MATTHEW 6:22.—“The light of the body is the eye; if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.”
THE human eye is the most striking and expressive feature in the human constitution. Of all the physical organs, it is the one that is closest to the soul. Though composed of flesh and blood, of muscles and tissues—the toughest of muscles, and the most reticulated of tissues—it nevertheless seems to be half spiritual and immaterial. A man’s hand, a man’s foot, is hard matter, is solid stupid flesh and blood; but a man’s eye gleams with ethereal fire, and his very soul radiates from it. The science of phrenology seeks the mind in the skull; but it would have been more successful in deducing human character from the physical structure, if it had studied that organ of vision which is always instinct with the soul and the soul’s life. The skull of some animals approximates in its form to that of man; as the many attempts to trace a connection between man and the brute prove. But no brute’s eye approximates in its expression to that of the human being. The eye of the ox is large, liquid, and soft; and the old Greek called the queen of the Olympian heavens the “ox-eyed Juno.” But there is no morality, no human intelligence, and no human affection, in it. The ideas of God, and law, and conscience, are not written in the eye-ball of the ox as they are in that of every living man. Look into the eye of the faithful dog, or the patient ox, and you perceive a blank in reference to all that higher range of being, and that higher class of ideas, which lies at the basis of accountability and religion. But look into the eye of the African or the Esquimaux, and through all the dullness and torpor there gleams out upon you an expression, a glance, that betokens that this creature is not a mere animal, but is moral, is rational, is human.
“The light of the body,” says our Lord in the text, “is the eye.” This is a strong statement. Our Lord does not say that the eye is the instrument by which light is perceived, but that it is the light itself. And there certainly is a striking resemblance between the nature of the eye and that of light. The eye is adapted and preconformed to the solar ray. The crystalline lens, the watery humor, the tense silvery coating—everything that enters into the structure of this wonderful instrument of vision—has resemblances and affinities with that lucid shining element, the light of the sun. Plotinus long ago remarked that the eye could not see the sun, unless it had something solar, or sun-like, in its own composition.
Mere opaque flesh and blood has no power of vision. We cannot see with the hand or the foot. In this sense, then, the eye is the light of the body. The original Greek word (λυχνός) in the text, which is translated light, literally signifies a lamp. The human eye is a burning lamp placed inside of the human body, like a candle behind a transparency, by which this “muddy vesture of decay,” this dark opaque materialism of the human frame is lighted up. “The lamp of the body is the eye; therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. If thy whole body, therefore, be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light.” (Luke 11:34, 36.)
But in employing this illustration it was not the purpose of our Lord to teach optics. It is true that his words agree incidentally with optical investigation; even as all the incidental teachings of Revelation concerning the material universe will be found to harmonize with the facts, when they shall finally be discovered by the groping and disputing naturalist. But the Son of God became incarnate for a higher object than to teach the natural sciences. Our Lord’s casual allusions to the structure of earth, and of man, are made only for the purpose of throwing light upon a more mysterious organization than that of the human eye, and of solving problems infinitely more important than any that relate to the laws and processes of the perishing material universe.
The great Teacher, in his Sermon on the Mount from which the text is taken, had been enjoining it upon his disciples to live not for time but for eternity. “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt. 6:19–21.) This devotion to the concerns and realities of another and better world than this, Christ also tells his disciples, must be single-minded and absorbing. “No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other, or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.” (Matt. 6:24.) The illustration borrowed from the human eye comes between these two thoughts, in St. Matthew’s report of our Lord’s instructions to his disciples; showing that by it, he intended to illustrate and enforce the necessity of singleness of purpose in the Christian life and profession. As the eye must not see double, but must be “single,” in order that the body may be full of light; so there must be no double-mind, no wavering purpose, no impure motive, if the Christian would not walk in darkness.
We are, therefore, led by the connection of thought in our Lord’s discourse, to consider the clear, luminous, and crystalline eye as a symbol of a pure, sincere, and single motive. And we propose in two particulars, to show that as the eye is the light of the body, so pure motives are the light of the soul.
By a pure motive is meant one that is founded in a sincere desire to honor God. Christian men are sometimes troubled to know whether their purposes and intentions are upright. They fear that they are sinister, and mixed with corruption. But the test is easy and sure. Let the person ask himself the question: “Do I in this thing honestly seek to exalt my Maker, and advance his cause in the world?” If this can be answered in the affirmative, it precludes both pride and sensuality—the love of human applause, and the love of worldly enjoyment—which are the two principal lusts that vitiate human motives. By a pure motive, then, is meant one that is founded in the sole desire to glorify God; and of such an one we confidently affirm that it is the light of the soul.
I. In the first place, it is the light of the soul, because it relieves the mind of doubts concerning the path of duty.
The single-eyed desire to please and honor God is a sure guide to a Christian, when he is perplexed in regard to the course of action that he ought to pursue. There are many instances in which it is difficult to decide what is the path of duty. There is nothing in the nature of the thing, or of the case, that settles the question; and, therefore, the only mode in which it can be settled is to raise the question respecting the personal intention.
Suppose, for illustration, that a Christian man, by that course of events which is the leading of Providence, is called to consider the proposition to change his place of residence, or to engage in another occupation or line of business. There is nothing intrinsically right or wrong in either of these measures. There is no moral quality in them; and therefore he cannot determine in respect to them from their intrinsic character, as he can when the proposition to lie, or to steal, or to do an act that is evil in itself, is presented to him. He must, therefore, if he would carry his Christianity into his whole life, and have it penetrate all his plans and movements—he must, therefore, in deciding what is duty in such instances as these, raise the question: How shall I most exalt God in the promotion of his cause in the world?
Suppose, again, that a young Christian is called upon to decide what his course in life shall be; whether he shall devote it to secular or sacred pursuits; whether he shall go into the marketplace and buy and sell and get gain, or whether he shall go into the pulpit and preach the gospel to sinful men. Now, there is nothing in the mere prosecution of trade or commerce that is intrinsically right or intrinsically wrong; and neither is there anything holy, per se, in the calling of a clergyman. Everything depends upon the motive with which each is pursued. And the question by which this young Christian shall decide whether he shall be a layman or a clergyman, is the question: In which calling can I most glorify God?
These are specimens of an unlimited number of cases in which the Christian is called to decide respecting the path of duty, when the cases themselves do not furnish the clue. This whole wide field is full of perplexity, unless we carry into it that clear, crystalline eye which fills the body full of light; that pure motive which is a sure guide through the tangled pathway. The Romish casuist has dug over this whole field, but it has yielded him very little good fruit, and very much that is evil. Instead of putting the conscience upon its good behavior; instead of telling his pupil to settle all such perplexity by the simple, evangelical maxim: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God;” instead of insisting first and chiefly upon the possession and the maintenance of a pure motive and a godly intention; the Romish casuist has attempted to discover an intrinsic morality in thousands of acts that have none, and to furnish a long catalogue of them all, in which the scrupulous and anxious soul shall find a rule ready made, and which he shall follow mechanically and servilely.
Perhaps there is no part of this field of human duty and responsibility, that more needs the clear shining light of a pure motive and intention, than that which includes the intercourse between religious men and the men of the world. The Church of Christ is planted in the midst of an earthly and an irreligious generation. It cannot escape this. St. Paul told the Christians of his day, that they could not avoid the temptations of pagan society except by going out of the world; and it is still as true as ever, that the Church must be exposed to the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, so long as it dwells here in space and time. And this fact renders it necessary for the Christian to decide many difficult and perplexing questions in morals and religion.
They arose in the days of the apostles. Sincere and scrupulous believers were in doubt whether they should eat of meat that had constituted a part of a sacrificial victim offered in an idol’s temple; and whether they should observe, or should not observe, the sacred days of the old Jewish dispensation. These things had in them no intrinsic morality; while yet the questions that were involved in them affected the purity and whole future growth of the Church. St. Paul laid down the rule by which they were to be settled. “Meat commendeth us not to God: for neither if we eat are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak.” The Christian must beware lest, by insisting upon his own personal rights, he hinder the progress of the gospel. There was nothing good or bad, in itself considered, in this partaking of food that had come into external connection with the abominations of idolatry and paganism. But if a Christian, by asserting and using his unquestionable right and liberty in a matter like this, should either directly or indirectly injure the cause of Christ, he must forego his personal right and yield his personal liberty.
Says the noble and holy apostle Paul: “If my eating of meat—which is both my right and my liberty, so far as my own conscience is concerned—if my eating of meat interferes in any way with the spirituality and growth in grace of any professing Christian, I will eat no meat while the world stands.” He decides the right and the wrong in such instances, not by the intrinsic quality of the act, nor by his own right and liberty as a private person to perform it, but by the moral and religious influence upon others, and thus, ultimately, by his own personal motives in the case. He desires and intends in every action to glorify God, and promote his cause in the world; and this pure intention guides him unerringly through that field of casuistry which, without this clue, is so perplexing and bewildering.
Now, how beautifully does all this apply to the intercourse which the Church must hold with the world, and to that class of questions that arise out of this intercourse. A Christian man must mingle more or less in unchristian society. He is brought in contact with the manners and customs, the usages and habits, the pleasures and amusements of a generation that is worldly, that fears not God, and is destitute of the meekness and spirituality of Christ. A thousand perplexing inquiries respecting the path of duty necessarily arise; and they must be answered. Let him now look at them with that clear, honest, open eye, which is the light of the body. Let him decide upon the course which he shall pursue, in any given instance, by the illumination of a simple, single purpose to honor the Lord Christ and promote the Christian religion in the world. If this be in him and abound, he cannot go astray. To him it may be said, as the prophet Nathan said to David: “Do all that is in thy heart”—act as you please—“for the Lord is with thee.”
It is easy to perceive that the application of such a maxim as that of the apostle: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God,” would pour a light upon any possible question of duty that could not lead astray. No man will run much hazard of taking a wrong step in morals, or religion, whose eye is single, and steadily directed toward the honor of his Maker. It is possible, indeed, for him to err in judgment, for he is human and uninspired, but it is not very probable. And even if, owing to human infirmity, he should be mistaken in a perplexing and difficult case, it will be an error of the head and not of the heart. If it was really his desire and intention to please God and promote his cause in the world; if the Searcher of the heart saw that he meant well; then the will will be accepted for the deed. “For where there is a willing mind, it is accepted according to what a man hath, and not according to what he hath not.” But errors of judgment will be very rare on the part of one who is actuated by a pure motive. He will walk in the light, and be one of the children of light.
“He that loveth his brother,” says St. John, “abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.” It is the effect of a genuinely benevolent and fraternal feeling toward a fellow man, to prevent all misunderstandings, or to remove them if they exist. There can be no double dealing where there is brotherly love. In like manner, if the soul is full of pure affection for God, and of a simple desire to honor him, there can be no occasion of stumbling in the path of duty. Such a soul walks under the broad, bright light of noon-day.
II. In the second place, a pure motive is the light of the soul, because it relieves the mind of doubts concerning religious doctrine.
In every age of the world, there is more or less perplexity in men’s minds respecting religious truth. Pilate’s question: “What is truth?” is asked by many a soul in every generation. Although Christianity has been a dominant religion in the world for eighteen centuries; although it has left its record and stamp upon all the best civilization and progress of mankind; although it has conducted millions of souls, through the gloom and sorrow of earth and time, to a peaceful death and a hope full of immortality; and although there is confessedly nothing else to take its place, in case it be an imposture and a lie; yet some men still doubt, and are in perplexity to know if it really be the way, and the truth, and the life. This is skepticism in its extreme form. But it may assume a milder type.
There may be no doubt in regard to the truthfulness of Christianity so far as its principles agree with those of natural religion, and there may still be a strong doubt in regard to the evangelical doctrines. A man may believe that there is a God; that right and wrong are eternal contraries; that the soul is immortal; that virtue will be rewarded, and vice will be punished in another world; and yet doubt whether there is a triune God; whether man is apostate and totally depraved; whether the Son of God became man, and died on the cross to make atonement for human guilt; whether a man must be born again in order to a happy eternity. Many are perplexed with doubts upon these evangelical doctrines, as they are called, and at times would give much to know if they are in very deed the absolute and eternal verities of God.
Now we say that a pure motive, a single sincere purpose to exalt God, will do much toward clearing away these doubts. “If any man,” says our Lord, “will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine.” It is impossible in a single discourse to take up these truths of revealed religion one by one, and show how a pure motive will flare light upon each and every one of them, and teach a man what he ought to believe and hold. We will, therefore, select only one of them, and make it the crucial test by which to try them all.
There is no doctrine about which the doubts and skepticism, nay, the sincere perplexity of men, hovers more continually, than about the doctrine that man is by nature depraved and deserving of eternal punishment. Probably, if the world of unbelievers could be convinced of the truth of this particular tenet, their doubt and unbelief upon all the other doctrines would yield. This is the citadel in the fortress of unbelief.
Now let a man look at this doctrine of the guilt and corruption of man, as it is stated in the Christian Scriptures, and as it is presupposed by the whole economy of Redemption, and ask himself the question, whether he will most honor God by adopting it, or by combating and rejecting it. Let him remember that if he denies the doctrine of human guilt and corruption, he nullifies the whole Christian system, because he who nullifies the sin of man nullifies the redemption of the Son of God.
St. Paul told the Corinthians, that if there were no resurrection of the dead, then Christ had not risen; and if Christ had not risen, the faith of everyone who had believed in him was vain. In like manner, if man is not a lost sinner, then there is no Divine Saviour and no eternal salvation, for none is needed. There are no superfluities in the universe of God. Whoever, therefore, denies the reality of a sin in the human race which necessitated the incarnation and atoning death of the Son of God, puts upon God that great dishonor of disputing his veracity which is spoken of by St. John: “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. He that believeth not God, hath made him a liar, because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.” (1 John 1:10; 5:10.) But the “record” spoken of is the doctrine that man is a lost sinner—so utterly lost that no one but the eternal Son of God can save him; and even He can do this only by pouring out his atoning life-blood. Now can any man desire and purpose to glorify God, while disputing Divine Revelation and denying the apostasy and sin of mankind, respecting which God has left such a clear record in his Word, and which constitutes the only rational ground for the death of the Lord Jesus Christ?
No, it is the confession and not the denial of human depravity that glorifies God. Two men went up into the temple to pray, one of whom acknowledged the guilt and corruption of man, and the other denied it; and we are informed by the highest authority that the prayer of the former was well-pleasing to the Most High, and that of the latter was an abomination to Him. The men who glorify God are possessed of the publican’s spirit. They do not adopt the pharisee’s theory of human nature. They cry, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” And the declaration concerning them from the lips of the Eternal is: “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.” (Is. 66:2.)
In settling the question, therefore, respecting the unwelcome doctrine of human depravity and its endless punishment, a pure motive will pour a flood of light. If this one thing alone could but be introduced into the heart of the doubter himself, we have small fear that the most humbling, and in some respects the most difficult, truth in the Christian system, would be accepted. If the mind of the skeptic, or of the groping and really perplexed inquirer, could but be filled with an absorbing concern for the Divine honor; if every such one could but be brought to sympathize with St. Paul when he cried: “Let God be true, and every man a liar;” we would leave it with him to say which is the absolute and indisputable truth—the doctrine of human virtue, or the doctrine of human sin.
Employ, then, this test and criterion of religious doctrine.
Ask yourself the question, in reference to any and every tenet that challenges your attention, or solicits your credence, “Does its adoption glorify God?” The arguments for the Christian system—and by the Christian system we mean evangelical Christianity—are strong, and grow stronger as the ages wear away. But there is one argument too often overlooked, or underestimated. It is the fact that this system exalts God, and properly abases man. We find an evidence of its divinity in this very thing. All the natural religions, all the wild religions of the globe, reverse this. They exalt the creature, and abase, yea debase, the Creator. Like the old Ptolemaic astronomy, like their own absurd theories of the material world, they place the little world of man at the centre of the boundless universe. Christianity, like the Copernican system, restores everything to its right relations, and arranges everything about its real and true centre. God is first, last, and midst. Of him, through him, and to him, are all things. The first question, therefore, to be asked concerning every doctrine, and every system, is the question: “Does it promote the Divine glory?” The great and first maxim for human action, and human speculation, is the maxim: “Whether, therefore, ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”
This then is the eye with which we are to pierce through all the doubts and darkness of earth and time. This pure motive is the light of the soul. How simple, and how beautiful it is—simple as the light of heaven; beautiful as the crystalline eye itself. Only carry with you this desire and longing to exalt the great and wise Creator, and you cannot go astray. You cannot go astray in the actions of your daily life. You cannot go astray in the thoughts and opinions of your own mind. The very motive will envelop you, always and everywhere, like an atmosphere. Your whole soul “shall be full of light, having no part dark; as full of light as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light.”
William G. T. Shedd, Sermons to the Spiritual Man, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1884), 181–193.