PROVERBS 6:23.—“The law is light.”
THE fitness and beauty of this comparison of the law of God with light are seen immediately. If we consider the nature of law, we find that it is like the nature of sunlight. There is nothing so pure and clean as light, and there is nothing so pure and stainless as the divine law. We cannot conceive of a mixture of light and darkness, and neither can we conceive of a mixture of holiness and sin. The one may expel the other, but they can never so mingle with each other as to form one compound substance, or quality. Light is always a bright and shining element; the law of God is always a perfectly pure thing.
Again, there is nothing so ubiquitous as the light. It is everywhere. Our earth and all the heavenly bodies swim in it. Its universal presence is necessary, in order that there may be order and beauty in the material universe. When God would change the void and formless chaos into a world, he first created, not life, as we should have anticipated, but light, and shot it through the gloom. How penetrating an element it is, and how wonderfully does it search out all the secret places in nature, and take up its dwelling in them. It enters with a gentle yet a powerful entrance into the hard diamond, and gives it its gleam and sparkle. It tenderly feels its way into the delicate pupil of the human eye, and lights it up with a bright and radiant glow. It melts with a serene and mellowing effect into the firmament above us, and makes it a fit canopy and pavilion for the globe. Its going forth is from the end of the heaven, and its circuit unto the end of it, and there is nothing hid from the radiance thereof.
How very like this light in the material universe is the law of God in the rational. How naturally does the one suggest and symbolize the other. Hence the Psalmist, after alluding to the sun, the great bearer of light, and to his running like a strong giant through the heavens, abruptly, yet by a very natural transition, begins to speak of “the law of the Lord” as perfect; of the “statutes of the Lord” as right; of the “commandment of the Lord” as pure; of “the judgments of the Lord” as true and righteous altogether.
Again, to follow the resemblance, the moral law is the ordinance which establishes and governs the moral universe. The command, “Let there be light,” founded and sustains the material world; and the command, “Let there be supreme love of God,” founds and sustains the rational and responsible world. And as the proclamation of the physical law was requisite in order to the existence of the physical world, so was the proclamation of the spiritual law requisite in order to the existence of the spiritual world. Both commands are universal and all-pervading.
The law of God, therefore, like the light, is ubiquitous. Within the rational and responsible sphere, law is everywhere. Not, indeed, in the same degree, but in the same species. For there are different degrees of moral light, as there are different degrees of natural light. As there is the twilight of the morning, and the brightness of the noonday, and the many degrees of light between these all running into each other by insensible gradations, so there is the dim light of finite reason in the imbruted pagan, and the light of supreme reason in the infinite God shining in its strength and intolerable brightness, and the infinite number of degrees between these extremes.
Everywhere in this rational world does this legal light, in a fainter or a brighter manner, shine; for a being without a spark of moral intelligence, without a particle of conscience, is a brute. Everywhere in this responsible world, does this law, with greater or less power, manifest its presence. It may be a law written only upon the fleshy tablet of the heart, as in the instance of the heathen. It may be written on the heart, and in the revealed word of God, as the dweller in a Christian land has it. It may be written on the heart, and read again in the countenance of that God who “is light, and in whom is no darkness at all,” as spirits in eternity have it. But everywhere its presence in some degree is presupposed in a responsible world—“for where no law is, there is no transgression.”
Its presence, moreover, is a penetrating one, like that of light. It pierces where we should not expect to find it. It is witnessed in the remorse which it awakens when it has pierced through the thick and dark degradation of paganism. It is seen in the blood of the victims by which the pagan attempts to expiate the guilt of having violated law, and resisted light. It is revealed in the uneasy consciences of men living in a Christian land, which can be pacified only by the blood of Him who was “made a curse for man.” It is found in hell, and creatures dread it and feel its terrible power, because it is light divorced from life; mere law without love. It is found in heaven, and the saints enjoy it, because for them it is light, and life, and love, all in one. Wherever the omnipresent God is, there is his law.
Wherever there is a creature possessing the sense of responsibility to God, there is also a knowledge, in greater or less degree, of that commandment by which its conduct toward him should be regulated. Issuing from God, then, moral law flows out into all places of his dominion, as light radiates from the sun, and constitutes a clear, crystal element in which all accountable beings live, either as light or lightning; either as the light that rejoices them if they obey, or the lightning that blasts them if they disobey—even as the natural light is the dwelling-place of all material things; though sometimes it is the benign light of an autumnal noon, or the soft light of a summer evening, and sometimes it is that chemical incandescence which, in the old geological eras, burned up the primeval forests, of which the coal-beds are the cinders. How truly, then, “the law is light,” if we consider the purity of its nature, or the universality and penetration of its presence.
But our main object is to show the similarity between the moral law and the material light, by looking at its influences and effects in the soul, rather than by analyzing its intrinsic nature. And the subject naturally divides into two parts, when we remember that there are two classes of beings, the evil and the good, who sustain relations to this law.
We shall, in this discourse, direct attention to some effects produced by the Divine law in the Christian believer, that are like the effects of light in the world of nature.
I. In the first place, the moral law reveals like sunlight.
It makes the sin which still remains in the Christian a visible thing. The apostle Paul notices this point of similarity, when he remarks: “All things that are reproved are made manifest by the light, for whatsoever doth make manifest is light.” And our Lord implies the same resemblance, when he says: “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest that they are wrought in God.”
Believers are continually urged in the Scriptures to bring their hearts into the light of God’s law, that they may see the sin that is in them. It is as necessary, in order to know our characters, that we should scrutinize them by this illumination, as it is that the naturalist should bring the plant, or the insect, whose structure he would comprehend, into the bright daylight. And if we would thoroughly understand our intricate and hidden corruption, we must by prayer and reflection intensify the light of the moral law, that it may penetrate more deeply into the dark mass, even as the naturalist must concentrate the light of the sun through the lens, if he would thoroughly know the plant or the insect.
How wonderfully does the holy searching law of God reveal our character! In the silent hour of meditation, when we are alone with it, and carefully compare our conduct with its requirements, how unworthy and guilty do we find and feel ourselves to be, and how earnestly do we look unto Him “who is the end of the law for righteousness, unto every one that believeth.” Truly the law is “the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts.” It discloses, when its light is thus brightened by meditation, much sin which in the carelessness of daily life escapes our notice. The light, in the hour of self-examination, goes down to a lower plane, and reveals a lower and more hidden sin. It makes its way in among the motives, the propensities, the desires and affections of the heart, and brings into clear view the plague-spot itself—the evil nature and disposition.
Sin is a sallow plant of darkness, and grows best in the night, like the nightshade and other poisonous plants. Hence it avoids the light, and will not come to the light, lest it be reproved. But when we resolutely throw open the soul, and permit the light of God’s truth to shine in, then we come to know the deadly growth which has been springing up rankly and luxuriantly within us—a growth of which we had not been distinctly aware, and which is difficult to root up. Every Christian who is at all faithful to himself, and to God, has experienced these illuminating and revelatory influences of the law. It has frequently dazzled him by its pure white light, and he has felt himself to be exceedingly depraved. He has been astonished at his corruption, as the dying saint was when he sighed: “Infinite upon infinite is the wickedness of the heart.” With the Psalmist, he has cried out to God: “The entrance of thy words giveth light; I have seen an end of all perfection, thy commandment is exceeding broad.”
We cannot leave this head of the discourse without directing particular attention to the fact, that for the believer the law makes these disclosures of character in a hopeful and salutary manner. In their own nature they are terrible. The unbeliever cannot endure them, and hence he avoids them as the criminal avoids the officer of justice. But the believer, by virtue of his union with Christ, and appropriation of his vicarious atonement, has been delivered from the condemning power of the law. The “curse” of the law, Christ his Surety has borne for him. The demands of justice have been completely satisfied by the Son of God, his High Priest. This fact places him in a new and secure position in respect to the Divine law and government. His legal status, or standing, is safe. There is no condemnation to him as in Christ Jesus.
Hence, whenever he searches his heart, and compares his character and conduct with the requirements of the Divine law, and finds that he has incurred its condemnation, he does not fall into servile terror and despair, like the impenitent unbeliever. By reason of his faith in Christ’s oblation, he is prepared for these revelations. From his high evangelic position, he cries out: “Let the disclosure of character come: let me know the full depth and extent of my guilt and corruption. Christ is my atonement, and his blood cancels everything. Let the righteous law smite me; it shall be a kindness, in that it leads me to my Redeemer.” Hence this light of the Divine law is of a cleansing and illuminating, and not of a burning and blasting nature for the believer. He makes use of the law only for preceptive purposes, in order to know his moral state and condition. And he has no further use for it.
He does not expect, or look, to be justified by it. When it demands penalty for the sins that are past, as it righteously does, and he most cordially concedes the righteousness of the claim, he points it to the satisfying death of Christ. And when it demands a perfect performance of its commands, as it justly does, he looks to Christ for grace, inclination, and power, to render such an obedience. In this way, the believer stands upon a high vantage ground in reference to law. He enjoys all the beneficent and educating influences of the law, without any of those dreadful judicial and retributive impressions which are experienced by the legalist, the moralist, the unbeliever, upon whom the entire law, both as precept and penalty, weighs down as an intolerable burden, because he has not cast himself and his burden upon Christ. For the legalist has appealed to Cæsar, and to Cæsar he must go; the unbelieving, unevangelic man has referred his case to justice, and to justice it must go.
Thus is the moral law like the material light, in revealing, in bringing to light. And for the believer it is a mild and radiant light which he does not fear, and which his soul loves more and more. Like the cup of a flower, his heart opens itself to the pure ether and element, and drinks it in with eagerness and joy. And as the flower by thus turning towards the light becomes like the light itself in some degree, and acquires an airy and almost immaterial texture in the process, so does the Christian’s heart come to be a pure and holy thing like the law. The law is in his heart, and appears more and more in his actions, until at length, when that which is perfect is come, his whole nature and entire being is transmuted into a living spontaneous law of righteousness.
II. In the second place, the law, for the believer in Christ, attracts like the light.
Light in the material world universally attracts. If the smallest pencil of light, through the smallest possible aperture, fall upon the plant in a dark place, it immediately shoots towards it. And when the sun rises up and bathes the world in light, how all nature rises up to meet it. The very leaves of the trees look up, and the flowers spread out with a richer bloom, to welcome its coming. A more vigorous and spirited life circulates throughout nature, and the whole landscape seems as if it were ascending like incense to the God of light.
Just so does the moral law attract the world of holy beings. They love the law for its intrinsic excellence, and seek it with the whole heart. They cannot live without it, and would not live without it if they could. They see in it a transcript of the character of God whom they adore, and therefore they gaze at it, and study it. “O how I love thy law, it is my meditation all the day,” is the utterance of their hearts. And yet more than this. Their very natures are pure like the law; and like always attracts like. If there be in any soul even the least degree of real holiness, there is a point of attraction upon which the law of God will seize and draw.
Holiness is never an isolated thing in any creature. It came from God, and it goes back to God, and returns again increased and strengthened. Hence there is a continual tendency and drift of a holy soul towards the holy One. As the power of gravitation draws with a steady stress all things to the centre, so do truth and righteousness, inhering in the Divine nature, like a vast central force attract all pure and holy creatures towards their seat.
Have you not, in the more favored hours of your religious life, experienced what the Scripture denominates the “drawing”—the attraction—“of the Father,” when by the illumination of his Spirit he disclosed to you the excellence of his statutes and commandments, and you panted after conformity with them as the hart panteth after the water-brooks? Did not the beauty of holiness attract your ardent gaze, and prompt the prayer that it might be realized and seen in your own personal character? As angelic purity dawned more and clearer upon your vision, and you saw how desirable and blessed it is to be spotless and saintly, how glorious the law that disciplines, and regulates, and purifies, appeared to you. You wished that your soul might cast off its old garments of sin and earth, and might go up and bathe forever in the pure, limpid waters of heaven—that your heart might become a perfectly clean heart, ever gently yet powerfully drawn by the commandment toward the Sovereign. You said with the Psalmist: “Thy word is very pure, therefore thy servant loveth it. The law of the Lord is perfect; more to be desired is it than gold, yea than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honey-comb.”
This view of the Divine law as an attractive energy is an encouraging one to the believer. It affords good grounds for the perseverance of the saints. For this operation of the law of God in a renewed heart is ceaseless and constantly augmenting. As well might we suppose the power of attraction in the material world to be an intermittent one, and subject to interruption and cessation, as to suppose it in the spiritual. The great force of gravitation never becomes tired and weary in the planets and molecules of matter; and neither do the truth and Spirit of God within the believer’s soul. As the Christian is drawn nearer to God, the influence of the Divine law is greater and greater. It obtains a more complete mastery over his appetites and passions; it dwells with a more constant residence in his affections; it actuates his conduct with a more delightful and easy power.
What a cheering view of the future career of a redeemed spirit does this way of contemplating the moral law present. Forever increasing in its influence, as it is forever drawing the creature nearer its Father and God. The goal is an infinitely distant one, and yet as he is passing along this limitless line he feels an allurement at each and every one of the innumerable points, as powerful and as entirely master of his soul as if he were at the end of the infinite career.
III. In the third place, the law, for the believer in Christ, invigorates like light.
This point of resemblance between the moral law and the light of the sun is plain, though somewhat less obvious at the first glance. For although we more commonly think of the air as the invigorating element in nature, yet it is true of the light, that its presence is necessary in order that the spirits of a man may be lively and in vigorous action. That plant which grows up in the darkness is a pale and weak thing. The season of repose and inactivity is the night time. In the hours of darkness, the living powers of the body go to rest, and their instruments, the limbs, are as still and motionless as when death itself has set its seal upon them. But when the world again “covers itself with light as with a garment,” man feels its awakening and stimulating power. The living currents of his frame circulate more quickly, spring and buoyancy are imparted, and he “goeth forth unto his work and to his labor until the evening.” And not only does man feel the invigoration of light, but nature does also. Mere air is not all that is necessary in order to growth; the clear shining effulgence of heaven must be poured abroad, that there may be freshness and bloom in the natural world.
Similar to this is the effect of the moral law upon one who is resting upon Christ, both in respect to the law’s condemnation and the law’s fulfilment. For we cannot but again remind you, that the believer sustains a totally different relation to the Divine law from that which the unbeliever sustains, and it casts a very different light upon him from that which it darts and flashes into the impenitent soul. The steady, cheerful light of a summer’s day is very different from the wrathful, fitful lightning of the black thunder-cloud. The power of law to condemn, to terrify, and to slay, as we have before remarked, is departed, because Christ has received the stroke of justice upon himself. For the disciple of Christ, the law is no longer a judge, but only an instructor. The terrors of the law have lost their power, and he is relieved from that weakening, benumbing fear of judgment which utterly prevents a cheerful obedience. Fear hath torment; and no creature can love and serve God while he is in torment.
The disciple of Christ is a free and vigorous man spiritually, because his Redeemer has released him from the bondage and anxiety which the law, as a condemning judge, and an inexorable, unhelping exactor, causes in every unbeliever. Take away fear, and take away bondage, and you impart energy and courage at once. As soon as a criminal is released from the sentence of death, and his chains are knocked off, his old vigor and life return again; his frame dilates once more, his eye kindles, and his heart swells and beats again, because he is no longer under sentence of death, and no longer a bond slave.
Not only does the law impart spiritual vigor to the believer because it has ceased to be his condemning judge, and has become a wise and good schoolmaster to lead him to Christ, but it invigorates him because by virtue of his union with Christ it has become an inward and actuating principle. It is no longer a mere external statute, with which he has no sympathy, and which merely terrifies him with its threat. His heart has been so changed by grace that he now really loves the law of God.
The apostle Paul, speaking of the sinner and of the sinner’s relation to the law, affirms that for such an one “the law is the strength of sin.” In case the heart is at enmity with God’s commandment, the commandment merely provokes, elicits, and stimulates the inward depravity, but does nothing towards removing it. The commandment which was ordained to life—which, in a right state of things, was adapted to fill the human soul with peace and joy—is found to be unto death, and actually fills it with despair and woe. But for the believer, this very same law is the strength of holiness.
The Psalmist remarks of the righteous man: “The law of God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide.” When the human soul is regenerated, the Divine law is written not merely on but in the tablet of the heart. It becomes a feeling, an affection, an inclination, a disposition within it. Have you ever seen a Christian in whose active and emotional powers the law of God had come to be a second nature?
Have you ever seen one whose actions were easily and sweetly controlled by the Divine commandment, and whose central and inmost experiences were but expressions and manifestations of it? And was not that Christian a strong and vigorous one? Did he not run the race, and fight the fight, with a firm and determined bearing; calm in adversity, equable and serenely joyful in prosperity; wending his way faithful and fearless into eternity? Never is the spirit of a man in such a vigorous condition, and its energies in such a healthful and active play, as when it is impelled and actuated by law; and who but the renewed man is thus actuated? Never is man such a free and spirited creature, as when he spontaneously listens to the voice of truth and duty. As the apostle says: He is “filled with the spirit of power.” The poet Wordsworth, personifying the law of order which prevails in the natural world, and which prevails inwardly as all the laws of nature do, addresses it thus:
Flowers laugh before thee on their beds;
And fragrance in thy footing treads;
Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong;
And the most ancient heavens through thee are fresh and strong.
So is it, in a far higher sense, with the law of God in the spiritual world. Wherever it prevails inwardly as a principle, and not outwardly as a threat, there is order, vigor, beauty, and strength. Creatures who listen to it in this spontaneous style are strong in the highest of strength—in the strength of holiness, in the “confidence of reason” and righteousness.
IV. In the fourth place, the law, for the believer in Christ, rejoices like the light.
This feature of resemblance is evident at the very first glance. “Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun.” In nature, the hour of joy is the morning hour. All creatures and things are filled with gladness at the uprising of the light. It is related in ancient story that the statue of Memnon, when the first rays of the morning gilded it, began to tremble, and thrill—the hard porphyritic rock began to tremble, and thrill, and send forth music like a swept harp. Thus does nature thrill under the first touch of light, and warble forth its harmonies. And such, too, is the joy-giving influence of righteous law in the heavenly world, and such is its effect in the individual believer.
What rapture the contemplation of the Divine commands imparted to the heart of the royal harper. How his soul accompanied his harp, in singing with jubilance the praises of its Author. Hear him: “Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage forever; for they are the rejoicing of my heart. I rejoice at thy word as one that findeth great spoil.”
Joy in the law of the Lord—positive, blood-felt delight in having it rule over and in the soul—is the sure sign of a right state. Miserable is that creature of God for whom obedience to law is a task and a disgust. There are no hirelings in heaven. Service there is its own reward. The law of God is to be our companion forever, either as a joy or a sorrow, either as bliss or bale; and we must, therefore, come into such an inward and affectionate relation to it, as to make it bliss and not woe. We must rejoice in its holy presence, when with a severe and just eye it rebukes our sin, and leads us to the Cross for pardon. We must be gladdened with its benign and enrapturing presence, when with a calm peace in the conscience it rewards us for obedience.
We must find our heaven in our conformity to God. It must be our meat and drink to do the Divine will. For eternity is not lighted by the light of the sun, nor by the light of the moon; but the Lord God himself is the light thereof. The happiness of our spirits, if they are saved, will not be found in material things. It will not issue from the streets of gold, from the gates of pearl, from the jewelry and adornments of a material city. These are but emblems and faint foreshadowings. The bliss of the blest will be righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost—the consciousness of perfectly loving God, and of being beloved by Him.
The creature can have no higher joy than to dwell in God’s holy presence, a holy being forever. There is no emotion so ecstatic as that which swells the heart that can sincerely say with St. Paul: “I am Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” Truly the law will be light in that perfect world; the great sun of the system. It will send out its invigorating and gladdening rays, which will penetrate, like the tremulous undulations of the solar beam, into the inmost spirit. It will warm and quicken the whole heavenly world into life—into holy life, into pure activity, into serene enjoyment.
It follows from this unfolding of the subject, that the great act of the Christian is the act of faith; and the great work of the Christian is to cultivate and strengthen his faith. “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom he hath sent.” We have seen that the moral law, like the material light, reveals, attracts, invigorates, and rejoices, only because the soul sustains a certain special relation to it—only because it is trusting in Christ for deliverance from its condemnation, and for grace to fulfil it in future. What then should we do, but with still more energy obey the great command, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ with a more childlike and entire trust. If the holy law of God has ever cast any cheering and pleasant light upon us, it has been by virtue of this faith. If the law shall ever become all-controlling within us, it will be through this faith. Faith in the Redeemer is the alpha and omega, the first and the last, the beginning, middle, and end, in the religious experience. This alone renders the moral law an operative and actuating principle within us. By no other method can we ever fulfil the law.
We have compared the law to the sun of our system. It is a disputed opinion of some astronomers, that far beyond our sun, and all other suns, there is a point in immensity around which, as the ultimate centre of centres, these myriad suns of myriad systems all circle. That point one has asserted to be the throne of God. So, too—if it be allowable to borrow an illustration from a doubtful physics—if the Divine law, and whatever else there may be in the great immensity of truth, is ever to become an efficient force and centre of motion for the lost soul, it must all of it revolve around the final centre and power, namely, simple and hearty faith in the Son of God. Faith in Christ sets up the throne of God in the soul, and when this is done, all things come into right relation to it, and move in proper order round it. Let us then pray: “Lord, increase our weak faith.” Let us then toil—by reading and meditating upon God’s Word, and by constant supplication for the teaching of the Holy Spirit—after a bolder, firmer, and more operative faith.
William G. T. Shedd, Sermons to the Spiritual Man, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1884), 194–209.