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 J.C. Philpot

 “Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God.” [Isaiah 50:10]

But there is a third mark with which the blessed Spirit in the text has stamped that heir of heaven whose character we are endeavouring to trace. “He walks in darkness, and has no light.” This may well at first sight strike us with surprise. “is it possible,” reason asks, “that one who fears God, and obeys the voice of His Servant, should be in this condition?” “Obedience brings light, disobedience is the only cause of darkness,” sounds from a thousand pulpits.

“Live up to your privileges, cultivate holiness, be diligent in the performance of your duties, if you would enjoy the pleasures of a cheerful piety,” cry aloud a thousand task-masters. Without denying that disobedience produces darkness of soul, for the experience of every believer testifies that ‘sin separates between him and his God’ Isa 59:2, we cannot allow that it is the ONLY cause, or that obedience necessarily produces light. To speak so is to go point blank against the text, is to ascribe merit to the creature, is “to sacrifice to our own net, and burn incense to our own dragnet,” and to boast like him of old–“By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I am prudent” Isa 10:13. We must go higher, then, than the creature, and trace it up to the sovereign will of the Creator, even to Him who says–“I form the light and create darkness” Isa 45:7.

Here, then, is a character whom God Himself declares to fear His great name, and to obey the voice of His Servant, and yet he is one “who walks in darkness, and has no light.” Two things, we find, are here said of him–

1. That he walks in darkness. “To walk in darkness” implies something habitual. It is not that he feels darkness occasionally, that he is immersed in it for an hour or a day at a time, or that he has long seasons of it chequered with days and weeks of light. The expression “to walk” in Scripture always implies something continual, something habitual, something prolonged through a considerable space of time. Thus, some are said “to walk in pride,” others “in a vain show,” others “after their ungodly lust,” others “after the flesh;” in all which places it means some habitual conduct, some course of action spread through a long period. The expression, therefore, of the text, “to walk in darkness,” implies a long, unvaried, unbroken continuance in it. The figure is taken from a man journeying by night, who has neither moon nor stars to shine upon his path.

But the word “darkness” needs explanation likewise. It is not the darkness then of the unregenerate that is here meant, such as David speaks of–“They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness” Ps 82:5. Neither is it the darkness of sin, such as Paul speaks of–“Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” Eph 5:11.

But it is a darkness of feeling, a darkness of inward experience, the darkness of a regenerate soul, and such as is peculiar to the elect. There are TWO KINDS OF DARKNESS. One such as has never given place to light, like the darkness of a deep cave or mine, into which the rays of the sun have never penetrated. The other a darkness produced by the absence or withdrawal of light. Thus the long, long night which brooded over the earth when “it was without form and void,” before God said, “Let there be light,” is an instance of the first kind of darkness. The first night which fell upon the earth when the sun set for the first time is an instance of the second. The first resembles the darkness of the ungodly, the second the darkness of the regenerate.

There was neither fruit, nor flower, nor beauty, nor ornament in the dark waters of chaos, as there is neither grace nor anything lovely in the dead soul. But after beauty had covered the earth under the creating hand of Jehovah, it was there still, though unseen and covered with darkness, when the new-born sun left for the first time his seat in the heavens. Thus after light has sprung up in the soul, and the hand of God has created it anew, though its faith and hope are hidden in darkness, still they are there. And this is the grand distinction between the darkness of the heir of heaven and the darkness of the heir of hell. Light has never visited the one, it is the withdrawal of light which causes the darkness of the other.

Thus spiritual darkness is only known to those who have enjoyed spiritual light, as the absence of God is only felt by those who have tasted His presence.

“To walk in darkness,” then, is to feel light removed, hope faded away, faith at its last gasp, love withered out of the heart, God absent, salvation despaired of, evidences lost, ancient landmarks gone, anchorage failed, comfort changed into mourning, and peace into despondency. To walk in darkness is to find the Bible a sealed book, prayer a burden, ordinances a weariness, spiritual conversation a task, and all religion an enigma. It is to be tossed up and down on a sea of doubts and fears, and to wander here and there amid fogs of confusion and mists of perplexity. It is to feel ignorant of everything that we have once known, and to be at a loss what to think either of ourselves or of God, of His present dealings or past mercies, and to find one black night of confusion fallen upon our path, so that “if we go forward, God is not there, or backward, but we cannot behold Him; He hides Himself on the right hand that we cannot see Him” Job 23:8-9.

And as when God makes darkness and it is night, all the beasts of the forest do creep forth. Ps 104:20, so in this darkness of soul do doubts and fears, jealousies and suspicions, temptations and lusts, vile passions and all the hidden filth and obscenity of the heart, enmity and rebellion, blasphemy and infidelity, atheism and despair, fretfulness and inward cursing, devilism and all the monsters as well as all the crawling reptiles of the carnal mind, all creep forth to harass and torment the soul.

2. THAT HE HAS NO LIGHT. But the blessed Spirit has added another expression to denote the experience which we are endeavouring to trace, “he has no light”. The word translated “light” in the text means something more than mere light, and signifies rather brightness or shining. It is thus translated–“the shining of a flaming fire” Isa 4:5; “until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness” Isa 62:1; “the court was full of the brightness” Eze 10:4; “His brightness was as the light” Hab 3:4. Thus, when it says of the heir of heaven in the text, that “he has no light,” it means that he has no shining light, no brightness, no radiancy. He has indeed light, yes, divine and supernatural light, and by this heavenly light he has seen God and has seen himself, knows good and evil. The veil upon his heart has been rent in twain from the top to the bottom. His “eyes have been opened, and he has been turned from darkness to light” Ac 26:18.

IF HE LITERALLY AND ACTUALLY HAD NO LIGHT, HE WOULD BE DEAD IN HIS SINS. “You are all.” says Paul–that is, babes as well as fathers–“you are all the children of light, and the children of the day” 1Th 5:5. “You were once darkness, but now you are ye light in the Lord” Eph 5:8. “Who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” 1Pe 2:9.

This heir of heaven, then, has light–but not SHINING LIGHT. He has light to see sin and holiness, guilt and judgment, iniquities that reach unto heaven, and the flaming sword of justice stretched out against them; but he has not the brightness of divine manifestations. He has twilight, but not sunlight. But who knows not that the first glimmer of twilight which dawns upon the dark world comes from the sun, and is a part of the same beams which blaze in the midday sky? The sun himself indeed is yet hidden beneath the earth, but his rays are refracted by the air, and bent down out of their course to enlighten the world, long before he himself rises in the east.

And so the child of God, who has no sweet view of Jesus as his Savior, is still enlightened by His beams; and as sure as “the day star has arisen in his heart” 2Pe 1:19, will “the Sun of Righteousness” one day arise upon him “with healing in His wings.” Thus the heir of heaven in the text has light to see the evil of sin, but not brightness to enjoy the pardon of it. He therefore sees and feels the curse of the law, but not its removal out of the way; the pollution of all his thoughts, words and actions, but not the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness; the leprosy, but not the cleansing of the leper; the malady, but not the remedy; the wound, but not the oil and the wine; the justice of God, but not His mercy; his own total insolvency, but not the full forgiveness of the debt; that God is his Master, but not that God is his Father. Mal 1:6.

Thus–“He is led, and brought into darkness, but not into light” La 3:2; “sits desolate on the ground” Isa 3:26, and not “with Christ in heavenly places;” mourns like the dove, but mounts not up with wings as eagles; feels himself black as the tents of Kedar, but not lovely as the curtains of Solomon So 1:5; sighs as a prisoner Ps 79:11, but does not leap as “a hind let loose” Ge 49:21; is lost and driven away and broken and sick, but is not yet sought out, brought back, bound up, and strengthened Eze 34:16.

But what do I mean when I say that the heir of heaven has light to see guilt and wrath and condemnation, but not mercy, love and pardon? Do I mean that he merely sees these things as certain revealed truths, as a system of dry doctrines, just as our DEAD CALVINISTS that swarm through the country see everything and anything but their own ignorance? No. I am speaking here not of a brain-religion, or head-knowledge, or tongue-work, or that miserable, dry, barren, marrowless, moonlight acquaintance with the doctrines of grace which hardens the heart, sears the conscience, and lifts up the soul with presumption, to dash it down into the blackness of darkness forever.

The heir of heaven in the text is not one of those graceless professors who, like the caricatures that we sometimes see in the picture shops, are all head and no body, and who have neither a heart to love Christ, nor affections of compassion to melt into godly sorrow, nor hands to touch Him, nor feet to run the way of His commandments. The heir of heaven has too much going on at home, too much soul-trouble, too much indoors work, too many temptations, difficulties and conflicts, to allow him to furnish his head with empty notions. He wants to have the gold, silver, and precious stones within, which the fire will not burn, and leaves to dead Calvinists the wood, hay and stubble of dry doctrines, vain contentions and unprofitable disputes.

This is the character, then, whose experience we have endeavoured to trace, an heir of heaven walking in darkness. But we must not leave him here. God has not left this tried child of His without a word suitable to his case. He has addressed to him an exhortation, which in fact is a promise–“let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God.” Now this exhortation is not addressed to this heir of heaven, as if he had any strength or power of his own to do that to which he is exhorted. If he could trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God, his darkness would well near cease. His trouble, in these seasons of inward darkness is, that HE CANNOT BELIEVE, THAT HE CANNOT TRUST–but that unbelief, and doubt, and despondency so press him down that he cries, “I am shut up, and I cannot come forth” [Ps 88:8.]

“But you ought to believe, you ought not to doubt, you ought not to give way to your unbelief,” says one of those who sit in Moses’ seat, one of those physicians of no value, who know the disease by theory only, and have never felt the malady for which they are prescribing. As well might they say to the criminal in the condemned cell, hand-cuffed and double-ironed, “You ought to come out;” or to a man up to his neck in a slough, “You ought not to give way to sinking,” as lavish their oughts and ought-nots upon one who walks in “darkness and has no light.”

God does not so mock one of His children, nor when he asks for bread does He give him a stone. But does not He say in the text, “Let him do this and that”? He does; but with the exhortation HE GIVES POWER to do what the exhortation bids. A king does not send his general to take a town without giving him soldiers to take it with. Thus the King of Zion, when He gives a precept, and exhortation, or an invitation, gives to His people ability to perform what He commands. “Where the word of a king is, there is power.” It is ignorance of this truth in their own experience that makes so many ‘letter-ministers’ lay heavy burdens on men’s shoulders, which they themselves never touch with one of their fingers.

It is the Lord, who in the text bids this child of His to trust in His Name, secretly but powerfully works this very trust in him to which He exhorts. There is in the midst of his darkness at times a WAITING for light. There is a secret resting upon the eternal arms which are underneath. What keeps the heir of heaven from the razor, the halter, or the pond, to which the devil and his own despairing heart would at times drive him? What preserves him from the ale-house, the gambling table, or the brothel? What holds him up in a consistent walk, day after day, in the midst of floods of temptation, when lust and passion fill every corner of his heart, and seem ready every moment to boil over and drown him in destruction and perdition?

What makes him sigh and groan, and hold on his way, with a tender conscience and unblemished life? Is there no faith here in operation? Is there no trusting in the Lord, and staying upon his God in the midst of his temptation? Is it nature, and unbelief, and a work of the flesh, and a delusion of the devil–that hold him up? Who that has eyes to see, and a heart to feel does not perceive that this heir of heaven, walking in darkness and having no light, has the same faith in exercise which Peter had when he walked upon the sea?

His faith is indeed hidden in the bottom of his heart, and struggling for life and liberty, under the weight of temptations and trials, as the seed under the clods is pushing its roots downwards and its blade upwards, though pressed on every side with the stiff clay.

I remarked that this exhortation contained a PROMISE suitable to the case of this tried soul. This promise is not expressed in so many words, but is wrapped up as it were, in the bosom of the exhortation. It is contained, I believe, in a little word of great meaning, in the little pronoun of three letters, “HIS.” “Let him stay upon HIS God.” It is by these little pronouns, overlooked by teamed doctors and heady professors, that salvation is sealed upon the soul, and made an eternal reality–“Who loved me,” says Paul, “and gave himself for me.” “I have loved you with an everlasting love.”

How many years of temptation, doubt and fear will often roll heavily on before “MY” is sealed upon the heart, and before “ME” and “MINE” can drop from the lips! My Father, My Savior, My God, hundreds of living souls cannot pronounce. “My” falters from the tongue, and dares not come forth, because “I have loved you, I have redeemed you, you are Mine,” and such similar testimonies, have not been yet spoken by the mouth of God to the soul. How different is this godly fear, this tender conscience of a living soul, from the pealing voices that sound “Our Father,” through the aisles of the Parish Church, speaking of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies them; and from the loud burst, “My Jesus has done all things well,” that swells in bass, tenor, and treble from the pews and galleries of the Independent Chapel.

These presumptuous mockers will find on a dying pillow, when “their lamp shall be put out in obscure darkness,” that it is one thing to call God their Father and Christ their Savior out of a Prayer Book or a Hymn Book, and another thing “to receive the spirit of adoption,” whereby living souls cry, “Abba, Father.”

God, then, seals this heir of heaven as a son, by saying to him, “Let him stay upon his God;” as though He said to him; “Though you cannot call Me yours, I call you Mine; I am still your God though you cannot call Me, Father.” He is thus encouraged to stay upon his God, and to hope in His mercy. Almost invisibly to himself, and in a deep, mysterious, incomprehensible manner, he is “helped with a little help” [Da 11:34], and though he continually falls, he is not utterly cast down. “Though faint, he still pursues, “though weary, he holds on his way; though often defeated by sin and Satan, he does not surrender; though foiled again and again, he still perseveres; though God gives no answer, he ceases not to cry; though “plunged again and again in the ditch” of heart-evil [Job 9:31], he cannot lie there, but struggles forth into the light of day; and though he expects that his corruptions will one day break forth to destroy him utterly, and sweep him away into despair beyond the mercy of God and beyond the pity of His people, he is still checked and restrained as if by an invisible hand. Sometimes he obtains a respite from his besetments just when they seem ripened into action; at others, providential interpositions restrain the outbreakings of inward temptations, when opportunity favors them most.

Conscience works at one time, the fear of man at another. Godly sorrow keeps him in this instance, and a sense and sight of the evil of sin in that. Now the fear of God, and now inward feelings of uprightness and integrity; at one moment the weight of guilt, and at another, fear of bringing a reproach on the cause of Christ; today, a sense of God’s goodness and mercy; tomorrow, earnest desires to live to His glory–these and similar workings, which none but gracious souls know, act as a counter-balance to the vile inquiries that seem pent up in his heart.

Thus he seems always working and counter-working, doing and on going, fighting and yielding; raging with inward passions, and softened into contrition; diving into all the pollution of a fallen nature, and rising up into the presence of a holy God; hating sin, and loving it; longing after the vilest iniquities, and pained at an idle word; feeding upon the filthiest garbage, and eating manna; revelling in a train of past sins, and abhorring himself as the vilest monster that crawls upon the earth. At times he feels earnestly desirous never to sin more, and would gladly be as holy as an angel; at other times he feels as if the sins of thousands were pent up in his bosom, and as if his vile heart could lie down and wallow in all the abominations which have ever been conceived by the mind, uttered by the lips, or acted by the man.

But mark, my friends, that all these are INWARD workings, not outward actions; God forbid! And do not forget that all these hidden sins are locked up in the saint’s own bosom, and though they roar and swell there, ARE KEPT DOWN BY THE HAND OF GOD, as boiling water is kept by the top of the cauldron. God forbid that we should encourage sin, or lead anyone to think lightly of that abominable thing which God hates. No. When his right mind a living soul would sooner die than that his corruptions should break forth into action, and his burden is that he feels such powerful workings of sin within. But all these things keep him low, mar his pride, crush his self-righteousness, cut the locks of his presumption, stain his self-conceit, stop his boasting, preserve him from despising others, make him take the lowest room, teach him to esteem others better than himself, drive him to earnest prayer, fit him for an object of mercy, break to pieces his free-will, and lay him low at the feet of the Redeemer, as one to be saved by sovereign grace alone.

Thus, the only wise God shows His children enough of themselves to keep them humble, and enough of His goodness to preserve them from despair. When the gale of free grace blows, the ballast of corruption keeps the vessel from pitching over; and when the storms of temptations arise, the anchor of hope holds her head from driving on the rocks of destruction. Thus the heir of heaven “sings of mercy and judgment;” has a thorn in the flesh, as well as manifestations of God; is kept as a wayfaring man in the highway of the redeemed, with “his eyes right on and his eye-lids straight before him” Isa 35:8-9 Pr 4:25. And though for the most part he walks in darkness, and has no light, he is yet encouraged and enabled “to trust in the name of the Lord and stay upon his God.”

Thus have I laid open, as far as God hits enabled me, the experience of a living soul. Who here can say, “It is mine”? Who can “subscribe with his hand” Isa 44:5 that such things have passed within, in the secret depths of his heart between him and God? But mark well, my friends, lest we have no shuffling, no taking up on one side and not on the other, no setting up a “vile” experience instead of a “precious one” Jer 15:19, no resting upon “inward workings as marks of grace”, unless they be such as “accompany salvation.” Many will set up their sins, their fretfulness, their evil temper, their unbelief, their hardness of heart and deadness of soul as evidences.

Now, I feel all these things as evidences against me, and not for me, and to make them witnesses in my behalf is like a criminal’s making the evidence of his crimes so many witnesses in his favor. It is not sin, but the workings of grace under sin; it is not unbelief, but the strugglings of filth against unbelief; it is not inward evil, but sorrow for it; it is not iniquity, but the pardon of it; it is not lust, but deliverance from the power of it; it is not pride, but humility; it is not hardness of heart, but contrition; it is not deadness, but life; it is not man’s rebellion, but God’s mercy felt within–that is the TRUE EVIDENCE of a work of grace. You are proud, you confess, but so is Satan; unbelieving, but so is the atheist; murmuring, but so are the reprobate Isa 8:21; covetous, but so is the worldling; doubting, but so is the hypocrite; despairing, but so was Judas; prayerless, but so are the carnal; hardened, but so was Pharaoh; fearful, but so are the lost Re 21:8; pierced with guilt, but so was Cain.

Let us take up the other side. Do you ever loathe yourself like Job, turn to the wall as Hezekiah, weep like Peter, put your mouth in the dust as Jeremiah, fear God as Joseph, pant after Him as David, find Him the strength of your heart as Asaph [Ps 73:26], cry, “Woe is me!” as Isaiah [Isa 6:5], have a tender heart as Josiah, wrestle with God as Jacob, are of a sorrowful spirit like Hannah, and obey the voice of the Lord’s Servant as the heir of heaven in the text? You may find on a dying pillow, when conscience grasps you by the throat, that neither doubts nor fears are able to save, but the revelation of Christ to the soul, the sprinkling of His blood, and the manifestation of His righteousness.


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