Essay / Theology

F. B. Meyer Talks to His Lamp

oil lamp F. B. Meyer (1847 – 1929) was a great Baptist pastor and commentator about a hundred years ago. In his commentary on Zechariah (The Prophet of Hope: Studies in Zechariah; Fleming Revell, 1900), Meyer pondered one of Zechariah’s visions, the vision of a seven-pronged lampstand which was constantly supplied with oil by pipes that ran into two nearby olive trees. What was the meaning of this lampstand, and why did God show it to a prophet whose ministry was to the Israelites returning from exile? Meyer explains:

It is easy to see what comfort this vision brought to the handful of exiles amid those blackened ruins. It seemed as though mountain ranges of difficulty stood between them and the accomplishment of their great undertaking. But now they learned that at the best they were only the channels and instruments; and that God was prepared to accomplish the results they sought. It was not to be by their might, nor power, but by his Spirit, pouring into and through them with inexhaustible fullness, as the oil poured into and through the golden pipes from the two olive trees. (p. 56)

God revealed his will to Zechariah in image and word: The image was a lamp with an endless supply of oil, and the word was “Not by power, and not by might, but by my Spirit.”

Commenting on this vision, Meyer remarks, “These thoughts attracted me to a conversation with the wick of my lamp.”

Yes, he talked to the wick of his lamp.

“For long it had served my purpose, silently ministering as I read beside it. I felt ashamed that I had not before noticed its unobtrusive ministry. I said to the wick:” Yes, he said to the wick:

Meyer: “For the service of many months I thank thee.”

Wick: “What have I done for thee?”

Meyer: “Hast thou not given light upon my page?”

Wick: “Indeed, no; I have no light to give, in proof whereof take me from my bath of oil, and see how quickly I expire. Thou wilt soon turn from me, as a piece of smoking tow. It is not I that burn, but the oil with which my texture is saturated. It is this that lights thee. As for me, I simply mediate between the oil in the cistern and the fire on my edge. See this blackened edge. It slowly decays, but the light continually burns.”

Meyer: “Dost thou never fear becoming exhausted? See how many inches of coil remain! Wilt thou be able to give light till every inch of this is slowly charred and cut away?”

Wick: “I have no fear so long as the supply of oil does not fail, if only some kindly hand will remove, from time to time, the charred margin, trimming me, and exposing a fresh edge to the flame. This is my twofold need: oil and trimming. Give me these, and I shall burn to the end.”

Meyer: “I thank thee, gentle teacher,” I said, as I turned away; “thou hast greatly encouraged me. I, too, shall endure, so long as I abide in Him, in whom God has stored the measureless residue of the Spirit; and so long as the Divine hand, with delicate thoughtfulness, uses the golden snuffers, removing the debris and decay, pruning that I may bear fruit; piercing to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, that I may enter into his rest.”

No wonder Meyer was such a great preacher, since his furniture delivered sermons like this to him. Meyer applies the lesson to the readers of his Zechariah commentary: “Some among us appear to think that the soul can accumulate a stock of grace, in a sacrament, a convention, or a night of prayer.” But this is nonsense, and we should not think such low thoughts of grace. Why not? Because the wick says so:

But this is at variance with the teaching of the wick. It accumulates nothing. It has no stores. From hour to hour it is always on the edge of bankruptcy, but always supplied. So should we live –at every moment giving all we have, but never doubting about the supplies of the future. Bear pain for one moment at a time; there is patience enough in Jesus for the next moment. Do your Christian work with as much energy as though each service were your last. You cannot exhaust God; and your work is to be, not in your might or power, but by his Spirit.

Meyer asks his readers to excuse him for devoting so much space to the doctrine of his lampwick, but “It has become so precious an emblem of my relationship with my Lord, to think of the union between the wick and the limitless supplies of the olive tree. Hour after hour the oil climbs up the wick to the flame, and thus insensibly the grace of the risen Lord passes through the medium of our faith into the radiant beauty of a life on fire with God.”

“O fire of God,” exclaims Meyer, the advocate of what he called “practical mysticism,” “Thou shalt burn on us for evermore; and our spirits shall be thy candles, because we have learned to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man, and Christ dwells in our hearts by faith.” (pp. 57-59)

More on Meyer here. More on the Spirit of Christ here.

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