If Satan is actively blinding the minds of unbelievers to compound and perpetuate their bondage in spiritual darkness (2 Cor. 4:3-4), what possible hope is there? We seem left only to despair of unsaved loved ones. What, if anything, can bring the unregenerate into life? What, if anything, can dispel the darkness of unbelief and awaken the heart to the beauty of Christ? What, if anything, can we do in the face of such Satanic opposition?
The answer, said Paul, is to proclaim the gospel that Jesus Christ is Lord (2 Cor. 4:5)! Through the gospel, and only the gospel, is the light that brings life to be found.
In August of 1734, Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) preached one of his most famous sermons, rather cumbersomely titled: A Divine and Supernatural Light, Immediately Imparted to the Soul by the Spirit of God, Shown to be both a Scriptural, and Rational Doctrine. In this sermon, among other things, he explained the essence of the saving experience. What is it, precisely, that occurs when God causes new life to erupt from within the depths of a spiritual corpse?
The answer of the apostle Paul is that “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness, . . . [shines] in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). “You cannot go beneath this,” said John Piper. “There is no deeper reality and no greater value than the glory of God in Christ. There is no prize and no satisfaction beyond this. When you have this, you are at the end. You are home. The glory of God is not a means to anything greater. This is ultimate, absolute reality. All true salvation ends here, not before and not beyond. There is no beyond. The glory of God in Christ is what makes the gospel gospel” (A God Entranced Vision of All Things, 259).
Seeing this light and knowing this knowledge and relishing the beauty of God’s glory as revealed in the face of Jesus Christ are utterly impossible for fallen and depraved people unless God sovereignly shines his regenerating and saving mercy into our hearts, thereby dispelling the darkness of unbelief and hostility, and bringing to us a new sense of the sweetness and majesty of Jesus.
The contrast between v. 6 and v. 4 is shocking. Unbelievers are blinded by Satan. Believers are enlightened by God. Satan takes one from unbelief into total darkness. God takes one from total darkness into the brilliance of Christ's light!
The obvious background for Paul’s language is Genesis 1:2-3 (cf. Acts 26:12-18). The original, primeval darkness that enshrouded the creation was dispelled by the divinely creative command: "Let there be light!" Likewise, by way of analogy, in sovereign, creative mercy, God fixes his gaze upon the darkness of sin, death, and blindness in the human soul and says: "Let there be light!"
We must not miss the emphasis Paul places on the glory of the gospel as it is proclaimed and what it means to those who believe. Paul himself literally saw the glory of God revealed in the literal face of Jesus when he was encountered on the Damascus road. That which Paul saw, he now sets forth by means of "the truth" (v. 2) of the gospel addressed to the ears of his hearers (i.e., to the Corinthians, to you and me).
When we by grace respond in faith, light from the glorified Christ shines into our darkened hearts (v. 6). As Paul Barnett points out, "such 'seeing' of 'the light . . . of the glory' is, of course, metaphorical for hearing. The gospel of Christ comes first not as an optical but as an aural reality (see, e.g., Rom. 10:17; Gal. 3:2,5; cf. 3:1). Nonetheless, his words are not merely figurative. The intensity of Paul's language suggests that he is appealing to shared spiritual experience, his own and his readers'. When the gospel is heard and the hearer turns to the Lord, the veil is removed so that he now 'sees' the glory of the Lord (see on 3:16,18)" (219-220).
Don't miss this: the glory of God is present in the proclamation of the gospel (4:4-6)! This is why Paul is so offended by the “peddlers of God’s word” (2:17) in Corinth and those who “tamper with” the gospel (4:2). This is not a matter of mere words or a routine speech or a competitive attempt to appear more powerful or persuasive or verbally impressive than the other guy.
The proclamation of the truth of the gospel is not entertainment. It is not a platform for a preacher to enhance his reputation or pad his pocketbook or impress people with his eloquence. A preacher or teacher must never open the Scriptures flippantly or casually, as if setting forth the truths of the gospel were no different from any other form of communication.
The same applies anytime anyone shares the gospel with a passing stranger in a restaurant or distributes a tract to a friend. Just think of it: when you speak or write or share the message of the cross, "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God [as revealed] in the face of Jesus" (v. 6) is shining forth. What an awesome calling we have! What an exquisite treasure we carry (4:7)!
Edwards referred to this phenomenon as the shining forth of a divine and supernatural light. This experience, he argued, is not to be identified with the conviction of sin that unregenerate people experience. The Spirit can act upon the soul of an unbeliever without communicating himself to or uniting himself with that person. Nor is it to be identified with “impressions” made upon the “imagination”. It has nothing to do with seeing anything with one’s physical eyes.
The divine and supernatural light, said Edwards, does not suggest or impart new truths or ideas not already found in the written word of God. It “only gives a due apprehension of those things that are taught in the Word of God” (110).
We must also be careful not to identify it with those occasions when the unregenerate are deeply and profoundly affected by religious ideas. One may be moved or stirred or emotionally impacted by a religious phenomenon without believing it to be true (consider, for example, the widespread popular reaction to Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion”).
So what is this “divine and supernatural light” that Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 4:6? Edwards defined it as “a true sense [or “apprehension”] of the divine excellency of the things revealed in the Word of God, and a conviction of the truth and reality of them, thence arising” (111). This is a profoundly supernatural experience in which a person doesn’t “merely rationally believe that God is glorious, but . . . has a sense of the gloriousness of God in his heart” (111)
If you are wondering what the difference is between “rationally” believing that God is glorious and having a “sense of the excellency” of God’s glory, it is the difference between knowing that God is holy and having a “sense of the loveliness” of God’s holiness. It is not only a “speculatively judging that God is gracious” but also “a sense [of] how amiable God is upon that account” or sensing the “beauty” of God’s grace and holiness.
An unregenerate person may have a cognitive awareness or knowledge of the terms of the gospel of Christ. But to recognize and relish the beauty or amiableness or sweetness of that truth and feel pleasure and delight in it are due wholly to the regenerating work of the Spirit. As Edwards said, “there is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness” (112). In other words, “when the heart is sensible of the beauty and amiableness of a thing, it necessarily feels pleasure in the apprehension” (112).
How does God shine this light into our hearts? He first “destroys the enmity, removes those prejudices, and sanctifies the reason [of a person], and causes it to lie open to the force of arguments for their truth” (112). He also causes the gospel to be more lively and enables the mind to focus and think and concentrate with more intensity on what is known. But this divine and supernatural light also enables the mind and heart, by “a kind of intuitive and immediate evidence”, to be convinced of the truth of the superlative excellency of what is proclaimed in the gospel of Christ as Lord. Said Edwards:
“Men have a great deal of pleasure in human knowledge, in studies of natural things; but this is nothing to that joy which arises from this divine light shining into the soul. This light gives a view of those things that are immensely the most exquisitely beautiful, and capable of delighting the eye of the understanding. This spiritual light is the dawning of the light of glory in the heart” (123).
It’s hard to put into words the enjoyment, delight, and sense of the sweetness of God that is imparted by the Spirit to the soul of man! Peter calls it “joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8). What a marvelous blessing, indeed, with which nothing else in heaven or earth can compare, that hell-deserving sinners have imparted to them a “new sense of the heart” that consists in delight and enjoyment and an intuitive awareness or apprehension of the sweetness of God’s beauty as revealed in the face of Jesus Christ.
Let us by all means “praise God from whom all blessings flow,” and in doing so remember that this, dear friend, is the greatest blessing of all.