“WHILE he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.”
Various indeed, grand and sublime beyond description, have been the manifestations of Jesus to his disciples; and perhaps none of them have been more glorious than the one now under consideration. In the preceding chapter the Redeemer had been warning his disciples of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and had therein revealed to Peter something of the nature of his kingdom here upon the earth. He then gave them some instructions relative to his death, and resurrection from the dead. And it is quite evident from the answer of Peter to him, that he was as yet in great ignorance of the true nature of the mission of Jesus into the world. The Lord was not pleased to let in the full blaze of the light of the knowledge of his glory upon the minds of his disciples at once, for they were not yet able to bear it. But he manifested the light in proportion as he strengthened and prepared their minds to receive it, and thus step by step he led them on from glory to glory, in the knowledge of himself as the Son of God, and Redeemer of the church. And when he had told them that he must be killed and raised again from the dead, Peter began to rebuke him; for which rebuke the Savior reproved him sharply. Shortly after this Jesus took Peter, James and John up into a high mountain apart, when this most grand and enrapturing scene described in the text occurred. We read that Jesus was transfigured before them, and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. And behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. It was at this juncture that Peter proposed building three tabernacles, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elias. “While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them.” Whatever this cloud was in itself, we believe we are correct in saying it was the symbol of the presence of the glory of the eternal Jehovah. The Redeemer had on different occasions manifested himself in the cloud, and in a way that those to whom the manifestation was made, were made to know that God was with them. When God blessed Noah, and established his covenant with him, that he would no more cut off all flesh with the waters of a flood, the cloud was his chosen emblem, in which he set his bow, the token of that covenant. The declaration was, and “I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of the covenant between me and the earth.” And I will look upon it, and remember my covenant for perpetual generations. The covenant was made with all the earth, and the token is that which all the earth can see. And all the ages which have passed and gone, the rising and falling of Empires, with all the various and changing seasons and scenes, which have existed from that time until the present, have not removed the token, nor annulled the decree, and by it we are still assured that all flesh shall not any more be cut off with the waters of a flood, and to this day the token is seen, and through its soft and beautiful hues it is yet proclaiming to men the immutability, mercy and faithfulness, of the covenant and unchanging God. If we pursue this cloud a little farther, we will find it the emblem of another bright, merciful and luminous manifestation from the God of grace and glory. - We refer in this instance, to the cloud that attended the Israelites in their journeyings from Egypt to Canaan. And by it God led Joseph like a flock, and Israel by the right way, that he might go to a city of habitation. But the question naturally arises, How did he lead them? Is God a man, that he should take Israel by the hand literally, and lead them forth? What shall be their unerring guide, and their unfailing protection through the wilderness, and over that trackless path with which they are altogether unacquainted, and which alone leads to their land of promise? Will God do anything more than to command them to the land of promise? Will he not leave them to guess at the way, and search it out for themselves, and leave them subject to the misfortune of missing the right way, dependent upon circumstances, and the direction of mortals? By no means; God led them. But how did he lead them? The language of the inspired writer is more full and clear upon this point, than any other can be. - “And they took their journey from Succoth, and encamped in Etham, in the edge of the wilderness. And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night he took not away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.” From the foregoing Scripture, we cannot fail to discover that Israel were led by the Lord their God. They were not only led by the cloud (the emblem of God’s presence, power and glory,) but it was also a protection to them from their enemies. When they were pursued by their enemies, this cloud stood between the two companies, and the Egyptians could not have reached the Israelites until they passed through the pillar of cloud, and thus we see them completely protected from the wrath of Egypt’s king. This cloud, called the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them, and came between the camp of the Egyptians, and the camp of Israel, and while it was a cloud and darkness to them, it gave light to Israel. None, methinks, can fail to discover the fullness of the blessing of this cloud, for it was the leader and protector of Israel; the presence of their God with them, manifesting these mercies which could come from no other source. When God commanded Moses to make a tabernacle, he commanded him to make all things according to the pattern presented to him on the mount. The tabernacle was to accompany the Israelites in their journeyings through the wilderness, and on the day it was reared up, the cloud covered it, namely, the tent of the testimony; and at even there was upon the tabernacle, as it were, the appearance of fire, until morning. So it was always, the cloud covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night. And when the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, then the children of Israel journeyed onward, and in the place where the cloud abode, there the children of Israel pitched their tents. From the foregoing we cannot fail to see the wisdom and sovereignty of God, in leading his chosen people into the promised land of their inheritance, and they could not lose their way, for God was with them in the cloud as their leader; neither could the enemy destroy them, for the Lord was their protection, and very present help in every time of need. The cloud bade them to march onward, and it commanded them to rest, and whither it moved they went; when it rested, they rested, and it then passed around and stood between the two camps. But these manifestations to national Israel, were but feeble glimmerings of the revelation of the glory of God in his church in the gospel. They were but the shadow of things to come; the body or substance of which is Christ. Our Lord said to his disciples, “Blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, that many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.” The legal ministration of the law was but a shadow, and all its glory was borrowed, as the light and glory of the moon are borrowed from the sun. And we are informed that the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did, (which hope is Christ.) There was never a law given which could give life; the vail was over the law, and there was no looking upon it with open face. But in the gospel the apostle says, “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.” Here then, the superlative glory, the substance, that better thing, which God hath provided for us in the gospel, is revealed, and was declared out of that bright cloud which overshadowed the disciples at the transfiguration. But why did the cloud appear at this time, and at the ascension of our Lord to glory, and appear no more? To this, it may be answered, that Jesus was a minister of the circumcism, to confirm the promise made unto the fathers, and the types and shadows must remain until Jesus is glorified, and the substance comes in all its perfection, and swallows up all these things in its transcendent glory. When the cloud covered the tent of the congregation of Israel, the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle, and Moses could not enter into the tent of the congregation. And there is certainly no room for the law of Moses, or a conditional covenant, in the gospel of Christ. There can be no room for the ministration of condemnation and death, in the ministration of life; for it is covered and filled with Christ, its living glory, its life, its all and in all. But it is said that this cloud is taken up, and has not been seen in that peculiar form and manner, in which it appeared to Israel, since the ascension of our Lord. And what is now to be the guide and protection of the church, and how are we to know what has the seal and authority of heaven, and what has not? How are we to know who the people of God are, that are walking in gospel truth and order, and what is the infallible rule by which we may distinguish them from those who are walking after the traditions and commandments of men? All claim to be right, but opposite directions and jargons assure us that some are wrong. And it is truly an important inquiry, how shall we distinguish between him that serveth God, and him that serveth him not? The text affords us the infallible rule. That cloud prefigured Christ as its substance, and the last words heard out of it were uttered by the eternal God, and were, “This is my beloved Son; hear ye him.” The cloud will no more guide the wandering Israelites, for the gospel kingdom is now to be set up, and Christ is King and Lawgiver therein; and he shall tell his subjects, not through the movable emblem of the vaporing cloud, but with his own words, what the commands of the gospel are, and wherein they shall walk. Moses and Elias talked together with Christ at the transfiguration, but Moses and Elias are now lost sight of, and swallowed up in Christ.
The Patriarchal and Jewish dispensations bore testimony to Christ, but now he has come, the testimony is swallowed up in Christ, the substance. The prophets foretold his coming in the flesh, and now he has come and fulfilled all that was written of him, and here all types, shadows and prophecies, have come to an end. The law and the prophets were until John, but now the kingdom of heaven is preached, and Jesus himself declared, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning him. Hence we are not to take the law of Moses for our guide. The law of Moses has no power over a gospel subject, for Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every believer. Yet we are not without law to Christ; and in relation to this, the apostle said, “For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” But to return to the language, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” We cannot receive the idea, that God has any sons with whom he is not well pleased, or that there is any sonship out of Christ. But here, Christ the Mediator, (and the children of God were never without an elder brother and mediator,) is spoken of particularly. The prophet Isaiah spake of Christ, in his mediatorial character, as the cloud by day, the shining of a flaming fire by night, and the defense upon all the glory of Zion. He also spake of him as the Son and Lawgiver, and the one upon whose shoulder the government should rest. God also declared that he gave him, a commander and leader to Israel. Now, if the government is upon his shoulder, and he is the commander and leader, it certainly can be nothing short of idolatry to follow in any other way, or establish anything as religious institutions which he has not commanded. The eternal God declared himself well pleased in Christ as Mediator, Savior and Redeemer of the church, and he is well pleased also with his children in him, for they are all accepted together in the beloved, and it is Jesus whom they acknowledge as their only Lawgiver, Lord and Christ. Agreeable with this is the commission itself. In this the disciples are to teach all nations (or the saints among all nations,) to observe all things which Christ has commanded them, and they have nothing to do with Moses, for he is dead. The Lord buried him, and even his sepulchre is nowhere to be found in the gospel. When we listen to the command, “Hear ye him,” (my Son) we are as gospel subjects to listen to, and obey God rather than men, and look to Christ, and turn away from Moses. And where can we find where Christ ever commanded a subject in the gospel to keep the law of Moses, and obey the conditions of the old covenant, as a means of salvation, or as having anything to do with the children of grace, under the gospel dispensation? Did he ever tell any one that he had fulfilled a part of the law, and that the balance was to be complied with by man? Never. But he did declare that heaven and earth should pass away, but not one jot or tittle of the law should pass until all was fulfilled. He came to fulfill the law and the prophets; to pay all the requirements of the law; to die under its curse, and to redeem therefrom the bone of his bone, and the flesh of his flesh, and he was straitened until he had accomplished it. He bore the curse of the law for his brethren, and delivered them from that curse; he having been made a curse for them. Many people suppose that they have much to do to help Christ along in the great business of salvation. But all such have yet to learn the beauty and force of that saying, “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” In the glorious plan of salvation, Christ does everything, and the church receives all things, and this excludes boasting, exhibits grace, exalts the Redeemer, and glorifies God. And all the commands of Christ are to the children of his kingdom. And these commands are simply to follow him. And how unlike they are to the commands of men. The subject is most beautifully illustrated in Acts XV. There were certain men which came down from Judea, which believed, and taught the brethren, saying, Except ye be circumcised, and keep the law of Moses, ye cannot be saved. And when the apostles had assembled, there rose up certain of the pharisees which believed, saying that it was necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. And these pharisees were believers. In what did they believe? Just what Arminians believe in now, and what they preach and contend for: that it is necessary for man to do something; which something will amount to an obedience which God will accept as conditions of his salvation. But what said that judge in Israel, even the one to whom Jesus gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven? Peter said unto them, Why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon their necks which neither we, nor our fathers, were able to bear? Peter had received no authority from Christ to command the disciples among the Gentiles to observe these things. But what commandment had he received? We must now most certainly look for him to act in strict accordance with the authority and command given him by his Master. The apostles considered the matter, and sent a message to those brethren, whose hearts had been made sad by these false teachers. And it is still the duty of all the servants of Christ to lift their voice against every species of error, and present to their brethren the glorious consolations of the gospel. This consolation is found in the message already referred to, and which we will here transcribe, and will remark that the effect produced was the same that all gospel messages will invariably produce upon the entire household of faith. After the apostles had prefaced their message with a solemn declaration that they had given those judaizing teachers no commandment to lay this conditional system upon the disciples, they say, “For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden that these necessary things: that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication; from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well.” And when the epistle had been read, they rejoiced for the consolation. The gospel of Christ is a message of consolation to the brethren at all times, and under all circumstances. It proclaims to them the fullness of their redemption, and the glory of that liberty wherewith Christ hath made them free. And all the commands of the gospel require nothing more nor less, than for its subjects to follow Christ, in the ordinances of it, through evil, as well as good report. They call upon none in heaven, or earth, to devise ways, make laws, or institute means for the salvation of men, or the furtherance of the glory of God. The eternal Father hath given Christ, a commander and leader to the people, and it is his to command, and theirs to obey. And in this obedience they are not to lead, but are to follow Christ. And he has said, “If ye love me keep my commandments.” They have nothing to do with Moses. They left him on the Pisgah of the law, and were led by Jesus into the Canaan of the gospel, and to him they are to look, and from him they receive all the commands which they are to obey; and in all this obedience they show forth his praise, and acknowledge him as their Redeemer and Commander, and the Captain of their salvation. They know no other commander, they have no other leader; they acknowledge him alone as King in Zion, and it is he that they obey as the only Lawgiver in Israel. Let us then run with patience the race set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
Middletown, N. Y.
Sept. 15, 1854.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 3
Pages 128 - 136