THE REJECTION OF GOSPEL LIGHT THE CONDEMNATION OF MEN.
" And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because [or for) their deeds were eviL— John, iii. 19.
What a strange, alarming declaration is this! Light is come into the world: the Sun of Righteousness is risen upon this region of darkness; therefore it is enlightened; therefore it is bright intellectual day with all its rational inhabitants; therefore they will no longer grope and stumble in darkness, but all find their way into the world of eternal light and glory. These would be natural inferences; this event we would be apt to expect from the entrance of light into the world. But hear and tremble, ye inhabitants of the enlightened parts of the earth ! hear and tremble, ye sons of Nassau-Hall, and inhabitants of Princeton! The benevolent Jesus, the Friend of human nature, the Saviour of men, whose lips never dropped an over-severe word, or gave a false alarm; Jesus himself proclaiming, This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, &c. This is the condemnation ; that is, this is the great occasion of more aggravated condemnation at the final judgment, and of more severe and terrible punishments in the eternal world; or, this is the cause of men's condemning themselves even now at the bar of their own consciences.
That light is come into the world—Jesus, the Sun of the moral world, is risen, and darts his beams around him in the gospel. And this furnishes guilty minds with materials for self-condemnation; and their obstinate resistance of the light enhances their guilt, and will render their condemnation the more aggravated; and the reason is, that men love darkness rather than light. They choose ignorance rather than knowledge! The Sun of Righteousness is not agreeable to them, but shines as a baleful, ill-boding luminary. If they did but love the light, its entrance into the world would be their salvation; but now it is their condemnation. But why do they hate the light ? Truly, light is sweet, and it is a pleasant thing to the eyes to see the sun: and no light so sweet as this from heaven: no sun so bright and reviving as the Sun of Righteousness; and why then do they not love it? Alas! there is no reason for it, but this wretched one,
Because their deeds are evil. And evil deeds always excite uneasiness in the light, and afford the conscience matter for self-accusation, therefore they wrap up themselves in darkness, and avoid the painful discoveries of the light.
The text directs us to the following inquiries:
What is the light which comes into the world ? "What is the darkness that is opposed to it ? What are the evidences of men's loving darkness rather than light ? What is the reason of it ? And in what respects the light's coming into the world, and men's loving darkness rather than light, is their condemnation?
I. What is the light which is come into the world?
The answer to this, and the other questions, I shall endeavor to accommodate to our own times and circumstances, that we may the more readily apply it to ourselves.
The light of reason entered our world as soon as the soul of man was created; and, though it is greatly obscured by the grand apostasy, yet some sparks of it still remain. To supply its defects the light of revelation soon darted its beams through the clouds of ignorance, which involved the human mind, on its flying off to so great a distance from the Father of lights. This heavenly day began feebly to dawn upon the first pair of sinners, in that early promise concerning the seed of the woman ; and it grew brighter and brighter in the successive revelations made to the patriarchs, to Moses, and the prophets, till at length the Messiah appeared, as an illustrious sun after a gradual, tedious twilight of the opening dawn.
The Lord Jesus Christ often represents himself under the strong and agreeable metaphor of light. lam the light of the world, says he; he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness. I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth in me should not abide in darkness. But wherever he does not shine, all is sullen and dismal darkness. Hell is the blackness of darkness for ever, because he does not extend to it the light of his countenance. That country where lie 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 intellectual day, the bright meridian of glory and blessedness.
His gospel also is frequently represented as a great light; and no metaphor was ever used with more emphasis and propriety. It is the medium through which we discover the glory of the Deity, the beauties of holiness, the evil of sin, and the reality and infinite importance of eternal, invisible things. This is the light that reveals the secrets of the heart, and discovers ourselves to ourselves. It is this that 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 that discovers and ascertains a method in which rebels may be reconciled to their offended Sovereign, and exhibits a Saviour in full view to perishing sinners. Hail! sacred heaven-born light! welcome to our eyes, thou brightest and fairest effulgence of the divine perfections! May this day spring from on high, visit all the regions of this benighted world, and overwhelm it as with a deluge of celestial light! Blessed be God, its vital rays have reached to us in these ends of the earth; and if any of us remain ignorant of the important discoveries it makes, it is because we love darkness rather than light! Which leads me to inquire,
II. What is that darkness that is opposed to this heavenly light ?
Darkness is a word of gloomy import; and there is hardly any thing dismal or destructive but what is expressed by it in sacred language. But the precise sense of the word in my 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 wellinformed ; ignorant particularly of such things as will give them uneasiness to know—as their sin, and the danger to which it exposes them. They are willfully ignorant; and hence they hate the means that would alarm them with the mortifying discovery. They would rather be flattered than told the honest truth, and know their own character and condition ; and hence they shut their eyes against the light of the gospel, that would flash the painful conviction upon them. Though the light of the gospel shines round
?ou, yet are not some of you involved in this darkness ? 'his you may know by the next inquiry,
III. What are the evidences of men's loving darkness rather than light?
The general evidence, which comprehends all the rest, is their avoiding the means of conviction, and using all the artifices in their power to render them ineffectual. It is not impossible to characterize such of you as love darkness rather than light, though you may be so much upon your guard against the discovery, as not to perceive your own character.
Though you may have a turn for speculation, and perhaps delight in every other branch of knowledge, yet the knowledge of yourselves, the knowledge of disagreeable duties, 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 shun; and when it irresistibly flashes upon you, you endeavor to shut up all the avenues of your mind through which it might break upon you, and you avoid those means of conviction from which it proceeds.
You set yourselves upon an attempt very preposterous and absurd in a rational being, and that is, not to think. When the ill-boding surmise rises within, "All is not well; I am not prepared for the eternal world; if I should die in this condition I am undone for ever;" I say, when conscience thus whispers your doom, it may make you sad and pensive for a minute or two, but you soon forget it; you designedly labor to cast it out of your thoughts, and to recover your former negligent serenity. The light of conviction is a painful glare to a guilty eye; and you wrap up yourselves in darkness, lest it should break in upon you.
When your thoughts are likely to fix on this ungrateful subject, do you not labor to divert them into another channel ? You immerse yourselves in business, you mingle in company, you indulge and cherish a thoughtless levity of mind, you break out of retirement into the wide world, that theatre of folly, trifling, and dissipation ; and all this to scatter the gloom of conviction that hangs over your ill-boding minds, and silence the clamors of an exasperated conscience ! You laugh, or talk, or work, or study away these fits of seriousness! You endeavor to prejudice yourselves against them by giving them ill names, as melancholy, spleen, and I know not what; whereas they are indeed 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 Spirit of grace to save a soul! And, O! it would be happy for you if you had yielded to them, and cherished the serious hour! For the same reason, also, you love a soft representation of Christianity, as an easy, indolent, inactive thing; requiring no vigorous exertion, and attended with no dubious conflict, but encouraging your hopes of heaven in a course of sloth, carelessness, and indulgence. Those are the favorite sermons and favorite books which flatter you with smooth things, putting the most favorable construction upon your wickedness, and representing the way to heaven smooth and easy. Or if you have an unaccountable fondness for faithful and alarming preaching, as it must be owned some self-flatterers have, it is not with a view to apply it to yourselves, but other objects; and whenever it forces upon you a glance of yourselves, you turn from it and hate it.
Hatred of the light, perhaps, is one reason why so many among us are so impatient of public worship ; so fond of their own homes on the sacred hours consecrated to divine service ; and so reluctant, so late, or so inconstant in their attendance. It is darkness, perhaps, at home; but the house of God is filled with light, which they do not love. This, also, is one reason why the conversation of the zealous, communicative Christians, who are not ashamed to talk of what lies nearest their hearts, I mean their religion, their Saviour, and their God, and to express an abhorrence of what they so sincerely hate, I mean the vices of mankind, and every appearance of evil; I say, this is one reason why their conversation is such a heavy burden, such a painful restraint to many. Such men reflect the beams of the Sun of Righteousness and the beauties of holiness all around them ; they carry light with them whithersoever they go, and strike conviction to the guilty. The strictness, thq warm devotion and spirituality of their lives pass a sentence of condemnation upon sinners; a sentence which they cannot but feel, and which, therefore, renders them uneasy. Hence it is that such lively and circumspect Christians are not at all popular in the world; but the favorites of the world are your pliable, temporizing, complaisant Christians, that never carry their religion with them into polite company, but conform themselves to the taste of those they converse with. These give no man's conscience uneasiness, they reflect no heavenly light, but thicken the darkness of every company in which they appear; therefore they are acceptable to the lovers of darkness.
Another expedient that has often been used, and which some of you, perhaps, have attempted, to avoid the light, is, to endeavor to work up yourselves to a disbelief of the Christian revelation. If you could banish that heavenly light out of the world, or substitute darkness in its place, then you might perpetuate the works of darkness with more confidence and licentiousness. Therefore you eagerly listen to the laughs, the jeers, the railleries and sophisms of loose wits against it; and you are afraid to give a fair hearing to many satisfactory evidences in its favor. Thus you cherish that hideous monster, infidelity; your own offspring, not Satan's, though the father of lies; for he believes and trembles.
These artifices, and the like, are the effects, and, consequently, the evidences and indications of men's loving darkness rather than light. And instead of a larger illustration, I shall conclude this head with a plain, honest appeal to my hearers. As in the presence of the heartsearching God, I solemnly appeal to your consciences, whether you do not deal partially with yourselves, and refuse pursuing those hints of your dangerous condition, till you make a full discovery ? Do not your hearts smite you because you have suppressed evidence, when it was against you, and shut your eyes against conviction ? When the glass of the divine law has been held up before you, and shown you your own hideous image, have you not gone away, and soon forgot what manner of man you were? Do you not know in your consciences, that the hopes you entertain of future happiness are not the result of severe repeated trial, but, on the other hand, owe their strength and even their being to a superficial examination, or none at all, to blind self-flattery and excessive self-love, which tempt you to believe things as you would have them ? Ts it censoriousness, or is it evidence and faithfulness, that into the world, and men's loving darkness rather than light, is their condemnation.
Here I have only to illustrate two particulars already hinted: that this furnishes them with matter for self-condemnation now, and will be the occasion of their more aggravated condemnation in the eternal world.
1. This furnishes them with matter of self-condemnation in the present state. It is hard, perhaps impossible, for sinners under the meridian 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; it is vital and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword; piercing and dividing asunder the soul and spirit, the joints and marrow ; and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Such of you, my brethren, as are resolved to shun the mortification of selfknowledge, must live in a situation very unfavorable to your design. You have had " burning and shining lights" among you ;* who, I doubt not, shine as the sun, and as the stars in the firmament for ever and ever; but, when they are translated to a higher sphere, the gospel has not left you, but still shines around you; and you will find it very difficult, I hope impossible, to wrap up yourselves in Egyptian darkness in such a Goshen, such a land of vision. In Tartary or Japan, or some savage region of darkness, you might have lived in contented ignorance, and avoided those unacceptable glares 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, bold and intrepid. And though in the thoughtless gayety of health, and the hurry and din of business, you may drown the clamors of conscience, yet in a retired hour, upon a sick-bed, and in the near view of death and eternity, conscience will speak, and constrain you to hear; and thus you will live unhappy, self-condemned creatures in «this world, till 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 warning, and discover your danger in time; nay, it cost you some pains to avoid the discovery, and make light of the warning. And what a faithful source of self-tormenting reflections will this be ! How will you fret, and vex, and accuse yourselves for acting so foolish a part! How will you exhaust and spend yourselves in eager, fruitless wishes, that you had admitted conviction while the danger was avoidable! But O, it will then be too late! Hell is a reign of darkness too, but not of that soothing, peaceful darkness of ignorance, which you now prefer to the light of the gospel, but a lowering, tremendous, tormenting darkness, that will for ever hide every bright and pleasing prospect from your eyes, and yet be the proper medium for discovering sights of woe and terror; a thick darkness, occasioned by the everlasting eclipse of the Sun of Righteousness and the light of God's countenance, who will never dart one ray of comfort or hope through the sullen gloom. In this blackness of darkness you must dwell for ever, who now love darkness rather than light. And O! how will your consciences haunt and terrify you, in that cheerless and stormy night!
* Mr. Burr and Mr. Edwards, Presidents of the College of Nassau-Hall before Mr. Davics.
And now, my dear hearers, upon a review of this subject, you see your own circumstances; the light is come among you; it shines all around you; and I doubt not but at times it finds some openings through which it forces its way even into unwilling minds. You have light to distinguish between truth and error; between sin and duty ; 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 religion, and the strongest dissuasives from a course of sin. I leave you therefore to determine what your guilt and punishment must be if you choose darkness rather than light-—light so clear, so reviving, so salutary, so divine! This alarming subject is very pertinent to us all, and we should all apply it to ourselves; but it is so peculiarly adapted to the residents of this house, (Nassau-Hall,) that I cannot but direct my address particularly to you, my dear pupils, who are the children of the light in more respects than one.
There is not one in a thousand of the sons of men that enjoys your advantages. Light, human and divine, natural and supernatural, ancient and modern; that is, knowledge of every kind shines upon you, and you are every day basking under its rays. But let me put you in mind, that unless you admit 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 for ever. This is intolerably shocking, even in supposition. Suppose your sins should be the sins of men of learning and knowledge, the most daring and gigantic sins on this side of hell; suppose you should turn out sinners of great parts, fine geniuses, like the fallen angels, those vast intellects, wise but wicked. Suppose it should be your highest character, that you can harangue well, that you know a few dead languages, that you have passed through a course of philosophy; but as to that knowledge which sanctifies all the rest, and renders them useful to ourselves or others; that knowledge which alone can make wise to salvation, and guide you to avoid the paths of destruction, you shun it, you hate it, and choose to remain contentedly ignorant in this important respect; suppose your parents, who have been at the expense of your education; your friends, who have entertained such high and pleasing expectations concerning you; your careful instructors, who observe your growing improvements with proportional pleasure; suppose, that after all this generous labor, and all these pleasing prospects, they should see you at last doomed to everlasting darkness, for your voluntary abuse of the light you now enjoy;—suppose these things, and— but the consequences of these suppositions are so terrible, that I am not hardy enough to mention them. And O! shall they ever become matters of fact!
Therefore, my dear youth, admit the light, love it, and pursue it, though at first it should make such discoveries as may be painful to you. By discovering your danger in time, you may be able to escape it; but never expect to remove it by the silly expedient of shutting your eyes. Be impartial inquirers after truth as to yourselves, as well as other things, and no longer attempt to put a cheat upon yourselves. Alas! how childish and foolish, as well as wicked and ruinous, would such an imposture be! The gospel, in this particular, only requires you to be honest men ; and surely this is a most moderate and reasonable demand. Therefore, be ye children of the light and of the day, and walk as such, and then it will be a blessing to the world and to yourselves, that ever you were born.