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“No man, when he hath lighted a candle, covereth it with a vessel, or putteth it under a bed; but setteth it on a candlestick, that they which enter in may see the light. For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad. Take heed therefore how ye hear; for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have. Then came to Him His mother and His brethren, and could not come at Him for the press. And it was told Him by certain which said, Thy mother and Thy brethren stand without, desiring to see Thee. And He answered and said unto them, My mother and My brethren are these which hear the Word of God, and do it”—Luke 8:16-21.
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Every believer is called on to witness for Christ; he is to let his light shine before men. Our Lord Jesus uses here an illustration of which He was evidently very fond. We get hold of certain illustrations that seem to have weight, and help to clarify the truth which we are giving out, and these illustrations we are apt to use again and again as occasion arises. We all recognize our Lord as the Master-Teacher, and it is interesting to note how wonderfully He illustrated His addresses. Some preachers today are averse to such a method, but they need to remember that in criticizing the method they are, whether consciously or not, criticizing the Lord Himself. Spurgeon has said, “The sermon is the house, the illustrations are the windows that let the light in.” Our Lord never told stories just for the sake of stirring up the emotions of His hearers; every such incident was a parable, even though it was actually true in fact. We are told that without a parable spake He not unto them. He had a double purpose of using these parables: in the first place, many of them helped to make clear the truth He was seeking to impart; and in the second place, they were a challenge to His hearers, testing them as to whether or not they had any real interest in the truth. If unconcerned, they would listen to the story and go carelessly on their way, paying no further attention to it; if really exercised, they would inquire as to the meaning He wished to convey. We see this frequently in connection with the apostles who came to Him, asking the meaning of stories or illustrations He used. Most of His illustrations had to do with things that were exceedingly commonplace and well-known. It was thus with that of the candle or lamp-stand, which He used on several occasions. We need to learn that the candle was not such as we know, but the word really means one of those metal or pottery lamps which many of us have often seen in pictures or in museums, the bowl of which is filled with olive oil, and a wick protrudes through the spout. When this wick is lighted the lamp (or candle) is placed upon a lamp-stand, or in some other prominent position, in order to illumine the house. So Jesus says, “No man, when he hath lighted a candle, covereth it with a vessel, or putteth it under a bed; but setteth it on a candlestick, that they which enter in may see the light.” This is very suggestive. Elsewhere He speaks of hiding the light under a bushel, which answers to the vessel here. Now the bushel naturally reminds us of business, since it was used to measure food; and many Christians, I fear, have hidden their lights under a bushel; they have allowed their business to so occupy them that they have failed to witness for Christ as they should. You may have sometimes heard the expression, “I never mix my religion with my business.” Well, it is a very sad thing if you do not, because you are failing altogether in being the kind of businessman the Lord expects you to be. All Christians are not called upon to take an official place, as ministers or public teachers, but God needs Christian business-men to shine for Him. I am always so thankful when I hear people say of some of my brethren who are engaged in various commercial lines, “I have known Mr. So-and-So for years, and I could trust him anywhere; he carries his Christianity into his business.” This is letting one’s light shine for God in his daily life. A professed Christian who tries to carry on his business without giving Christ the rightful place in his life is a failure.
Then our Lord suggests the possibility of hiding the light under a bed. Now the bed, of course, speaks of taking one’s ease. Have we not known many like that? They are interested in the things of God so long as those things do not interfere with their own comfort. How many forget that Sunday is, in a very definite sense, the Lord’s Day, and yet they will stay out late on Saturday night, wear themselves out in business or pleasure, and then lie in bed on Sunday morning until it is too late to gather with the people of God, on the plea that they must have rest for body and mind. Surely, a little forethought would suggest carefully conserving the last hours of the week in order that one might be at his best on the Lord’s Day, to use the full time for God in such a way as to bring glory to His name by participating in the worship of His people and in the various activities connected with the gospel testimony. It is so easy to hide one’s light under the bed and excuse oneself on the ground of physical weariness. Many might have far more active participation in the things of Christ if it were not for slothfulness. I would to God that we Christians might be as much in earnest about witnessing for Christ as are the devil’s embassies in serving him. What a stir there often is when a gospel meeting runs over nine o’clock, and yet worldlings can be out at the theatre, or other ungodly places, until midnight and think nothing of it. It is a shame that Christians are so slack in manifesting devotion to Christ. In studying Chinese years ago, I noticed that one of the Chinese characters for “evil” is made up in this way: the upper part is for that which is secondary, and the lower part is the ideogram for “heart;” the meaning is that when that which is highest is given secondary place, it results in evil. May we not all challenge our hearts as to whether we give Christ the first place and make the things of God our immediate aim; or whether, after all, we think first of our own comfort and put the things of God in a secondary place. Our Lord tells us that “nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad.” Elsewhere we are told that some day we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ in that solemn day when all the purposes of the heart are manifest. How many of us will look back with grief on our lack of real devotion to Christ when we were in this scene! What we need to do is to live more and more in the light of that day of manifestation.
Next we have a word from the Lord to His followers concerning discipleship: “Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have.” There are many indifferent hearers; there are people who listen with the outward ear but do not really hear the message at all. We need to remember the sevenfold challenge in the book of Revelation: “He that hath an ear, let him hear.” We should listen to the Word of God as the very message of the Lord Himself to our own souls; to do otherwise is to insult Him who thus speaks to us for our instruction and obedience. On the other hand, we need to be careful about listening to that which is false. In the book of Proverbs we read, “Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge.” If men profess to be servants of Christ and yet deny the great truths of Holy Scripture, God holds us responsible. If we continue to listen to such deniers, we not only waste time by doing this but we dishonor God whose Word is thus rejected.
The Lord Jesus stresses the importance of using aright that which is communicated to us: “Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have.” It is a very easy thing to become an utter pauper, spiritually, and yet to be quite unconscious of one’s true condition. We have an example of that in the Laodicean church, the members of which said, “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing;” but the Lord, you remember, said to them, “Knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked?” They thought everything was well and that they were rich in every way, when, actually, everything was wrong with them. They were in deepest spiritual poverty, because they were not appropriating the riches of grace which God had put at their disposal. So it is with the one who fails to hear and heed the Word of God, and yet congratulates himself on being in a good spiritual frame of mind.
While our Lord was giving this instruction to His hearers, an incident occurred which emphasized the importance of the very thing He was stressing. Someone came suddenly up and interrupted Him, “Thy mother and Thy brethren stand without, desiring to see Thee.” Some people, you know, have no sense of the proper time and place for things, they think nothing of interrupting even the most precious unfolding of divine truth; it is often hard for preachers to bear such interruptions. One is inclined to become impatient, but it was otherwise with our blessed Lord. Instead of stopping to greet His loved ones or reprove the one who came to apprize Him of their presence, He used this as a means of pressing home the truth He had been uttering: “My mother, and My brethren are these which hear the Word of God, and do it.” I think I see Him raising His hands and looking out upon that audience as He exclaims, “These are My mother and My brethren.” Those who love God’s truth belong to Him in a peculiar way, they are His intimate relatives. Are you and I numbered among them? On another occasion He said to His disciples, “Ye are My friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” How precious to be a friend of His, to be one who delights in His company and who seeks to obey His Word!
It is true we are saved by grace alone. We could not do anything to merit our salvation; no work of ours could avail to blot out even one sin, but He who has saved us is now looking for good works in us. He said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” We who have believed in God are responsible to be careful to maintain good works. This is the test of discipleship. It is in this way that we shine for Christ, letting the world realize how much He means to us. Perhaps I am speaking to some today who have never yet trusted the Lord Jesus Christ; if so, I plead with you, take heed how ye hear! The Word says, “Hear, and your soul shall live.” I remember a lady who said to me years ago, “I went to church all my life but I never heard a sermon till I was fifty-eight years of age.” I inquired whether she had been physically deaf. “Oh, no;” she replied; “I sat in church, took part in the singing and listened to the sermons, but I never really heard one in my own soul until one day, for the first time, I realized the message was for me. When the preacher talked of sinners, I used to wonder what wicked people were in the church-building; when he talked of saints, I couldn’t imagine who might be there good enough to be so designated. But I’ll never forget the time when I realized that I was a lost sinner and needed a Saviour. Then my heart was opened, and I listened earnestly in order to find out how I might be saved, and as the gospel was proclaimed 1 received it in faith, and ever since I have known the Lord for myself.” Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” Have you heard Him in the gospel message? As Christians we need to have our ears attentive to His Word day after day that we may learn His will for us, and so manifest our discipleship as we walk in obedience to His truth. “While I live will I praise the Lord: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being” (Ps. 146:2).