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The Transfiguration

I have judged it fitting to close this series of meditations with some thoughts on the Transfiguration, believing the story to be as it were a window through which we gain a momentary glimpse of the region whence all miracles appear--a glimpse vague and dark for all the transfiguring light, for God himself is "by abundant clarity invisible." In the story we find a marvellous change, a lovely miracle, pass upon the form itself whence the miracles flowed, as if the pent-up grace wrought mightily upon the earthen vessel which contained it.

Our Lord would seem to have repeatedly sought some hill at eventide for the solitude such a place alone could afford him. It must often have been impossible for him to find any other chamber in which to hold communion with his Father undisturbed. This, I think, was one of such occasions. He took with him the favoured three, whom also he took apart from the rest in the garden of Gethsemane, to retire even from them a little, that he might be alone with the Father, yet know that his brothers were near him--the ocean of human need thus drawn upwards in an apex of perfect prayer towards the throne of the Father.

I think this, his one only material show, if we except the entry into Jerusalem upon the ass, took place in the night. Then the son of Joseph the carpenter was crowned, not his head only with a crown placed thereon from without, but his whole person with a crown of light born in him and passing out from him. According to St Luke he went up the mountain to pray, "but Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep." St Luke also says that "on the next day, when they were come down from the mountain," that miracle was performed which St Matthew and St Mark represent as done immediately on the descent. From this it appears more than likely that the night was spent upon the mountain.

St Luke says that "the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering." St Matthew says, "His face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light." St Mark says, "His raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow, so as no fuller on earth can white them." St Luke is alone in telling us that it was while he prayed that this change passed upon him. He became outwardly glorious from inward communion with his Father. But we shall not attain to the might of the meaning, if we do not see what was the more immediate subject of his prayer. It is, I think, indicated in the fact, also recorded by St Luke, that the talk of his heavenly visitors was "of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem." Associate with this the fact that his talk with his disciples, as they came down the mountain, pointed in the same direction, and that all open report of the vision was to be withheld until he should have risen from the dead, and it will appear most likely that the master, oppressed with the thought of that which now drew very nigh, sought the comfort and sympathy of his Father, praying in the prospect of his decease. Let us observe then how, in heaving off the weight of this awful shadow by prayer, he did not grow calm and resigned alone, if he were ever other than such, but his faith broke forth so triumphant over the fear, that it shone from him in physical light. Every cloud of sorrow or dread, touched with such a power of illumination, is itself changed into a glory. The radiance goes hand in hand with the coming decay and the three days' victory of death. It is as a foretaste of his resurrection, a putting on of his new glorified body for a moment while he was yet in the old body and the awful shadow yet between. It may be to something like this as taking place in other men that the apostle refers when he says: "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed." That coming death was to be but as the overshadowing cloud, from which the glory should break anew and for ever. The transfiguration then was the divine defiance of the coming darkness.

Let us now speculate for a moment upon the relation of the spiritual and physical manifested in it. He became, I repeat, outwardly glorious from inward communion with his Father. In like circumstance, the face of Moses shone marvellously. And what wonder? What should make a man's face shine, if not the presence of the Holy? if not communion with the Father of his spirit? In the transfiguration of Jesus we have, I think, just the perfect outcome of those natural results of which we have the first signs in Moses--the full daylight, of which his shining face was as the dawn. Thus, like the other miracles, I regard it as simply a rare manifestation of the perfect working of nature. Who knows not that in moments of lofty emotion, in which self is for the time forgotten, the eyes shine, and the face is so transfigured that we are doubtful whether it be not in a degree absolutely luminous! I say once more, in the Lord we find the perfecting of all the dull hunts of precious things which common humanity affords us. If so, what a glory must await every lowliest believer, since the communion of our elder brother with his Father and our Father, a communion for whose perfecting in us he came, caused not only his face to shine, but the dull garments he wore to become white as snow through the potency of the permeating light issuing from his whole person! The outer man shone with the delight of the inner man--for his Father was with him--so that even his garments shared in the glory. Such is what the presence of the Father will do for every man. May I not add that the shining of the garments is a type of the glorification of everything human when brought into its true relations by and with the present God?

Keeping the same point of view, I turn now to the resurrection with which the whole fact is so closely associated:--I think the virtue of divine presence which thus broke in light from the body of Jesus, is the same by which his risen body, half molten in power, was rendered plastic to the will of the indwelling spirit. What if this light were the healing agent of the bodies of men, as the deeper other light from which it sprung is the healing agent of themselves? Are not the most powerful of the rays of light invisible to our vision?

Some will object that this is a too material view of life and its facts. I answer that the question is whether I use the material to interpret the spiritual, as I think I do, or to account for it, as I know I do not. In my theory, the spiritual both explains and accounts for the material.

If the notions we have of what we may call material light render it the only fitting image to express the invisible Truth, the being of God, there must be some closest tie between them--not of connection only, but of unity. Such a fitness could not exist without such connection; except, indeed, there were one god of the Natural and another of the Supernatural, who yet were brothers, and thought in similar modes, and the one had to supplement the work of the other. The essential truth of God it must be that creates its own visual image in the sun that enlightens the world: when man who is the image of God is filled with the presence of the eternal, he too, in virtue of his divine nature thus for the moment ripened to glory, radiates light from his very person. Where, when, or how the inner spiritual light passes into or generates outward physical light, who can tell? This border-land, this touching of what we call mind and matter, is the region of miracles--of material creation, I might have said, which is the great--suspect, the only miracle. But if matter be the outcome of spirit, and body and soul be one man, then, if the soul be radiant of truth, what can the body do but shine?

I conjecture then, that truth, which is light in the soul, might not only cast out disease, which is darkness in the body, but change that body even, without the intervention of death, into the likeness of the body of Jesus, capable of all that could be demanded of it. Except by violence I do not think the body of Jesus could have died. No physiologist can tell why man should die. I think a perfect soul would be capable of keeping its body alive. An imperfect one cannot fill it with light in every part--cannot thoroughly inform the brute matter with life. The transfiguration of Jesus was but the visible outbreak of a life so strong as to be life-giving, life-restoring. The flesh it could melt away and evermore renew. Such a body might well walk upon the stormiest waters. A body thus responsive to and interpenetrative of light, which is the visible life, could have no sentence of death in it. It would never have died.

But I find myself in regions where I dare tread no further for the darkness of ignorance. I see many glimmers: they are too formless and uncertain.

When or how the light died away, we are not told. My own fancy is that it went on shining but paling all the night upon the lonely mount, to vanish in the dawn of the new day. When he came down from the mountain the virtue that dwelt in him went forth no more in light to the eyes, but in healing to the poor torn frame of the epileptic boy. So he vanished at last from the eyes of his friends, only to draw nearer--with a more intense and healing presence--to their hearts and minds.

Even so come, Lord Jesus.


THE END.

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George MacDonald