14 April 2023 Anno domini, the Anglican Orthodox Communion Worldwide
“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. 21 To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. 22 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” Rev 3:19-22 (KJV)
William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) was one of the greatest of the Pre-Raphaelite painters. In fact, Hunt was one of the three avant-garde artists who introduced the pre-Raphaelite movement in 1848.
In 1854, Hunt, at what he felt was the behest of the Holy Spirit, painted a piece called ‘The Light of the World.’ Hunt says, “I painted the picture with what I thought, unworthy though I was, to be divine command, and not simply a good subject”. The door in the painting has no handle, and can therefore be opened only from the inside, representing “the obstinately shut mind.” Most art critics consider this the greatest of all pre-Raphaelite art.
The painting is an allegorical rendering of the 20th verse of the 3rd chapter of Revelations (as quoted in the introductory text). The symbolism is profoundly apparent.
The door is worn and rarely opened. The world is hesitant to hear the Gospel for fear of opening the door to a Sovereign to whom they must be accountable. The door is overgrown with weeds. Sin separates us from God. The Light of Christ illuminates the exterior surface of the door, but when it is closed to the Gospel, there is only darkness inside. Christ is knocking with an half-opened hand – not pounding on the door. To me, this represents the gentle nature of our Savior who refuses to enter where He is not welcome.
One other point. Have you noticed the feet of the Lord? They are inclined away from the door. If there is no response, He will go to the next door and not linger where His grace is rejected.
Interestingly, several men sat for the portrait of the head including Mallais, John Capper, and even Christina Rosetti, the author of so many wonderfully uplifting and Godly poems. Rosetti sat for the face painting after Hunt had felt he achieved the manly character of the face.
The biblical text quoted above differs slightly from the impact of the painting. In the painting, the door appears to be a private dwelling and, while that is absolutely prefigured in the text, the context of it is the door of the Church. Our Lord has just completed an assessment of the seven churches of Revelations. Christ had not found fault with two of these churches – Smyrna and Philadelphia; but Christ extolls the virtues of Smyrna above all – and it is the poorest church in worldly goods, and the richest in spirit.
The profound point to me in our Lord’s counsel is this: He stands at the Door and knocks – but which Door? It is the Door of the churches. He is not INSIDE, but stands knocking without. No matter what Communion Service is practiced, it is practiced without Christ’s Presence if taken unworthily. The communicates inside the Churches must hear His Voice and open the Door to Christ. Too often, Christ is shut out of our churches – especially in our modern times.
There remain churches in my own neighborhood that have rejected the Voice of Christ because they deny the Counsel of His Word accepting every vile perversion imaginable and making man the center of worship (entertainment) instead of Christ.
Some may wonder why the Gospel pulpits of Reformed Anglican and Presbyterian churches are set of to the right (looking out) of the sanctuary? It is because, not man, but God is the center of our worship. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.”
God has counseled, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” Eccl 9:10 (KJV) This is true of every occupation and profession. I believe William Holman Hunt has achieved that goal in the painting of ‘The Light of the World.’ What mark have each of us made for Christ in our own professions, lives, and endeavors?