Rev. Donald MacLean, Glasgow
Text: For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6.
IN this part of the Epistle, the Apostle is speaking about the ministry that he had received and was engaged in: a ministry in which he preached not himself, but, as he said, “Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.”
In connection with that preaching he mentions this solemn fact: “If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost; in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (verses 3 and 4). This was happening as he preached the gospel. There were those from whom the gospel was hid, who received no light in their hearts through the gospel, and who had been blinded by the god of this world to the end that they should not believe the gospel which was preached to them. This meant that they were lost, and would be lost throughout the endless ages of eternity if they died in their unbelief.
There were others, however, who did receive light. The Apostle goes on to speak about what does take place when the gospel is blessed to a sinner, that is, when God shines in the heart of the sinner “to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”.
These words have, as their background, the natural creation. In the natural creation God commanded the light to shine out of darkness, when darkness covered the face of the deep. God, as the Creator, said, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3), and there was light, despite the great darkness that was spread over the face of the deep. With regard to the new creation in the soul, it is necessary for God to say, “Let there be light,” because of the darkness which covers the face of the unregenerate soul, and in order that there would be light.
In endeavouring to consider the text we shall notice, as we may be enabled, first, the darkness that covers the soul of the natural man. All of us, by nature, have darkness covering the face of our souls. The soul of man is a great deep, but in its natural and sinful condition it is covered with darkness. Nothing can penetrate that darkness, or cause it to pass away, except God Himself by saying, “Let there be light.”
Secondly, we shall consider the light that is spoken of here. It is God’s light, just as the light in the first creation was God’s light. He is the author of the light that shines into the dark soul, bringing about that great and wonderful change, the new creation. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
In the third place we desire to consider the effect of the shining of that light in the heart. It is this: to give the soul “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”.
Fourthly, we shall notice what is the desire of everyone into whose heart this light has shone. They, without exception, desire to show forth the praises of the One who called them out of darkness into His marvellous light.
I. First, we shall notice that this is true of us all, as we are by nature: darkness covers the face of our souls.
This darkness is darkness with regard to the glory of God. When man was created in the image of God he had light in his understanding, and by that light he discerned the glory of God. We read in Scripture:
This darkness upon the soul of man with respect to the glory of God is a source of all the false religion in the world. When men in their darkness think of God, they have no understanding of His glory. That is why there is in the world Hinduism and Buddisim and other false religions in which there is idol worship. In these false religions there is no discerning the glory of God; and this is true also of various forms of false religion that go under the name of Christianity. Those who belong to them do not have a real concern for, or understanding of, the God’s glory. If we have the true and saving religion that is, which will endure through death, judgement and eternity, we have also an understanding, however small, of the divine glory. Our religion will be bound up with the glory of God, and God being glorified. Our religion will not be merely self-satisfying – not just something that gives pleasant feelings and a kind of emotional enjoyment, but something that is characterised by our having an eye to the glory of God. This true religion is not in the natural man: it is only in the new creation.
To be ignorant of the glory of God is to be ignorant of the attributes of God, because these are His glory. We are not to think that the glory of God is some kind of abstract thing, nor are we to have those notions about brightness and splendour that are found, for instance, in the church of Rome with its sensuous kind of religiosity. If we are ignorant of the glory of God, we are ignorant of what the attributes of God mean.
I noted recently a remark made with regard to Dr. Kennedy, Dingwall, (that remarkable man of God). It was stated that in his testimony against the modern evangelism of his day, he pointed out the necessity of being born again in order to have faith – and of course I agree with that totally. But I don’t think that that was the principal, penetrating criticism that he made of modern evangelism. What he did say was this: that in such evangelism there is no preaching of the character of God – of God’s attributes and claims. As long as men are ignorant of that, he said, they do not see the glory of God, and they can be satisfied with a light and frothy religion which is of no value, and which deceives people for eternity.
You have often heard me mention (and I hope that you will be meditating upon it) how beautifully the attributes of God are brought before us in The Shorter Catechism. “God is a spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in His being wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.” The glory of God is the sum total of all these attributes, and shines forth in them. As the glory of the light of the sun is seen shining in all the colours of the rainbow in the rain shower, so it is with regard to God’s glory: the sum total of the shining and outshining of the glory of God is bound up with, and seen in, His attributes.
Men by nature are in darkness with regard to the attributes of God, whatever ideas they may have about, for example, the love of God. They never will have true understanding of God’s glory until they are brought face to face in with the attributes of God – until they understand in some measure that God is infinite, eternal and unchangeable; that He is a transcendant being who is above and beyond angels, archangels, cherubim, and seraphim; that He is altogether blessed in Himself, and altogether worthy of the worship of men and angels. As long as gross darkness covers the face of the soul, man is completely blind to that glory, and because of that, he is completely blind to the fact that he is utterly unfit to be in the presence of God.
When Isaiah was brought face to face with the glory of God in the temple (although not for the first time), it had this effect on him: “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips and dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). This happened in the year in which King Uzziah died. King Uzziah was smitten with leprosy because he obtruded into the office of the priesthood, and therefore he died. Isaiah knew afresh in his spiritual experience, when he was brought face to face with the glory of God, that he himself was full of the leprosy of sin. He knew that he needed cleansing, and that he needed something from off the altar to cleanse him, if he was to be in the presence of God whose glory he was viewing in some measure.
Man can never view and understand the glory of God, apart from the person who is mentioned in the text: the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. “No man hath seen God at any time,” said the Saviour, “the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18). No sinner can ever come to view in this world, in any measure, the glory of God, apart from viewing it in the Son of God in our nature, the Lord Jesus Christ.
This viewing of the glory of God in Christ is with respect to the person of Christ. As to His person, He is the Son of God. He is the brightness of the Father’s glory and the express image of His person, or as Paul says of Him: “who is the image of God” (verse 4). Philip said to Christ, “Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us.” The Saviour said to him, “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14: 8, 9). He that sees the Son sees the Father because the Son is the image of the Father. The glory of God is in the Son; the glory of God shines in Him and from Him. There is an outshining or effulgence of the glory of God in the person of the Son of God.
We can never have the knowledge of the glory of God in a way that will bring us into union and communion with Him, apart from Christ. For if we go through life with darkness reigning in our souls, our view of the glory of God will be that which the lost have in the blackness of darkness forever. There, they are viewing the glory of God’s attributes; the glory of His justice and His holiness kindled in a flame of holy fire against them, world without end. How important then it is for every one of us that we should come to the knowledge of this person, Jesus Christ, in whose face the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shines.
II. I would like now, in the second place, to make some remarks with regard to the light that is spoken of here.
God is the source of this light in three ways. He is the source of this light by the power of His Spirit. This light is spiritual, that is to say, it is light that comes from the Spirit of God. When darkness covered the deep in the first creation, the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the deep. Therefore, when God said, “Let there be light”, there was light because the Holy Spirit was present, as surely as the Father and the Son, the personal Word of God, were present. Therefore, looking at the light that is in the enlightened soul, as to its source, we see that God is the author of it by the power of His Holy Spirit. This light is spiritual truth, and the author of spiritual truth is the Holy Spirit.
The second way in which God is the author of this light is that He imparts it by His Word. With regard to the creation of natural light, “God said, Let there be light: and there was light” (Gen. 1:3). God spoke. The spoken Word of God was there, the Spirit of God was there, and there was light. “And God saw the light, that it was good” (Gen. 1:4), and so it is with regard to spiritual light: God sees it to be good. If this light ever comes into your own soul you will value it above everything else in the world. God by His spirit is the author of spiritual light, and the coming of spiritual light into the soul is through the Word of God. Thus it is in connection with a sinner becoming a new creature in Christ Jesus, and thus it must ever be. Not only does the Holy Spirit move upon the face of the soul, but also the Word of God speaks to the soul – and then there is light.
God is the author of this light in a third way: He commands it. “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts.” This light is entirely and completely at God’s command, and if you would like a verse which illustrates that, hear what the Saviour says: “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). God the Holy Spirit is sovereign with regard to causing this light to shine in the dark heart. The giving of light is God’s prerogative. With regard to preaching the gospel, Paul says, “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase” (1 Cor. 3:6). It is a similar thing that he is speaking of here: that the shining of spiritual light in the soul is the result of God commanding it – it is not in the power of men.
Of course, it is the duty of ministers not only seek light on the Word of God for themselves, but also, in preaching the Word, to seek to give light to the people. That is their duty, but it is not in their power actually to give this light to any soul; it is in the power of God the Holy Spirit alone, and He does so when He is pleased to bless the Word of God. You can see how important it is that those of us who preach the Gospel should understand clearly that it is God who commands the light. We have to be dependent upon Him for doing so as we labour in preaching the glorious gospel of the blessed God. Also the hearers of the gospel have to understand that they need something more than explanations about the Word from the preacher; they need light shining in their hearts.
We said that the author of this light is the Holy Spirit and that He shines His light in the heart by the Word of God. We were singing in Psalm 119, verse 130,
makes wise who simple are.”
An example of this is the case of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. As the Saviour opened to them the Scriptures, God shone in their hearts to give more of the light of the knowledge of His glory, in the person and work of Jesus Christ. As the Saviour was opening up to them the Word of God by the gracious power of the Holy Spirit (for it was through the Holy Spirit He was doing so) there was light shining in their hearts with regard to these great and glorious truths: “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory.” The two disciples then said, “Did not our heart burn within us.” Notice that they said, “our heart“. As this light shone in their hearts, it was thus with them: “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:32). So here we have an example of Christ speaking to a soul as he opens up the Scriptures to the soul.
Some of God’s people are tried about the fact that they hear others speaking about the Word of God coming with power. Of course, Scripture does say: “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance” (1 Thess. 1:5). But when they hear this expression: “The Word came with power,” they wonder if this ever happened to them. They wonder because they are apt to think (and if you are thinking this, you can be assured that you are not the first one who has thought it) that the word “power” means that the Word of God strikes the mind and soul in a powerful way, as in the case of the Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, when Christ called to him, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 9:4). They have the impression that the Word of God coming with power means in some such striking way. If this does not happen to them they are ready to conclude, “I never knew what it meant for the Word of God to come with power.” We must be very careful about the way we speak about the Word coming with power, but the definition of it I mentioned is the proper one, that is, Christ opening up the Scriptures to you, and your getting light through the Word of God. That is the Word of God speaking to you. That is the Lord speaking to you. This power may not have a very striking effect, as it had in the case of Saul of Tarsus, but it is evidenced by the Word being opened up to the heart by the Spirit and thus giving light. When we look at the power of God in creation, it is not always evidenced in a striking way. Take, for example, the power of the tide when it is coming in silently over tidal flats: who can stay the power of the tide, that is, the power of God? No man can stop it. So when the Holy Spirit is bringing the Word of God into the soul He does so very often in a quiet way. But this is where the power is evidenced: in the opening of the Word of God so that there is spiritual light in the soul.
On the other hand, a well known case of the Word coming with power in a striking way, is that of the Phillipian jailor when he was going to take his life. Paul cried to him, “Do thyself no harm” (Acts 16:28); in other words, “Thou shalt not kill!” How these words reverberated in his conscience, when he took his sword and was ready to plunge his soul into a lost eternity. The words may seem to us to be not so striking, but what a tremendous effect they had upon him. They had far more effect upon his soul than the earthquake had upon his feelings, because he got light that he was on the brink of breaking the Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill!”
“Whatsoever doth make manifest is light”. Oh how wonderful! You need not be poring over books on theology in order to discover the nature of spiritual light. You have it all in the Bible itself, as Paul said to the believers in Ephesus, “Whatsoever doth make manifest is light” (Ephesians 5:13). It is the Word of God being opened up to the soul that makes manifest those thing about which the soul was in darkness – makes manifest a little about the glory of God, and that one is in the presence of God; makes manifest that one is guilty of sinning against God times without number. This fact is opened up to the soul: “Your sins and your iniquities have separated between you and your God” (Isaiah 59:2). Conviction of sin takes place when the sinner is made conscious of his sins by the Holy Spirit giving light through the Word of God. The sinner now sees in some measure his sins, as David did when he said, “My sin I ever see” (Psalm 51:3), and when he said, “And in that purest light of thine we clearly light shall see” (Psalm 36: 9, metrical). Pure light in the dark soul – oh, what a wonder! That first ray of pure light shines in a dark soul when the Holy Spirit applies the Word (that is just the same as opening up the Word) to the soul so that he now begins to see sin where he never saw it before. This light shines in the soul, revealing the darkness, the sinfulness, the leprosy of the soul. And when God’s people see, in the light of God’s Word, that in them (that is in their flesh) there dwelleth no good thing, they have to say, “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand” (Psalm 130:3). If we understood these words of the Psalmist properly, what light we would see in them!
III. Thirdly, we have the effect of that shining in the heart: “to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”.
By “the face of Jesus Christ” we are to understand the person and work of Christ. If you enquire in the Book of the prophet Isaiah about the face of Jesus Christ, what do you read? “His visage was so marred more than any man” (Isaiah 52:14). What a wonderful place it is in which the glory of God shines: in the visage that was more marred than that of any man. And what do we mean by that? Just this: that the glory of God shines in the broken body and shed blood of Christ: it shines in Christ as one whose body was broken and whose blood was shed for the remission of the sins of many. When a sinner sees the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, he sees that God is glorified in the eternal salvation of lost sinners. The soul, now being taught by the Spirit of God, will receive only this salvation.
Perhaps you may think, “Well I feel I’ve been taught very little. I feel I’m rude and ignorant, and in God’s sight a beast’.” But if it is true that you could not be satisfied with any salvation but that in which God’s glory was secured, then you have been taught by the Holy Ghost. In your soul you have that light which flesh and blood never gave you: light that could never be there in any other way but by the teaching of the Holy Spirit.
So the sinner, in getting light upon Christ through the Word of God and viewing Christ by faith, comes to see that God is glorified in the salvation of the lost. That is a glorious gospel! That is good news! How good to the enlightened soul is the news that in Jesus Christ the Lord there is a salvation that is altogether full and free, and which saves the soul with an everlasting salvation to the glory of God. The enlightened sinner sees a little of this: God being glorified, justice being satisfied, the law being magnified and made honourable. And he comes to see this glory too: the glory described by Paul as “the glory that excelleth” (2 Cor. 3:10), that is, the glory of the mercy and love of God to unworthy and hell-deserving sinners, revealed in the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This glory excels every other manifestation of divine glory. It is the glory of God’s merciful and gracious love shown to the lost and to the undone, so that their sins are forgiven and they are saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation; and this provision made for them by the death of Christ.
With regard to the measure of light that shines into the soul, the experiences of the people of God vary, according to the Holy Spirit’s sovereign purpose. For instance, in the case of some of the Lord’s people there is a flood of light sent into the soul so that they enjoy, at the time of their first believing in Christ, a great measure of light and spiritual warmth. (We must remember that just as the light of the sun is warm, so spiritual light by the Word is warm. “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way”). The sending of a great measure of light and spiritual warmth at the beginning is not the experience of all God’s people. We must remember that the Holy Spirit is sovereign with regard to the measure of light He gives at a particular time. So, in the case of others of the Lord’s people the Holy Spirit gives a ray of light here, and a ray of light there, a ray of light in this sermon, a ray of light in that chapter, a ray of light in the next sermon, and so on. Therefore, coming gradually to be enlightened in the knowledge of Christ, they come to a full closing in with Christ in the Gospel. This may not always be so clear to them as it is to those who received a flood of light and warmth. So there are these different cases: and because the Holy Spirit is sovereign in all His purposes, He has His own purpose with regard to the varied and different experiences.
There is one thing that we must be very, very careful about: we ought not to think that it would be preferable to have someone else’s experience. What are you doing when you think this? Well, you’re doing nothing less than dictating to the Holy Spirit how He should go about His work in your spiritual experience: and that is a very dangerous thing to do; it is enough to grieve the Holy Spirit away from you – and some know what that means. We are not to go by the experiences of others; we must go by the Word of God. The Lord is all-wise, He has His own ways of teaching sinners, and He knows exactly what is needed with regard to His people, and how they are to grow in grace.
We know of some of who were brought to the saving knowledge of Christ in a very outstanding way in their spiritual experience, and of whom we are in no doubt that they are truly born again. We have known others who were brought in more quietly, and who have many concerns and questions as to whether they are really united to Christ. In observing both parties over a period of 20, 30 or 40 years, I have seen that on the whole those who were brought more gradually to the saving knowledge of the Saviour have developed more in their spiritual life and have given the clearer evidences of their growth in grace, than those who were enlightened more suddenly. I always attributed this to the fact that those who had an outstanding experience of closing in with Christ, and of everything being made so clear to them at that time, were inclined to rest upon that, instead of resting upon Christ. Whatever remarkable experiences we have, once we begin to rest upon these instead of resting upon Christ, we lose the savour and value of them.
So we ought to be clear about this: that it is God who commands the light to shine in darkness. It is He who, in His sovereignty, teaches His people – and all of them are taught by Him. That is why the Scripture is so full of spiritual experience. Look at the Psalms: full of spiritual experiences! Why? To meet with the multitude of cases of God’s people. Spiritual life is by definition a living thing, not a mere intellectual exercise. It is not a geometry theorem with quod erat demonstrandum at the end of it. Therefore, because it is living, it has its dark and its light, its shade and its warmth, its coldness and its summers, its winters and its harvest-time, times of growth and times of no consciousness of growth, and so on. The Holy Spirit teaches the living soul that this is the great thing: to have light and truth imparted to the soul. We were singing in the Psalm, “O send thy light forth and thy truth” (Psalm 43:3). This is what we all need, and need continually.
In the last place, we remark that all, in whose hearts God has shined, desire to show forth His praise – to show forth the praises of the God of salvation.
It is the desire of every one who has been enlightened to show forth the praises of Him who called them out of darkness into His marvellous light. All who have this knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ, cannot but show forth His praises. Paul mentions that “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness”. When this light comes into the heart, a man believes unto righteousness, but that is not the end of the matter. Paul goes on to say: “and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:10). That is to say, wherever there is saving faith in the heart, and therefore the discerning of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, there will be a confession. When light shines in the heart, there follows a desire to show forth the praises of Him whose glory they have seen in some measure. This desire is the desire of not just many of them, or of nearly all of them, but of every one of them.
The Word of God makes this plain in these words: “and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation,” not merely in the secrecy of the heart but by an open profession. David himself said, “I did believe, therefore I spake” (Psalm 116:10). “I believed, and therefore have I spoken,” the Apostle quoted, and added, “we also believe, and therefore speak” (2 Cor. 4:13). The reality of the believing to the saving of the soul is bound up with the speaking, so that when the heart of man believeth unto righteousness, then with the mouth confession must be, and is, made unto salvation. It is a confession that is made to the praise of the God of salvation. “He hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God” (Psalm 40:3). It is the song that none can sing but those who were redeemed from the earth, and therefore they cannot but profess Him and acknowledge Him.
They desire also to acknowledge Him in all their ways, so that their paths may be directed by Him. That is to say, they seek to show forth His praise by their walk; by a consistent life in the world, walking worthy of Him who has called them “unto His kingdom and glory” (1 Thes. 2:12).
There is this way also of showing forth His praise: obedience to His command, “This do in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till He come” (1 Cor. 24-26). The Lord’s people, if spared and well, will be showing forth at the Lord’s table in this place tomorrow, the praises of the glorious one who is the Head of the table – the one who made Himself known to them, and who removed in measure, by the light of His Word, the darkness that was in their souls.
They also obtain light on the duty of remembering the death of Christ. It is only right that we should examine ourselves whether we be of the faith – and very often people pray that the Lord would give them a token from His word with regard to their sitting at the Lord’s table, but I do believe that in connection with this duty there is this light given: “This do in remembrance of me.” That is the light which Christ gives to His people. They have experience of some spiritual light in their souls, although they are mourning over how much darkness they feel within, and although they are praying, “Mine eyes enlighten, lest the sleep of death me overtake” (Psalm 13:3 metrical). They cannot deny that God put light in their souls, making Christ precious to them, as poor sinners on their way to eternity. In looking now for light with regard to their duty to remember His death, they have this light given to them: “This do in remembrance of me.” The light given to the soul is this command being made the command of Christ to the soul. They see that Christ requires them to remember His death, and that they are to shew forth His praises in this way. By sitting at His table and so professing Him, they say of Him whose body was broken and whose blood was shed for them, “This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem” (Song 5:16). Therefore, how willing they should be to act according to this light that is given to them: “This do in remembrance of me”. May He bless His Word.