The Rejection of Gospel Light
the Judgment of Men
Based on a sermon by Samuel Davies (1723 - 1761) first delivered at Princeton College.
"And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed." John 3:19-20
If you stop to think about it what a strange and alarming statement this is! Light has come into the world! The Sun of Righteousness has risen on this land of darkness; and so it is enlightened; and so there is bright daylight with all its clear thinking people: and so they will no longer grope and stumble in the darkness—but rather all find their way into the world of eternal light and glory.
This is what we would naturally expect from the entrance of light into the world. But hear and marvel, you to whom this light has come! hear and marvel, you people of Canada! The benevolent Jesus, the Friend of human nature, the Savior of men, from whose lips never came one over-severe word, or gave a false alarm: Jesus himself proclaims, "And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil."
"This is the judgment!" Or, this is the condemnation, the divine decision or verdict. This is the declaration of God: The majority preferred darkness, not because they were ignorant, having never heard the Gospel, but rather because of this: their works were evil.
That light has come into the world—Jesus, the Sun of the moral world, has risen, and shines his beams around him in the gospel. And this gives guilty minds opportunity for self-condemnation; and their obstinate resistance to the light increases their guilt, and will increase the severity of their judgment; and the reason is, that "people love darkness rather than light!" They choose ignorance rather than knowledge! The Sun of righteousness is not attractive to them—but shines as a menacing, threatening shade of light. If they only loved the light, its coming into the world would be their salvation; but now it leads to their judgment!
In truth, light is wonderful—and it is a pleasant thing for the eyes to see the light of the sun. And no light is so wonderful as this divine light from heaven—no sun so bright and reviving as the Sun of righteousness!
But why do they hate the light? Tragically! there is no reason for it—but this wretched one, "people loved darkness rather than light—because their deeds were evil!" And evil deeds always cause uneasiness in the light, and lead the conscience to self-accusation, therefore they wrap themselves up in darkness, and avoid the painful revealing effect of the light!
The text leads us to the following five questions:
I. What is that light which has come into the world?
II. What is that darkness which is opposed to it?
III. What are the signs of men's loving darkness rather than light?
IV. What is the reason for it?
V. In what respect is the light's coming into the world, and men's loving darkness rather than light, their judgment or condemnation?
I. What is that LIGHT, which has come into the world?
There are different types of light.
The light of reason entered our world as soon as the soul of man was created; and, though it is greatly dimmed by the fall—yet some sparks of this light of reason still remain.
As a remedy, the light of Revelation soon darted its beams through the clouds of ignorance which obscured the human mind having fallen so far from the Father of lights. This heavenly day began feebly to rise on the first pair of sinners, in that early promise concerning the seed of the woman in Genesis 3: and it grew brighter and brighter in the successive revelations made to the patriarchs, to Moses, and the prophets; until finally the Messiah appeared, as an illustrious sun—after a gradual, progressive, filling up of prophecy.
The light of human learning has also come into the world, and has shined with unusual strength in our age and nation; and even here, in our little home schools, it illuminates young minds in classical languages, the study of God’s creation through science and mathematics and logic.
But it is not light in any of these senses, that our Lord principally intends—but himself and his blessed gospel; a more clear and divine light than any of the above.
He often represents himself under the strong and insightful metaphor of LIGHT. "I am the light of the world," he says : "Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness." (John 8:12) "I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness." (John 12:46)
Light is a strong and beautiful metaphor for knowledge, prosperity, comfort, and happiness; and these are the rays which the blessed Jesus shines all around him. But wherever he does not shine, all is gloomy and dismal darkness. HELL is the BLACKNESS of darkness forever, because he does not extend to it his light. That country where he does not shine—is the land of darkness and the shadow of death! And that heart which is not illuminated with the light of the knowledge of his glory—is the gloomy dungeon of infernal spirits. But wherever he shines, there is spiritual day, the bright shining of glory and blessedness.
His gospel also is often pictured as a great light; and no metaphor was ever used with more emphasis and appropriateness. His gospel is the path by which we discover the glory of God, the beauties of holiness, the evil of sin, and the reality and infinite importance of eternal, invisible things! His gospel is the light that reveals the secrets of the heart, and reveals ourselves to ourselves. It is this which gives us a just and full view of our duty to God and man, which is but imperfectly or falsely represented in every other system of religion and morality in the world. It is this which reveals and makes sure the method by which rebels may be reconciled to their offended Sovereign, and sets forth a Savior in full view to perishing sinners.
We owe our praise and thanksgiving to God, for allowing the rays of his gospel light to have reached us in these ends of the earth; and if any of us remain ignorant of the important truths it reveals—it is because we love darkness rather than light! Which leads me to the next question,
II. What is that DARKNESS, which is opposed to this heavenly light?
Darkness is a gloomy word; and there is hardly anything dismal or destructive in Scripture which is not qualified as such. But the precise sense of the word in our text is, a state of ignorance, and the absence of the means of conviction.
Men love darkness rather than light; that is, they choose to be ignorant, rather than well-informed. They choose to be ignorant, particularly of such things that will make them uneasy—such as their sin, and the danger to which it exposes them.
They are willfully ignorant; and so they hate the means that would alarm them with new views of the truth. They would rather be flattered than told the honest truth, and know their own character and condition; and so they shut their eyes against the light of the gospel—which would cause them flashes of painful conviction. Though the light of the gospel shines around you—yet are not some of you involved in this darkness? This you may know by the next question.
III. What are the SIGNS of men's loving darkness, rather than light?
The general sign, which include all the rest, is their avoiding the means of conviction such as reading the Bible, or reading godly writings, praying, or the preaching of God’s word, and using all the tricks in their power to cause them to be unproductive.
Those of you who love darkness rather than light, are so much on your guard against the seeing of your true state, that you are not even aware of your own character. Though you may have a inclination for academic thinking, and perhaps delight in every other branch of knowledge—yet the knowledge of yourselves, the knowledge of your duties to God, the discovery of your sin and danger, of your miserable condition as under the condemnation of the divine law—this kind of self-knowledge you carefully avoid! And, when it irresistibly flashes before you, then you engage to shut up all the avenues of your mind, through which it might break in upon you, and you avoid those means of conviction which produce it, that is true self-knowledge!
You resolve to do something which is very preposterous and absurd in a rational being, and that is, Not to think. When the threatening thought comes to your mind, "All is not well with my soul! I am not prepared for the eternal world! If I were to die in this condition, I am lost forever!" When conscience whispers such words of doom, it may make you sad and thoughtful for a minute or two—but you soon forget it; you purposely work to cast it out of your thoughts, and to recover your former deceiving serenity. The light of conviction is a painful blaze to a guilty eye! So you wrap yourselves up in darkness, to prevent it from breaking in on you!
When your thoughts are likely to settle on this painful subject, do you not try to redirect them into another line of thought? You immerse yourselves in business, you plunge into a novel, you indulge and nourish a thoughtless levity of mind, you break out of quiet time into the wide world—that center of folly, vanity, and blind activity! And all this to scatter the gloom of conviction which hangs over your troubled minds, and silence the objections of an exasperated conscience!
You laugh, or talk, or work, or play, or study away these fits of seriousness! You make an effort to prejudice yourselves against them, by giving them bad names such as fanaticism, narrow-mindedness, over-strictness and others! When they are in reality—the honest struggles of an oppressed conscience to obtain a fair hearing, and give you faithful warning of approaching ruin! They are the benevolent efforts of the Holy Spirit of grace to save a lost soul. And truly! it would be happy for you if you had yielded to them, and nurtured the serious hour!
For the same reason, also, you love a soft representation of Christianity, as an easy, laid-back, inactive thing; requiring no vigorous effort, and accompanied by no difficult conflict! You love an easy-going gospel which encourages your hopes of heaven—even while you remain in a path of apathy, carelessness, and sinful indulgence! Your favorite sermons and favorite books—are those which flatter you with smooth things, putting the most favorable perspective on your wickedness, and representing the way to heaven as smooth and easy!
Or if you have an unaccountable fondness for faithful, and therefore, alarming preaching, as it must be acknowledged that some self-flatterers have, it is not with a view to apply it to yourselves—but, rather, to others. If you love the light, it is not that you may see yourselves—but others . And whenever it forces you to glance at yourselves, you immediately turn from it and hate it!
Hatred of the light, perhaps, is the reason why so many are so weary of public worship; so fond of their own homes on the sacred hours appointed for divine service: and are so reluctant, so late, or so inconstant in their attendance. It is darkness perhaps, at home; but the house of God is filled with bright light, which they hate—because their deeds are evil!
This also is one reason why they have no appetite for the conversation of zealous Christians, who are not ashamed to talk of what lies nearest their hearts—their Savior, and His gospel; and to express a clear aversion of what they so sincerely hate—the sins of mankind, and every appearance of evil. I say, this is one reason why their conversation is so unappealing to those who love darkness. Such godly people reflect the beams of the Sun of Righteousness, and the beauties of holiness all around them! They carry light with them wherever they go—and this light strikes painful conviction to the guilty. The strictness, the warm devotion and spirituality of their lives, pass a sentence of condemnation upon the ungodly; a sentence which they cannot but feel, and which therefore makes them very uneasy. And so it is that such lively and holy believers are not at all popular in the world.
The ones the world loves most are your pliable, obliging, accommodating Christians in name only, who never carry true religion with them into polite company—but conform themselves to the taste and fashion of those they talk with. These cause no uneasiness in anyone’s conscience, they reflect no heavenly light—but thicken the darkness of every company in which they appear; therefore they are quite acceptable to every lover of darkness.
These strategies and the like, are the effects, and consequently the evidences and indications of people's loving darkness rather than light. And instead of adding to them, I will bring this heading to a close with a plain and honest appeal to you, my hearers.
As in the presence of the heart-searching God, I solemnly appeal to your consciences, that you are not dealing falsely with yourselves, and refuse taking seriously those hints of your dangerous condition—because you love darkness, and therefore do not want to get a clear view of your dreadful condition!
Does your heart not accuse you, because you have suppressed evidence, when it was against you, and shut your eyes against plain conviction? When the mirror of the divine law has been held up before you, and shown you your own terrible image—have you not gone away, and soon forgot what kind of men you are?
Do you not know in your consciences, that the hopes you have of future happiness—are not the result of severe repeated trial—but on the other hand, owe their strength and even their being to superficial reasoning, or none at all—to blind self-flattery and excessive self-love, which tempt you to believe things—just as you would like them to be?
And Is it an excessively critical spirit, or is it evidence and faithfulness, that forces the observation: "How rare are well-founded, well-proven hopes of heaven in this land! Hopes supported by that only sufficient proof—a clear and evident holiness of heart and life!"
We go on to the next question,
IV. What is the REASON of this absurd preference: that men love darkness rather than light?
The sad reason for this is easily found, and has been partly hinted at; and it is this: that men love ease and peace of mind—rather than fear and anxiety. They are really terrible sinners, under the dreadful displeasure of almighty God, and on the slippery brink of everlasting destruction! Now to have a full conviction of this—would alarm their fears, spoil their pleasures, dampen their eager pursuits after the world, and cast their minds into a turmoil of anxiety and terror! But to be blind to all these miserable realities, to be elated with hopeful expectations of the contrary, to have all serenity and calm within, to be charmed with all the fine delusions of a flattering imagination; to be ignorant of danger, and pleased with themselves; this is a state they naturally delight in! In this state they will lull themselves asleep at all costs, regardless of the consequence!
And as darkness is the most proper environment for sleep, therefore they choose it. But the light of the gospel let into the conscience would give them quite another view of things! It would:
- overturn all their towering hopes;
- set the terrors of the Lord all arrayed against them;
- open such shocking views of the ways of sin
that they could no longer dare to walk in them; would constrain them to welcome the sorrows of a broken heart, and to long, and pant, and look, and cry for a Savior! This would be a very painful exercise to them; and therefore they hate and shun the light, which would force the unwelcome convictions upon them!
"But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God." (John 3:21) Such a person is willing to be searched. The test is in his favour, and will turn out to his honor.
This is the reason which Christ himself assigns for some men's loving darkness, rather than light. "For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed." (John 3:20) It is the fear of this 'exposure' which makes him afraid of the light; for he cannot but realize that his evil deeds deserve divine punishment: and to be 'exposed' by the light will cause him pain.
But someone may ask “Since they have such favorable thoughts of themselves, and have such high hopes—why are they afraid of the light? Should they not rather take for granted that its shining on them will be in their favor? And if so, why do they hate it?"
I answer, that notwithstanding all their high opinion of themselves, they often have a secret suspicion that they are not well grounded, and that the light would make some dreadful discoveries concerning themselves! And so they will not venture to expose themselves to the light, lest their secret suspicion should be confirmed, and rise into a full conviction.
It is really so evident that they are guilty, unholy creatures, unfit for heaven, and their consciences sometimes give them such hints of this alarming secret—that they cannot keep themselves altogether ignorant of it. They therefore try to evade the trial, lest the sentence should go against them.
I appeal to your own hearts whether this is not the true reason why you are so unwilling to examine yourselves, and submit to the severe scrutiny of the light of Scripture? What is the true reason why you are averse to the light of self-knowledge, and the means that would shine it upon you?
Is it not because you cannot but pre-judge the matter even against yourselves—in spite of all the arts of self-flattery? And if there are such strong evidence against you—that even yourselves cannot but dread a trial at the tribunal of your own consciences—then is it not evident, that your chosen darkness is your only guard against conviction, and that your case is really bad? And if so, what a sad and inadequate solution it is to avoid discovering your true condition! Since all your preposterous care to avoid it—will only aggravate your condemnation! Which naturally introduces the last question:
V. In what respects, the light's coming into the world, and men's loving darkness rather than light—is their own judgment or condemnation.
Here we have only to go into two things which have already been hinted at; that this gives them reasons for self-condemnation now—and will be the source of their more aggravated condemnation in the eternal world.
1. This supplies them with matter of self-condemnation in the PRESENT state.
It is hard, perhaps impossible, for sinners under the bright light of the gospel—to avoid all conviction of their guilt and danger. That light is very penetrating, and will dart its rays through the thickest glooms of ignorance! "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)
Any of you here present, who are resolved to avoid the pains of self-knowledge, live in a situation very contrary to your intentions. You have had the gospel preached to you through the sermons of faithful Mr Burder, you have divine principles brought to you through godly confessions of faith and books and tracts. The gospel still shines around you; and you will find it very difficult, I hope, impossible, to wrap up yourselves in darkness in such circumstances as God as blessed you with.
Apart from the preaching of the gospel you might have lived in contented ignorance, and avoided those unacceptable blazes of light which will now break in upon you, in spite of all your vigilance; for under the faithful and solemn preaching of the gospel, your consciences will often be disturbed, and you will find yourselves unable to go on in sin boldly and fearlessly.
And though in the thoughtless gaiety of health, and the hurry and commotion of business—you may drown the clamors of conscience—yet in a calm hour, on a sick bed, and in the near views of death and eternity—then conscience will speak, and constrain you to hear! And thus you will live as unhappy, self-condemned creatures in this world, until you are condemned by the righteous sentence of God in the world to come! Therefore consider,
2. Your loving darkness rather than light, will occasion your more aggravated condemnation in the ETERNAL world.
It was in your power to receive the warning, and see your danger in time! It actually cost you some effort to avoid the discovering of your true state, and despise the warning. And what a fruitful source of self-tormenting reflections will this be! How will you then fret, and exasperate, and accuse, and condemn yourselves—for acting so foolish a part! How will you then exhaust and spend yourselves in eager, fruitless wishes—that you had allowed conviction to do its work, while the danger was avoidable! But, alas! it will then be too late!
HELL is a region of darkness too—but not of that soothing, peaceful darkness of ignorance, which you now prefer to the light of the gospel—but a dreadful, tremendous, tormenting darkness, which will forever hide every bright and pleasing view from your eyes! And yet, this darkness of hell will be the proper backdrop for revealing sights of woe and terror! It will be a thick darkness, caused by the everlasting eclipse of the Sun of righteousness and the light of God's being, who will never dart one ray of comfort or of hope through the sullen gloom!
In this blackness of this hellish darkness—you, who now love darkness rather than light—must dwell forever! And O! how will your consciences haunt and terrify you—in that black, cheerless, stormy, eternal night!
Your guilt will also appear great in the sight of God, as well as to your own consciences, and therefore he will inflict the greater punishment upon you. You have despised the richest blessings that even infinite goodness could bestow upon sinful men; I mean, his gospel and his Son! You have made light of His gospel in the most open and audacious manner.
He knows you were even afraid to be made to know your duty towards him; he knows you would not pay attention to your own consciences when they pleaded his cause, and that you were unwilling to admit so much conviction as would make you sorry for your offences against him. More than that, he knows that your being convinced, that this or that was an offence against Him—did not stop you from the doing of it!
In short, he knows that you spent your lives either in sinning against knowledge—or in avoiding that knowledge which would have prevented your sinning. And while he views you in this light—what obstinate, willful, daring offenders must you appear to be in his eyes! And how much more severe the punishment must he judge to be your just reward!
He also knows that you blinded yourself, and struggled against your own salvation, and hated that light which would have shown you the way to everlasting life! And must he not think you worthy of that dreadful eternal destruction which you have voluntarily chosen—and refuse you admittance to that eternal happiness which you willfully refused?
This is the description which the holy Scriptures consistently give us, of those who love darkness rather than light. "If I had not come and spoken to them," says the blessed Jesus, "they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin." (John 15:22) “It will be more bearable on the day of judgment”—for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, though they were outstanding in all manner of wickedness and depravity—than for the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, in which Christ's mighty works were done, and the light of his gospel shone so brightly! Matthew 11:21, 24.
And this is perfectly consistent with the eternal rules of justice and righteousness: that much should be required—where much has been given; and that the degree of guilt should be estimated by the degrees of privilege , and obligation for obedience.
And now, in closing.
As we reflect on this subject, you see your own circumstances: Though we live in very dark times, the light has come among you—it shines all around you! And there is no doubt that at times it must find some openings through which it forces its way even into your unwilling minds. You have light to distinguish between truth—and error; between sin—and your duty to God; between the way to heaven—and the way to hell.
You are warned, admonished and instructed. You have the strongest inducements to a life of holiness—and the strongest warnings against a course of sin. I leave you therefore to determine what your guilt and punishment must be—if you choose darkness rather than light; if you refuse light so clear, so reviving, so beneficial, so divine!
But let me solemnly remind you, that unless you allow the light of the glorious gospel of Christ to shine in your hearts—you will still be the children of darkness, and confined in the blackness of darkness forever! To even suppose that this might be the case of anyone here is intolerably awful: eternal, unending darkness.
Therefore, welcome the light, love it, and pursue it, though at first it should reveal things that may be painful to you; for this pain will prove to be for your infinite good. By discovering your danger in time—you may be able to escape it. But never expect to remove the required painful self-examination—by the silly means of shutting your eyes to the light! Be impartial searchers after truth as regarding to yourselves—and no longer try to fool your own selves! How childish and foolish—as well as wicked and ruinous—would such a deception be!
The gospel, in this test, only requires you to be honest men, and women and children; and surely this is a most sensible and reasonable demand. Therefore, be children of the light and of the day, and walk as such—and then you will be a blessing to the world and to yourselves.
Finally, let us all remember the terror of this friendly warning: "And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed." (John 3:19-20)