CHAPTER V THE LIGHT OF THE AGES TO COME
IN receiving the Father’s testimony respecting Him who is the “light of the world,” we became “children of the light and of the day.” That reception on our part of the record of free love altered at once our position and our prospects—our connexion with the world, and our relationship to the world to come. We were “made partakers of CHRIST” (Heb. 3:14), that is, fellow-sharers or joint proprietors with him in all that he is and has. His light became our light; nay, he himself became our light,—absorbing all our darkness, and making over to us the fulness of his infinite radiance.
Our reception of that testimony was our casting in our lot with Israel, in whose dwellings there is light (Ex. 10:23); it was our choice of Goshen, the region of light,—and our rejection of Egypt, the kingdom of “the darkness that may be felt.”
We then passed out of the kingdom of darkness, breaking the bond between us and the ruler of the darkness of this world. We were “called out of darkness” into “marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9); or as Isaiah calls it, “great light” (9:2): and we did find it to be “great” and “marvelous,” something to be wondered at, something fitted to excite our amazement as well as our joy. It was full of wonders in itself, like the natural sun’s own sevenfold ray; and it shewed us vast wonders on every side, far and near—wonders which eye had not seen nor ear heard; giving us glimpses, through the rents in the cloudy masses overhanging us, of far greater wonders yet to be let down upon us in the ages to come.
Restoring their lost transparency to the faculties of the soul, the Holy Spirit fits them for receiving the light, and then he pours it in. Each region and recess of the renewed spirit becomes pervaded with the light—a light which carries not merely gladness but healing in its wings (Mal. 4:2). “The eyes of our understanding are enlightened” (not merely opened); and by this enlightenment, we are made to know that hope to which God is thus calling us, and the “riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints” (Eph. 1:18); as if one of the great objects which God had in view in enlightening our eyes, was to shew us what a “hope” there is in reserve for us, and what an inheritance of glory he has provided. One of the first uses which we make of our newly opened and enlightened eyes is, to gaze upon the glory of which we have, so undeservedly, become the heirs.
But there is yet more than this. The rays thus let in to our souls by the Holy Spirit’s almighty touch, kindled a sun within us; for it is written, “God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, shined in our hearts, to give us (or others) the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).* In these words the idea is not so much that of a light shining on us, or into us, as of a sun kindled within us, and giving forth to others the light of the knowledge of his glory; so that we are made, in a measure, what Christ himself is—the “light of the world” (Matt. 5:14). God has lighted us up as so many stars and suns, which, maintaining their several orbits and courses, are to light up the universe forever with the glory of the Only-begotten of the Father, “the Christ of God.” Once “we were darkness, but now we are LIGHT in the Lord” (Eph. 5:8), as if we were now as wholly made up of light, as before we were composed of darkness.
This light changes not. “It shines more and more unto the perfect day” (Prov. 4:18). It does not go out like the lamps of the foolish virgins; nor can it be blown out by the gusts of a stormy world. “The light of the righteous rejoiceth,” says Solomon, “but the lamp of the wicked shall be put out” (Prov. 13:9). This light “rejoiceth;” it exults; and it does so in the certainty of its continuance, in the confidence that it will not be “put out.”* Once lighted up, we cannot be extinguished. We shine forever, dwelling in light, and diffusing light around.
“Light is sown for the righteous” (Ps. 97:11). It is deposited in the ground as seed, and after remaining for a season hidden, it springs up and blossoms all the more excellently because of this sowing process to which it has been subjected. The present dispensation is the seed-time. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.” The seed is still under ground, or at most but in the bud or blade; yet still it is excellent and precious. And if its imperfect condition be so goodly, what will not its perfection be in the approaching harvest! If the bud be so fair, What will not the unfolded blossom be in the new earth, and under the new heavens! The sowing time is one of weeping, but the reaping time shall be joyous. It is still night above us. Clouds rest upon us. Grief, conflict, failing of heart, compass us about. But sunshine is coming up. Light has been sown for us—the light of Him who is light itself, and in whom is no darkness at all.
We are partakers of “the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col. 1:12), and such being our inheritance, we are “made meet for it.” We are made like it. The possessors and the possession must resemble each other. The sunshine of the kingdom would not suit a child of darkness; nor could a child of light be satisfied with anything short of entire resemblance to an “inheritance in light.” Of this inheritance we receive the earnest now, in that measure of light that is shed into us, or made to burn within us, when we become one with Him of whom it is said, “in him was life, and the life was the LIGHT of men” (John 1:4).
Still this is only the earnest—no more. It assures us of what is yet to come, and makes us feel how bright and how abiding it will be when it comes. But it is only in a very poor and feeble way that it can make us to “know that which passeth knowledge,” or reveal to us the fulness of a glory proceeding from no earthly sun. For, like the twilight sky of morning, we draw all our brightness from a sun which has not yet risen; and this reflected lustre, though it is the earnest of day’s coming splendour, yet gives but a faint idea of what heaven and earth shall be when lighted up by the risen sun itself.
Of this coming light, for which we are waiting amid shadows and conflicts, much is spoken.
Our eye is pointed forward to it, as a hope most fitted to cheer us in the hour of grief, and terror, and faintness.
1. It is called “the light of the Lord” (Is. 2:5).
t is Jehovah’s own light, not only as flowing from him and kindled by him, but specially in the way of contrast to man’s light—“that light of its own fire, those sparks of its own kindling,” in which the world has so long been walking (Is. 50:11). In that light of Jehovah we shall walk ere long, when the world’s fires and meteors have all gone out, and nothing remains but the light which is unchanging and divine. And how blessed to be done with man and man’s light—man’s wisdom, man’s systems, man’s devices—which, at the best, are all but clouded moonshine, and to go forth into a new region where Jehovah himself, in the fulness of his light, and love, and glory, is all in all! With mistakes, and misleadings, and uncertainties, and doubtings, and stumblings, as truly as with sorrows, we shall then have done. The “light of Jehovah” will make these impossible. The day has not yet broken, of which we can say, “If any man walk in the day he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world” (John 11:9). For men everywhere are “walking in the night, and stumbling because there is no light in them.” But that long day is at hand, when that which is written shall be fully verified regarding him who “abideth in the light”—that there is “none occasion of stumbling in him” (1 John 2:10). We cannot indeed, even now, excuse our stumblings, or sins, or unbelief, by pleading the want of light; there is enough of light to prevent these, else the Son of God has come in vain: but when the full light has come, then all these will become as impossible as they have always been inexcusable.
It will, too, be all reality. Other lights have gone out, or misled us, or proved but a wild flash that came and went, we knew not whence or whither; but this light of Jehovah is as real as it is undeceiving. We shall not feel, when enjoying it and looking round upon the glories which it shall light up to us, as if we were dreaming. When casting our eye around, we shall be able to say with a deeper meaning than one overcome with joy is represented as doing:—
“This is the air; that is the glorious sun;
This pearl he gave me; I do feel and see it;
And though ‘tis wonder that enwraps me thus,
Yet ‘tis not madness.”
How true, how real, how excellent, how unchanging must that be which is called “Jehovah’s light!” How much more than a recompence for the darkness of the darkest life on earth, to have that light, to walk in that light; nay, “in that light to see light!” (Ps. 36:9.)
2. It is called “the light of the living” (Ps. 56:13);
And not merely because it is the light coming from Him who is our life; not merely because it is light-giving life, or as the Lord calls it, “The light of life” (John 8:12); but because it is truly the light of men alive from the dead.
And, without entirely restricting it to one aspect, we may say that the expression, “light of the living,” mainly refers to the resurrection. For the argument, in that verse of the Psalm referred to, is manifestly this—“Thou hast delivered my soul from death.” David speaks as one who has risen with Christ, and who knows that he has done so—“he that believeth on me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” But then he speaks also as one still treading a rugged path, and liable to stumble; therefore, looking back to past love, he adds, “Wilt thou not deliver my feet from falling?” for he feels assured that He who has done the one, will do the other. And then he anticipates the glorious result of this deliverance and keeping—“that I may walk before God in the light of THE LIVING.” It is to resurrection-light that he looks forward. He prays to be “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:5); and he appeals to the love and faithfulness of that God who had already done so much for him. He who quickened me from my death in trespasses and sins, will not let go his hold of me during all this dark and rugged way; nor will he fail to bring me into the light and glory of the resurrection of the just.
That which we thus look forward to, is “resurrection-light,” the “light of the living.” Surely that light must be “perfect light,” just as the love in which these risen ones shall walk, will be “perfect love;” and as that perfect love shall cast out all fear, so shall that perfect light dispel all darkness. Now we love but in part, and know but in part, and see but in part; but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. Now, in these unrisen bodies, and with these dim eyes, we see in a glass darkly,—but then, face to face; now we know in part, but then shall we know even as also we are known” (1 Cor. 13:9–12).*
3. It is said to be needful to the fellowship of the saints.
“If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another” (1 John 1:7). Darkness, in the sense of sin at least, separates and divides. In proportion as we get quit of the darkness and become transfused with light, we are drawn towards each other, and the members of the family of light become more thoroughly one. It is the great assimilating, and, therefore, the true cementing agency. We find it to be so, even here; how much more hereafter! Our “walking in the light” promotes holy fellowship even in the midst of estrangement and forgetfulness here; how much more will it do so in the land where there is no estrangement and no forgetfulness! It will then be as if the whole innumerable company of the children of light were so penetrated with that light, as to be consolidated into one mass of living splendour; one with each other, indissolubly, and one with the eternal Son of God, so that anything short of the closest fellowship and brotherhood becomes impossible.
4. It is holy light.
The contrast given us by an apostle (1 John 1:7, 8), between darkness and light, in connexion with sin and holiness, shows us that light is used as God’s symbol of holiness. What symbol could be meeter? Light is, in truth, the freshest and the purest of all created things. We cannot soil or stain a sun-beam. It takes on no defilement of earth. Nay more, it transforms other objects into its own purity. The dingy web whitens in the sun, growing pure by being purely shone upon. So is it with the light which awaits us in the kingdom. It is not only holy in itself, but purifying in its efficacy; so that, in dwelling amid its glories, we shall be more thoroughly assimilated to its divine purity. Our present time of darkness does, no doubt, in many ways tend to our purifying, so that the hour of deepest darkness is not seldom the season of truest progress in holiness; but still the light of the world to come will be found to be as needful to the perfecting and perpetuating of that holiness, as was the darkness of this present evil world to its development and ripeness here.
5. It is the light of gladness.
May we not say that light is the most joyous thing in nature? Not only is there the very soul of joy in its fresh, kindly flush, but it is God’s agent for diffusing throughout the earth, each day, a larger and more unbroken flow of gladness, than all the other elements together. Oh, what does earth owe to sunshine! What gloom can it not scatter, whether of the deep forest-shade, or the deeper recesses of a wounded spirit! “Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun” (Eccles. 11:7). Thus God, after telling Israel of the unsetting sun which he would make to rise upon her in the latter day, adds this as its result,—“The days of thy mourning shall be ended” (Is. 60:20); and when he makes mention of one of their past deliverances, he sums up with this,—“The Jews had light, and gladness, and joy, and honour” (Esth. 8:16). In the coming day of light, when all shadows shall take flight, what joy unspeakable shall there be among the inhabitants of that land in which light has taken up its dwelling forever! If the natural sun-beam be so very joyous, both in itself and in its influences, what must be the light from the “Father of lights” himself (James 1:17),—from the countenance of him who is “light, and in whom is no darkness at all!” (1 John 1:5.) It must be as truly the light of joy as it is the light of holiness and love.
6. It is light altogether peculiar in its brilliance.
Of the New Jerusalem we read,—“Her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal” (Rev. 21:11). What the peculiarity of this gem-like brilliance may be, we know not; but a figure such as the above evidently implies that it is light wondrously softened, even when it is intensified. All glare and hurtful keenness here disappear. It is mild and mellow, having taken on the jasper glow, the flesh-like tinge of humanity, yet retaining its crystalline transparency of lustre. It has become the fairest thing in creation, neither too wan nor too sparkling, but perfect in its structure. This same peculiar hue ascribed to the light of the City, is elsewhere noted as belonging to Christ himself,—“He that sat (upon the throne) was, to look upon, like a jasper and a sardine stone” (Rev. 4:3). The light, then, which awaits us, is that very glory which pertains so specially to the God-man—the “Word made flesh.” It is not the direct glory of Godhead, but that mingled and marvelous effulgence, in part human and in part divine—in part created and in part uncreated—in part terrestrial, in part celestial—which shall, as one of the fruits of incarnation, fill the universe, pervading all things with a glory and a beauty, which, but for the assumption of manhood by the Son of God, could not have been brought into view, nor even so much as conceived of by man.
Hence, while it is said of the City, “The glory of God did lighten it,” it is added, “the Lamb is the light thereof” (Rev. 21:23). No light save this would suit us, even in the kingdom. What kind of light angels that never sinned may need, we know not; but no light, save this of the Lamb, would do for the redeemed from among men. It was this light of the Lamb, first seen by us when we believed, that was found to be so needful—so suitable for pouring health and peace into our souls. It was this light of the Lamb that, during our long night of weeping, was experienced by us as so comforting and so gladdening. It was this light of the Lamb that led us through the dark valley and shadow of death, so that we feared no evil. It is this light of the Lamb that greets us in the resurrection-morning when we awake and go up to meet our Lord in the air. It is this same light of the Lamb—the rich but mellowed sunshine of incarnate love—that shall hereafter compass us about in all its holy beauty;—a light which, though coming from the throne, reminds us of the cross—a light which, from the very turrets of the New Jerusalem, will, by its peculiar hue, carry us back irresistibly to Bethlehem, and Gethsemane, and Golgotha.
7. It is light for eternity.
Though spoken to Israel, these words of the prophet are no less true to the Church:
“The sun shall be no more thy light by day;
Neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee;
But Jehovah shall be unto thee an EVERLASTING LIGHT,
And thy God thy glory.
Thy sun shall no more go down;
Neither shall thy moon withdraw itself;
For Jehovah shall be thine EVERLASTING LIGHT,
And the days of thy mourning shall be ended.”
This is no mere general promise of “light,” as if it had been simply said, “Thou shalt have light forever, and no shadow shall ever pass over thee again.” The special point of the promise is, that this everlasting light is to be Jehovah himself. He shed light around us here, and he is to be our light forever. It is not, Jehovah shall give thee light, but Jehovah shall be thy light forever. The Lord God is our SUN (Ps. 84:11). This Sun is an unsetting one. Once risen, it shall never go down; nor shall it be clouded or eclipsed; nor shall any other sun succeed it. The same Sun that rises on us in the morning of glory shall continue in its undimmed brightness during the ages of ages. It shall be our light for eternity; and with such an everlasting light as this, what a day will that be which is preparing to arise! The reflected gleams of it that struck through our heavy night of tribulation were much; the full burst of it at the joyous dawn will be yet more; but the prolonged radiance, diffusing everywhere eternal noon, and giving to all the blessed assurance of perpetuation forever, shall be unspeakably more. What, in that day, shall we think of our three-score and ten years’ sojourn in the tents of Kedar—our “little while” of warfare and weariness below?
O heirs of the kingdom—children of the world to come—keep in mind your hope! Look through yon cloud that overshadows your dwelling. Eternal day lies there. It is no mere “silver lining” that may vanish and leave the mass as dark as before. It is the skirt of the endless day. That day—that eternity of light—is yours. It does not become you to faint or to despond. For the joy set before you, learn to endure the cross. Forget the things that are behind, reach forth to those that are before, press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Take no counsel with flesh and blood. Grudge not the toil. Complain not of the length of the way. The night is far spent, the DAY is at hand.
O men of earth—children of this present evil world—what a future lies before you! An eternal night! The blackness of darkness forever! How will you endure it? Will the carnal joys you are now living on, make up for the sorrow that is coming? Will a lifetime’s mirth make up for the endless mourning? “Give glory to the Lord your God, before he cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and while ye look for light, he turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness” (Jer. 13:16). “While ye have the light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light” (John 12:36).
Horatius Bonar, The Eternal Day, (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1854), 80–103.