THE LAMPS OF GOD
By D. M. PANTON, B.A.
the darkness deepening around us, we are confronted with a most comforting
and encouraging word from our Lord, lifting us heaven-high: Jesus says to His
disciples all down the ages, - "YE ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD" (Matt. 5: 14). The Sun of Righteousness was about to set; and
He commissions the Church to lighten the world in the absence of the Sun. And He compares the Church to a city crowning
a mountain, which, therefore, nothing can hide: His words are, literally, -
"a city cannot be hid when set on a mountain."
It beautifully illustrates this
spiritual truth that it becomes literal at last. "He carried me
away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and shewed me the holy city
Jerusalem, having the glory of God; and the nations shall walk by
the light thereof"
(Rev. 21: 10, 24). So this truth is spiritual to-day. The only hope of the world is the Church*:
it alone lights the nations to the
[* It is difficult to understand how many who deny the Second Coming of Christ, read their New Testament. Canon F. R. Barry, for example, states in his Faith in the Dark Ages that the 'coming' of Christ is present, not future - a 'static' presence, always 'coming' and yet always here - and that to speak of a 'second' coming is to misinterpret our Lord's words. But the Scriptures - to quote but three out of many - are as decisive as words can be. "After a long time the lord of those servants cometh," (Matt. 25: 19): "he shall so come in like manner as ye beheld him going into heaven" (Acts 1: 11) - that is, literally, physically, visibly: "he shall appear A SECOND TIME" (Heb. 9: 28).]
Exactly how we are the light of the world is brought out in the comparison of John the Baptist with Christ. Of Christ it is said:- "There was the true light even the light which lighteth every man, coming into the world" (John 1: 9): of John it is said, - "He was the lamp that burneth and shineth" (John 5: 35). The source of the light is obvious. "GOD IS LIGHT, AND IN HIM IS NO DARKNESS AT ALL" (1 John 1: 5); and God in Christ is ‘the Father of lights’ (James 1: 17). All that God-kindled souls can do is to receive the light, and transmit it, never originate it: we are only ‘light in the Lord' (Eph. 5: 8). Light born in the new birth, burning within, shines forth in our looks, our words, our actions, and illuminates all within the immediate radius of that light. Probably millions of souls have said concerning Christians what a young minister, who had once been all but an infidel, said concerning his father:- "There was one argument in favour of Christianity which I could never refute - the consistent conduct of my own father."
concrete example will prove the light’s influence. The first civil code of the State of
Now we reach the central fact. "Let your light so shine." God has lit our lamps, for "the spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord" (Prov. 20: 27); but we ourselves control how, and to what degree, the lit lamp shines. "Lamps are not lit to be looked at; but solely that something else may be seen by them" (A. Maclaren, D.D.). It is obvious that only if we show the light can men see the light; only if we are Christ-like will they see Christ. "As a mountain-city, we cannot be hid, if we would: as a lighted lamp, we should not be hid, if we could" (Govett). So our Lord Himself says:- "I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life" (John 8: 12). Therefore no Christian must be a secret disciple: no Christian is to stand aloof from the Church, but to set his lamp on the lampstand: every Christian must be anxious to bring others to the light, since giving light to the world is the very purpose for which he was lit. "Blameless and harmless in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom ye are SEEN AS LIGHTS" - the Greek is, ‘luminaries' - "in the world, holding forth the word of life" (Phil. 2: 15). The shine in a lighthouse ceased to revolve. The lighthouse-keeper rushed in, and revolved it with his hands as long as he could, then another took his place, and so all night they kept it shining. "Why all this labour?" a stranger asked. "Sir," replied the keeper, "there are seamen out in the darkness and the storm looking for this light revolving; if it ceases to revolve, they will mistake it for another; and that may mean shipwreck and death."
So we see our danger. It is most remarkable that our Lord does not say that the light can ever be extinguished, or that any power on earth or hell can put it out; but He emphatically warns us that it may be hidden, and so be quite useless: we can lose the power of drawing men’s eyes to God. "Neither do men light a lamp, and put it under the bushel" - and much less does God - "but on the stand; and it shineth unto all that are in the house." Many a Christian life is a black-out; the light is there, but it is invisible; it is a torch, artfully covered and pointed downwards, which guides its owner home, but is practically useless to anyone else.* Cowardice in confession produces what will be universal when the Church is removed from the earth:- "Darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples" (Is. 60: 2).
[* It is Possible for the lit lamp to "have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness" (Eph. 5: 11). So the Salt also, while it can lose its pungency, and so incur tribulation - and supremely the Great Tribulation - never ceases to be salt, though "good for nothing" in the function of salt - that is, the arresting of surrounding corruption. All this is exactly true of the gross backslider. "For what communion bath light with darkness?" (2 Cor. 6: 14).]
The purpose which is to control our shining the Lord also reveals as its central fact. "Let your light so shine, that men may see your good works, and glorify" - not you, however saintly your life and beautiful your character, but - "your Father which is in heaven." Both the source and the goal of our life are divine; for our Lord, the Light of the World, pours the light upon us; and we, if we be powerful reflectors, deflect the light at an angle back on to God, who thus receives all the glory. A godly life challenges the unbeliever to search out its causes; for he knows that it must have a cause. That which illuminates must be visible; our conduct must teach men the path to Heaven; and when they see it, the wonder of God bursts upon their souls: men cannot see our noble -purposes, our pure heart, our love; but they can see the works which these motives produce: they are not the oil, but the light; and so they see God. A teacher once asked her pupil what she believed. "Please," said her pupil, "might I ask you why you have made this request of me?” Because,"she frankly answered, "I have been teaching you for a Year; you have never said one word to me directly about religious matters or my soul's salvation, but you have lived before me such a life that I want to know the sources of that life."
Lamps differ in power. The light survives death; but after death it will be revealed, more clearly than now, how greatly the lamps differ, and will for ever differ, in brilliance. "There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another star in glory. SO ALSO IS THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD" (1 Cor. 15: 41). Goodness is the suffering side of glory, and glory is the shining side of goodness. So our Lord appears as the Sun. In the Transfiguration, which He Himself states is a forecast of the Kingdom, the dead saints are represented by Moses, the living saints by Elijah, and the nations by the three Apostles; "and he was transfigured before them, and his face did shine as THE SUN, and his garments became white as the light" (Matt. 17: 2). Thus even on earth our Lord’s sinlessness blazed out into perfect glory.
Thus the shining beyond corresponds exactly with the shining here; and only in the coming Kingdom, the reward of the godly life, is the light compared, not to stars, but to the sun. "Then shall the righteous shine forth as THE SUN, in the kingdom of their Father" (Matt. 13: 43): the ‘righteous’ will so shine - that is, the actively righteous, the blazing lamp; not merely the believer, or the disciple, or the saved. So our Lord counsels us how to become as the sun, - "Seek ye first the kingdom of God" - for even Apostles had to seek it, not assume it - "and his righteousness" (Matt. 6: 33) - therefore not imputed righteousness, for God has no ‘imputed’ righteousness, and the Apostles already possessed it; but active righteousness, the godliness of a saintly life which qualifies for the Kingdom. So Daniel gives the only other comparison of our light to the sun, and equally as a consequence of active goodness, following on the resurrection. "Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake. And they that be wise" - ‘the teachers,’ expounders of Scripture who built up the Church on its most holy Faith - "shall shine as the brightness of the firmament" - evidently meaning the sun - "and they that turn many to righteousness" - evangelists, Sunday school teachers, tract distributors who have won souls to Christ - "as the stars for ever and ever" (Dan. 12: 2).
So we reach Paul’s practical application of the figure. "Ye were once darkness, but now are light in the Lord: WALK AS CHILDREN OF LIGHT, for the fruit of the light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth" (Eph. 5: 8). And the secret of maintaining the radiance is companioning with Christ, the Light. "I was in a darkened room," says Henry Varley, "and a neat card on the bookcase, stamped with luminous paint, bore the words - ‘Trust in the Lord.’ It fairly startled me. If the light of sun or day failed, the card’s luminousness gradually declined; but it returned when the sun’s action infused fresh light. If hidden from the face of our Lord, we too cease to shine. Live with Christ." "Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers, for what communion bath light with darkness?" (2 Cor. 6: 14). "I have no more influence than a farthing rushlight," a man once said. "Man," replied a friend, "a farthing rushlight can set a haystack on fire; it can burn down a house; it can make some poor creature read a chapter in the Word of God. Let your rushlight shine."