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Mornings In The College Chapel by Francis Greenwood Peabody


Matthew v.16.

At the first reading there certainly seems to be something of self-assertion and self-display about this passage, as if it said: |Let your light so shine that people may see how much good you do.| But, of course, nothing could be farther than this from the spirit of Jesus. Indeed, his meaning is the precise opposite of this. For he is speaking not of a light which is to illuminate you, but of a light which is to shine from you upon your works; so that they, and not you, are seen, and the glory is given, not to you, but to God. Such a light will hide you rather than exhibit you, as when one holds a lantern before him on some dark road, so that while the bearer of the lantern is in the darkness, the path before him is thrown into the light. The passage, then, which seems to suggest a doctrine of self-display, is really a teaching of self-effacement. Here is a railway-train thundering along some evening {10} toward a broken bridge, and the track-walker rushes toward it with his swinging lantern, as though he had heard the great command, |Let your light shine before men;| and the train comes to a stop and the passengers stream out and see the peril that they have just escaped, and give thanks to their Father which is in heaven. And this is the reward of the plain, unnoticed man as he trudges home in the dark, -- that he has done his duty well that night. He has not been seen or praised; he has been in the shadow; but he has been permitted to let his little light shine and save; and he too gives thanks to his Father in heaven.

Here, again, is a lighthouse-keeper on the coast. The sailor in the darkness cannot see the keeper, unless indeed the shadow of the keeper obscures for a moment the light. What the sailor sees is the light; and he thanks, not the keeper, but the power that put the light on that dangerous rock. So the light-keeper tends his light in the dark, and a very lonely and obscure life it is. No one mounts the rock to praise him. The vessels pass in the night with never a word of cheer. But the life of the keeper gets its dignity, not {11} because he shines, but because his light guides other lives; and many a weary captain greets that twinkling light across the sea, and seeing its good work gives thanks to his Father which is in heaven.

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