The Dayspring from on High (Part 2)
And yet it is but a "shadow." To the graceless, the Christless, the impenitent, the unbelieving, it is a substance, for the wrath of God, which burns to the lowest hell, awaits them at the end of the valley, to plunge them into the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone. But to those who die in the Lord, in the sweet enjoyment of peace through his blood, it is but a passing shadow. For them the substance died when Jesus died. It was buried in his tomb, but did not rise with him, for he destroyed it when he abolished death and brought life and immortality to light. 2Ti 1:10 But those spoken of in the text are not arrived to that blessed spot where "they fear no evil;" they are still sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death. Death casts day by day its gloomy shadow over them, and they are in the condition spoken of by the apostle, "through fear of death, all their lifetime subject to bondage." II. Having described, then, as far as I have been enabled, the characters spoken of in our text, in conformity with the word of truth and the experience of the saints, I now come to what the Holy Ghost delivered by the mouth of Zechariah about "the dayspring from on high;" and I shall show, with God s blessing, what divine truth is couched in the expression.
"The dayspring" means literally the break of day. Thus we read, "They arose early; and it came to pass about the spring of the day that Samuel called Saul to the top of the house." 1Sa 9:26 So the Lord asked Job, "Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days; and caused the dayspring to know his place?" The idea is, that the day springs with joy and exultation out of darkness, as the sun is compared to "a bridegroom coming out of his chamber" -the sleeping-room of night, and "rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race." Ps 19:5 The title of Ps 22 is margin "the hind of the morning," as if the morning sprang out of night as joyously as the hind leaps out of its covert. "The dayspring," therefore, means simply the dawn or break of day. But what is its spiritual meaning?
i. It signifies, first, the Gospel of the Son of God, the glad tidings of salvation through the promised Redeemer, the Messiah of whom all the prophets had spoken, and to whom all the Old Testament types and figures pointed. John was sent to herald his approach. His birth was as the day dawn before the Sun of Righteousness arose to illuminate the dark world and was born of the virgin at Bethlehem. Thus, in this sense, "the Lord God of Israel had visited and redeemed his people," by sending the forerunner of Jesus in the birth of John. Light was now breaking in the light of the gospel day, which was to chase away the darkness of the legal night. The law was a thing of types and shadows. It was, speaking comparatively, a dark dispensation: for all its rites and sacrifices were but enigmas, dark and incomprehensible, except as receiving their solution in and by the Lord Jesus. The dayspring from on high, therefore, in that sense of the word, signifies the breaking in of the mercy and love of God about to be revealed in the manifestation of his dear Son in flesh, of whom John was the forerunner and messenger. So that, when John came as the herald of Jesus, "the day began to break, the shadows to flee away," and soon the Beloved of the church was to appear "like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether." So 2:17
ii. But as I handled the expression "sitting in darkness and the shadow of death," as bearing an experimental sense, and showed how the saints of God, in the experience of their souls, in their inward sensations, often thus sat, so I shall similarly dwell upon the experimental meaning of the words, "the dayspring from on high," as bearing upon this felt state and realised condition. For whatever the gospel is outwardly, as a revelation of grace and mercy; whatever God has done for the salvation of his people by sending his dear Son; whatever Jesus is in himself as the Christ of God; it is only as we have some manifestation of this to our souls, only as we have this dayspring from on high rising upon and shining into our hearts, that we get any solid relief from guilt and condemnation, darkness and death. It is not the letter of the gospel, however plain and clear; it is not the mere fact that Jesus came, lived, died and rose again; it is not the mere proclamation of mercy through his atoning blood and love that can speak peace to the soul that sits in darkness and in the shadow of death. The mere proclamation of mercy, the mere tidings of salvation through a crucified Jesus, remove no guilt from the conscience, nor can they in the bare letter bring the soul out of such a state of misery and gloom.
But when the dayspring from on high begins to break in upon the soul: when the love and mercy, the grace and truth of God begin to dawn in upon the benighted mind, and faith and hope and love are raised up by the power of God, to embrace this gospel, to believe in this Jesus, to rejoice in this salvation, this message of love and mercy, through a Saviour s blood, is sweetly adapted and blessedly suited to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. You who now sit in darkness, and in this death shadow, do you not feel that you want something experimentally manifested to your soul by the power of God? Can hearing remove the darkness? Can praying dispel it? Can talking, can preaching, can the ordinances of God s house chase away the gloom from your mind, and roll away the shadow from your heart?
You may hear the blessed tidings of salvation proclaimed by the mouths of God s servants, in the most experimental manner, and yet go home darker than you came. You may sit in the pew wrapped up in the very shadow of death, when life is proclaimed and felt in the pulpit. One that sits next to you may be bathed in tears of joy from the light and life of heaven shed abroad in his soul, whilst on you darkness hangs its thickest pall, and death spreads such a fearful shadow over your soul that you may be meditating to steal away when the service is over, and plunge yourself into the dark river flowing near. A servant of Christ may proclaim in your ears salvation through a Saviour s blood, -nay more, may describe your very feelings, may enter into the very trials of your soul, and put his hand upon the sorest and most secret spots of your troubled heart; but no dayspring, no, not one solitary gleam of light, breaks in upon your mind. Nay, the very light of the gospel shining outwardly, and not shining inwardly, only increases the feeling of darkness in your heart.
But let the Lord appear in one gracious word; let one ray of the Sun of Righteousness break in upon your soul; let the Blessed Spirit apply something to your heart, to lift you up out of misery and death; then, as this dayspring dawns, you are brought out of this darkness which you feel, and the shadow of death in which you are immersed, and come into the light of day. Therefore, exercised saints of the Most High, you who know what it is experimentally to sit in darkness and the shadow of death, be often lifting up your heart to the Lord, as, indeed, you will do, for you must sigh and groan under your darkness and misery, that he will bless you with a manifestation of himself, that you may have the shining in of his gracious countenance, that you may feel his presence, taste his love, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
But we need spiritual eyes to see divine light, be it much or little. The sun may rise upon London, but a man may be blind, and now see it; he may be cooped up in a wine-cellar, and not know it; he may be shut up in a gloomy cell in Pentonville Prison, and not enjoy it; he may be in the hold of a ship in the river, and not be enlightened or warmed by it. It is not the fact of the sun shining that gives light to the blind, or brings his rays into a prison; it is not the circumstance of Christ having come, and the gospel being preached, that will give you light who know what it is, feelingly and experimentally, to sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. The exercised saints, therefore, of God, deeply feeling this, are crying, from time to time, "Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance; break in upon my dark, benighted soul; speak a word to my fainting heart! Come, blessed Jesus, and reveal thyself to me in thy love and blood."
But why do they thus sigh and cry, and beg of the Lord to bless them with some manifestation of his love? Because they sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. Then that is a good position. "A good position?" say you. "What, my darkness and gloom, my trials and temptations, my affliction and distress, my troubles at home, my trials abroad, my poverty, my family sorrows, my assaults from Satan, my dreadful heart, full of rebellion and self-pity, my mournful days, my restless nights, and all that concurrence of circumstances that sink my soul so low, -are all these good things? Is there, can there be a blessing in them?" Yes; a blessing in disguise. How so? They fit you for manifested mercy; they pluck you out of a dead profession; they shake you to pieces out of a Laodicean state; they uproot your fleshly confidence; they break down your pride and self-righteousness; and they show you what true religion is by cutting up everything but what God s Spirit, by his own grace, plants in the soul.
I am sometimes glad to see people sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death. Their complaints, when I visit them, make no harsh music in my ear. I am glad to see them exercised. I feel for their trials, I sympathise with them in their afflictions; but I know it is "through much tribulation we must enter into, the kingdom." Therefore to see the saints of God in distress has been a cause of rejoicing to me, instead of a cause of sorrow: for I know that the hand which wounded will heal, that the grace which stripped will clothe, and the power that brought down to the grave will surely raise up. Therefore, you exercised saints, you tried and tempted children of God, you who think yourselves so hardly dealt with you who this day have been murmuring under your griefs and woes, you who feel yourselves the most miserable of wretches that can walk the London streets, -if there be with all this darkness and dejection, a sigh. a cry to the Lord of life and glory to break in upon your souls, the day will come when you will bless God for these trials and afflictions, when you will say how good he was to send these sharp trials, these ploughs and harrows to break up the fallow ground, that you might not sow among thorns, and perish in hypocrisy.
I wish there were more London professors sitting in darkness and the shadow of death. I wish they were more tried, more tempted, more distressed, more knocked about, more cut to pieces, more laid low. There is, I fear, a sad want of life and power in London professors; they are much sunk in the world, and buried in carnality and death. They want a good shaking, a hot furnace, or a deep flood, to bring them into the life and power of vital godliness. Not but that the Lord has his exercised saints in this vast metropolis. He has, I believe, a people "scattered and peeled," at both ends of London. But taking the great bulk of professors at headquarters, even those who, we hope, really fear God, there is every reason to believe there are many who are sunk in worldliness; and that the grace of God is at a low ebb, for the most part, in those who are members of churches, and fill up seats in congregations. Therefore, poor dear child of God, I speak to you in the corner there, burying your face in your hands or your handkerchief, through trouble and sorrow, do not murmur and fret against the Lord for the painful things you are passing through. It is purging your heart from London religion, raising you out of the grave of a London cemetery. It you be sitting in darkness and the shadow of death, it is not to destroy you, but that the dayspring from on high may break in upon your soul.
III. And what will it do for you when it comes? It will give you light. It is the dayspring or dawn, and therefore must communicate light wherever it comes. "In thy light," says the church, "we see light." The first thing it will probably do will be to show you why the Lord has been bringing all these trials and afflictions upon you, and how they have worked together for your spiritual good. You will then see that not a single trouble or temptation has befallen you that has not been secretly working together for your good, and God s glory. As this light, then, begins to dawn upon your soul, you will see that the Lord was really with you in the trial and affliction: this will make you kiss the rod; and as you feel submission and resignation to bow to the sovereign will of God, meekness and patience will soften your heart, and subdue that wretched self-pity and rebellion that have so awfully worked.
As these fruits of righteousness spring up in your heart, you will begin to bless the Lord for his afflicting hand, and feel how profitable it has been made to your soul. I have had, myself, a good deal of affliction, and I will tell you what has always tried me most, -when the affliction has passed over my head without being sanctified to my good. When I have found profit from affliction, when in it my heart has been drawn up to the Lord, and it has been attended with a blessing to my soul, -then I can praise and bless the Lord for his afflicting hand. But until the wisdom and goodness of God are seen and felt, we lack that sweet resignation, that holy calm, that lying at the Lord s feet, and that casting ourselves into his gracious hands, which when felt, lighten the heaviest loads.
But as the light increases and shines more fully and brightly, it begins to show us Jesus, and who Jesus is, and we get perhaps a discovery of his glorious Person and work. We may see a little of the sufferings of Jesus in the garden and upon the cross; of his meekness, gentleness, patience, and submission to his Father s will; this reconciles us to bearing the cross, and to sitting in darkness and the shadow of death, for both fell upon him. By and by, as the Lord is pleased to strengthen faith in the soul, it begins to take more powerful hold of this blessed Saviour; as it hangs upon him who says, "Let him take hold of my strength that he may make peace with me," light breaks in more and more; doubts and fears begin to disperse, the gloom is dispelled, and the soul comes forth into the light of God s countenance, for the Sun of Righteousness now arises upon it with healing in his wings.
What a blessed thing is light, the light of life, the light of God s countenance, of the glorious gospel, of Jesus face! "Truly light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun." But to whom? To those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death. How such hail the first rays of light! If you were shipwrecked, cast by night upon a desert rock, how you would hail the first beams of the morning light to show you where you were, and what hopes there were of final escape. So, similarly, how a sense of danger, magnified by the darkness, makes the shipwrecked soul hail the first beam of light, that it may see the way of escape from hell to heaven. There may be here some poor saints of God who are cast upon the desert rock, and saying, "My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning; I say, more than they that watch for the morning." Ps 130:6 How such hail the first beams of heavenly light; how glad they are to see any tokens for good; how blessed to them is any manifestation of mercy, any melting of heart, any dissolving of spirit, any breaking down of soul, any discovery of atoning blood and pardoning love. How sweet to them it is to have any divine light dawn upon their mind, to have any breaking in of the goodness and mercy, grace and glory, of the blessed Jesus. The more we sit in darkness, the more we prize light.
Many high professors despise all this, and run out against it as a building upon frames and feelings, and making a Christ of our experience. Poor things! Their light is not worth having; and their religion, it is to be feared, is but a fire of their own kindling, the light of which will never light them to heaven. But why do they despise it? Because they never sit in darkness and the shadow of death. Therefore, really and truly, what is their light? An ignis fatuus, a will-o -the-wisp, a gas-lamp, a meteor, a falling star, anything, everything but the dayspring from on high, or the Sun of Righteousness. But the Lord s people cannot be put off with a gaslamp, an ignis fatuus, a will-o -the-wisp. They must have Jesus. They must have his blood upon their consciences, his grace in their hearts, his presence in their souls; sweet discoveries of his Person and work, the whispers of his love, the touch of his finger, the smiles of his face. They must have Jesus for themselves.
"Give me Christ, or else I die," is their feeling. But what makes them break forth with these earnest sighs and cries? They are in darkness and in the shadow of death. Were they otherwise, they would be content to remain as they naturally are, -dark and dead. But feeling their state, it makes them long for the beams of light; and when it breaks in upon their soul, they can bless it because it comes from and leads to God.
The next blessing it communicates is "to guide their feet into the way of peace." What a place London would be without light! I dare say many here remember old London as I do, when there was not a single gas-light in the streets. How this remarkable invention has turned a London night almost into a London day, and changed dangerous streets and impassable alleys into safe and brilliant thoroughfares! London in utter darkness! What confusion, what destruction of life and property! So it is in grace; the dayspring that breaks in upon the soul is to guide our feet as well as dispel our darkness. There is a way of peace, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. For he is "our peace," Eph 2:14 Mic 5:5, and "the way," Joh 14:6, and therefore the way of peace. He has made peace through the blood of his cross, Col 1:20, having slain the enmity thereby, and came and preached peace to them which were afar off, "sitting in darkness and the shadow of death," and "to them that were nigh." Eph 2:16,17
The dayspring, then, breaking in upon the soul, shines upon the way of peace, and guides the feet into it. The light shines upon the way lined with blood, the way of salvation through the finished work, atoning blood, and meritorious sufferings of the Son of God. As then the light shines upon the way, and it is seen as a way of peace, a way of pardon and reconciliation, a way of access and acceptance, a way of grace and glory, a way of life and happiness, the feet of faith move towards it, enter upon it, and walk in it. This is a peace that passeth all understanding, a peace which the world cannot give or take away, a holy calm, a gracious subduing of all rebellion; and that power which once said to the boiling waves and howling winds that chafed their whitened crests into a succession of billows, "Peace, be still!" does it all.
How great the change! Instead of war with God, to be at peace; to see by the eye of faith that the whole way from earth to heaven, as revealed in the Person and work of the Son of God. is peace from first to last, and that as long as the feet are moving in that path they are walking in a way of peace here and hereafter. O to know, feel, and enjoy more of this peace, the peace of which Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you!" Oh, how sweet it is to have a little true peace, to be at peace with God. against whom we have so dreadfully and damnably sinned, to have a manifested interest in the blood which speaketh peace, and as such cries, from the ground for mercy, and speaks it when applied to the conscience. It thus speaketh better things than the blood of Abel, which cried for vengeance.
The way of peace, then, is not in rebellion, in murmuring, in fretfullness, in carnality: no, nor in worldly pleasure, in handsome houses, fine clothes, beautiful furniture, a respectable appearance, and abundance of gold and silver. "What hast thou to do with peace?" may be said to all such "lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God," when they say, "Is it peace?" The only peace is peace in believing, peace through atoning blood, peace by walking in sweet communion with Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Nor are we left ignorant how it is to be attained and maintained. "Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" Php 4:6,7
IV. But whence arises this dayspring, with all these effects? What is the source and fountain of it all? "The tender mercy of our God." All comes through his tender mercies. Mercy first, mercy middle, mercy last, mercy in eternity, rejoicing, as it were, against judgment, Jas 2:13, triumphing over, though not at the expense or sacrifice of, justice, nor to the detriment of God s righteousness, but still preveiling, through the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. O the tender mercy, the sweet compassion the pitiful bowels of love displayed in the Person and work of Christ! Here is the dawn of mercy, the first intimation of a full and free salvation through the blood of the Lamb. Here the Lord begins to speak peace to the troubled conscience, and to give the first sensible and inward evidence of an interest in his everlasting love. Clouds may arise and darken the clear face of the dawning day: but still each ray that glanced into the heart was a herald and a harbinger of the Sun of Righteousness, which, when it rises upon the soul. chases away all the mists and fogs, and breaking through the dark clouds of unbelief, is as "the light of the morning when the sun riseth, even a morning without a cloud." when the Sun of Righteousness chases away all the mists and fogs of night.
I have given you from the text a short and imperfect sketch of the way in which the Lord the Spirit often carries on his work in the heart, and what are the feelings and experience of the soul led in this path. There may be present here those acquainted with a part or the whole of it. Some may be now sitting in darkness and the shadow of death, sighing and longing for this dayspring from on high. To you, dear friends, who mourn and sigh, grieve and groan under felt darkness, on whom death without and within often casts a gloomy shade, -to you whom nothing can satisfy but the smiles of God, the visitations of his presence, and the looks of his love, -to you the Lord will appear in his own time and way, that he may comfort your cast-down souls, and speak peace to your troubled spirits. It is his grace that makes you see and feel where and what you are. It is light from him that shows you the darkness. It is life from him that makes you feel the shadow of death. It is his Spirit, and not your carnal heart, your fallen nature, that cries within. It is he that kindles the spiritual desires, that imparts the living faith, communicates the gracious hope, and from time to time drops in the words of consolation that you feel within.
And he will carry on the work. You may doubt and fear; and as long as we have a body of sin and death, an ensnaring world, a restless and implacable enemy, and a conscience tender and fearful, we shall have our doubts and fears. If the Lord be our light, his withdrawing must produce darkness; if the Lord be our life, all but himself is death. Darkness and death produce doubt and fear, not, it may be, of eternally perishing, but doubt of our present goodness of state, and fear lest we should stumble, slip, or go astray. But in spite of all these doubts and fears, the Lord will appear in behalf of all who fear his great name. "Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it."Therefore, my beloved friends, to whom I have spoken in his gracious name; the Lord will appear to you who sit in darkness; he will carry on the work in your soul; he will revive you. The darkness has been or is now so thick that you have thought the day of gospel light and liberty would never come. But it will come; and when it does, you will see why it has not come before. You will see the Lord had first other lessons to teach you, had to sink you deeper and deeper into a knowledge of self, of your need of Jesus, that he might shine upon your soul with greater blessedness, and make you love and value him beyond all price and all comparison.