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Words: Judson Wheeler Van DeVenter (b. Dec. 5, 1855; d. July 17, 1939)
Music: Winfield Scott Weeden (b. Mar. 29, 1847; d. July 31, 1908)
Note: There have been a number of gospel songs that make prominent use of the sun’s light, In addition to Judson Van DeVenter’s Sunlight, there is Eliza Hewitt’s Sunshine in my Soul; Henry Zelley’s Heavenly Sunlight; and Nellie Talbot’s Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam.
Judson Van DeVenter attended college in Michigan, then taught in the public schools in Pennsylvania for fifteen years. He served in the art department, becoming an overseer in that area called a Supervisor of Drawing. During that time he was an active layman, sang in the church choir, and eventually obtained a license to preach. Around 1896, he switched to a career in evangelism, working with evangelist Wilbur Chapman and others, in both America and Britain. Toward the end of his life, Mr. Van DeVenter lived in Florida. He became Professor of Hymnology at the Florida Bible Institute for several years. There he had a significant influence on a young evangelist named Billy Graham.
The composer of the tune for the present song (and also for Van DeVenter’s I Surrender All) seems likely to have been named after General Winfield Scott (1786-1866) a United States Army general that many historians rate the best American commander of his time.
Sunlight can be dazzling! Go outside on a cloudless summer day and it’s almost blinding. Winter can be even worse, with all that snow. Snow blindness is a serious danger.
Did you even wonder how penguins manage, living out their lives in the intense glare of a polar sun? They can’t exactly put on a pair of sunglasses as we do. The answer is our Creator has provided them with a built-in sun screen. The penguin’s eyes produce a special fluid that creates a film filtering out blue and ultraviolet wavelengths, protecting their eyes from harm, and giving them excellent vision. Birds of prey, such as eagles, and hawks have the same fluid, so they can see to hunt in the bright sunshine.
The sun’s light is important for light, and heat, and for promoting growth in the plant world. And God has provided various ways, both natural and man-made, for us to make sure we get enough, but not too much.
For most of His earthly stay, the heavenly glory of the Son of God was veiled. But there was an occasion when He revealed it to three of His disciples. The Bible says He took Peter, James, and John up into a mountain, where “He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (Matt. 17:2).
That same comparison to sunlight is made at other times. When Paul met with the risen, glorified Christ at midday, on the road to Damascus, he says, “I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun” (Acts 26:13). And when John saw Christ later, and received the prophetic visions recorded in the book of Revelation, he says, “His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength” (Rev. 1:16).
But there’s another dimension of this to consider. In addition to the visible glory of the Lord, there is the glory light of His presence experienced spiritually, when we trust in Christ for salvation. The Bible speaks of “the light of the gospel” (II Cor. 4:4). The good news of salvation is “as a light that shines in a dark place” (I Pet. 1:19).
To be a lost sinner, is to be in spiritual darkness. But when a sinner trust in the Saviour, the transformation is described as going from darkness to light. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Eph. 5:8; cf. II Cor. 4:6). “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Col. 1:13). Christians are “sons of light” (I Thess. 5:5).
Mr. Van DeVenter wrote many hymns. One published in 1897 is called simply Sunlight. It says:
CH-1) I wandered in the shades of night,
Till Jesus came to me,
And with the sunlight of His love
Bid all my darkness flee.
Sunlight, sunlight in my soul today,
Sunlight, sunlight all along the way;
Since the Saviour found me, took away my sin,
I have had the sunlight of His love within.
CH-2) Tho’ clouds may gather in the sky,
And billows round me roll,
However dark the world may be
I’ve sunlight in my soul.
CH-5) Soon I shall see Him as He is,
The Light that came to me;
Behold the brightness of His face,
1) How does the quality of darkness illustrate the sinner’s condition?
2) What qualities of sunlight illustrate the spiritual effects of the gospel?