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Natural Emblems Of Spiritual Life
By A. B. Simpson
Lights Of The World
"In the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;
Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither labored in vain." Philippians 2:15-16
I want to speak to you this morning about a beautiful and simple figure in the Bible, used to symbolize Christian life and service, and that is light. I sailed down the bay last night, and as I returned, about 10 o'clock in the evening, I passed the famous light-bearer which the genius of a foreign nation has constructed and presented to this government as a pledge of good feeling, and which has been placed at the gate of our harbor. I was a good deal struck, as we passed it, by the remark of one of the passengers, who was evidently looking on it for the first time: "Why, that ain't much of a light," he said, "It's not much better than the other lights in the harbor. Yon old ship gives as good a light as that."
I thought it would have disgusted the author if he had heard it all. It made me think, however, of the purpose of our light. This famous statue is very expensively gotten up. How great is the price Jesus has paid in redeeming us, and is the world saying we are not much of a light after all. Look at the great cathedrals of Europe, and notice the immense expense of their architecture, and choral service, and ministry. I am afraid they are not much good for giving light with it all. They are not better than that poor old woman yonder, that sad, weary saint who is shining quietly all the time for Jesus.
It is not the expensiveness of the pedestal, or the exquisite moulding of the figure - giving evidence of a high style of architecture - that is valuable in a beacon-light, but it is the amount of light it can give out. It is our object to hold light forth to guide the mariner on the stormy sea. There has been a good deal said about this beacon in our harbor, both in approval and disapproval. I don't believe it does much honor to Christianity to emblazon it "Liberty Enlightening the World." I don't think Liberty has enlightened New York very much, or the Old World either. If the figure had stood there with a Bible in its hand it would have done more honor to the genius and devotion of its founder.
The Khedive of Egypt once paid a visit to her Gracious Majesty, the Queen of England, who is honored all the world over as the queen of womanhood, and whose reign will probably long be known as the Augustan age in English history. She said, as she handed a Bible to her visitor: "This is the secret of England's greatness." That is far sweeter to God than all the adulations of the greatness man's genius. Christ is the light of the world, and we are lights only as we reflect Him. We are not to be torches that blaze off quickly and perhaps kindle incendiary fires. We are to shed light steadily that shall be uncharged with smoke and that will be sufficient for all life's needs. We are to shine forth as lights in the world.
So let our lips and lives express
The holy gospel we profess.
So let our works and virtues shine
To prove the doctrine all divine.
I want to speak a little this morning of the figure of a Christian as a light. We are not really lights, but light reflectors. Therefore we must have light ourselves; but we must have life first, for the life is the light of men. We are living organisms reflecting the light of God. Have we got this light of life, beloved? Are we filled with purity, love, divine holiness, holy zeal, so that we can truly be lights of the world?
We shall be almost lost in looking at the world of imagery the Bible contains on this subject, and so can only select a few figures this morning.
We will pass over in our rapid reading the seven-fold lamp planted in the tabernacle, the seven lamps which took its place in the temple, and the seven golden candlesticks among which our Saviour was standing in John's vision on Patmos. In the of book of Zechariah there is a glorious view of the seven-branched candlestick, given so beautifully nowhere else. From each of the branches a pipe runs and these meet in a bowl at the top, which is kept full of oil and so feeds the pipes. Silently and ceaselessly, but with no mechanism, the oil flows down and keeps the lamps constantly burning. Still more beautiful is the added figure that follows. Standing on each side of the lamp are two olive trees growing, and these are so connected with the reservoir that as fast as the olives ripen on the trees, before man has time to pluck them, they have distilled the oil into the bowl, and so they are constantly producing and constantly imparting oil.
Without any of man's help whatever, the tree itself is evermore supplying the light-giving oil. It is a beautiful picture. It is as when some trees in the South Seas bear bread which the natives of those islands can feed on without the trouble of preparing it. Here it is not necessary to pour in oil. The tree feeds the reservoir itself and keeps the pipes, connected with the lamps, always supplied with it. It is a perfect picture of how Christ supplies our life, and feeds us with that which is to be shed forth to others through our various characters and relationships, colored by them in different tints. The holy Paul sheds forth clear truth. The subdued John sheds heavenly love. Every one shedding a little different view of Christ from his neighbor, just as the Four Gospels each represent a different phase of His character.
Each denomination is a separate lamp on the candlestick. They are all shedding forth Christ as the light of the world, and all their light comes from Him. The two trees on either side of the great lamp are Jesus and the Holy Ghost, and they are constantly supplying us with Divine life, one on earthly and the other on the heavenly side of life, and to us is committed this lamp of ministry. He expects us to shine for Him and represent Him to the world. Do we realize, dear friends, that we are placed here as lights, and that without us He is not willing to do anything? He needs our help in redeeming this suffering world, and crowning Him over it.
John v., 35, gives us another figure of this wonderful light. It is John the Baptist. Our Saviour said of him he was a burning and a shining light. It was a remarkable testimony. It means more than the other figure which was only a shining light. This is a burning and a shining light. All light is not warm. Electric light is not. And then some light gives a great deal of warmth, but is not good for illumination. They can't use gas in Pittsburg for lighting the houses. There is a great deal of natural gas there, and they use it for warming their dwellings and for cooking, but it will not illuminate. They are burning, but not shining lights. They are not steady, and so serve as types of some Christians who are very still, exclusive and reserved. There is a good deal of warmth down in their hearts, but it is crusted over. They have a place of useful service in the world, but they are not shining with a steady blaze. God wants both kinds. He wants people burning with love to Him and also people shining steadily for others.
We will look now at a more splendid figure than either of the others, given in the book of Revelation. It is a woman, and it represents the same thing as the figure already given; that is, the Church of God. This is not oil burning on earth now; it is not even the oil and wick combined. It is far greater than either. This woman is clothed with the sun, and the moon is under her feet. She has not lamplight and gaslight, but she has got the sun itself. There is a great difference between getting the rays of the sun down here, and getting right into the sun and robing one's self with its light and fire. This is not putting on some of Christ's ideas and teachings; it is getting robed with Jesus Himself, being filled with His person and nature and going forth to show His excellencies to a darkened world, and so indeed giving a marvelous light.
It is one thing to get truths from the Bible, or ideas from Holy Spirit, and send them forth as light. That is only lamplight. It is another thing to have Jesus Himself within and have Him shine through us so that people who hear us speak will not think of talking about ideas or doctrines, but shall speak only of Jesus. We will thus ever be robed in the brightness of His glory. Then, too, will we have the moon under our feet. The moon stands for all other light. It stands for reason, for conscience, for sophistry, for all light that is not of this world in which so many walk. All these this woman had under her feet.
She was walking only in Christ's nature and showing forth His teaching and His glory. She had on her head a crown of twelve stars. These were the souls that had been brought into the light by her. They were Jewels of salvation adorning her brow when her work was over. Our labors now will crown us in the hereafter as surely as we win souls for Him. Do not let us hold back from the work because we have not wisdom for it. Christ is wise always, and walking in Him and working in Him our light shall be steady and holy and our work shall gain a rich reward.
Let us now turn back to the fifth chapter of Matthew, which we read at the opening of the service.
"Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
"Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick: and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven."
The chief thought of this passage, the one that surmounts every other, and is, indeed, the one of surpassing importance, is not that we are to shine so that men will see us; nor that we are in any way to show forth our own goodness. There is a great difference in the way the verses are read. A printer can change the meaning of an entire paragraph by inserting a comma or emphasizing a word. We are to let our light so shine that men shall glorify our Father. They are not to see your goodness or your faithfulness, beloved. They are not to see you at all. They are to see only that radiant light of God clothes you.
You are not to speak so that men shall say: "What a burst of eloquence! What felicity of language! What a lovely speaker." But that they shall say: "He has made me understand my Saviour better. I think I can live nearer Him now. I want that which he has got myself." You are to so live that men shall not see the heights to which you have attained, nor be discouraged at the low place they are living in. But you are to be so low that they can get at your side and feel that you are human like themselves, yet so high that they will know also that you are living in God. That is what St. Paul means when he tells us that we should show forth the praises of Him who hath called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. It is not your marvelous light, beloved. You are to show forth His excellence. You are to be samples of His work.
You are like the pegs the merchant hangs his wares on, good for nothing but to show the goods. So you are to show the excellencies not of man but of Jesus Christ. This is reflected light. There is marvelous power beauty in reflection. It opens up a whole world of study. You have seen the sun shine on something in the distance and make it look like a bit of beautiful gold, but as you have gone to pick it up out of the heap of rubbish and thought you were picking up a prize, you have found, perhaps, a bit of old broken glass which had been changed into wondrous beauty by the rays of the sun. Talk of jewelry!
When we get home we will find that He can make rubies and diamonds and all brilliant gems by a simple turn of His bright sunlight. So He can take the broken things of this life now and make them more glorious than the rainbow. He can take mists that come out of some foul marsh and gild them in a second into glorious clouds that almost dazzle you with their beauty. So will the saints appear when they are clothed with the garments of redemption and shining with the beauty of the sun in all the glory of the heavenly city.
In coming into the city recently on an evening train I was struck with the peculiar radiance of a little city we passed, which was situated on a hill and in such a position that it caught the rays of the setting sun, and every window was shining with celestial glory. It seemed like a great palace let down from heaven. Omar, the great caliph of Baghdad, hesitated to enter Damascus as he came up to it in the evening and saw it shining in this way in the evening sunlight. He said that mortals could never enter but one Paradise, and if he went into that royal city he feared he could never enter Heaven. When he got into it, however, he found it a most disgusting city in every way.
Dear friends, that is what we do. We take on His light and then reflect it. I am struck sometimes with the great light in front of a railway engine. You know what a splendid glowing, effulgent light it is, and yet it is a common light. What makes it give such a glare? It is the bright lens back of it which multiplies and reflects it a hundred-fold. From all sides of the circle light is inflected to the outside. So it will be with a little grace; it can be made to shine all around the surface. If only our natures are spherical they can give light in every direction. If some people are in the pulpit all the time they are all right.
Some are good in testimony meetings and some in the home circle. God wants light all around. We are to reflect the fullness of the Lord Jesus. It is such a help to people to find common place Christians shining, not with a marvelous light, but simply and truly for Jesus. It is such a help to hear how some man in business has been helped through his daily cares, how some woman has been helped to keep her children neat and tidy, and yet have time for Christian work. It is refreshing to hear how Christ heals little pains and heaviness and weariness; how He can make a wash-tub seem like a little Paradise, and how life has become sweet and beautiful because He has come down into it and become a part of it.
I cannot tell these things as well as you can; I can only tell what He has done for me; but Jesus needs to be reflected from every side. I am glad I have not got to shine myself. When I go to a mirror I don't want to see the mirror, but what the mirror reflects. When God looks at you He doesn't want to see you, but the image of Himself. When you look into a lake you don't wish to see the muddy bottom, but the mountains and the blue sky that are above it. Beloved, let your light so shine that your Father may be glorified.
There is another feature of this light given in the first chapter of John's gospel that we must not overlook. "The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not." God has put you and me into a dark place. He does not send us at once up to heaven, but He has left us here in the midst of darkness. The light out on the bay is not lonesome, for it has something to do. It would not look well up in the city, but it is needed out there because it is dark. There are many people in the world who do not know what to do to get out of trouble. There are thousands of people all around us who don't know anything of Jesus. They cant find Him unless you tell them how.
Shine on in the darkness then, dear friends! There is no one who can absolve you from the responsibility of this. There are very many struggling to get out of difficulty, but don't know how. Give them the secret of getting into glorious liberty. I know how I struggled after it, groping on in blind ignorance, thinking I would die to find it. I was willing to give up everything to know it. There was plenty of light in the universe, but no one brought it to me. When at last it did come I felt like saying: "Is this all?" Since then it has made Christian life so simple and so beautiful. Wasn't it pitiful, this weary reaching out after light?
If now you go into a new circle of people and tell them of this life of rest and gladness, how you will see the wonder and perplexity begin to come upon their faces. There are very few who know how to live in this way. There are great multitudes who confess they have not got this rest and are struggling to get it. All about you there is darkness. Remember you are to shine in it. It is our great business to shine in a dark place, you here and I there. Never mind if the darkness comprehends it not. Shine on just the same. It may be that some sinking mariner, with a last gasp of despair may see the little light in your window and be saved.
Let the lower lights be burning,
Send a gleam across the wave;
Some poor weary, struggling seaman
You may rescue, you may save.