The Transfiguration – Perceiving The True Nature Of The Word

The sun shall no longer be your light by day, Nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; But the Lord will be to you an everlasting light, And your God your glory. Your sun shall no longer go down, Nor shall your moon withdraw itself; For the Lord will be your everlasting light, And the days of your mourning shall be ended. Also your people shall all be righteous; They shall inherit the land forever, The branch of My planting, The work of My hands, That I may be glorified. A little one shall become a thousand, And a small one a strong nation. I, the Lord, will hasten it in its time. (Isaiah 60:19-22)

And after six days Jesus takes Peter, and James, and John his brother, and brings them up into a high mountain apart, and was transformed before them; and His face shone as the sun, and His garments became white as the light. And, behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him. And Peter answering said to Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here; if Thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles: one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah. While he was yet speaking, behold, an illuminated cloud overshadowed them; and, behold, a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him. And the disciples hearing, fell on their face, and were very afraid. And Jesus coming touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one, except Jesus alone. And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, Tell the vision to no one, until the Son of Man be risen from the dead. (Matthew 17:1-9)

The Lord took Peter, James, and John, because by them the church in respect to faith, charity, and the works of charity was represented; He took them “into a high mountain,” because “mountain” signifies heaven; “His face did shine as the sun,” because “face” signifies the interiors, and it did shine as the sun because His interiors were Divine, for the “sun” is Divine love; “His garments became white as the light,” because “garments” signify Divine truth proceeding from Him; the like is signified by “light.” “Moses and Elijah” appeared, because the two signify the Word, “Moses” the historical Word, and “Elijah” the prophetical Word; “a bright cloud overshadowed them,” because “a bright cloud” signifies the Word in the letter within which is the internal sense; “a voice out of the cloud said, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, hear ye Him,” because “a voice out of the cloud” signifies Divine truth out of the Word, and “beloved Son,” the Lord’s Divine Human. And because Divine truth is from Him, and thence all truth of the church, it was said out of the cloud, “in whom I am well pleased, hear ye Him. (Apocalypse Explained 64.2)

The Lord’s life in the world, as depicted in the Gospels, was a representative life or a life dedicated to representing higher celestial and spiritual realities on the sensual and corporeal level of consciousness. This must be grasped if the Word is to be understood in a way whereby it can be practically applied to the inner life of the mind. Restated in a slightly different way, this means that the Lord came into the world as a person so that the processes governing the regeneration of the human mind by the Word might be re-presented on the physical plane and so be accommodated to the lowest levels of human perception. When we read the Word and we find our thought regarding the Lord resting in the idea of His historical person, the situations, circumstances and relationships associated with His natural life, we are then thinking naturally but if when reading the Word our thought revolves around ideas concerning the activity of truths and goods and the processes that govern the regeneration of the human mind, our thought then rests in what is spiritual. The function of the natural is to house the spiritual, to represent it on a lower plane so that we might have something from which to step up from the natural to the spiritual level of life. So to see the Lord in terms of a physical person is to see from the natural man, to see the Lord as the Word is to see from the spiritual man and it is only when life is viewed from the spiritual man that the natural can be seen in its proper perspective. All persons in the Word represent Divine things and the person and life of the Lord in the world represents those things most perfectly of all.

If the relationship of the disciples to the Lord as depicted in the literal sense of the Word teach us anything about the spiritual life, they teach us that our perceptions regarding the Lord are inevitably in a constant state of flux despite our efforts to fix them into something static. This tendency of the human mind to capture and fix what is dynamic into a rigid form is poignantly illustrated for us in our reading for today, where we see Peter, having witnessed the transfiguration and seen the Lord speaking with Moses and Elijah, suggests building three tabernacles, one for each of them.

Peter represents our intellectual relationship to spiritual matters or what is called faith.The intellectual faculty of the human mind is orientated towards building mental structures that capture and explain what we experience. This provides a way whereby a living experience can have a level of permanence that we can access in our thinking over and over again, either to relive the experience or communicate it to others. But the intellectual functions can only really offer descriptions or images of experience and are never the experience as it is in itself. So while we may be able to describe our personal experience to another we can’t actually give them our first-hand experience as we experienced it. And while descriptions of an experience can never be a satisfying substitute for having the actual experience itself, this ability of the intellectual faculty to structure experience so that it can be stored in the memory is, of course, an important one. But it also can create problems should we begin to value memories over the actual experience in spiritual matters.

Everything in the Word describes first-hand experiences that are living realities continually being played out within every human mind. These have little to do with the actual historical figures and settings of the stories found in its literal sense. These elements merely serve as a covering that can both conceal and reveal the living processes connected with peoples’ regeneration by means of the Word. Such realities are concealed from us when we are not looking to work with truths in relation to the life of the mind and they are revealed when the focus of our life is towards working with truths with a view to self-examination and repentance. Peter, James, and John, in connection with the Lord in this story, represent all those elements within us that have to come together and be elevated if we are to see and experience the Lord as the spiritual sense of the Word. So it is that we read…

And after six days Jesus is taking aside Peter and James and John, his brother, and is bringing them up into a high mountain, privately.

The six days represent in general the successive states a person must pass through if they are to be regenerated and have their perceptions opened to the deeper things of the Word. We note that the representative name used for the Lord here is the name, Jesus. This is because by this name is meant the Divine Good and more specifically its operation within the natural mind as the Lord’s desire for the salvation of the human race. That desire is embodied or made flesh as the Word and so, it is Jesus or the Word that takes hold of what has been established in those who, through the practice of the Word, have had truths established as governing principles in their life, this being represented by Peter, James, and John. These three (remembering that the number three corresponds to what is complete) taken together represent the essentials of spiritual life into which the Lord can be received whereby the true nature of the Word can be brought to conscious awareness.

The ability to perceive the Lord is directly related to the degree to which the mind has been purified of those evils and falsities that close it off from the higher things of the spirit. Each of the disciples represents one of three essential elements that are required if this process of purification is to take place and the Lord, or what is good and true is to be more clearly perceived. Peter represents our understanding of the Word, our faith, or doctrine, and he is mentioned first because we must first be led into an understanding of truths from the Word if we are to be able to recognise our evils. Truths are given that we might be instructed as to how to live. Clearly, without such knowledge, there can be no, or at most minimal progress in the development of a genuine spiritual life. Peter then is the light of the understanding that arises from truths residing in the mind when there is a desire to apply them to life. Without this desire, which is what is meant spiritually by the term charity, there can be no light. So what might this desire look like? Simply, it is being in the effort to examine our inner states of life in the light of our understanding of the Word. This is what Peter represents practically, for he is described in the doctrines for Spiritual Christianity as truth from good.

The function of light is to reveal things and it is a spiritual law that we only perceive those things that are in keeping with our state, or if you like in keeping with what we truly desire. If there is no desire to examine our mental life from what truths teach then nothing will be seen, there will be no light. But if, in response to truths, we begin to look within with a view to assessing the quality of our thoughts and affections then something related to changes in our inner states of life becomes possible. To gather truths from the Word with a view to getting an understanding of what’s required of us so far as living a spiritual life is concerned, is a state of life called Peter. Whereas to actually take truths and use them to examine the quality of our thoughts and affections is a state called James, hence in the Word, we find that James represents or is called, “charity“. We are taught that from charity, or love of the neighbour comes conscience. Inwardly, this is the affection for truth for the sake of life or what is good. Once having worked from the Word to identify our evils the next step is to repent of them. The life of repentance brings into being the good of charity which is a state called John. Therefore in the small work called Charity 27, we read that…

Evil is first to be removed, because it is against charity (which is done by repentance), before the good that a man does is the good of charity. Since evil must first be known in order that it may be removed, therefore the Decalogue was the first of the Word, and in the whole Christian world it is also the first of the doctrine of the church. All are initiated into the church by knowing evil and not doing it, because it is against God.

That truths must be applied to life if the spiritual mind is to be opened and the true nature of the Word perceived is taught throughout the doctrines for Spiritual Christianity. The question is what does it mean to apply truths to life? We have two lives, an outer life and an inner life. If our focus is an inner focus then the life to which truths are to be applied is our mental life. The Word’s outer sense is for the outer life or natural man but its inner sense is for the inner life or spiritual man. The natural sense of the Word instructs us concerning external life but it is its spiritual sense that instructs us as to how we are to live internally and it is the latter that constitutes a saving faith. Insights into the inner application of the Word can only arise when there is a conscious effort to apply the Word inwardly for it is through such efforts that Peter, James and John are able to be taken by Jesus up a high mountain or that our faith, charity and the works of charity, are able to be drawn more inwardly. For these things to be drawn inward is the same as saying that our interests undergo a shift from a focus on external life to a focus on our internal life. We actually experience such a shift as a willingness to make the effort to examine the quality of our mental life from truths from the Word.

That they only [Peter, James & John] were present signifies that no others can see the glory of the Lord, which is in His Word than those who are in faith, in its charity, and in the good of charity. Others are indeed able to see, but still do not see, because they do not believe.  (Arcana Coelestia 2135{2})

For it is when truths are applied to life, that a transformation occurs in how the Word is perceived, represented in the Word by the Lord’s transfiguration…

…and (He) was transformed in front of them. And His face shines as the sun, yet His garments became white as the light.

Of this in the work, Doctrine of Sacred Scripture 48 we read that,

The Word in its glory was represented by the Lord when He was transfigured… (see also True Christian Religion 222{6})

There can be no doubt that what is described here is seeking to direct our attention to consider the nature of the very Texts of Divine revelation from their inmost to outermost coverings. That these constitute the fullness of God and as such are the Word accommodated to every level of human and angelic consciousness. The Lord ,we are told, re-presented the Word while in the world and through the transfiguration representatively demonstrated that the Word is the fullness of Divine Love and Wisdom present with people. The testimony it gives concerning itself is that which is heard in the voice from a cloud,

…lo a luminous cloud overshadows them, and lo! A voice out of the cloud, saying, “This is My Son, the Beloved, in Whom I delight. Hear Him!”

That cloud is the letter of the Word and the voice or doctrine that comes forth through it declares that the very texts of Divine revelation is the “Son” or the Divine Truth, the Beloved, in Whom the Divine Good delights or finds its fulfilment. For it is through the Son and the Son alone that people have the possibility to come into the life of heaven…

For God so loved the world, that He gave His Only-begotten Son, that everyone who believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Where by “Son” is understood not a person in time but what that person in time represented, which is the Word present with us as the texts of Divine Revelation.

Nothing else constitutes spiritual life with man but the knowledges of truth and good from the Word applied to life; and they are applied to life when man holds them as the laws of his life, for he then looks to the Lord in everything, and with such the Lord is present, and gives intelligence and wisdom and an affection for them and delight in them. For the Lord is in His truths with man, since every truth proceeds from the Lord, and what proceeds from the Lord that is His, even so that it is He…The Lord is called “the Word” because the Word signifies Divine truth; He is also called “the Light” because Divine truth is the light in the heavens; He is also called “the Life,” because everything that lives, lives from that life; (Apocalypse Explained 196)

One Comment

  1. Kirsten Schoenberger

    Thanks you for this sermon, David. I felt a strong need this morning to hear the Word of the Lord. Unfortunately for me, Sunday is often just another day in the week. I am grateful for the chance to refocus on higher things today. 2/11/18

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