"Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night he stumbleth, because there is no light in him."
This was our blessed Lord's answer to His disciples when they said to Him, "Master, the Jews of late tried to stone Thee, and goest Thou among them again?" And "Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night he stumbleth, because there is no light in him."
Now, at first sight, one does not see what this has to do with the disciples' question--it seems no answer at all to it. But we must remember who it was who gave that answer. The Son of God, from whom all words come, who came to do good, and only good, every minute of His life. And, therefore, we may be sure that He never threw away a single word. And we must remember, too, to whom He spoke--to His disciples, whom He was training to be apostles to the whole world, teaching them in every thing some deep lesson, to fit them for their glorious calling, as preachers of the good news of His coming. So we may be sure that He would never put off any question of theirs; we may be certain, that whatever they asked Him, He would give them the best possible answer; not, perhaps, just the answer for which they wished, but the answer which would teach them most. Therefore I say, we must believe that there is some deep, wonderful lesson in this text--that it is the very best and fullest answer which our Lord could have made to His disciples when they asked Him why He was going again to Judea, where He stood in danger of His life.
Let us think a little about this text in faith, that is, sure that there is a deep, blessed meaning in it, if we can but find it out. Let us take it piece by piece; we shall never get to the bottom of it, of course, but we may get deep enough into it to set us thinking a little between now and next Sunday.
"Are there not twelve hours in the day?" said our Lord. We know there are, and we know, too, that if any man walks in the day, and keeps his eyes open, he does not stumble, because he has the light of this world to guide him. Twelve hours for business, and twelve for food, and sleep, and rest, is our rule for working men, or, indeed, not our rule, but God's. He has set the sun for the light of this world, to rule the day, to settle for us how long we are to work. In this country days vary. In summer they are more than twelve hours, and then men work early and late; but that is made up to us by winter, when the days are less than twelve hours, and men work short time. In the very cold countries again, far away in the frozen north, the sun never sets all the summer, and never rises all the winter, and there is six months day and six months night. Wonderful! But even there God has fitted the land and men's lives to that strange climate, and they can gather in enough meat in the summer to keep them all the winter, that they may be able to spend the long six months' night of winter warm in their houses, sleeping and resting, with plenty of food. So that even to them there are twelve hours in the day, though their hours are each a fortnight long,--I mean a certain fixed time in which to walk, and do the business which they have to do before the long frozen night comes, wherein no man can work, because the sun, the light of this world, is hid from them below the ice for six whole months. So that our Lord's words hold true of all men, even of those people in the icy north. But in by far the most parts of the world, and especially in the hot countries, where our Lord lived, there are twelve common hours in every day, wherein men may and ought to work.
Now what did our Lord mean by reminding His disciples of this, which they all knew already? He meant this,--that God His Father had appointed Him a certain work to do, and a certain time to do it in; that though His day was short, only thirty-three years in all, while we have, many of us, seventy years given us, yet that there were twelve hours in His day in which He must work--that God would take care that He lived out His appointed time, provided He was ready and earnest in doing God's work in it--and that He MUST work in that time which God had given Him, whatever came of it, and do His appointed work before the night of death came in which no man can work.
There was a heathen king once, named Philip of Macedon, and a very wise king he was, though he was a heathen, and one of the wisest of his plans was this:--he had a slave, whom he ordered to come in to him every morning of his life, whatever he was doing, and say to him in a loud voice, "Philip, remember that thou must die!"
He was a heathen, but a great many who call themselves Christians are not half so wise as he, for they take all possible care, not to remember that they must die, but to FORGET that they must die; and yet every living man has a servant who, like King Philip's, puts him in mind, whether he likes it or not, that his day will run out at last, and his twelve hours of life be over, and then die he must. And who is that servant? A man's own body. Lucky if his body is his servant, though--not his MASTER and his tyrant. But still, be that as it may, every finger-ache that one's body has, every cough and cold one's body catches, ought to be to us a warning like King Philip's servant, "Remember that thou must die." Every little pain and illness is a warning, a kindly hint from our Father in heaven, that we are doomed to death; that we have but twelve hours in this short day of life, and that the twelve must end; and that we must get our work done and our accounts settled, and be ready for our long journey, to meet our Father and our King, before the night comes wherein no man can work, but only takes his wages; for them who have done good the wages of life eternal, and for them who have done evil--God help them! we know what is written--"the wages of sin is death!"
Now, observe next, that those who walk in the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world, and those who walk in the night stumble--they have no light in them. If they are to see, it must be by the help of some light outside themselves, which is not part of themselves, or belonging to themselves at all. We only see by the light which God has made; when that is gone, our eyes are useless.
So it is with our souls. Our wits, however clever they may be, only understand things by the light which God throws on those things. He must explain and enlighten all things to us. Without His light--His Spirit, all the wit in the world is as useless as a pair of eyes in a dark night.
Now this earthly world which we do see is an exact picture and pattern of the spiritual, heavenly world which we do not see, as Solomon says in the Proverbs, "The things which are seen are the doubles of the things which are not seen." And as there is a light for us in this earth, which is NOT OURSELVES, namely the sun, so there is a light for us in the spirit-world, which is NOT OURSELVES. And who is that? The blessed Lord shall answer for Himself. He says, "I am the light of the world;" and St. John bears witness to Him, "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men." And does not St. Paul say the same thing, when he blessed God so often for having called him and his congregations out of darkness into that marvellous light? If you read his Epistles you will find what he meant by the darkness, what he meant by the light. The darkness was heathendom, knowing nothing of Christ. The light was Christianity, knowing Christ the light; and, more, being IN the light, belonging to Christ--being joined to Him, as the leaves are to the tree,-- living by trust in Christ, being taught and made true men and true women of, by the Noble and Holy Spirit of Christ--seeing their way through this world by trust in Christ and His promises,--That was light.
And there is no other light. If a man does not work trusting in Christ, whom God has set for the light of the world, he works in the night, where God never set or meant him to work; and stumble he will, and make a fool of himself, sooner or later, because he is walking in the night, and sees nothing plainly or in a right view. For as our Lord says truly, "There is no light in him." No light in him? In one sense there is no light in any one, be he the wisest or holiest man who ever lived. But this is just what three people out of four will not believe. They will not believe that the Spirit of God gives man understanding. They fancy that they have light in themselves. They try, conceitedly and godlessly, to walk by the light of their own eyes--to make their own way plain before their face for themselves. They will not believe old David, a man who worked, and fought, and thought, and saw, far more than any one of us will ever do, when he tells them again and again in his Psalms, that the Lord is his light, that the Lord must guide a man, and inform him with His eye, and teach him in the way in which he should go. And, therefore, they will not pray to God for light--therefore they will not look for light in God's Word, and in the writings of godly men; and they are like a man in the broad sunshine, who should choose to shut his eyes close, and say, 'I have light enough in my own head to do without the sun;' and therefore they walk on still in darkness, and all the foundations of the earth are out of course, because men forget the first universal ground rules of common sense, and reason, and love, which God's Spirit teaches. I tell you, all the mistakes that you ever made--that ever were made since Adam fell, came from this, that men will not ask God for light and wisdom; they love darkness rather than light, and therefore, though God's light is ready for every man, shining in the darkness to shew every man his way, yet the darkness will not comprehend it--will not take it in, and let God change its blindness into day.
Now, then, to gather all together, what better answer could our Lord have given to His disciples' question than this, "Are there not twelve hours in the day? If a man walk in the day he does not stumble, because he seeth the light of this world; but if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him."
It was as if He had said, "However short my day of life may be, there are twelve hours in it, of my Father's numbering and measuring, not of mine. My times are in His hand, as long as He pleases I shall live. He has given me a work to do, and He will see that I live long enough to do it. Into His hands I commend my spirit, for, living or dying, He is with me. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, He will be with me. He will keep me secretly in His tabernacle from the strife of tongues, and will turn the furiousness of my enemies to His glory; and as my day my strength will be. And I have no fear of running into danger needlessly. I have prayed to Him daily and nightly for light, for His Spirit--the spirit of wisdom and understanding, of prudence and courage; and His word is pledged to keep me in all my ways, so that I dash not my foot against a stone. Know ye not that I must be about my Father's business? While I am about that I am safe. It is only if I go about my own business--my own pleasure; if I forget to ask Him for His light and guidance, that I shall put myself into the night, and stumble and fall."
Well, my friends, what is there in all this, which we may not say as well as our Lord? In this, as in all things, Christ set Himself up as our pattern. Oh, believe it!--believe that your time--your measure of life, is in God's hand. Believe that He is your light, that He will teach and guide you into all truth, and that all your mistakes come from not asking counsel of Him in prayer, and thought, and reading of His Holy Bible. Believe His blessed promise that He will give His Holy Spirit to those who ask Him. Believe, too, that He has given you a work to do--prepared good works all ready for you to walk in. Be you labourer or gentleman, maid, wife, or widow, God has given you a work to do; there is good to be done lying all round you, ready for you. And the blessed Jesus who bought you, body and soul, with His own blood, commands you to work for Him: "Whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might."
"Work ye manful while ye may, Work for God in this your day; Night must stop you, rich or poor, Godly deeds alone endure."
And then, whether you live or die, your Father's smile will be on you, and His everlasting arms beneath you, and at your last hour you shall find that "Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord, for they rest from their labour, and their works do follow them."