“Candle Power”

If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light. Luke 11:36

Gentlemen of the Board of Trustees, Calvin Seminary Faculty, Calvin Alumni Association, and Fellow Students:

Welcome to the new academic year at Calvin College! With almost a week of experience in college life behind you, one wonders how frequently you, as a newcomer, have remarked, with an air of seasoned judgment, “So this is college life!” It is a legitimate remark, but I wish to point out that there can be quite a difference between Calvin College education and college life. We of the faculty attempt to unite the two, but unfortunately—or maybe fortunately—we do not control all the pressures which are brought to bear on a student’s activities.


A. College Life vs. College Education

The week of orientation, or reorientation, as the case might be, and registration procedures have focused your mind upon the machinery of education. Do not confuse it with the essence of college work. Tuition fees, book lists, block schedules, counselors, deans, registrar, business manager, and president are the machinery, These have been forced upon your attention to palpably that from them you could easily have made the false deduction which someone once couched in a clever ditty which is current among college administrator’s groups today.1

I have paraphrased it to make it conform to the local scene:

By majors and minors, all properly weighted,

By courses and credits, all well integrated,

By testings, and scorings, and make-ups related.

By parking provisions, strictly regulated,

By attendance at chapel (as in the catalogue stated)

By nurses’ excuses, all properly dated. Little by little he gets educated,

Having acquired experience in all the elements named in this verse, you have lasted of college life, but you will not have discovered what a college education really is, because these deal with mechanical arrangements and not with the core of education. The same is true in another area of student concern. There are many things you can learn at college about college which, however, miss not only the very essence of college education, bill, do injury to the reason for choosing a college career. For example, a few of you have, undoubtedly, during the past week, picked up from more experienced students new and advanced tricks of evasion. Perhaps you have even filed away mental notes on how to beat the “registration racket”—as some students call it—or how to take a foreign language without the use of the original, or been advised to spend some time studying the professor rather than the subject matter. Once again, that could be college life, but it is not conducive to a college education. The trouble with some students is that college life is forever and anon getting in the way of a college education. The sorry fact is that whole colleges have capitulated to such a condition, not just a minor segment of the student group.

B. Calvin’s Aim to Unite the Two

If you have read the college bulletin with some care, you will have noticed that the trustees and faculty or Calvin College hold out to you a union of college life and college education, Allow me to call your attention to quotations from the most important page in the catalogue, page twenty, which is titled, AIM: “The aim of the college is to give young people an education that is Christian, in the larger and deeper sense that all the class work, a ll the students’ intellectual, emotional, and imaginative activities shall be permeated with the spirit and teaching of Christianity.” Again, “It is the aim of Calvin College to maintain standards of sound scholarship.”

This expressed aim of Calvin College education can be identified with numerous scriptural expressions. Once such lies in the language of the scripture reading of this morning, especially in the verse that reads: “If of this morning, especially in the verse which reads, ‘If the whole body, therefore be full of light,  having no part dark, and whole shall be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light.”



As you know, mechanical power is measured by units of horsepower, So, too, luminous intensity or diffusion is measured in units of candle power. The aim and goal of our Christian collegiate education can be expressed adequately and pointedly, I believe, in terms of candle power—candle power that is sufficient to light the whole body, with no part dark. We shall look first to the lighting of the candle and, secondly, to the burning of the candle in order to assess rightly its candle power.


For a careful exegesis of this passage you will have to go to a professional theologian. However, the appropriateness of the passage to the occasion should be established, and this can be done only by placing the reference to candle power in its scriptural context.

A. Its Contextual Point

Matthew places this exhortation of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. Luke makes of it a more detached discourse, but the setting into which he places this figure of speech has special relevance for those who take seriously their place in Christian collegiate education.

The reactions to Christ’s ministry were varied. Though many believed on him more turned against him. His words and works were questioned, his person was endangered, his authority was disparaged. Many hundreds, with the Pharisees in the van, pressed hard around him and demanded of him a sign—a sign from heaven, if you please—of his authority and truthfulness. “What! You ask of me a sign?” asked Christ. Little wonder that Christ was indignant; yes, very grieved, in fact. “An evil generation” he called those gathered around. Little wonder, I say, for, as you know, truth needs no accomplishment. Light and truth are inherently self-sufficient. Does a light need a sign of its lighting? Does the sun need a sign of its shining? Christ, the Light of the World—Christ, the Truth—needed no sign. He had not obscured his light. He had displayed it consistently, persistently, and conspicuously, for all to see. He need give no further sign.

The failure to recognize Christ as the Light of the World, the Truth, lay with sight, not light. The light was there, but the eyes of Christ’s disparagers were not single. They were diseased; they could not see.

Christ used an effective figure of speech to teach a profound truth. The candle of the body is the eye. The illuminated and illuminating eye, when functioning properly, makes discernment possible and helps guide over difficulties and around obstacles.

Tile light of a candle is kindled light. So, too, the eye derives its light from a primary source. And just as the eye, which is the candle, picks lip the light of the sun and makes plain the pathway before us, so, too, man is made dependent upon the light of divine revelation.

Spiritualizing that concept, Christ shifts the figure from the physical eye to man’s inner eye—call it mind. Thus the inner eye—the mind, which has been lighted by divine illumination—illumines man’s whole body and causes him to walk in the light; but when this inner light becomes covered by disbelief, it casts the whole body into darkness.

The very nub of the meaning of the figure of speech—which gets more complicated with continued use—is simply this: Make certain that your mind, which should shine like a candle, rightly guiding your thoughts, judgments, discernments, evaluations, and actions, does not become darkness by resistance to the truth and thus misguide your whole life. Such an admonition touches the very essence of Christian collegiate education.

B. Its Textual Meaning

This becomes even more apparent when we note the specific textual meaning of light. The figure of light is used to express a variety of concepts in Holy Writ, yet basically they are all one. It is used to designate life as in “the light of life,” and blessing, and the presence of God, and salvation, and truth, and understanding, and learning, and the Word of God, as in “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet.” There is no disparity here. These are all varying hues of prismal refraction.

The reference to light, of which our passage speaks, is similar to that employed ill the beautiful prologue to John’s gospel. Here John speaks of Christ, coexistent, coeternal with God the Father, creator of the world, who gave to man a special type of life, for man’s life is light. The True Light, Christ, lighteth every man that cometh into the world. This light, given to man, is the light of understanding, judgment, and rationality, thus separating man from other creatures. And, since this light is given by the Author of Light to man, it should serve as a reflector or that Light. Owing to sin, however, man willfully places the light. of understanding under the shroud of disbelief. Even though this capacity was not wholly extinguished, the darkened understanding is incapable of shedding-light, for man has placed himself in a position of those who “seeing, see not.” (Matt. 13:13) It takes a renewing by the Spirit of God to make men partakers of the brightness of Christ. It is in that sense that we can say “In thy light shall we see light.” It is only in that light that the meaning of God’s great revelation, both special and general, is knowable, and it is only in that sense that his word is a lamp unto our feet.

The light of reason which God implanted in men, incrusted in ignorance, error, and disbelief, owing to sin rekindled by the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit applying the redemptive work of Christ—is the light which should illumine the whole body, a body having no part dark. This light of truth should light our lamp of learning. This should be our approach, by God’s grace, to God’s cosmic revelation.

The lamp being lighted, let us observe its burning.


Lighting power is measured in units of candle power. Into this unit of measurement are gathered three factors:


Area Uniformly Lighted


A. Its Intensity

Intensity is the quality which differentiates the light effectiveness of it flickering spark from a brilliant beacon. Intensity is also one of the qualities which measure the effectiveness of our spiritual and academic life.

The greater, the more persistent, and the more intense our exposure to the source of our light, the greater will be our illuminated and illuminating power—lighting the whole body. The intensity with which our God-given light burns depends upon our willingness and readiness to place ourselves in the light of God’s blessings, his presence, and word. I mean this in the sense that Paul wrote to the Christians at Philippi: “…work that your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” There you have a rigid prescription for sustained effort, for deliberate prosecution, and for unabated diligence.

The distinction which I made just a moment ago between spiritual and academic life is, in a sense, legitimate. In another sense, however, this distinction is wholly arbitrary. Our academic effort geared to an investigation and appropriation of God’s great revelation, and that is our primary task. That is the job to which you should have committed yourself in matriculating at Calvin College. Exercising yourself in this work with purposeful intent becomes, then, an exercise in real piety.

This thought should fix upon your soul a sense of real responsibility. Many obligations are involved in this responsibility. A sense of true piety should drive you to real performance. A sense of patriotism should make your privilege very real to you. Many of you for whom military duty has been deferred should count it a real gain to be able to continue uninterruptedly your education for a career. Our tradition, too—that is, the investment which your home and your Church have in you—should prompt your devotion to the task of learning.

If this is achieved, you will have, likewise, achieved for us a union of campus life and college education. Then education does not become incidental to working for a living, or owning a car, or immersing oneself in the social whirl. I have a great respect for those who must work their way through college, provided college also has a real opportunity to work its war through them. I have no real sympathy for a student who must work his way through the latest-model convertible, with all the “extras” and that in a spirit of “a dilemma has two horns—why shouldn’t my Dodge have them?”

B. Area to be Uniformly Lighted

The area to be uniformly lighted is a second factor which enters; into the calculation called candle power. The scripture passage, you will recall, enjoins that the whole body be full of light, having no part dark. Blind spots, shadows, and certain obscured areas should not appear in the mind of a Christian. There should be no part dark. Where darkness does occur, it results from covering that light or shielding it from certain angles. This need not be a deliberate performance, stemming from evil intend of mind. It can even occur in the name of “piety.”

Transferring this thought to the area of learning, it becomes it demand for mental, spiritual, and moral poise. The word “balance” describes it best, if you will remember that balance should not suggest equal emphasis but, rather, proper emphasis. The view or life to which Calvin College adheres finds its real strength in the balance it seeks to maintain. Its religious spirit is sanely balanced. Although Calvinism is accused of being it coldly intellectual system, it has adopted as its statement of personal religious commitment: “My heart I offer to thee, O Lord, promptly and sincerely.” Its theological structure is a beautifully balanced system in its presentation of the whole counsel of God. Its view of life and the world places man in his proper relation to the whole of God’s world in all its varying relationships.

This balance is the strength of Calvinism. It can also become its weakness because it demands such broad vision, such perspective, such insight that, unless we allow God’s Spirit to illumine us completely, we shall develop parts that are dark. This calls for a high rate of candle power. It demands of all students mental poise, discerning judgment, penetrating analysis, and charitable evaluations within our own academic position.

C. Its Diffusion

A lamp, or a candle, or a torch is but a single object, but from it there is radiated a force which transcends the immediate. This force is the diffusive property of light. This property of light is an integral part of Christ’s figure of speech. It has important implications for spiritual and academic life. One fully illumined spiritually is, by virtue of that fact, a witness of the light. And this must also be true of the academic life. If you have become a bearer of the light, you will never be able to hide the fact that you are Christian college-bred men and women.

However, before this compulsion to witness and leadership can be effected, the light must first touch the individual. The learning process must, therefore, be a concern, first, of the individual. In these days of education of youth in mass lots, and in which group counseling and group dynamics become highly praised educational instrumentalities, it might be well to remind ourselves that the individual must understand his place in the world before he can make that decision for his fellow man. Blind leaders of the blind are none other than those who have lost, or perhaps never gained, their diffusive powers owing to the fact that they themselves as individuals were never illumined.

“Take heed, therefore, that the light which is ill thee be not darkness” is an admonition which our Master places directly before you. It is most appropriate that you be reminded of this as you begin a new academic year. If you take the admonition seriously, you will discover that there is a real place in a Christian college education for campus life, for then campus life and college education will have lost their disparity and become one. The degree to which you prosecute this admonition will be the measure or your candle power. It will display the intensity, the radiance, and the diffusiveness of the light that is within you.

Is this casting too great a responsibility upon you? Not if you will acknowledge “the Lord is my light.”

1. Burges, Johnson, Campus versus Classroom, Ives Washburn, Inc., N.Y., N.Y. 1946, p. 81.