The Glorious Lamp of HeavenPsa 84:11
“The Lord God is a sun.”
A week or two ago, when we were all looking with interest towards the eclipse of the moon, I took up again a fascinating volume which I doubt that many of you have read. The volume I refer to is the Story of the Heavens by Sir Robert Ball, and Sir Robert Ball is not only an astronomer who holds high and honorable rank among men of science, he is also a writer of pure and lucid English.
In reading that volume I was deeply impressed by all that Sir Robert had to tell about the moon, but I think that I was arrested still more powerfully by the strange and wonderful story of the sun. Time and again I found myself laying down the book overpowered by the thought that the Lord God is a sun. The kinship between that creation and its great Creator shone out from the pages in unexpected radiance. And so I have taken this poet’s text and shall try, from one or two of the aspects thus suggested, to use it so as to illumine our thought of God.
The Sun, the Center of Our Solar System
First, I was struck by the results that flowed from the discovery of the right place of the sun. Astronomy is one of the oldest of the sciences and many very remarkable discoveries must have been made when the race was in its childhood. Especially in the East where the stars burn and glitter as with the intensity of some great moral purpose, students out watched the lonely night in gazing and linked the stars with the destinies of men. But always, in the very center of their system, there was poised this earth on which we live. This was the focus, this was the midmost point, this was the pivot of the whole machine; and till the earth was displaced from her usurped centrality and cast into the outer circle of the system, progress was barred, true knowledge was impossible, and a thousand facts remained inexplicable.
I need hardly remind you that it was Copernicus who was the first to solve this problem of the center. It was he who proved that the sun and not the earth is the true center of our solar system. And how much we owe to that wonderful discovery—how many problems it has solved, how many truths suggested—all that could be most eloquently told by those who have given their lifetime to the science.
Now it seems to me that the progress of our life is not dissimilar to that progress of astronomy. We all begin in one way or another by making this earth on which we dwell the center. The first man is of the earth, earthy: “first, that which is natural,” says the Apostle. Our hopes, our dreams, our joys and our ambitions cluster and circle around this present world. The strange thing is that while this remains the center, for us as for the astronomer much is dark. A thousand problems baffle our inquiry and a thousand questions are answered by a cry. What is the meaning of suffering or pain? Why are so many faces drawn in agony? Why are those who are too gentle to harm a living creature bowed down for years in intolerable anguish? These questions—and a score of problems as insistent—rise up to meet us and are unanswerable so long as this life, this earth, this present world remains the center of the moral system.
But the day comes—and it comes to every man—when he has his chance of being a Copernicus. He has his choice of making the great refusal or of making the greatest of all great discoveries, for the greatest discovery a man can make is that God is the center of the system.
What is man’s chief end? asks our noble and strong old catechism—it is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. It is to realize that in the center does not stand the world, but the love and the wisdom and the will of the Almighty. And when once, through whatever pain and discipline, a man has discovered that fact about his universe, he is no longer crying in the night. He sees a meaning now where there was none before. He believes in the melody of minor chords. Problems are eased, dark facts can now be faced; there is light in the gloom and hope of a tearless morn—all this in some measure every man has known who has truly striven to make God the center.
The Beneficence of the Sun
The next fact that impressed me as I read was how beneficent is the power of the sun, and yet from what a vast distance it is exercised.
I doubt if the strongest language could exaggerate the indebtedness of the earth to the great luminary. We owe so much to it, and we are so dependent on it for every thought we think and every breath we draw, that no one can be much surprised at sun-worship. Without the sun our corn would never ripen, and we would have no harvest in our autumn fields. Without the sun there would be no dew at daybreak, no glory of clouds, never one shower of rain. Without the sun no breeze would ever visit us, no sail would ever be filled upon the sea. What lights our coal? The power of the sun. What drives our engines? The power of the sun. What alone makes physical life a possibility to the millions of the human race? There is a very literal sense in which it is true that in the sun we live and move and have our being. Yet the sun is an extraordinary distance from the earth—the sun is ninety-two million miles away. Can you conceive that distance? Can you grasp it? How many days do you think would be required to count it? Yet from that distance, vast beyond imagination, there acts and operates this great yet gentle power, mighty enough to make all the tropics burn, yet delicate enough to paint the tiniest weed.
Now I am sure that most of us here this evening have been oppressed at times by the thought of a distant God. Like Job, we have looked to the right hand and He was not there, and to the left, and have seen nothing of His form. Where is the heaven of heavens wherein God dwells? Where is the Holy of Holies where He has His throne? Is it not far away, in the clear and unsullied light, above the smoke and stir of this dim spot? Under the weight of thoughts like these, the distance of the Almighty Father chills us and we cannot pray with realizing power nor can we walk with realizing faith. Tempted and tried thus, let us recall our text: The Lord God is a shield—He is a sun. Wherever His throne may be, in distances illimitable, shall He be out-matched in power by His creation? If the orb of heaven can have his being ninety million miles away, and yet can fall with such power as to heat a continent, and with such exquisite nicety as to make the rosebud redden, why should it seem a thing incredible that the Creator who fashioned that glorious lamp should dwell immeasurably far apart, yet touch and turn and bless and save humanity? The isles are to Him a very little thing—the nations before Him are as nothing. Yet He knoweth the way that I take; He understands my thought; He will not quench the flax nor break the reed. Powerful yet very far away; thoughtful and tender though hidden in the distance; yes, David, we thank thee for that word, “The Lord God is a sun.”
The Atmosphere Mediates the Sun
Once more I was greatly impressed by the thought that without the atmosphere, the sun could never bless us. Without the envelope of closely clinging air that encircles this globe like some diaphanous garment, the heat of the sun and all the light of it would fall quite ineffectually on the earth. When you climb a mountain you get nearer the sun; wouldn’t you naturally think that it ought to get hotter there? As a matter of fact, it gets colder as we rise till we reach the peaks that are robed with perpetual snow. The reason is that we are piercing through that air which enwraps this little earth of ours. It is the atmosphere which mediates the sun, which catches and stores and distributes the heat. Were there no air, but only empty space, then the greenest valley would be like Mont Blanc, and the tropics would be ice-bound in a perpetual winter although the sun in itself were as fiery-hot as ever.
Christ, Our Mediator
May I not use that mystery of nature to illuminate a kindred mystery of grace? It is one of the ways of God in all His workings to grant His blessings through an intermediary. You say that the sun is the source of heat and light; why then should anything be intruded between the earth and sun? I can only answer, So the Creator works—without that mediating element all is lost. You say that God is the source of love and blessing; why should anything intervene between God and man? I can only answer that it is the way of heaven to grant its richest blessing through a mediator. How often men and women have said to me, “I do not feel any need of Christ or Calvary. I believe in God, I reverence and worship God; but the sacrifice and the atonement just confuse me. I cannot make them real to my heart.” But to me it seems that through every sphere of God’s activity runs the great principle of mediation; and to me the presence of Christ is like the air, making available for my need the love of God. Remove the atmosphere and the sun will still shine in heaven. Take away Jesus and God will still be love. Banish the air, and the sun will not lose its heat. Banish the Christ, and God will not lose His power. But with the air gone, the glory of the sun will never fall so as to bless our little world; and with Jesus banished, the mercy and love of God cannot stream on our realms. Christ is the mediator of the better covenant. He stands—the vital breath—between God and us. Through Him the sunshine of heaven’s love can reach us, and in the rays of that sunshine we are blessed.
Then lastly, when the sun is invisible we still see its reflected light; for we all know that the light which gilds the moon and gives a luster of brilliance to the plants is not the light of their own burning, but the light of the sun which to our eyes has set. Go out one of these evenings and look at the western sky where Venus is glowing in her unequalled splendor—then remember that but for the sunshine which has vanished for a few hours, there would be no such jewel in the darkness of night. I preached some time ago on that text of the Apostle, “What have ye that ye did not receive?”; but the evening star—had we ears to hear it—is preaching that text in the heavens every night.
Now in the spiritual world, aren’t there also times when the sun seems to have set? There is such evil in the state and such quarreling in the church, that men are tempted to cry, There is no God. In such hours, urgent and paramount becomes the duty of personal faith. In such hours, Christian character is called for with an appeal that no other time can match. For the Lord God is a sun, and when He seems to sink out of the national or ecclesiastical horizon, then lives that still glow with His light amid the dark are the unanswerable argument for Him.