2 Corinthians 3:18
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…
I. THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS A LIFE OF CONTEMPLATING AND REFLECTING CHRIST. It is a question whether the single word rendered in our version "beholding as in a glass," means that, or "reflecting as a glass does." But, whatever be the exact force of the word, the thing intended includes both acts. There is no reflection of the light without a previous reception of the light. In bodily sight, the eye is a mirror, and there is no sight without aa image of the thing perceived formed in the perceiving eye. In spiritual sight, the soul which beholds is a mirror, and at once beholds and reflects.
1. The great truth of a direct, unimpeded vision sounds strange to many of us. Does not Paul himself teach that we see through a glass darkly? Do we not walk by faith and not by sight? "No man hath seen God at any time, nor can see Him"; and beside that absolute impossibility have we not veils of flesh and sense, to say nothing of the covering of sin. But these apparent difficulties drop away when we take into account two things —
(1) The object of vision. "The Lord" is Jesus Christ, the manifested God, our brother. The glory which we behold and give back is not the incomprehensible, incommunicable lustre of the absolute Divine perfectness, but that glory which, as John says, we beheld in Him who tabernacled with us, full of grace and truth.
(2) The real nature of the vision itself. It is the beholding of Him with the soul by faith. "Seeing is believing," says sense; "believing is seeing," says the spirit which clings to the Lord, "whom having not seen" it loves. A bridge of perishable flesh, which is not myself but my tool, connects me with the outward world. It never touches myself at all, and I know it only by trust in my senses. But nothing intervenes between my Lord and me, when I love and trust. He is the light, which proves its own existence by revealing itself, which strikes with quickening impulse on the eye of the spirit that beholds by faith.
2. Note the universality of this prerogative: "We all." This vision does not belong to any select handful. Christ reveals Himself to all His servants in the measure of their desire after Him. Whatsoever special gifts may belong to a few in His Church, the greatest gift belongs to all.
3. This contemplation involves reflection. What we see we shall certainly show. If you look into a man's eye, you will see in it little pictures of what he beholds; and if our hearts are beholding Christ, Christ will be mirrored there. Our characters will show what we are looking at, and ought, in the case of Christian people, to bear His image so plainly that men cannot but take knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus. And you may be quite sure that, if little light comes from a Christian character, little light comes into it; and if it be swathed in thick veils from men, there will be no less thick veils between it and God. Away then with all veils! No reserve, no fear of the consequences of plain speaking, no diplomatic prudence regulating our frank utterance, no secret doctrines for the initiated! Our power and our duty lies in the full exhibition of the truth.
II. THIS LIFE OF CONTEMPLATION IS THEREFORE A LIFE OF GRADUAL TRANSFORMATION.
1. The brightness on the face of Moses was only skin-deep. It faded away, and left no trace. Thus the superficial lustre, that had neither permanence nor transforming power, becomes an illustration of the powerlessness of law to change the moral character into the likeness of the fair ideal which it sets forth. And, in opposition to its weakness, the apostle proclaims the great principle of Christian progress, that the beholding of Christ leads to the assimilation to Him.
2. The metaphor of a mirror does not wholly serve us here. When the sunbeams fall upon it, it flashes in the light, just because they do not enter its cold surface. The contrary is the case with these sentient mirrors of our spirits. In them the light must first sink in before it can ray out. They are not so much like a reflecting surface as like a bar of iron, which needs to be heated right down to its obstinate black core, before its outer skin glow with the whiteness of a heat that is too hot to sparkle. The sunshine must fall on us, not as it does on some lonely hillside, lighting up the grey stones with a passing gleam that changes nothing, and fades away, leaving the solitude to its sadness; but as it does on some cloud cradled near its setting, which it drenches and saturates with fire till its cold heart burns, and all its wreaths of vapour are brightness palpable, glorified by the light which lives amidst its mists.
3. And this contemplation will be gradual transformation. "We all beholding... are changed." It is not the mere beholding, but the gaze of love and trust that moulds us by silent sympathy into the likeness of His wondrous beauty, who is fairer than the children of men. It was a deep true thought which the old painters had when they drew John as likest to his Lord. Love makes us like. We learn thai even in our earthly relationships. Let that pure face shine upon heart and spirit, and as the sun photographs itself on the sensitive plate exposed to its light, and you get a likeness of the sun by simply laying the thing in the sun, so He will "be formed in you." Iron near a magnet becomes magnetic. Spirits that dwell with Christ become Christ-like.
4. Surely this message — "behold and be like" — ought to be very joyful and enlightening to many of us, who are wearied with painful struggles after isolated pieces of goodness that elude our grasp. You have been trying half your lifetime to cure faults, and make yourselves better. Try this other plan. Live in sight of your Lord, and catch His spirit. The man that travels with his face northwards has it grey and cold. Let him turn to the warm south, where the midday sun dwells, and his face will glow with the brightness that he sees. "Looking unto Jesus" is the sovereign cure for all our ills and sins.
5. Such transformation comes gradually. "We are changed"; that is a continuous operation. "From glory to glory"; that is a course which has well-marked transitions and degrees. Be not impatient if it be slow. Do not be complacent over the partial transformation which you have felt. See to it that you neither turn away your gaze nor relax your efforts till all that you have beheld in Him is repeated in you.
6. Likeness to Christ is the aim of all religion. To it conversion is introductory; doctrines, ceremonies, churches, and organisations are valuable as auxiliary. Prize and use them as helps towards it, and remember that they are helps only in proportion as they show us the Saviour, the image of whom is our perfectness, the beholding of whom is our transformation.
III. THE LIFE OF CONTEMPLATION FINALLY BECOMES A LIFE OF COMPLETE ASSIMILATION. "Changed into the same image, from glory to glory."
1. The likeness becomes every way perfecter, comprehends more and more of the faculties of the man; soaks into him, if I may say so, until he is saturated with the glory: and in all the extent of his being, and in all the depth possible to each part of that whole extent, is like his Lord. That is the hope for heaven, towards which we may indefinitely approximate here, and at which we shall absolutely arrive there. There we expect changes which are impossible here, while compassed with this body of sinful flesh. We look to Him to "change the body of our lowliness, that it may be fashioned like unto the body of His glory"; but it is better to be like Him in our hearts. His true image is that we should feel, think, will as He does; that we should have the same sympathies, the same loves, the same attitude towards God, and the same attitude towards men. Wherever there is the beginning of that oneness and likeness of spirit, all the rest will come in due time. As the spirit, so the body. But the beginning here is the main thing, which draws all the rest after it as of course. "If the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you," etc.
2. "We are all changed into the same image." Various as we are in disposition and character, differing in everything but the common relation to Jesus Christ, we are all growing like the same image, and we shall come to be perfectly like it, and yet each retain his own distinct individuality. Perhaps, too, we may connect with this idea that passage in the Ephesians in which Paul describes our all coming to "a perfect man." The whole of us together make a perfect man; the whole make one image. No one man, even raised to the highest pitch of perfection, can be the full image of that infinite sum of all beauty; but the whole of us taken together, with all the diversities of natural character retained and consecrated, being collectively His body which He vitalises, may, on the whole, be not a wholly inadequate representation of our perfect Lord. Just as we set round a central light sparkling prisms, each of which catches the glow at its own angle, and flashes it back of its own colour, while the sovereign completeness of the perfect white radiance comes from the blending of all their separate rays, so they who stand round about the starry throne receive each the light in his own measure and manner, and give forth each a true and perfect, and altogether a complete image of Him that enlightens them all, and is above them all.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.