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Title: The Book of Light in the Hand of Love
       A plea for the British and Foreign Bible Society

Author: Charles J. Vaughan

Release Date: February 6, 2021  [eBook #64471]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)


Transcribed from the 1872 Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer edition by David Price.



The British and Foreign Bible Society.











1 John i. 5. iv. 16.
God is Light.”  “God is Love.”

Round these two centres revolves the Theology of St. John.

He is named “the Divine,” the Theologian; and this is his scheme of Theology, his system of Divinity; not an enumeration of doctrines, not an enunciation of Articles, not Calvinism, not Arminianism, not Romanism, and not Protestantism; but just these two principles, higher and deeper than any question which divides parties or distinguishes sects: the first, “God is Light,” and the second, “God is Love.”

We are not saying, God forbid! that two brief maxims, one a metaphor, the other an abstraction, in such sense comprehend Theology as that there shall be no need of express declarations of fact, or of definite revelations of truth, beside or beyond, within or above, them.  Nor are we saying—this, too, would be ignorance, as much as irreverence—that this very p. 4Epistle of St. John is destitute of method or system or logical coherence; consists only of a few platitudes and a few tautologies, the amiable feeblenesses of a pious old age, encouraging the scoffer’s notion that there is nothing in religion but what comes naturally to every man, whether to originate, to utter, to judge, or to refuse.  Of St. John’s writings, more perhaps than of any part of Holy Scripture, is the Divine saying true, “Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.”  That which to the self-sufficient critic is a simplicity bordering on the puerile, is to the experienced Christian rather a profound mystery, of which the Holy Spirit of God keeps the key.

(1)  “God is Light.”  “In Him is no darkness at all.”  He is the Light of truth, and the Light of holiness, and the Light of direction, and the Light of comfort.  Where He, who is the Light, shines not, or shines only in some dim reflection—of Nature, or reason, or conscience, or tradition; not directly, not personally, not in Christ as the Saviour, not in the Holy Ghost as the Comforter—there is darkness; darkness four-fold, like the light—the darkness of ignorance, and the darkness of corruption, and the darkness of error, and the darkness of misery.  “God is Light,”—and the purpose of Light is to shine: but the light itself may be set under a bushel, or the thick walls, the opaque windows, of the soul’s dwelling may shut it out.  Vice, superstition, false religion, cowardice, indifference, law itself, may bar the entrance of Him p. 5who is the Light.  Such power is the mystery of mysteries in the present: how God should be Light, and yet the darkness may refuse to let the Light in.

“God is Light”—first and before all else.  They who would know God must know Him thus.  No other attribute, no other manifestation, can be substituted for this or prefixed to it.  Attempts have been made to displace it.  To put, for example, the second text first—love before light; or something else—obedience, docility, humility, patience.  It will not answer.  The transposition bewrays itself by the failure.  “God is Light,” and he who would know God must first come to Him as the Light.

Some have said, A half-light is better than none.  Better twilight than thick darkness.  So far we agree with them.  But when they have gone on to recommend an acquiescence—temporary at least, prudential, deferential—in the half-light; when they have spoken of the necessity of preparation for the full light, of the peril of precipitating illumination, of the duty of forecasting probable consequences—such as a disarrangement of existing habits and systems, an exposure of errors, an unmasking of superstitions, before we have the machinery ready for the education and for the fostering of the man isolated by the very enlightenment—then we say, God is Light, and there is no communion between light and darkness.  Prudence is out of place where the question is of the Divine self-manifestation.  At all risks God must shine, and God must be trusted to take care of His shining.

p. 6Man, by God’s gift, has a right to the light.  As well might you portion off one strip or one chink of the sky, and say to your dependant, I forbid you the rest of it—as well might you shut up within prison walls a man who had done you no wrong, and tell him that candle or rushlight was good enough for him to see by—as undertake to settle for one class or one tribe or one race of mankind the amount of Divine illumination which shall suffice for them, on the plea that to give more might disturb existing arrangements of civil or religious polity, or that until you could provide the culture you must hesitate to give the life.  God dealt not thus with us, when He lit the flame of reviving light in this nation of England.  First He brought into it, in this house and that, in this heart and that, the new-found, the dearly-prized treasure of His Word read in the tongue wherein we were born; and then He gave the new-made man a Reformed Communion in which to worship.  “God is Light,” and they who know God must fearlessly let in upon others the light communicated to themselves.

(2)  For, indeed, brethren, the second text is the mouthpiece and interpreter of the former.  “God is Love.”  The Light is no distant, self-contained, abstract thing—like a science or a philosophy which men may study if they will, but which comes not forth itself to invite or to embrace its votary.  The Light of which St. John speaks, the Light which is God, has another name besides—a name which describes it as offering, volunteering, entreating sympathy—p. 7a name which expresses the yearning of a heart, and the stretching out of a hand, towards an object of concern, compassion, and commiseration.  If “God is Light” be ambiguous as a direction, “God is Love” speaks plainly, and is no proverb.  That voice, wheresoever it is heard—that voice, which is articulate only in the Gospel—has set in motion palsied limbs, and quickened dead souls, in the transmission and propagation of a Divine Light.  “Si documentum quæris, circumspice!”  This day, this scene, this assembly, is the proof of it.  “I looked, and behold, an hand was sent unto me; and lo, a roll of a book was therein.”  The hand was the Hand of Love, and the book was the Book of Light.

The Book was the Book of Light.  When you hold it, as this day, closed in your hand; not opening it, for interpretation—that is not your office—but carrying it forth closed for another to open; when you think of it as a whole, gathering into one the scattered rays of its light, that you may say in a word why it is that you are devoting time and toil and substance to its dissemination; this, I think, will be your account of it.

(1)  The Bible is the revelation to me of a living God.  And by a living God, I mean a God whose life is towards me: not such a life as that which Elijah sketched in mockery as the life of Baal—a kind of life which made him deaf to man’s cry; a life separate and selfish and distant—talking, pursuing, journeying, per-adventure sleeping.  The very opposite of this.  A God p. 8whose activity is towards this world.  A God whose eye and whose ear is ever open to the conduct and condition of His creatures—whose vigilance never tires, and yet is a vigilance even more of concern than of observation.  One whom I cannot escape from if I would, but whose inevitable Presence is the very cause of my strength, my motion, my being.  The revelation of a personal God is the first gift of this Bible.  So intent is the Bible upon this work, that it risks many taunts, many misconstructions, in securing it.  It is so earnest to make me see God in everything, that it cares not if it seems to say, God does everything that happens; even hardens the enemy’s heart, even sends the error which infatuates, even commissions the lying spirit, or punishes the prophet for going where he was bidden.  The Bible risks these things—leaves them to be corrected by opposite sayings, or by the intuitions of that conscience to which it addresses itself—that it may at least effect this—make me see God, hear God, be conscious of God, everywhere and in all things; assure me that nothing is, with God, either too great for His control, or too little for His notice, if it affects me—my welfare, my happiness, my work, or my end.  Anything, anything, says the voice of the Light, rather than a God too great to act, or a God too sublime to feel!  Say at once, Where God is, He works.  Call upon Him in thy prosperity, that He may bless thee; call upon Him in the time of trouble, so shall He hear thee, and thou shalt praise Him!

p. 9(2)  The Bible is the revelation to me of a Divine Saviour.  I carry about me, I carry within me, a burden of guilt and sin.  Ignore this, in thy dealing with me—and however eloquent, however wise, however lofty thy counsels, they touch me not, they address not me.  Recognize this when thou speakest to me of a God around and above me; and however humble, however simple, however human thy monitions, they find me out, they penetrate me, they thrill me through and through, because they deal with me as I am, and they tell me of that which I want.  The Book of Light is the revelation of a Saviour.  From its first page to its latest, it is the testimony of Jesus.  When I see this, all is made plain.  Patriarchs, and lawgivers, and psalmists, and prophets, and kings, all, if they are in God’s Book, point on to, or point back to, Jesus.  Descriptions of life, personal and national—records of sins and vices and crimes—narratives of wrath and mercy, of judgment and restoration—even details of ordinance and ritual, which were else trivial or wearisome—become instinct with meaning, brilliant with beauty, when I read them in the Book of Light, because I know that there they all speak of Jesus, and add something—something real, definite, tangible—to the hope of pardon and acceptance which is bound up for me in Him.

(3)  The Bible is the revelation to me of an everlasting Heaven.  We cannot exaggerate the power of that word.  The experiences of this life are various for man and man: for most men they are various p. 10from period to period of the unit life.  We say not whether, on the whole—taking the average of men, and the average also of the life—it is better, if earth were all, to have been or not to have been.  But one thing is certain—that this earth is not, cannot be, for the most fortunate, either rest or satisfaction.  Death alone would forbid that.  Change, decay, separation—separation of hearts yet more than of lives—discords and discrepancies making union here impossible—would alone make a man write “vanity of vanities” upon his tomb.  It is this, it is this above all, which gives the Bible its power.  It reveals Heaven.  It tells of an immortality which shall reconcile differences; an immortality which shall redress wrongs; an immortality which shall re-unite the severed, and knit all hearts in one, in the haven, and in the Heaven, and in the Heart, of God.  Marvel not if a Book possessing this secret is a Book omnipotent over the affections of mankind.  Believe it, and life takes a new colour.  If the hand of love carries this roll, it comes indeed for the healing of the nations!


The Hand of Love bears the Book of Light.

Quite inexplicable, without love, the scene before us this day.  Philanthropy, without the Gospel, was not.  Charity herself is the creation of Jesus Christ.  How much more that charity which is the love of souls!

This Society, now keeping her sixty-eighth birthday, has chosen a distinct province.  I would commend her p. 11to you, brethren—nay, you are here because you love her—on two special grounds.

(1)  She is the witness—as such, God has owned her—to the primary importance of the spiritual life.  Light first, then love.  Illumination the condition of union.  First the quickening, then the combination.  First the spirit, then the body.  First the soul, then the Church.

The argument is sometimes turned against us.  You set aside the Church.  You treat the individual as though he were a unit.  You wait not for priest or presbyter; you intrude yourself between the man and the community; you care not if you even sow discord—if you even make a man see the lie in the Church’s right hand.  What if one of your agents offer your Book—Divine, of course, it is—to a man prohibited by rule and censure from reading it?  What if, as he reads thus against order your Divine Book, he should perceive, in some point or in many points, the hollowness, the nakedness of the system in which he has been brought up?  What if you pass on, and leave him an isolated man, a separatist, a schismatic, where before he was the member of a body?  And you have done this of the self-will, of the separate schismatical action, which is a feature of your organization!

The charge is—let us understand it—that in offering the light promiscuously, we set the Bible above the Church.  We ought to have waited till Rome gave leave—till Rome unsaid her saying—till the unchangeable system changed itself—till Rome gave the Word of God free course amongst her people!  Till then, p. 12we can only give light at the cost of love.  We divide, we dissever, we isolate, the life from the communion.  We leave the man taught of God an Ishmael among his brethren.

Brethren! we are not careful to answer concerning this matter.  If it be so; if the possession of light be anywhere, in any Christian community, contraband; if a Church prohibits the Bible; if a member of that Church, possessing a Bible, reads in it that Church’s rebuke; if at last, trying all means of subordination, he must take his choice between his God and his Church—we did not suggest it; we did all we could to harmonize and to reconcile; we even took Rome’s Version, and bade him read out of it the words of life; we know how earnestly the Bible presses communion—how strong will be the pressure upon its student, not to live alone, not to isolate himself—on the very contrary, to feel, to cherish, to insist upon Church membership—but if—if the Book of Light does condemn, in the man’s conscience, the Church of his birth and of his Baptism—can we, ought we, to lie to him?  Can we, ought we, to withhold the light, lest haply the light should condemn?  The light of God is the right of mankind; the hand of love must offer it!

This Society is, we frankly say, a witness to the primary importance of the individual life.  It is God’s order.  Out of the individual—not the other way—grows the community.  It was so at Jerusalem, it was so at Damascus, it was so at Antioch, it was so at Philippi, it was so at Ephesus, it was so at Rome.  It was so—p. 13to come nearer home—in England, in London, at Oxford, at Gloucester, at Paul’s Cross, and in Smithfield fires.  All God’s mightiest works of grace have sprung out of individual convictions.  To wait till an irreversible judgment is reversed—to wait till a bigoted and tyrannical Church invites her members to read and to hear, to meditate and to judge—is, in other words, to decide that God’s truth shall wait man’s convenience, that souls shall live out their days ignorant of the Word that (through grace) quickens!

My brethren, we but return to primitive usage, when we claim this prerogative, this majesty, for the Book of God.  Dear in all ages has this writing been to the heart of the Church’s martyrs and the Church’s saints.  It is a new view, this, of the right of a community to stand between a man and his Bible!  Surely it is a putting of proprieties and decorums in the place of truth and experience and the one thing needful.  Is it thus that God acts?  What greatest of God’s works has been wrought by method and rule?  Cornelius and his assemblage receiving the Holy Ghost before Baptism is a type, surely, for every age, of the manner in which God Himself, in the free, unfettered breathing of His Divine Spirit, passes by at His will the mechanism of order, and reveals Himself in the liberty of an elemental strength.

(2)  But while we assert thus earnestly the supremacy of conscience, and the right of the individual man to the possession of the Book of Light, we would also, and not less earnestly, commend to you this great p. 14Society as the servant and the minister of all the Churches.

Very touching is it, to Christian hearts, to read the simple record of her ministrations in this chief capacity.  The destitution of the Church in Wales called her into existence.  The Church in Ireland had been for more than a century without an edition of a complete native Bible, when she interposed.  The fortunes of Continental nations have their reflection in her history.  The wars of the first French Revolution are chronicled in her account-books.  Her first French Bible was printed for the prisoners of war in 1805.  Through her efforts, in the same disastrous time, hundreds of Spanish captives might be seen in prison yards reading in their own tongue the living, life-giving Word.  The great Abolition Act of 1834 suggested the gift of the New Testament to a hundred thousand of the then emancipated slaves.  The Spanish Revolution of 1868 opened a new country to the Gospel, and has spread already two hundred thousand copies of the Holy Scriptures among the people of that still distracted and storm-tossed land.  The consolidation of Italy—last of all, the erection of a constitutional throne on the Roman Capitol itself—has been followed by the formation of a new Bible Society, to which we give the right hand of fellowship, and hope ere long to resign the field which is her own.  The protracted agonies of a yet nearer neighbour, under a succession of strokes and plagues unexampled in history, have been soothed by the holy p. 15offices of this Society, extending, alike to Imperialist, Republican, Communist prisoner, the comfort, in his hour of distress, of that Book not of this world, which at once blesses earth and opens Heaven.  Not a country, not a province, escapes the notice of that vigilant eye, which watches from the shores of England each door opened by the Providence of God for the entry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  No Society, of this Church or that, for Christian Missions, can dispense with her aid in furnishing the divine material.  In two hundred and fifty Versions, of the languages and dialects spoken on the face of this earth by nations of the great dispersion, more than one hundred millions of copies of God’s Word have been issued, or aided in the issuing, by this marvellous agency of evangelization.

Brethren! an organization thus blessed, thus vivified, by the Omnipotent Hand, stands no longer on the defensive in the battle-field of Christianity.  One by one, unfriendly voices are silenced.  One by one, enemies are becoming friends.  Already the reverend rulers of our own Church, with comparatively few exceptions, have seen their way to sympathy and co-operation.  It was ungrateful—I know it was involuntary—to accept help for all manner of Church action, and to refuse thanks, or even recognition, to the hands which bountifully supplied it.  We thank God, those days are past.  Without ceasing to be the handmaid of all Churches, the British and Foreign Bible Society is certainly the p. 16friend, the “deaconess,” of one.  Your presence to-day in this great Metropolitan Cathedral—where so lately Royalty itself bowed the knee, in thanksgiving for a precious life restored, to the all-ruling Majesty in the heavens—proves that your work is regarded and honoured, as it ought to be, by that great National Church of England, of which you are all, I well know, either dutiful members or else cordial well-wishers.

Thus our tried and honoured Society sets out on another year of anxious, responsible, yet (under God) most hopeful service.  We give thanks to-day, we pray also to-day, for this mighty bulwark—it is so—of the national prosperity!  Every largest, every humblest offering, of time or wealth, of effort or sympathy, given to her, is given, be ye well assured, to England’s honour, to England’s strength, to England’s prosperity.  The land of the Bible is a land of light, a land of peace, and a land of liberty.  Nations may war for fame or supremacy, for treasure or territory, for frontier or empire—war may breed war, and an iron heel alone coerce the savage writhings of an implacable foe—England’s peace, England’s honour, is in surer safe-keeping, so long as she acknowledges the Christ of the Bible, and suffers not a creeping infidelity to seduce her from the allegiance of the life-giving God.

But Oh, brethren, let us not be highminded, but fear!  Let us not boast ourselves in our light nor in our freedom!  Let us not count but weigh our safeguards!  Let us make large allowance for waste, p. 17even in our blessings!  Holy Scripture is multiplied among us, till it is a very proverb of cheapness—see that there be not, concerning it, at once an arrogance and a despite!  Is the Bible dear to your hearts, as well as plentiful in your homes?  Do you not only fight for it, but wrestle with God over it?  Do you draw from it, not your weapons of attack, but your helmet and your shield and your breastplate?  In these days you sorely need them.  Remember how only (St. Paul says) we can wield the Spirit’s sword—even by praying always in the Spirit.  Take to your heart the words of a great orator of our time, speaking, as a Catholic Priest, in the very centre and focus of Romanism, in behalf—strange, strange, strange phenomenon—in behalf of a new Bible Society for Italy!—“Catholics and Protestants, but all Christians, behold, we are united in this city, which has been the cause of our separation!  This Book is our bond of union. . . .  We are all children of the Bible, but we are fallen, divided, powerless. . . .  The Bible has been neglected. . . .  The life of the Church is the life of the soul in Christ, and of Christ in the soul. . . .  Direct and vital dealings with God’s Word will give reality to our religious life, and will defend us alike from scepticism and from superstition. . . .  A day is coming—and my heart tells me it is not far off—in which the question shall not be whether men are Roman Catholics, or Greek Catholics, or Lutheran Protestants, or Reformed Protestants, but only whether they are true Catholics, and, above all, true Christians. . . .  p. 18We shall enter the city of God, Bible in hand, singing in every language, and in every denominational peculiarity, but with one faith and with one heart: and that city of our unity shall be called the city of Peace, for it shall be, as saith the Prophet, the city of Truth.”

Such is God’s order: Truth first, then Peace: Light first, then Love; Love out of, because of, the Light.

May God, of His infinite mercy, realize that hope, grant that prayer, in His time—and bring us all, in the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ!




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