GOD’S WORD A LOOKING GLASS
“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]
Looking into a glass is a trivial business. In all ages men, not to say, women, have been fond of seeing themselves. In the earlier days they had no reflecting glasses as we now have, but they used mirrors made of brass and kindred metals, highly polished. These mirrors yielded a sufficiently clear image of the beholder. Albeit, the children of Israel came out of Egypt in a great hurry, yet we find that the women carried their looking glasses with them into the wilderness. (See Exodus 38:8). It was according to their womanly nature, whatever else they forgot they must have the indispensable looking glass, for the purpose of their toilet. It is to their praise, however, that in the desert their devotion overcame their vanity, for when the bronze laver was to be made in which the priests should wash, it was made of the looking glasses of the serving-women who were accustomed to meet at the door of the tabernacle.
Still, the use of the mirror must be ranked among the trifles of life; I see that you are half-smiling at the playfulness which glitters around a glass. Is not this a hint at the light in which many regard the hearing of the gospel? They crowd to hear a preacher if he has some sort of name, not that they desire to get a blessing thereby, but merely that they may say that they have heard him, or that they may gratify their curiosity by seeing what he is like. Truly the burden of our lives is a pastime to some of you. Sirs, this reminds me of the fable of the frogs. When the boys stoned them, the poor creatures said, “It may be sport to you, but it is death to us.” You may hear me this day with the idlest curiosity, and judge my message with the coldest criticism, but if you do not receive the blessings of the gospel, it strikes a chill at my heart. Your unspiritual hearing is sport to you, but it is death to me. A deadly shadow as of a hell-mist hovers over my spirit while I suppose it possible that I am, with all my earnestness, ministering to your condemnation.
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. We are to hold up the mirror to nature in a moral and spiritual sense, and let men see themselves therein. We have not even to make the mirror, but only to hold it up. The thoughts of God, and not our own thoughts, are to be set before our hearers’ minds, and these discover a man to himself. The Word of the Lord is a revealer of secrets; it shows a man his life, his thoughts, his heart, his inmost self.
The Scripture gives a truthful reflection of man’s nature, it lets the man see himself, not as others see him, for others make mistakes, nor as he would see himself, for he is very apt to be partial to his own soul, but the Scripture makes him see himself as God sees him. Look at the Scriptural portrait of a sinner. That is you, O man! Look at the depraved heart, the rebellious will, the darkened understanding, that heart, will, and understanding are yours, 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 holy Book 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 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, but if this is all, to what purpose is it?
A man, who has once looked in the glass, and afterwards has not washed, is very apt to go and look in the glass again, and continue in his filthiness. He who thinks his conscience has cried “wolf” in mere sport, will think the same till he takes no heed when it cries in earnest. When men get to playing with the Word of God they are near to destruction. Beware of hearing the gospel as a pastime; it is the next stage to eternal ruin. When that which God designs to be to our salvation becomes a pastime to us, then all likelihood that it will save us is gone. He who sports with heaven and hell will soon lose all hope of the one, and be hurried down to the other.
The true hearer looks into this perfect law of liberty with all his soul, heart, and understanding, till he knows it, and feels the force of it in his own character. He is the prince of hearers, who delights to know what God’s will is, and finds his joy in acting out the same. He sees the law in its height of purity, breadth of comprehensiveness, and depth of spirituality, and the more he sees the more he admires. He cannot have too much of it, but meditates in it both day and night, and hence he cries, “Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.” His most frequent prayer is that he may be conformed unto that perfect law in all respects, and in proportion as his prayer is heard he enters into perfect rest. I pause and ask you whether you belong to the blessed company, who look into the crystal glass of the law.
As I stand here I look into the mirror of the Word and see myself. But this is not enough for me; I will look till I see more. I continue looking into the mystic glass until, to my great surprise, I see another form appearing. Evidently some mysterious Personage is reflected in this mirror. How beautiful and majestic is the Stranger’s visage! I look till the image of my countenance melts into the reflection of His countenance, and He alone is seen. I only appear in Him. Is He not lovely? Indeed He is the Chief among ten thousand.
NOW I see the meaning of that word, “We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” [2Cor 3:18]