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Miracles of Our Lord by George MacDonald

Part 3 out of 3

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a storm, as a man might tame a wild beast--for his Father measures the
waters in the hollow of his hand, and men are miserable not to know it.
For himself, I repeat, his faith is enough; he sleeps on his pillow nor
dreams of perishing.

On the individual miracles of this class, I have not much to say. The
first of them was wrought in the animal kingdom.

He was teaching on the shore of the lake, and the people crowded him.
That he might speak with more freedom, he stepped into an empty boat,
and having prayed Simon the owner of it, who was washing his nets near
by, to thrust it a little from the shore, sat down, and no longer
incommoded by the eagerness of his audience, taught them from the boat.
When he had ended he told Simon to launch out into the deep, and let
down his nets for a draught. Simon had little hope of success, for there
had been no fish there all night; but he obeyed, and caught such a
multitude of fishes that the net broke. They had to call another boat to
their aid, and both began to sink from the overload of fishes. But the
great marvel of it wrought on the mind of Simon as every wonder tends to
operate on the mind of an honest man: it brought his sinfulness before
him. In self-abasement he fell down at Jesus' knees. Whether he thought
of any individual sins at the moment, we cannot tell; but he was
painfully dissatisfied with himself. He knew he was not what he ought to
be. I am unwilling however to believe that such a man desired, save, it
may be, as a passing involuntary result of distress, to be rid of the
holy presence. I judge rather that his feeling was like that of the
centurion--that he felt himself unworthy to have the Lord in his boat.
He may have feared that the Lord took him for a good man, and his
honesty could not endure such a mistake:

"Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord."

The Lord accepted the spirit, therefore _not_ the word of his prayer.

"Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men."

His sense of sinfulness, so far from driving the Lord from him, should
draw other men to him. As soon as that cry broke from his lips, he had
become fit to be a fisher of men. He had begun to abjure that which
separated man from man.

After his resurrection, St John tells us the Lord appeared one morning,
on the shore of the lake, to some of his disciples, who had again been
toiling all night in vain. He told them once more how to cast their net,
and they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.

"It is the Lord," said St John, purer-hearted, perhaps therefore
keener-eyed, than the rest.

Since the same thing had occurred before, Simon had become the fisher of
men, but had sinned grievously against his Lord. He knew that Lord so
much better now, however, that when he heard it was he, instead of
crying _Depart from me_, he cast himself into the sea to go to him.

I take next the feeding of the four thousand with the seven loaves and
the few little fishes, and the feeding of the five thousand with the
five loaves and the two fishes.

Concerning these miracles, I think I have already said almost all I have
to say. If he was the Son of God, the bread might as well grow in his
hands as the corn in the fields. It is, I repeat, only a doing in
condensed form, hence one more easily associated with its real source,
of that which God is for ever doing more widely, more slowly, and with
more detail both of fundamental wonder and of circumstantial loveliness.
Whence more fittingly might food come than from the hands of such an
elder brother? No doubt there will always be men who cannot believe
it:--happy are they who demand a good reason, and yet can believe a
wonder! Associated with words which appeared to me foolish, untrue, or
even poor in their content, I should not believe it. Associated with
such things as he spoke, I can receive it with ease, and I cherish it
with rejoicing. It must be noted in respect of the feeding of the five
thousand, that while the other evangelists merely relate the deed as
done for the necessities of the multitude, St John records also the
use our Lord made of the miracle. It was the outcome of his essential
relation to humanity. Of humanity he was ever the sustaining food. To
humanity he was about to give himself in an act of such utter devotion
as could only be shadowed--now in the spoken, afterwards in the acted
symbol of the eucharist. The miracle was a type of his life as the life
of the world, a sign that from him flows all the weal of his creatures.
The bread we eat is but its outer husk: the true bread is the Lord
himself, to have whom in us is eternal life. "Except ye eat the flesh of
the Son of man and drink his blood ye have no life in you." He knew that
the grand figure would disclose to the meditation of the loving heart
infinitely more of the truth of the matter than any possible amount
of definition and explanation, and yet must ever remain far short of
setting forth the holy fact to the boldest and humblest mind. But lest
they should start upon a wrong track for the interpretation of it, he
says to his disciples afterwards, that this body of his should return to
God; that what he had said concerning the eating of it had a spiritual
sense: "It is the spirit that giveth life; the flesh profiteth
nothing"--for that. In words he contradicts what he said before, that
they might see the words to have meant infinitely more than as words
they were able to express; that not their bodies on his body, but their
souls must live on his soul, by a union and communion of which the
eating of his flesh and the drinking of his blood was, after all, but a
poor and faint figure. In this miracle, for the souls as for the bodies
of men, he did and revealed the work of the Father. He who has once
understood the meaning of Christ's words in connection with this
miracle, can never be content they should be less than true concerning
his Father in heaven. Whoever would have a perfect Father, must believe
that he bestows his very being for the daily food of his creatures. He
who loves the glory of God will be very jealous of any word that would
enhance his greatness by representing him incapable of suffering. Verily
God has taken and will ever take and endure his share, his largest share
of that suffering in and through which the whole creation groans for the

Follows at once the equally wonderful story of his walking on the sea to
the help of his disciples. After the former miracle, the multitude would
have taken him by force to make him their king. Any kind of honour they
would readily give him except that obedience for the truth's sake which
was all he cared for. He left them and went away into a mountain alone
to pray to his Father. Likely he was weary in body, and also worn in
spirit for lack of that finer sympathy which his disciples could not
give him being very earthly yet. He who loves his fellows and labours
among those who can ill understand him will best know what this
weariness of our Lord must have been like. He had to endure the world-
pressure of surrounding humanity in all its ungodlike phases. Hence even
he, the everlasting Son of the Father, found it needful to retire for
silence and room and comfort into solitary places. There his senses
would be free, and his soul could the better commune with the Father.
The mountain-top was his chamber, the solitude around him its closed
door, the evening sky over his head its open window. There he gathered
strength from the will of the Father for what yet remained to be done
for the world's redemption. How little could the men below, who would
have taken him by force and made him a king, understand of such
communion! Yet every one of them must go hungering and thirsting and
grasping in vain, until the door of that communion was opened for him.
They would have made him a king: he would make them poor in spirit,
mighty in aspiration, all kings and priests unto God.

But amidst his prayer, amidst the eternal calm of his rapturous
communion, he saw his disciples thwarted by a wind stronger than all
their rowing: he descended the hill and walked forth on the water to
their help.

If ignorant yet devout speculation may be borne with here, I venture
to say that I think the change of some kind that was necessary somehow
before the body of the Son of Man could, like the Spirit of old, move
upon the face of the waters, passed, not upon the water, but, by the
will of the Son of Man himself, upon his own body. I shall have more to
say concerning this in a following chapter--now I merely add that we
know nothing yet, or next to nothing, of the relation between a right
soul and a healthy body. To some no doubt the notion of a healthy body
implies chiefly a perfection of all the animal functions, which is,
on the supposition, a matter of course; but what I should mean by an
absolutely healthy body is, one entirely under the indwelling spirit,
and responsive immediately to all the laws of its supremacy, whatever
those laws may be in the divine ideal of a man. As we are now, we find
the diseased body tyrannizing over the almost helpless mind: the healthy
body would be the absolutely obedient body.

What power over his own dwelling a Saviour coming fresh from the closest
speech with him who made that body for holy subjection, might have, who
can tell! If I hear of any reasonable wonder resulting therefrom, I
shall not find it hard to believe, and shall be willing to wait until I,
pure, inhabit an obedient house, to understand the plain thing which
is now a mystery. Meantime I can honour the laws I do know, and which
honest men tell me they have discovered, no less than those honest
men who--without my impulse, it may be, to speculate in this
direction--think such as I foolish in employing the constructive faculty
with regard to these things. But where, I pray them, lies any field so
absolutely its region as the unknown which yet the heart yearns to
know? Such cannot be the unknowable. It is endless comfort to think of
something that _might_ be true. And the essence of whatever seems to a
human heart to be true, I expect to find true--in greater forms, and
without the degrading accidents which so often accompany it in the brain
of the purest thinker. Why should I not speculate in the only direction
in which things to me worthy of speculation appear likely to lie? There
is a wide _may be_ around us; and every true speculation widens the
probability of changing the may _be_ into the _is_. The laws that are
known and the laws that shall be known are all lights from the Father
of lights: he who reverently searches for such will not long mistake
a flash in his own brain for the candle of the Lord. But if he should
mistake, he will be little the worse, so long as he is humble, and ready
to acknowledge error; while, if he should be right, he will be none the
worse for having seen the glimmer of the truth from afar--may, indeed,
come to gather a little honour from those who, in the experimental
verification of an idea, do not altogether forget that, without some
foregone speculation, the very idea on which they have initiated their
experiment, and are now expending their most valued labour, would
never have appeared in their firmament to guide them to new facts and

Nor would it be impossible to imagine how St Peter might come within the
sphere of the holy influence, so that he, too, for a moment should walk
on the water. Faith will yet prove itself as mighty a power as it
is represented by certain words of the Lord which are at present a
stumbling-block even to devout Christians, who are able to accept them
only by putting explanations upon them which render them unworthy of
his utterance. When I say _a power_, I do not mean in itself, but as
connecting the helpless with the helpful, as uniting the empty need with
the full supply, as being the conduit through which it is right and
possible for the power of the creating God to flow to the created

When the Lord got into the boat, the wind ceased, "and immediately,"
says St John, "the ship was at the land whither they went." As to
whether the ceasing of the wind was by the ordinary laws of nature, or
some higher law first setting such in operation, no one who has followed
the spirit of my remarks will wonder that I do not care to inquire: they
are all of one. Nor, in regard to their finding themselves so quickly at
the end of their voyage, will they wonder if I think that we may have
just one instance of space itself being subject to the obedient God, and
that his wearied disciples, having toiled and rowed hard for so long,
might well find themselves at their desired haven as soon as they
received him into their boat. Either God is all in all, or he is
nothing. Either Jesus is the Son of the Father, or he did no miracle.
Either the miracles are fact, or I lose--not my faith in this man--but
certain outward signs of truths which these very signs have aided me to
discover and understand and see in themselves.

The miracle of the stilling of the storm naturally follows here.

Why should not he, who taught his disciples that God numbered the very
hairs of their heads, do what his Father is constantly doing--still
storms--bring peace out of uproar? Of course, if the storm was stilled,
it came about by natural causes--that is, by such as could still a
storm. That anything should be done by unnatural causes, that is, causes
not of the nature of the things concerned, is absurd. The sole question
is whether Nature works alone, as some speculators think, or whether
there is a soul in her, namely, an intent;--whether these things are
the result of thought, or whether they spring from a dead heart;
unconscious, yet productive of conscious beings, to think, yea,
speculate eagerly concerning a conscious harmony hinted at in their
broken music and conscious discord; beings who, although thus born
of unthinking matter, invent the notion of an all lovely, perfect,
self-denying being, whose thought gives form to matter, life to nature,
and thought to man--subjecting himself for their sakes to the troubles
their waywardness has brought upon them, that they too may at length
behold a final good--may see the Holy face to face--think his thoughts
and will his wisdom!

That things should go by a law which does not recognize the loftiest
in him, a man feels to be a mockery of him. There lies little more
satisfaction in such a condition of things than if the whole were the
fortuitous result of ever conflicting, never combining forces. Wherever
individual and various necessity, choice, and prayer, come in, there
must be the present God, able and ready to fit circumstances to the
varying need of the thinking, willing being he has created. Machinery
will not do here--perfect as it may be. That God might make a world to
go on with absolute physical perfection to all eternity, I could easily
believe; but where the gain?--nay, where the fitness, if he would train
thinking beings to his own freedom? For such he must be ever present,
ever have room to order things for their growth and change and
discipline and enlightenment. The present living idea informing the
cosmos, is nobler than all forsaken perfection--nobler, as a living man
is nobler than an automaton.

If one should say: "The laws of God ought to admit of no change,"
I answer: The same working of unalterable laws might under new
circumstances _look_ a breach of those laws. That God will never alter
his laws, I fully admit and uphold, for they are the outcome of his
truth and fact; but that he might not act in ways unrecognizable by us
as consistent with those laws, I have yet to see reason ere I believe.
Why should his perfect will be limited by our understanding of that
will? Should he be paralyzed because we are blind? That he should ever
require us to believe of him what we think wrong, I do not believe;
that he should present to our vision what may be inconsistent with our
half-digested and constantly changing theories, I can well believe. Why
not--if only to keep us from petrifying an imperfect notion, and calling
it an _Idea_? What I would believe is, that a present God manages the
direction of those laws, even as a man, in his inferior way, works out
his own will in the midst and by means of those laws. Shall God create
that which shall fetter and limit and enslave himself? What should
his laws, as known to us, be but the active mode in which he embodies
certain truths--that mode also the outcome of his own nature? If so,
they must be always capable of falling in with any, if not of effecting
every, expression of his will.

There remains but one miracle of this class to consider--one to some
minds involving greater difficulties than all the rest. They say the
story of the fish with a piece of money in its mouth is more like one of
the tales of eastern fiction than a sober narrative of the quiet-toned
gospel. I acknowledge a likeness: why might there not be some likeness
between what God does and what man invents? But there is one noticeable
difference: there is nothing of colour in the style of the story. No
great rock, no valley of diamonds, no earthly grandeur whatever is hinted
at in the poor bare tale. Peter had to do with fishes every day of his
life: an ordinary fish, taken with the hook, was here the servant of the
Lord--and why should not the poor fish have its share in the service
of the Master? Why should it not show for itself and its kind that they
were utterly his? that along with the waters in which they dwelt, and
the wind which lifteth up the waves thereof, they were his creatures,
and gladly under his dominion? What the scaly minister brought was
no ring, no rich jewel, but a simple piece of money, just enough, I
presume, to meet the demand of those whom, although they had no legal
claim, our Lord would not offend by a refusal; for he never cared to
stand upon his rights, or treat that as a principle which might be
waived without loss of righteousness. I take for granted that there was
no other way at hand for those poor men to supply the sum required of


IF we regard the miracles of our Lord as an epitome of the works of his
Father, there must be room for what we call destruction.

In the grand process of existence, destruction is one of the phases of
creation; for the inferior must ever be giving way for the growth of the
superior: the husk must crumble and decay, that the seed may germinate
and appear. As the whole creation passes on towards the sonship, death
must ever be doing its sacred work about the lower regions, that life
may ever arise triumphant, in its ascent towards the will of the Father.

I cannot therefore see good reason why the almost solitary act of
destruction recorded in the story should seem unlike the Master. True
this kind is unlike the other class in this, that it has only an all but
solitary instance: he did not come for the manifestation of such power.
But why, when occasion appeared, should it not have its place? Why might
not the Lord, consistently with his help and his healing, do that in one
instance which his Father is doing every day? I refer now, of course, to
the withering of the fig-tree. In the midst of the freshest greenery of
summer, you may see the wan branches of the lightning-struck tree. As
a poet drawing his pen through syllable or word that mars his clear
utterance or musical comment, such is the destruction of the Maker. It
is the indrawn sigh of the creating Breath.

Our Lord had already spoken the parable of the fig-tree that bore no
fruit. This miracle was but the acted parable. Here he puts into visible
form that which before he had embodied in words. All shapes of argument
must be employed to arouse the slumbering will of men. Even the
obedience that comes of the lowest fear is a first step towards an
infinitely higher condition than that of the most perfect nature created
incapable of sin.

The right interpretation of the external circumstances, however, is of
course necessary to the truth of the miracle. It seems to me to be the
following. I do not know to whom I am primarily indebted for it.

The time of the gathering of figs was near, but had not yet arrived:
upon any fruitful tree one might hope to find a few ripe figs, and more
that were eatable. The Lord was hungry as he went to Jerusalem from
Bethany, and saw on the way a tree with all the promise that a perfect
foliage could give. He went up to it, "if haply he might find anything
thereon." The leaves were all; fruit there was none in any stage; the
tree was a pretence; it fulfilled not that for which it was sent. Here
was an opportunity in their very path of enforcing, by a visible sign
proceeding from himself, one of the most important truths he had striven
to teach them. What he had been saying was in him a living truth: he
condemned the tree to become in appearance that which it was in fact--a
useless thing: when they passed the following morning, it had withered
away, was dried up from the roots. He did not urge in words the lesson
of the miracle-parable; he left that to work when the fate of fruitless
Jerusalem should also have become fact.

For the present the marvel of it possessed them too
much for the reading of its lesson; therefore, perhaps,
our Lord makes little of the marvel and much of the
power of faith; assuring them of answers to their prayers,
but adding, according to St Mark, that forgiveness of
others is the indispensable condition of their own acceptance
--fit lesson surely to hang on that withered tree.

After all, the thing destroyed was only a tree. In respect of humanity
there is but one distant, and how distant approach to anything similar!
In the pseudo-evangels there are several tales of vengeance--not one in
these books. The fact to which I refer is recorded by St John alone. It
is, that when the "band of men and officers from the chief priests and
Pharisees" came to take him, and "Jesus went forth and said unto them,
Whom seek ye?" and in reply to theirs, had said "I am he, they went
backward and fell to the ground."

There are one or two facts in connection with the record of this
incident, which although not belonging quite immediately to my present
design, I would yet note, with the questions they suggest.

The synoptical Gospels record the Judas-kiss: St John does not.

St John alone records the going backward and falling to the
ground--prefacing the fact with the words, "And Judas also, which
betrayed him, stood with them."

Had not the presence of Judas, then--perhaps his kiss--something to
do with the discomfiture of these men? If so--and it seems to me
probable--how comes it that St John alone omits the kiss--St John alone
records the recoil? I repeat--if the kiss had to do with the recoil--as
would seem from mystical considerations most probable, from artistic
most suitable--why are they divided? I think just because those who
saw, saw each a part, and record only what they saw or had testimony
concerning. Had St John seen the kiss, he who was so capable of
understanding the mystical fitness of the connection of such a kiss with
such a recoil, could hardly have omitted it, especially seeing he makes
such a point of the presence of Judas. Had he been an inventor--here is
just such a thing as he would have invented; and just here his record is
barer than that of the rest--bare of the one incident which would
have best helped out his own idea of the story. The consideration is

But why this exercise of at least repellent, which is half-destructive
force, reminding us of Milton's words--

Yet half his strength he put not forth,
But checked His thunder in mid volley?

It may have had to do with the repentance of Judas which followed.
It may have had to do with the future history of the Jewish men who
composed that band. But I suspect the more immediate object of our
Lord was the safety of his disciples. As soon as the men who had gone
backward and fallen to the ground, had risen and again advanced, he
repeated the question--"Whom seek ye?" "Jesus of Nazareth," they
replied. "I am he," said the Lord again, but added, now that they had
felt his power--"If therefore ye seek me, let these go their way." St
John's reference in respect of these words to a former saying of the
Lord, strengthens this conclusion. And there was no attempt even to lay
hands on them. He had astonished and terrified his captors to gain of
them his sole request--that his friends should go unhurt. There was work
for them to do in the world; and he knew besides that they were not
yet capable of enduring for his sake. At all events it was neither
for vengeance nor for self-preservation that this gentlest form of
destruction was manifested. I suspect it was but another shape of the
virtue that went forth to heal. A few men fell to the ground that his
disciples might have time to grow apostles, and redeem the world with
the news of him and his Father. For the sake of humanity the fig-tree
withered; for the resurrection of the world, his captors fell: small
hurt and mighty healing.

Daring to interpret the work of the Father from the work of the Son, I
would humbly believe that all destruction is for creation--that, even
for this, death alone is absolutely destroyed--that, namely, which
stands in the way of the outgoing of the Father's will, then only
completing its creation when men are made holy.

God does destroy; but not life. Its outer forms yield that it may grow,
and growing pass into higher embodiments, in which it can grow yet
more. That alone will be destroyed which has the law of death in
itself--namely, sin. Sin is death, and death must be swallowed up of
hell. Life, that is God, is the heart of things, and destruction must be
destroyed. For this victory endless _forms_ of life must yield;--even
the _form_ of the life of the Son of God himself must yield upon the
cross, that the life might arise a life-giving spirit; that his own
words might be fulfilled--"For if I depart not, the Comforter will not
come unto you." All spirit must rise victorious over form; and the form
must die lest it harden to stone around the growing life. No form is
or can be great enough to contain the truth which is its soul; for all
truth is infinite being a thought of God. It is only in virtue of the
flowing away of the form, that is death, and the ever gathering of new
form behind, that is birth or embodiment, that any true revelation is
possible. On what other terms shall the infinite embrace the finite but
the terms of an endless change, an enduring growth, a recognition of
the divine as for ever above and beyond, a forgetting of that which is
behind, a reaching unto that which is before? Therefore destruction
itself is holy. It is as if the Eternal said, "I will show myself; but
think not to hold me in any form in which I come. The form is not I."
The still small voice is ever reminding us that the Lord is neither in
the earthquake nor the wind nor the fire; but in the lowly heart that
finds him everywhere. The material can cope with the eternal only in
virtue of everlasting evanescence.


The works of the Lord he himself represents as given him of the Father:
it matters little whether we speak of his resurrection as a miracle
wrought by himself, or wrought in him by the Father. If he was one with
the Father, the question cannot be argued, seeing that Jesus apart from
the Father is not a conceivable idea. It is only natural that he who
had power to call from the grave the body which had lain there for four
days, should have power over the body he had himself laid down, to take
it again with reanimating possession. For distinctly do I hold that he
took again the same body in which he had walked about on the earth,
suffered, and yielded unto death. In the same body--not merely the same
form, in which he had taught them, he appeared again to his disciples,
to give them the final consolations of a visible presence, before
departing for the sake of a yet higher presence in the spirit of truth,
a presence no longer limited by even the highest forms of the truth.

It is not surprising that the records of such a marvel, grounded upon
the testimony of men and women bewildered first with grief, and next all
but distracted with the sudden inburst of a gladness too great for that
equanimity which is indispensable to perfect observation, should not
altogether correspond in the minutiae of detail. All knew that the Lord
had risen indeed: what matter whether some of them saw one or two angels
in the tomb? The first who came saw one angel outside and another inside
the sepulchre. One at a different time saw two inside. What wonder
then that one of the records should say of them all, that they saw
two angels? I do not care to set myself to the reconciliation of the
differing reports. Their trifling disagreement is to me even valuable
from its truth to our human nature. All I care to do is to suggest to
any one anxious to understand the records the following arrangement of
facts. When Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty, not seeing, or heedless
of the angel, she forsook her companions, and ran to the chief of the
disciples to share the agony of this final loss. Perhaps something might
yet be done to rescue the precious form, and lay it aside with all
futile honours. With Peter and John she returned to the grave, whence,
in the mean time, her former companions, having seen and conversed with
the angel outside and the angel inside, had departed to find their
friends. Peter and John, having, the one entered, the other looked into
the tomb, and seen only the folded garments of desertion, returned home,
but Mary lingered weeping by the place which was not now even the
grave of the beloved, so utterly had not only he but the signs of him
vanished. As she wept, she stooped down into the sepulchre. There sat
the angels in holy contemplation, one at the head, the other at the feet
where the body of Jesus had lain. Peter nor John had beheld them: to the
eyes of Mary as of the other women they were manifest. It is a lovely
story that follows, full of marvel, as how should it not be?

"Woman, why weepest thou?" said the angels.

"Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have
laid him," answered Mary, and turning away, tear-blinded, saw the
gardener, as she thought.

"Woman, why weepest thou?" repeats the gardener.

"Whom seekest thou?"

Hopelessness had dulled every sense: not even a start at the sound of
his voice!

"Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him,
and I will take him away."



"Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father; but go to my
brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father;
and to my God and your God."

She had the first sight of him. It would almost seem that, arrested by
her misery, he had delayed his ascent, and shown himself sooner than his
first intent. "Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended." She was about
to grasp him with the eager hands of reverent love: why did he refuse
the touch?

Doubtless the tone of the words deprived them of any sting. Doubtless
the self-respect of the woman was in no way wounded by the master's
recoil. For the rest, we know so little of the new conditions of his
bodily nature, that nothing is ours beyond conjecture. It may be, for
anything I know, that there were even physical reasons why she should
not yet touch him; but my impression is that, after the hard work
accomplished, and the form in which he had wrought and suffered resumed,
he must have the Father's embrace first, as after a long absence any man
would seek first the arms of his dearest friend. It may well be objected
to this notion, that he had never been absent from God--that in his
heart he was at home with him continually. And yet the body with all its
limitations, with all its partition-walls of separation, is God's,
and there must be some way in which even _it_ can come into a willed
relation with him to whom it is nearer even than to ourselves, for it is
the offspring of his will, or as the prophets of old would say--the work
of his hands. That which God has invented and made, which has its very
origin in the depth of his thought, _can_ surely come nigh to God.
Therefore I think that in some way which we cannot understand, Jesus
would now seek the presence of the Father; would, having done the work
which he had given him to do, desire first of all to return in the body
to him who had _sent_ him by giving him a body. Hence although he might
delay his return at the sound of the woman's grief, he would rather
_she_ did not touch him first. If any one thinks this founded on too
human a notion of the Saviour, I would only reply that I suspect a great
part of our irreligion springs from our disbelief in the humanity of
God. There lie endless undiscovered treasures of grace. After he had
once ascended to the Father, he not only appeared to his disciples again
and again, but their hands handled the word of life, and he ate in their
presence. He had been to his Father, and had returned that they might
know him lifted above the grave and all that region in which death has
power; that as the elder brother, free of the oppressions of humanity,
but fulfilled of its tenderness, he might show himself captain of their
salvation. Upon the body he inhabited, death could no longer lay his
hands, and from the vantage-ground he thus held, he could stretch down
the arm of salvation to each and all.

For in regard of this glorified body of Jesus, we must note that it
appeared and disappeared at the will of its owner; and it would seem
also that other matter yielded and gave it way; yes, even that space
itself was in some degree subjected to it. Upon the first of these, the
record is clear. If any man say he cannot believe it, my only answer is
that I can. If he ask how it _could_ be, the nearest I can approach to
an answer is to indicate the region in which it may be possible: the
border-land where thought and matter meet is the region where all
marvels and miracles are generated. The wisdom of this world can believe
that matter generates mind: what seems to me the wisdom from above can
believe that mind generates matter--that matter is but the manifest
mind. On this supposition matter may well be subject to mind; much more,
if Jesus be the Son of God, his own body must be subject to his will. I
doubt, indeed, if the condition of any man is perfect before the body he
inhabits is altogether obedient to his will--before, through his own
absolute obedience to the Father, the realm of his own rule is put under
him perfectly.

It may be objected that although this might be credible of the glorified
body of even the human resurrection, it is hard to believe that the body
which suffered and died on the cross could become thus plastic to the
will of the indwelling spirit. But I do not see why that which was born
of the spirit of the Father, should not be so inter-penetrated and
possessed by the spirit of the Son, that, without the loss of one of
its former faculties, it should be endowed with many added gifts of
obedience; amongst the rest such as are indicated in the narrative
before us.

Why was this miracle needful?

Perhaps, for one thing, that men should not limit him, or themselves in
him, to the known forms of humanity; and for another, that the best hope
might be given them of a life beyond the grave; that their instinctive
desires in that direction might thus be infinitely developed and
assured. I suspect, however, that it followed just as the natural
consequence of all that preceded.

If Christ be risen, then is the grave of humanity itself empty. We have
risen with him, and death has henceforth no dominion over us. Of every
dead man and woman it may be said: He--she--is not here, but is risen
and gone before us. Ever since the Lord lay down in the tomb, and behold
it was but a couch whence he arose refreshed, we may say of every
brother: He is not dead but sleepeth. He too is alive and shall arise
from his sleep.

The way to the tomb may be hard, as it was for him; but we who look on,
see the hardness and not the help; we see the suffering but not the
sustaining: that is known only to the dying and God. They can tell us
little of this, and nothing of the glad safety beyond.

With any theory of the conditions of our resurrection, I have scarcely
here to do. It is to me a matter of positively no interest whether or
not, in any sense, the matter of our bodies shall be raised from the
earth. It is enough that we shall possess forms capable of revealing
ourselves and of bringing us into contact with God's other works; forms
in which the idea, so blurred and broken in these, shall be carried
out--remaining so like, that friends shall doubt not a moment of the
identity, becoming so unlike, that the tears of recognition shall be all
for the joy of the gain and the gratitude of the loss. Not to believe in
mutual recognition beyond, seems to me a far more reprehensible unbelief
than that in the resurrection itself. I can well understand how a man
should not believe in any life after death. I will confess that although
probabilities are for it, _appearances_ are against it. But that a man,
still more a woman, should believe in the resurrection of the very same
body of Jesus, who took pains that his friends should recognize him
therein; that they should regard his resurrection as their one ground
for the hope of their own uprising, and yet not believe that friend
shall embrace friend in the mansions prepared for them, is to me
astounding. Such a shadowy resumption of life I should count unworthy of
the name of resurrection. Then indeed would the grave be victorious,
not alone over the body, not alone over all which made the life of this
world precious and by which we arose towards the divine--but so far
victorious over the soul that henceforth it should be blind and deaf to
what in virtue of loveliest memories would have added a new song to the
praises of the Father, a new glow to the love that had wanted but that
to make it perfect. In truth I am ashamed of even combating such an
essential falsehood. Were it not that here and there a weak soul is
paralysed by the presence of the monstrous lie, and we dare not allow
sympathy to be swallowed up of even righteous disdain, a contemptuous
denial would be enough.

What seemed to the disciples the final acme of disappointment and grief,
the vanishing of his body itself, was in reality the first sign of the
dawn of an illimitable joy. He was not there because he had risen.


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

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

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

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

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.

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