Transfiguration Sermon 1 - Matthew 17:1 and Luke 9:28The Transfiguration of Christ by Thomas Manton (1620-1677) (Volume 1)
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Transfiguration Sermon 1 – Matthew 17:1 and Luke 9:28
‘And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother and bringeth them into an high mountain apart.’ MAT. XVII. 1;
‘It came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter, and John, and James, and went up into a mountain to pray.’ LUKE IX. 28.
I MEAN to handle the transfiguration of Christ, which was: –
1. A solemn confirmation of his person and office.
2. A pledge of that glorious estate which is reserved for us in heaven.
1. It was a confirmation of his person and office, as appeareth Mat xvii. 5, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.’ So Peter, who was one present, urgeth it, 2 Pet. i. 16 – 18, ‘We have not followed cunningly-devised fables when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eye-witnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard when we were with him in the holy mount.’ And John also: John i. 14, ‘We beheld his glory, as the glory of the only-begotten of the Father.’ They were eye and ear witnesses, and therefore could affirm the certainty of this doctrine.
2. It is a pledge of our glorious estate; for Christ’s body was adorned with heavenly glory, and he had spoken, chap. xvi. 27, of his coming in the glory of the Father; and now he gives his disciples a pledge and earnest of it.
In this introduction four things are observable:-
1. The time: after six days.
2. The persons whom he takes with him: Peter, James, and John.
3. The place he brings them to: into an high mountain apart.
4. The preparative action: he went up into a mountain to pray.
First, The time. The evangelist Luke saith, ‘about an eight days;’ Matthew and Mark, ‘after six days.’ The reconciliation is easy. Matthew and Mark spake of the space of time between the day of prediction, and the day of transfiguration exclusively; Luke includeth them both. The Jews called that flux of time between one Sabbath and another, eight days, including not only the intervening week, but both the Sabbaths. According to their custom Luke speaketh; Matthew of the time between.
Secondly, The persons chosen to attend him in this action: ‘Peter, James, and John.’
1. Why three?
2. Why those three?
1. Why three? So great an action as this was needed valuable testimony; for the law saith, ‘In the mouth of two or three witnesses everything shall be established,’ Deut. xvii. 6. Now Christ would go to the utmost of the law, and would have, not two only, but three witnesses, as the apostle speaks of three witnesses in heaven and three on earth, 1 John v. 7, 8; so here are three and three – three from heaven, God the Father, Moses, and Elias; and three from earth, Peter, James, and John.
2. Why those three? Many give divers reasons. Peter had led the way to the rest in that notable confession of Christ, Mat. xvi. 16, and is conceived to have some primacy for the orderly beginning of actions in the college of the apostles. James was the first apostle who shed his blood for Christ, Acts xii. 2; and John was the most long-lived of them all, and so could the longer give testimony of those things which he heard and saw, till the church was well gathered and settled. Others give other reasons. But to leave conjectures, it is certain that these had many singular favours afforded them above the rest of the twelve, as appeareth partly in this, that Christ changed their names, calling Peter, Cephas, or a stone; and the other two Boanerges, sons of thunder, which was a token that Christ loved these more than the rest. Yea, among these, John was his bosom favourite, and therefore called often ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved,’ partly because he was in the whole course of his life more intimate with these than with the rest of the disciples. You shall see when he raised Jairus’s daughter from death to life, Luke viii. 51, he suffered nobody to go in but Peter, James, and John, and the father and mother of the maiden. So these very persons were those who in Mount Olivet were conscious to his agonies: Mat. xxvi. 27, ‘He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy.’ Now these who were to be conscious to his agonies are first in Mount Tabor beholders of his great majesty and glory, for their better encourage-ment and preparation for his and their own sufferings.
Thirdly, The place: ‘He bringeth them into an high mountain apart.’ This mountain is supposed to be Tabor, though not named by the evangelists – a fit place both for height and secrecy, both which were necessary to the double action that was to be performed there, either his transfiguration or prayer.
1. To his transfiguration height and secrecy were necessary.
[I.] Height: This work required not only a mountain, but a high mountain for his transfiguration was a middle state between the infirmity of his flesh and the glory that he now possesseth. So the top of a very high mountain was chosen; it is as a middle place between heaven, the habitation of God, and earth, the habitation of men. Besides, since Moses and Elias were to appear in this action, and that with bodies above the state of those natural bodies which we have here below, it was more agreeable this should be done in a mountain than in the lower parts of the earth; yea, moreover, they were so nearer to heaven, to which they went back again.
 Secrecy was necessary to his transfiguration, for Christ was about a business which he would not have presently to come abroad, and therefore it was to be confined to the knowledge of a few, who were to be called up from the rest into an high mountain: ver. 9, Jesus ‘charged them that they should tell the vision to no man till the Son of man was risen from the dead;’ and what was done before many will hardly be concealed. The due time for the general and public manifestation of the divine glory was not yet come, therefore he would not have it unseasonably divulged. And hereby he teacheth us modesty. Christ was crucified in the city before all, but transfigured in the mountain only before a few.
2. The other action, of prayer, doth very well agree with height and secrecy.
[1.] For height: Though God heareth us everywhere, where-soever we ‘lift up pure hands, without wrath and doubting,’ yet a mountain is not altogether disagreeable to this duty. It is good to be as near heaven as we can. I am sure it is good to get up the heart there. We have a freer prospect of heaven from a mountain, and may look up to those blessed regions where our God is; therefore Christ often chose a mountain to pray in, not only now, but at other times: Mat. xiv. 23. Certainly when we pray we should turn our backs upon all earthly things, and have our hearts and minds carried up to him to whom our prayers are directed, and that place where he dwelleth.
[2.] Secrecy is necessary for this duty, partly to avoid ostentation:
Mat. vi. 6, ‘When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and shut thy doors.’ Public prayer must be performed before others, but not private, for fear of hypocrisy; so also to increase fervency. Secret prayers are usually most ardent. Ille dolet vere qui sine teste dolet. ‘My soul shall weep sore in secret places,’ Jer. xiii. 17. And Peter went out and wept bitterly,’ Mat. xxvi. 75. And Jacob wrestled with God alone, Gen. xxxii. 24. Frequency of objects draws away the mind, obstructeth our affections, abates the vehemency of our zeal, fills us with carnal thoughts; therefore Christ retireth himself and his three disciples, that being separated from all distractions, they might attend the prayer and vision without interruption.
Fourthly, The preparative action. In Luke it is, ‘He went into a mountain to pray.’ Christ had two ends; he told his disciples the one, but concealeth the other. He spake only of prayer, the more to hide the thing from the rest of the apostles, which would soon be evident enough to those whom he took along with him. Now this telleth us that every weighty business should be begun with prayer. When we go about the performance of weighty and serious duties, we should withdraw ourselves from all occasions which may hinder us and distract us therein, as our Lord being to give himself to prayer, goeth apart into a mountain.
In this introduction I shall only take notice of two things
1. The choice of his company.
2. His preparative action: he prayed, and whilst he prayed he was transfigured.
1. Of the choice of his company: he took Peter, James, and John. That Christ doth not use all his servants alike familiarly in everything, partly because he had his liberty; for in matters of free favour it is not acceptance of persons to pass by some and admit others – no, not in the most necessary spiritual dispensations: Mat. xi. 27, ‘All things are delivered to me of my Father, and no man knoweth the Son but the Father, and he to whomsoever the Father will reveal him.’ The plea of the Lord of the vineyard will ever hold firm and valid: Mat. xx. 15, ‘Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with my own?’ But this is a thing of another nature. The dispensing of his arbitrary respects, acceptance of persons in judgment, is a violation of justice, but not in matters of free favour, partly because he would consecrate and hallow spiritual friendship, and commend it to us by his own example; and, therefore, though he loved all his disciples, yet he chose out some for intimacy and special converse. These were eklekton eklektoteroi, the flower of the apostles, either because of their suitableness, he had a special inclination to them, or, for their sincerity and eminency in grace, he delighted in them more than in the rest. Sicut se habet simpliciter ad simpliciter, ita magis, ad magis: if I love all that are godly, I love those most who are most godly. Now as Christ consecrated holy friendship in his own person, so was it exemplified in his disciples, for I find a great friendship between two of these mentioned in the text, John and Peter. You find them mostly together: John xx. 2 – 4, Mary Magdalene runneth and cometh to Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved; Peter went forth and the other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So Acts iii. 1, ‘Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer:’ John xxi. 7, ‘The disciple whom Jesus loved said unto Peter, It is the Lord;’ and John xxi. 21, 22, ‘Peter, seeing the disciple whom Jesus loved, said, Lord, and what shall this man do?’ as willing to know the future state of his friend. So Acts viii. 14, Peter and John go to Samaria to confirm the disciples. See John xviii. 15, ‘And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple, and that other disciple was known unto the high priest,’ meaning himself. So that in these and other places you still find Peter and John together as very near and fast friends: they always keep together, possibly for spiritual assistance; for Peter was of an hot temper, John the disciple of love; Peter hasty and of a military valour, John all for lenity and peace. Well, then, though we ought to seek peace with all men as much as is possible, Rom. xii. 18, and there should be special concord and communion with all Christians – Philadelphia riseth higher than Agape, 2 Pet. i. 7 – yet friendship and inward conversation should only be with a few, such as may be helps to us in godliness, and may promote our mutual good, temporal and spiritual. So did Christ, who had twelve disciples, single out three of them for greatest intimacy; and so did Peter, who, though he had eleven colleagues, and held concord with all, yet his intimate friendship was with John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. It is good to hold friendship with those who are beloved of God, and one who, by his love and lenity, might cool his heats and abate his hasty fervours, which were so natural to him.
Now, having so fair an occasion, I shall treat of spiritual friendship, for an heavenly, faithful friend is one of the greatest treasures upon earth. A friend is valuable in secular matters, much more a spiritual friend: Prov. xxvii. 17, ‘ As iron sharpeneth iron, so doth the countenance of a man his friend,’ – that is, when he is dull his friend setteth an edge upon him.
[1.] Friendship is necessary for every one that would live in the world, because man is zoeon politikon, a sociable creature. Man was not made to live alone, but in company with others for mutual society and friendship; and they that fly all company and live to and by themselves are counted inhuman: Eceles. iv. 9 – 12, ‘Two are better than one, for if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow, but woe to him that is alone when he falleth, for he hath not another to lift him up. Again, if two lie together, they have heat; but how can one be warm if he lie alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him.’ Thus far Solomon. The Egyptians in their hieroglyphics expressed the unprofitableness of a solitary man by a single millstone, which alone grindeth no meal, but with its fellow is very serviceable for that purpose. The Lord appointed mankind to live in society, that they might be mutually helpful to one another. Surely God never made them to live in deserts; the wild beasts love to go alone, but the tame in flocks and herds. The Lord doth give variety of gifts to the sons of men; to all some, but to none all, that one might stand in need of another, and make use of one another; and the subordination of one gift to another is the great means of upholding the world. Man is weak and insufficient to himself, and wanting the help of others, needeth society, and is inclined to it by the bent of his nature.
[2.] Though man affecteth society, yet in our company we must use choice, and the good must converse with the good, for these reasons:-
(1.) Partly because like doth best sort with like. Friendship is founded in suitableness and maintained by it – eadem velle et nolle, to will and nill the same things, breedeth an harmony of minds; the godly will have special love to the godly, and they that fear God will be companions of them that fear him Ps. cxix. 63; they must needs be more dear and precious to them than others, as a wicked man easily smelleth out a fit companion for him: Ps. 1. 18, ‘When thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him, and hast been partaker with adulterers.’ Like will to like; every man showeth his temper in his company. The fowls of heaven flock together according to their several kinds; ye shall not see doves flocking with the ravens, nor diverse suitable to their brutish humour; those that delight in gaming choose such as make no conscience of their time, or have no care of their souls. That which every one is taken withal- he loveth to do with his friends, therefore they that love God delight in those that love him, those that are most apt to stir them up to the remembrance of everlasting things and the preparation necessary: so they are of singular use to us.
(2.) If they be not like to us, intimacy and converse will make us like to them. Every man is wrought upon by his company; we imitate those whom we love and with whom we frequently converse: Prov. xiii. 20, ‘ He that walketh with wise men shall be wise, but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.’ As a man that walketh in the sun is tanned insensibly, so, if we are not aware, we adopt their manners and customs, and get a tincture from them, especially in evil; for we are more susceptible of evil than of good – as the sound get a sickness from the diseased sooner than the sick get health from the sound. Or in the types of the law: that which was clean, by touching the unclean became unclean, but the unclean were not purified by touching the clean: Prov. xxii. 24, 25, ‘Make no friendship with an angry man, and with a furious man thou shalt not go, lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul’ A man would think that of all sins wrath and anger should not be propagated by converse, the motions and furies of it being so uncomely and indecent to any beholder; yet secretly a liking of the person breedeth a liking of the sin, and a man is habituated into such a frame of spirit as they have whom he hath chosen for his companions. Now this should be regarded by us, because we are sooner made evil by evil company than good by good company; therefore how careful should we be to converse with such as may go before us as examples of godliness, and provoke us by their strictness, heavenly-mindedness, mortification, and self-denial, to more love to God, zeal for his glory, and care of our own salvation. Especially doth this concern the young, who, by the weakness of their judgment or the vehemency of their affections and want of experience, may easily be drawn into a snare.
(3.) Because our love to God should put us upon loving his people and making them our intimates; for religion influenceth all things – our relations, common employments, friendship, and converse: 1 John v. 1, ‘Every one that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him.’ The new nature inclineth to both: there is an inward propension and inclination needing no outward provocation and allurements: 1 Thes. iv. 9, ‘As touching brotherly love, ye need not that I write unto you, for you yourselves are taught of God to love one another.’ God’s teaching is by effectual impression or inclining the heart. It is a smart question that of the prophet, 2 Chron. xix. 2, ‘Shouldest thou hate the godly, and love those that hate the Lord?’ Surely a gracious heart cannot take them into his bosom: he loveth all with a love of good will, as seeking their good, but not with a love of complacency, as delighting in them. Our neighbour must be loved as ourselves – our natural or carnal neighbour as our natural self, with a love of benevolence, and our spiritual neighbour as our spiritual self, with a love of complacency. We have hated our sinful neighbour as we hate ourselves; much more as to love of benevolence – we must neither hate ourselves, our neighbour, nor our enemy. But it is complacency we are speaking of and so ‘the wicked is an abomination to the righteous,’ Prov. xxix. 27. The hatred of displacency is opposite to the love of complacency, as the hatred of enmity to the love of benevolence. We cannot enter into a confederacy and intimate kindness with them.
(4.) Because that love which is built upon holiness is the most durable and lasting. There is a confederacy in evil, as between drunkards with drunkards, and robbers with robbers: Prov. i. 14, ‘Cast in thy lot amongst us, let us all have one common purse.’ Or when men conspire against the truth and interest of Christ in the world; as Gebal and Ammon and Amalek leagued themselves against God’s people, divided in interests but united in hatred; as the Pharisees and Herodians agreed together to tempt Christ; and Herod and Pilate, though otherwise no very good friends, agreed to mock him. This is unitas contra unitatem, as Austin; or consortium factionis, a bond of iniquity. Now this friendship is soon dissolved, for these men, though they agree in evil, yet have contrary lusts and interests; and besides, partners in evil are usually objects reviving guilt; their very presence upbraids the consciences of one another with the remembrance of their past sins; and sin, though it be sweet in the committing, yet it is hateful and bitter in the remembrance of it. Again, there is a civil friendship built on natural pleasure and profit. Certainly men are at liberty to choose their company as their interests and course of employments leads them. This may be a society for trade or civil respect; it cannot be a true and proper friendship, for riches, which are so frail and slippery, can never make a firm tie and bond of hearts and minds: Prov. xiv. 20, ‘The poor is hated even of his own neighbour, but the rich hath many friends;’ Prov. xix. 6,’ Many will entreat the favour of a prince, and every man is a friend to him that giveth gifts: all the brethren of the poor do hate him,’ etc. And as it is a fluid, so it is a base and sordid friendship that is built upon riches, for that concerneth the estate rather than the soul. Well, then, religious friendship, which is built upon virtue and grace, and is called ‘the unity of the spirit,’ Eph. iv. 3, is the most firm bond of all. Sinful societies are soon dissolved, and the profane, though they seem to hold together, yet upon every cross word may fall out and break; and civil friendship, which is only built upon pleasures and profit, standeth upon a brittle foundation. Certainly the good and the holy are not so changeable as the bad and the carnal. Besides, that friendship which is built upon honesty and godliness, is amicitia per se, the other is amicitia peraccidens. It cometh from constitution of soul and likeness of spirits, and the good we seek may be possessed without envy; the friends do not straiten and intrench upon one another. Again, there is a virtuous friendship, which consists in a harmony of minds, or an agreement in some common studies. This is more noble, and more like true friendship than society for trade and temporal interests; but yet this friendship is not so durable, for at last it must be broken off by death; but the godly are everlasting companions. Besides, self-love and envy are more apt to invade other friendships; but the godly, if they be true to the laws of spiritual friendship, they seek the good of one another as much as their own, and rejoice in the graces of one another as much as in their own.
[3.] Though we owe this religious friendship to all that fear God, yet some few may be chosen for our intimacy and spiritual solace. We owe it in some respects to all that fear God, and must dispense the general acts of friendship to them: Acts iv. 32, The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul.’ And Christian love is called sundesmov thv teleiothtov, ‘the bond of perfectness,’ Col. iii. 14, because it is the band by which holy and Christian societies, called churches, are bound together and preserved; otherwise, like a besom unbound, they fall all to pieces. But yet this doth not hinder but that some may be chosen for our intimacy. Christ, that denied himself to many of the commodities of human life, would not live without special friends, and would enjoy this virtuous solace; and in David and Jonathan we have an instance of it: 1 Sam. xviii. 1, ‘And the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David.’ Certainly too many cannot perform the acts of intimate friendship to us, nor we to them. The love being like a river dispersed into several channels, must needs be shallower and weaker; therefore our choice friends must be but few: inter binos et bonos was the old rule, though it need not be so straitly confined.
[4.] In the choice of these few friends we must use caution. (1.) Such as are near to us, with whom we have frequent and familiar converse, and perform a mutual interchange of all offices of love: Prov. xviii. 24, ‘A man that hath friends must show himself friendly, and there is a friend which sticketh closer than a brother.’ Consanguinity and affinity is not so near a tie as this friendship. (2.) Not only near, but those who are holy, prudent, and good: Prov. xiii. 20, ‘He that walketh with the wise shall be wise, but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.’ (3.) Such as are most likely to be faithful: Job vi. 15, 16, ‘My brethren have dealt deceitfully with me as a brook, and as the stream of brooks they pass away’ – pools in winter, when less need of water, but dried up in summer, when water in those parched countries was a great commodity. So many seem to be great friends, heighten our expectation; but in our necessities and straits leave us destitute. ‘Ye see me cast down and are afraid,’ saith Job, ‘as if I should be a burden to you.’ Dearest friends may disappoint us; their affection wants an inward principle; it is a winter brook, and not a spring. Therefore, since the heart of man is so deceitful, and not only deceitful, but though sincere for the present, very changeable; and this is so important an interest of human life, and the vexation of a disappointment in a bosom friend is so grievous, and involveth us in many inconveniences, natural and spiritual; for Solomon telleth us, Prov. xxv. 19, ‘Confidence in an unfaithful friend in time of trouble, is like a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint.’ When we think to eat with the broken tooth, or to walk with the foot out of joint, we are put to grievous pain and torment; therefore we should go to God, and pray him to direct us in the choice of intimate friends. David sadly regrets a disappointment in a friend: Ps lv. 12 – 15, ‘For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: nor was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him: but it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance,’ etc. A deceitful friend may become the greatest foe, and we resent their ingratitude more than the injuries of others, when they abuse their trust and the familiarity they had with us. The worst that a professed enemy can do is not so grievous as the treachery of a professed friend. This is more piercing, less to be avoided; therefore, whom we have used most familiarly and freely, loved as our soul and life, from such we expect the same firm and hearty friendship. Therefore it concerneth us to seek to God that we may have a godly wise man with whom we may be free in all cases of mind or conscience, and to whom we may freely open ourselves, and be strengthened in the service of God. It is a great part of our contentment and happiness, therefore, that we may not be deceived in our choice. Let us go to God who knoweth hearts, and God bath a great hand in this: Ps. lxxxviii. 8, ‘Thou hast put away my acquaintance from me; thou hast made me an abomination to them.’ By the providence of God they left him as a man whose condition they were afraid to look upon. And again, ver. 9, ‘Lover and friend hast thou put far from me; they stand aloof from me as an execrable thing.’ He owneth providence in it.
[5.] When friends be thus chosen, there must be a faithful discharge of the duties of friendship, both in counsels and reproofs; for the godly use this friendship chiefly for spiritual ends.
(1.) In counsel, for Solomon telleth us, Prov. xxii. 9, ‘As ointment and perfume rejoice the heart, so doth the sweetness of a man’s friend by hearty counsel.’ As sweet perfumes are a reviving, so to be supported in good resolutions, or directed and guided in our way to heaven by a faithful friend, is very cheering and comfortable. And we read, 1 Sam. xxiii. 16, 17, that ‘Jonathan went to David, and strengthened his hand in God.’ Whereas, on the contrary, a carnal friend is the greatest bane that may be, who doth strengthen us in evil; an instance whereof we have in Jonadab, the son of Shimeab, 2 Sam. xiii. 3, 4, and ‘Amnon had a friend whose name was Jonadab, and Jonadab was a subtile man;’ and he gave him counsel how he should surprise his sister, to defile her, and satisfy his incestuous lust. Such a friend is really and truly our greatest foe. He was a friend to his vice, but a foe to his person and soul; whereas a true friend, whose friendship is grounded on godliness, will be a foe to our sins, by whole-some admonition and rebukes, and a friend to our soul’s salvation.
(2.) Reproofs: that is also a part of friendship: Prov. xxvii. 6, ‘Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.’ A faithful friend’s wounds are a more sincere testimony than an enemy’s kisses, and so afterwards they will be interpreted: Prov. xxviii. 23, ‘He that rebuketh a man, afterwards shall find more favour than he that flattereth with his tongue.’ For this we must trust God, though for the present we displease our friends. So Lev. xix. 17. ‘Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart by suffering sin upon him.’ It is kindness to his soul to reprove him. In the general, holy friendship must be improved to the use of edifying:: Rom. i. 11, 12, ‘I long to see you, to impart some spiritual gift unto you, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith of you and me.
[6.] After the best care is used, you must remember that our friends are but an outward help, which God can continue or withdraw at his pleasure; and that our chief help, comfort, and counsel cometh of God. So it was with Christ: John xvi. 32, ‘Behold the hour is come that ye shall be parted every man to his own, and shall leave me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.’ Christ was forsaken of his disciples, but not forsaken of his Father. So Paul, 2 Tim. i. 16, ‘At my first answer, no man stood with me, but all men forsook me;’ Ps. xli. 9, ‘My familiar friend, in whom I trusted, hath lifted up his heel against me.’ Those that have been acquainted with the secrets of your soul may not only grow strange to you, but betray you; therefore, do not over-value any earthly friend. Man will be man still, that God may be God, all in all unto his people: and when we are deserted of men, we must learn to trust in God, who never faileth us, fail who will: Ps. xxvii. 10,’ When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up;’ and cxlii. 4, 5, ‘I looked on my right hand and beheld, and no man would know me: refuge failed me, no man cared for my soul. I cried unto thee, 0 Lord; I said, Thou art my refuge and portion in the land of the living.’ We are left alone for God to help us. The defectiveness of all worldly friends shows us more of the goodness of God.
2. The preparative action: he went up into a mountain to pray, and whilst he prayed he was transfigured.
[1.] In that he prayed, it teacheth us to hallow all our actions by prayer. We do not bid ourselves God speed, unless we recommend our affairs to God; whatsoever assurance we have of the blessing, yet we must pray: Jer. xxix. 10 – 12, ‘For thus saith the Lord, After seventy years be accomplished at Babylon, I will visit you, and perform my good word towards you, in causing you to return to this place, etc. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you;’ Ezek. xxxvi. 37, ‘I will for this be inquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them.’ Therefore we should be daily in the practice of this duty, and not look upon it as a work that may well be spared. If Christ, who as to his divine nature was equal with God, surely we should often come and prostrate ourselves before him in this act of holy adoration. Christ had right and title to all, all was his due, yet he was much in prayer. How dare we go about any business without his leave, counsel, and blessing; and usurp any of his blessings without begging them by prayer?
[2.] While he prayed he was transfigured, Luke ix. 29; which teacheth us two things: –
(1.) That we have the highest communications from God in prayer, for then Christ’s shape was altered. By prayer the soul hath the most familiar converse with God that possibly it can have, and also by the means of this duty God hath most familiar converse with us. In our prayers to God we have experience of the operations of the Spirit: Rom. viii. 26, ‘Likewise the Spirit also helpeth out’ infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself helpeth us with groanings which cannot be uttered;’ Jude 20, ‘But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost;’ and in God’s answering our prayer we have experience of the comforts of the Spirit, and those spiritual solaces which he secretly giveth to his people. Hannah, when she had prayed, went away, and ‘her countenance was no more sad,’ 1 Sam. i 18. In praying we put forth the groans of the spirit; in the answer God gives the joys of the spirit: Ps. xxxiv. 5, ‘They looked unto him and were lightened, and their faces were not ashamed.’
(2.) That we should pray so as that the heart may be raised and lifted up unto God, and in some sort made like God. When Christ prayed to God, he is made partaker of the divine glory, as Moses also, by conversing with God, his face shined, Exod. xxxiv. 29, 30. This was extraordinary; but sure the oftener we converse with God the more holy and heavenly should we grow, more like him in spirit, be changed into the glory of the Lord spiritually; and so we are, if we be instant and earnest in prayer. If we have communion with God, there will be some assimilation to God.
Use. It reproveth our remiss, feeble, benumbed souls. There is no life in prayer, no working up the heart to God and heaven; either our prayers are formal and cursory – James v. 16, deisis energoumenei – or our prayers are doctrinal, instructive rather than warning.’ We get lightly over duties, but we should get life by prayer. This duty is not to inform the judgment, but to raise the affections, that they be all in a flame; or else we content ourselves with a dull narrative, without getting up the heart to a sight of God and heaven; or are seldom in praises or adoration of the excellences of God.