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Sermons in Candles

by C. H. Spurgeon
From the April 1865 Sword and Trowel


FRIENDS AT A DISTANCE who have heard of our lecture, entitled, "Sermons in Candles," have asked us to give an outline of it in the "Sword and Trowel." This is an easy task, since we cannot attempt to present more than the fleshless inanimate skeleton, for to convey the form and soul of the lecture is impossible.* With the candles lit before the eye to act as illustrations, and with plenty of time to enlarge upon each point, and to give interesting anecdotes, it is far from difficult with a little preparation and animation, at once to edify and amuse an audience; but the same thing coolly written, calmly read, without the emblems, must, we fear, necessarily weary the most patient. However we comply with many requests and offer a digest of the matter. As a hymn to begin with, we give out one verse of a Scotch Psalm—

"The Lord will light my candle so
That it shall shine full bright;
The Lord for me shall also turn
My darkness into light."

    The candle among illustrations is one of the most shining, and beams of truth dart from it on every side. In Scripture, the putting out of a candle is the chosen figure for the ruin of the wicked. (Job 18:6; 21:7.) The Patriarch in remembrance of his past prosperity sighs, "O that it were with me as in months past, when his candle shined about my head;" and the Psalmist sings in jubilant notes, "Thou Lord wilt light my candle." Solomon compares conscience to a candle in Proverbs 20:27; we rather think that in some men it can hardly be more than a farthing rush light. Of the virtuous woman it is said (Proverbs 31:18), to shew that her industry never ceases, "her candle goeth not out by night." One sign of utter destruction given in the denunciations of the prophets is the absence of the light of a candle (Jeremiah 25:10); and, searching Jerusalem with candles is the Lord's chosen image for his work of judgement when he comes to try the children of men. (Zephaniah 1:12.) Our Savior declares, "Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house." He speaks of the single eye as having light like the bright shining of a candle (Luke 11:36); and tells us (Luke 15:8) of a woman who lit a candle and swept her house to find her lost piece of money. Even with descriptions of heaven itself this household comfort has a connection, for in the New Jerusalem "they need no candle, neither light of the sun." (Revelation 22:5.) The golden candlestick of the old Tabernacle, and the seven golden candlesticks of the apocalypse, hardly come into the list, since they were candelabra in which oil was burned, and so had no connection with candles except in the name given to them by the translators.
    We then proceed to give our emblems, having first honestly stated that we are much in debt to Robert Farlie, whose emblems, together with those of Jacob Cats, the Dutchman, are published by the Messrs. Longmans, and make up a most sumptuous volume.
    Emblem 1. Seven candles of different lengths to illustrate seven periods of human life. The child of ten with great capabilities of usefulness in years to come is like a candle newly lit; the other stages like candles more and more burnt away come to a close at seventy with but a small remnant of existence left. Thus at a glance we learn our own mortality and hear the voice which cries, "Work while it is called to-day."
    2. Candle-box full of candles. The box well japanned, and of the best quality, representing a most respectable church containing many talented and influential members, but as the audience is not enlightened by either the box or its contents because none of the candles are lighted, so some churches are of no service to their age and neighborhood for want of heavenly fire to light them up.
    3. A number of fine wax candles in candlesticks of different degrees of elevation and beauty, none of them alight, and a poor rushlight in a common stick doing more service than all its fine neighbors put together, because it has felt the flame, and has therefore power to diffuse light. The fine gentry look down upon the common plebeian rush with great disdain, but its only answer to all their sneers is its continuing to shine.
    4. An unlit candle which is placed in candlesticks of all sorts, but gives no light in any one of them showing how graceless men often lay the blame of their uselessness upon their position in life, or on the churches where they happen to be placed, whereas if they had grace they would be useful everywhere, and having none they are of no service anywhere. Men who run from denomination to denomination, and complain that their want of success in the spiritual life is all owing to the people with whom they have been brought into association, must be strangely ignorant of their own hearts. The lighted candle shines in any candlestick.
    5. Trying to light a candle with an extinguisher upon it well sets forth the ill effect of prejudice in preventing a reception of the truth. When Dr. Taylor declared that he had read the Bible through thirteen times and could not find the Deity of Christ in it; Newton replied that a man might try to light a candle thirteen times with an extinguisher on it and fail in his design every time.
    6. A dark lantern is no inapt representation of certain professors with ability, and we would fain hope with grace too, who do not benefit others, but keep their light to themselves. Trying to turn on the bull's eye we burn our fingers and get an illustration of the bad temper with which these idle people generally resent the rebukes of those who would make them of use in the world.
    7. A candle protected from the wind in a lantern clear and bright may picture the believer preserved in Christ Jesus, and surrounded by the care of a watchful providence. The lecturer lingers on this tempting theme to tell of God's perpetual care over his people, and the consequent safety of the saints.
    8. This emblem consists of a lantern much like that in No. 7, but one of the panes is broken, and therefore the wind enters and blows the light out; thus teaching that nothing but the perfect work of Jesus can protect us, for if we rely upon our own strength and righteousness, even if we have but one flaw, the wind of temptation will find it out, and we shall be ruined for ever.

    9. A dirty, battered lantern, its filthiness rendered conspicuous by the light within. The faults, falls, and inconsistencies of Christians are all the more noticed because of their being professed followers of Jesus. The need of a clean lantern, or rather of a holy character, is hence insisted upon with earnestness.
    10. Candle in a lantern with cracks in it through which the light gleams brightly, illustrating the effect of physical weakness and bodily suffering, in allowing the light of grace to shine through the rifts of our clay tenements. Many ministers preach far more evangelically and sweetly after periods of sickness; for through the working of the Holy Spirit, the inner man grows strong while the outer man decayeth. When the pitcher shall be dashed to pieces by the rough hand of death then will the lamp shine forth in its true glory; till then, happy is the frailty which reveals the divine light.
    11. Candle under a bushel: this needs no explanation. Putting the candle on the top of the bushel suggests the propriety of making our difficulties and trials a means of spreading rather than concealing the light.
    12. Candle covered with a bandbox through which the flame burns its way, and makes a blaze, teaching that opposition and persecution cannot hide the true believer's grace, but are made the unwilling means of enabling him to produce a greater effect. Grace will not be hidden, but must shine forth.
    13. God's method of instrumentality illustrated by one candle lighting another, and that one a third, and so on. Thus travels on the holy flame, till the whole world is girdled with its glory.

    14. A small taper lights a large candle, and thus poor simple-minded Christians have been the means of bringing talented and useful ministers and missionaries to a knowledge of the truth. Witness Owen blessed under an unknown country preacher, and John Bunyan cheered and comforted by the holy women of Bedford as they sat talking in the sun.
    15. Acts of indiscreet zeal are checked by the emblem of a candle in a lantern blown out while trying to light another. Some, with much zeal and little real grace, have made sad work of their profession through entering upon paths of usefulness surrounded with peculiar perils to the young and inexperienced.
    16. The night-light beautifully pourtrays those kind, attentive, generous women who do good at the bedsides of the sick, and in the homes of the poor. The night-light burns a certain number of hours, and our sisters are immortal till their work is done. Even in this humble employment the water around the light hints at caution and godly fear.
    17. A noble wax candle appears to be yielding nothing but light, but when a sheet of bright tin is held over it, a jet blackness is very soon deposited, shewing that those men who in the Bible sense are perfect, are yet not absolutely so, but God's matchless holiness soon detects the invisible sinfulness which is mixed with every action which they perform. It is not, however, our part to be constantly spying out our brethren's faults, but rather to act as bright reflectors to increase their splendor.
    18. The audience is not a little amused at the sight of a candle of very great thickness with a most insignificant wick, setting forth the minister of great ability but little zeal whose ministry is a very feeble ray; and the professor who is very rich but has no heart to use his means for the Lord's cause.
    19. A thief in the candle is like some besetting sin. The sin runs away with much of our power for usefulness, just, as the thief makes the candle gutter and go to waste.
    20. A sputtering candle—no inapt representation of the ill-tempered crotchety man who is for ever railing, muttering, and disagreeing.
    21. A candle in a common guard shews the need of watchfulness, for one unguarded word like a spark may lead to the very worst consequences.
    22. Need of the snuffers to take away our "superfluity of naughtiness." In the temple there were golden snuffers, but no extinguishers. Rebukes, exhortations, and afflictions trim the lamps in God's temple.
    23. Small piece of candle on that economical little instrument, "the save-all." We should use the last relics of talent and life in the Redeemer's cause. Gathering up the fragments is the duty of all imitators of the Lord Jesus.
    24. An hourglass and a candle are a picture of life's use. The sand runs, the candle burns, so we are not meant to spare ourselves, but to spend and be spent. He fulfills his destiny best who lives with all his might, making no provision for the flesh.
    25. Burning the candle at both ends well sets forth the profligate's folly. Body and soul he ruins; principle and interest he spends; and time and eternity he treats with equal carelessness.
    26. Steel filings dropped upon the flame of a candle produce sparklers and little stars; yet the filings seem the most likely things to put it out. Afflictions which appear as if they would destroy the Christian, are made the means of a grander display of the power of divine grace.
    27. By placing two candles of different heights upon the table, with the short one behind the longer one, you have a shadow cast upon your book, and can scarcely see to read it; but by putting the shorter candle in front you get the light of both: so if the brother of high degree will but give honorable preference to the brother of low degree, the result will be most profitable to the Church at large, but if the poor and lowly be put in the background, all will suffer loss.
    28. Light inside a lantern inscribed with the words TAKE A LIGHT, hinting at the way in which we ought to communicate all that we know to those who unhappily are groping in darkness.
    29. We conclude with a chandelier holding a great assemblage of lights of various colors and sizes, which is a feeble remembrancer of the One Church, with its unity of lustre, and its variety of beauty. All the lights melt into one illumination,—individuals and parties are forgotten in the one blaze of light; so shall it be in heaven.
    As we could scarcely carry out the rest of our metaphors in actual emblems we have secured in dissolving-views the following illustrations among others, they are all taken from Robert Farley's book.
    1. A rushlight and the sun rising, to compare great things with small, and set forth our own nothingness in the presence of the great Sun of Righteousness.
    2. A candle hanging on the wall till it has grown mouldy and covered with cobwebs, to show that if we do not burn out in diligence we shall rot away in our place of idleness.
    3. Blind man for whom the candle shines in vain, a true picture of carnal minds which see not the light of God, and cannot therefore be expected to appreciate our feebler beams.
    4. Candle painted on black ground, with the motto, "Darkness addeth glory to me." The sinfulness of the times will be a foil to the Christian's virtues.
    5. Mice eating an unlit candle, to show how graceless professors perish, being eaten up with their sins of covetousness, worldliness, and the like.

    6. A maid putting a candle into the hot socket of a candlestick where another has just burned out, to illustrate the need of patience, and the mischief of hastiness.
    7. A candle held by a hand before the fire with the intent to light it between the bars; it is melting rapidly, and the motto suitably runs, "Quickly, or I am consumed." This metaphor has a loud call to those who are slack in winning souls, while men are perishing on every hand.
    8. A candle dying out while the morning star is shining outside the window. Motto, "O morning star, bring, the day." This expresses the earnest longing of our soul towards the coming of the Lord in his glory.
    9. The last is a snuff which has just died out as a sign that all is over, giving us a hint that it is time to say, "FAREWELL."

* The task evidently proved not so impossible after all, for the full lecture was later published in book form and is now posted at The Spurgeon Archive. See:

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