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Emblems of the Word (1):
A Mirror

by Rev. David Blunt

An emblem is an object which symbolises something distinct from itself and yet is very suggestive of that thing. An association exists between the emblem and the reality which puts certain ideas into our minds. We use signs, badges and motifs to this purpose today. In the Bible God employs familiar objects to represent His inspired word to men: each emblem shows us vital truths concerning the word of God which make it so precious to have and so necessary to use. In this series we look at some of these emblems.

First published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue 21, January-March 2001.

A Mirror

IN ancient times mirrors were made of shiny metal rather than glass itself. When the Israelites came out of Egypt the women brought with them mirrors such as the Egyptians used. These were made of a metal alloy, chiefly copper, which was capable of a bright, reflective lustre. Providentially these mirrors were soon to be used in the manufacture of an important item of furniture in the tabernacle. The Lord raised up Bezaleel, filling him with His Spirit, and this skilful workman "made the laver of brass, and the foot of it of brass, of the looking-glasses of the women assembling, which assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation" (Exod. 38:8). Polished metal was the basis for mirrors in New Testament times also.

Whatever changes have since taken place in the manufacture of mirrors, nothing has changed regarding their real purpose, which is to represent to a man his physical likeness. In the Epistle of James the Scriptures are likened to a mirror in their use and effect. We read of "a man beholding his natural face in a glass" (1:23) and how he reacts to what he sees. A man reading the Bible or listening to the preaching of the gospel is said to be similar. The great question is, What will he do with what he hears? Just what a mirror is to the face of a man the Bible is to his soul. What does God's mirror provide us with?

A Reflection

A good mirror is one which gives an accurate reflection and presents a true image to its user. Without doubt the Holy Scriptures are a faithful mirror of the human heart. Of the heart the Bible says that it is "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" – so much so that the question follows, "who can know it?" (Jer. 17:9). There is craft and guile deep within fallen mankind. Can you understand the moods and the motions, the workings and the ways of your own heart? Does it not seek out "many inventions" (Ecc. 7:29)? What an effect sin has had, that a man does not truly know himself!

But let a man once look into the Holy Scriptures and he will find his true likeness, for the Scriptures are the words of "God, that cannot lie" (Tit. 1:2). We live in a time of great spiritual deception. Many place their trust in false churches and sects, in man-made rules and rituals. Many are captivated by the 'signs and wonders' of the so-called charismatic movement. But in addition there are those, as there have been in every generation, who belong to the true church, having professed conversion to Christ under the gospel. They do many wonderful things in the name of Jesus and they may be greatly applauded by others – and yet they are among those to whom the Lord will say at the Judgment, "I never knew you" (Matt. 7:23). What was wrong? They were so confident of salvation! Whatever the fault was it was not in the word of God. It never deceived them. The false professor who is lost in the end is lost because he never really listened to what the Lord says in the Scriptures. He never studied closely his reflection in this trustworthy mirror.

In contrast the true believer may be unacknowledged by the world and even by the church in a time of declension, treated as "the offscouring of all things." But though Israel acknowledge him not there is One who does acknowledge him in heaven: "Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his" (2 Tim. 2:19). The divine Comforter ministers assurance to every born-again believer through the infallible word, blessing the promises of salvation to his soul by showing him that, despite his many sinful failings, he possesses the graces to which those promises are connected.

When you stand in front of a mirror your image appears as though you are inside the mirror and are looking out from it. Your image is protected and safe. No-one can spoil it or destroy it, except by scratching or breaking the mirror. The believer in Christ Jesus is absolutely safe. The word of God speaks up for him, he has a "good report" from "the truth itself" (3 John 12). And remember, this mirror cannot be broken (John 10:35).

A Revelation

Not only is this mirror remarkable for its accuracy but also for the discoveries it makes. It both reflects and reveals. The hidden things of the heart are made plain by it. An ordinary glass shows a man his blemishes as spots, wrinkles and other faults are highlighted. But "the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7). It is a powerful evidence of the divine origin of the Scriptures that we so often find them in our experience to be "a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Heb. 4:12).

What lengths men and women may go to in order to hide their facial blemishes! Attempts are made to cover up what is thought to be unflattering. Steps may even be taken to physically alter the appearance of the face. Yet we cannot do the same with our heart. We can neither mask it nor mend it in the sight of God. Many are trying to "beautify" themselves spiritually by their works: a little religion here, a little charity there. But it is all to no avail. Every effort at refinement or reform apart from regeneration is doomed to failure. We are left with a corrupt heart from which proceeds only evil continually. This is what the Bible reveals to the sincere seeker after truth.

It is in the word too that we discover God, a Spirit who is otherwise invisible and unknowable. The two Testaments of the Scriptures are like the two lenses of a pair of spectacles in which and through which we see the Almighty. There, "we all, with an open face behold as in a glass the glory of the Lord" (2 Cor. 3:18). Even the revelation given under the Old Testament communicated the knowledge of God to believers. By faith Moses endured, "as seeing him who is invisible" (Heb. 11:27). This spiritual sight transforms the child of God into the likeness of his Lord. It is true that in comparison to the eternal state when we shall see "face to face" we now see "as in a glass, darkly" (1 Cor. 12:13), but we should never despise the Scriptures for that reason. As Thomas Manton said, when we lack the sun, we do not despise a candle.

A Reproof

What need we have of this mirror for self-examination! We might note that it is for the face that we particularly require the use of a mirror: a man may study all his limbs without it. The natural face answers spiritually to the heart. We may have good knowledge of our actions apart from the Scriptures but in order to make a proper study of our motives we must make use of the word of God. Our sinful motives are not simply revealed by the Scriptures but they are reproved too. We are rebuked and warned. Our conscience is troubled. We become convinced of sin.

It is the law of God in particular which acts as a mirror to a man's heart, including the heart of the child of God. By His perfect law the Lord tries the believer and the believer tries himself. He examines his heart and life according to its precepts and demands. His experience as he does so is like that of the apostle Paul: there is a discovery of the spirituality and exceeding breadth of the law which produces an overwhelming sense of one's carnality, wretchedness, and even "death" (Rom. 7:14,24).

The word of God should produce good fruit in the life of a Christian. This is the pointed teaching of James 1:21-25. A man gazing in a mirror and observing a fault in his physical appearance invariably does something about it if he can. So should the child of God make use of the Bible and take proper care of his soul. But there is a difference. When a man leaves a mirror all he has is a dim and fading memory of his own face. The believer however has the word of God in his heart (Psa. 37:31; Col. 3:16). It has made a lasting impression upon him and given him liberty. God's law is now his study "all the day." "Thy testimonies also are my delight and my counsellors" (Psa. 119:24). Proper meditation will always lead to obedient action. The Scripture laid up in the heart must be "practised" in the life. This will keep our conscience tender and our will in submission to Christ our King.

Prayer is needed for the blessing of God to accompany all our reading, preaching and hearing of the word. The Rev. Robert Steel records a minister in America who once offered to give any impenitent man ten dollars who would read one chapter of the Bible on his knees every morning for three months, commencing with the prayer: "O God, send thy Holy Spirit to convict me of sin, and to lead me in the way of truth." It was accepted by a boastful infidel, who attempted to do his part. He got on well for a few days; but then conviction fastened heavily upon him, then despair seized him. He then sent for the minister to pray for him; and after a night's pleading he found peace.

Let us be sure to use a version of the Bible which is itself a good mirror or accurate likeness of the original. There are many versions in circulation today which take liberties with the text and with translation. They omit verses and soften certain doctrines. When we look into them we see a blurred picture. This is not what we need. We need a faithful mirror which will not flatter us but speak plainly to us, that we may forsake all our sins and follow holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.