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DIVINE LIGHT, AND REFLECTIONS. IN A SERMON PREACHED TO HIS MAJESTY, AT WHITE-HALL, ON WHIT
BY JOSEPH EXON.
1 JOHN i. 5.
God is Light.
lp ye mark it, your very Calendar, so as the wisdom of the Church hath contrived it, is a notable Catechism. And, surely, if the plain man would but ply his Almanack well, that alone would teach him Gospel enough, to show him the history of his Saviour. If one day teach another, all days would teach him. There should he see his Blessed Saviour's conception annunciated by the angel: March 25. Forty weeks after that, he should see him born of the Virgin accordingly at the Feast of the Nativity : eight days after that, circumcised; on New Year's Day: then, visited and adored by the sages; in the Epiphany: then, presented into the Temple; on the Day of Purification : then, tempted and fasting forty days; in Lent. He should see him ushered in by his fore-runner, the holy Baptist ; six months before his Nativity: attended by his twelve Apostles, in their several ranks; and Thomas the last, for his unbelief. And, at last, after infinite and beneficial miracles, he should see him making his Maundy with his disciples, on the Thursday; and crucified, on Good Friday: he should see, that, on Easter Morning, God the Father raises up his Son Jesus from the dead; Acts v. 30 : on Ascension Day, God the Son mounts up to heaven in glory ; Acts i. 9: on Whitsunday, God the Holy Ghost descends upon the Apostles; Acts ii. 3, 4 : and his belief in all these, summed up in the celebration of the Blessed Trinity; the Sunday following
I shall not over-labour to reduce the Text to the day. Fire and light have so near affinity, that they are scarce ever separated. The same Spirit of God, who appeared, as this day, in the shape of fiery tongues, to the disciples, may he now please, by my tongue, to manifest himself to your souls in light. And, as that fire was very lightsome, else it could not have been seen in the
day-time; so may this exhibition of light be accompanied with a fire of holy zeal, both in my tongue and your hearts.
In my last Sermon at the Court, I gave you the Character of Man: I shall now endeavour to give you some touches of the Character of God.
There is nothing in this world so much concerns a man, as to settle his heart in a right apprehension of his God; which must be the ground of all his piety and devotion : without which, all his pretences of religion are so nothing worth, as that in them God is made our idol, and we the mis-worshippers of him : without which, shortly, our whole life is mispent in error and ignorance, and ends in a miserable discomfort. Whence it is, that this dear disciple makes it the sum of all the apostolical mission, which he had from his Lord and Saviour, to inform the world what to think of God: This then is the message, which we have heard of him, and
that God is Light. Would ye know the message, which the Apostles received from Christ? would ye know the message, which they delivered from Christ to the world ? it is in these three syllables of my Text, God is Light.
It is not possible, that our finite conceit should comprehend God essentially, as he is in himself. No notion of our weak humanity can thus reach his infiniteness. Our ambition must be only to conceive of him, according to those expressions, which he hath made of himself : wherein it hath pleased his wisdom to condescend to our shallow capacity, by borrowing from those creatures, which come nearest to his most pure, simple, spiritual nature: amongst which, none is more proper or more frequent, than this of Light.
Not only, therefore, hath it pleased God to express those heavenly spirits of his by the title of Angeli Lucis ; Angels of Light : not only hath the Son of God, God and Man, justified himself Lux Mundi ; the Light of the World: but God, absolutely and indistinctly in respect of persons, vouchsafeth' to make himself known to us by this name, that God is Light. Hereupon it is, that, even in this sense, the children of God are called the Sons of Light; because He is Light, whose sons they are. But that of the Nicene * Creed is most pregnant, That the eternal Son of God, God the Son, is “God of God; Light of Light.” Neither doth our Apostle here say, God is resembled by Light: but, as our Saviour said of God, God is a Spirit ; so here, our Apostle, God is Light. How then is God Light?
Far be it from us, that, according to the stupidity of the Manichees, we should take this literally of a sensible and material Light. That is but a creature; though indeed the first, and exceeding glorious : but yet a creature; and therefore infinitely below the purity and perfection of the Creator.
But, sure, God would have us by this, to be led to the conceit of the transcendant glory of his incomprehensible Deity; and would
The original has “ Athanasian" here, but manifestly by mistake. EDITOR.
have us, when we think of him, to be put in mind of admiring an increated, immaterial, super-intelligible brightness of a glory, so much above all spiritual natures, as the light is above the bodily and visible. Whereupon it is, that, when the Spirit of God, by his Apostle, describes the habitation of God, he doth it in these terms, That he dwells in a light, that none can approach unto ; 1 Tim. vi. 16: and when he describes the heaven of the elect, he calls it, the inheritance of the saints in light ; Col. i. 12. so as, when that place of bliss and the God whose presence makes it such, come into our thoughts, we must elevate our thoughts above this dark sphere of mortality; and represent unto ourselves a glorious lightsomeness, as much above this material light, as light is above darkness : abandoning that gloomy and base opacity of conceit, wherewith our earthly minds are commonly wont to be overclouded; for, surely, it is easy and familiar to observe, that the higher we go, the more light we shall find. In the centre of the earth, there is nothing but perfect darkness : nearer the upper region of that great body, where any overture is made, there is a kind of imperfect twilight: in this lower air, there is a better light; but mixed with fogs and vapours: in the higher regions, there are less mists, and more clearness; yet not without some dimness of exhalations : in the starry heavens, a purer light; yet not without some eclipses: in the empyreal, nothing but pure and perfect light. Justly, therefore, are our hearts lift up with our eyes to a contemplation of a light above those heavens, more pure and excellent than theirs.
Away then with all dull and darksome imaginations, when we address ourselves to the Throne of Grace; and let us adore an Infinite Spirit, dwelling in an unaccessible light, attended with mil. lions of Angels of light, and glorified spirits of his saints in a light unspeakable and glorious. This shall be the first glimpse of our enlightened understanding, when we would comfortably appear before God. In which regard, I fear many of us Christians are much defective in our holy devotions : speaking unto God and thinking of him, sullenly and sadly; as shut up in some remote and unknown darkness on the other side of the world : or, at least, without the lively apprehension of that wonderful radiance of glory wherewith he is invested: misconceiving herein of that Deity, whom we implore; who hath revealed himself unto us by the name of Light.
And, surely, as none, but an eagle, can look upon the light of the sun; so none, but the confirmed eyes of an illuminated Christian, can behold God' in this notion of his celestial splendour: which we must so labour to attain unto and settle in our minds, as. that we should no more think of the Blessed Deity, without the conceit of an infinite resplendence; than we can open our eyes at noon-day, without an incurrence and admission of an outward light.
But this, however requisite to be conceived and done, is not the main drift of our Apostle : who goes not about here, so much to
make any description of God, or prescription of the ways of our understanding, or representation of his glorious presence; as to lay the grounds of our holy disposition, and pure and heavenly carriage before him. For, so is the Light here affirmed of God, as the darkness is disavowed of him: and both of them are mentioned, with an intention of drawing in an exhortation to that purity, which we should affect; and the avoidance of all the state and works of spiritual darkness, which we should abhor. God then is Light, as in himself; so in relation to us : and this predication of Light serves to infer our conformity to God in this behalf.
It is not for us therefore, to inquire so much into those absolute terms, wherein God stands with himself; as what he is in pattern unto us. Thus, is he Light, either qualitatively, or causatively. · The light hath a Quality (for it matters not to search into the essence of it, and indeed it is more than we can do to find it out) of clearness, of purity: of clearness, for the use of manifestation; of purity and untaintedness, in respect of any mixture of corruption. In both these is God Light. . Causatively, in that he is the Author of all Light; communicating it to his creatures, in what kind soever: not without reference to the diffusive quality of light in the illuminating of this vast body, and dilating itself to all the world in an instant. In these three regards therefore is God Light here: 1. of absolute clearness, in his infinite knowledge and wis dom; 2. of exact purity, in the perfect rectitude of his will; 3. of gracious diffusion, in the communicating of himself to his creatures, and to us in special; so, as to enlighten us with competent knowledge in our understanding, and sincere disposition of our will and affections. And, because God is thus Light, all, that will claim to partake of him, must be, in their measure, clear in understanding, pure in will and affections, diffusive of their knowledge and graces to others. . These THREE QUALITIES OF CLEARNESS, PURITY, DIFFUSION, toge. ther with THREE ANSWERABLE REFLECTIONS UPON US shall be the matter of our following discourse, and challenge your best at. tention,
I. Those things, which, whether in nature or art, are wont to pass for the carriages of light, have in them, sometimes, at least in respect of our sight, some kind of dimness and opacity. The candle hath his snuff; the fire, his smoke, and blackness of india gestion; the moon, her spots; the very sun itself, his eclipses. Neither is it said, that God is lightsome, but light itself in the abstract; than which nothing can be convinced more clear and piercing : and, therefore, it is purposely added, for the further emphasis, In him is no darkness. Oh the infinite CLEARNESS of the Divine knowledge, to which all things lie open, both past, present, and to come! which doth not only reach in one intuition to all the actions, motions, events of all creatures that have been, are, shall be; but, which is infinitely more than all these, extends to the full comprehension of himself, his whole Divine nature and essence; to which the world, though full of innumerable varieties,
is less than nothing. The sun is a goodly globe of light : the visi. ble world hath nothing so glorious, so searching : and yet there are many things lie hid within the bosom of the earth and sea, which his eye never saw, never shall see. Neither can it ever see more than half the world at once : darkness, the while, enwraps the other: nor, indeed, of any much lesser (if round) body. And, though it give light unto other creatures, yet it gives not light to itself: like as our eye sees all other objects; but itself, it cannot see. And, though it enlighten this material heaven both above and below itself, as also this lower air and earth; yet the Empyreal Heaven transcends the beams of it, and is filled with a more glorious illumination. But, God, the Light of whom we speak, who is the Maker of that sun, sees the most hidden secrets of earth and hell; sees all that is done in earth and heaven, at one view; sees his most glorious self; and, by his presence, makes Heaven. Most justly, therefore, is God Light by an eminence.
Now the REFLECTION of the first quality of light upon us, must be OUR CLEAR APPREHENSION OF GOD, THE WORLD, AND OURSELVES: and, by how much more exact knowledge we shall attain unto of all these, by so much more do we conform ourselves to that God who is Light; and, by how much less we know them, so much more darkness there is in us, and so much less fellowship have we with God. If the eye have not an inward light in itself, let the sun shine never so bright upon it, it is nevertheless blind. What are we the better for that which is in God, if there be not an inward light in our souls to answer and receive it? How should we love and adore God, if we know him not? How shall we hate and combat the world, if we know it not? How shall we value and demean ourselves, if we know not ourselves? Surely the want of this light of knowledge is the ground of all that miserable disorder, which we see daily break forth in the affections, in the carriages of men. I know the common word is, that we are fallen into a knowing age: such as wherein our speculative skill is wont to be upbraided to us, in a disgraceful comparison of our unanswerable practice. Our forward young men out-run their years; and brag that there is more weight in the down of their chins, than in the grey beards of their aged grandsires. Our artificers take upon them to hold argument with, and perhaps control their teachers : neither is it any news for the shop-board to contest with the schools : every, not Knight or Rook only, but Pawn too, can give check to a Bishop. The Romish Church had lately her She. Preachers, till Pope Urban gagged them : and our gossips now at home, instead of dresses, can tattle of mysteries; and censure the pulpit, instead of neighbours. Light call you this ? No: these are fiery flashes of conceit, that glance through vain minds to no purpose; but idle ostentation, and satisfaction of wild humours, without stability or any available efficacy to the soul. Alas, we are wise in impertinencies; ignorant in main truths! neither doth the knowledge of too many go any deeper, than the verge of their brains, or the tip of their tongue." I fear, true solid knowledge is