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extraordinary and astonishing instances of our Lord's power over nature, and of such a kind as to admit of no possibility of being counterfeited. And accordingly we find, that although some cheats have pretended to cure diseases miraculously, and some have even attempted to raise the dead, yet no impostor, I believe, has ever yet been so bold as to undertake to feed five thousand people at once with five loaves and two fishes, or to walk upon the sea. And the reason is plain: it would not be very easy to persuade five thousand people that they had been plentifully fed, when in fact they had received no nourishment at all; and it would be rather too dangerous an experiment for any man, not really supported by the hand of God, to attempt walking on the sea, when he cannot but know, that the loss of life must be the inevitable consequence of it. Indeed this act has always been considered as utterly beyond all human power to achieve; accordingly two feet walking upon water was an Egyptian hieroglyphic to denote impossibility. And Job represents the power of treading on the waves of the sea as a distinguished mark and attribute of the Deity*. Yet this did Jesus do; this impossibility did he accomplish: a most incontestible proof that God was with him." And in fact this miracle seems to have made a stronger impression on the minds of his disciples than any other recorded in the Gospels, even than that of raising the dead; for we are told in St. Markt, that when our Lord went up into the ship, from walking on the sea, the disciples were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered. The words in the original are still stronger; indeed so strong, that it is impossible for the English language to express all their force. In comparison of this miracle, even that of the loaves and fishes seems to have appeared nothing in the eyes of the disciples; for St. Mark tells us, they considered not the miracle of the loaves, for their heart was hardened; but at the act of walking on the sea they were amazed beyond measure; they were overwhelmed and overcome with this astonishing display of divine power; they fell instantly at the feet of Jesus, and worshipped him; and exclaimed, as every one who considers this stupendous miracle must do, "Of a truth thou art the SON OF GOD!"
* Job ix, 8.
+ Chap. vi.
I SHALL now request your attention to a very remarkable part of our Saviour's history, that which is called by the evangelists his TRANSFIGURATION, and which is related in the seventeenth chapter of St. Matthew. It so happens, that many years ago I turned my thoughts very much to this particular subject in the sacred writings, and ventured (though without my name) to lay my sentiments concerning it before the public. I could have wished, therefore, to have excused myself from repeating here any part of what I have said elsewhere, and to
ave passed over this incident unnoticed. But when I considered, that this transaction is of a very peculiar and extraordinary nature; that there are circumstances attending it, which cannot fail to excite the curiosity of an inquisitive mind; that there are difficulties in it, which stand in need of a solution, and conclusions to be drawn from it of considerable utility and importance; when I considered farther, that much the greatest part of this audience had probably never seen or ever heard of what I had formerly written on this subject; I determined not to omit so material a part of the task I am engaged in, but to give you what I conceive to be the true explanation of this interesting event. And I now feel the less difficulty in doing this, because, upon a careful review of that interpretation, after an interval of twelve years, I am still convinced of its truth, and have had the additional satisfaction of finding it confirmed by the authority of some learned and judicious commentators, whose opinions on one or two leading principles coincide with my own; but whose observations I had not seen (having consulted but very few expositors on the subject) when my essay went to the press.
The relation of this singular transaction is given us by three out of four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and alluded to in the writings of the fourth. They all agree in the main points. There is no material variation, and not the least contradiction between them. But, as it is very natural, where different persons relate the same fact (and as indeed must generally happen where the story is not concerted among them), a few particulars are taken notice of by some, which are passed over in silence by others. Saint Matthew's account of it is as follows:
And, after six days, Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them; and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make three tabernacles, one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and, behold, a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him. And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only. And as they came down from the mount, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of Man be risen again from the dead.
"And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes, that Elias must first come? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias shall truly first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, that Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed: likewise also shall the Son of Man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood, that he spake unto them of John the Baptist."
Such is the history, which the evangelist gives us of the transfiguration; and, on the very first view of it, every one must see, that a transaction of so uncommon and splendid a nature could not be intended merely to surprise and amuse the disciples. There must have been
some great object in view; some end to be obtained, worthy of the magnificent apparatus made use of to accomplish it.
Now there were, I conceive (besides some collateral and subordinate designs), two principal and important purposes, which were meant to be answered by this il
The first was, to set before the eyes of the disciples a visible and figurative representation of Christ's coming in glory to judge the world, and to reward with everlasting felicity all his faithful servants.
In order to prove this, and at the same time to bring to the reader's view those circumstances, which preceded, and in some degree gave occasion to the celestial vision, it will be necessary to look back to the chapter immediately before that in which the transfiguration is related.
In the twenty-first verse of the sixteenth chapter we find, that Jesus then, for the first time, thought fit to give some intimations to his disciples of the strange and extraordinary scenes he was soon to pass through; his sufferings, his death, and his resurrection; things of which, before this declaration, they seem not to have had the smallest conception or suspicion.
"From that time forth began Jesus to show to his disciples how that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders, and chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day*.”
The information, so perfectly new and unexpected to the disciples, and so destructive of all the fond hopes they had hitherto indulged, overwhelmed them with astonishment and grief. And St. Peter, whose natural warmth and eagerness of temper generally led him both to feel such mortifications more sensibly, and to express his feelings more promptly and more forcibly, than any of the rest, was so shocked at what he had just heard, that "he took Jesus, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord; this shall not be unto thee." Our Saviour, who saw every thing, that passed in his mind, and perceived, probably, that this expostulation took its rise more from disappointed interest and ambition, than from a generous concern for his Master's credit and honour, gave him an immediate and severe
* Matt. xvi, 21.
reproof: "Get thee behind me, Satan, for thou art an offence to me; for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men."
He then proceeded to show, not only that he himself must suffer persecution, but that all those who would at that time come after him, and share with him the arduous and dangerous task of sowing the first seeds of the Gospel," must deny themselves, and take up their cross and follow him." But then, to support them under those severe injunctions, he cheers them immediately with a brighter scene of things, and with a prospect of his future glory, and their future recompense. "The Son of Man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then shall he reward every man according to his works." And he adds, "Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." The meaning of these last words I shall inquire into hereafter. But the evident tendency of the whole passage is to prepare the minds of his disciples for the cruel treatment, which both he and they were to undergo, and at the same time to raise their drooping spirits, by setting before their eyes his own exaltation, and their glorious rewards in another life.
This discourse, however, he probably found had not sufficiently subdued their prejudices, and reconciled them to his state of humiliation; and therefore he determined to try a method of impressing them with juster sentiments, which he frequently had recourse to on similar occasions; and that was, representing to them, by a significant action, what he had already explained by words.
Accordingly, within a few days after the foregoing conversation, he taketh with him Peter, James, and John, and bringeth them up into a high mountain (probably Mount Tabor) apart. Very fanciful reasons have been assigned by some of the commentators for his taking with him only three of his disciples. But all that it seems necessary to say on this head is, that as the law required no more than two or three witnesses to constitute a regular and judicial proof, our Saviour frequently chose to have only this number of witnesses present at some of the most important and interesting scenes of his life. The three disciples, whom he now selected, were those that generally attended him on such occasions,