The Prerequisite of Vision
When they were awake, they saw his glory — Luk_9:32
Sleeping on the Mount of Transfiguration Is Spiritually Unnatural
It is very strange to find the disciples heavy with sleep, even on the Mount of Transfiguration. One would have thought that there, if anywhere, there were things happening that would have “murdered sleep.” The glory of heaven was shining forth from Jesus, like sunshine pouring itself irresistibly through cloud. There too, not in any ghostly apparition, but in most strange reality, were men who had been dead for centuries; yet in the presence of such scenes as these, Peter and James and John were very sleepy. Then they awoke, startled we know not how. Gradually, as a swimmer might rise to the surface out of deep waters, they came to themselves, and remembered where they were. And then, and not till then, when they were fully awake, the Gospel tells us that they saw His glory.
Only When We Are Awake Do We Have a Vision of Glory
You see, then, that one of the penalties of living sleepily, is that we miss so much of what is happening. The mightiest transactions may be forward, and heaven be stooping down to touch the mountain tops, but we shall see nothing of it all if we be drowsy. The latest biographer of Principal Cairns, in his most satisfactory and illuminative little volume, gives us a very charming account of Cairn’s school days. He tells us that very early in the morning, when the house was still, Cairns was already busy with his books. His brothers were fast asleep, so was his father; no one was stirring in the cottage save his mother. She was already hard at work in her day’s toils, not grudgingly, but perhaps singing as she worked. Now Cairns had a limitless admiration for his mother; she was his heroine and his saint right to the end. And his biographer suggests that this love and adoration might be traced, in part, to these early morning hours. The cottage was radiant with love and toil and sacrifice. But the others were heavy with sleep, and did not see it. None but the zealous young student were awake; but when he was awake, he saw her glory.
When We Are Awake We See Unexpected Glories
Now it is one mark of every great awakening that it reveals to us unexpected glories. When intellect is quickened and the feelings are moved; when the will is reinforced and conscience purified, the world immediately ceases to be commonplace, and clothes itself in unsuspected splendor. You might play the noblest music to a savage, and-it would carry little meaning to his ear. You might set him down before some magnificent painting, and it would not stir one chord in all his being. But when a man has breathed the spirit of the West, and been enriched by its heritage of feeling, there are thoughts that wander off into eternity in every masterpiece of art—we have been wakened, and we see the glory. Do you think it is an idle figure of speech when we talk of the long sleep of the Middle Ages? Do you imagine that we are only using metaphor when we describe the Reformation as an awakening? I hardly think that we could speak more literally than when we use such simple terms as these. There is always a world of glorious environment; but men were heavy with sleep once, and they missed it. it was not till powers and faculties were quickened in the great movements of Renaissance and Reform, that the clouds scattered and the blue heaven was seen. And if today there is larger meaning in our life, if nature is richer in spiritual significance, if faith and hope and love are far more worthy, if religion is deeper and God more real and tender; it can all be interpreted in the language of the text: When they were fully awake, they saw the glory.
The Lord’s Awakening in Us Is Needed before We See Certain Glories
I think, too, that in spiritual awakening we find that the suggestion of our text arrests us. There are many glories which we never see, till the call of our Lord has bidden us awake. There is the Bible, for instance; think of that a moment. We have been taught out of its pages since we were little children, and we can never be grateful enough for this so priceless book, that is alive with interest even to the child. It is the noblest of all noble literature. It is fearless, and frank, and eloquent, and simple. It faces life’s depths, yet it is always hopeful. It fronts life’s tragedies, yet it is always calm. A man may refuse to believe it is inspired, yet may acknowledge what a debt he owes it. But it is one thing to feel the Bible’s charm, and it is another thing to see the Bible’s glory; and the glory of the Bible is a hidden glory, until a man is spiritually awake. It is only then that it speaks as friend with friend, and that it separates itself from common voices. It is only then that it reaches us apart, with a message and a music no one else shall hear. It is only then, under the pressure of sorrow, or in the darkness of failure, or beneath the shadow of warring duties, that it touches us as if we were alone in the whole world. That is the glory of love, and of love’s literature. And we know much before we wake, but never that. It is as true of us as of the three upon the mountain—when they were fully awake, they saw the glory.
The Gospel Awakens in Us Glories Hidden in Our Fellowman
Or think again of the life of our fellowman. Until we are awakened by the Gospel, I question if we ever see the full glory there. To most of us the life of thousands of our fellows seems a most dull and commonplace affair. There is little radiance in it, and little hope; it is as cheerless as a Grey sea in late November. But can imagination not do anything? Certainly, imagination can work wonders. If you want to see the charm of common lives; the passion, the tenderness, the joy, the strength of the persons whom you and I would brush past heedlessly, just read the Bleak House of Charles Dickens again.
The poem hangs on the berry-bush
Till comes the poet’s eye;
And the whole street is a masquerade
When Shakespeare passes by.
All that is true. And all that should make us very grateful to God for the gift of every real novelist and dramatist. But underneath all life of passion and affection there are spiritual possibilities for the meanest, and not till the world is wakened by the Gospel are the hidden glories of humanity revealed. Why are we carrying on home-mission work? Is it merely to employ our leisure energies? It is because we have been wakened, and have seen the glory of the poorest brother in the meanest street. And why have we missionaries in India and in Africa? Is it because we fear the heathen will be damned for not having trusted One of whom they never heard? It is because we have been wakened, and have seen the glory of every heart that beats in darkest Africa. Under all vice there is still something true; deeper than the deepest degradation, there is still a hope unspeakable and full of glory; in the barren desert the rose may blossom yet, and Jesus Christ has wakened us to that. There was the ring of the true faith about Chalmers of New Guinea when, writing of a cannibal chief of that dark island, he refers to him as “that grand old gentleman.”
We Must Be Spiritually Wakened to See the Glories of the Lord
And the same thing is true of our dear Lord Himself. We must be spiritually wakened if we would see His glory. It is only then that He reveals Himself, in the full and glorious compass of His grace. When a man approaches Christ Jesus intellectually, he is humbled and stirred by that wealth of spontaneous wisdom. And when a man approaches Christ emotionally, the sympathy of that matchless heart may overpower him. But the brightest intellect and the most delicate emotions may center themselves for a lifetime on the Savior, yet the glory of the Savior may escape them; it is always difficult for the man who is spiritually dead to understand the dominion of Christ in history. But the hour comes when a man is spiritually roused. Out of the infinite, the hand of God hath touched him. The old content is gone like some sweet dream. He realizes that things seen are temporal. He is not satisfied anymore, nor very happy; sin becomes real, the eternal is full of voices. And it is then, in a vision fairer than any dawn, that the glory of Christ first breaks upon the soul. There is a depth of meaning in His wisdom now, that the mere intellect was powerless to grasp. There is a tenderness and a strength in His compassion that mere emotion never understood. There is a value and a nearness in His death that once would have been quite inexplicable. When they were awake, they saw His glory.
Time Wakens in Us Glories We Once Missed
But to pass on from that great theme of spiritual wakening, there is one feature of experience which I must not omit. It is part of God’s discipline with us in the years, that the years should waken us to see glories which once we missed. The value of our college education is not the amount of raw knowledge which it gives us. There are men whose minds are amazingly full of facts, yet no one would call them educated men. And there are others who have comparatively few facts at their command, yet you instinctively recognize that they are educated. For true education is not meant to store us; true education is intended to awaken us; and the joy of the truly educated man is no poor pride in his superior knowledge: it is that he has been so wakened that in every realm and sphere he can see glories unobserved before.
God’s Education Is Needed for Us to See the Glories of Mysteries
Now if this be true of our schools and of our colleges, do you not think it holds also of God’s education? It is a truth we should ever keep clear before us. There are mysteries in life’s discipline we cannot fathom; there are strange happenings that have baffled every thinker; but at least we know that the change and the stress of years, and the joys they bring with them, and their losses and gains, waken us, perhaps rudely, out of many a dream, and show us glories which once we never saw. I do not think that the man who has never been poor will be quick to see the heroisms of quiet poverty. I do not think that he who is always strong can ever appreciate at its full moral value the dauntless cheerfulness of the racked invalid. You must have been tempted as your brother is, to know his magnificent courage in resisting. To the man who never loved, love is inscrutable. So the Almighty in whose hands we are, disciplines us through the deepening of the years, wakes us by change, by love, by sorrow, by temptation, until the veils are rent that shrouded other hearts. And we say of humanity what these three said of Jesus: “When we were awake, we saw His glory.”
But the deepest interpretation of the text is not of this world. It will come to its crown of meaning in eternity. It is then that out of the sleep of life we shall waken, and we shall be satisfied when we awake. We shall see the glory of goodness and of truth then, as we never saw it in our brightest hours. We shall see the glory of having kept on struggling, when every voice was bidding us give in. We shall see the glory of the love we once despised, of insignificant and unrewarded lives, of the silence that shielded and the speech that cheered. We shall see the glory of Jesus and of God. We are heavy with sleep here, even at our best. It is going to take the touch of death to waken us. But when we waken in the eternal morning, I think we shall truly see the glory then.