“Ye are the light of the world.”
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14, 16
The Lord spoke these words to His apostles. It was not that they were a light of themselves but that they could so live that the Lord’s light could shine through them. Everyone who learns the truths of the Word and seeks to live according to them and to bring this truth to others is an apostle. The purpose of acquiring knowledge from the Word is that we may come to know the Lord ourselves and be able to lead others to Him.
One of the greatest perversions of the truth is to do what is right not for the sake of right but for the sake of being thought of as good by others. This leads to self-glorification. Our text teaches us that our good works are to be seen but that they should lead men to their source, not to ourselves.
From the human point of view man has had a long history on this earth. In the beginning of creation it is said, “Let there be light.” Throughout the Scriptures – as well as instinctively in our common speech – light is the symbol of truth, just as heat is the symbol of love. All progress is through the knowledge of truth. In the beginning man came gradually into a knowledge of the Lord and lived close to Him in peace and harmony, as is pictured in the Garden of Eden story. But man did not acquire the truth needed to bring him into this state by his own efforts, as is commonly taught today. He looked to the Lord and was led by Him. The “tree of life,” which represents the principle that all light and life come from the Lord, was in the midst of the garden. The words “Let there be light” do not refer to that light which comes from the sun of this world, but to that Eternal Light which would point out to men the way of life and guide him to a destiny which of himself he could neither know nor understand.
But mankind turned from this first clear light, and a new light had to be given them in the form of a written Word. Through the ages this Word has taken different forms, until in our Hebrew and Christian Scriptures it has found its final embodiment. Today they are the light of the world, the Divinely provided means for teaching us why we are here and what life is for. But they are a light only as they are received in the minds of men.
We are all familiar with the blessings which come through natural light. In light we can do our work and enjoy the beauties of nature. “The night cometh, when no man can work.” At night, if we are to be active, we have to make use of artificial light.
The Psalmist writes,
“Thou makest darkness, and it is night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth.
“The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God.
“The sun ariseth, they gather themselves together, and lay them down in their dens.
“Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening.”
It is true that at night the wild beasts go forth to seek their prey, and in primitive societies men retire from their fields to the protection of their homes, but this Psalm is really a song of praise to the Lord for the truths of the Word which give light and safety to the soul. Evil does not like the light – either natural or spiritual. Physical darkness and crime are closely connected. Put out the lights of a city and though the police force were doubled, crime would increase. Someone has said, “Light is a policeman that never takes a bribe, never gets drunk, never goes to sleep on duty.” Light is the enemy of burglars and other criminals, as well as of disease germs. And spiritual truth plays the same role on a higher plane. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”
The Lord seeks to communicate His light to men to be a light upon their path and a means to the reception of His love in their hearts. In this way all persons, in the degree in which they receive light from the Word and communicate it to others, become a light in the world. This means that our religion should be taken into our business and social and civil relations as a guide to our actions. Those things in which we are really interested shine forth in our lives. They color our reason and conversation, shine forth in our faces, and speak in our voices.
So the Lord commands us to let our light shine, and tells us why: that men “may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” These words express a law. Those who are and have been the light of the world have embodied their light in deeds; they have not kept it to themselves. Of what use is knowledge if it does not lead to deeds, if it is kept to oneself?
The apostles obeyed the Lord’s command and carried the light throughout the world, which was sitting “in the region and shadow of death.” The Lord works through human agencies. Suppose that the apostles had kept their knowledge to themselves. The progress of humanity would have come to an end, and the purpose of the Lord’s coming into the world would have been defeated.
But the light that shines from the Gospels did not originate with the apostles. It was not their light. Neither does any truth originate in any human mind. Human minds merely receive and transmit it. It is knowledge of the Lord and of His purposes that gives our lives meaning and stability. Each one of us is created for a special use, and in the recognition and fulfillment of this use is the means of becoming “ourselves,” of finding our place here and in the heavens. Each one’s life should be the embodiment of the Divine truth in the work that he is called upon to do.
Every truth we learn is for a light not only to ourselves but to others. The great men of all ages have been such lights. Their works have benefited the people, opened new ways for human activity, changed the conditions of life, and brought new means for advancement. We know that no truth, whether scientific or spiritual, can be diffused except through human instrumentality. This is a universal law. According to this law the apostles organized the first Christian Church, which was the means of spreading the Christian faith and handing it down from one generation to another. Had there been no such organization, the Christian Church would scarcely have survived the first generation of Christians. Because people accepted and united to learn and teach the Christian faith, this faith survived and the church became one of the most important factors in human history. Its purpose was to preach the Gospel to all nations.
What is our position? Today there is a new body of religious truth, and it is the office of the New Church to make this body of truth known. To the extent of our reception of these new truths we have the power to become the light of the world around us. We see people everywhere in need of this light. We should show it forth in our lives. In our day, in our place, and according to our ability the Lord gives us the privilege of communicating this light to men. The new light is necessary to lift the world up from naturalism and to introduce it into a career of spiritual progress, intelligence, and happiness which has never before been attained. What is our use to the world if we contribute nothing to this new spiritual development? In the truths for the new age we have a possession in comparison with which all earthly things are of no value. It is given to us to give to others, and in giving it we find our life and happiness.
“Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
We must strive to keep our church true to its mission as the body which receives and transmits the new light from the Lord, as the champion of the spiritual in man against all that cheapens and degrades him, for it is in the church that we find the means of learning of the Lord and of His purposes. Only in the degree in which we embody the Divine love and truth in our words and deeds do we become messengers of the Lord to others, bearing living witness to His love, wisdom, and care over us.
Our mission is to “make known his deeds among the people,” and the Lord tells us, “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit.”