"Men as men
The Rest-Day -- The Light of Life -- Shining, because Burning -- "Let your Light Shine" -- A Light in the Darkness
Our Master, Christ, was on his trial. He was challenged by the religious leaders of the people because He had dared to heal a man and to command him to carry his bed -- his straw pallet -- on the Sabbath day. He was therefore accused, and, so to speak, put in his defence.
Of course we must not for a moment think that our Lord was lax in his observance of the Sabbath, but simply that He desired to emancipate the day from the intolerable burdens and restrictions with which the Jewish leaders had surrounded it. It was his desire to show, for all after time, that the Sabbath was made for useful purposes, and specially for deeds of mercy, beneficence, and gentle kindness. The Lord Jesus was maligned and persecuted because He was the Emancipator of the Sabbath day from foolish and mistaken notions of sanctity.
It is of the greatest importance that we should do what we may to conserve one rest-day in seven to our country and our world; and I cannot help noticing in the story of the life of the great statesman and Christian, who recently passed from us, how careful he was to guard the day from unnecessary intrusion. It has been attested by those who knew him well, that physically, intellectually, and spiritually, the Lord's day to him was a priceless blessing. Let your rest on the one rest-day consist, not in lolling idly and carelessly, but in turning your faculties in some other direction; because the truest rest is to be found, not in luxurious ease, but in using the fresh vigour of your life in other compartments of the brain than those which have been worn by the demands of the six days. Then, fresh from the Sunday-school class, the worship of the church, and the sermon, you will return to the desk or office, or whatever may be your toil, with new and rejuvenated strength.
There is a great distinction between shining and burning: shining is the light-giving, the illuminating, that comes forth from the enkindled wick; but it cannot shine unless it burns. The candle that gives light wastes inch by inch as it gives it. The very wick of your lamp, that conducts the oil to the flame, chars, and you have to cut it off bit by bit until the longest coil is at length exhausted. We must never forget that, if we would shine, we must burn. Too many of us want to shine, but are not prepared to pay the cost that must be faced by every true man that wants to illuminate his time. We must burn down until there is but an eighth of an inch left in the candlestick, till the light flickers a little and drops, makes one more eager effort, and then ceases to shine -- "a burning and shining light."
Obviously, then, we have first the comparison between John and the candle, or lamp; then we have the necessary expenditure, burning to shine; and, thirdly, we have the misuse that people may make of their opportunities.
I. THE LORD'S COMPARISON. -- "John was a burning and shining lamp." In the original a great contrast is suggested between lamp, as it is given in the Revised Version, and light. The Old Version put it thus: "He was a burning and shining light"; but the Revised Version puts it thus: "He was a burning and shining lamp"; and there is a considerable difference between the two. In the first chapter of the Gospel, the apostle John tells us, speaking of the Baptist, that he was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light, that all men through him [John] might believe. "That was the True Light, which lighteth every man coming into the world."
Jesus Christ is the Light of the World; and I believe that in every age He has been waiting to illumine the hearts and spirits of men, reminding us of the expression in the Book of Proverbs -- and it is wonderfully significant -- "The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord."
Here is a candle, yonder is the wick; but it gives no light. The air may be full of luminousness, but as yet it has found no point on which to kindle and from which to irradiate. But, see, of a sudden the light gathers to the candle-wick, which had stood helpless and useless, touches it, and it begins to shine with a light not its own. It is borrowed light, caught from some burning cone of flame.
Men are born into the world like so many unlighted candles. They may stand in chaste candlesticks, all of gold or silver, of common tin or porcelain. But all are by nature unlit. On the other hand, Jesus Christ, the Light of men, waits with yearning desire, and, as each successive generation passes across the stage of human life, He is prepared to illumine the spirits which are intended to be the candles of the Lord. In these ages He illumines us with the Gospel; but I believe that all moral intuitions, all instincts of immortality, all cravings after God, all gropings in the dark for the true Light, all helpful moral revolutions which have swept over mankind, have been the result of his influence, who, as the true Light, lighteth every man coming into the world. Whenever and wherever a man has flamed up with unusual fervour and spiritual power, with a desire to help his fellows, and has shone like a torch, we must believe that he was illumined by the Son of God, the Wisdom of the Book of Proverbs, whom he may not have known, but whom he would recognise as soon as he crossed the portal of the New Jerusalem. He lighteth every man; He is willing to illumine every man that comes into the world.
This conception casts a considerable light on some of the enigmas of human experience. We have known illiterate, uncultured men, without many gifts of style or grace of speech, yet they have shone to such an extent that every one in their neighbourhood has been lit by the radiance that has streamed from them. On the other hand, we have met men who have passed through a college course and been carefully trained for their life-work; important pulpits and opportunities of great usefulness have been opened to them; but their lives have been a disappointment. Why? Ah, the answer is easy. The former class were as candles, made of ordinary wax, and placed in inconspicuous candle-sticks, which had been ignited by the fire of God through the Holy Spirit; and the latter were like exquisitely prepared candlesticks, the candles in which had never been kindled by the fire of God. There are hundreds of professing Christians, and some may read these pages, who have never really been kindled; who have never been touched by the Son of God; who do not know what it is to shine with his light and to burn with his fire.
What is the process of lighting? The wick of the candle is simply brought into contact with the flame, and the flame leaps to it, kindles on it, without parting with any of its vigour or heat, and continues to burn, drawing to itself the nourishment which the candle supplies. So let Jesus Christ touch you. Believe in the Light, that you may become a child of the Light. Take off the extinguisher; cast away your prejudice; put off those misconceptions; have done with those unworthy habits; putting them all aside, let Jesus kindle you. "Arise, shine; for thy light is come." "Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light."
We were kindled that we might kindle others. I would like, if I might have my choice, to burn steadily down, with no guttering waste, and as I do so to communicate God's fire to as many unlit candles as possible; and to burn on steadily until the socket comes in view, then to light, in the last flicker, twenty, thirty, or a hundred candles at once; so that as one expires they may begin burning and spreading light which shall shine till Jesus comes. Get light from Christ, then share it; and remember that it is the glory of fire that one little candle may go on lighting hundreds of candles -- one insignificant taper may light all the lamps of a cathedral church, and yet not be robbed of its own little glow of flame. Andrew was lit by Christ Himself, and passed on the flame to Simon Peter, and he to three thousand more on the Day of Pentecost. Every Christian soul illumined by the grace of God thus becomes, as John the Baptist was, a lamp. But there is always the same impassable chasm between these and the Lord. They are derived; He is original. They need to be sustained and fed; He is the fountain of Light: because, as the Father hath life in Himself, He hath given to Him also to have life in Himself, and his life is the light of men.
II. THE INEVITABLE EXPENDITURE. -- "He was a burning and shining lamp." If you would shine, you must burn. The ambition to shine is universal; but all are not prepared to pay the price by which alone they can acquire the right to give the true light of life. There are plenty of students who would win all the prizes, and wear all the honours, apart from days and nights of toil; but they find it a vain ambition. Before a man can become Senior Wrangler he must have burnt, not only the midnight oil, but some of the very fibre of his soul. Conspicuous positions in the literary and scientific world are less the reward of genius than of laborious, soul-consuming toil. The great chemist will work sixteen hours out of twenty-four. The illustrious author acquires, by profound research, the materials which he weaves into his brilliant page. Such men shine because they burn.
But this is pre-eminently the principle in the service of Christ. It was so with the Lord Himself. He shone, and his beams have illumined myriads of darkened souls, and shall yet bring dawn throughout the world; but, ah, how He burned! The disciples remembered that it was written of Him: "The zeal of thy house hath eaten Me up." He suffered, that He might serve. He would not save Himself, because He was bent on saving others. He ascended to the throne because He spared not Himself from the cruel tree. Pilate marvelled that his death came so soon, and sent for the centurion to be certified that in so few hours He had succumbed. But he did not realize that in three short years He had expended his vital strength so utterly, that there was no reserve to fall back upon. There had been an inward consumption, an exhaustion of nervous power, a wearing down of the springs of vitality. He shone because of the fire that burned within Him.
It was so with the great apostle, who said that he filled up that which was lacking in the afflictions of Christ, not of course that there was any lack in the work of propitiation which required his further help, but that the saints are called to share with their Lord his sorrows for men, his tears, to lift the burdens and crosses of others, to give of their very life-blood for the replenishing of the exhausted fountains of human faith, and hope, and love. Paul gave freely of his best. He shone because he never hesitated to burn. Remember how he affirmed that he was pressed down, perplexed, pursued, and always bore about in his body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus might be manifested in his mortal flesh. The price paid for the life that wrought in the hearts of his converts was that death should work in himself.
All the saints have passed through similar experiences. They knew, as Cranmer said, that they could never hope to kindle a fire that should never be put out, unless they were prepared to stand steadily at the stake and give their bodies to be burned. But they counted not their lives dear unto them, if they might but finish their course with joy, and the ministry which they had received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God. The men and women who shine as beacon-lights across the centuries are those whose tears were their meat day and night, whose prayers rose with strong cryings and tears; while, as with Palissy, the Huguenot potter, the very furniture of the house was brought out to feed the flame in which the precious glaze was being precipitated.
If the Christian worker longs to benefit the poor slum district in which he is located, he must be prepared to live amongst the people and expend himself. Presently, in his hollow cheeks, his sallow complexion, his attenuated form, his diminishing strength, you will see that he is paying the price for his 100-candle illuminating power, because he is being consumed. Every successful worker for God must learn that lesson. You must be prepared to suffer; you can only help men when you die for them. If you desire to save others you cannot save yourself; you must be prepared to fall into the ground and die, if you would not abide alone: there must be with you, as with Paul, the decaying of the outward man, that the inward man may be renewed day by day. You must be prepared to say with him, "Death worketh in us, but life in you."
If you burn, you will shine. The burning and the shining do not always go together; often the burning goes on a long time without much illumination resulting from the expenditure. Those who are rich in gifts and natural endowments cast in much, and the poor cast in all their living; this they continue to do, year after year, and none seems to heed the awful cost at which their testimony is given. Moreover, to use a well-known phrase, the game hardly seems worth the candle. The area they influence is so limited, the souls affected so few, the glimmer of their light, like a street-lamp in a fog, hardly reaches across the street or to the ground. Sometimes it appears only to make the darkness denser and thicker. In many cases, the saints of God have burnt down to the last film of vital energy and expired, and there has been no shining that the world has taken cognisance of. Their bitter complaint has been, "I have laboured in vain; I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain." But even these shall shine. They shall shine as the stars for ever and ever in that world where all holy and faithful souls obtain their due.
Let us see to the burning; God will see to the shining. It is ours to feed the sacred heaven-enkindled flame with the daily fuel of the Word of God and holy service; and God will see to it that no ray of power or love is wasted. He will place reflectors around us, to catch up and repeat the influences that proceed from us. "The Lord was with Samuel, and did let none of his words fall to the ground." It is ours to keep in company with the risen Lord, listening to Him as He opens to us the Scriptures, until our hearts burn within us; then, as we hasten to tell what we have seen, tasted, and handled of the Word of Life, there will be a glow on our faces, whether we know it or not; and men shall say of us: "They have been with Jesus." If we think only of the shining, we shall probably miss both it and the burning. But if we devote ourselves to the burning, even though it involve the hidden work of the mine, the stoke-hole, and the furnace-room, there will be the raying forth of a light that cannot be hid. Where there is the burning heat, there must be the soft, gleaming light. Let there be but summer, and the flowers cover the land.
For the burning and the shining, God will provide the fuel. The fire which burnt in the bush needed no fuel; "the bush was not consumed." With us there is perpetual need for the nourishment of the fire of love and the light of life by the administration of appropriate fuel. The oil must be supplied to the lamp. The fire cannot be kept burning on the altar apart from the incessant care and attention of the priests. But be of good cheer; He who hath begun a good work in you will perfect it unto the day of Jesus Christ. All grace will be made to abound towards you, that you may have all sufficiency for all things, and abound to every good work. The Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly. God will supply all your need, according to his riches in glory, by Christ Jesus. It is especially helpful to ponder the full import of the phrase -- "the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ." It is as though we had access to one of those oil-wells of the west, which seem practically inexhaustible.
It is a wonderful thing how often God puts his lighted candles in the cellar. We would have supposed that He would have placed a man like John on a pedestal or a throne, that his influence might reach as far as possible. Instead of that He allowed him to spend the precious months of his brief life in prison. And the lamp flickered somewhat in the pestilential damp. It may be that this is your place also. In the silence of a sick chamber, in the obscurity of some country parish, amid obloquy and hatred, you are doomed to spend your slowly-moving years. It seems such a waste. Loneliness and depression are hard to endure; but the consciousness of accomplishing so little, though at such cost, is very painful. This is your cellar-life, your dungeon experience. Remember that Joseph and Rutherford, John Bunyan and Madame Guyon, have been there before you. Probably, because the cellar is so very dark, God wants to station a candle there, and has placed you there because you can accomplish a work for Him, and for others, of priceless importance. Where is the light needed so much as on a dark landing or a sunken reef? Go on shining, and you will find some day that God will make that cellar a pedestal out of which your light shall stream over the world; for it was out of his prison cell that John illuminated the age in which his lot was cast, quite as much as from his rock-pulpit beside the Jordan. "I would have you know, brethren," said the apostle, "that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the progress of the Gospel, so that my bonds became manifest in Christ throughout the Praetorian guard" (Phil. i.12, 13, R.V.).
III. CHRIST'S WARNING AGAINST THE MISUSE OF OPPORTUNITIES. -- "Ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light." The Greek word rendered rejoice has in it the idea of moths playing around a candle, or of children dancing around a torch-light, as it burns lower and lower. It is as though a light were given to men for an hour, for them to use for some high and sacred purpose, but they employ it for dancing and card-playing, instead of girding up their loins to serious tasks. "You were willing," says the Master, in effect, "to rejoice, to dance and sing, in his light. You treated his ministry as a pastime. As long as he spoke to you about the coming Kingdom, you listened and were glad; but when he began to call you to repentance and warn you of wrath to come, you left him." He is now like an almost extinguished lamp. His hour is all but done. The brief space he was sent to occupy has been fulfilled. "Behold, the night cometh, when no man can work."
The ministry of the Gospel is but for "an hour." The story of man may be compared to a brief day (1 Cor. iv.3, marg., R.V.); and in that day the proclamation of the good news from God occupies but a very limited space. The hour-glass was turned when Jesus ascended, and it is more than likely that the last grains are running through; then the cry of the herald shall be hushed, and the servants' voices will be no more heard in the streets inviting to the marriage supper, and there shall be none to break or distribute the bread of life.
With what eager care men should prize these fleeting opportunities, not listening to the preacher's voice, as of one that can make a pleasant sound from the harp or organ -- not seeking merely the delight of the ear or intellect; but taking heed to hear for eternity, receiving in meek and retentive hearts the precious grain as it falls from the sower's hand, and giving diligence that the best possible results may accrue.
Oh, children of the sunny market-place, playing giddily throughout the long afternoon, take heed lest your opportunities of preparing for the serious work of life slip away unimproved, and you find yourselves face to face with death and judgment without a screen, without hope, and without God. John murdered in prison; Jesus nailed to the cross; the apostles and martyrs done to death on the scaffold and at the stake -- and the ship drifting on the rocks, without a warning voice to arouse the thoughtless crowd of dice-throwers and dancers to the certainty and nearness of their doom!