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" And as He prayed the fashion of His countenance was altered, and His raiment was white and glistering." LUKE ix. 29. I one sense the Transfiguration of Christ rises into a plane of thought and feeling beyond our power to enter. o other son of man was, or ever shall be, transfigured as was the Lord. o other ever reached manhood without a sting of memory or a qualm of regret. o other ever kept the faith with a clear vision and an unbroken victory. o other ever lived under the sure and constant sense that this world was but his Father s footstool, and the world unseen his Father s house. Yet we must not forget that the Transfiguration was a wholly human experience. It was as human as His hunger, or His weariness, or the accents of His voice in prayer, or His trembling under temptation. Because it is so entirely human it is possible for us to understand its significances, to pass through it each in his own measure, and to enter into its felicity and reward. Let us take this costly and crowning and exalting experience of Christ, and mark how it can be
THE TRA SFIGURATIO OF MA 179 repeated in men. We take two divisions, first, the condition of transfiguration ; and secondly, the phases of transfiguration. I. In the first place, the condition of transfiguration. " As He prayed the fashion of His countenance was altered." The condition of spiritual transfigura
tion is prayer. There are other exalting and even ecstatic experiences of the heart, other illuminings of the face which are reached without prayer. All emotion which is stirred by high purpose and by absorbing thought throbs within the spirit and shines out in the face. The poet s rapture, the artist s dream of loveliness, the orator s passion, even the skilled workman s fine ideal of form and colour cherished as he uses his tool, lend a glow to the heart and a lustre to the eyes. But these move only in the outer courts of the nature of man. What transfigures his whole being and transforms his spirit, and lights up his face with a sheen that abides, is that converse and supplication and adoring reverence of the soul which we call prayer. ow what is prayer ? Few of us are willing to think of prayer merely as the repetition of the few words, too often hurried, too often unmeaning, and sometimes even vacant, which we utter morning by morning and night by night. These have their value. God is not unmindful even of the bowed head and the remembered act of devotion, although
i8o THE SECRET OF THE LORD the throb of quick and eager feeling be too often absent from it. But that is not the prayer which transfigures. or must we think of prayer only in the terms of the old Puritan definition in the time-honoured Shorter Catechism. " Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to His will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of His mercies." The Shorter Catechism falls strangely below the level of its high and noble thought in dealing with prayer. Prayer is more
than petition, and confession, and thanksgiving. There is an ascent in prayer from court to court, until we reach the holiest of all. The outer court is this offering up of desire. It is seen in Hannah, moaning out her request beside the altar ; in David, lying all night on the ground when the Lord had struck his child ; in Hezekiah, crying from his sick bed. It is seen in a nobler fashion when we beseech God for His best gifts, or intercede for those who have been unkind and ungentle and scornful ; or, in a still better mind, pray that His kingdom may come, and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Many of the poignant psalms of the Old Testament, and most of the cherished hymns of the Christian faith, are simply the outpouring of desire. As we sing them, in the power of God s Spirit, the fire burns within, and its hallowed flame is kindled in our faces. But prayer should pass from this court of the
THE TRA SFIGURATIO OF MA 181 Gentiles, where desires are offered up to God, to a place of closer communion. Communion is that quiet, intimate, tender intercourse with God in which we may ask nothing, confess nothing, and cease even from thanksgiving. We simply speak face to face with God as a man speaks to his friend. Communion may pass beyond speech into a calm and absorbing and yet strangely wakeful silence. God is not content always with silence only. He loves, I truly believe, to hear the human voice rising and falling in the accents of prayer. Samuel s childish treble when he cried, " Speak, Lord ! for Thy servant heareth," was sweeter to Him than the perfect music of a boy s clear young voice in a choir to its leader. God misses " His little human praise,"
with its doubt and fear trembling in every tone, when we pray only with the inner whisper of our thought and meditation. But there are times when the spirit of prayer may be too swift and too tender for words. Every man is a possible mystic in the best sense of that word, for every man may enter into that intercourse with God in which the hours pass by in the silence of a perfect confidence. Wesley, in his Journal, tells us again and again that when worn and ill he cast himself without words on the bosom of God. Chalmers declares that, when greatly wearied and distressed in mind, he gave himself up to quietism, and was much refreshed. These were both men of strong practical wisdom, and not moody and dreamy recluses. We
i8 2 THE SECRET OF THE LORD must not think that when Christ continued " all night in prayer to God " He stretched out the arms of His petitions and thanksgiving in words which fell upon His own ear. We can be sure that His time was passed in still meditation. He rose into a rapture in which there was no speech, a silence that was felt and loved of God. To Him the Father was A presence felt the livelong day, A welcome fear at night." The prayer of desire transfigures with a pale gleam compared with the glow of the prayer of com munion. When men look unto God they are lightened. But there is a height in prayer above communion. What shall I call it ? It may be named the prayer of surrender. Very few ever utter that prayer to
its utmost syllable. Few ever really lay themselves, spirit and soul and body, on God s altar. We are always withholding something, keeping back from God some dear and cherished possession, some gift or talent or power, some love or pleasure or passion. We will not yield up some one dear and tightly held joy. Yet when we do pray this prayer we pass on to an experience, which seals us with a seal that cannot be broken, to the service of God for ever. Then on the transparent mirror of the face the light leaps and flashes, and some of it abides. That is the secret of that heavenly and almost intolerable
THE TRA SFIGURATIO OF MA 183 radiance on the face of Moses which men feared to look upon. He had come out of that most holy place and offered up his prayer of surrender in those solemn words, " But if not . . . blot out my name from Thy book." That is why Stephen s face shone in the council. His clear and discerning mind saw his martyr death before him, and he yielded himself up to God s will. Could we have seen Paul s face when he heard God s words, " My grace is sufficient for thee," and meekly accepted God s will, we would have seen the sheen of the transfiguring light also upon it. He did not know whether he was " in the body " or " out of it." That is why Christ s face shone as He prayed. And that is how our faces also shall be transfigured. II. Look, in the second place, at tJie phases of tJie transfiguration of man. Transfiguration has not only its source and its condition ; it has its history, and its times and seasons. The transfiguration of a man is a gradual, a deepening, and at last an unfading and eternal
beauty. The first phase is tJie transfiguration of the soul In those hours of absorbing emotion, in desire and communion and surrender, God s spirit works in upon the soul. By a spiritual law they react upon the whole inner core of our being, on mind and heart and will, and these are transformed. This subjective blessing of prayer, the cleansing and
1 84 THE SECRET OF THE LORD renewing of the soul while we pray, is not the only, not the supreme answer to prayer ; but it is the first, the immediate, and the most enduring answer we can receive ; it is the answer which is never denied. o man ever prayed but in the moment he was a better and a wiser man. To go into the sanctuary of God is to understand. To let our requests be made known unto God is to gain the peace that passeth all understanding. As we pray our sins are set in the light of God s countenance. We see the beauty of holiness. We behold the beauty of the Lord. We open the sluice-gates of the soul, and the swelling tides of God s love and grace flood within. ew penitences, new resolves, new endeavours are born in the depth of the will. That truth is written large in the history of every saint. Prayer is a mode of power within to learn the mind of Christ. His words and deeds become memorable and significant to us. We sometimes receive a more vivid insight into what He was, and did, as we serve Him in the toilsome duties of life. But when we pray, then those spiritual changes, which are vital, determining, eternal, take place within. F. W. H. Myers, in his poem on St. Paul, so full of the seer s insight into the history of the soul, has set this truth in im
passioned verse. He is speaking of Paul s shame at his failure, and he conceives Paul in the pain of his penitence, seeking the presence and the peace of Christ.
THE TRA SFIGURATIO OF MA 185 " Straight to Thy presence get me and reveal it, othing ashamed of tears upon Thy feet, Show the sore wound, and beg Thine hand to heal it, Pour Thee the bitter, pray Thee for the sweet. Then, with a ripple and a radiance thro me, Rise and be manifest, O Morning Star ! Flow on my soul, Thou Spirit, and renew me, Fill with Thyself, and let the rest be far." The second phase is the transfiguration of the face. The face is the involuntary and, at the last, the accurate index of the soul. A man may smile, and smile, and be a villain, through a few years of his life. But in the end, let him pose and posture and dissemble as he will, what he has become in his soul is seen on his face. As surely as the sap wells up in the stem, and bursts out into leaf and blossom, and as certainly as the acid in a man s blood will be seen in the scab upon his skin, the passion of his soul renewed in hours of consecration will become the light and the line which all men s eyes can see. Art has, as might be expected, given this truth a varied expression. To portray the human face is always the highest reach of the painter s power. There were two faces which the great artists of the Middle Ages held it to be their just ambition to represent. One was the face of Christ. But that
face was as a rule the artist s despair. The other face was that of the Madonna Mary, the Virgin of azareth. These mediaeval artists sought far and near for faces of perfect beauty as models for their portraits. They looked into every young face in
i86 THE SECRET OF THE LORD the hope that the ideal in line and form and colour would be found. One can see in all the galleries of the Continent those pictures of radiant youth and dazzling bloom. But the nobler minds soon passed beyond the thrall of those faultless faces with their dimpled beauty and their earthly charm. They began to search after something more lovely and more significant than skin-deep loveliness. They began to discern that the face of some simple peasant girl, marked by no unusual grace of contour or of colouring, could wear a glory which earth could not give. They marked that her daily prayer before the cross had schooled her soul to God s discipline and enriched it with God s grace. So Raphael painted as his Madonnas a simple peasant girl, with motherhood s human yearning in her eyes, and the pale austerity of consecration matching her white stole, and the mark of her rapt and adoring humility manifest in the grace and sweetness of her air. They realised that when the soul had become transfigured the light in the temple of God shone through. A finer exposition of this truth than art can give is to be found in the records of missionary service. Every traveller in heathen lands is struck by the heathen face. They speak of the dull, apathetic, lustreless Chinaman, in whom emotion, unless it be the uprising of some gust of passion, is almost never seen ; of the keen-eyed Japanese, with a wholly
earthly gleam in the glance of his otherwise passive
THE TRA SFIGURATIO OF MA 187 face ; of the proud, and secretive, and sensual look of the Brahmin. They have marked the gross and brutish countenances of the African, and the animal greed which is imprinted on the very lips of the South Sea Islander, and stamped on the poor bleared faces of those decaying races which are the victims of their hates and lusts. But let the Gospel of the redeeming love of Christ be preached to them. Let that change we call " the new birth " pass within their soul. Let grace begin to rule in their hearts. Their ungodly passions are cast out. They begin to hunger and thirst after righteousness. Then as they pray, as they become eager with desire and absorbed in communion, and at last devoted in surrender, the fashion of their countenance is altered, and they shine with new light. For a man to pass into a meeting of renewed heathen out of the streets of a Chinese city, or from amidst the thronged ways of an Indian village, is to see at a glance that the transfigured soul has been expressed in the transfigured face. Whenever we see an old face shining with that meek and wistful and spiritual beauty which the fairest youth has never borne, we are able to say, as the young girl said of her mother, " She has prayed much." The third phase is the transfiguration of t/ie life. " His raiment was white and glistering." We read these words with a little wonder and more doubt. We are tempted to think that they are a note of exaggeration in the report. We wonder if the
1 88 THE SECRET OF THE LORD white snow of the Hermon Hill above them had not dazzled their eyes. But quite apart from the fact that the radiance of the face would steal down and illumine Christ s white robe, this statement is a hint and a prophecy of a vital truth. The transfiguration of the soul within is seen not only in the shining of the face, but it begins to transform and to ennoble the very habit of the life. It is nothing marvellous to us that after years of devotion and long continuing in hours of prayer and the renewing of the mind from day to day, the clothes a man wears proclaim the transfiguring power of the Spirit of God. Although not suddenly and in a moment, yet surely and with increasing beauty, all life is transfigured. A man s look, his courtesies of speech and of gesture, his walk and poise, his ways and customs, his gifts and services, the very furnishing of his home and all the habits of his life, become beautiful. Old age is not always sweet and kindly and gracious. It is sometimes crabbed, exacting, selfish, exhausting even the patience of those who love. Many old faces have hard lines, grim angles, cold and cruel aspects. They reflect what the man has become in soul. They are the faces of men who are self-centred, unloving, and unhelpful. They reveal to every eye the fact that the man lives without prayer. But when life is increasingly and more deeply prayer, when, in desire for things good and true and beautiful, in communion with the God of our life, in surrender
THE TRA SFIGURATIO OF MA 189 after surrender, the soul is transfigured, then we see not only the shining face but the raiment white and glistering. ewman has told this story in three
impressive verses " I saw thee once, and nought discern d For stranger to admire ; A serious aspect, but it burn d With no unearthly fire. Again I saw, and I confess d Thy speech was rare and high ; And yet it vex d my burden d breast, And scared, I knew not why. I saw once more, and awestruck gazed On face, and form, and air ; God s living glory round thee blazed A Saint a Saint was there!" This transfiguration of man shall not be completed here and now. If indeed we prayed Christ s great prayers, if only we were as often in His presence as we might be, what men call miracles might be worked within and without. Paul has set the method of our transfiguration in a single massive sentence, " But we all, with open face beholding, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." John has told us that when our transfiguration shall have no flaw, " We shall see Him and we shall be like Him." Meanwhile this is the truth, which rebukes and ashames us, that we might wear more of His glory than we do if only we would pray. Our faces would shine, and our raiment would become white and glistering.
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