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Great Christian Works:     Natural Emblems Of Spiritual Life   By A. B. Simpson

A. B. Simpson

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Natural Emblems Of Spiritual Life
By A. B. Simpson

Natural And Spiritual Transformations

"But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord."   II Corinthians 3:18

THE mythology of ancient languages and of ancient peoples is full of wonderful pictures of transformations. The beautiful objects of nature, flowers, buds, and even the foam upon the sea waves are represented as changing into other forms of purity and loveliness. It tells us also of metamorphoses by which lower orders of animals are changed into higher and more glorious ones. This idea, however, did not originate with them, nor did it find its birth in the regions of poetry.

We see the same thing taking place every day in the realms of nature. We have only to look around us to find these delicate transformations going on upon every side. The ugly bulb is being transformed constantly into the beautiful blossom. The crawling thing of earth is becoming a glorious thing of heaven. The repulsive worm we saw yesterday creeping along our path, today has taken to itself wing, and is soaring on high a beautiful creature of the air. These transformations of common things into beautiful ones are to be seen everywhere. The canvas of the artist is made to glow with exquisite loveliness.

The cold marble is changed into the radiant face of an angel, whose countenance expresses all the emotions that a human face could assume. Even the common things of the street are taken up by art and beautified and refined into something far above their original place. Such is the beautiful paper upon which we write our letters of love to our friends. Such are the lovely gems with which so many of the votaries of fashion are decked. It is a transformation from a lower into a higher order of things. Art takes the light of the sun, and with it paints its pictures of life and beauty.

Perhaps these thoughts will lead us up a little to the beautiful picture of our test. Paul gives a Bible illustration of the same principle in the context. He has been speaking of Moses. He tells us that he went up into the mount with a face of common dull clay, but up there he listened to God's voice, he looked up into His face, and the glory of His presence filled his whole being. It penetrated his very blood and flesh and veins. It caused him to glow with the same radiance. When he came down after being up there forty days his face was shining like the sun. The people could not look upon it, and they begged him to cover it up. Gazing upon God had made him like God. It had transformed him into the same likeness.

The apostle uses this principle to illustrate the spiritual transformation that God is constantly making, taking man's coarse, sinful nature and changing it into the glorious image of His own beautiful face. He was alluding to Moses when he said: "We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." This is a picture of spiritual life and growth into the likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ. No other such transformation as this has ever been wrought upon earth. All else is but the scaffolding around this inner and eternal temple.

All that art has accomplished or taste and skill performed, are nothing to what the Holy Ghost is able to do. Where can you find such a change as is going on in the heart of a reformed man, who was once perhaps a low drunkard, but whose life is now filled with the glory and beauty of God. That is the kind of transformation that is taking place now in the history of each one of us. The week that has just passed has been full of opportunities for such touches. The week that is coming will put us under the chisel again, to bring out more fully and with new beauty the light of His countenance in ours.

Are you yielding yourselves to this transforming power, dear friends? Are you becoming thus changed into the likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ, through the patient care of the Master's hand? Are you allowing Him to press out of your nature all the materials that are common and unclean, and that would spoil the beautiful likeness He is laboring to bring out within you? Are we allowing these baser elements in our character to rule us, corrupting the good and us unfit to touch the holy things of God, or are we being transformed by the renewing of our minds into the image of Jesus? Certainly if we desire it we shall be made into that glorious image. That is what we are elected for. There is no other election but that which is making us pure.

God has no other election for any man but to change him into the likeness of His dear Son. We are just bits of canvas put upon an easel and stretched there with the pattern above it, and the Master sits down patiently before it and begins the work of reproducing it in us. We are just blocks of marble brought rough from the quarry, but each one of them contains an angel, and the great Sculptor begins to bring it out. He works on and on and on until this glorious work is done the gentle, patient Holy Ghost, whose work it is to purify and transform us and make us like the blessed Saviour.

There are many principles in these words, which show us how this may be made real in Christian life.

I.

We are to become copies of the glory of the Lord. We are to be changed into the image of God. We are to sit down and be copied into Him. We cannot comprehend all that this means, nor indeed any of it till we know Him well, but this is the first thought, to be made over into His image. We shall find that includes His holiness, purity and perfect love. It would be presumption for us to think of assuming this if He did not direct us to do so, but that certainly is a part of the picture we are to copy. It is not our own picture that we are to reproduce, but His. It is set before us, but we must get very near it to make a perfect copy.

It is not a few delineations of character only we are to get, but the likeness of the full glory. "We are to be changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." Are you venturing, my brothers and sisters, to make this copy? Are you going about feeling that you are standing as God, and that you are representing God and the glory of God to others, and that you are a copy of His divine perfection? This will not bring with it any spirit of self exaltation, for it is not your own perfection you are showing forth, but His.

II.

God gives us a miniature of this glory to copy. We behold it as in a glass. We could not gaze upon divinity itself unveiled, and so God puts all these attributes, He would have us be possessed of, in a glass, so that we may see them clearly and yet not be dazzled by their brightness; and that glass is His dear Son. Jesus is the image of the Father. We could not look upon the sun steadily without destroying our vision, but we can smoke a piece of glass and look at it thus in a partial shadow without being injured. We could not look upon God in His splendid majesty, and He kindly veils His glory and shows it to us in softer light in the person of Jesus Christ. "We see Him in miniature in the gospels, upon the level on which we live ourselves, filling positions which we are able to understand.

An astronomer constructs a telescope by which he can view the stars of the heavens as they are reflected in a glass which acts as a mirror. He does not have to strain up to the sky in order to examine the clusters of stars, but he brings a reflection of them down to his own level, and then he can see them clearly. So Christ brings the glory of God down to us. He comes down and lives among us, and thus shows us all that God has it upon His heart for man to become. If we have any desire to become like God, we must study the Saviour and imitate Him. He is the typical man, the perfect picture of what God expects every man to become. Christ is not only a picture of God: He becomes our Head, imparting to us His own life. He is a real inspiration, giving us vital force. He is not only a pattern for us to look at and try to imitate, but He communicates to us the power to become like Himself. He comes and lives in us and helps us to grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ."

III.

"We are changed into the glory of God by gazing into this glass. A steady look there will bring spiritual beauty into our life. We can get it nowhere else than by looking unto Jesus. We must fix the eye upon Him and keep it there every moment steadily. Thus He becomes to us more than our example; even the very fountain from which we drink in spiritual life. There is another principle connected with this transition that we must not fail to discover. I am sure we do not fully understand the mighty power of a look. There is a strange physical contact which comes to us through the eye.

The little bird catches the eye of the serpent and finds it to contain a strange, magnetic power, which it is not able to withstand. The venomous, crawling thing sees the little innocent creature, and with one look it seems to fasten itself upon its very life, and transfix and hold it captive by that gaze. The ancients represented this principle in their picture of the head of Medusa, a horrid combination of cruelty and abomination, which had the power of changing the person who looked upon it into stone. It was a type of the power there is in coming in contact with evil.

There is a power in this which too few Christians even understand. You cannot look at any picture of evil without taking in its filthiness with your whole being. You cannot look upon scenes of moral degradation and death without having them throw a spell over you which it will take all your powers of resistance to overcome. On the other hand, there is equal power upon the good and true. By gazing steadily upon them you will grow into their likeness. If you see nothing around you but that which is cultivated, you will grow up in refinement. It is easy to fix the social positions of the people before you by their faces.

We take the tone of the influences that surround us, as insects take the color of the plants they feed upon, as the chameleon takes the colors of the passing seasons, and as the conies borrow the color of the rocks they live in. The power of association is intensely strong in human nature. A celebrated artist wished once to paint a picture of the judgment and before he attempted to touch his canvas he went to live day after day in the sepulchre of the dead. He gazed upon all the surroundings, looked steadily at the skeletons, took in the whole atmosphere of the place into his eye and brain, then when his whole being was penetrated with the influences of the sepulchre he went to his studio and transferred it to the canvas.

He could paint it now for it had grown into his very nature. This thought will help us to understand the power of association with Christ. If we fix our eye there we will find His life beginning to flow into us through the power of that gaze. We shall become like Him because we are so much with Him. The eye is so constructed that it takes in the image of the thing upon which it gazes. If you look upon the sun in yonder heaven, the image of it will be formed in your eye. If you look upon the face of some dear familiar friend, that image is brought into your mind through the organs of vision. So gazing on Christ brings Him also into your being. If you look at Jesus, you have Jesus, if you look away from Him you lose Him. It is necessary then to fix the vision ever closely upon Him if you would hold Him as a perpetual presence. How that look will light up your soul, quicken your mind, and irradiate your whole nature.

This gaze must be with open face, there must be no hindrance, nothing to obstruct the view. Neither must the gaze become distracted by anything else that would cause us to look aside this way or that. There must be a steady, open, fixed look straight up to Christ. So only can we know of having spiritual growth or of being transformed into His glorious image. Perhaps this will be made clearer by the art of photography. The image there is transferred by the power of steady contact. You know the person must get in front of the camera and gaze steadily upon it. Then the image is formed upon the prepared plate inside. If anything comes between, there is no picture formed.

If a curtain should be placed there, or if some other person should stand there, or even if the sitter should not sit still or should not look steadily at the camera there would be no picture. If he moves a little to one side or winks his eyes there will be a slight aberration of the lines. He must look steadily and sit still until the picture is taken. So in divine transformations, we must look at Jesus with open face with no barrier between. We must keep the heart fixed on Jesus if we would grow like Him, if we would be able to grasp Him by our instincts, if we would have the Holy Spirit through the consciousness of His presence, in our hearts constantly. We shall become used after a while to the fact that there is some one there besides ourselves, who is not a disturbing element, but who adds power to our thought and peace to our heart and who can be always apprehended by an inner perception which we could not perhaps put into words.

Flowers do not speak to us to tell us of their presence, but we detect it by the sweet fragrance shed upon the air. This presence does not hinder our work. We go on with that as before, hurrying too in its busy parts, faithful as ever in all its details, yet conscious all the time that some one is with us. Have you never had a dear friend at your side to whom you were too busy to talk, but who was ever present to your mind as you went on with your busy toil? So Christ's presence in our heart does not interfere with our occupations, but rather helps us in them. It leaves us free, yet overshadowed with the purity and sweetness and strength of God. This is the presence that the Holy Spirit comes to us to keep constantly before our minds. The devil comes also and tries to inject another vision there.

Perhaps it is something intended to distract our thoughts, or to introduce fear. Perhaps something crosses our path, over which we allow ourselves to be irritated, and the sweet image is gone. The consciousness of God's presence leaves us. Therefore it is necessary to hold steadily to the view of Christ which has been presented to us, looking at Him with open face. Therefore it is necessary to keep the eye on Christ, and turn resolutely away from the other vision, which would allure us from Him. We must refuse to listen to its suggestions or to give it attention in any way. We are not, however, to be frightened by it. It cannot hurt us, while we are holding steadily to Jesus. Hand the evil thing over to Him and trust Him to conquer it for you.

Abide in Him at all times. "Commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in Him." "Thou wilt keep Him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee." The time to keep stayed on Him is, when all around is in commotion. When everything is surging and restless about you, then let your anchor of trust take fast hold on God, and it will keep you steady. Let your eye never be taken from Him, no matter how the adversary may try to hinder you. He will spoil the simplicity of your faith, if once he can cross its path. It often happens that God's dear children have gone home from some service for Him or from listening to some teaching that has filled their hearts with holy peace, and they almost feel that they shall abide in Him forever, but the enemy comes in some subtle guise, and the whole thing is shivered in an instant, and the sweet piece destroyed.

Ah! it has not been beholding with open face the glory of the Lord. It is not always annoying things that have this power of hiding God's face from us. It is often simply distracting things, or pleasant thoughts that are not sent by Him. The devil goads us sometimes off the right path, sometimes he allures us by false lights. The apostle tells us a little later: "If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost." The literal reading is, "by the things that perish, by which the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them, which believe not." By these perishing things of earth their minds are blinded.

If the face of Jesus Christ is hidden at all it is by the perishing things of this world. The vain, idle pleasures, the vanities that last so short a time, have power to "blind the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." If you try to look at Jesus Christ the devil will try to get your attention. He will surely come and throw some beautiful bandage over your eyes to prevent you from seeing Him. It may be some petty article of female adorning. It may be a love of art, or the pleasures you engage in every day, and which in themselves may be innocent, and he says to you, "look at these: See how lovely they are." The instant you turn away to look at these things which perish, he bandages your vision so you cannot see Jesus.

How can you when you see so many other things? They must blind you to the vision of heaven. It is very easy to be so engrossed with social life, so busy and preoccupied with the things that relate to this world only, that there is no time for gazing even for a little while upon the beauty of Jesus. The summer is a ceaseless round of pleasure in the country, the winter is a hurried pursuit of the same kind of things in the city. If a serious thought for a moment arrests the mind, or an earnest appeal reaches the heart, if the eyes are turned an instant only toward heaven, the devil is more quickly there with some beautiful bandage to blind them.

That is the reason the people are not saved, they are so busy with the pleasures of earth that they have no time. One excitement after another keeps them in a whirl of unrest that destroys all thought of God. There is no leisure for quiet growth in the divine life. We must with open face behold His glory constantly. We must take time to gaze on His beauty. We must walk with Him constantly, and then we shall be transformed into His image day by day. This will not come to us all at once. We must be patient in waiting for its fulfillment. There is an instant when our sanctification is made sure to us. After that there is a gradual development of it in the life. There is first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.

So we are changed from glory to glory. We have not reached the full ideal yet. It would be a pity if we had. God comes to us this week with an infinitude of blessing for needs we have never felt before. There are heights and lengths and depths in the fullness of God, which we have not begun to measure. We can form some conception of the illimitable blessing there is in Him for us, by the measureless promise contained in Paul's prayer for the Ephesians, that ye "may be able to comprehend with all saints, what is the breadth and length and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God."

IV.

The last point is the artist who is carrying out this wonderful transformation. It is the Spirit of God. He is the photographer, and He is standing over His work, keeping the lenses right, and carefully finishing up the picture. The Holy Ghost is ever at hand to arrange everything, to color the picture and to put away and guard it so that the colors shall not fade. It is comparatively easy to take the picture, but we can't keep it from fading. We keep it in our hands; that is the trouble. We have had many pictures but they have all faded. Some vexing thing would sweep over us and they are gone.

Some of these views of Christ have been very clear and blessed, and we have thought we could never make a mistake in that direction again. But the picture did not last. Ah, dear friends, the Holy Ghost must be the artist and He must keep the picture if it is to last. Lay the vision over into His hands as soon as it is given, and say, "Now, Lord, keep this for me, and keep me to it." Raphael was for months among the dead before he ventured to paint the judgment. It has taken the Holy Ghost two thousand years to paint Christ on the dead hearts of men. Jesus Christ is the great copy before us, the Holy Ghost is the artist to do the copying, and the Father is the great original.

Let this glory be painted on us day by day. Bye-and-bye we shall be taken up into His palace to live with Him forever, and then we shall be like Him forevermore.

Chapter 23  

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