"Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)
This exhortation was addressed to the disciples by our Lord Jesus Christ in the course of his discourse upon the mount. Retiring from the multitude that had gathered round him, Jesus withdrew to a mountain with the little group of his disciples, and sat down and instructed them. First in regard to the blessings of God which rest upon all such as possesses the characteristics of true discipleship, which are these: poor in spirit, mourners, meek, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, yet a proscribed, persecuted, suffering and reviled people for Jesus' sake. That the development of these characteristics is to distinguish the children of God as the blessed of the Lord throughout all time, there can be no doubt; so that in the absence of these there are no marks by which we are at liberty to recognize them from the unregenerate mass of mankind. The children of God are not blessed for possessing these discriminating qualities, for that would imply that they were chosen on account of some personal excellency in themselves, which God has said is not the case; but the possession of them is the evidence of their being blessed, the effect and consequence of their having been previously blessed. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has blessed his people with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love. (Eph 1:3-4) Thus we see that all spiritual blessings were prior to our personal holiness and exemption from blame, and our holiness and deliverance from guilt result from and are in accordance with his blessing upon and choice of us before the foundation of the world; and this choice and provision of grace and mercy had in view, as its ultimate object, and did secure to God's chosen people holiness and deliverance, from blame. For the encouragement of this distinguished and blessed people, Christ has, in this chapter, given exceeding great and previous promises for their faith to live upon, vis.: 1st, the kingdom of heaven is theirs; 2d, they shall be comforted; 3d, they shall inherit the earth; 4th, they shall be filled with righteousness; 5th, they shall obtain mercy; 6th, they shall see God; 7th, they shall be called the children of God; 8th, theirs is the kingdom of heaven; 9th, great is their reward in heaven. What a glorious catalogue of shalls are strung together like a chain of gold to comfort, adorn and sustain the people of God.
"Each of them powerful as that soul
That bid the new made world go round,
And stronger than the solid pole
On which the wheels of nature roll.
The voice that rolls the stars along
Speaks all the promises.
Such a people, this distinguished in the eternal choice of God, thus chosen of God unto holiness and ordained to eternal life, Jesus separated from the multitude, and sat down upon the mountain to teach as never man taught; and unto this people the exhortation placed at the head of this article is addressed. To no other people under heaven can this admonition apply. No other people are in possession of this light, nor can any other people let it shine, or aid in the diffusion of it. To this distinguished people Jesus said, Ye are the light of the world: a city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Then follows the word of command: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." That the disciples to whom these words were immediately addressed were designed in a special manner to diffuse the light of divine truth, as ministers of the gospel, we shall not dispute; but we must at the same time contend that the gospel church, embracing all the subjects of his kingdom, is included with them, as the city set upon a hill; and each member of the gospel church is addressed, and in these words commanded to let his light so shine. The testimony which the sons of God are called to bear, is something more than can be borne by a mere articulation of sounds, and in the spirit of the admonition before us, it is to be borne by a display of works, at the development of which God is to be glorified, and all that are in the house of God are to be illuminated.
It is of vital importance that we should understand by what description of works God is to be glorified; for we live in a day in which there is great confusion and error upon this subject. For this very reason we have called the attention of our Old School Baptist readers to the consideration of this important subject, and we wish to be very particular in defining the nature and description of the works by which our testimony of Jesus is to be uttered. In order that we may be the more distinctly understood, we will first state some kinds of work by which a correct, true and faithful testimony cannot be borne, and consequently, by which the declarative glory of God cannot be advanced by us. And first, the works of the flesh have nothing to do with the diffusion of the light of Zion. By the works of the flesh, we understand all such works as the children of men, in an unregenerate state are capable of performing. All our powers, whether physical or mental, are by nature depraved; so that all the emanations from our fleshly powers are earthly, sensual and devilish. The thoughts and devices of the unrenewed heart are evil, and that continually. The carnal, or fleshly mind is enmity against God, it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. Christ has informed us that it is as impossible for man in his unregenerate state to perform that which is acceptable to God, as it is for a corrupt fountain to send forth pure water. The fountain must first be made pure, and then, but not until then, will the streams be pure. The tree must be first made good, and then its fruit will be good. "Now the works of the flesh are manifest; which are these: (disguise, modify, or shape them as you may, still they are there) "adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like." (Gal. 5:19-24) Consequently the works of the flesh are not the works by which the children of the kingdom of Christ are to glorify God. The declarative glory of God cannot result from our works, as the apostle clearly testifies to Titus chapter 3, verses 4 and 5: "But after that the kindness and love of God our Savior towards men appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done," etc. All the works which we as creatures can do, whether good or bad, can never make the kindness or love of God appear, or in any wise develop the glory of our Father which is in heaven: therefore, such works as can be planned by our mental, and executed by our physical powers, are not the works intended in our text.
Second, the works of the law are not intended: "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse." (Gal. 3:10) And the works required in the text are from such as are under the blessing, and not under the curse. Works which are wrought by us, however unexceptionable, if wrought in obedience to the Sinai covenant can never show forth our redemption from the law, or our translation into the kingdom of Jesus Christ. So very far are we from glorifying our Father in heaven, when we attempt to liquidate the demands of the Sinai law, and by obedience to its precepts render ourselves acceptable unto God, we insult the divine Majesty, and count the blood of the covenant wherewith Christ was sanctified, (or set apart as the law fulfilled) an unholy thing. A thing of itself insufficient for the perfect accomplishment of the complete salvation of his people. None who have faith in the perfect work of Christ will ever think it necessary for them to do his work over again, or to offer any amendment upon what Christ has done; but rather rest their whole soul on that finished salvation which Christ has effected by his perfect obedience to the requisitions of the law, and his suffering of the penalty due for the transgressions of his people.
If then, as we have proved by the testimony of the scriptures, the works required of the children of God, whereby they shall show forth the praise of him that has called them out of darkness into his marvelous light, are not those which are of the flesh, nor even our works of obedience to the holy law of God, by what works, our readers may inquire, shall let our light so shine before men that they may glorify our Father which is in heaven?
The light which the saints are to let shine is that which God lighted up in our souls, when he communicated to us the light of spiritual life; of vital union to Jesus, as our Head by which we are enabled to see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3) And the only works by which that light can be made manifest to all that are in the house, are those works which God has wrought in us (Isa.26:12). "For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." (Phil.2: 13) The works intended in our subject are those wherein we have our fruit unto holiness, and the end thereof is everlasting life. They are those whereof we are born of God. They are defined by Paul as the fruits of the Spirit, viz: Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, etc. (Gal. 3:22 & 23) As also defined and enjoined by Peter, thus, "Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, temperance; and to temperance, patience; and to patience, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, charity; for if these things be in you and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his own sins." (2 Peter 1:5-9) Those, therefore, who obey the injunction of Jesus, in our text, are those in whom these things, mentioned by Peter, abound, and by the abounding of the things they let their light shine; for they, in whom these things do not abound are blind, cannot see afar off and have forgotten that they were purged from their old sins; while they who do those things, viz: the things which are to be added to their faith; do walk in the light - do let their light shine, and are not barren nor unfruitful, are not blind, they can see afar off, and do remember that they have been purged from their old sins.
No man can add to his faith, virtue, until he is in possession of faith; and faith is the fruit of the Spirit, and the gift of God, and without it we cannot please God. No man can let his light shine, who has no light to shine. The breaking of the pitchers of Gideon's three hundred men could have produced no light, if the lamps had not been in the pitchers. We were sometimes darkness, but God has delivered us from the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son; has given us an inheritance among the saints in light; constituted us children of the light; commanded us to walk in the light, and to let our light shine. "For God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (2 Cor. 4:6)
Christians, Old School Baptists, readers of the "Signs of the Times", has the Sun of Righteousness arisen upon you with healing in his wings? Do you know him as the Fountain and Fulness of light, life and blessedness? How is it with you at this time? Are you reflecting that light, by walking in the light as the children of the day? Are you adding to your faith, virtue, and to virtue all those excellencies made manifest by the refulgent radiance of that light? Or have you forgotten that you have been purged from your old sins? If this is your situation, may not the apostolic admonition be applicable in your case? "Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise." (Eph 5:14-15) Would you, as the disciples of Jesus Christ, let your light shine, remembering that this can only be done by walking worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called of God. We are not to sleep, as do others; there are foes for us to face, conflicts to be endured, enemies to be encountered, errors to be exposed, truth to be set forth, sheep and lambs to be fed, brethren to be exhorted, heresy to be resisted, persecution to be suffered, a cross to be borne, a warfare to be engaged in, a good fight to be fought, a course to be finished, and a crown to be received and worn in heaven. Each other's burdens are to be borne, and we are to watch over each other, detect sin and reprove it, both in ourselves and in others; a world to be renounced and its vanities to be laid aside. Besides all this, there are mourning Christians to be looked up and comforted, strayed sheep and lambs to be restored; lions, wolves, dragons and devils to be subdued; and God has given us a banner to be displayed because of the truth. Sons of Zion, purchase of the Redeemer's blood, can you discover nothing in all these considerations which requires you to "Let your light shine?"
But do we hear one say, "My home is in the Lord, I do not expect to be saved by my works!" If your hope is good for any thing, it must be in the Lord; and if you look to works for salvation you will be awfully disappointed. But have you indeed a hope in God, and is it true that you rely on him and him alone for salvation? How will you make this known without faith and obedience? If your faith is of God, it will manifest itself by obedience. The very confidence which the Christian has in God as a whole Savior, swells his expanding hearth with love and gratitude, and awakens every heaven-born sensibility of his soul with ardent desires to glorify him in his body and spirit which are Christ's.
Few, feeble, weak and persecuted as we may seem to be in this day of rebuke and blasphemy, we ask for no accession to our ranks, but such as love our Lord Jesus Christ, and are willing to suffer the loss of all things for his sake. A very orthodox theory of faith and loud professions of attachment to the doctrine which sustains and comforts our souls are not enough. That faith only is genuine which works by love and purifies the heart. It is true, the old order of Baptists have been in some cases imposed on by persons professing our faith, who have proved (but too painfully to us) spots in our feasts of charity; men who cannot let their light shine because they have none; all they deem necessary is to sign with their hand our creed, and surname themselves Israel, and then make the livery of the Old School serve them as a cloak for their ungodly corruption of life and deportment.
Should we attempt a delineation of the characters to whom we allude, we might be thought quite too personal; we will leave our brethren and our churches to look around them, letting their own light shine at the same time, and drag into the light those who have crept in among them unawares. Those who can find hours to spend in the merry circle of the graceless and profane, and can find some trivial excuse for absenting themselves from the house of prayer, those who can find the time and the means to fill a whole community of Christians with tumult, bickerings, jealousies, contentions and disorder, but have no disposition to weep with those who weep, and mourn with those who mourn; though they may boast of volumes of head-religion imported from neighboring countries, can give but poor evidence of a light lamp within their earthen pitcher. There may be preachers who can boast of preaching in the name of Jesus, and of casting out devils, and working miracles, and in their own estimation, giants among dwarfs, yet in the diffusion of the light they shall be detected, and should be put away. Those who are careless concerning what figure they make in the world, can join with the jovial and eat and drink with the drunken, cannot be at the same time shunning the appearance of evil, or letting the light of life, derived from Jesus, shine before men, that they may see their good works and glorify God.
Many of the dear saints of God may feel convicted of having been too remiss in regard to a circumspect walk and conversation. Alas! how much we all have to lament of our shortcoming; but the apparent severity of our remarks in this article will not break their bones, they will not be offended, but they will acknowledge with the writer,
"Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love."
The stand which we as Old School Baptist have taken, the sacrifices we have been called to make for the sake of purity in faith and practice, and above all, our love of holiness, our allegiance to Jesus as our King, our sense of the immaculate purity of his precious cause, will not allow us to walk in fellowship with those, under any name whatever, who turn the grace of God into lasciviousness. On the one hand, we should withhold our countenance from heretics, and on the other, from all who hold the truth in unrighteousness; and so from every brother that walketh disorderly withdraw ourselves.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Mt. Vernon, NY
September 15, 1843
Republished: The Remnant
Volume 3, No. 6 - November - December, 1989