The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.
then through the prophet was but a prelude to that greater glory which the Incarnation made manifest. So much so that these words are used in Matthew 4:16, and relate to Jesus leaving Nazareth and coming to Capernaum, upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim, that so the prophecy might be fulfilled.
I. THE GREAT DARKNESS. History attests that of which prophecy foretells. There was moral darkness. Look at Corinth - so much so that to Corinthianize was to play the wanton. Look at Ephesus. Look at Rome, with its lust and license; its terrible realism in the cruel sports of the amphitheatre, stained with the massacre of beasts and with the gladiators' blood. Think of the intellectual darkness, when even the city of philosophy, proud Athens, erected an altar - which was a monument of its failure in the search after wisdom - "to the unknown God."
II. THE SOMBRE SHADOW. "The land of the shadow of death." This language does not apply alone to the article of death itself. Every hopeless sorrow is a shadow of the grave. Death reigned supreme over human thought. There was no "looking forward" which could comfort the weary heart of man in its bereavements and griefs. Over city and throne, over the groves of philosophy and the gardens of pleasure, the same shadow brooded. So that the gloom came not alone when life drew near to its close, but the long dark shadow fell over all the pursuits and hopes of human life. As we think of all this we shall understand what the prophet means by a "great" light. For the wondrous glory of the Savior's revelation of "life and immortality" none of us can overestimate. It changed the face of society, and turned the weeping eyes of a weary world to glory, honor, immortality, and eternal life.
III. THE WELCOME LIGHT. Light makes all things beautiful. And light from "above" transfigures the lot of man. It turns his afflictions into momentary tribulations, and makes him to look, not on' the things which are seen and temporal, but on those which are unseen and eternal. It is related, therefore, to human life as well as spiritual life. Heaven is not only "the rest that remaineth;" its spirit pervades the entire sphere of our earthly history. Everywhere that blessed light shines; and whilst it makes us patient and hopeful in adversity, it gives cheerfulness to our pursuits and sacredness to our friendships - inasmuch as we are his disciples who said, "Let not your heart be troubled... I go to prepare a place for you." - W.M.S.
I. HOW THIS LIGHT MAY BE APPROPRIATED TO CHRIST.
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light.
I. Christ sheds light upon SIN. By His words and by His life He testifies to the reality of sin.
1. In Him was exhibited for the first and only time a life perfectly obedient to the will of God, a life the one inspiring motive of which was love to God and love to man, a life in which every thought, every word, every act was influenced only by a regard to the glory of God, a life in which was manifested in perfect union and in perfect harmony every human virtue. Thus Christ has shown us what we ought to be, and in showing us this has shown us what we are. In the presence of His awful purity how deep our impurity appears.
2. And He has tracked sin to its secret hiding. place. He has discovered the fountain in the heart, the evil thought, the murderous hate, the impure desire, the covetousness, the malice, the bitterness which lurk within, and which no human law can touch. He has made us discern not only the evil done and the evil thought, but the good left undone. There is no part of our nature which He has not explored. Never had it been so profoundly, so truly judged, never had man been so discovered to us.
3. Is the light which Christ casts upon sin only a condemning light? Is it a light which shows us our misery only to leave us without hope, which shows us what we ought to be, but gives us no power to attain to the ideal set before us! No, the light which reveals to us our sin, reveals to us also the mercy of God, a love greater than our transgressions, a pardon greater than our sin. It is the light of the Cross that gives us hope. Never does God appear in more perfect holiness than when He pardons sin, and the sinner looking upon the Cross feels the malignity of that sin which nothing but the sacrifice of the Son of God could take away. All other religions, all other philosophies have failed here, all have made some compromise with sin, all have concealed its deep malignity; the Cross alone dares to reveal it, because the Cross alone takes it away.
II. And so, too, of HUMAN SUFFERING. The Cross consoles sorrow, because it manifests to us a power of sympathy in God such as man had never dared to dream of. There is no suffering for which the Cross is not a precious balm, because there is no suffering which it does not surpass and consecrate.
III. And much more Christ's light is a light cast upon DEATH. Or rather let me say the light which He came to bestow is the light of life. He came that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. Beyond the Cross there is the Resurrection. "Because I live, ye shall live also." This is the grand prerogative of the Gospel All other religions have failed here. All have spoken with stammering lips of the world beyond the grave.
I. One almost invariable sight revealed to us in the shadow of death is THE IMPERISHABLENESS OF THE PAST. I remember reading some years ago an account of an exploration of one of the pyramids of Egypt. The impression of the darkness upon the explorers at first was very oppressive. On every side and overhead, piled one above another in prodigious lengths and masses, rose the polished blocks of granite which formed the walls and ceiling. There was not a window, nor open chink from top to bottom. The torches of the guides only deepened the sense of awe, blinking as they did like mere glow. worms in the gloom. As the travellers crept and slid along the dismal passages, through the almost solid darkness, an undefined and painful consciousness of something like terror arose within them, from the felt want of any really satisfactory knowledge of the purpose which could be intended in such a building. At length they came to what seemed to them a coffin of stone. When they struck it, it rung like a bell. Everything else had had a baffling and perplexing effect on their minds. Here was one object they could thoroughly understand — the monument of a purpose, even if not the main purpose, which the building was intended to serve. And in the midst of that darkness they found their minds summoned by that coffin into the presence of the past. Something not very unlike this takes place when we are sent in, under some serious illness, to explore the land of the shadow. At first we are oppressed by the mere darkness — the deepening out on every side of the possibilities of the disease. Then, the ignorance of the purpose for which we are afflicted perplexes us. But at last, more or less in every case, we find our minds settling upon the past. Sometimes it is our instinctive forward looking, our attempt to penetrate the dim, unsounded future which thus leads us back into the past. The consciousness that we are passing onwards into its territory will not let sleep the question, "What sort of past am I carrying thither with me?" More frequently it is the consideration of unfinished purposes which recalls the past. Often, however, there is something in the very circumstances of the affliction, some appropriate word, perhaps, suggested and pressed upon our attention, which leads us in this direction of the past. Joseph's brethren, e.g., in the Egyptian prison, by the simple utterance of the words, "Your youngest brother," had the past which related to themselves and Joseph recalled to their minds. It was this which Job complained of when he cried to God: "Thou makest me to possess the iniquities of my youth." His youth was not dead as he had supposed; nor had its actions altogether passed. The threads of these were still in His hand who was afflicting him. And now, in his distress, they are drawn up and placed like network around his soul. But there is good in this revision of the past. For one thing, the very sight of the fact is good that nothing of our lives passes utterly into oblivion. It is good to know that the past as much as the present is real, that our deeds lie there, imperishable, dormant, but yet dead. For a second reason it is good. The remaining hours of our time here are more likely to be encountered and occupied with serious hearts. But, for a third and still deeper reason, it is good to have made this discovery. One of the main purposes of redemption is to deal with this imperishableness of the past, and solve the problems which arise out of that and our responsibility. Our Redeemer came to put away the guilt of our past lives, and to lift us into a position from which the consequences of our guilt would shut us out forever. But nothing more disposes us to listen to the offers of Divine mercy, than a clear unambiguous view of the actual past of our lives.
II. Another and most important sight vouchsafed to us in serious illness, is THE SIGHT OF THE WORLD WE LIVE IN DWARFED TO ITS TRUE PROPORTIONS. It is a great loss to anyone to see the world he lives in only from the side of health. The true proportions of things are almost sure to be hidden from his view. This is especially the case with respect to the common pursuits of life. It requires the discipline of a sick bed to reveal our error — to discover to us that we have transgressed the bounds of mere necessity, and have been giving them more thought than they demand. I would liken the false value which we put on our lower vocations to the shadow cast by a manor house on the lawn. The house itself may represent the actual legitimate thought, which we may put into our daily toils. The shadow of the house is the added, illegitimate thought — the burdensome, down crushing care, thrusting and pushing from their centres our higher affections and hopes. At two different moments there is no shadow. There is none when the sun is in the centre of the heavens, and pouring his light down upon the roof of the house; there is none until he bends from the centre. But then the shadow begins to lengthen out its neck. The sunlight comes forth in horizontal beams, and the shadow stretches out its arms and spreads its wings, and lies prone and black on all the colour of the neighbouring field. At last the sun goes down, and the shadow has disappeared again. Night has rolled its shadow over the land, and the greater has swallowed the less. The house is there, but not its shadow. A most true picture this of the different values we put on our pursuits in the hours of health and at the gates of the grave! For with us also there are two moments when no shadow falls. There is no false estimate so long as God is in the centre of our heavens. At last death is rolling his shadow over our earthly life. And we are enveloped in the gloom of that. And then, looking outward, we discover how all other shadows have disappeared, and have been to us but vanity and vexation of spirit.
III. A third experience in serious illness is, that AWAY FROM THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST, THERE IS NO LIGHT FOR THE WORLD TO COME. The lights which surround us in our daily walks, when all is well with us, forsake us in the shadow. The light of friendship, for example. It cannot pierce the blackness of the shadow of death, nor search forward into the dimness of unrevealed futurity. Next to our friends, as lights of life to us, are our books. They are our inner lights. But away from the Book which specifically tells us of the resurrection of the Son of God, the light of no book in our keeping abides with us in the shadow to give us one gleam of hope. But it is worth while being sent into the shadow, if we come out with this experience.
IV. A fourth experience is generally reached in serious illness, of which it is not so easy to see the good. This is THE LONELINESS OF SUFFERING. Our spirits are gadders about too much. Our lives spread themselves too far upon society. A serious illness carries us away from this folly. It takes us out into the solitude, and leaves us there. This loneliness of great suffering is the shadow sent forth to bring us home. Society is not our home. The dearest, innermost circle of it is not our home. God is our home — our present home.
V. TO THE CHILDREN OF GOD AFFLICTION IS IN EVERY WAY A GOOD. Its shadow is a retirement for renewed and deeper insight into the character and purposes of their Father. As much as unspiritual sufferers they feel the distress of their circumstances. The difference is, that over and through this distress they discern the loving purpose towards themselves of Him who chasteneth. Every way their condition is different. The world which death is bringing close to them is the habitation of their best and most beloved Brother. Sustaining promises are suggested to them by the Spirit, which have new and unthought of appropriateness to their case. Light from heaven, in inexpressible fulness, comes down into familiar passages of the Bible, revealing unimagined depths of Divine love for human souls. There is a nearer, sweeter, more experimental view of the Cross of Christ. Sin is felt to be the evil thing on which God cannot look, in a way to deepen the abhorrence of it, and to excite a more cleaving love to Him who is making all things work together to deliver us from its marks and power. And glimpses of the sinless land, holy, beautiful as morning light, come glowing and reddening through the clouds. And the hour of weakness is changed into an hour of strength.
(A. Macleod, D. D.)
1. Light is an all-necessary thing.
2. It separates — divides the night from the day.
3. It cheers.
4. Christ stands preeminently glorious as a great light. There is a fulness in Him commensurate with His Divinity; there is a brightness in Him that knows neither change nor diminution.
II. THE DESCRIPTION OF PERSONS TO WHOM THIS LIGHT HAS BEEN, OR SHALL BE, REVEALED.
1. In darkness.
2. Walking in darkness.
3. In the shadow of death.
(F. G. Crossman.)
II. Christ was THE LIGHT spoken of by the prophet. To the Jews, how well calculated was His appearance to clear up the obscurities of their own Mosaic ritual and prophetic declarations! To the Gentiles, no less did the coming of Christ present a religion able, for the first time, to resolve all their doubts, to satisfy all their wants, and unite the whole family of man under one great Head of all.
1. It was a sudden light; unexpected by most, and undeserved by all, the Sun of Righteousness, Jesus Christ, rose upon a benighted world.
2. It was a great light.
3. This was verily the true light. "It shines with a ray which," saith St. John, "lighteneth every man that cometh into the world." It is that which is adapted to man as man, beaming with an evidence only to be resisted by wilful blindness, and convincing all with a force which leaves the wanderer without excuse, who perishes in his sin.
4. It is a Divine light; one shining as if from the very throne of God Himself.
(C. J. Hoare, M. A.)
(J. Burnett, LL. B.)
I. That they walked IN DARKNESS. Darkness must he understood in the figurative sense in which it is often used in Scripture to signify a state of ignorance, sin, and misery. Ignorance, like a veil, continues upon their hearts until the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ shines into their minds. In this uncomfortable state they act under the influence of corrupt principles, committing those enormous transgressions which are justly denominated the works of darkness. From hence arise distresses and miseries of various kinds, which terminate in utter darkness and everlasting woe, unless prevented by the illumination of the true light.
II. In this condition the people are described as WALKING, which, in the Word of God, frequently denotes the whole course of man's life, in which every action makes a step towards that everlasting state to which we are journeying.
1. Walking is a voluntary motion, the consequence of preceding choice and deliberate resolution
2. Walking is a continued motion, in which one step regularly follows another, until the ground intended is gone over.
3. Walking is a progressive motion, by which a traveller still goes forward until he arrives at the end of his journey.
I. THE WORLD WITHOUT CHRIST SITS IN DARKNESS.
1. The minds of the heathen are dark.
2. Their religion is dark and gloomy.
3. Their conduct is dark.
4. Their prospects after death are dark.
II. JESUS CHRIST IS A "GREAT LIGHT." He is —
1. Great in Himself, for He is God.
2. He is a perfect light.
3. He shines into the heart (2 Corinthians 4:6).
4. He gives happiness and healing as well as light (Malachi 9:2; John 15:11).
5. This light cannot be put out (Isaiah 55:20).
6. It is the light of heaven as well as of earth (Revelation 21:23).
Homiletic Magazine.I. WHO ARE THE PEOPLE WHOM THE PROPHET SAW WALKING IN DARKNESS? By darkness, Scripture means spiritual alteration. Our normal condition is light; for God is light and we were made in His image. But this primitive state no longer exists; an astounding fact has overthrown Divine order; sin has changed all things. The alteration produced by sin is —
I. An alteration of truth Our intellect is darkened "through the ignorance that is in us, because of the blindness of our heart." The knowledge of God and of ourselves, which in the origin was pure, has been perverted by a spirit of error and replaced by a veil of darkness. Man has ceased to know God and to know himself. What light would you kindle to dispel these shadows of death!
2. An alteration of life. A false life has invaded the soul and driven away the light of life. The source of life is in God, but it is no longer God who holds dominion over the soul; it is self, the world, and sin
3. An alteration of joy. Light and joy are synonymous, in Scripture: "Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart." But what becomes of joy if it is deprived of truth and life! It is turned into sorrow. Our earthly joys are but disguised sorrows.
II. WHAT IS THE LIGHT SPOKEN OF BY THE PROPHET? Revert to the fall of the first man and woman in Eden; a promise shines. This promise henceforth accompanies humanity.
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