THE use of the lamp is chiefly in the night season, to assist us to see what we are about, or to find what we may have lost, to discover to us any person or thing that may be in our way, or that might injure us, to direct us to accomplish our object in design. As the lamp or candle is exceedingly useful for the above purposes, so is the word of God useful, and absolutely necessary, to guide poor, miserable sinners into those things which lead to everlasting felicity: "For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and the reproofs of instruction are the way of life." (Prov. 6:23) How base must any man be, or set of men, who would strain every nerve to conceal the light, who would let the Scriptures remain in a dead language, who would prohibit, on pain of excommunication, the reading of the Bible by the poor and unlearned! Invaluable have been the blessings attending the circulation of the holy Scriptures for several centuries in our land; and may the lamp of truth never be removed from the British Isles till day and night come to an end. But, though we are blessed as a nation above most, it is to be deeply lamented that the lamp of Zion burns dimly; if it be not a dark night, it approaches very near it. Our lamp wants replenishing and trimming. I do not mean that the word of God wants our wisdom to set it forth in its brightness; no! but a veil of obscurity is cast upon the word of God by men's carnal wisdom: they have no ear to hear the voice of truth, no humility to bow to its solemn declarations. As there was confusion among the Babel builders, occasioned by their awful presumption, so there is confusion among the priests and the people, respecting the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the Person of Christ, the work of the Holy Ghost, and the manner of his conducting his flock by his word of grace, by exhortations, by cutting reproofs, by sweet invitations, by precious promises, by sanctifying their trials, and emptying them from vessel to vessel, and making them meet for the Master's use. In all the foregoing points there is a manifest deficiency in the present day. Faithfulness was never more necessary than at the present period; and he that is enabled to be faithful will be considered legal, if not an Arminian, by some; and some will say that he is an Antinomian. But men's fancies and wild ideas, uttered ever so gravely or dogmatically, must not be heeded by the servant of God; he is accountable to his Master and not to men. The words of Christ in Luke 12:35-38, doubtless are designed for the whole church on earth, down to the end of time; but especially for the ministers of Christ: "Let your loins be girded about, and your light burning." etc.
By the "word" in the text at the head of this piece, we may understand the whole revelation that God hath seen fit to give unto us, comprehending his just and holy law, and the everlasting gospel; for the law is as truly the word of God as is the gospel. Though the law is weak through the flesh, or corruption of nature, and cannot do anything for poor ruined sinners in a way of comfort, yet in the hand of Christ it is made exceedingly useful, in convicting, in stripping the poor sinner of all his fancied righteousness, and then it leaves him naked at the footstool of mercy. But how can the word of the law be said to be a lamp? By the majesty and holiness of Jehovah shining in it, and by the discovery it makes of the dark and desperate condition we are in by nature; which is what Paul means: "For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin." (Rom. 7:14) How came Paul to know that the law was spiritual? Did he, when at the feet of Gamaliel, or when persecuting Christ in his members, know that the law was spiritual? No, indeed; he took the letter of the law as his rule of life, as thousands do now; but when Jesus put majesty and power into the commandment, and gave Paul eyes to see, then sin revived, and he died, as he says; and the commandment which he had been expecting life from, he found to be unto death. (Rom. 7:9,10) But observe, he never calls the law sin, nor speaks of it degradingly, but quite the reverse: "The law is holy, and the commandment holy, just, and good. Is the law sin? God forbid." He saw that the light of that lamp was lost in the brighter rays of the glorious gospel, "the glory that excelleth." The gospel, which is the ministration of righteousness, is a much brighter lamp; for therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." (Rom. 10:4) The gospel word comes nigh to poor sinners, and well suits their guilty condition, even "the word of faith, which we preach." (Rom. 10:8) This is the lamp that goeth forth as brightness into a sinner's heart, when sent home through the preached word by the Holy Ghost, discovering to a ruined lost sinner, the Saviour's complete righteousness and everlasting salvation. (Isa. 62:1)
By the gospel word through the Spirit shining into our hearts, we are led into the knowledge of one of the greatest mysteries that God has declared in his holy word, namely, how God can be just and the justifier of the ungodly, that "he is a just God and a Saviour."
Now the gospel, which is the ministration of the Spirit, is a lamp to our feet, directing us what to do, where to go, what to receive, and what to reject. Where are the sinner's feet rambling, that has not God's light to guide him? Why, in paths of error, in darkness and delusion. The learned philosophers of Greece and Rome, who dived deeply into all natural things, were mere moles and bats as to any true knowledge of God; though some of them drop some expressions which indicate that they had some notions of the Trinity, of the soul's immortality, etc. Yet it is pretty clear that they derived their information from the Jews. "The world by wisdom knew not God." Even the Jews, who had Moses and the prophets read to them every Sabbath day, were, for the most part of them, as destitute of the true knowledge of God as the learned Gentiles. They had, it is true, the lamp; but it was the mere lamp without the holy oil; and when the Saviour came to his own, very few of them had any light to see that he was the true Shiloh. The veil was upon their heart, and blindness upon their understanding, as it is on that people to this day, with very few exceptions. Many of the Jews have indeed turned to other religions, and some we have known have professed to believe the truth, and have preached some of the doctrines of Christ; but it has turned out that money was their object. But where God's lamp shines into the heart of either Jew or Gentile, it will show him that covetousness is idolatry, and the love of money the root of all evil. It is not a bare knowledge of the letter of gospel truth that God's light leads a sinner into. A natural man may attain to that with a little labor; but the letter of the gospel as well as the letter of the law killeth; it is the Spirit that giveth life. If the Holy Spirit is not a man's teacher, if a man does not receive his doctrine from the Holy Ghost, preach what he may, and be admired as he may, even by some of Zion's children who are full of spiritual diseases, he is no further than the letter of truth; his lamp will go out in obscurity. Paul's observation is weighty, and should be solemnly considered by every minister: "Who also hath made us able ministers of the New Testament, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life." (2 Cor. 3:6) In the letter of the gospel stand many preachers of the present day, and many such are placed over different churches where there may be many of the Lord's poor children, whose conversation after hearing their letter man may be something like this: "Well, how have you heard today?" "Indeed I hardly know what to say to your question. The preacher has certainly spoken some great truths, and I admire his manner, he has not that coarse blunt way in his delivery like Mr.____. But though I do not wish to judge the man, and can say nothing against what he has advanced, really, I have neither received reproof nor comfort; but the fault may be in me. I know I am a poor creature! I should like Mr.____if he were not quite so rough; but really he sometimes makes me blush and tremble too; yet when I am very low and tried in my mind, and have gone to hear him, I have wondered how the man could so enter into all my path of trial, and I have come away under very different feelings to those I have after hearing Mr.____ today."
Reader, if the cap fits thee, put it on. I intended it for wear. Do not suppose because a man preaches great truth that he is a spiritual minister. The rough unpolished diamond is of more value than the finest polished glass, though it may have a beautiful appearance. "Prove all things, hold fast that which is good." John the Baptist had a rough garment, and a rough tongue. Hence he called his hearers, a "generation of vipers!" But the Saviour says, "he was a burning and a shining light," though his was a dim lamp compared with Paul's.
1. The word of God, the lamp and light of truth, leads a sinner into the experimental knowledge of his fallen state. He finds by feeling, what the word of God says to be true, that he has been a transgressor from the womb, a base rebel, a child of wrath, of ignorance, and folly; and under this supernatural power he cries out, "Pardon my iniquities, O God, for they are great."
2. This lamp discovers and makes plain to a sinner, in time, his personal election in Christ. By God's light he sees that his name is written in heaven, that he is graven on the palms of the Redeemer's hands, and shall never come into condemnation, and that he shall be supplied from the fullness of Christ with every needful good unto the end.
3. By this lamp he sees where the ungodly world stand, in a state of blindness and ignorance; either trifling with the things of God, or openly mocking them. He sees by this light of truth that all the inhabitants of this earth, save and except God's called ones, are under the devil's control, that they are blinded by the god of this world.
4. By God's light and the teaching of his Spirit, he sees, as if written by a sunbeam, the empty profession of the day, that it is a body without a soul, or rather, a shadow without a substance.
Lastly. This light shows him the dawn of hope, the path to bliss, and assures him that he shall stand before the Son of man in a state of blessed immortality; (2 Tim. 1:10) and all these things the Lord has showed me by the light of his own lamp. I bless him for it, and desire to be guided by his word and good Spirit all my journey through. God's counsels, precepts, rebukes, and exhortations, are as dear to the real child of God, under a proper influence, as are his promises. There is no real prosperity in that man that will excuse is vile flesh; nor any true wisdom in the man's speech who asserts that the exhortations of the word, which are addressed to the saints, are legal. Such preaching is manure for rotten-hearted hypocrites, who soar high in false confidence, and their false confidence is confirmed by such wild, ranting preaching as is condemned above. "Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. Then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression." (Ps. 19:13)