THE MIRROR OF GOD’S WORD
“For if any be a hearer of the Word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect Law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.” [James 23-25]
To every hearer, the true Word of God is as a mirror. Certain preachers dream that it is their business to paint pretty pictures, but it is not so. We are not to design and sketch, but simply to give the reflection of the Truth of God. We are to hold up the mirror to nature, in a moral and spiritual sense, and let men see themselves. We have not even to make the mirror, but only to hold it up! The thoughts of God—not our own thoughts—are to be set before our hearers’ minds—these allow a man to discover himself.
The Word of the Lord is a revealer of secrets—it shows a man his life, his thoughts, his heart, his inmost self. A large proportion of hearers only look upon the surface of the Gospel—and to their minds, the surface, alone, is operative. Yet, even that surface is sufficiently effectual to reflect the natural face which looks upon it and this may be of lasting service if rightly followed up. Brethren, the chief blessing cannot come to us by surface work—he that would be enriched by the Gospel must dig for it—and must dig deep. He must sink shafts into its fathomless mines, that he may bring up “the much fine gold.” Let not our thoughts glide over the surface of the Word like swift birds that touch the crests of the waves, but let us plunge into the depths of Scripture like pearl-fishers who seek for hidden treasures.
The Scripture gives a truthful reflection of man’s nature! O my Brother! What a sight it is which meets the sinner’s eyes when he is hearing the faithful Word! “I thought,” he says, as he looks into the Word, “that I was much more comely than this. I had never dreamed of these freckles and spots! I was not aware that I suffered from such a twist of features, such an exaggeration of one and such a deficiency in another.”
The Bible does not flatter human nature, neither does the true preacher attempt so base a work—but in plain and downright honesty of truth the witness is given, “They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that does good, no, not one.” When conscience is awakened and the man sees himself as the Revelation of God declares him to be, he can hardly think that this can be the same self with which he was upon such excellent terms! If God blesses the sight, he is led to abhor himself and to seek for cleansing and renewal! But if not, the man has at least seen himself and has had the opportunity of knowing his true state.
The reflection of self in the Word is very like life. You have, perhaps, seen a dog so astonished at his image in the glass that he has barked fiercely at himself. A parrot will mistake its reflection for a rival. Well may the creature wonder, since every one of its movements is so accurately copied—it thinks itself to be mocked. Under a true preacher, men are often so thoroughly unearthed and laid bare that even the details of their lives are reported. Not only is the portrait drawn to the life, but it is an actually living portrait which is given in the mirror of the Word. There is little need to point the finger and say, “You are the man,” for the hearer perceives on his own that he is spoken of. As the image in the glass moves and alters its countenance, and changes its appearance, so does the Word of the Lord set forth man in his many phases, moods and conditions.
The glass of the Word is not like our ordinary looking glass, which merely shows us our external features, but, according to the Greek of our text, the man sees in it “the face of his birth,” that is, the face of his nature. He that reads and hears the Word may see not only his actions, there, but his motives, his desires, his inward condition. As the butcher cuts down the carcass and reveals all the innards, which never could have been seen but for his knife, so is the Word of God “quick and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
The secrets of the man are opened up to himself and he is astonished to see his inward depravity, his carnal tendencies and his corrupt inclinations. As a man sees his outward self in the looking glass, so may he see his inward self in the Word of God. But if this is all, to what purpose is it?
Secondly, many a hearer does see himself in the mirror of the Word. We are told so twice in the text—“He is like a man beholding his natural face in a glass, for he beholds himself.” Oftentimes he sees himself so plainly that he grows astonished at what he sees. He cries, like the woman of Samaria— “Come, see a Man that told me all things that ever I did.” Barbarous people, when they first of all see looking glasses, are quite taken aback. “How can these things be?” is their first question.
When a man sees his face in the glass and then goes his way to defile that face more and more, of what use is the glass to him? If you return to sin, to procrastinate, to live in willful neglect of God and eternity, you would derive no benefit from such hearing, though all the Apostles should, in turn, preach to you, or even their Master, Himself! This going is always followed by forgetting all they have seen. This forgetfulness is, indeed, very mischievous. How different is this from that word of David, “I will never forget Thy precepts”!
The wicked forget God, but the favored of the Lord “remember His commandments to do them.” Forget the words of man, but be zealous to remember the Word of the Lord, for forgetfulness leads to inaction. Those who forget, forget to do! They follow not the Lord’s command in the Book of Numbers—“Remember to do all My commandments.” In Purchas’ Pilgrim, we read of certain Spaniards of the olden time who were often pinched with hunger and yet immense shoals of fish passed along their shores. They saw the fish, but were too idle to take them! Are there not many Hearers of that kind? The Truth of God shines by them unappropriated, unused, unpracticed—and all because they take no earnest heed to make it their own by personal obedience to it. They say, “I go, Sir,” but they forget to go. They see the pearl of great price, but forget to buy it. They are mere players with the Lord’s message and never come to honest dealing with it.
Forgetfulness of the Word leads to self-satisfaction. Looking in the glass, the man felt a little startled that he was such an ugly fellow, but he went his way, mingled with the crowd and forgot what manner of man he was and, therefore, he felt quite easy again. The sweep thinks he is as clean as his neighbors, for he has forgotten the soot upon his face. By the force of sheer ignorance a man can climb to a desperately false assurance of his own excellence. He can cry, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace, till, at last, a blast of trumpets will not alarm him! What can be more fatal than this? One may as well not know, as only learn and straightway forget!
Thus have I sketched the hearer of the Word who is not a doer of it. I do not wish, personally, to apply this to anyone here, but I beg that every person who does not know the Lord will make a personal application of it to his own conscience and I pray God, the Holy Spirit, Himself, would now come and press these Truths upon each conscience. O, my dear Friends, will you not invite His sacred operations? You have seen your faces in the mirror of the Word—do you not desire to have them cleansed and beautified?
You know your impurity—do you not wish to be cleansed by the blood of Jesus from all sin? Will you go your ways as if there were no Law to accuse you, no Gospel to invite you, no Christ to forgive you? Will you live and die as if there were no Heaven, no Hell, no eternity, no God? May the Lord deliver you from being triflers with the Word and forgetters of it, lest, at the end, your religion should turn out to be vain and you should find yourselves accursed by that which might have been a blessing to you!
“But be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves!” [James 1:22]