TWILIGHT– Day-dawn Before Sunrise of Spiritual Life
Until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts." -2 Peter 1:19.
The acknowledged analogy of Nature and Grace- the argument of which Bishop Butler has so conclusively established, and with such a master's hand- must impress every thoughtful mind with the conviction that, One Infinite and Divine Intelligence is the Creative Power and emanating Source of both. Few points of analogy are more striking and beautiful than the one suggested by our present subject the day-dawn which precedes the sun-rising of grace in the soul.
Long before the orb of day has peered above the horizon, soft and golden rays trembling upon the eastern sky, have foretold and heralded his approach. To the poet's eye "In fine frenzy rolling, "few spectacles in nature are replete with such interest and loveliness as this. To a mind susceptible of the most delicate forms of beauty, the scene is far more enchanting and impressive than even the sun's full, noontide splendor. Now this is just the image the Holy Spirit employs to illustrate a most beautiful and interesting phase of spiritual life- that delicate and incipient state of grace which, in numerous cases of conversion, is the harbinger of the full advent of the Sun of Righteousness in the soul.
In this light we interpret the passage which supplies our present subject, "Until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts." There is a day-dawn of grace, as there is a daydawn of nature- and the analogy is true and striking. Few who have not studied the varied phenomena of spiritual life are aware how faint and colorless, how almost insensible and invisible, may be the advent of the kingdom of grace in the soul of man. To this beautiful feature of conversion, day-dawn before sunrise, let us address our thoughts. "Until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts."
The first feature which arrests the mind is, the profound darkness of the soul which precedes the first dawn of spiritual light. The spiritual darkness of the mind, in its abnormal or natural condition, it is almost impossible by any description or image adequately to depict. It surpasses Egyptian darkness; it is a darkness that might be felt. When God, who was the original Sun of the soul, withdrew from this magnificent orb, all spiritual light was extinguished, and a cloud of great darkness ensued, filling and mantling the whole being of man. True, there still remained the natural light of reason and of conscience and of the affections, when God left the soul; and these constitute man a morally responsible and accountable being.
But, spiritually, the soul passed into profound and total eclipse; and the darkness of night and of death, with all its derangement and disorder, flung its gloomy pall over man's entire being. How clearly the word of God puts the solemn truth! "Behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people." Their foolish heart was darkened." "Having their understanding darkened." "If the light which is in you be darkness, how great must that darkness be!" What spiritual darkness veils the mind to the Being, character, and truth of God! What gross darkness steeps the soul, deranging the mental and enshrouding the moral faculties of the whole man! What impenetrable and fatal darkness hides the exceeding sinfulness, the indescribable enormity of sin!
My reader, this is your condition by nature. With all the splendor of your intellectual powers- with all the natural light of your reason- with all the luster of your scientific discoveries- with all the wealth of your gathered wisdom- with all the love, amiability, and winning attractions of your natural disposition, character, and address, you are still in nature's darkness, "having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in you, because of the blindness of your heart." You are walking in darkness, not knowing how perilous is your path, upon what a precipice you stand, and to what a world you go! Oh that "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, may shine into your heart," and give you to see your darkness, and then "to behold the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." Seek this in earnest prayer, lest your feet stumble, and your soul is finally and eternally landed in "outer darkness, where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
"But, "the day dawns." How beautiful the image! how significant the words! How faint and trembling the first dawn of divine grace! How feeble and fluctuating the first pulse of spiritual life! It is, perhaps, but a thought, an emotion, a sigh, a misgiving, a tear, the first breath of prayer gently heaving the anxious breast. But it is real for all that. Just as the first and faintest streak of light trembling in the eastern sky is as really light as the meridian splendor of noontide day, so the first sigh, and the first tear, and the first prayer in the soul is as truly divine as the faith that moves the mountain, or the grace that embraces the martyr's stake. Cheer up then, you awakened, trembling soul! You have just enough light to render darkness visible; enough to see yourself a poor, ignorant, lost sinner, needing Jesus. Following, and not quenching, that light, it will increase more and more, grow brighter and brighter, until the perfect day.
And who is this "Day Star arising in the heart," of which the passage so glowingly speaks? Who but the Lord Jesus Christ, the "Star that should come out of Jacob," and who Himself declared, "I am the bright and Morning Star." Christ is emphatically "the Day Star." Stars are the jewelry which adorn the brow of night. When the sun has disappeared, the firmament blazes with countless constellations, fixed and revolving, vast and minute, which enkindle the vault of heaven with indescribable effulgence. A star in full, unclouded splendor, shining out at noonday would be an astronomical phenomenon, strange and unheard of.
But it is written, "His Name shall be called WONDERFUL." The Incarnation of the Eternal Son of God was the center and source of all the countless wonders that clustered around His wondrous life. And this is not the least, that He is the DAY, or Morning Star from on high, shining in the soul with a life and splendor compared with which all other is but the torpor and the shadow of death. As the "Day Star," our Lord Jesus Is Essential Light. Divine, His nature is self-existent and independent; Infinite, His resources are boundless and inexhaustible. Borrowing light from none, He imparts light to all others. Who but the Son of God could with reason and truth thus authoritatively and sublimely affirm, "I Am the Light of the World"?
All light the light of the natural and of the intelligent world- light of grace and of glory- flows from Christ, the Essential Sun of the universe, the "Day Spring from on high." This is the only light that can guide the soul to heaven. The light of reason and of nature "Leads but to bewilder, Dazzles but to blind." We ignore and undervalue not the natural light God has given to man. It is from Him, and, as such, is to be gratefully acknowledged and reverenced. But yet more unhesitatingly we affirm that, guided to eternity by this light alone, it is a light that will most assuredly and fatally mislead the traveler there. We cannot place this fact too prominently before the reader, that the human intellect is fallen and benighted; and that without the life of Christ and the illumination of the Spirit, it cannot find its way to God, or up to heaven.
We will concede to the soul of man all the marvellous powers- second only to Himself- with which God has furnished it. We will admit that it is capable of solving the most abstruse problems in science; that it can mathematically calculate the distance of the sun from the earth, and of the planets from each other; that it can triumph over the most formidable obstacles in nature, subjugating its most potent agencies to its control, bidding the very lightning obey its behests; and yet, with all this magnificent display of power, it cannot find out God, or take one step towards Him!
Let the reader study thoughtfully the first chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians, and learn from thence the attested and solemn truth that, "the world by wisdom knew not God;" that, when every expedient of are and science had been tried to find out God, and discover a healing for creation's fatal wound, a panacea for man's moral malady, had failed, God took the work in His own hand; and "it pleased Him by the foolishness of the preaching of Christ crucified to save those who believe." Oh, when will the wise of this world cease to glory in their wisdom, and learn to place their intellectual powers and high attainments, not above the cross, where Pilate placed his Greek and Latin and Hebrew, but beneath the cross, where alone they must receive the kingdom of God, even as a little child? "Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein."
But daylight before sunrise is deepening- the twilight is dissolving, and spiritual life, thus gently and gradually dawning, is about to rise in the heart in all its noon-tide power. The heart is the orbit of this new-born sun. It is there the first conviction of sin is experienced; it is there the first pulse of life is felt; it is there the first victory of faith is achieved; it is there the first emotion of love thrills the soul. The heart is the home, the temple, the throne of God's life in man's soul. A religion that illumines the intellect only, that goes not beyond an informed judgment, is as the moonbeams playing upon a palace of ice, poetical and beautiful, but lifeless and dead.
But the light of spiritual life is quickening. It illumines the judgment; but it does more, it quickens the soul, renews and takes captive the heart, vitalizing the passions and powers of the entire being; it ushers into existence a new world of thought and feeling and action, claiming our entire being, all for, and consecrating all to, God. This is the new birth! This is that great change of which Christ spoke as essential to the kingdom of heaven- "Marvel not that I said unto you, You must be BORN AGAIN."
Its advent, like the day-dawn before the sun-rise, may be faint and progressive; or, like the "new-born babe," may have a gradual and a hidden growth, and its birth be ushered in amid the throes and pangs of a soul convulsed to its lowest depths by sin's conviction, and the terror of the law. Nevertheless, the perfect day comes, the heavenly child is born, and all the angels sing together for joy! And thus the spiritual life enthrones itself upon the soul, never, never to be dethroned!
We are not, however, we trust, in thus depicting the process of spiritual life as a gradual work, from dawn to day, from childhood to full age, entrenching upon the sovereignty of the Spirit, who in this marvellous work does not limit Himself to one line of procedure, or restrict Himself to one process of action, but, "working all things after the counsel of His own will," quickens the soul at a time and by a mode that illustrates the inexhaustible opulence of His own means, and receives the largest revenue of glory to His own self. Thus, while spiritual life in some, perhaps in many individuals, is as the dawn of day, faint, slow, imperceptible, as in the case of Nicodemus; in others, it is rapid, sudden, instantaneous, as in the case of Saul of Tarsus, and of the three thousand converts on the day of Pentecost.
Let us be cautious, therefore, of limiting the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit to a given and prescribed mode of operation; and equally so how we sit in judgment upon any case of conversion, simply because it has transpired, not according to the mode by which we, perhaps, were 'born again,' but in a way totally different to our own, -in the one case, gradual as the day-dawn; in the other, rapid as the lightning's gleam; in the one, the soul is drawn; in the other, it is driven to Christ.
But, oh, though the paths by which the goal is reached may be different, the goal itself is one- Christ Jesus the Savior of sinners! All are taught alike to know the plague of their own hearts; all are led to wash in the same sin-cleansing blood; all put on the same soul justifying righteousness; and all alike produce the same "fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, unto the praise and glory of God." And thus, whether we enter the divine temple of God's Church by the south gate or by the north, whether by a soft gale or by a tempest, -all are brought to Jesus, and free and sovereign grace wears alone the crown, and the Triune Jehovah receives all the glory! "The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound thereof, but can not tell where it comes, and where it goes: so is every one that is born of the Spirit."
"As blows the wind, and in its flight
Escapes the glance of keenest sight,
So are the wonder-working ways
Of God's regenerating grace.
"As nothing can its power withstand
But Him who holds it in His hand,
So are the heart's corruptions slain
When once the soul is born again.
"As over our frames we feel the gale
Gently or mightily prevail,
So some are softly drawn to heaven,
And others as by tempest driven.
"And as the herbs, the flowers, the trees
Are seen to bend beneath the breeze,
So visible the change we view
When grace does thus the heart renew.
"Come, Holy Spirit, and impart
Your secret virtue to my heart;
And let this be the happy hour
To show Your mighty, quickening power!"
But there is the twilight of glory- the daylight before the sunrise, as well as of grace. What, indeed, is the day-star of earth but the harbinger of the Morning Star of Heaven? Grace in the soul is the embryo, the germ, the first-fruits of glory. It is not the quantity or the ripeness of the first sheaf that determines the future harvest, but the nature of the grain. And so, it is not the amount, or the strength, or the achievement of divine grace in the believer, but its reality that forever settles the question of its future and glorious harvest of eternal blessedness.
Oh to be true, real, honest, and genuine believers in Christ! Look more, my reader, to the character of your religion- to the reality of your conversion- to the nature of your faith, than to the amount of your religious knowledge, or the splendor and popularity of your Christian profession. We may have a name to live- a name high up in the records of the Church, and emblazoned on the roll of its charities- and yet be 'dead' to that divine and spiritual life, the faintest dawn of which in the soul is the token and pledge yes, the very commencement of the life that is eternal- a life of glory forever with the Lord.
In the anticipation of that glory, and in a growing fitness for its inheritance, let us aim to live! Soon it will dawn- yes, in countless souls, it has already dawned. If you feel sin a plague, and Christ precious, if you trample your own righteousness in the dust, and have put on by faith the righteousness of God, if your walk and conversation is holy, and are careful to maintain good works as fruits and evidences of your faith in Jesus, if you are 'chastened of the Lord, that you may not be condemned with the world,' of which chastening all the sons of God are partakers- then, beloved, the day-dawn of glory, the daylight before the sunrise of heaven, has already begun in your soul; and your path through the wilderness- though it be rough and thorny- the lights and shadows of spiritual life alternately penciling your way- shall be as the "shining light, that shines more and more unto the perfect day."
And then comes the meridian of glory! the noontide splendor of eternal purity and blessedness: no more clouds to shade- nor tears to dim- nor sickness to waste nor pain to torture- nor death to separate; best, and brightest, and holiest of all- nor SIN to disturb, mar, and taint. "As for me, I will behold Your face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Your likeness." Oh yes! SATISFIED, perfectly and forever satisfied. 'Satisfied' with all the way- its sunshine and its shade- by which You, my Lord, shall have led me there!
"I shall be satisfied, but, oh, not here,
Where sin its wild, dark waves tumultuous rolls:
Here is the conflict of the world and hell,
But never calm repose for human souls.
"Here is the turmoil, loud and fierce, of strife;
Here is the widow's woe, the orphan's tear,
The parent's grief as closes some young life;
I know there's nothing can satisfy me here.
"Earth's fairest scenes are soonest desolate,
Her coolest streams most speedily run dry;
No sooner is a new Elysium found
Than the Destroyer to its gates draws near.
"Where, then, may we ever reach that wondrous bliss?
Is there above or 'neath the firmament
One spot where longing souls may know the joy,
The speechless happiness of full content?
"Yes! to my mind a vision rises, fair
A royal city, streets of purest gold
A river through it flowing, trees and flowers
Whose loveliness can never on earth be told.
"There evermore to roam in those sweet fields,
No more to war with Satan, sin, and pride,
To join the wondrous chorus round the throne
Ah! then I shall be fully satisfied.
"But who can tell the bliss of that one word?
Satisfied! satisfied! while the ages roll!
Nothing to mar the joyous full content
There felt by every blessed, ransomed soul.
"Then when and where shall I be satisfied?
I ask, and know the answer that will come:
When in my Savior's likeness I awake
Where I shall dwell with Him in Heaven, my home."