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Shining Into the Darkness of the World

Speech from the 1999 New Jersey retreat.

 II Corinthians 4:6, 7: “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. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may he of God, and not of us.”

 As Protestant Reformed Reformed Young People, do you know what a treasure you have? Light! Pure, clear, shining light! In order to understand the proper value of this treasure, all you need to do is look around you. Look into the world. See the darkness there. Utter, total darkness. A few decades ago, one might have said there is a great deal of light out there in the world. The world is a pretty decent place, filled with good people. Especially as these few decades have gone by, sin has become more and more manifest. You and I know that the world is ever dead in sins and trespasses. But that depravity had been covered over with a veneer of a semblance of righteousness, external good works. But more and more you see that thin veneer wearing thinner and thinner. All you need to do is look at the world of entertainment. You see all the lewdness and lasciviousness paraded before the eyes of men and women. The world is getting darker and darker. Contrast that darkness to the light that you have.

Look to another quarter. Look to the world of the church. There, too, you find darkness growing thicker and deeper with each passing year. No longer is the truth being proclaimed, but emphasis is placed on feelings, the feelings that are generated in worship. The goal of worship is simply feeling good about yourself, feeling good about your worship. But there is after all very little light sinking into darkness. You, on the other hand, have this marvelous treasure of light. As I say that, I feel a little jealous. From a very strict point of view, I was not brought up in the same light that many of you have been brought up in, raised from your earliest childhood, taught by your parents from your earliest memory, having had a thorough instruction in your catechism classes through the years of your childhood. You’ve sat under the preaching, Protestant Reformed preaching, clear and distinctive, almost since you’ve been born. You’ve had light. You’ve also had that light placed within your heart by the Holy Spirit of God, the same God who commanded light to shine out of darkness has caused that gospel to shine in your heart, so that you become light-bearers. What a marvelous treasure you have.

But that gift is not meant for you to hold in yourselves. Simply to say, “I have light. I have the conscious enjoyment of God’s fellowship and friendship. And it’s mine, simply to have by myself, or simply to have in the communion and fellowship of those who, with me, have that same light, the church.” You are given a calling to let your light so shine before men. All of you, as citizens of the kingdom of heaven, being in that kingdom of light, being described so beautifully by our Lord Jesus Christ at the beginning of Matthew 5, the poor in spirit, those that hunger and thirst after righteousness, the peacemakers. You: you have that light. And now the calling comes to you, “Let your light so shine before men.” You are called to take the light that you possess, and to project it, to cast it in a certain direction. Not among yourselves, not within yourself, but into the darkness of the world. A calling, but also a glorious privilege. A marvelous privilege, because God is pleased in the way of carrying out this calling to let your light so shine, to bring that light to others, who will glorify God your Father in heaven. God has a purpose with you. We might call it the purpose of evangelism. And there is no more blessed thing than to be used by God in that way, to shine that light to someone, and to have that someone say: “I love that light that you have shown to me. And I rejoice in that same light. I want you to know more about that light. Tell me about that light.” And through that you bring them into the church of Jesus Christ. A calling and a privilege, to shine into the darkness of the world.

Now, I suppose I have to tell you exactly what this thing is that I have to present to you. Two words have already been taken. Professor Dykstra has taken the word “leech.” I can’t use that. Rev. Terpstra has taken the word “lermon.” I can’t use that either. I don’t know what to call this thing. My wife suggested I call it a “splecture.” That sounds like a plum dropped off the top of the Empire State Building. I can’t use that. I think about—not too long ago—when I was in seminary, and Professor Engelsma called me into his office, and said, “I’m happy to report to you that you have been licensed to speak a word of edification.” I’ll call it a Word of Edification. And if you like a handy acronym, you can call it a WOE. When it was announced to me that I had been licensed, I thought, “Woe is me! I have to stand before all these people, and I have to bring them a word, something to say. How can I do that?” But you have to trust that what God calls you to do, He equips you to do it. The same thing is true of you. As light-bearers, having received this commandment, believe and know that God will give you the power, the strength, and the desire to shine your light before men.

The Fundamental Antithesis

One of the most beautiful things that you can understand about Matthew 5:16, seen in the light of the entire Scripture, is that there is displayed before us a fundamental antithesis. What could be more unlike, what could be more opposite than darkness and light? And that, too, bringing us back to the very first day of creation, when there was only darkness. God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. Pure, shining, clear, beautiful light. You see the setup, then. God placed that fundamental antithesis there so that we might hear our Savior speak these words to us, “Therefore let your light so shine before men”, that is, into the darkness of the world, so that you can understand that we are dealing here with a fundamental antithesis. You as light, and the world as darkness. Now there’s a beautiful reason for this statement. Because this is so antithetical, you as possessors of the light, having that treasure, know exactly where you stand. Either darkness, or light. One possibility or the other. So that, if you know the light, if you love the light, you know exactly where you are. You are in the kingdom of heaven. You are these described by Jesus in Matthew 5. Therefore you know your calling, to shine your light into the darkness. There are not shades of gray here. You must not say you are only a little different from the world. You are totally and completely different, as different as light is from the darkness.

Now, let’s take a look at that one side of the antithesis, the darkness. We must understand exactly the character, and the nature of this darkness. Of course, this darkness is gross. It’s black, and sweeping, as dark as it was before God said, “Let there be light,” so dark is it in the world. You must understand exactly what that darkness is. That darkness is not first of all a moral and ethical darkness. When I say that, I’m looking at it strictly from the viewpoint of external deeds, on the front or on the cover of things. If you look at the world from that point of view, you might come to the conclusion that the world might still be a pretty good place, after all. There’s much light. There are many people doing very many good things. Is there light there? Not, according to Scripture. What is the difference? The difference has fundamentally to do with the truth. The truth as it concerns God, as it concerns the Christ of God. You bring up that truth as the standard, then you can very easily distinguish between light and the darkness.

That darkness is a willing darkness. It is a darkness that is filled with love, with a desire for that ignorance. That darkness is therefore antithetically opposed to the light. You might understand from the nature of light and darkness as physical things, that darkness represents a certain void that is somewhat neutral, or a vacuum, so that when that light shines into the darkness that it is desired or wanted. But such is not the case at all with the darkness of this world. This darkness is an avowed, sworn enemy of the light. That darkness will surround the light and try to extinguish it. “And the light shineth into the darkness; and the darkness comprehendeth it not.” “He came unto his own and his own received him not.” That darkness is absolutely opposed to the truth. Of course, you don’t need to go into the world to understand that, because you and I always have that same fight within ourselves. Rev. Terpstra spoke of that last night. You have that old man of sin. That old man of sin is darkness. The new man of sin is the light. Knowing that struggle, you understand how that antithesis manifests itself in the midst of the world.

On the other side of that darkness is light, the opposite. But before we can understand what light is, we need to draw another contrast between “light,” or pseudo-light, and true light. First, that pseudo-light. There is a bookstore down the hall to the right. You can buy much more than books in that book store. T-shirts, hats, bracelets, necklaces, you name it. Go into any Christian bookstore. When you walk into a bookstore, what do you see first of all? Paraphernalia! You almost have to ask, “Where are the books?” You have to make your way through all kinds of Christian stuff before you can find the books. But it is Christian stuff. You put on the earrings. You put on the bracelets, you put on the t-shirts and the jackets, the hats. Are you a light-bearer? Is that light? Where is the light? Can you put that light on your outside, on your exterior. I don’t think so. That is a pseudo-light. Think about it. Is it light at all? Or is it darkness? You can do a little research. You find an individual wearing these things and using these things. You ask them what they think. “Tell me about Jesus. Tell me about God.” And you will very likely find in talking to them, that they are stuck deep in darkness, that they don’t know anything at all about what they supposedly believe. Wearing the name of Christ, do they really believe in Christ?

That must bring us to the opposite, the true light. That light is first of all knowledge. That’s one of the greatest assets that you people have. You have been trained from your youth in doctrine, in the knowledge of Scripture. I tell you I would much rather hear you tell me about the truth, than I would any theologian from any other denomination. Because I know that you know. I have heard professors from other Christians institutions give lectures that you would put to shame by your simple witness in the office of very believer. You have true light, the knowledge.

That knowledge has to stand as foundational to your good works. We have to unpack the words of our Savior recorded in Matthew 5:16. How are you going to do that? Can you simply say, “I’m going to go through my whole life, just doing these good works, and then people are going to automatically say, ‘I glorify God because of what I have seen so and so doing.’” Can that happen? I think the first the conclusion they will come to is that you are a pretty good person. And, if they say that, who are they giving glory to? Not to God. They will give glory to you. Something else has to be there. You have to confess. You have to identify very clearly and sharply the God of your salvation, Who He is, how He has revealed Himself, through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. You have to go through the world, specifically identifying yourself as a Christian. Not with the t-shirts, necklaces, etc., but by your speech, your confession of the truth. That stands as foundational.

But that knowledge cannot exist only in your mind. II Corinthians 4:6 gives the real place where that light exists. Not in your minds, but in your hearts. That’s where the light has to be. Light does not only involve a certain logic or reasonableness. You cannot arrive at light simply by logic, by weighing two sets of propositions, and coming to the conclusion that one is true, and must be assented to with your mind. If that happens, you can never desire, embrace, or love the light that you have. But God’s grace is such that He shines that knowledge into your heart, so that you say that knowledge is beautiful to you, rich and vibrant. “This is the light that is truly life, And I love the life that this light brings to me.” If this light exists only in your mind, then it is just as superficial and false as the t-shirt that you might put on.

That light must also be manifested in good works. There can be no doubt that our Savior lays stress on good works. “Let your light so shine that they may see your good works.” What do good works have to do with the truth, that light? Those good works are a seal on that light. Is that a genuine light? Is it powerful? Do your good works set the seal upon your light as genuine and true? Are the people among whom you work, among whom you study, looking at you, and saying, “I see in that person a power and a strength so that what they confess is actually lived out in their life.” Can they see that in you? That has to be where the light, the truth, and the life, shines: good works. The idea of good is that there is a harmony and a consistency, between light and good works. It comes out, making itself manifest.

The Illuminating Activity

What I want to emphasize here is that this activity belongs to every one of you. Prior to the Reformation, it was believed that your average, ordinary church member was not light. If you wanted to see light, you had to see certain people: the holy ones. You would have to see monks or nuns, or certain priests. If you wanted to see more light, you would have to see bishops, or the pope. There was the holiness that your ordinary person did not have. The ordinary and common folk had to cling to the works of those other people, to have assurance and confidence. The Reformation put a stop to that. It stated that all of you are light bearers. The priesthood of every believer was an important Reformation principle. The truth of Matthew 5:16 was recovered in the Reformation and given to every believer.

Secondly, in every place. This was another beautiful thing about the Reformation. Holiness was not confined any more to the church, to be in a certain group in contact with holiness. Every believer must say, “I am holy, I have light, and it is my calling to shine my light in every respect, every activity that I enter into.” Not only in specifically religious activities, devotions, sitting under the means of grace. You go to school. You work. And in those areas your calling is to let your light shine before men in the way of doing good works. You see your calling and vocation, no matter what it is, as an activity of holiness. You might think that the gospel ministry and teaching in the Christian school, are sacred activities. And then, working in a factory, studying in a college, parenting, those are lesser. In all these activities, no matter how low they may see, you must let your light so shine.

This idea of place brings in a limiting factor. You cannot shine your light everywhere. You cannot go into the places that are distinctly worldly, distinctly darkness, the theaters, the bars, the clubs. Why not? Your light cannot shine there. That is the limiting factor. This is not legalism, but the application of a principle. You think about going to a place, whether it is right or wrong, and this is the criterion: “What if I go into this place, and someone asks me very specifically and pointedly, ‘Are you a Christian?’” What would you say, and how would you say it? You would have to have a bushel basket over your head! If you can’t let your light shine there, you don’t belong there.

With this calling, you may be sure that the Lord will give you opportunities to let your light shine into that darkness. Look for them. Await them eagerly, anticipate them, because when they arise, you don’t need to worry about how you will let your light shine. How long have you been taught about that light—twenty to thirty years? You know it, and you can be assured that God will give you the grace to say the right thing, even though you may not be so sure.

Shining the light. That means first a confession of the truth. Stand up, say, “I am light.” Let that light shine forth, and adorn that light with good works, that show the great and marvelous power of that light. As you go about your life, walking consistently in good works, always point to God. God has shown that light in your heart, and always shines that light from that center so that it radiates out, so that you show it forth. We have this most beautifully portrayed in the creation of the world. When God created the light, he did not first create the light-bearers, but He shined it forth immediately, without means. Four days later, he created the light-bearers. He did not need them, but he was pleased to use them. The same thing happens in your life. God could have shone that light immediately and directly, but he chose you to bear that light. As a result, you can never claim that light as your own, that you are its source. But you must always be pointing back to God, calling attention to Him and to Christ.

The Two-fold Purpose

As you go through with this activity, you are undertaking a purpose. God has a purpose when he has given you that light, and the calling to shine it.

You might think—and this is a definite purpose— that the very first purpose is a fight and a battle. It is certainly true that the world hates the light and fights against the darkness. This is persecution. You are being persecuted right now. You are not being beaten, persecuted, killed for your faith. But you identify yourself with that light, and the world tries to extinguish that light. You feel that. As you go into the world, there is a tremendous pressure put on you not to let your light shine. They may like you for your good works. But the minute you open your mouth to speak of God and God distinctively as sovereign over all, there is the opposition. You can sense it. Don’t talk about it, don’t talk especially about the sovereign, almighty God. We’ll let you live among us, work among us, run with us, but don’t say anything about the light. When you identify yourself so closely with the light, and you see the world putting pressure on you not to let it shine, that is persecution.

That brings up another side of that persecution. You will understand that there are certain persons who will not have anything to do with you. They will shut you out of their company. You will be to them as an alien. Be ready for that. Know that it will happen. That will develop further as the darkness grows in its manifestation. More and more that persecution will grow in ferocity. But when you have spoken the truth, and shone your light, you will be ready for that persecution. You will have been practicing the experience of that opposition. Through that activity you will be impressed with the difference between yourself and the world. You will know yourself to be saved and redeemed, that all the persecution in the world cannot tear you from your Savior.

But all that is not the main purpose. Our Lord has a very specific word that identifies that purpose. “So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” You know that the vast majority of people toward whom you shine that light, will reject it. And then you might draw the conclusion that that’s the first purpose, the primary goal of your shining the light. But remember that we are not interested in numbers. We do not decide by majority what is first and what is foundational. You know that from the light itself; it is what it is not because of what the majority of men say, but because of what God says.

The first purpose is that a certain number of those in the world will see your good works, and they will turn to give the glory to God. That brings in something beautiful. Your goal, the whole purpose of your life must be the glory of God. But you are not alone in that work. God has elected a whole church for that purpose. There are others in the world in the darkness, who must be brought to that same purpose and goal, and into that same church. That’s the first purpose for letting your light shine.

We consider other passages to see this more clearly. Isaiah 42:6, “I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles.” Isaiah 49:6, “And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.” The idea here is that God is sending His servant the Messiah, not to be salvation for the Jews only, but also for the Gentiles. At that time, the light was only with the Jews. But, God states in these passages, that He will also bring that light to the Gentiles. This same verse is quoted in Acts 13:47. You see an important difference there. In Isaiah this passage was spoken of Christ. But now Paul takes that verse and applies that to himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ. The background of that is the preaching of Paul in the synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia. The Jews rejected that light which Paul preached to them. Paul gives the explanation out of Isaiah, applying the idea to Himself. God commanded them by means of the passage of Isaiah. In the record of the Gentile’s reaction (verse 48), we find the same word as we have in Matthew 5:16. Paul shone the light to the Gentiles, and the Gentiles turned to glorify God. Paul fulfilled Matthew 5:16. It’s not the exclusive work of apostles, ministers, and professors to shine the light. All of you: so let your light so shine before men. That’s the office of every believer. You are a light- bearer. And as you bear that light into the world, you can see God using you as His instrument. As you shine that light, expect God to use you to turn others out of darkness into His glorious light. May God be pleased to use you for the glory of His Name, not just with yourself, but with others, who come to the light, through your shining. Go out, shining your light into the darkness of the world.♦♦♦