Give unto the LORD, O ye kindreds of the people, give unto the LORD glory and strength. Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come into his courts.
~ Psalm 96:7-8
I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light. But if a man live many years, and rejoice in them all; yet let him remember the days of darkness; for they shall be many. All that cometh is vanity. Therefore is judgment far from us, neither doth justice overtake us: we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness.
~ Jeremiah 4:23, Ecclesiastes 11:8, Isaiah 59:9
Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth.
~ John 12:35
Spiritual Darkness, by Wilhelmus à Brakel. This is from Chapter 97 of his work, The Christian’s Reasonable Service. 2nd of February, 1700.
In regeneration man is drawn out of darkness into marvellous light. He receives enlightened eyes of the understanding and perceives invisible realities. Those matters, which are hidden for the natural man and viewed from a natural perspective, are viewed in an entirely different manner by the person who has been illuminated. He who was darkness itself becomes enlightened in the Lord, and the Holy Spirit shines in his heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. This light gladdens the heart, warms the soul, causes it to burn with love, and changes and sanctifies the entire man. Therefore, they who begin to see this light become so enamoured with it that they desire to be led further and further into this light. Indeed, in doing so they do not take note of the distinction between the light of beholding (which may and must be desired here below, but is reserved for heaven), and the light of faith, which is bestowed upon those who walk upon earth, enabling them to make their way through darkness with joy. By not considering this distinction, they are not satisfied to walk in the light of faith, but wish to live here in the light of beholding. They thus bring trouble upon their soul and begin to think that they are yet entirely in the dark and unconverted. Yes, this can cause great darkness to come upon them, so that even the light of faith becomes so dim that they cannot perceive any light.
This spiritual darkness is not identical to what the unconverted have, who are yet entirely blind. This also does not compare to what beginners in grace experience, in whom there is a glimmer of light. We also do not understand by this the waves of darkness which occasionally come upon a believer and readily dissipate.
Spiritual Darkness: The Spiritual Disease of a Christian
This darkness is, however, a spiritual disease of a person who has made some progress in the Christian life. In the absence of the normal illuminating influences of the Holy Spirit, and due to the residual darkness of his old nature, the light which is in him becomes so dim and is so obscured that he now beholds the spiritual matters, which he previously perceived with clarity, as a distant glimmer and only depicts what has transpired in the past by way of memory. This causes him to be without joy, warmth, and direction; and to live in fear and anxiety, causing him to wander about aimlessly, as in a desert.
Not only does experience teach that the believer does come into such darkness (so that many do not need any other proof except their own case), but the Word of God shows us abundantly that this is so. Those who are in such a condition need to take note of that, since they generally come to the conclusion that they are without grace, being of the opinion that the godly do not come into such a condition. That which befell Abraham, the father of the faithful, also befalls his children. “And, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him” (Gen 15:12). Job testifies of this concerning himself: “Behold, I go forward, but He is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive Him: on the left hand, where He doth work, but I cannot behold Him: He hideth Himself on the right hand, that I cannot see Him” (Job 23:8-9). The church complains of this: “He hath led me, and brought me into darkness, but not into light” (Lam 3:2). The Lord threatens this: “Give glory to the Lord your God, before He cause darkness” (Jer 13:16). The prophet gives counsel to those who are in such a state: “Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of His servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God” (Isa 50:10). There are seasons of darkness as a result of persecution and the absence of comfort, as well as due to blindness. However, these generally coexist in God‟s children, for external darkness does bring forth internal darkness.
The Causes of Spiritual Darkness
Natural vision can be obstructed by various causes: the disappearance of the sun, the thickening of clouds, the interference of opaque objects, disease of the eyes, or staring at the sun. Spiritual darkness likewise has various causes:
(1) the disappearance of the Sun of Righteousness, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the withholding of the illuminating influence of the Holy Spirit;
(2) the devil obscuring this light by clouding the issues, generating the smoke of error and heresy, generating false light, obscuring the truth, and seducing a person by way of deceivers;
(3) a person not giving heed to the light of faith, considering this to be too insignificant; a weakening of love for the truth, a striving for something higher; an insisting on being illuminated by the light of beholding, and by being desirous of receiving light other than that light by which the Lord commonly leads his people;
(4) the turning away of our eyes from the light by yielding to our lusts, by closing our eyes, and by strewing sand in our eyes—whereby the truth in her efficacy and preciousness is not perceived;
(5) exerting our spiritual vision too much to comprehend the perfections and incomprehensible ways of God. This, rather than yielding us more light, will bring us into more darkness. For when we depart from the light of God‟s Word and cannot attain to an immediate beholding, our corrupt intellect and irrational reason11 will come to the foreground, deceiving the soul with false contemplations whereby true light is increasingly obscured.
The Consequences of Spiritual Darkness
This spiritual darkness brings believers into a sorrowful and sinful state, for:
First, there will be despondency. The light of the eyes is good and rejoices the heart. Dark days, on the contrary, are days of sorrow; the night encloses everything and oppresses the heart. Such is also true for believers who have seen the light, who were accustomed to walk in the light of God‟s countenance, and did rejoice in the light, but now must miss that light, and are surrounded by thick darkness. All of this will distress the heart, and a dismal sorrow overcomes them, so that everything, so to speak, grieves them. They think about former days when the Lord caused His light to shine upon them, and they traversed through darkness by His light. This has now disappeared, however, and there is grievous darkness.
Secondly, during darkness the wild beasts come forth out of their holes. Likewise all manner of sinful motions manifest themselves in this darkness, such as unbelief, despondency, fretfulness, and murmuring. Even fleeting atheistic thoughts arise in the heart, as well as all manner of sinful reasoning to bring the soul into additional darkness.
11 Dutch: “redelooze rede.”
Thirdly, darkness is a fearful thing. There is a terror by night, and an arrow which flies by day (Ps 91:5). Such is also the case here. We shall hardly be able to discern what grace is, and are not able to perceive it in ourselves. We shall be fearful of the wrath of God and damnation. The devil shoots forth his terrifying arrows; our thoughts and dreams will terrify us, and we shall neither find rest nor a place of refuge anywhere.
Fourthly, he who, in the dark, walks across a moor in which there are many trails, will easily go astray. Such is also the case here. “He that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth” (John 12:35). When he is alone, his thoughts will wander, and when he is among people, he will stumble in his words. If he must undertake something or if a decision needs to be made, he will err in his choice, and the outcome of his endeavour will be wrong. Everywhere he is ensnared, and he is in bondage in whatever he undertakes.
Fifthly, he who walks in darkness will readily stumble over something that lies upon his pathway, not being able to see it—and irregularities cause him to stumble readily. Such is also true here. God‟s ways are no longer in his heart and he walks upon rough ways. Here he sees something and there he hears something, and it offends him immediately. Here there are temptations to err in doctrine, there to sin, and there opposition reveals itself. Everywhere there are snares, but he does not see them. This causes him to be easily ensnared, and the more he moves about, the more he becomes ensnared. He cannot deliver himself, for he knows not where he will place his foot.
Sixthly, darkness is an unfruitful season. In the darkness of winter, trees stand there barren and as if they were dead. Near the south and north poles hardly any vegetation or grass grows, and whatever is sown or planted in a place which cannot be reached by the sun, cannot grow and will be in a sad condition. Such is also the case here. When a thick darkness envelops the soul, she does not bring forth any fruits worthy of repentance. She is barren and weak, does not give the Lord who has planted her any delight, is not an ornament to the church, and this planting of the Lord is neither a matter of joy to other godly persons nor attractive to the unconverted. During that season she will thus not answer to the purpose for which she has been appointed.
Seventhly, during darkness it is cold. During the winters and beneath the pole-caps everything becomes immobile due to the frost. Such is also true here. When someone comes into a state of darkness, he will readily slip into a state in which he is cold, stiff, and insensitive. We shall shortly discuss this state of insensitivity more comprehensively.
Means to Avoid Spiritual Darkness
Since the state of darkness is of such a harmful nature, everyone must see to it that he does not come into such a condition, and therefore:
(1) Be on guard against those things whereby you come into such a condition—as has been shown earlier.
(2) Highly esteem the light you have, however little it may appear to be in your own eyes.
(3) Rejoice in the fact that you are acquainted with God, Christ, and the way of salvation. Furthermore, rejoice that you understand the Word of God in its spiritual sense, since you see so many who are without this light. “Ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light” (John 5:35).
(4) Give heed to the light which shines forth in the Word of God, direct your goings accordingly, and walk in it. “Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you” (John 12:35).
If you have been overcome by darkness, do not give up courage, for many of the godly come into this condition. It is not a sign of being without grace. You still know the Lord and His way, though from afar. This darkness is a burden to you and all your desire is for the light—not merely to be able to see, but in order to be gladdened, warmed, directed, and sanctified by it. The Lord will by renewal lighten your darkness and will again lift up the light of His countenance over you. You will experience that this season of darkness has been a school for you in which you have learned much. Especially do not yield to this darkness, but endeavor to be delivered from it. I do not need to hold before you the repugnant nature of darkness and the delightfulness of light to stir you up thereby, for you have experienced both conditions. I merely wish to give you some direction.
Directions for Those Who Struggle with Darkness
First, be assured that you will not immediately return to the light which you have previously enjoyed. The fleeting rays of light which fall upon you in the midst of your darkness are divine comforts to strengthen you for the darkness which is yet to come. A habitual disposition is only to be attained by way of much exercise. Therefore, be not discouraged if you do not regain this condition at the very outset.
Secondly, be satisfied with the little light that you may yet have, which enables you to understand the Word in its spiritual sense—even if it neither yields delight nor warmth. It is sufficient to give you direction.
Thirdly, refrain from exerting yourself to have views of lofty matters, but cling humbly to the Word of God.
Whenever you read it and whenever a passage of Scripture occurs to you, then think: “This is the truth.” If it is a promise, esteem it as such, and do not lift your heart above that Word. At the same time reflect upon God Himself, but do not go beyond what His Word describes Him to be. If there is an exhortation to believe or to practice another virtue, then think: “This is my rule of conduct, and according to this I wish to walk in all simplicity.” Thus, by keeping a low profile you will come to the light in the most prudent manner.
Fourthly, deal faithfully with the small measure of light that you have. Do not begin to reason with your natural intellect. Acknowledge it by faith and follow it. In humility and uprightness walk in that light. Do not focus upon your stumblings, esteem yourself to be but a small child. The ordering of your way according to that small measure of light will most certainly be a means to receive a greater measure of light. “If any man will do His will, he will know of the doctrine, whether it be of God” (John 7:17); “If ye continue in My word, then are ye My disciples indeed; and ye will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32).
Fifthly, maintain your scheduled devotional exercises. If you discontinue these, you will come into more darkness and become more estranged; however, if you maintain these, you will increase in light. Do not pressure yourself to be occupied with this for a long period of time, but do it in upright simplicity. Do not do so to add it to the register of your virtues, for then you would soon become discouraged. Instead, do it with the steadfast objective to use it as a means to receive more light. Read the Word of God, and supplicate and cry to the Lord who hears and sees you— even if you do not behold Him. You nevertheless know Him by means of His Word. Particularly, pray for light, for light proceeds from Him alone. He can open the understanding with one word so that you will understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45). He promises to give light and wisdom to those who pray to Him for it (James 1:5). And that which He is able and willing to do, He also will do, and you will yet praise Him for the help of His countenance. One day you will behold His face in righteousness and then you will be satisfied.