« PreviousContinue »
cannot be hid." It is a magnificent and conspicuous object, which no human ingenuity can conceal. And the fourth object is a lighted candle-" Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but in a candlestick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house." By such figures as these-figures that are perfectly intelligible to the meanest capacity, we are here taught this grand truth,-That the professor of religion, who does not exemplify, in some way or other, according to his ability and opportunity, the character intended in this text, is destitute of the most material and scriptural evidence of his conversion to God. It is the plain doctrine of revelation, that all who are renewed by his grace are to show forth the praises of Him “who hath called them out of darkness into his marvellous light."
Let your light, therefore, so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."
In the discussion of this subject, I propose two things:
I. TO EXPLAIN THE IMPORTANT DUTIES INTENDED BY THE FIGURES IN THE TEXT; AND,
II. TO URGE THE POWERFUL CONSIDERATION TO THEIR DISCHARGE WHICH The Saviour ADDUCES.
I. I AM TO EXPLAIN THE IMPORTANT DUTIES INTENDED BY THE FIGURES OF The text.
Before, however, I proceed to the immediate discharge of this work, allow me to offer two remarks. First-How beautiful is the imagery of Scripture! And how condescending is the Almighty to stoop to our infirmities! Because we derive our knowledge through the medium of our senses, the sacred writers illustrate truth by objects around us. Thus, the influence of the Holy Spirit, so essential to the renovation of the human heart, is compared to the refreshing stream, the purifying fire,
the invigorating and necessary air. The Deity himself condescends to meet our weakness, and describes himself, in reference to his people, as a "sun and shield." Nor is it easy to find one beneficial object, either in the field of creation, or among the works of art, which has not, in some way or other, been employed to represent both the infinite worth of the Redeemer to a lost world, and the matchless benefits which Christianity bestows on the children of men. Indeed, the universe itself seems but a vast mirror, designed to reflect the principles, and show the operations, of the spiritual dominion of Christ. "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead."
My second remark refers to the affecting truth which the passage under consideration so strongly intimates, and which is likewise implied in many other parts of the word of God. "I am the light of the world," said our Lord to the Jews. He is the fountain of light, but the Christian is to reflect his beams. The necessity of this, however, entirely springs from the mournful fact of the dark and gloomy condition of man, without this heavenly blessing. Admit this truth, and the duty is clear. The boasted philosophy of the ancient school, the vaunting pride of the human intellect, the discoveries and deductions of an idolized reason, could never disperse the dark shades from the immortal mind, or remove the "covering spread over the face of all nations." To this truth the apostle bears his testimony. "Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe."+ What
ever a man knows, if he be without the light of the gospel, he knows nothing as he ought to know. He is immersed in ignorance and guilt; and the affecting description of the Ephesians, when in an unconverted state, is true in his case, without modification: "Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart."* But that which forms the worst feature in his condition is, that according to his darkness, such remain his morals. Where ignorance prevails, pollution will reign. "The dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty." There man is the sport of appetite, and the slave of lust. It is the gospel alone that can "turn him from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God." Civilization may do something towards correcting his follies, and diminishing his crimes; but little is effected, if the heart be left unsanctified. On this cardinal truth the first figure employed in the text is founded. “Ye are the light of the world." What the sun is in the one case, we are to be in the other. As that warms by his beams, so are we to comfort by our charity and compassion. As it also enlightens, so are we to instruct, both by example and precept. The wide extent of his beneficial influence is alone to mark the line of our duty. As its light falls “on the just, and on the unjust," gilding the cottage of the peasant, and the palace of the monarch, so diffusive and comprehensive ought our benevolence to be. This seems intended by the expression, "the light of the world." Our exertions are not to be limited to a few of the human family. It is probable that the Jews thought on Judea as the exclusive theatre for the display of the glory of their expected Redeemer. But the Scripture fixes no limits, either to the sphere of his triumphs, or your Christian
* Eph. iv. 18.
zeal. The rays of his heavenly light are to be emitted through all the regions and habitations of the globe.
A question may, however, arise as to the persons intended in the text: "Ye are the light of the world." Doubtless, there is a special reference to the primitive disciples, who were appointed the sacred depositories of the unspeakable blessing. In them light dwelt as water in a fountain, plentiful in its measure, and clear as crystal in its quality. They were as reservoirs, from which the celestial streams should flow, to be the life of man. To them the divine treasure was committed, in all its copious abundance. But there is to be nothing exclusive in the application of the figure. It is designed for every class of persons in the Christian church. The command is given to all the disciples of Christ, to "shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life." The benevolent end of the gospel is "to give light to them that sit in darkness, and the shadow of death;" and when once it becomes effectual in this respect, they "arise and shine, for their light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon them."* Henceforth their duty is to "walk as the children of the light and the day"—" every man in his own order." The apostles derived a primary splendour from Christ, the fountain of light, and they shone with peculiar lustre. The Christian pastor diffuses the same blessing in his own sphere, and according to his own measure. And the humblest believer, who possesses but one talent, has a portion of influence which he is to employ, and a proper circle in which his light is to shine.
The second image is that of "a city set on a hill, which cannot be hid." The intention of our Lord, in this remark, is to excite his friends to diligence in dispensing the salutary influences of their doctrine and example, because the conduct of persons professing some eminence in religion
Isaiah lx. 1.
would be like individuals in exalted stations, the object of general observation. Inasmuch as they were required to propagate a system of religion totally opposed to the carnal heart, every eye would be directed towards them, to see whether their own spirit and deportment were in accordance with that system. It was said of Christ, that "he could not be hid," and the same, in a qualified sense, may be affirmed of all his disciples. The apostles were "spectacles to angels and to men." And if believers are less gazed on at the present time, they are, nevertheless, exposed to the constant observation of the wicked; and nothing has ever proved a more formidable obstacle to the general prevalence of the Christian faith, than the failings and faults of its professors. Their principles and practice distinguish them from the bulk of mankind, and draw attention towards them. A variety of motives and reasons will induce the world to watch their steps. Some, indeed, will notice them from curiosity; but, perhaps, a larger number will watch them from hatred. Many will probably look to them for direction and advice in the hour of perplexity, and others for consolation and comfort under manifold temptations. Thus, from one cause and another, every word will be weighed, and every action examined. Ah! in what an important light does this place the responsibility of the Christian. It is impossible for him to live without being a blessing or a curse to man. One good word may sink into the hearts of multitudes, and awaken them to serious reflection. It may edify the brethren, establish the weak, encourage the timid, relieve the anxious, and convince the gainsayers of their error. On the other hand, an evil word, or a sinful action, may fasten the prejudices of men which are already too deep. may give joy to enemies, pain to friends, and become a stumbling stone to thousands in their search after the Christian religion. I would, then, most affectionately