Copyright 1945 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
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"I am the light of the world...." -- John 8:12
On that same feast of the tabernacles in Jerusalem, where our Savior presented Himself as the water of life, and called men to come unto Him, and drink; and where He proclaimed Himself as the Son that would set men free, so that they might be free indeed; He also presented Himself as the light of the world. "Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." John 8:12. A bold statement indeed! No wonder people were amazed at His doctrine! No wonder they gave Him testimony that His speech was different from that of the scribes and Pharisees and that He spake with authority. A very bold man may probably claim that he is able to shed some light in the darkness of this world, or that he can point out the light. But the Lord does not say that He will shed some light, that He will instruct men to enlighten them, that He will show them the way to the light, but that He is the light! He claims, not that He is a light among others, but that He is the light, the only light, so that outside of Him, and apart from Him there is nothing but darkness. And He insists, not that He is able to act as a light in some spheres or departments of life, but that He is the light of the whole world! And He promises unconditionally to them that follow Him that they shall not walk in darkness but shall have light, even the light of life! It is evident, then, that whoever would come to Jesus must approach Him and follow Him as the light of the world. The will to come to the Savior is motivated by the desire and mighty longing to come to the light!
More often the Scriptures speak of Christ as the light. In John 1:4-9 we read: "In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the light, that all men through Him might believe. He was not that light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true light, which lighteth every man coming into the world." And in John 3:19-21: "And 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." And again: "I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness." John 12:46.
In these passages various elements draw our attention. First of all, it is evident that they teach us that the world is in darkness, whatever may be the meaning of this figure. Secondly, they insist that Christ is the sole light that is able to dissipate this darkness of the world. In the third place they present men in themselves as loving darkness rather than the light, so that they will not come to Christ as the Light. Fourthly, this very fact, that light is come into the world and men refuse to come to it, is their condemnation. They are exposed and judged by the light as lovers of darkness. And, lastly they teach us that only they that are doers of the truth come to the light.
We must try to understand, therefore, what is the implication of the Scriptural figure of "light," and of its antithesis "darkness." For we understand that when the Lord announces Himself as the light of the world He uses figurative language. And a rich and beautiful figure it is, indeed. In nature, physical light, the light which God called into being on the first day of creation week, is no doubt the indispensable condition for the existence, movement and life of all the rest of the world. Light is movement, vibration, heat, fellowship, communion, revelation, is itself life. Hence, when used in a spiritual sense in Holy Writ, it has a rich significance. It denotes spiritual, ethical perfection and life. That this is true is evident from the several passages in Scripture where the figure is employed, as well as from the use of its opposite and antithesis darkness. When the apostle John writes "that God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all," he does not merely express that there is knowledge in God, and He knows Himself with an infinite perfect knowledge, so that nothing is hid from Him, but also that He is the implication of all perfections. God is infinitely good and there is no evil in Him. He is the holy One, and there is no corruption in Him at all. He is righteousness, justice, truth, wisdom, knowledge, love and life. And in the perfection of this light the triune God lives an infinitely perfect life of eternal fellowship and friendship, of the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. Light, therefore, denotes all spiritual ethical perfection goodness, holiness, righteousness, wisdom and knowledge, while darkness implies the very opposite of these, corruption and defilement, evil and iniquity, unrighteousness and the lie, sin and death. "If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." I John 1:6-7. Light is the truth, darkness is the lie; light is the love of God, darkness is enmity against Him; light is righteousness, darkness is iniquity; light is purity, holiness, consecration to God, darkness is corruption, filth, rebellion; light is wisdom, darkness is folly; light is life in the fellowship with God, darkness is death, the desolation of being forsaken of Him in wrath.
Now, when our Lord announces Himself as the light of the world it is evident that He speaks of the world of men, of the entire human race. And it is also plain that thereby He characterizes that world of men as being in darkness apart from Him. And this is corroborated by many other passages of Holy Writ. The apostle Paul writes that we were sometimes darkness, but that we are now light in the Lord, Eph. 5:8; and he speaks of the rulers of the darkness of this world, Eph. 6:12. Those that are translated into the kingdom of God's Son are delivered from the power of darkness, Col. 1:13; and they are called out of darkness into his marvelous light, I Pet. 2:9.
Surely, this is not a very flattering evaluation of the world, and of men as they are by nature. And they that proclaim this truth consistently must expect much contradiction. And superficially considered, it would appear too harsh, too radical a judgment to say that the whole world is darkness. What? Must this entire world with its imposing civilization, with its progress and invention, its science and philosophy, its culture and art, be condemned as darkness? How would you explain all the mighty works of man, if all is under the dominion of the darkness of the lie and corruption ? And is there not a good deal of righteousness and justice, of love and charity, of nobility and self-sacrifice, of truth and honor in this world? O, it may be granted that there is something wrong, and even that there is a good deal of darkness and corruption among men. But to say that men are darkness, and that apart from Christ there is no light at all --that is altogether too severe and radical a judgment upon our modern world!
Yet, such is exactly the judgment of Scripture. And unless we accept this judgment, we will never come to the Christ of the Scriptures.
Let us try to understand this truth. God created man in the light, and He endowed him with many excellent gifts. He was gifted with the light of the eye, whereby he could perceive the world about him. He was created with the light of understanding, whereby he was capable of understanding and knowing himself and the handiwork of God. And he was created with the spiritual light of the love of God, so that he could know his God rightly, be consecrated to Him with his whole being, walk before Him in righteousness, and live in the fellowship of friendship with his Creator, the ever blessed God. He had the light of life. He was created in the image of God. Serving God he walked in the light. But he plunged himself into darkness. In willful disobedience, he rejected the Word of God, and accepted and followed the lie of the devil. The result was that he became guilty, worthy of death, object of the wrath of God. Having separated himself from God's fellowship, he became darkened in his understanding, so that he loved the lie; perverse of will, rebellious and obdurate of heart, corrupt and defiled in all his desires. That is his darkness. The light of the image of God in him was extinguished, and instead his whole nature was enveloped in the darkness of ignorance and foolishness, of unrighteousness and unholiness. His love of God was perverted into enmity. And having thus become darkness he walks in darkness.
It is true, there are in man the remnants of natural light: he is still a rational moral creature. And by this light he accomplishes all the mighty works which we see the natural man in the modern world of culture and civilization perform. In this light he also knows that God is, and that He must be glorified and served. He discerns the difference between good and evil, and he understands that the law of God is good for him, and that to violate that law means destruction. Hence, he tries to adapt his life outwardly to that law and speaks of righteousness and justice, of truth and honesty. But even so he loves the darkness, and he walks in it. "Because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like unto corruptible man, and to birds, and to fourfooted beasts, and creeping things." Rom. 1:21-23. "They are all under sin. As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes." Such is man. And this is true of every man. And the truth of this becomes glaringly evident in our modern world of death and destruction, of hatred and greed, of adultery and lust. Nor is there a way out as far as man is concerned. Neither education nor reform, neither culture nor civilization, neither philosophy nor science can lead man out of the darkness. All these move themselves in the sphere of darkness and stand in the service of sin and corruption. And the inevitable end is destruction and eternal desolation.
But Christ is the light that is able to overcome and dispel this darkness. He is the light of the world, not because He is the greatest reformer, or educator, or moralist, or character builder, or scientist, or philosopher that ever was; or because He did more than any other to save our civilization; or even because He was a religious genius with a profound God-consciousness. All such modern distortions of Christ simply drag Him into our darkness. But He is from above. He is the Son of God, co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Ghost, God of God, Light of Light, come into the flesh, Immanuel, God with us. He has light in Himself. And as such He entered into our world of darkness, and penetrated even into its deepest depth. For He took our sins upon Himself, and bore in our stead the wrath of God. And with the load of our sins upon His mighty shoulders He descended into the dark abode of death and hell, and in the perfect obedience of love offered the sacrifice that obtained for us eternal righteousness. And thus He broke through the hopeless darkness of death into the light of His glorious resurrection. And as the Light of the world He ascended up on high, and received the promise of the Spirit, in order that by this Spirit He may dispel the darkness of sin and death, and cause the light of the glorious gospel of God, the light of righteousness and life, the light of hope and eternal joy to shine in our hearts. And thus it is realized what was prophesied in the days of old: "The people which sat in darkness saw a great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up." Matt. 4:16.
And when thus the Light of the world shines in our hearts, we are delivered from the power of darkness, called out of darkness into the marvelous light of God, and what the apostle writes in Eph. 5:8 is realized in us: "For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord." In principle the believer is a new creature, a child of light. The old things of sin and death, of iniquity and corruption, enmity against God and hatred of one another, have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Drawn by the light, he follows the light, and walks in it. He repents of sin, and longs after righteousness; he has a new joy in God, and finds that in the keeping of His precepts there is a great reward. He fights the good fight of faith, and represents the cause of the Son of God in this world. Always he puts off the old man and puts on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. Reflecting the light of the Son of God, he, too, is the light of the world, and he lets his light shine that men may see his good works, and glorify his Father who is in heaven. And he looks forward to the perfect day, when he shall be completely delivered from all the remnants of darkness and walk in the light of God and of the Lamb for evermore!
Whosoever will may come to Christ as the Light of the world, may follow Him, and may surely experience the truth of His Word: "He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life."
But how shall a man that is darkness come to the light? Or how shall a sinner that loves the darkness rather than the light even will to come and to follow Him? O, how impossible this is! Yet, this is exactly the distortion of the gospel that is proclaimed by many in our day. The darkness according to them, must come to the Light, in order that the darkness may be dispelled. Christ, the Light of the world, is exhibited by some preacher to men that are in darkness. And He is willing to enlighten them with the light of life, if they will only let the light shine in their hearts. But if they are unwilling the Light of the world cannot penetrate to dispel their darkness. And so they preach a mighty darkness and a powerless Light!
But thanks be to God, the Light of the world does not shine by the grace and good will of the darkness; it is sovereign. It is not dependent on the will of the sinner; it is irresistible. It is not contingent upon the begging and pleading and contortions of a modern hawker of Jesus, but sends its piercing and illuminating rays whithersoever it wills. The darkness does not come to the light, but the Light shines into the darkness through the Spirit of grace, exposes the darkness, convicts of sin, draws into the light life. And then the sinner comes and follows. Nor does he ever finally return to the darkness. Forever the Light continues to shine and to draw him on, until at last he enters into the city that is illuminated by the glory of God, and whose light is the Lamb! There he shall see face to face and know even as he is known!