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With this study, we continue our examination of the prologue of John's Gospel.
5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
In the previous verse, John introduced Christ as life and light: "In Him was life, and that life was the light of men" (vs. 4). Here in verse 5, John describes the action of the light upon the darkness ("the light shines"), and the response of the darkness to the light ("the darkness has not understood it"). In our study of verse 4 (see the August 1996 issue), we discussed Christ as "the light of men", as the spiritual light (drawing men to God), and the moral light (showing men how to live). John in this verse tells us that this light is not passive, but active, that it "shines". Note that, unlike in the first few verses of this book, John here uses the present tense. The light of Christ not only shone while He was on earth, but it continues to "shine". The moral light of Christ shines in all men through their God-given conscience. All, universally, have the light of conscience. We all know right from wrong through our consciences. The spiritual light of Christ shines through His people. Paul tells us: "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord" (Eph. 5:8). Christ Himself said: "You are the light of the world" (Matt. 5:14). This gives us a great responsibility. We are Christ's spiritual light. People primarily see the light of Christ through us, and so Paul continues: "Live as children of light" (Eph. 5:8).
Where does the light shine? The light shines "in the darkness". The presence of the "darkness" is as universal as the shining of the "light". Darkness is always, has always been with us. No era of human history has been devoid of great deeds of darkness. And individually, we were all, without exception, lost in the darkness until we were brought out of the darkness by the grace of God. When we were born again, created anew, the Lord said (just as in the original Creation), "Let there be light", and so we became "light in the Lord" (see also I Pet. 2:9; John 12:46).
Darkness signifies spiritual ignorance and moral depravity. More explicitly: To be in darkness is:[Footnote #2]
1. To be in sin, the work of darkness. To live in sin is to be under the control of darkness. It is sin that keeps one in the darkness. As Christ said: "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed" (John 3:19-20).
2. To be under Satan, the prince of darkness. "The whole world is divided betwixt these two potentates, Christ the prince of light and life, and Satan the prince of darkness."[Footnote #3]
3. To be under wrath, the fruit of darkness. God's wrath is called a "day of darkness" (Joel 2:2).
4. To be near to hell, the place of darkness. Hell is utter darkness (cf. Matt 8:12; II Peter 2:17). For those in the darkness, there is but a small, a weak partition (that is, the frailty of life) between the life of darkness, and the darkness of hell.
So, this is what it means to be in darkness. This darkness is manifested in the lives and behavior of those who live in it. Here are three traits of those who walk in the darkness:
1. They ignore the moral "light" of Christ, i.e., they live in sin and so walk in the ways of darkness. "[T]hose. . .that are familiar with sin, in whose mouths and hands, in whose words and actions, you may ordinarily see it, who are no [longer] afraid, ashamed of it. . . , those who make any sin their interest, their delight, their practice, they have fellowship with it. . . , when oaths, profane, unclean discourse is familiar in their mouths; when they can lie, dissemble, revile, curse familiarly; when they accustom themselves to any other way of wickedness, alas! [they live in darkness]."[Footnote #4]
2. They ignore the spiritual "light" of Christ. They lack spiritual knowledge and discernment, as John says, "The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it". "He that sees not that beauty, that excellency in Christ, that necessity of Him, as to be willing to part with all for Him; to count that loss which he has taken for his greatest gain; to renounce his own righteousness, that he may be found in Him; to renounce his own lusts, that he may be conformed to Him; his own interests, that he may advance Him; his own humours, that he may comply with Him: he that sees not that necessity of conversion, the new birth, as to trouble himself about it, to count himself miserable without it: he that sees not such beauty in holiness as to prefer it before the choicest things on earth; to be in love with it, thirst after it; diligent in the use of all means to get it, increase it, strengthen, act it: he that sees not that deformity, danger in sin, as to hate it above all things, to bewail it in himself and others, careful to avoid it, maintain a constant war with it, use all his strength to subdue it, rejoice in the crucifying of his dearest lusts: he that has not this discerning of these and other spiritual things, it is evident he has eyes, but sees not; and what can be given as the reason hereof, but because he is in darkness?"[Footnote #5]
3. From these two traits, it follows that those who are in darkness serve the world, and serve themselves, and serve their lusts, but they do not serve God. One of the surest evidences of walking in the "light" rather than living in the darkness is the desire and the fruit of serving the Lord.
Now I ask, why would anyone want to stay in the darkness? Darkness is uncomfortable (we in general would rather live in a warm, bright house than a dark cave); darkness stifles productivity (one can accomplish very little in the dark); darkness is dangerous (one is liable to fall into unseen snares and traps in the darkness); darkness is scary (ask any child; in the darkness, one cannot see the elements of danger, or the shelters for safety). And so, again I ask, why would anyone want to stay in the darkness? Christ gave us the answer (as cited above): "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed" (John 3:19-20). Men resist the light because they love their sin. Men resist the light of Christ, because they do not want to change their lifestyle: they want to continue to live in the darkness. They have no desire (in their natural selves) to live a pure, holy life in Christ. This is the overwhelming reason that men reject the Gospel message. It is not that they have an intellectual problem with the Gospel; it is not that they rationally cannot bring themselves to a faith in Christ; it is that they "loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil."
Faith and unbelief are bound up with light and darkness. "The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it." In the physical world, light conquers darkness; darkness yields to light. Shine a light in a dark room and it is no longer dark anymore. Christ's light "shines in the darkness", but darkness remains; not because Christ's light cannot conquer the darkness, but because those on whom Christ's light shines close their eyes. They choose to remain in the darkness though they are bathed in the light of Christ. And their choice to remain in the darkness, their choice to close their eyes to the light of Christ, is based on a misunderstanding of the light of Christ. "The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it." In fact, they misunderstand both the darkness and the light. Men see freedom in the darkness and chains in Christ; when, in truth, there are chains in the darkness and freedom in Christ. You, who live in the darkness, can you not feel the chains of darkness? Is not your sin a cruel taskmaster? Consider your sin. Does it ever let you go? Do you have a moment's freedom from the pangs of conscience caused by your sin? When you try to escape your sin, does it not tug at you and pull you back into its control?
But you can be set free from the control of sin, by making Christ your Lord, by making Christ your Master. And Christ is not a cruel taskmaster, but a loving Lord. He says: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. . . For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matt. 11:28,30). There is no comparison between the greatness of having Christ as your Lord versus the misery of being a slave to sin. Paul speaks of the difference, as he speaks to believers: "When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:20-23). The difference between having Christ as your Lord and being a slave to sin, is nothing less than the difference between life and death.
Lord, for those of us in the darkness, open our eyes by Your Spirit to the light of Christ that is shining. May our darkness be conquered by His light. And for those whose Lord is Christ, help us by Your Spirit to live as children of light. May You be glorified in our lives. We praise You for calling us out of the darkness into the wonderful light of Your Son, in whose name we pray these things, Amen.
(The study of John's Prologue will continue in next month's issue.)
2. Many of the points in our discourse on "darkness" is taken from the sermon by David Clarkson entitled "Unconverted Sinners are Darkness", which may be found in The Works of David Clarkson, Vol. II, pg. 355.
3. Clarkson, op. cit., pg. 357.
4. Ibid., pg. 361.
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