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Emblems of the Word (6):
A Lamp

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 26, April-June 2002.

A Lamp

LIGHT has a prominent place in the Bible, both as a substance and as a symbol. Natural light appears at the beginning of the world in the book of Genesis, shines through human history and then disappears at the close of time in the book of Revelation. By then it has given way to the great reality to which it testifies, the Lord Jesus Christ, "the true Light" (John 1:9). What spiritual lessons can we learn from light?

In his unconverted state man is pictured in the Bible as sitting "in darkness and in the shadow of death" (Psa. 107:10). We are unable to see our way to God and we are perishing in our sins. The eyes of our soul were closed when Adam fell in paradise and they remain shut fast. Cut off from God we cannot perform our duty before Him. It is true that "light is come into the world" but it also true that "men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19). Even the brightest gospel rays, warm and inviting as they are, fail to dispel the gloom of our unbelief. Left to ourselves we face the awful prospect of "the blackness of darkness for ever" in hell (Jude 13).

In the miracle of regeneration a sovereign God gives to the sinner what He commands from the sinner. He gives us a new heart to love and obey the truth. This change is described as a spiritual opening or unveiling. Of Lydia it is said, "whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul" (Acts 16:14). The disciples gathered at Jerusalem were already believers but Jesus "opened... their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures" (Luke 24:45).

The word of God, which before was shut out of the soul through sin, now has a way in, and brings salvation with it. "The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple" (Psa. 119:130). The Holy Spirit enlightens our minds, giving us a saving knowledge of the truth. "Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord" (Eph. 5:8).

As the children of light we find ourselves living in a world of sin and temptation. What will be our guide as we walk amidst many dangers? Will it be our conscience, or the consensus of men, or the courts of the church? Ultimately it can be none of these things. Instead we say: "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path" (Psa. 119:105). A brilliant lamp has been lit by God in this world, one which will shine until all the redeemed have been brought safely home. There are many parallels between the natural light and this spiritual light, as we shall now see.


It is difficult to imagine life without light. Indeed it is really essential if proper life is to exist at all. Certainly man himself cannot thrive or even survive long without some sort of light. In the first creation, before God said "Let there be life" and created the plants and animals in their different kinds, He said "Let there be light" (Gen. 1:3). This is also the pattern for the new creation, the church of Jesus Christ. "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6).

The Bible is a necessary light. We cannot know God apart from His own Word. It is true that there are glimmers of spiritual light even in the fallen creation. There is a voice there which speaks to all men. It says, God IS. "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork" (Psa. 19:1). As we study the 'books' of creation and providence we learn of God's goodness, wisdom and power, but this light will not bring us to God. We need a lamp that will point out clearly the way to God. We are sinners and we need to be pardoned and cleansed. We need a Saviour to deliver us from hell. The Word of God brings the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who became man to suffer and die for sinners. We will find Him when we "search the scriptures" (John 5:39). The Bible by God's grace can make a man "wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 3:15).


At creation God condensed the natural light into one great body which we call the sun. It was designed "to give light upon the earth" during the day (Gen. 1:15). For salvation God has condensed spiritual light into one great Book, the Bible. It began as a small beam, growing through time into a glowing beacon.

The Bible is a sufficient light. Scripture is profitable "for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim. 3:15,16). All that we need to know for salvation, for a sound faith and a holy life, is to be found there. Within the pages of the Bible we have light on: the family, marriage and child-rearing; the church, its doctrine, worship and government; the state, its duties and powers. There is teaching on work, leisure, citizenship and everything else.

We should neither add to nor take away from the light God has given. Men have always wanted to do this! The devil introduced this evil into our world when he whispered to Eve, "Yea, hath God said...?" (Gen. 3:1). Satan's desire has ever been to put out the true Light: if he cannot destroy Christ Himself then he will seek to destroy the Bible, which is the testimony of Christ. A key front in this campaign is the idea of the sufficiency of Scripture.

On the one hand the devil sets before us false lights. These are the writings or teachings we are told we must have in addition to the Bible. They are easily spotted. Protestants can quickly identify the Apocrypha, papal decrees, the Book of Mormon and the Watchtower magazine as deceptions. The Quakers' "inner light" and the Charismatics' ongoing prophecy are in the same category.

On the other hand the devil sets before us feeble lights. These are the contemporary versions which have come in like a flood. The Bible lamp is not only mimicked by impostors; it is also obscured by translators. Critics have been busy, trimming the Bible text with their prejudice as Jehoiakim did with his penknife centuries ago (Jer. 36:23). Precious verses have been judged "doubtful" and "unreliable" and removed from the text. Some of them speak of our blessed Lord but their light is no longer allowed to shine in many churches.

Modernisers have been busy too, bringing the Bible up to date. Old-fashioned language has gone (however accurate it is), to be replaced by something more fashionable (however inaccurate it is); strict word for word equivalence has disappeared, to be replaced by attempts at interpreting the sense of a passage. The translator has become a commentator, imposing his own views on the text. Too often he has put a shade over the lamp of truth.

What we must understand is that the Bible is a finished product and a perfect product. We need no further revelation but we do need more illumination – the Lord graciously revealing His truth to our ignorant minds. For this we must pray continually with the Psalmist, "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law" (Psa. 119:18). And as we do so our confidence is, "in thy light shall we see light" (Psa. 36:9).

In the Bible the believer has everything he requires to live to the glory of God. "Conversion turns us to the Word of God, as our touchstone, to examine our glass, to dress by (James 1:23-25); as our rule to walk and work by (Galatians 6:16); as our water, to wash us (Psalm 119:9); as our fire to warm us (Luke 24:32); as our food to nourish us (Job 23:12); as our sword to fight with (Ephesians 6:17); as our counsellor, in all our doubts (Psalm 119:24); as our cordial, to comfort us; as our heritage to enrich us." (Philip Henry)


The sun is described as "the greater light" compared to the moon (Gen. 1:16). Though at a vast distance from our planet its light is so bright that it irradiates every part of the earth. No artificial light can rival the strength of its beams. They reveal many dark things, imperfect things and impure things.

The Bible is a clear light. One of the features of Scripture which makes it so precious is what we call its perspicuity. Because it speaks plainly about God and man, sin and salvation, it is suited to everyone – the learned and the unlearned, the young as well as the adult. As has been said, in the first page of the Bible a child may learn more in one hour than all the scientists of the world have learned without it in thousands of years. There are indeed "some things hard to be understood" in the Scriptures (2 Pet. 3:16) but there is nothing that will keep a sinner from finding the Saviour and walking with Him. There are difficulties, but with the Lord's help, no impossibilities.

It is sad that for all the efforts to make the Bible more 'relevant' and acceptable to the modern man the effect has been to obscure some important teachings which former generations held with conviction. There has been a retreat from Confessional orthodoxy generally. What light have we lost? Can people in the pews today give, for example, an explanation of how we should worship God? or how the church of Christ is to be governed? or what the covenant of grace is? or even explain the doctrine of justification clearly? One doctrine on which the Reformers were crystal clear but today's Christians are confused is the identity of the Antichrist. With the lamp of God's Word to guide them the Reformers were unanimous in identifying the papacy as the Man of Sin. But what of those who use popular modern versions? What answer will they give? Probably none!


The sun was set in the sky "to rule over the day" (Gen. 1:18). It has original light which is shed abroad. It is a good symbol of the Bible, which governs believers everywhere. The moon has no light of its own but simply reflects the light of the sun. It is a good symbol of the church, whose power extends as far as Scripture and no further.

The Bible is an authoritative light. Our world is full of opinions. When men speak their thoughts on matters of faith or morals they usually begin with the words, "I think" or "I believe." But whose opinion is correct? should we agree with the view of the majority? should we believe the preacher? should we always trust the church? Who has the last word? The best of men are only men at best and they all make mistakes. We need a higher authority, one which is not of man at all. Jesus said: "Blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it" (Luke 11:28).

Joseph Hall wrote these helpful words: "The Scripture is the sun; the church is the clock, whose hands point us to and whose sound tells us the hours of the day. The sun we know to be sure, and regularly constant in his motion; the clock, as it may fall out, may go too fast or too slow. We are wont to look at, and listen to the clock, we know the time of the day; but, where we find the variation sensible, we believe the sun against the clock, not the clock against the sun." Let us look steadfastly to the Bible lamp, as a sure and safe guide for our souls, until by grace we reach that city which is full of the glory of God, "and the Lamb is the light thereof" (Rev. 21:23).