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Hope of the Gospel: 10 - The Salt and the Light of the World

By George MacDonald

      'Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill, cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your father which is in heaven.'--Matthew v. 3--16.

      The Lord knew these men, and had their hearts in his hand; else would he have told them they were the salt of the earth and the light of the world? They were in danger, it is true, of pluming themselves on what he had said of them, of taking their importance to their own credit, and seeing themselves other than God saw them. Yet the Lord does not hesitate to call his few humble disciples the salt of the earth; and every century since has borne witness that such indeed they were--that he spoke of them but the simple fact. Where would the world be now but for their salt and their light! The world that knows neither their salt nor their light may imagine itself now at least greatly retarded by the long-drawn survival of their influences; but such as have chosen aspiration and not ambition, will cry, But for those men, whither should we at this moment be bound! Their Master set them to be salt against corruption, and light against darkness; and our souls answer and say, Lord, they have been the salt, they have been the light of the world!

      No sooner has he used the symbol of the salt, than the Lord proceeds to supplement its incompleteness. They were salt which must remember that it is salt; which must live salt, and choose salt, and be salt. For the whole worth of salt lies in its being salt; and all the saltness of the moral salt lies in the will to be salt. To lose its saltness, then, is to cease to exist, save as a vile thing whose very being is unjustifiable. What is to be done with saltless salt!--with such as would teach religion, and know not God!

      Having thus carried the figure as far as it will serve him, the Master changes it for another, which he can carry farther. For salt only preserves from growing bad; it does not cause anything to grow better. His disciples are the salt of the world, but they are more. Therefore, having warned the human salt to look to itself that it be indeed salt, he proceeds: 'Ye are the light of the world, a city, a candle,' and so resumes his former path of persuasion and enforcement: 'It is so, therefore make it so.'--'Ye are the salt of the earth; therefore be salt.'--'Ye are the light of the world; therefore shine.'--'Ye are a city; be seen upon your hill.'--'Ye are the Lord's candles; let no bushels cover you. Let your light shine.' Every disciple of the Lord must be a preacher of righteousness.

      Cities are the best lighted portions of the world; and perhaps the Lord meant, 'You are a live city, therefore light up your city.' Some connection of the city with light seems probably in his thought, seeing the allusion to the city on the hill comes in the midst of what he says about light in relation to his disciples as the light of the world. Anyhow the city is the best circle in which, and the best centre from which to diffuse moral light. A man brooding in the desert may find the very light of light, but he must go to the city to let it shine.

      From the general idea of light, however, associated with the city as visible to all the country around, the Lord turns at once, in this probably fragmentary representation of his words, to the homelier, the more individual and personally applicable figure of the lamp: 'Neither do men light a lamp, and put it under a bushel, but on a lampstand, and it giveth light to all that are in the house,'

      Here let us meditate a moment. For what is a lamp or a man lighted? For them that need light, therefore for all. A candle is not lighted for itself; neither is a man. The light that serves self only, is no true light; its one virtue is that it will soon go out. The bushel needs to be lighted, but not by being put over the lamp. The man's own soul needs to be lighted, but light for itself only, light covered by the bushel, is darkness whether to soul or bushel. Light unshared is darkness. To be light indeed, it must shine out. It is of the very essence of light, that it is for others. The thing is true of the spiritual as of the physical light--of the truth as of its type.

      The lights of the world are live lights. The lamp that the Lord kindles is a lamp that can will to shine, a soul that must shine. Its true relation to the spirits around it--to God and its fellows, is its light. Then only does it fully shine, when its love, which is its light, shows it to all the souls within its scope, and all those souls to each other, and so does its part to bring all together toward one. In the darkness each soul is alone; in the light the souls are a family. Men do not light a lamp to kill it with a bushel, but to set it on a stand, that it may give light to all that are in the house. The Lord seems to say, 'So have I lighted you, not that you may shine for yourselves, but that you may give light unto all. I have set you like a city on a hill, that the whole earth may see and share in your light. Shine therefore; so shine before men, that they may see your good things and glorify your father for the light with which he has lighted you. Take heed to your light that it be such, that it so shine, that in you men may see the Father--may see your works so good, so plainly his, that they recognize his presence in you, and thank him for you.' There was the danger always of the shadow of the self-bushel clouding the lamp the Father had lighted; and the moment they ceased to show the Father, the light that was in them was darkness. God alone is the light, and our light is the shining of his will in our lives. If our light shine at all, it must be, it can be only in showing the Father; nothing is light that does not bear him witness. The man that sees the glory of God, would turn sick at the thought of glorifying his own self, whose one only possible glory is to shine with the glory of God. When a man tries to shine from the self that is not one with God and filled with his light, he is but making ready for his own gathering contempt. The man who, like his Lord, seeks not his own, but the will of him who sent him, he alone shines. He who would shine in the praises of men, will, sooner or later, find himself but a Gideon's-pitcher left broken on the field.

      Let us bestir ourselves then to keep this word of the Lord; and to this end inquire how we are to let our light shine.

      To the man who does not try to order his thoughts and feelings and judgments after the will of the Father, I have nothing to say; he can have no light to let shine. For to let our light shine is to see that in every, even the smallest thing, our lives and actions correspond to what we know of God; that, as the true children of our father in heaven, we do everything as he would have us do it. Need I say that to let our light shine is to be just, honourable, true, courteous, more careful over the claim of our neighbour than our own, as knowing ourselves in danger of overlooking it, and not bound to insist on every claim of our own! The man who takes no count of what is fair, friendly, pure, unselfish, lovely, gracious,--where is his claim to call Jesus his master? where his claim to Christianity? What saves his claim from being merest mockery?

      The outshining of any human light must be obedience to truth recognized as such; our first show of light as the Lord's disciples must be in doing the things he tells us. Naturally thus we declare him our master, the ruler of our conduct, the enlightener of our souls; and while in the doing of his will a man is learning the loveliness of righteousness, he can hardly fail to let some light shine across the dust of his failures, the exhalations from his faults. Thus will his disciples shine as lights in the world, holding forth the Word of life.

      To shine, we must keep in his light, sunning our souls in it by thinking of what he said and did, and would have us think and do. So shall we drink the light like some diamonds, keep it, and shine in the dark. Doing his will, men will see in us that we count the world his, hold that his will and not ours must be done in it. Our very faces will then shine with the hope of seeing him, and being taken home where he is. Only let us remember that trying to look what we ought to be, is the beginning of hypocrisy.

      If we do indeed expect better things to come, we must let our hope appear. A Christian who looks gloomy at the mention of death, still more, one who talks of his friends as if he had lost them, turns the bushel of his little-faith over the lamp of the Lord's light. Death is but our visible horizon, and our look ought always to be focussed beyond it. We should never talk as if death were the end of anything.

      To let our light shine, we must take care that we have no respect for riches: if we have none, there is no fear of our showing any. To treat the poor man with less attention or cordiality than the rich, is to show ourselves the servants of Mammon. In like manner we must lay no value on the praise of men, or in any way seek it. We must honour no man because of intellect, fame, or success. We must not shrink, in fear of the judgment of men, from doing openly what we hold right; or at all acknowledge as a law-giver what calls itself Society, or harbour the least anxiety for its approval.

      In business, the custom of the trade must be understood by both contracting parties, else it can have no place, either as law or excuse, with the disciple of Jesus. The man to whom business is one thing and religion another, is not a disciple. If he refuses to harmonize them by making his business religion, he has already chosen Mammon; if he thinks not to settle the question, it is settled. The most futile of all human endeavours is, to serve God and Mammon. The man who makes the endeavour, betrays his Master in the temple and kisses him in the garden; takes advantage of him in the shop, and offers him 'divine service!' on Sunday. His very church-going is but a further service of Mammon! But let us waste no strength in despising such men; let us rather turn the light upon ourselves: are we not in some way denying him? Is our light bearing witness? Is it shining before men so that they glorify God for it? If it does not shine, it is darkness. In the darkness which a man takes for light, he will thrust at the heart of the Lord himself.

      He who goes about his everyday duty as the work the Father has given him to do, is he who lets his light shine. But such a man will not be content with this: he must yet let his light shine. Whatever makes his heart glad, he will have his neighbour share. The body is a lantern; it must not be a dark lantern; the glowing heart must show in the shining face. His glad thought may not be one to impart to his neighbour, but he must not quench the vibration of its gladness ere it reach him. What shall we say of him who comes from his closet, his mountain-top, with such a veil over his face as masks his very humanity? Is it with the Father that man has had communion, whose every movement is self-hampered, and in whose eyes dwell no smiles for the people of his house? The man who receives the quiet attentions, the divine ministrations, of wife or son or daughter, without token of pleasure, without sign of gratitude, can hardly have been with Jesus. Or can he have been with him, and have left him behind in his closet? If his faith in God take from a man his cheerfulness, how shall the face of a man ever shine? And why are they always glad before the face of the Father in heaven? It is true that pain or inward grief may blameless banish all smiling, but even heaviness of heart has no right so to tumble the bushel over the lamp that no ray can get out to tell that love is yet burning within. The man must at least let his dear ones know that something else than displeasure with them is the cause of his clouded countenance.

      What a sweet colour the divine light takes to itself in courtesy, whose perfection is the recognition of every man as a temple of the living God. Sorely ruined, sadly defiled the temple may be, but if God had left it, it would be a heap and not a house.

      Next to love, specially will the light shine out in fairness. What light can he have in him who is always on his own side, and will never descry reason or right on that of his adversary? And certainly, if he that showeth mercy, as well he that showeth justice, ought to do it with cheerfulness.

      But if all our light shine out, and none of our darkness, shall we not be in utmost danger of hypocrisy? Yes, if we but hide our darkness, and do not strive to slay it with our light: what way have we to show it, while struggling to destroy it? Only when we cherish evil, is there hypocrisy in hiding it. A man who is honestly fighting it and showing it no quarter, is already conqueror in Christ, or will soon be--and more than innocent. But our good feelings, those that make for righteousness and unity, we ought to let shine; they claim to commune with the light in others. Many parents hold words unsaid which would lift hundred-weights from the hearts of their children, yea, make them leap for joy. A stern father and a silent mother make mournful, or, which is far worse, hard children. Need I add that, if any one, hearing the injunction to let his light shine, makes himself shine instead, it is because the light is not in him!

      But what shall I say of such as, in the name of religion, let only their darkness out--the darkness of worshipped opinion, the darkness of lip-honour and disobedience! Such are those who tear asunder the body of Christ with the explosives of dispute, on the plea of such a unity as alone they can understand, namely a paltry uniformity. What have not the 'good church-man' and the 'strong dissenter' to answer for, who, hiding what true light they have, if indeed they have any, each under the bushel of his party-spirit, radiate only repulsion! There is no schism, none whatever, in using diverse forms of thought or worship: true honesty is never schismatic. The real schismatic is the man who turns away love and justice from the neighbour who holds theories in religious philosophy, or as to church-constitution, different from his own; who denies or avoids his brother because he follows not with him; who calls him a schismatic because he prefers this or that mode of public worship not his. The other may be schismatic; he himself certainly is. He walks in the darkness of opinion, not in the light of life, not in the faith which worketh by love. Worst of all is division in the name of Christ who came to make one. Neither Paul nor Apollos nor Cephas would--least of all will Christ be the leader of any party save that of his own elect, the party of love--of love which suffereth long and is kind; which envieth not, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

      'Let your light shine,' says the Lord:--if I have none, the call cannot apply to me; but I must bethink me, lest, in the night I am cherishing about me, the Lord come upon me like a thief. There may be those, however, and I think they are numerous, who, having some, or imagining they have much light, yet have not enough to know the duty of letting it shine on their neighbours. The Lord would have his men so alive with his light, that it should for ever go flashing from each to all, and all, with eternal response, keep glorifying the Father. Dost thou look for a good time coming, friend, when thou shalt know as thou art known? Let the joy of thy hope stream forth upon thy neighbours. Fold them round in that which maketh thyself glad. Let thy nature grow more expansive and communicative. Look like the man thou art--a man who knows something very good. Thou believest thyself on the way to the heart of things: walk so, shine so, that all that see thee shall want to go with thee.

      What light issues from such as make their faces long at the very name of death, and look and speak as if it were the end of all things and the worst of evils? Jesus told his men not to fear death; told them his friends should go to be with him; told them they should live in the house of his father and their father; and since then he has risen himself from the tomb, and gone to prepare a place for them: who, what are these miserable refusers of comfort? Not Christians, surely! Oh, yes, they are Christians! 'They are gone,' they say, 'to be for ever with the Lord;' and then they weep and lament, and seem more afraid of starting to join them than of aught else under the sun! To the last attainable moment they cling to what they call life. They are children--were there ever any other such children?--who hang crying to the skirts of their mother, and will not be lifted to her bosom. They are not of Paul's mind: to be with Him is not better! They worship their physician; and their prayer to the God of their life is to spare them from more life. What sort of Christians are they? Where shines their light? Alas for thee, poor world, hadst thou no better lights than these!

      You who have light, show yourselves the sons and daughters of Light, of God, of Hope--the heirs of a great completeness. Freely let your light shine.

      Only take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men, to be seen of them.

Back to George MacDonald index.

See Also:
   1 - Salvation From Sin
   2 - The Remission of Sins
   3 - Jesus in the World
   4 - Jesus and His Fellow Townsmen
   5 - The Heirs of Heaven and Earth
   6 - Sorrow the Pledge of Joy
   7 - God's Family
   8 - The Reward of Obedience
   9 - The Yoke of Jesus
   10 - The Salt and the Light of the World
   11 - The Right Hand and the Left
   12 - The Hope of the Universe


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