Pillar Journal

The pursuit of illumination

The Bible is full of prayers by believers for greater illumination.

What does this mean for the unbeliever? It means that you should be smitten with grief over your willful blindness to Jesus Christ. You are guilty for your blindness, for your heart hates the light. You resist the Holy Spirit. You deserve for God to hand you over to Satan’s strong delusions because you do not love the truth.

What should you do? You should cry out to the Lord just as blind Bartimaeus did when Jesus passed by: “Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me!” No matter what might discourage you, keep crying out with desperate need, “Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me!” Fix your eyes upon Jesus Christ and give Him your full attention with all the powers you have. Stop pretending that you have light in yourself so that Christ can be your only light. Even if you are still in darkness, go where the Sun usually shines—churches that preach the gospel of Christ.1Ralph Robinson, Christ All and in All (repr., Ligonier, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria, 1992), 273.

What does this mean for the believer? You should look back over your conversion with a sense of awe and wonder that God has granted you this spiritual illumination. It is good to give thanks to the Lord. Like the blind man who said, “I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25), give all glory to Jesus Christ who gave you illumination by His Holy Spirit. You were just as blind and dead in sin as anyone else, but God illuminated your heart solely on the basis of His free choice to save you.2Calvin, Institutes, 3.22.10; 3.24.3, 17. If Christ gave thanks to God for saving His elect (Matt. 11:25–27), how much more should we who are saved?

But beyond looking back with gratitude and praise, does this doctrine have any relevance to your life today? Yes, it does. It calls you to pray for yourself, for the church, and for unbelievers, that God’s light would shine in us. The Bible is full of prayers by believers for greater illumination. Owen observed, “What we pray for from God, we have not in and of ourselves.”3Owen, Causes, Ways, and Means of Understanding, in Works, 4:128. Psalm 119:18 says, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” Make Paul’s prayers in Colossians 1 and Ephesians 1 your prayers, too (Col. 1:9–10; Eph. 1:17–19). Pray earnestly for an increase in your spiritual knowledge of God, for it is the great root of the increase of grace.4Goodwin, First Chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians, in Works, 1:283. Calvin said that the Christian “needs continual direction at every moment”;5Calvin, Institutes, 2.2.25. we should continually advance in illumination, and then God’s truth will always appear new and fresh to us.6Calvin, Institutes, 3.2.19; Goodwin, First Chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians, in Works, 1:290.

So every time you open the Bible or go to a meeting of the church, pray, pray, pray for the illumination of the Spirit. Pray that God would increase the Spirit’s supernatural light shining through Christ in the pages of the Bible. He will show you a true and rich treasure there. Spurgeon exclaimed: “Every letter glitters like a diamond. Oh! It is a blessed thing to read an illuminated Bible lit up by the radiance of the Holy Ghost.”7Charles H. Spurgeon, Twelve Sermons on the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1973), 37.

And pray for unbelievers, for without prayer, our witness is powerless.8Edwin H. Palmer, The Person and Ministry of the Holy Spirit: The Traditional Calvinistic Perspective (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1958), 60–61. But prayer for the illumination of the lost is powerful. William Tyndale poured out his life in the translation of the Bible into the English language. For this he was persecuted and finally martyred in 1536. Just before the executioner strangled him to death and then burned his body at the stake, Tyndale cried out, “Lord, open the eyes of the King of England.”

There is no indication that King Henry VIII was converted. But just two years after Tyndale’s death, the king approved the placing of the Great Bible, largely based on Tyndale’s translation, in every church for everyone to read. When those Bibles were placed in the churches, there was an infant son in the household of King Henry. When that son became King Edward VI, the Bible and the Reformation were established in England. Tyndale’s prayer for the illumination of the king ultimately lit up England, and from there shed light upon many nations. Who knows but that your prayers for God to open the blind eyes of a sinner might change the history of the world?

Excerpt from
The Holy Spirit and Reformed Spirituality
by Joel R. Beeke and Derek W. H. Thomas