“And the eyes of them both were opened…”
The term “Enlightenment” was used by many of the ‘thinkers’ and writers from the beginning of the 18th century up to the French Revolution in 1789 to describe what they considered to be a time of truth emerging from hundreds of years of darkness and mass ignorance. For example, the Roman Catholic Church had been insisting that the sun, planets, and stars orbited around the earth, but when Copernicus challenged this idea with a telescope and sound reason, it was as though a light turned on in a dark cave for the first time. The idea was really quite simple. It was irrefutable, and the church was thrown for a loop. It did not take long for others to experiment with this power of the human mind. Why, if the church is keeping us in the dark about the solar system, what else are we ignorant about?
Rene Descartes tried to get to the truth about the world by clearing his mind of every old idea he had, and doubting everything. The only thing he found that he could not doubt was the fact that he was thinking. And because he was thinking, he could know that he existed; hence his famous conclusion: “cogito, ergo sum,” that is, “I think, therefore I am.” Having enthroned his brain as the autonomous “I Am,” he proceeded to use the logic of this great brain to bring into existence the rest of the world, including a god that made the world. This universe created by the mind of Descartes was, he felt, free from the mists of darkness that had somehow enveloped the world and corrupted prior ideas about the world.
Others explored the powers of their mind to formulate new ideas about the nature of man and the best type of government for a good society. Thomas Hobbes believed that “the condition of man…is a condition of war of everyone against everyone.” And because human nature is in such a condition, a strong governing authority is necessary to prevent total chaos. John Locke believed that man is born with a pure and good human nature, like a blank slate (tabula rasa). If children have a good environment and a good education, they will form a good civilization and society. He argued that there was no such thing as a divine right of kings to rule, and that government only has authority when those who are governed give it to them.
These ideas were being formulated at the time when the United States Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution were written; and had some impact on these documents. However, I believe that the impact of Enlightenment ideas have been, and are being felt even more heavily in educational philosophy and society. The enthronement of the human mind has opened the doors wide to evolutionary theory, euthanasia, abortion, disregard for authority, etc.
“…and they knew that they were naked” (Genesis 3:7).
The problem with many thinkers of the Enlightenment was that they did not know they were naked. By God’s grace, Adam and Eve knew, on the basis of His Word, that they stood guilty before God when they sought freedom in pursuing disobedience. Having rubbed the smoke and fog from the windows of the Roman Church, most enlightenment thinkers did not then take up the Word of God which so long had been hidden, and walk in its light. Rather, they swelled in pride at the “wisdom” they had to rub the smoke from the windows, and pursued the thoughts of their minds. These have led the masses to the society we find now in Europe and the Americas today.
There were some men of the Enlightenment who did turn to God’s word, knew they were naked, and sewed “fig leaves” together. Godly scientists made great discoveries that were foundational to a correct understanding of much of God’s creation. Theologians mined the depths of God’s word and developed many great doctrines of salvation.
Really, history is full of enlightenments. Perhaps the Enlightenment of the 18th century had such a great impact because the Roman Church had acted like a great dam that finally burst and unleashed the flood of new ideas. You have experienced many enlightenments in the course of your growth and development. A big one usually occurs about the time you are teenagers and break through what you consider to be the outdated ideas of your parents. Perhaps you meet friends with ideas and activities that are new and exciting. You meet bold challenges to your prior ways of thinking in the Internet chat rooms, and your eyes are opened. Perhaps you listen to a popular college professor rip with pleasure into the foundations of your soul and lay out a new way of life. What do you do with this new “light?”
At this point, the child of God, by the power of God’s grace, sees a fork in the road. Down one he sees the mind of man revealed and exalted, and the Bible on a reference shelf as an out dated record of the previous thoughts of man. It is a way of dazzling light that excites him with new feelings of freedom. He hears the praise and call of “friends” willing to show him more. Down the other way he sees the same things, but with one important difference. He sees the Bible open. He sees God’s mind revealed and exalted in his Word, and the mind of man and his works as servants. “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9). By the light of this Word, he sees himself as a servant of God, using his gifts for the glory of God.
As you go through life, and your eyes are opened, you are faced with a choice. The ungodly do not have this choice. Apart from the grace of God, they have no interest whatsoever in the light revealed by God. “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” John 1:5 He thinks that what his own mind has just discovered is the only light. He even calls it “enlightenment,” and like a moth, circles into the fire of eternal death. I pray, young people, that God works by the power of His grace in your hearts. Do you see the two options you face when you are “enlightened” by the words of man? If, as a child of God, you choose to turn away from the light of God’s word, you can be assured that the cheap thrill of worldly “enlightenment” will come with a steep price. The way back will be one filled with heartache, regret, guilt, misery, and endless troubles.
When we do succumb to the flatteries of man’s wisdom, let not a day close without prayer and repentance. Be diligent in your daily devotions and meditations upon God’s word. Bask in the glorious shining of God’s word that we enjoy every week in the house of God. Diligently seek the rest of the Lord’s Day. The more you do these things, the more you will enjoy even in this life the treasures of eternal life.