That the great mass of mankind is in perpetual moral darkness is not only the testimony of Holy Scripture, but is also borne witness to by the ceaseless quest of light, in which men in every degree of life are engaged. Fruitless of course it is, for the money is spent “on that which is not bread and the labour on that which satisfies not.” Still the money must be spent and the labour continued, for the mind of the fallen mortal knows no quiescence. Instead of turning in faith to the testimony of God, necromancers and soothsayers who chirp and mutter are consulted. What kind of insanity is it that sends the living to the dead for light? What daybreak could there be for such? (Isa. 8:19-20). Like a blind man lost in a dense forest, their feverish activities but bring them back to the point of departure; the darkness remains for them as dense as ever.
It is not that there is no light; there is, and that in abundance. There always has been enough light for the salvation of the creature, for God at no time and in no place has left Himself without witness (Acts 14:17, Rom. 1:19-20). But man prefers the sparks of his own kindling (Isa. 49:11); for these, because they are the result of his own discoveries, minister to his miserable pride of heart; whereas the light given by his Maker brings into evidence his own utter moral depravity, humiliating him as nothing else can, and hence it is the object of his most deadly hatred.
But the light is present, and has always been present since sin entered through Adam, who by transgression fell not only under darkness and death, but under the power of our fell destroyer, who rules in the darkness and by means of the darkness over the whole human race.
Just as through the natural primal darkness light shone at the command of God, so no sooner did the moral darkness fall upon an innocent creation than a gleam of light from God broke through the gloom with life-giving power upon the vision of our first parents. The grace that covered their naked bodies with coats of skins was light far in advance upon all that they had previously known of their Creator. The same God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness (Gen. 1:3) had now not commanded but wrought, so that a still greater light was shining in the midst of the darkness into which those two devil-defeated creatures had fallen.
And that light was life-giving, and designed for their recovery to God, and for their deliverance from the service of sin, upon which the man had freely entered. It was not all that the creature was to learn regarding his Creator, but it was a foreshadowing of that mighty work through which the very heart and nature of God have been brought into evidence.
But though the light was there the darkness was not dispelled by it. It still held stubbornly to the foothold it had gained, ready to do battle with the light for the domination of the world that was yet in the loins of Adam. And such was the foothold it possessed that we find under its baneful influence the first man born into the world, and later on, with few exceptions, we see the whole human race subject to its domination. The number of those in the light becomes comparatively less, until only one man with his house escapes the judgment that falls upon the ungodly world.
It was a black and dark night that set in through the transgression of the head of the race. A night of self-will and rebellion against God on the part of man, a night of violence and corruption, of lawlessness, of envy, of oppression, of murder and unutterable wickedness. We are told that “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that He had made man on earth, and it grieved Him at His heart.”
Because of its wickedness that world was destroyed utterly, but the darkness and its works reappear in Ham, one of the eight who experienced the signal mercy of God by means of the ark when righteousness compelled the Creator to destroy the work of His hands.
In the world before the flood Adam sought by robbery to equal his Creator, and Cain, the free-thinking rebel and despiser of the testimony of grace, persecutes and murders God’s faithful witness, becomes a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth, but makes the land of his vagabondism as pleasant as possible with the resources at his disposal.
In the new earth after the flood government is committed to Noah, who failing to govern his own appetite becomes the laughing stock of Ham, upon whose race falls the curse so righteously merited. Through the transgression of Adam the curse of God comes upon the ground, it comes upon Cain for the murder of his brother, and upon the race of Ham for the way in which he mocked at the downfall of his father. How true it is that the curse of God is in the house of the wicked, and His blessing in the habitation of the just!
Idolatry marks the descendants of Noah (Josh. 24:2). The whole world becomes immersed in idol worship, which is nothing else than the worship of demons (1 Cor. 10:20). When they knew God they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imagination, and their foolish heart was darkened. Men have always been wise enough to look after their own interests, and to know what is best for themselves, if we can believe them; but professing themselves to be wise they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and next to quadrupeds, and then to creeping things (Rom. 1). Along with this the Spirit of God lays bare before us the social condition of the race, and on a more loathsome picture it is impossible to gaze.
In the night of man’s transgression he is but the plaything of the devil, who causes him, in the first place, to dishonour God, and in the second place, to dishonour himself. And how readily men lend themselves to him as the instruments of his wicked and cruel will.
But the light shines in the midst of the darkness, and throughout the whole history of the wanderings of the human race God has His witnesses, men whose hearts have been less or more illuminated by the knowledge of God, men who have been born of the revelation given of Himself, sons of the coming day, and who wait for that day’s breaking. We have Abel, Enoch, Noah, in the antediluvian world; and we have Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, and a host of others too numerous to mention: all shining as luminaries in the firmament of the various dispensations up till the coming of the True Light, the advent of the Son of God into the world, in whom was centred all the light that ever had sent one kindly ray through the black night, or ever was yet to gladden the vision of the creature.
The light might be hated and persecuted, and hated and persecuted it was from the beginning, but in the power of God it was maintained, and by its gracious influence many a blind eye became illuminated, and the steps of many a weary wanderer were turned with genuine repentance and sorrow of heart to the God he had for long enough despised.
That light was a perfect blending of grace and truth. There was no making little of the evil of man’s ways, but whatever man might be God would he what He was, and “God is love.” With Him there was just what man needed, and that was forgiveness. Who could do without it? “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” Impossible for any man to stand before a God who marked iniquities, for “all have sinned.” If God should take up the attitude of Judge He cannot fail to condemn the guilty, for in all that He does He is righteous, and guilty we all are by nature.
What then is to be done? We must escape the judgment, or be lost for ever, for if we come into judgment we cannot be justified. The judgment that would justify the criminal would be a very farcical proceeding. The cry of the soul that knows something of its own sinfulness and of the righteousness and holiness of God is voiced by the psalmist when he says, “Enter not into judgment with Thy servant; for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified” (Ps. 143:2). To come into judgment with God is to be lost for ever.
But is there any escape from the judgment to which all on account of their sins are liable? Yes, thank God, there is forgiveness with Him. He has drawn near to us in grace, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (2 Cor. 5:19). Not, as some suppose, reconciling Himself to the world, no! this never was needed; the enmity lay on the side of man not on the side of God, who from the outset of man’s departure opened a door for his return, and assured the poor wanderer that if he would only return a right royal welcome awaited him.
But the world rejected the reconciliation, hung the Mediator upon a gibbet, proving by this that it would have none of God, let Him come in whatever way He pleased; it preferred the darkness to the light, the service of sin to the service of God, Caesar to the Messiah, Barabbas to the Son of God, the effluvia of the abyss to the aroma of the highest heaven. What a choice!
But this did not alter the attitude of God to men, though it has altered His attitude toward the world as such. He is not now seeking to reconcile the world to Himself: it is now under judgment, and the day of its judgment is appointed (Acts 17:31). But on the ground of the work of His Son on the cross, He is sending through Him and in His name forgiveness of sins to every human being in the world.
It is not that there is anything in man to draw out this grace on the part of God. There was nothing good in man any more than there was in the fallen angels; yet He has set His love upon man, and passed them by. God is sovereign, and can act sovereignly. Man cannot act thus. He is always acted upon by things external to himself. Not so God: He set His love upon man when there was nothing lovable in man, but everything that was abhorrent to God’s holy nature. Of course God must judge sin, but that is because of what God is in His own nature; for if He is love, He is also holy. But He sent His Son, who has died for us in order that He might be able to forgive us righteously, for He was determined to act in grace to man.
Now not only is there forgiveness with God, but that forgiveness is declared to men everywhere, and the man who believes has it (Acts 13:38-39). The believer is justified from all things, and does not come into judgment. He is the blessed man unto whom the Lord will under no circumstance reckon sin. He is also in entirely new relationship with God, though this I do not purpose going into at present.
We have perhaps thought too little of this grace, and it may be because we have been enjoying it so little, and it may also have been because we have thought too little of the exceeding sinfulness of sin. But we are told in Scripture that this forgiveness is “according to the riches of His grace,” and that we have it through the blood of Jesus (Eph. 1:7). This should give us some idea of the magnificence of this blessing. That in the power of that same precious blood we are brought into wondrous and exalted relationship with God is blessedly true, but that does not alter our appreciation of the riches of the grace of forgiveness, but rather throws a glorious lustre upon it; that is, if we are in any measure under the influence of the Spirit of God.
Let the reader think of his life of sin before conversion, and of his daily failings since he was brought to know the Lord; and let him think of how those failings often drove him to despair; let him think also of the agony of the Son of God at the prospect of standing in the place of the guilty sinner; and let him if he can relegate forgiveness of sins to a secondary place among the blessings that are his in Christ. True it lies at the beginning of our relations with God; but when I contemplate the means taken and the only means that would do to obtain for me that forgiveness, without which I should have perished forever, I am prepared to believe that nothing the blessed God can give me will be withheld.
But now as forgiven and with the bright prospect of being with my Saviour in the glory into which He has entered, I look for the morning that will be ushered in by His second advent to this earth. The Sun of Righteousness will soon arise with healing on His wings, and a morning without a single cloud will be brought in to gladden the hearts of those who have been waiting for Him throughout this long dark night of sin.
A King shall reign in righteousness, and then transgression will cease, for if there be the least outbreak of the will of man it will be dealt with on the spot. The black and dark night will then have passed away, and with it the transgressions that characterized all its weary watches. The day will have come in, for the Sun of Righteousness will then be shining in a cloudless sky. That divine Ruler “Shall judge the people with righteousness, and the poor with judgment. The mountains shall bring peace to the people and the little hills by righteousness. He shall judge the poor of the people, He shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor. They shall fear Thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations. He shall come down like rain on the mown grass: as showers that water the earth. In His days shall the righteous flourish: and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth. He shall have dominion from sea to sea, and from the river unto the end of the earth” (Ps. 72).
May both reader and writer be able truly to say: “I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in His word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning.” Only one thing can excel the blessedness of that day, and that is the new heaven and the new earth, wherein righteousness shall dwell, and for that also we wait.
“Blessed be His glorious name for ever: and let the whole earth be filled with His glory: Amen, and Amen.”