"Ye are the light of the world;...let your light shine....Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled."
"Whosoever therefore shall break one of these commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven."
"For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven."—Matt. 5:14-20.
Our Lord's sermon on the mount, from which these words are chosen for our present consideration, was a most remarkable discourse for its simplicity and its weighty import. From beginning to end there are in it no attempts at literary embellishment, nor oratory, nor flights of fancy to please and entertain. His object was to instruct; and he did so in the most simple and forcible language. It will be observed, too, that he did not on this occasion seek a public place where the largest audience could be gathered; but, on the contrary, he chose a place of retirement where he could be alone with his disciples. The multitudes had thronged about him to witness his miracles and to hear his words, and he had healed their sicknesses and taught them many things, but this discourse was one specially designed for the disciples, the household of faith. And here it has been faithfully recorded, that its instructions may extend to the entire household, even to the end of the age. So while we consider these words of our Lord, we may almost realize that in company with Peter and James and John, and many of the brethren and sisters of the early church, we, too, are sitting on the grassy slopes of the mountain side and hearing the words as they fall from the lips of the greatest preacher the world has ever known. And as we turn away from the hallowed spot, let us not be forgetful hearers, but let us treasure up the words of life; let them sink deep into our hearts and bring forth their rich fruitage unto eternal life.
This fragment of our Lord's discourse indicates a responsibility toward the truth received which it is feared many Christians do not carefully observe and consider. Mark the expression, "Ye are the light of the world;...let your light shine." And again he said, "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world;"..."he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." (John 9:5; 8:12.) And now, instructed and enlightened from his Word, he would have us remember that we, as his representatives, are the light of the world, and that we should keep our light constantly trimmed and burning—that we must let our light shine so that those following us may not walk in darkness.
Light is a symbol of truth both in the Scriptures and in common parlance. So the expression, "Ye are the light of the world;...let your light shine," is equivalent to saying—"You are now so illuminated by the truth that you yourself have become a living representative of the truth. So do not in any way obscure it, but let it shine out more and more, that others may be similarly blessed by it." This truth is "the light of life;" it is what the world needs—what all must have before they can attain unto everlasting life. Men must know the truth before the truth can make them free from the bondage of sin and death; they must know the truth before the truth can cleanse and sanctify them. It is the will of God, therefore, that all men shall come to an accurate knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:4.) And therefore it is the duty of every child of God to be very active in the dissemination of the truth—in letting his light shine, and in keeping it trimmed and burning.
"'Trimmed and burning!' 'trimmed and burning!'" says some thoughtful soul. "I have often sung with fervor those words, 'Let the lower lights be burning,' 'Trim your lamps,' [R1287 : page 27] etc., but what does it mean?" It means that we must give very close attention to the words of life that we may come to an exact knowledge of the truth, and that we must carefully and faithfully trim away every vestige of error as fast as it becomes apparent to us—whether it be an error in doctrine or in our daily walk and conversation—so that the pure light of divine truth may shine out with as little obstruction as possible through the medium of a clear and transparent character.
It is a lamentable fact that many of the Lord's children seem very indifferent to this matter of trimming their lights. They get some truth and with it a great deal of error, and instead of trying to eliminate the error, they hold and teach the two together, so that the light they shed is not a pure light, but is colored and distorted by the error with which it is mixed. And again, even when much pure truth is held, there are those who fail to let it have its cleansing effect upon the character, and so the light is obscured and misrepresented by the unclean medium through which it passes. Any who continue thus to hold the sacred trust of truth are really unworthy of it, and must eventually lose it; for it is written, "Light [truth] is sown for the righteous;" and such indifference to the claims of the truth is unrighteous.
In our Lord's day there were those who openly professed to be teachers and representatives of divine truth. The scribes and pharisees professed to be very zealous for the truth, and thought themselves very creditable manifestations of its cleansing power. They claimed to have the light and to be letting it shine. "God," said the pharisee, "I thank thee that I am not as other men....I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all I possess." But the Lord said, "Woe unto you;...ye outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and deceit." So they appeared in the Lord's sight; but they were reverenced and honored of men and esteemed as holy and as guides in the way of truth and holiness. To God's law they presumed to add their own vain and foolish traditions which made void the law of God, and they were very zealous in teaching those traditions to the people.
In so doing those teachers were inexcusable. The law of God was open before them, and it was their privilege and their duty to be correctly informed with reference to it. And especially after Christ had come, and by his teaching had made the truth so manifest, and the absurdity of their vain traditions so apparent, they were without excuse. And our Lord's accusation of hypocrisy well fitted their case when they resolutely determined to hold and teach the traditions of the elders and to oppose the increasing light of truth which made their absurdity so manifest.
The scribes and pharisees had much truth: they had the whole law of God and claimed to believe and teach it, but they miserably colored and distorted it by their traditions and their really ignoble though whitewashed characters. And consequently their efforts, professedly to convert men to God, resulted only in making more hypocrites like themselves.
Let us beware of that kind of righteousness which to men may indeed appear fair and praiseworthy, but which, in God's estimation, is mere sham and hypocrisy. God, who reads the heart, quickly discerns the motives with which we receive or disseminate the truth; and foolish indeed is the man who attempts to make merchandise of this divine treasure for the paltry gains of this fleeting life, who prefers to hold and to teach error and becloud or oppose the truth of God, or to sell it after having once accepted it, for money, or influence, or popularity among his dying fellow-travelers on the way to the tomb, or for any consideration whatever.
And yet there are some who, though they do not thus hypocritically make merchandise of the truth, do in a measure undervalue it, and who, both in the present and in the future, will be the losers thereby. If we permit prejudice, or [R1287 : page 28] some measure of self-emulation, or of pride, or of combativeness, or any other thing, to interrupt the freedom of artless candor and simplicity and that spirit of meekness which alone befits the searchers after truth, we will find ourselves approaching the pharisaical spirit which, when fully ripe, is glaring hypocrisy. Those who avoid such a disposition and who therefore in meekness and sincerity fully accept the truth and zealously teach it at any cost or sacrifice, the Lord says, shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven; while those who hold and teach a measure of error when it was their privilege to have clear truth, had they been in the right condition of heart to receive it, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.—Matt. 5:19.
Prejudices and various old deformities of disposition often greatly retard the progress of some of God's sincerely consecrated children; and in consequence, their efforts, which are verily meant to be in God's service, are misdirected, and they are found both believing and teaching contrary to the truth on points where God's Word is very explicit. Let us beware of these things, and, diligently casting behind us every hindrance to our personal progress in the way of truth and to our usefulness in the Master's service, let us run with patience, with meekness and diligence the race set before us, looking unto Jesus, who has said, "My grace is sufficient for thee. My strength is made perfect in weakness."