and in the end his portion will be darkness unbroken by a ray of hope, “the blackness of darkness for ever.”
You know that darkness stands for the powers of evil, as light is the fit emblem of the holiness of God, and of his infinite goodness and purifying grace. Well, now, whether we who are the children of light are busy or not, it is quite certain that children of darkness work. They are always working; there is no cessation in their activity. Master Latimer used to say that the most diligent bishop in England was the devil, for whoever did not visit his diocese the devil was always visiting his people. His plough never rusts in the furrow, his sword never rests in its scabbard. The powers of darkness cannot be blamed for their slothfulness; is there ever a moment in which they are not busy and active? Lukewarmness never steals over the powers of darkness. The work of the night goes on horribly, there is no pause to it; therefore, let us who are of the day work, too. God help us to counteract the working of the silent, hidden leaven of sin by our own struggling to produce in the world a better tone of thought and feeling, and by spreading the knowledge of God’s grace, and everything which will increase reverence to God and love to men!
The text speaks of the works of darkness, and it calls them “unfruitful.” So they are; for sin is sterile. It produces its like, and multiplies itself; but as for any fruit that is good, any fruit that can elevate and benefit men, any fruit which God can accept, and which you and I ought to desire, sin is barren as the desert sand. Nothing good can come of it. Every now and then, we hear it said, “Well, you know, on this occasion, we must set aside the higher laws of equity, because just now it is imperatively necessary that such and such a policy should be pursued.” But it is never right either for an individual or for a nation to do wrong; and the most fruitful policy for men and for nations is to do that which will bear the light. The works of the light are fruitful works, rich and sweet, and fit to be gathered, pleasant to God and profitable to men; but the works of darkness are fruitless, they come to nothing, they produce no good result. They are like the apples of Sodom, which may appear fair to the eye, but he that plucks them shall find that he has nothing but ashes in his hand. O you who are performing works of darkness, know that no good fruit will come of all your work! You can have nothing that is worth having as the result of all your toil.
My text, which I have just introduced to you by these few remarks, demands our attention as a great practical lesson to Christians: “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” Those works of darkness which are horrible and unmentionable, you cannot have fellowship with them. They produce an evil very potent to all mankind; of course, you will avoid them, pass not by them, and flee from them; but you must also keep clear of those works of darkness which apparently seem to be colourless, and to produce no particularly evil effect. You, as a Christian man, have to live a solemn, earnest, serious life. To you, —
“Life is real, life is earnest;”
and if there are works of darkness which do not seem to be as bad as others, but are simply frivolous, foolish, and time-wasting, have no fellowship with them. These unfruitful works of darkness are to be avoided by you as much as those which are most defiling. Hear this, ye Christian men, and God help you to obey the command!
In coming to the consideration of our text, let us enquire, first, What is forbidden? Fellowship with “the unfruitful works of darkness.” Secondly, let us ask, What is commanded? “Reprove them;” and thirdly, let us consider, Why are we thus to act?
I. First, then, WHAT IS FORBIDDEN? “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.” We can have fellowship with them in a great number of ways.
Notice that the text does not say, “Have no fellowship with wicked men; have no dealings with men who are not converted;” for then we must needs go out of the world. Many of us are obliged to earn our daily bread in the midst of men whom we certainly would not choose for our companions. Many of you, I know, are forced every day to hear language which is disgusting to you; and you are brought into contact with modes of procedure which sadden your gracious spirits. Our Saviour does not pray that you should be taken out of the world, but that you should be preserved from the evil of it. If you are what you profess to be, you are the salt of the earth; and salt is not meant to be kept in a box, but to be well rubbed into the meat to keep it from putrefaction. We are not to shut ourselves up as select companies of men seeking only our own edification and enjoyment, but it is intended that we should mingle with the ungodly so far as our duties demand. We are forced to do so; it is the Lord’s intent that we should, so that we may act as salt among them. God grant that the salt may never lose its savour, and that the unsavoury world may never destroy the pungency of the piety of God’s people! With evil men, then, wo must have some kind of fellowship, but with their works we are to have no fellowship. In order to avoid this evil, let ns see what is here forbidden: “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.”
And first, dear friends, we have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness by personally committing the sins so described. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked.” After all, a man must be judged by his life. If you do that which is holy and righteous and gracious, you have fellowship with the holy and the righteous and the gracious; but if you do that which is unclean and dishonest, you have fellowship with the unclean and the dishonest. The Lord will, at the last, put us among those whom we are most like; in that day when he shall separate the people gathered before him as a shepherd divideth the sheep from the goats, the sheep will be put with the sheep, and the goats with the goats. If you have lived like the wicked, you will die like the wicked, and be damned like the wicked. It is only those who live the life of the righteous who can hope that they shall die the death of the righteous. I, who preach to you with all my heart the doctrine of the grace of God, do, nevertheless, just as boldly remind you that the grace of God brings forth fruit in the life; and where it is really in the heart, there will be in the life that which betokens its presence. If you and I are drunkards, if we can do a dishonest action, if we are guilty of falsehood, if we are covetous (I need not go over the list of all those evil things), then wo belong to the class of men who delight in such practices, and with them we must go for ever. We are having fellowship with them by doing as they do, and we shall have an awful fellowship with them at the last by suffering as they shall suffer. God make us holy, then! The very name of Jesus signifies that lie will save his people from their sins, and he saves them from their sins by their ceasing to commit those sins that others do. His own word is, “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” “Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.” Nothing more dishonours him than to have a following of unclean men— men who refuse to be washed, and resolve not to quit their old sins. Great sinners, ay, the biggest sinners out of hell, are welcome to come to Christ in order to be cleansed from their sin, and set free from it. He keeps a hospital wherein he receives the most sick of all the sick, but it is that he may heal them; and if men do not wish to be healed, but count the marks of their disease to be beauty-spots, if they love their sins, and hug them to their bosoms, then thus saith the Lord to them, “Ye shall die in your sins.” God save all his professing people from this form of fellowship with the works of darkness!
Next, we can have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness by teaching wrong-doing, either by plain word or by just inference. Any man whose teaching tends towards unholiness, who directly or indirectly, either by overt phrase or by natural inference, leads another man into sin, is particeps criminis, a partaker of the crime. If you teach your children what they ought never to learn, if you teach your fellow-workmen what they had better never know, and if they improve upon your lessons, and go much farther than you ever meant that they should, if they proceed from folly to crime, you are a partaker of their sins, you have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. And, believe me, there is nothing more awful than for any minister of Christ to have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness by keeping back any part of the truth, by withholding any of the precepts of God’s Word, or by denying the terrible and eternal consequences of sin. There is nothing more dreadful than the end of such a man must be; I think that I would sooner die, and be judged of God as a murderer of men’s bodies, than have to go before the judgment seat charged with being the murderer of their souls, through having kept back helpful truth, or insinuated destructive and erroneous doctrines. Yes, we can easily have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness in that way.
Further, there are some who will have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness by constraining, commanding, or tempting others to sin. How much harm is often done in this respect by want of thought! What you do by another, you do yourself. If you command another to do for you what you know to be wrong, — I will not say that the other is right in the compliance, — but I will say that you are wrong in having given the command. Let fathers, let masters, let mistresses, see to it that they never command others to do what God has not commanded them to do.
Sometimes, it is not actually a command that you give, but you put the person into such a position of temptation and trial, that the probabilities are that that person will do wrong; and if it be so, in the sight of God, you will have to share the guilt of that wrong. When a master pays his servant less wages than he ought to have, — if that servant commits a theft, I condemn the theft, but I cannot clear the master who put the man into a position in which he must have been sorely tempted to take something more to make up that of which he had been defrauded. I do not excuse the theft by him who committed it; but still I cannot screen the one who put the other where, in all probability, he would be driven to commit a dishonest act. If I place a man in a position where it is most probable, seeing that human nature is what it is, that he will commit a sin, if I have wantonly put him there, or put him there for my own profit and gain, I shall be a partaker of the sin if he falls. If you are a nurse girl, and you take those little children, and set them on the edge of the cliff, letting them go to the very brink of it, and they fall over, you cannot clear yourself of blame in the matter. It may be that you told the children not to go too close to the edge; but then you put them where you might be morally certain that, as children, they would go there, and you are responsible for all that happens to them. So, if I set another in a place where I might be able to stand myself, but might be pretty sure that he could not, I shall be a partaker of his sin. “Well, I drink my glass of wine,” says one. Yes, and apparently it does you no harm whatever; you have never been excited by it, and you feel grateful for it; but there is another man who could not do as you have done without becoming a drunkard, and by your example he is made a drunkard, and helped to remain so. The practice may be safe enough for you; but if it is ruinous to him, take heed lest you be a partaker of his unfruitful works of darkness. It will require great care, and some self-denial, so to act towards others that we can say when we go to bed at night, “If any man has done a wrong thing to-day, it is not because I have set him the example.” Oh, that we might all repent of other people’s sins! Did you ever repent of them? “I have had enough to do to repent of my own sins,” says one. But these sins of which I am speaking are your own, as well as other people’s; if you have led others into the way of committing the sin, or have put any pressure upon them to lead them to commit sin, you are having fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.
Sometimes, men get to be partakers of others’ sins by provoking them. When fathers provoke their children to anger, who has the chief blame of that sin? Surely the father has. And when, sometimes, persons purposely play upon the infirmities of others to provoke them, are they not more to blame than the offenders? I am sure that it is so. I have known some try to draw others out when they have known their propensity to go beyond the truth; they have, for mirth’s sake, led them on, and tempted them to lie. Who is the greater sinner of the two in such a case as that? I am no casuist, and shall not attempt to weigh actions; but I am able to say this most assuredly, that, if you provoke another to anger, that anger is in part your sin; if you wantonly incite another to sin by daring him to do it, or by any other method of tempting him to do wrong, you yourself shall share the accusation at the last great day.
Further, friends, we can be partakers of the unfruitful works of darkness by counselling them. There are some men who will not do the wrong things themselves, but they will give evil advice to others, and so lead them into iniquity. We have known persons act the part of the cat with the monkey; they have used some other hand to draw the chestnuts from the fire. They were not themselves burned, but then they really did the deed by their agents. Theirs was the advice, theirs the wit, theirs the shrewd hard-headedness by which the evil was done; and though they did not appear in the transaction, yet God saw them, and he will reckon with them in the day of account.
I feel very jealous of myself when I have to give advice; and that experience often falls to my lot. A person will plead, “Well, if I do right in such a case as this, I shall remain in poverty, or I shall lose my situation. If I follow out my conscientious convictions to the full, who is to provide for me?” And, you know, the temptation is to feel, “Well, now, really we must not be too severe in our judgment upon this poor soul; can we not agree with the evident wish of the person asking the advice, moderate the law of God, or in some way make a loophole, and say, ‘Well, it will not be right ; but still, you see, under the circumstances, —.’” Now, I never dare do that, because, if wrong be done, and I have counselled it, I shall be a partaker in the wrong. You who are called to give advice to others, — as many of you may be by reason of your age and experience, — always give straight advice; never let any man learn policy from you. Of all things in this world, that which often commends itself to certain “prudent ” men, but which, nevertheless, never ought to commend itself to Christian men, is the idea of doing a little evil in order to obtain a great good; in fact, believing ourselves to be wiser than the commands of God, and imagining that strict truth and probity and integrity would, after all, not be the best thing for men, even though God has so ordained. Do let us so guide others that we shall have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.
But we may have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness by consenting to them, and conniving at them. For instance, you live in a house where there is a great deal of evil going on, and you yourself keep clear of it. So far so good; but you never protest against it, you have been altogether silent about it. “Mum,” has been the word with you; and, sometimes, when they come home from a place of ill resort, and they tell you about the “fun” they have had, you laugh with the rest, or if you do not laugh, at any rate you have not decidedly expressed your disapproval. You do disapprove of the evil; in secret, you even pray against it; but nobody knows that it is so, the wrongdoers especially are not aware that it is so; in fact, they fancy that, as they treat leniently your pursuit of religion, though they think it cant, so you treat leniently their pursuit of sin, though in your heart of hearts you believe that pursuit to be evil. Our Lord commands us to clear ourselves of all conniving at sin, — not with harshness, not with denunciation, and in an unkind spirit, — but with a mild, gentle, but still powerful, honest rebuke. We must say, especially if we are parents, or masters, or persons having much influence with others, “Oh, do not this abominable thing! I cannot have any share in this evil, even by silently tolerating it. How I wish that you would give it up! I entreat you, come out of this Sodom; escape for your lives!” A few more loving home testimonies for God, and who can tell but that the husband may be converted, and the son may be led to the Saviour? But for want of this personal witness-bearing among Christians, I am afraid that the Church of God comes to be paralyzed, and much of her power and usefulness is taken from her. Do not let us connive or wink at sin in any case whatever.
Far be it from us also over to have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness by commending or applauding sin, or seeming to agree with it. We must let all men know that, whatever they may do which has about it an ill savour, it has an ill savour to us, and we cannot endure it, but must ever protest against it, lest we be partakers of the sins of others. O dear friends, I believe that the great lack of the church just now is holiness! The great want of the church is nonconformity; I mean, nonconformity to the world. We must endeavour to bring back the strictness of the Puritan times, and somewhat more. Everybody is so liberal and takes such latitude, nowadays, that in some quarters it is impossible to tell which is the church and which is the world. I have even heard some ministers propose that there should be no church distinct from the congregation, but that everybody should be a church-member, without the slightest examination, or even a profession of conversion. It is supposed that people are now so generally good that wo may take them indiscriminately, and that they will make a church quite good enough for the Lord Jesus Christ! Ah, me! that is not according to Christ’s mind, and that is not Christ’s teaching. God’s call to this age, as to all that went before, is, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” Bear your protest, my brethren and my sisters, against everything that is unrighteous and unholy, everything that is not Godlike and Christlike, and let your lives be such that men shall not need to ask to whom you belong, whether to God or to the devil, but they shall see at once that you are the people of the ever-living and blessed God.
This, then, is what is forbidden: “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.”
II. The time flies so fast, that I can only very briefly answer the second question, WHAT IS COMMANDED? “Reprove them.” Our life’s business in the world comprehends this among our other Christian duties, the reproving of the unfruitful works of darkness.
First, we are to rebuke sin. I find that the word which is here rendered “reprove” is that which is used concerning the Holy Spirit: “When he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.” We are, therefore, so to live as to let light in upon men’s consciences, that we may rebuke them for their sin.
But we are also to try to let the sinners themselves see the sinfulness of their sin, to let the light in upon the sin, and, by God’s grace, so to reprove them as to convict them of sin, to make them feel, from the testimony of God’s people, that sin is an evil and a bitter thing, and that their course of conduct is that evil thing. The light has come into the world on purpose that the darkness may know that it is darkness, and that God’s light may overcome and disperse it. We are not to quench our light, and mingle with others who are in the dark; but to unveil our lamps, and let the light that is in them so shine that the darkness shall thereby be reproved. I do not say, brothers and sisters, that we are to go through the world wearing surly faces, looking grim as death, perpetually promulgating the law, and saying, “Thou shalt not do this, and thou shalt not do that;” but, cheerful as we must be with the love of God in our hearts, we shall prove to men that the freest and the happiest life is a life of holiness, a life of consecration to God, and that, together with the faithful testimony of our lips, shall be a reproving of the sin that is in the world. The very existence of a true believer is the reproof of unbelief; the existence of an honest man is the reproof of knavery; the existence of a godly man is the best reproof of ungodliness; but when that existence is backed up by verbal testimony, and by a consistent example, then the command in the text is fulfilled, for we are reproving the unfruitful works of darkness.
III. Thirdly, let us ask, WHY ARE WE TO ACT THUS? Why are we sent into the world, dear friends, to reprove sin, and not to follow in its track? The reasons are given in this very chapter.
First, because we are God’s dear children, and therefore we must be imitators of him. Thou, a child of God, and having fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness? Thou, a child of God, imitating the lost and fallen world? Thou, a child of God, submitting to the influences of the devil, and his filthy crew? Far be it from thee; ask thy Father to make thee holy as he is holy. To that end wast thou born and sent into the world; entreat thy Father to help thee to fulfil the very purpose of thy being.
Next, remember that we who are believers have an inheritance in the kingdom of God. We are heirs of God, joint-heirs with Jesus Christ. Well, then, shall we have fellowship with those who have no inheritance in this kingdom? Remember what we read just now: “For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” And wilt thou, who hast a part in this inheritance, make common lot with such people? Oh, be it far from thee! Heir of glory, wilt thou be a companion of the heirs of wrath? Joint-heir with Christ, wilt thou sit on the drunkard’s bench, or trill an unclean song with the profane? Are their places of amusement fit for thee to frequent? Are their dens of iniquity haunts for thee? Up and away from the dwellings of these wicked men, lest thou be destroyed in their destruction!
A little further down in the chapter, in the seventh and eighth verses, we read: “Be not ye therefore partakers with them. For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord.” What! has a marvellous conversion happened to you? Have you been turned from darkness to light? Are you really new creatures in Christ Jesus, or is it all a lie? For, if indeed you have been twice-born, if you have had a resurrection from among the dead, if a second creation has been wrought in you, how can you go and live with these dead men, and mingle with these who know not the life of God? Unless your profession is nothing but a farce or a fraud, grace will so constrain you that you must come out, and refuse to have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.
The text describes these works as being unfruitful, and you read in the ninth verse, “The fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth." Now, if you are to bear the fruits of the Spirit, what fellowship can you have with the unfruitful works of darkness? The two things are opposed to one another. You fruit-bearing trees, are you going to join in affinity with these cumber-grounds that soon must be cut down, and cast into the fire? What! will you interlace your vine branches with these fig trees that have leaves upon them, but no fruit, and upon which no fruit will ever grow, for they are under the curse of God? No, it must not be so. People of God, serve him, and come away from those who render him no service, but who rather seek to pull down his holy temple, and to destroy his name and influence from among the sons of men!
The apostle gives us one more reason why we should have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness: “for it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.” What! shall we have fellowship with things of which we are ashamed even to speak? Yet I have to say it, and to say it to my own sorrow and horror, I have known professors to have fellowship with things that I dare not even think of now. They have been found out at length; some of them were never found out till after they were dead. What a life to lead, — to sit with God’s people at the communion table, to talk even to others about the way of salvation, yet all the while living in the practice of secret sin! Why, surely, it were better to get into prison at once than to be always afraid of being apprehended; to go up and down the world making a profession of religion, and yet to be acting a lie all the while, and living in constant fear of being found out! Whatever sin wo may fall into, God save us from hypocrisy, and make us honest and straightforward in all things! Shall we, then, go and have fellowship with things of which we should be ashamed even to speak? God forbid!
I am afraid that I am speaking many truths that you will regard as having nothing in them that is comfortable to you; but, brothers and sisters, can I help it? Can it be avoided? If we are to make full proof of our ministry, and preach all the truth to you, must we not take every passage of God’s Word, whether it be of rebuke or of comfort, in its due season? To myself, the effect of thinking over this subject is just this. I have cried, “Lord, have mercy upon me.” I have fled again to the cross of Christ. I have sought anew for an anointing of the Holy Spirit that I might not in anything have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness; and if my discourse has that effect upon you, it will do you great service. Oh, do ask the Lord to make our outward lives more thoroughly pure and true! Give me a little church of really gracious, devoted, upright, godly men, and I will be glad to minister to them, and I shall expect God to bless them. But give me a large church consisting of thousands, — if there are in it many whose lives, if they were known, would disgust a man of God, and whose lives, being known to the Spirit of God, are a grief to him, why, then the blessing must be withheld! We may preach our hearts out, and wear ourselves to death in all kinds of holy service; but, with an Achan in the camp, Israel cannot win the victory. I beseech you, therefore, search and look. One pair of eyes, two pairs of eyes, in the pastorate, and the eyes of the elders and deacons of the church, can never suffice to watch over such a company as this is. The Lord watch over you, and may you have a mutual oversight of one another; and above all, may each one exercise daily watchfulness over his own heart and life! Thus, beloved brethren and sisters in Christ, I leave the text with you, praying God to bless it: “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.”
Now, if any here are living in fellowship with those unfruitful works of darkness, I pray them to escape for their lives from them. May they fly to Christ, who alone can save them; and when they have once found healing through his wounds, and life through his death, then let them pray to be kept from all sin, that they may lead a holy and gracious life to the glory of him who has washed them in his own most precious blood. The Lord send a blessing, for his dear Son’s sake! Amen.