Jesus Is the Light of the World
Light reveals truth; therefore people who want to put out the light of truth are those who want to do their wicked deeds concealed by the cover of darkness.
"This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God." (John 3:19-21, NIV)
"Jesus answered, 'You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.'"
"'What is truth?' Pilate asked."
(John 18:37-38, NIV)
"Like the sun whose dawning brings in the light,
the King's coming changes all history.
Bursting forth suddenly, lighting up the sky,
He banishes the night."
-- From "Watchman, What of the Night?" (copyright 1998)
Jesus said: "'While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.'" (John 9:5, NIV).
Once, two thousand years ago in real human history, people sought to suppress truth by trying to extinguish that Light.
Great Awakening minister (and Governor Jonathan Belcher's friend) George Whitefield (1714-1770) once said in his timely sermon, Persecution Every Christian's Lot (1742):
He that ears to ear, let him hear what CHRIST says [...] and then confess that "all who will live godly in CHRIST JESUS, shall suffer PERSECUTION".
As this is proved from our Lord's doctrine, so it is no less evident from His life. Follow Him from the manger to the cross and see whether any persecution was like that which the Son of God, the Lord of Glory, underwent whilst here on earth. How was he hated by wicked men! How often would that hatred have excited them to take hold of Him, had it not been for fear of the people! How was He reviled, counted and called a blasphemer, a wine-bibber, a Samaritan, nay, a devil, and, in one word, had all manner of evil spoken against Him falsly! What contradiction of sinners did He endure against Himself!
Likewise, Christians who are united to Christ in a union of shared values are Christ's living representatives in the world. They are the remnants of Christ active in present world history. Therefore, they also are lights.
Jesus said of His people: "'You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.'" (Matthew 5:14-16, NIV)
And because one way to suppress truth is to say exactly the opposite (about the truth and the truth-sayers) therefore false witness is one form of persecution--one way to attempt to suppress the light of the world, the witness of truth. As George Whitefield explained:
Many, I suppose, think it no harm to shoot out arrows, even bitter words, against the disciples of the Lord [...] saying, "Are we not in sport?" But, however they may esteem it, in God's account evil-speaking is a high degree of persecution. Thus Ishmael's mocking Isaac in the Old, is termed persecuting him in the New, Testament. "Blessed are ye," says our Lord, "when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsly for my name's sake." From whence we may gather, that reviling and speaking all manner of evil falsly for [because of] Christ's sake, is a high degree of persecution. For a "good name," says the wise man, "is better than precious ointment," and, to many, is dearer than life itself. 'Tis a great breach of the sixth commandment to slander any one, but to speak evil of and slander the disciples of Christ, merely because they are His disciples, must be highly provoking in the sight of God, and such who are guilty of it (without repentance) will find that Jesus Christ will call them to an account and punish them for all their ungodly and hard speeches in a lake of fire and brimstone. This shall be their portion to drink.
Back to the Future:
The Restoration Goal of the Great Awakening
George Whitefield (1714-1770) was a young minister from England who traveled throughout the American colonies during the Colonial Era of American history (the time period before the American Revolution) and championed the renewal of Christianity now known as the "Great Awakening" with such power, enthusiasm, and persuasiveness that he became famous to his own and later generations. His sermons became Colonial classics.
In contrast to the eighteenth century's so-called philosophical "Enlightenment", the Great Awakening was the true enlightenment, for it emphasized that Jesus was the Light of the world and that His followers were lights in the world, also, living to explain and demonstrate reality (God's truth). Thus the goal of the Great Awakening was the goal of all true Christians throughout time: to "go back to the future" of Christianity: To go back to the principles and values of Christ.
"Back to the future": By that is meant, the Great Awakeners sought a model in the past to serve as a guide for future conduct. Specifically, the Awakeners (sometimes called "New Lights") sought to restore faithfulness to Christ and the inspired Scriptural record (the truth). A "city on a hill" was the watchword of their forebearers, the "Puritans" of New England. It was the major reason why the Puritans came to America in the first place--to establish "a city on a hill" to serve as a Christian light to the corrupt European world they had left behind. In revealing the light of truth, Christ was The Model, the Original Pattern for living reality.
However, one point that is too often overlooked by historians of the Great Awakening is what goals the Awakeners were trying to accomplish. The primary focus of the Awakening was not subjective (that is, not focusing on people's emotions--i.e.,, dancing in front of the church, for instance), but objective (what truth the Awakeners were trying to reveal and uphold). That absolute Truth, of course, was the reality explained in the Bible, the Word of God. Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) of Northampton, Massachusetts (another of Governor Belcher's friends and Aaron Burr, Sr.'s father-in-law) set the stage; it only remained for additional others bold and courageous enough to speak in their own towns or to travel from town to town and proclaim those goals and contend for the truth, in order to illuminate the American people with hope, encouragement, and good cheer. In God's perfect time, in 1740, George Whitefield (incidentally, a gifted speaker) came along with his direct, forceful style spoken mainly in the conversational language of the time.
"And if we would know whence all the errors that have overspread the Church of Christ [the worldwide union of Christians] first arose, we should find they in a great measure flowed from the same fountain--viz., an ignorance of the Word of God," George Whitefield once wrote in The Duty of Searching the Scriptures, a sermon in his Christian Companion (London, 1739) (p. 77).
Though the "Back to the Bible" campaign had been started by Dr. Benjamin Colman (1673-1747) as early as 1700 with the formation of the Brattle Street Church (Colman had urged ministers to read more of the Bible in their sermons rather than add their own philosophy), the "Back to the Bible" light, faithfully maintained by Colman throughout the years (see Government the Pillar of the Earth and Christ Standing as an Ensign for the People), burst into brilliant glory with the preaching of Edwards and Whitefield. And these men practiced what they preached. They had such a reverence for Truth (God's words), that they refuted the early beginnings of what we now know as the Postmodern/New Age/mysticism movement (the so-called "divine spark within/ability to gain knowledge through mystical experience") lingo. In one of his earliest sermons, Whitefield even noticed this Gnostic "spirit of antichrist" in early modern society.
Thus the Awakeners' main concern was for sound knowledge. They were concerned about deism (a main component of what today's historians call the "Enlightenment" philosophical movement, which gave rise to today's liberalism or "secular humanism"). That is the great, often untold story of the Great Awakening that is too rarely recognized: The Awakeners countered a false "Enlightenment" with the true Enlightenment, the true Light.
Today's Situation Is an Extension of Theirs:
The True Enlightenment vs. the False
So, Why is the true story of the Great Awakening so important? The answer is: What happened during the eighteenth-century is responsible for the state of decline in the concept of absolute truth today. And without a concept of absolute truth, light is extinguished, the world is returned to darkness, and people are free to tell lies and do wicked deeds under the cover of that darkness.
Following the premise that when Christianity falls, society's morality falls with it, to its logical conclusion, we may conclude that the moment when society began to turn away from true Christianity to embrace error was the moment when society began its downhill slide. And when liberals rejected the restoration of Biblical Christianity achieved through the Great Awakening, that was the turning point when that downhill slide began to happen. (Of course, that slide has been greatly accelerated in America since the 1960's, when courts began to rule against prayer, Bible reading, and posting of the Ten Commandments in schools--a concept now extended to encompass more and more of public life.) For a brief couple of decades, during the Great Awakening itself, America knew a measure of the restoration of true (Biblical) Christianity in all its beauty and power. But then, around the time of the American Revolution, the forces of deism began slowly to gain control of pulpits and elite educational institutions, and from these bastions began to slowly erode the concept of absolute truth, beginning with liberal erosion of theology. The opponents of the Great Awakening unleashed the "spirit of antichrist" in America.
"For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths." (2 Timothy 4:3-4, NIV).
That is what began to happen through the 1760's--a process largely completed by the end of the 1960's.
But, what insidious forms did the "spirit of antichrist" (that is, the spirit that is against Christ, the Truth and Light of the world) take during that period. What shapes does it change into today?
The answer to the second question is also the answer to the first: Pretty much the same forms. Only the names change over the centuries. The spirit of antichrist--called Gnosticism in the first century--is like a two-sided coin. And both sides are erosive of truth.
One side is liberal humanism (liberalism): Man-centered, focused on an overly idealistic (that is, nonrealistic) view of human nature, rather than on the holiness (the principles) of God. Focusing on the supposed "goodness" of humanity to the point of denying God's existence is atheism. A pale reflection is: Focusing on an unrealistic view of humanity while still acknowledging there is a God--yet considering Him to be some impersonal "force" that is part of the material universe--a philosophy called deism in the eighteenth century, but which today is more consistent with the beliefs of the New Age movement. Ironically, though deism is usually considered to be part of the eighteenth-century philosophical movement called the Enlightenment, which worshipped human reason (this philosophy was a key component of the French Revolution, incidentally, which even worshipped a "goddess of reason"), the Enlightenment and today's New Age/Postmodern movement (which denies the concept of absolute truth) had more in common than people might think.
The deists of the Enlightenment were so proud of their (unrealistically elevated) view of human reason that they critiqued and criticized the Bible, for instance, as if they were simply reviewing a (human-created) book. Some even thought they could do without the Bible altogether and find out about God just by using their mere human reason. To the deists, the Creator was not Someone they could get to know in friendship. To them, He was simply the Universal Mind who had created Nature (the material universe). That material universe became their idol. (Today's postmodernists like to speak of co-called "Mother Nature".)
Interestingly, the worldview underlying the hypothesis of evolution is just one more way to say (as the deists did) that God does not control the history of the universe. So in essence, deism paved the way for modern evolutionary theory. Deism basically believed that chance, and not God, determined the events of world history. That, basically, is what evolutionists are still saying today--just a more sophisticated version of what the deists were saying in the eighteenth century.
Ironically, despite its worship of the created universe, deism was the flip side of Gnosticism--the ability to gain superior knowledge through spiritual "enlightenment" (mystical experiences). The Gnostics, too, placed a high value on human ability to "discover God" apart from reliance on the written Scriptures. That they used a different part of the human faculties to do so--Gnostics said they could learn "higher spiritual knowledge" of God through the "spirit of divinity" within them--whereas deists said they could learn about God by using their mind alone--in the end made little difference. Regardless of whether the Gnostics used some "inner light" or the deists used the mind, both relied solely on their own personal experience for knowledge about the "force" they called God. In other words, they were totally subjective (relying on their own personal experiences) as opposed to being objective (consulting the absolute truth outside human experience--that is, God's written words--and submitting one's reason to that truth--defining one's worldview and viewpoint on the totality of life in accordance with that ultimate reality).
What the deists wanted to do was what we would call "liberalism" today: They considered their human reason to be superior to God's written words. They believed people had the ability to criticize God's Word. Even though they dared not specifically say so in the mid-eighteenth century (Charles Chauncy, for instance, the leading critic of the Great Awakening, wrote a liberal work (titled The Mystery hid from Ages and Generations...Or, The Salvation of All Men (London, Charles Dilly, 1784) denying the crucial Bible truth that all wicked people will go to hell, that was not published until the 1780's, several decades after it was written), deists--through their words, actions and whole belief system--didn't believe the Bible was an inerrant and infallible guide for human conduct.
Here was the beginning of the problem that Christians face today: So-called "higher criticism" of the Bible, supposedly initiated by German professors in the nineteenth century, really originated with the eighteenth-century deists (who were international in scope). As King Solomon said: "There is nothing new under the sun." The German "higher critics" simply got their ideas from the deists of a few decades earlier. And those deists were simply a materialistic variation of the first-century Gnostics, those banes of the early Christian church about whom the Apostle John wrote when he described the "spirit of antichrist". So deism was the start of "higher criticism" of the Bible, as well.
With this "higher criticism" resurfaced a questioning of the key Biblical doctrines: the deity of Christ (that Jesus is God), Jesus' virgin birth, His physical resurrection from the dead, and disbelief of the miracles He performed. Now even His actual written words are being questioned. Some academics now say they can determine--through the use of their own reason--what portion of Jesus' words in the Bible were really said by Him. Some people view Biblical events, such as the Fall of man in the Garden of Eden, merely as myths. This is disbelief, pure and simple. And disbelief results from dismissing or excluding from consideration the written Word of God as absolute truth. This, really, is misuse of human reason. Proper use of human reason is to submit it humbly to God's written words and to depend on that divinely-inspired Record for the only certain knowledge about Him and about the reality that He created. That was said by Jonathan Edwards, repeatedly. But in contradiction to that view, the deists, like today's modern "higher criticism", believed they could accept some parts of the Bible but reject other parts--any part they thought went against their own desires. This entire spectrum of deistic belief is what we today call "liberalism".
So that liberalism was what the Great Awakeners had to face in the eighteenth century--a turning point in world history--the point in time when human society turned toward modernism. The Awakeners were counterbalancing the effects of the Enlightenment that was just breaking over the American cultural landscape. The deists in their day were using an excuse: They were saying, "Christianity isn't reasonable", so they could criticize the Bible and depend on themselves alone. They were denying that Jesus was God, which is the same as saying "Jesus didn't come in the flesh", which was what the Gnostics believed (Gnosis means "knowledge"). Note that both false systems contained the concept of "light/knowledge" in their names. The very name Gnostic meant someone who had superior knowledge, superior light. Likewise, the name Enlightenment meant superior light, superior knowledge. In essence, at their basic core, the two false systems were flip sides of the same coin. In revealing the falsity of the Enlightenment, the Awakeners were exposing a more subtle offspring of Gnosticism, disguised under a different name.
In opposition to the claims of the deists, the Great Awakeners wrote specific defenses of the Gospel message. Dr. Benjamin Colman's The Credibility of the Christian Doctrine of the Resurrection (1729) affirmed that Christians will physically rise from the dead, refuting the deists who said they wouldn't (note that Gnostics also said they wouldn't). Jonathan Dickinson (1688-1747) wrote The Reasonableness of Christianity (1732) to show that the written Word is, in itself, reasonable, in refutation of the deists who said it wasn't. In the deists' view, men had to criticize the Word in order to arrive at (a subjective concept of) "truth" (i.e., whatever you want it to mean). Dickinson's associate (Jonathan Edwards' son-in-law) Aaron Burr, Sr. (1715/16-1757), who once was an assistant to George Whitefield, wrote The Supreme Deity of Jesus Christ Defended (1757) to affirm that Jesus was (and is) God, in refutation of those who denied Jesus' deity. Abraham Taylor's The Insufficiency of Natural Religion (1732) was reprinted in 1755 to expose the tenets of deism. And the writings of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield were full of refutations of deism's false beliefs. So, in actuality, the Great Awakening was an expose of the "spirit of antichrist" in early modern times, a reasoned critique of the early philosophical movement called the "Enlightenment", a battle between God's kingdom of light versus the devil's kingdom of darkness.
Then, there is the flip side of the deist/Gnostic coin. Notice that when the deists reduced God to an impersonal "force", deism showed a mystical side. And it was this side that most resembled Gnosticism, which said the world was the product of spiritual forces.
"Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world." (1 John 4:1-3)
The "spirit of antichrist" John wrote about was called "Gnosticism" in the first century. As the verses indicated, the basic component of the many Gnostic philosophies was that they denied God had ever come in the flesh, as a human being. Instead of "The Word became flesh" (John 1:14) as God Himself said, the Gnostics held to the idea of a Jesus who was a spirit only. They contended that since the entire material world was unreal--an illusion--and the only reality was spiritual reality, Jesus only appeared to have a human body. Hence, under their scheme, no physical death on the cross and no physical resurrection from the dead. (Indeed, Gnostics denied that anyone physically rose from the dead.) Obviously, this belief directly opposed the Gospel message of Christ physically dying on the cross for our sins, suffering the penalty of God's wrath against sin in our place, and being physically resurrected by God the Father to live in a glorified, immortal body. Not only that, but the Gnostics even went so far as to say that Jesus was not God Himself, but in fact a mere human in whom resided the spark of divinity--something which, they said, all humans had within them if they only realized it. Obviously, Gnosticism was a replay of Satan's old lie to Eve in the Garden of Eden: "'you will be like God, knowing good and evil'" (Genesis 3:4).
But how does an ancient philosophy apply to us? The answer is: Plenty when it resurfaces!--both for Christians and non-Christians. Aside from the fact that Gnosticism has enjoyed a recent revival under a new name (the "New Age" or "Postmodern" movement pervading current society and culture), a more subtle threat remains: Gnosticism and its associated philosophy now is undermining the very concept of absolute truth--for when the Bible falls, so does all truth fall with it. The threat to our world is subtle, and as John indicated, it has been with us ever since the first century, only in more disguised forms--one of which was the cover of deism (or so-called "Enlightenment").
Interestingly, the Bible describes the Antichrist in this way: "Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God." (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4)
The Bible also calls this spirit of antichrist the "secret power of lawlessness": "For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work..." (2 Thessalonians 2:7). So, this spirit of antichrist was present in the first century and took many forms and names throughout subsequent ages, up to the present day.
Indeed, God specifically anticipated the arguments made by the "spirit of antichrist" in every age. Consider God's acknowledgment of Christ's deity in 2 Peter 1:16-18, which also affirms that the Gospel is not men's words, but God's. "Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture ever came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:20-21). That affirms the direct inspiration of Scripture! More tellingly, the Bible goes on to say: "But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them--bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up" (2 Peter 2:1-3). That chronicles the course the spirit of antichrist took throughout later history!
"Secretly introduce destructive heresies": Note the word "secretly". The spirit of antichrist subtly planted itself under different names and guises and tried to subvert Christianity from within. Such was deism, both in its liberal and mystical sides. The thoughts of both sides eventually blended into one another; we are seeing that blending today. Now, the idea of God as an impersonal "force"--the "God of Nature"--is also the "force" described by the New Age movement. This concept opened the door to the notion that men's actions can create their own reality--which is a postmodern concept. Once again, the human mind is exalted over God Himself.
Note that 2 Peter 2:1 said that such teachers would deny "the sovereign Lord". In other words, they would deny the sovereignty of God, His ability to know and direct everything that happens in past, present, and future. Sadly, that's what some people are denying today; witness the recent attempts to get "in God we trust" off our national coinage and "under God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance. (See Good Cheer Signs for All Times regarding this issue.)
The Great Awakening upheld the notion of God's sovereignty; that's why understanding the history of their heroic stand for truth is important for our current age.
Why is it so important for this history to be told? Because the spirit of antichrist is still with us. We have to make our own, twenty-first century stand for truth, like the first-century Christians and the eighteenth-century Christians did in their time. It is our responsibility to know God's truth and to contend for that truth.
The Good Cheer Group
The friendship between the Great Awakening Christians was marvelous. For instance, with the assistance of the great hymn writer Isaac Watts (1674-1748) (another friend of Governor Belcher; see Poems about Governor Jonathan Belcher by Isaac Watts and Other Poets), Dr. Benjamin Colman befriended the young Jonathan Edwards in 1735 by editing and sponsoring the publication of the first narrative of the Great Awakening in America, Edwards' A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in the Conversion of Many Hundred Souls in Northampton. Then, in 1740, George Whitefield came to Boston because Benjamin Colman and Colman's associate pastor, William Cooper (1694-1743) (author of The Honors of Christ Demanded of the Magistrate), invited Whitefield to preach in their pulpit at the Brattle Street Church. Whitefield and Edwards likewise became supporters of each other's work.
Moreover, these friends and Christian brothers were members of a circle that can be described as a "good cheer group"--an appellation that can be applied to the group of true Christians (Jesus' people) as a whole. For, as George Whitefield often pointed out as a constant theme in his sermons, persecution is every Christian's lot, and it takes courage to actually live a Godly lifestyle in our modern society. This is a message we still need to hear today--now more than ever before. The good cheer group, then, is committed to standing up for truth--God's reality--against the enemy (the devil) and all his minions who literally try to bedevil anyone who dare so lives.
As George Whitefield said in Persecution Every Christian's Lot (1742):
The text speaks to you that are patiently suffering for truth's sake. "Rejoice and be exceeding glad;--Great shall be your reward in heaven." For to you it is given, not only to believe, but also to suffer, and perhaps remarkably, too, for the sake of Jesus! This is a mark of your discipleship, an evidence that "you do live godly in CHRIST JESUS." Oh, be not weary and faint in your minds! Jesus, your Lord, your Life, cometh, and "his reward is with him." Though all men forsake you, yet will not He. No, the Spirit of Christ and of Glory shall rest upon you. In "patience therefore possess your souls." Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts. Be in nothing terrified by your adversaries. On their part, Christ is evil spoken of, on your part, He is glorified. Be not ashamed of your glory, since others can glory in their shame. [...] The devil rages, knowing that he hath but a short time to reign. He or his emissaries have no more power than what is given them from above. God sets them their bounds, which they cannot pass [....]
Whitefield and the other Awakeners knew the cost of standing up for Jesus--for they actually tried to stop the spirit of antichrist from gaining ground, especially in America.
So, at one time in America, there was a massive campaign to stop the invasion of antichrist's spirit in American society. This battle had heroes--Christian heroes. Sadly, few historians have seen the link between the Great Awakeners and their stand against deism in Early America.
May twenty-first century Christians be encouraged by their example to stand up for truth like our compatriots of an earlier era did, the eighteenth-century group of "good cheer agents" who spread God's words of good cheer.
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.
"Persecution Every Christian's Lot" quoted (with grammatical editing) from: George Whitefield, A.B., Late of Pembroke College, Oxford, Nine Sermons Upon the Following Subjects; viz. I. The Lord Our Righteousness. II. The Seed of the Woman, and the Seed of the Serpent. III. Persecution Every Christian's Lot. IV. Abraham's Offering up his Son Isaac. V. Saul's Conversion. VI. The Pharisee and the Publican. VII. Christ, the Believer's Wisdom, Righteousness, Sanctification, and Redemption. VIII. The Holy Spirit convincing the World of Sin, of Righteousness, and of Judgment. IX. The Conversion of Zaccheus. (Printed by T. Lumisden and J. Robertson, and sold at their Printing-house in the Fish-market, and J. Traill Book-seller in the Parliament-close, 1742)
For further reading:
The Great Awakening View of Enlightenment
Jonathan Edwards' Great Awakening View of Religious Secularism
The Right Use of Reason: Jonathan Edwards' Great Awakening View, as Contrasted with Religious Secularism
Don't Hide God in a Closet
Watchman, What of the Night? (Reflections on the Implications of the Birth of Christ for World History)
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