THE WORLD TESTED BY THE LIGHT — An Address by Frederick E. Raven

John 8:2 – 20; John 9 35 – 41

My wish is, as I said in the last lecture, to bring before you the nature of the dispensation, as brought out anticipatively in chapters 7 to 12 of John. I indicated then a division of this gospel, that down to chapter 6 you get the solution by the Lord of the great question of life, which was the first and most important question to be solved in regard to man; for it is evident that in the things of God you cannot go one step until the question of life is solved. Then the chapters from the seventh down to the close of the twelfth form one continuous subject, namely, the dispensation which I called the dispensation of light, and unfold that which peculiarly marks the dispensation, namely, the principle of unity. It is brought out in chapter 10: “There shall be one flock, one shepherd”.

I was seeking to show that in chapter 7 we get the introduction of the dispensation; two leading marks in it being that Jesus was to be glorified and the Holy Ghost given. These give you the principles of the dispensation. Now I think you can understand that the Holy Ghost could not be given until Jesus was glorified; for you could not have man glorified before Jesus was glorified. It may seem strange to speak of man being glorified, but man is glorified in receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. I do not mean to say that he is glorified as to his bodily condition; but the Spirit of glory is on him. What greater glory could be conferred upon man here than that he should be a vessel for the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost could not be here apart from a vessel. That was true even when the Lord Himself was here. Christ was the vessel in that sense; He was anointed and sealed with the Spirit. Now the one body, the one flock, is the vessel. “There is one body, one Spirit”; one Spirit must make one body.. But my point for the moment is this, that in receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost the saints are glorified: “Whom he justified, them he also glorified”. I have no doubt that passage goes further; and that the fact of our bodies being the temple of the Holy Ghost involves their being glorified. But man could not receive the gift of the Holy Ghost until Jesus was glorified. So long as He was here in humiliation, believers could not be glorified. The fact is, if man were to be glorified, he must first be extinguished, and the work of Christ effected that. “We are sanctified by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ”; we are sanctified through our extinction in Christ; we are put out as to all that we were in the flesh. In that way we are sanctified; and you could not get the gift of the Holy Ghost till that was accomplished. But now Jesus is glorified as Man; He is exalted to the right hand of God, and all power and authority given to Him; He is glorified according to the counsel of God, and the Holy Ghost is given. And it is that which marks the present period. The Lord refers to it in connection with “the last day, that great day of the feast”. He does nothing except teach for the first seven days of the feast, which were more particularly connected with Israel; but on the last day He speaks about what would take place when the Holy Ghost was given. Think what a wonderful thing it is for man to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost! It has become so doctrinal with us, we have got so accustomed to the sound, that we have lost the sense of the greatness of it.

I am leading on to the great truth on which I hope to dwell on another occasion — one flock, one Shepherd. But there is first an intermediate truth of great moment, that Christ is “the light of the world”; and that is what I want now to dwell upon. You cannot reach the truth of the one flock and one Shepherd without first apprehending the nature of the light that has come in, and the effects which it has produced. Of course, if I make such a statement I am bound to substantiate it. The truth is that the necessary consequence of the manifestation of the light was that something completely new, and which had no previous existence, was formed down here; the result being that there was one flock and one Shepherd. There had been a flock here before; God’s people Israel was Jehovah’s flock. But now there was to be a flock of a totally different character; “Them also I must bring” — that is, Gentiles — “and they shall hear my voice”. Gentiles were to hear his voice, “and there shall be one flock, one Shepherd”: one flock composed of Jew and Gentile, which was inconceivable and impossible when God was owning Israel. Hence it is in the setting aside of Israel you get one flock, one Shepherd, just as you get one body. It brings before us in a sort of parallel line what Paul brings before us in the truth of the mystery. In Paul it is, there is one body composed of Jew and Gentile, of which Christ is Head. In John it is, “There shall be one flock, one shepherd”. I do not think the disciples understood it in the least so long as Christ was here. The truth of one body comes out afterwards in the teaching of Paul; and finally John comes in to show how the ministry of the Lord here upon earth indicated in principle what afterwards came out by Paul. The Lord brought out a great deal more in His teaching when here upon earth than was presented in testimony in the first instance in the Acts of the Apostles. The fact is, that the development of God’s testimony in the world depended on various things being accomplished; Israel had to be completely and finally tested, and hence all the truth of which Christ witnessed was not presented at once: it took a considerable time to come out.

Now my first point is one of great moment; Christ is the light of the world (John 8:12): “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: be that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life”. And again in the next chapter (verse 4, 5): “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world”. Now I apprehend that the law was the light of the Jew. And the godly valued it as such. Refer to Psalm 19, and see what the law was to a pious heart, what importance was attached by it to the law of God. “The law of Jehovah is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of Jehovah is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of Jehovah are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of Jehovah is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of Jehovah is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of Jehovah are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb”. That refers to the law; and those verses give you the impression which a pious person had, by the Spirit, of the law. I think I may say, without fear of contradiction, that the law was the light of Israel: they had light from God undoubtedly; they had Jehovah’s testimonies, His statutes and His judgments; and in that sense the law was their light. Hereafter the law will be written in their heart.

In the passage I read Christ says, “I am the light of the world”. You can understand that the law was not God; but the very essence of the truth in connection with Christ was, that, in Christ, God was presented to man in grace; Christ was not simply something given. It says, “The law was given by Moses”; it does not say, grace and truth were given by Jesus Christ, but Grace and truth have come to pass by Jesus Christ. There is all the difference possible between Moses and Christ; Moses was an instrument, and the law was given by him, and the law was light to Israel; but when Christ came it was not a question of God giving, it was a question of God come. It is true the Father gave the Son; I quite admit the gift in that connection, and that the Lord always took the ground of being sent; but I do not think any one here would question the thought that it was God come here in grace. I notice particularly in the Gospel of John that on two occasions the Lord distinctly makes the matter of His presence here a question between Israel and God; He sought to show the Jews that His presence and their conduct towards Him was not simply a question between them and Messiah, but between them and God. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”; He could speak like that as Himself being a divine Person. So, too, afterwards in this chapter He says to them, “Before Abraham was, I am”, and they took up stones to stone Him; but they took up stones to stone One who claimed to be “I am”, that is, Jehovah.

I lay great stress upon the point, that in the service of Christ here it was not something given like the law, but God come down in grace; “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them”; there was a blessed vessel here in which God had drawn nigh to man. Therefore the Lord Jesus could say, “Go and tell thy friends what great things God has done for thee”; Christ came to this world to bring God close to man, that man might see what the heart of God was towards him. Satan had deceived man about God; and it was of the grace of God that man’s heart might be enlightened, that he might be undeceived as to God, that what was in the heart of God might be made known to man as light. I think you can very well understand that if that were the case, the bearing of it could not be limited to Israel: the law was limited to Israel; it was the light of Israel; but if it was a question of God come here in grace, that could not be so limited. Therefore the Lord takes this ground here, “I am the light of the world”: not the light of Israel (though He was the light to Israel), but the light of the world; because it was God come here. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. And then you read afterwards, “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we have contemplated his glory, a glory as of an only-begotten with a father”. It adds afterwards, “No one hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him”. He came close to man in order that He might declare to man that God loved the world; and the proof of the love of God was the presence of the Son of God here. No one that accepted it, no one to whom the light came, could have doubted for a single instant what the heart of God was towards man, because it was evidenced beyond all question by the presence of the Son of God here. Therefore, as is shown in the early part of the chapter, He did not come to condemn; He says, “Neither do I condemn thee”. The Jews could not execute law in the presence of Christ; and Christ had not come down here to judge, but He had come to reveal God according to what the heart of God was, that is, love. It is amazing to man that God is love.

But then there is another point, not only that God is love, but that “God so loved the world”. The light of this comes out in chapter 3 of this gospel, where the Lord says, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world” — there is the truth — “that he gave his only begotten Son”. No one could have declared the love of God except the only begotten Son, because none other was in the communion of that love, but He declared it as being in the communion of it. What a moment it was when Christ was here, and any heart was opened to the truth that God is love, and that God loved man! And it being a question of the nature of God, the love of God could not be limited to the Jew, it must go worldwide; and therefore the word “whosoever” comes in. This was not simply because the Jew rejected Christ; but in the very nature of the thing the love of God must be world-wide, as being the full revelation of the heart of God. God revealed Himself as Almighty to the patriarchs, and as Jehovah to Israel; but all that was partial, it was not the full light of God. When God was here present in the Person of the only begotten Son, then the truth of all that God is came out, it was the full revelation of God, the declaration of God according to all that was in the heart of God, and God was proved to be love, and that He loved the world.

I think one may fairly call the present moment the dispensation of light. It is amazing that we poor feeble things should be in the light of the love of God! But then that light must completely expose everything that is in us. You can understand that divine love must of necessity have its own way. When you speak of love in connection with God it is infinite and almighty; and in the presence of almighty love everything must give way. The great point for the Christian is that his heart should be filled with the love of God; the Holy Ghost is given to him to that end. “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us”. The practical effect of it is to put me clean out; every bit of pretension, all high thoughts of myself, all have to go, because all is excluded by the light of the love of God; I am brought into the presence of that almighty love of God, and my heart is to be filled with the sense of it.

Now that is the light. The Lord says “I am the light of the world”. He had come into the world, and even prophets were no longer the light of the world. It was very little light the Gentiles ever got from the prophets, though there were glimpses; but they were light in Israel. The character scripture gives to prophecy is that of “A light shining in a dark place, until the day dawn and the day-star arise in your hearts”. To the Christian the day has dawned and the day-star has arisen in the heart; Christ in the heart is the day-star, the harbinger of the day. But then He is the day-star because He has brought to the Christian the light of the day. I feel how terribly feeble one is in attempting to speak of it; the thing is so inconceivably great.

Now I want to show you what the purpose of the light was. It was no part of the thought of God, if I may use the expression, to set the world again upon its legs. From the very beginning, I see in scripture plainly, when once this world failed God had another world before Him, and in the Epistle to the Hebrews you read of “the world to come”. It says He has not put the world to come under angels but under the Son of Man. From the very outset, when sin came into this world, there was another man and another world before God. Faith looked ever on to it. (See Hebrews 11). God went on patiently, and still goes on patiently, with this world; but the word that has come to it is this, “Now is the judgment of this world”. But I want to show you what was the purpose of the light coming in; it came to man where he stood, but it came to lead man out of the world, not to leave him in it. Hence we read, “I am the light of the world”; and what next? “He that followeth me” — and where do you think it is to follow Christ to? It was not simply a question of following Him in the world, but of following Him out of the world. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me”. Where do they follow Him to? To where He is, outside the fold; and if He is outside the fold, He is outside the world.”He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life”. Christ is our life, and where Christ is, life is; but that is not in connection with this world. His life is taken from the earth; and if you want to find Christ you will not find Him in connection with this world, nor its order or religion; He is outside of it all; He took the place of reproach outside the camp. The truth is, Christ is to be found in the holiest of all, and that is where our life is. As the apostle says, “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me”; I live where Christ lives. Properly, the life of the Christian is in the holiest; “our life is hid with Christ in God”; that is how scripture speaks of the life of the Christian. It is very important to remember that you can only be in the holiest in the life of Christ; no other life in man will serve for the holiest. It is your qualification for the holiest, for you go in by “a new and living way which he has consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh”; you are in the holiest in the life of Christ; but you have to follow Christ there. All the bright light of God, of divine love, has been brought to bear upon us where we are in the world, in order that we might be led out of the world. Satan is the god and prince of this world, which has rejected Christ; the judgment of God is pronounced upon it, but the light has come in to lead the believer out of it. I will give you one instance of it in scripture. The light of divine love came to Saul of Tarsus; he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” Thus the bright light of God’s grace was brought to bear upon him; and what for? To leave him in Judaism, in the world, in that in which he had been a persecutor? Not a bit of it; it came to him to lead him out of it. And so he says afterwards, “Christ died for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father”. It is for this that the light of God has come, and I thank God it has led me out of the world; and now I can see every moral principle of the world to be in direct antagonism to God. The ruling principles of the world are “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life”; and lust is the very contrary to love. God is love. The love of God originates everything from God for blessing; the lust of man desires everything for his own personal gratification. I can indeed understand the apostle saying to Timothy, “Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart”.

I want to show you next, what the twofold effect of the light was. “And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see: and that they which see might be made blind. And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also? Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin; but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth”. I understand the expression “For judgment I am come” to mean that His coming brought everything to an issue; things may go on long, as they did in Old Testament times, and not be brought to an issue; but judgment is that they are brought to an issue, moral or judicial. The end is — “that they which see not might see” — that is the first thing — “and that they which see might be made blind”, that is the second. I desire to make plain to you that those are the two consequences of the manifestation of the light.

From the time of Christ and onwards, whenever light came in, it had the effect of blinding people who said they saw. When a man says, “I see”, he takes the ground of being competent, and such men are bound to be blinded by the light. I may not be able successfully to prove it to you, but that such is the case I have no doubt. When the Lord was here upon earth the scribes took the ground of being competent to judge in divine things, and the effect of the light upon them was that they were made blind. The Lord brings the light to bear upon them in chapter 8. He reveals to them where they really were, that they were the slaves of sin and the children of the devil, seeking to carry out the lusts of their father, seeking to commit murder, and refusing to receive the truth, because they were liars and the children of the devil. The Lord completely exposes their moral condition; but the brightness of the light only served to blind them. To a man who says, I am perfectly satisfied with the order of things down here upon earth, you may bring as much light as you like, but it will only blind him; he does not want to know the light of God or the love of God; he is well content with himself and things about him; he says, “We see”, and he becomes blind in regard to the very light which he had, and in which he boasted. It is very much like the people that are pictured to us in the address to the church at Laodicea, “Rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing”, we are competent.

You see the same thing if you pass down to a time nearer to our own, the time of the Reformation. The ecclesiastical people, the Jews of that day, who said “We see”, — and there were plenty of them — were blinded by the light that came in. I will give you a proof of it. It is remarkable, that in the Council of Trent, which took place after the Reformation, the apocryphal books were made part of the sacred canon. I have no doubt that the very light which the Spirit of God brought in at that time served to blind those who said, “We see”. They said, We are competent, we can judge what is the word of God and what is not; and they fastened on to the sacred canon the unworthy books of the Apocrypha.

The same danger besets us. If we take the ground here of ecclesiastical assumption with an idea that we are something, we may be in very great danger of being blinded by the light that has come in to the true position and responsibility of Christendom. The people that are content to take the place of a poor and afflicted people calling upon the name of the Lord, get the benefit of the light, not the people who make great pretensions; they are often blinded by it.

I think you can understand that the great light which came in by Christ eclipsed all else; nothing could stand its ground in the presence of that great light. I do not mean to say for a moment that the light that came in by Christ was contrary to the law and the prophets; but it eclipsed them, like Moses and Elias they disappeared in the light which came in by Christ, and that is the light of the love of God. I have often thought in the study of the scripture that if I were more acquainted with the love of God, more in the great light which came in by Christ, I should soon understand the law and the prophets. I have for long disbelieved in the man that is a specialist in scripture, in prophecy for instance; it is a settled matter in my mind that that man will never understand prophecy, because he is attempting to take it up by itself. If his soul were full of the light of God he would soon come to understand prophecy. Prophecy is “a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn and the day-star arise in your heart”. When the day-star arises in your heart you will understand prophecy, and law too, and every part of scripture. To have the heart full of the light of God’s love is the way to understand the law, because everything in scripture was really leading up to that great light which was to come out by Christ. God never intended the law and the prophets to be the light of the world, but they were a light shining in a dark place; Christ was the light of the world.

But there is another class of people, namely, those who do not see; “That they which see not might see”. it is beautifully illustrated in the case of the blind man, in John 9. Just consider what the light was; the light was the revelation of the love of God; and therefore in the very nature of things, if that was the light, the eyes of people must be opened to it, for man of himself could not understand the love of God. As the Lord opened the eyes of the blind man, so man’s eyes must be opened, “that they which see not might see”. It is the work of grace, which is really involved in the character of the revelation. The revelation is such that it demands of necessity the opening of the eyes of those who do not see. Those who say, “We see”, are blinded; but on the other hand, those who do not see have their eyes opened to appreciate the revelation. That is what you get in this chapter; it was a man born blind whose eyes the Lord opened. What was the great end? That he might appreciate the revelation. This comes out at the close of the chapter; Jesus says to him, “Dost thou believe on the Son of God?” He says, “Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?” Jesus says, “Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee”. What did he get eyesight for? Not to be cast out by the Jews; that was not the object; but that he might be enabled to appreciate the revelation of God in the Person of the Son of God.

And this must be the case, because the revelation never would be appreciated, or enjoyed, if it did not please God in grace to open eyes for it; God does it really by the revelation; it is the testimony of divine love used in the power of the Spirit to open the eyes of those who are blind, those who never saw. You remember the commission to the apostle Paul; he was to go to the Gentiles “to open their eyes”. How? He could not of course do it in the sense in which God could do it, but he could do it by his testimony; and the testimony of the love of God was to be, in the hands of the apostle, the instrument for opening the eyes of the Gentiles; their eyes were to be opened, and they were to be turned “from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they might receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance”. To be turned from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God is a much greater thing than to “receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance”; God is greater than any inheritance. And that is the wonderful thing which is effected; you are turned “from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God”. Look at this blind man; he had been a miserable blind beggar, but he is turned from darkness to light, and in a certain sense from Satan’s power to God; his eyes are opened that he might apprehend the Son of God who had come here to reveal God. That was the great mission of the Son of God here, to reveal God to man, to make known to man the love of God, that man might be led out of the world; but of necessity man was first exposed. You get in the next chapter that the sheep are led out of the fold, out of the world, that there may be one flock and one shepherd.

I do not purpose going further, because the one flock and one shepherd will form our subject on another occasion; but I think I have made it plain in some degree that you could not go on to that subject if you did not first apprehend the light that has come in to illuminate man where he is, and to lead him out of the world. The Jew was necessarily tested by the brightness of the light, and everything was brought to an issue; those who said, “We see”, were made blind, and those who did not see were made to see. I think I can understand the effect of the light upon a man in the darkness of this world, wrapped up in pretension like those poor Jews. They said, “We were never in bondage to any man”; they were the seed of Abraham and the children of God; that is the ground they took in the presence of the Lord, and they had no idea of the slavery of sin, nor the faintest moral resemblance either to Abraham or to God. The light exposed it all, but they did not accept the exposure, they were blinded, and they sought to kill the Lord. They prove it in that they see the work of God in the blind man, and excommunicate him from the synagogue. But they were really only fulfilling what the Lord said. He had come into the world that the heart of man might be completely undeceived as to the terrible cheat of Satan, that the love of God might be made known to man in order to lead him out of the world. Life is not in connection with this world, there is only death and darkness; you have to leave the world, and all that the world is morally, if you are to get into the light of life, where God is and where Christ is with God. May God give to us to see the greatness of the truth that Christ is the light of the world. If we do not accept the exposure we shall fail of that which the light reveals, and like the Jews be blinded as to the work of God.

Frederick E. Raven

(Volume 1)


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