The Duty Waiting Without
J. R. Miller, 1904
It was a glorious privilege for the disciples to be with their Master on the Holy Mount. They carried the impression of the Transfiguration in their hearts, as long as they lived. Peter would have stayed there, and wanted to build tabernacles for the Master and for the visitants from heaven. He tells us in his own narrative in Mark's Gospel, that he did not know what to say. When we do not know what to say—we had better keep quiet. But Peter had not learned to do this—he thought he must always be saying something, and of necessity he said some things he had better not have said.
Peter could not have kept the heavenly messengers in the little booths made of branches which he wanted to set up. They were no longer of the earth, and could not now dwell in houses made with hands. Besides, Moses and Elijah had not come to earth to stay. They had been sent only on an errand of love to the Master, as He was setting out for His cross. They had come to cheer and encourage Him. Their errand need but a brief time, and when it was finished they hastened back into heaven. A little later the disciples "lifted up their eyes, and saw no one—but Jesus alone." No tabernacles, though built of earth's finest materials, could have kept those holy ones on the earth an hour after their sacred mission was accomplished. Peter's wish was vain.
Nor would it have been possible to keep Jesus on the mount. Work was waiting for Him that very hour, at the foot of the mountain. A father was there with his demoniac boy. For Jesus to have stayed in the tabernacle which Peter wished to build for Him there amid the glory, would have been to neglect the call of the human need, in order to enjoy spiritual pleasure Himself—and this was never Christ's way. Then He was just setting out on His last journey—at the end of which stood the cross. Not even the bliss of heavenly communion could keep Him from the work and the suffering before Him. To keep the Master on the Mount of Transfiguration would have been to hold Him back from His mission. This no constraint could have done, for He had come only to do His Father's will, and to redeem the world.
For the disciples, too, there was work waiting. They had duties to perform. They need further preparation for their great work, and then they were to be sent out to win the world for their Lord.
Devotion is not all of a holy life. It would be very sweet to stay on holy mountains with Christ and not return again to the world of toil and struggle—but that is not the purpose of our redemption. We are to pray and commune with our Master. We are to sit down at His table and enjoy the rapture of His love and the joy of His presence. But we are not to build tabernacles and stay there. We are to go quickly from the closet of devotion—out into the wide world, where a sinning, suffering, sorrowing world needs us—that we may carry to men the blessings which we have received.
Indeed, the purpose of devotion and communion is not personal enjoyment, not even purest, spiritual ecstasy as a final end; it is preparation for service. The Transfiguration experience was not meant merely to warm hearts and kindle the fires of worship—it was to help the Master to go on along His steep, rough way to the Cross; it was to strengthen the disciples' faith in their Lord and in His Divine mission. No spiritual rapture is ever intended to end with itself—it is to send us out to do something for the world!
No vision of Christ granted to us, is meant to exhaust itself in the bliss it brings—it fulfills its purpose only when its fervor makes us love Christ more intensely, and enter into His service with new enthusiasm and energy. A philosopher when he had kindled a fire on a cold day and had been warmed by it, would call himself before the bar of conscience and ask, "What did you do when you were warm?" He felt that the comfort he had received demanded some service to others in return. Every earthly comfort we enjoy, should put into us a new impulse of helpfulness, if we are living rightly. Especially is this true of every spiritual comfort, every ecstasy which thrills our hearts while we worship, every feeling of warmth produced by the Divine love shed abroad in us by the Holy Spirit.
We love our church services. We enjoy the fellowship. We are glad to sing together, to pray together, and to worship together. That is well. But what do we do when we are warmed? What is the fruit, the outcome of our enjoyment? While we are at our worship, singing our hymns of love, looking at the glory of the face of Christ, our hearts aglow with adoration—there are lost ones in homes all along our streets; there are sorrowing ones, needing our sympathy, our comfort, the touch of our hand; there are tempted ones almost yielding, almost falling away into eternal death, whom we may hearten and rescue. Let us not forget, that the purpose of the blessing which comes to us in our devotions, does not end with itself, is not meant merely to warm and gladden us—but to send us out to become a greater blessing to others. What are we doing with the heavenly gifts God is sending to us? If we are doing nothing with them, if we do not go out from our enjoyment to be a blessing to others—we are missing the blessing it was meant that we should receive.
The closet is where we meet God. It is the Holy of holies. But it is not the only place to worship God—no true worship ever ends there. Besides, we worship—that we may be prepared to serve. There is a time for waiting, for meditation, for fellowship, for prayer. But that is not all of true religion. We have the vision that we may take up the task. We are saved—that we may serve. We are left in this world—that we may make the world better. We enjoy transfiguration visions—that we may be transfigured ourselves and shine in the darkness about us. We have our hearts warmed with the love of Christ—that we may go out to be the love of Christ to others.
In a cottage in Scotland, framed in glass, is a withered rose which money could not buy. A boy died far away in the south of France, where he had gone to seek health. Henry Drummond heard of the boy's death, and, when in that region, went to his grave and picked a rose blooming on it and sent it to the boy's mother. Drummond was always doing such kindly things. In his diary he wrote: "Holiness is infinite compassion for others. Happiness is a great love and much serving."
There is not one of us, who may not go out from any religious service, any hour of devotion, ready to make others stronger. People are looking to us for strength, for comfort, for food for their hunger. We do not know what we are to others—to weak ones, to timid souls, to tempted ones, to sorrowing ones, to lonely ones—how much they need us, how they depend on us, how we may help them.
We do not know how other lives may be hurt—if we show any lack of the spirit of Christ. The world needs our best life, our bravest words, our noblest heroisms, our tenderest love, our most self forgetful help. Let us rest in the tenderness of the love of Christ, until our lives glow with its blessed warmth—and then go out to be Christ to others.
We need communing with Christ, to get our visions of duty, our ideals for life. But we must be ready then—to go down into the deepest valleys, among the sorest human needs, even where sin is doing its worst—to do the lowest tasks and the most distasteful duties.