By Pastor Glenn Pease
Almost everyone knows of Lazarus, the man whose name has become immortal because of his experience of being raised from the bondage and darkness of death to the liberty and light of life. Few people are conscious, however, of the Jewish woman by the name of Lazarus. Her poem is engraved on the pedestal of the Statue Of Liberty. When France made known it was going to give this colossus of "Liberty Enlightening The World" to America, a committee was formed to raise money to build a pedestal for it. One of the fund raising projects was to sell manuscripts of Longfellow, Walt Whitman, Bret Harte and Mark Twain. The chairman of the committee asked his friend Emma Lazarus to also contribute a manuscript. Little did Lazarus realize when she submitted her sonnet that it would one day be engraved on that great statue. Listen to this poem she wrote in 1883 called The New Colossus.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose fame
Is the imprisoned lightening, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teaming shore.
Send this, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
This poem and the Statue Of Liberty have turned on a light for all the world to see. Millions have seen it and have come out of bondage into the light of liberty which our great nation offers. They are still coming today, and that great lamp of liberty in New York Harbor is the greatest symbol of what America has been, and what we hope it will ever be-a land where the light of liberty burns brightly for all people.
It is fitting that a Jew should be the author of the poem at the base of that great lamp of liberty. The Jews have also been the authors of that lamp of liberty even more notable than the Statue Of Liberty. We are referring, of course, to the Bible.It has been a lamp unto the feet and a light unto the path of God's people all through history. Our heritage as Christians is greater and older, and more noble than our heritage as Americans. In fact, it is our Christian heritage that has made our American heritage the great value it is. As proud as we are of the Statue Of Liberty, we must recognize that the real honor goes to this book of liberty-the lamp of God's light-the Bible. It's flame will never flicker and go out, but will continue to shine forever.
Heaven and earth will pass away, but not the Word of God. Sun moon and stars do not provide light for guidance equal to that of the Bible. Pollok wrote,
Most wondrous book! Bright candle of the Lord!
Star of eternity! The only star
By which the bark of man could navigate
The sea of life, and gain the coast of bliss securely.
God's lights in the heavens can guide our feet on earth, but only His light on earth can guide our steps to heaven. Isaac Watts put it-
The stars, in their courses roll,
Have much instruction given;
But thy good Word informs my soul
How I may climb to heaven.
A Christian never needs to be like the man who could read numbers but not letters. He said that when he travels he always knows how far but he never knows where to. Every man knows he is in a certain year along the path of history, but only those who walk in the light of God's lamp know where the path is going. He has turned on the light of God's lamp, and all the darkness of hell cannot quench it.
Men tried to turn off this light and keep the masses in the bondage of ignorance, but it was as hopeless as trying to turn off the Sun. Once men saw the light of God's truth, and the glorious message of salvation in Christ, by faith, and for all men, they could never again tolerate the darkness. Great were the struggles to keep the light on, and many died as martyrs in the struggle, but they died victors for they died in the light, and not in the night.
William Tyndale translated the Bible into English, and by using the new invention of Gutenburg's printing press he was able to print large quantities. He was strangled to death for his efforts, but he turned on a light that could not be strangled. Darkness began to retreat, and the 16th century saw a whole series of new translations of the Bible. The Coverdale Bible, Great Bible, Geneva Bible, Bishops Bible, and then in 1611, the most famous of them all-The King James Version.
There is no doubt that the greatness of our land of liberty is a direct and indirect result of the success of these men. It was at the cost of much suffering, and even their lives, but they turned on the light that changed all of history. There may be no way to prove it, but it is likely that the Statue Of Liberty would not be a symbol of America if the Bible had not been put into the English language. We take it for granted because we can pick up the Bible and read it at any time, but so many seldom do. If God's light and wisdom were imprisoned in the darkness of an unknown language we would cry out for someone to have mercy, and to give us a translation in our own tongue. Cowper wrote-
The sacred book no longer suffers wrong,
Bound in the fetters of an unknown tongue,
But speaks with plainness art could never mend,
What simplest minds can soonest comprehend.
We do not treasure what we so easily obtain. Those who had to struggle to get the Bible appreciated it far more. We live in a period of history that has more light from God's Word than any Christians have ever had. Yet with all this wealth we are not walking in any greater wisdom than many of those in the dark ages. It is because we have the lamp, but we do not turn on the light. A man with 20 lamps will still go off the path if he does not turn them on. 20 modern versions of the Bible will be no better than one in unreadable Latin if we do not turn it on.
The Psalmist lived in a dark world where enemies were laying snares for him. He knew the only way to escape and remain free from the clutches of evil men was to turn on the light and walk in it. That is why we see him pledging himself to obey the light of God's law. In verse 45 he says, "And I will walk at liberty for I seek thy precepts." Here is a man who knows how to preserve his liberty and remain free from the bondage of sin. "Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee" is his testimony in verse 11. The Bible was his lamp of liberty, and by its light he walked in perpetual freedom, for the weapons of darkness cannot touch the man who turns on the light and stays in it. Richard Crashaw wrote-
It is an armory of light
Let constant use but keep it bright,
You'll find it yields
To holy hands and humble hearts,
More swords and shields
Than sin hath snares, or hell hath darts.
The famous saying, it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, applies to our subject. There is only one way to overcome and defeat the darkness of sin and ignorance, and that is by turning on the light of the lamp of God. The Bible alone can give us the light we need for guidance. Someone said, "Science equips a man, but does not guide him. It illumines the universe for him to the region of the most distant star, but it leaves night in his heart." The Bible alone can drive away the darkness within, for it alone reveal Jesus Christ, the Light Of The World. Someone wrote,
We trace His image on each page,
In holy letters lined with light:
Redeemer, Prophet, Priest, and Sage-
Who finds His presence reads aright.
Jesus said, "If the Son shall make you free ye shall be free indeed." Our greatest liberty is to walk in the light of God's Word, for in it we find the truth that sets us free from all the chains of darkness. If we are walking in this light, we will want to share it and brighten the path of others. Another poet wrote,
Men die in darkness at your side,
Without a hope to cheer the tomb.
Can we whose souls are lighted
With wisdom from on high;
Can we to men benighted
The lamp of life deny?
Jacob DeShazer, one of the famed Dolittle flyers, who bombed Tokyo in 1942, was captured and spent 32 months in solitary confinement in a Japanese prison camp. He had a Bible, and he began to read, and found a liberty in Christ that made him free to love those whom he before hated. He resolved to be a missionary to Japan, and four years after his release he was preaching the Gospel in Japan. His printed testimony of what the Bible did to him was read by Captain Mitsua Fuchida, the squadron commander who led the air raid on Pearl Harbor in 1941. It created a desire to read the Bible. He bought a copy, and he also found the light of liberty and in 1950 he accepted Christ as his personal Savior. He began to preach the Gospel, and joined Jacob DeShazer in reaching his people. These two men had bombed and killed each others people, but now they shared a common message of light in Jesus Christ. This is an example of what God can do when people turn on the light.
The Bible is our resource for discovering what God wants us to know. If you want to know how to call somebody, you go to the phone book. If you want to know how to spell a word, you go to the dictionary. If you want to know when the Civil War was fought, or some other historical fact, you go to the encyclopedia. If you want to know how much you have in the bank, you look in your check book. The point is, there is all kinds of books in the world, and each is designed to give you light for certain areas of life. The Bible is that book you must turn to if you want light on the will of God.
We cannot see all the light in the Sun, and we cannot see all the light of God's Word. Our finite minds cannot begin to grasp it all. That is why we often get discouraged with Bible reading. We tend to get bored because we already know what we are reading, or we don't know at all what we are reading. It is either too simple or too hard, and both are boring. The result is we neglect the Word and do not turn on the light. But the fact is, it is the light that can never be put out.
The Bible has been fought against many times, and some thought they destroyed it, but it is light that no force can destroy. In the year 303A.D. Emperor Diocletian had every Bible destroyed. Thousands were martyred, and after two years of ruthless slaughter a victory column was erected with this inscription: "Extinct is the name of Christian." Twenty years later when Constantine became Emperor, he offer a reward to anyone who could deliver a copy of the Bible. Twenty four hours later 50 copies were brought out of hiding. Diocletian thought he had turned out the light, but not so, for it had been shining in the homes and lives of many, even at the risk of death.
Kenneth Scott Latourette, one of the greatest historians of the 20th century, tells about the Goths overwhelming the Roman Empire. One of them by the name of Ulfilas became a Christian, and he translated the Bible into the language of his people. Many became Christians and they spread the Gospel. Instead of destroying everything they preserved the best in law and learning. Because they turned on the light of God's Word, they recognized what was of value in building a civilization.
When the Germanic tribes, the Angles and the Saxons, overran Britain they extended Christianity. The Irish monks had many beautiful handmade copies of the Bible. The Irish became missionaries to the Angles and Saxons and by means of the Bible England was saved from becoming a totally pagan nation. When the Angles and Saxons became Christians, they in turn sent out the light to Holland and Germany. And so the story goes over and over through history. Where the Bible is read, and the light is turned on, history is changed for the glory of God.
Satan has learned from history that you cannot turn off the light of God's Word by force, and so he is more successful when he uses the subtle method. He gets those who have the Word to take it for granted. This way they are easily deceived into thinking they are in no danger, even though they neglect it, and do not read it. We all need to be aware that we risk living in darkness if we do not turn on the light.