Who is a fit messenger to declare this message? Can darkness comprehend the light, or apprehend it? Or can those that are blind form any lively notion of light, to the instruction and persuasion of others? Truly, no more can we conceive or speak of God, who is that pure light, than a blind man can discourse on colours, or a deaf man on sounds. "Who is blind as the Lord's servant?" And therefore who are more unmeet to declare this message of light? What reverence and godly fear ought this to be declared withal, when mortal man speaks of the eternal God unto mortal men? What composure of spirit should be in us? What trembling and adoration? For, at our best, we can but declare our own ignorance, and the furthest attainment in this knowledge is but a further discovery of man's darkness. We have three ways of creeping towards that glorious light of God. First, his own works are like some visible appearances of that invisible and incomprehensible God, and in these we know him, but not what he is in himself. Consider how dark and dull we are in piercing into the hidden natures of things, even below us, as beasts and plants. We behold some effects flow from them, but from what principle these do flow, that we know not. How much less can we apprehend any thing suitable of the divine Majesty, that is infinitely above us, from these wonderful and glorious works of his power and wisdom! Man is endowed with wisdom to do some excellent works of art, as planting, grafting, building, painting, weaving, and such like. But the beasts that are below us cannot apprehend from these works what the nature of man is. Now is there not a more infinite distance, a greater disproportion between us and the divine nature, so that we cannot rise up to an understanding notion of it, in itself? Nay, besides, one man will do many things which another cannot understand -- he beholds the art of it, he sees the matter, but yet he cannot pierce into the mind of the workman, and look upon that wisdom and idea of his mind. Therefore all that we can conclude from these wonderful works of God, is some silent admiration of him. If these be such, then what must he be? How infinitely distant from them, and transcendent over them? But what he is, these cannot declare, and we cannot apprehend. Then we use to climb up to the knowledge of God, by attributing to him all the perfections, excellencies, and eminences of the creatures. Whatsoever commends them we apprehend that originally and infinitely in him, and thus we spell out that name that is most simply one, in many letters and characters, according to our mean capacity, as children when they begin to learn. So we ascribe to him wisdom, goodness, power, justice, holiness, mercy, truth, &c. All which names being taken from the creatures, and so having significations suited to our imperfections, they must needs come infinitely short of him, and so our apprehensions of them. These are scattered among the creatures, therefore they cause divers conceptions in us, but all these are united in him. He is a most simple, pure being, that eminently and virtually is all things, and properly is none of all.
Another way we have of apprehending him, by way of negation, denying all the imperfections of the creatures, and removing them at an infinite distance from him. And truly, though this be an imperfection in knowledge, yet it is the greatest knowledge we can attain to, to know rather what he is not, than what he is. He is not limited to any place, nor bounded with any measures and degrees of perfection, as creatures are, therefore we call him infinite. He is not comprehended within the limits of time, but comprehends all within himself, therefore he is eternal. He is not subject to changes and alterations, therefore called immutable. He is not compounded, as a result of divers parts, therefore he is most purely simple, and one. He is not like those things we see and hear, that fall under our senses, therefore we call him a Spirit, or a spiritual Being. Now, in all these weak endeavours of man, to detain and fix his own spirit in the contemplation of God, if he cannot reach the understanding of what God is, yet certainly he will attain this great point of wisdom, -- not to be ignorant of his own ignorance. And truly, my beloved, this is the thing I would have us to learn to know, that the admiration of God in silence is the best expression of him. We would not search into these mysteries, to satisfy our curiosity, but rather compose our hearts to a continual silent wondering before him for where our understandings are confounded, and our minds overwhelmed with the infiniteness of that glory, so that we can see nothing but our ignorance of all this should certainly compose all to quiet admiration, for silence and wonder is the proper and natural posture of a soul that is at a stand, and can neither get forward for inaccessible light, nor will retire backward, for that it apprehends already.
"This then is the message, that God is light." Because we cannot conceive in our poor narrow minds what God is in himself, therefore he expresseth to us often in similitudes to the creatures, and condescends to our capacity. As he stands in manifold relations to us, so he takes the most familiar names, that may hold out to our dull senses what we may expect of him. Therefore he calls himself a Father, a King, a Husband, a Rock, a Buckler, and Strong Tower, a Mountain, and whatsoever else they may represent to our hearts, that which may strengthen them in believing. But there is no creature so directly attributed to God, as light, none used to express his very nature and being, as abstracted from these relations, but this, -- "God is light," and Christ takes it to himself -- "the light of the world, and the life of men." The truth is, it hath some excellency in it above all other visible creatures, that it may fitly carry some resemblance to him. The scripture calls light his garment, Psal. civ.2. And truly it is a more glorious robe of Majesty than all the royal and imperial robes and garments of state that either angels or men could contrive. The light is, as it were, a visible appearance of the invisible God. He hath covered his invisible nature with this glorious garment to make himself in a manner visible to man. It is true, that light is but, as it were, a shadow of that inaccessible light, umbra Dei. It is the dark shadow of God, who is himself infinitely more beautiful and glorious. But yet, as to us, it hath greater glory and majesty in it than any creature besides. It is the chief of the works of God, without which the world would be without form, and void. It is the very beauty of the creation, that which gives lustre and amiableness to all that is in it, without which the pleasantest paradise would become a wilderness, and this beautiful structure, and adorned palace of the world, a loathsome dungeon. Besides the admirable beauty of it, it hath a wonderful swift conveyance, throughout the whole world, the upper and lower, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. It is carried from the one end of heaven to the other in a moment, and who can say by what way the light is parted? Job xxxviii.24. Moreover it carries alongst with it a beautiful influence, and a refreshing heat and warmness, which is the very life and subsistence of all the creatures below. And so, as there is nothing so beautiful, so, nothing so universally and highly profitable. And to all this, add that singular property of it, that it is not capable of infection, it is of such absolute purity, that it can communicate itself to the dunghill, as well as to the garden, without receiving any mixture from it. In all the impurities it meets withal, it remains unmixed and untainted, and preserves its own nature entire. Now you may perceive, that there is nothing visible that is fitter to resemble the invisible God, than this glorious, beautiful, pure, and universally communicable creature, light.
Hereby you may have shadowed out unto you the nature of God, that he is an all knowing, intelligent Being. As light is the first and principal visible thing yea, that which gives visibility to all things, and so is in its own nature a manifestation of all things material and bodily, so God is the first object of the understanding -- primum intelligibile, et primum intelligens. Nothing so fit an emblem of knowledge as light, and truly in that respect God is the original light, a pure intellectual light that hath in himself the perfect idea and comprehension of all things. He hath anticipated in himself the knowledge of all, because all things were formed in his infinite understanding, and lay, as it were, first hid in the bowels of his infinite power. Therefore he is a globe or mass of light and knowledge, like the sun, from whom nothing is hid. Hell and destruction are not covered to him. There is no opacity, no darkness or thickness in the creation, that can terminate or bound this light, or hinder his understanding to pierce into it. Now as all things, by the irradiation of the light, become visible so the participation of this glorious Sun of righteousness, and the shining of his beams into the souls of men, makes them to partake of that heavenly intellectual nature, and reflects a wonderful beauty upon them, which is not in the rest of the world.
Besides, here is represented to us the absolute purity and perfection of God's nature, -- "God is light, and in him is no darkness." Besides the purity of the light of knowledge, there is a purity of the beauty of holiness. The glorious light of God's virtue, and power, and wisdom, is communicated to all the creatures. There is an universal extent of his influence towards the good and bad, as the sun shines on both and yet there is no spot nor stain upon his holiness or righteousness, from all his intermingling with the creatures, the worst and basest creatures. All his works are holy and righteous, even his works in unholy and unrighteous men. He draws no defilement from the basest of the creatures, nor yet from the sinfulness of it. He can be intimately present and conjoined in working, in virtue and power, in care and providence with the dirt and mire of the streets, with the beasts of the field, and yet that is no stain upon his honour or credit, as men would suppose it to be, no more than it is a dishonour to the sun to shine on the dunghill. In a word, there is no mixture of ignorance, darkness, impunity, or iniquity in him not the least shadow of change or turning not the least seed of imperfection. In regard of him, the moon is not clean, and the sun is spotted. In respect of his holiness, angels may be charged with folly.
Then add unto this to make up the resemblance fuller, the bounty and benignity of his influence upon the world, the flowings forth of his infinite goodness, that enrich the whole earth. Look as the sun is the greatest and most universal benefactor -- his influence and heat is the very renovation of the world of the world. It makes all new, and green and flourishing, it puts a youth upon the world, and so is the very spring and fountain of life to all sublunary things. How much is that true of the true light, of the substantial, of whom this sun is but a shadow? He is the life of the world, and the light of men. Every good gift, and every perfect donation descends from him, James i.17. His influence is more universal to the being, to the moving, to the living of all things. And then Jesus Christ, the Sun of righteousness, is carried about in the orb of the gospel, and in his beams there is a healing virtue. These are the refreshments of poor wearied souls, that are scorched with the anger of God. There is an admirable heat and warmness of love and affection that this glorious light carries embosomed in it, and that is it that pierces into souls, and warms hearts, and quickens dead spirits, and puts a new face upon all again. This is the spring of all the life that is truly spiritual, and it hath as sweet and comfortable effects upon the souls of men who receive the truth in love, the light in love, that is, the light with heat, as ever the sun approaching near the earth hath had upon plants and living creatures.
And to complete the resemblance more, there may be something of the infallibility and incomprehensibility of the divine Majesty here represented. For though nothing be clearer than the light yet there is nothing in its own nature darker than light that which is so manifest to the eyes, how obscure is it to the understanding! Many debates and inquiries have been about it, but yet it is not known what that is, by which we know all things. Certainly such is the divine light. It is inconceivable and inexpressible, therefore is he said to dwell in light inaccessible and full of glory, 1 Tim. vi.16. There is a twofold darkness that hinders us to see God, a darkness of ignorance in us, and a darkness of inaccessible light in him. The one is a vail upon our hearts, which blinds and darkens the souls of men, that they do not see that which is manifest of God, even in his works. O that cloud of unbelief that is spread over our souls, which hinders the glorious rays of that divine light to shine into them! This darkness Satan contributes much to, who is the prince of darkness, 2 Cor. iv.4. This makes the most part of souls like dungeons within, when the glorious light of the gospel surrounds them without. This earthliness and carnality of our hearts makes them like the earth, receive only the light in the upper and outward superfice, and not suffer it to be transmitted into our hearts to change them. But when it pleaseth him, who at the first, by a word of power, "commanded light to shine out of darkness," he can scatter that cloud of ignorance, and draw away the vail of unbelief, and can by his power and art, so transform the soul, as to remove its earthly quality, and make it transparent and pure, and then the light will shine into the heart, and get free access into the soul. But though this darkness were wholly removed, there is another darkness, that ariseth not from the want of light, but from the excessive superabundance of light -- caligo lucis nimiae,(240) that is, a divine darkness, a darkness of glory, such an infinite excess and superplus of light and glory, above all created capacities, that it dazzles and confounds all mortal or created understandings. We see some shadows of this, if we look up to the clear sun. We are able to see nothing for too much light. There is such an infinite disproportion here between the eye of our mind, and this divine light of glory, that if we curiously pry into it, it is rather confounding and astonishing, and therefore it fills the souls of saints with continual silent admiration and adoration.