The word “transformed” occurs twice with reference to Christians; (Romans 12: 2; 2 Corinthians 3: 18).
Every believer tries to be reformed, but, as far as I know, very few have apprehended the great moral difference between reformation and transformation. Believers as a rule rejoice that they are saved, and aim to be up to the language of Micah 6: 8, “to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God”. There are many who have accepted the truth, that by the grace of God the believer is transferred from Adam to Christ, and that they are clear of the old man in the sight of God, who do not think that they should give up their innocent pleasures and their natural interests; they have no true idea of what it is to be “transformed”. If you analyse the two words, the meaning of each is plain enough. Reformation is improvement, and refers to what already exists; but transformation means a change of being. This, as far as I see, is little known.
In Romans 12: 2, we are exhorted not to be “conformed to this world”, but to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind”. This means a new mind, something thoroughly new; so that you are not to behave in the sight of men according to the world, but according to the mind of Christ. Hence, at the end of his exhortation, the apostle says, “put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Romans 13: 14). It is not a question as to whether the order of this world is good or not, but you are not to be conformed to it any more: you are to be “transformed” according to a new mind, and thus be able to “prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God”. You begin with your fellow Christians, and as detailed in chapter 13, behave yourself among men in a new way.
It would take too much time to go fully into it; all I desire is to awaken souls to the solemn fact that transformation is not accepting the good and refusing the evil only, but it is coming out in quite a new way on the earth. Everyone who knows anything of his own heart must know that he has tastes and desires connected with this earthly scene, and the more they are gratified the stronger they become; but as he walks in the Spirit he finds that what he likes most in the natural order of things is the very thing he must avoid: “No man … having drunk old wine straight-way desireth new; for he saith, The old is better” (Luke 5: 39).
It will not do to say, as Saul said of Amalek (1 Samuel 15), that the vile and refuse he utterly destroyed. We have to treat the old man as if we had done with him, as “crucified with Christ”, and therefore what would awaken our ambition, or our natural desires, we must most dread. Very slowly do we learn to be altogether non-conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of our mind. I have heard a devoted servant of Christ, who had long been in His service, say that what he allowed himself last year he would not allow himself this year.
There are two lines to which the natural man cleaves with the greatest tenacity; the one is his individual rights, and the other his station in life, whether great or small. Both of these were provided for and insisted on under the law, and every civilised nation in great measure maintains them; but these are just what we have to relinquish. We see an instance in Acts 16 of how Paul at Philippi surrendered his rights as a Roman and he received manifold more, and was most highly honoured of God; but in Jerusalem (Acts 22), where he stood up for his rights as a Roman, it was only by human means that he was delivered. Natural men form clubs and societies to secure their rights; the natural man’s resource is combination with his fellows, exemplified in Babel, culminating in the moral Babylon, which sets forth man enjoying himself in entire independence of God. Now as to station in life, everyone according to his ability jealously maintains it, whether he has acquired it, or whether it is his by birth; those who have acquired it, regard the position they have obtained as a testimonial to their personal ability, and hence they seek to preserve it scrupulously. But this is the world, and it is plain from John 16, that you cannot be a witness for Christ if you do not come out in the power of God’s Spirit, apart from and beyond all that is of the world. The Spirit from Christ in heaven testifies not only that the world is sin, but that there is no righteousness here; therefore the witness for Christ cannot accept any position or distinction conferred by the world. He is here to glorify Christ, and Christ’s things, which are the things of the Father, are made known to him by the Spirit; (John 16). Literally he comes out here as a new man, to stand for Christ according to Ephesians 4, unhindered, because he finds that the prince of this world is judged; and according to Ephesians 6, he can withstand all the power of the enemy, and having done all he stands.
So far we have looked at the transforming of Romans. Now as to the transforming in 2 Corinthians 3:18, the blessedness of it is that it is by beholding the Lord’s glory with unveiled face that we are transformed into the same image; that is, we are brought into moral correspondence with Himself. It is not merely a new course outside and apart from the world as in Romans, but here we are in conscious connection with Himself. In Romans we begin with being established in grace; chapter 12 is properly connected with the end of chapter 6: “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness” (Romans 6: 22). This transforming begins with the gospel, but in 2 Corinthians 3 the contrast is between the demand for righteousness and the ministration of righteousness. The Lord Jesus Christ having accomplished righteousness, is raised from the dead and received up into glory. In Him now, every attribute of God is expressed to God’s entire satisfaction. What could not be shown to Moses (Exodus 33: 20) is now the light of the gospel to everyone turned to God, as Saul of Tarsus found. He had seen the light and he had heard the voice of the Lord, and after three days he knows he has a Saviour in glory, and he receives the Holy Spirit.
It is true that every convert does not enjoy the light of His glory, because many are dwelling more upon the work than upon the Person who did the work. The fact is, the nearer you are to Him in glory the more assured you are of being in the righteousness of God, and that you are there without a cloud; and it is as you behold the Lord there, that you are transformed into moral correspondence to Himself. Many have been misled by thinking that by reading the Bible they get like Christ – transformed; but you will find diligent students of the word, who may never say anything incorrect in doctrine, yet who never seem to act in spiritual power. “He that is spiritual judgeth all things”; (1 Corinthians 2: 15) he can distinguish between two points in which there is the least difference. I may illustrate study and spirituality by two classes of hounds; the greyhound hunts by sight, the foxhound by scent. The former sees, and is correct while he sees; but the latter scents; he goes through all kinds of difficulties to reach his object. It is not only a great thing to see what is stated in Scripture, but to have a divine susceptibility to know what suits Christ. It is like the difference between reading a biography and personal acquaintance. Transformation takes place by simply beholding the Lord’s glory. On Him rests the glory of God, and in beholding it you are transformed. You have no presentiment as to what the effect on you will be; but whether it is beholding Him in the assembly as to His things on the earth, or as to your individual concerns, you are transformed into a line that you never thought of; you come from Him into your circumstances here, with the impression made on you by Himself.
In Psalm 73 we are instructed as to how a man of God was impressed when he came into the sanctuary, even though the Lord’s presence was there only known in a cloud of glory. This typifies something much greater for us. It sets forth how you can individually, in your own room, come into the presence of Christ; but it is only by the Spirit of God that you can come into His presence, and if you are led by the Spirit you are apart from the flesh; you are practically in deliverance for the time being, and thus you get a sense of what deliverance is, though you are not fully in deliverance here, until you know that you are delivered from this “wretched man”, and that you are in Christ by the Spirit; this you must know before you can “walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing” (Colossians 1: 10). I say this because I can quite understand a person being so in the Spirit for the moment, that he is free to enjoy the Lord; and yet when he returns to his circumstances here, he does not enjoy deliverance because he has not learned it experimentally.
But to return to Psalm 73. The first great impression made upon the psalmist is that of the presence of God. He had been looking at things around him with reference to himself, and judging of them; but when he goes into the sanctuary, the presence of God absorbs him, and he sees how God is above everything, and he himself is a dissolving view. Thirdly, he never was so sure of his place with God: “Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me” (Psalm 73: 23). Fourthly, he can say, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee” (Psalm 73: 25). And he winds up with, “God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever” (Psalm 73:26).
It is very interesting to find how each of us can be influenced individually by drawing near to the Lord. I know the case of a young man in college bent on going to the bar. He was suddenly taken ill, and when the servant left the room to go to the doctor, because he was fainting, he lay on his bed thinking within himself that he was going to Jesus. In a little while he revived, but he was completely transformed as to all his worldly aspirations, and without consulting anyone he decided to give up the bar, and with it all his natural expectations, in order to serve the Lord. I cite this to show how definitely the Lord transforms you to His own mind when you are really near Him, even for a moment. I remember when I knew but little of praying, saying to a dear man of God, I find when I am praying for some time I get lost, and he replied, That is the time to continue praying.
It is very encouraging to know that if you make known all your requests to God, if you are near enough to Him to know that you have told Him – have made them known to Him – though you may get no immediate answer, yet however perturbed you were on account of them before, you come away transformed to the peace of God which passeth all understanding. Still more do we see this in the case of Stephen; (Acts 7). He, “being full of the Holy Spirit, having fixed his eyes on heaven, he saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God … And kneeling down, he cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7: 55, 56 and 60). If you are suffering for Christ here, the sight of Him in glory will so transform you, that you will be like Stephen, who was not occupied with his own sufferings, but with the glory of God, and the blessing of others.
Now when you behold Christ and His glory in the assembly, you are transformed into moral correspondence with His present mind, like the two disciples in Luke 24, when He manifested Himself to them. While going to Emmaus they were greatly interested by His unfolding of the scripture to them, but when their eyes were opened they knew Him; they were transformed, they were diverted from their own interests, and at a late hour they go to Jerusalem to the circle of His interests. Thus one who has sat under His shadow with great delight, comes forth from the assembly occupied with His interests. As you behold Him, there is an impression made upon you by the Spirit of God which you never lose. Here, I think, special gifts come in. A gift is some distinct impression made upon the soul by the Spirit of God – what the burning bush was to Moses.
But though you cannot lose what you are given by the Spirit of God, you may sleep. It was after a very happy time that the bride in Canticles retired to seek her own rest; chapter 5. “Sleep” is seeking one’s own ease – practical inactivity for Christ. It shows how naturally perverse we are, to find that after the brightest season we can be drawn away by reading or company – not to speak of lower things – to seek what suits ourselves. But the Lord is gracious. He awakens us from the sleep, and draws us nearer to Himself than even we were before. Nothing can convey a deeper impression of what the greatness of His grace is, than that we should be not only awakened from our selfishness, but, as we read: “Wake up, thou that sleepest, and arise up from among the dead, and the Christ shall shine upon thee” (Ephesians 5: 14). We not only return to what we have left, but more is added to us. If a “father” sleeps, he does not awake as a “babe”, but as a “father”, and with a deeper sense of his place with Christ. Thus it is in association with Him we become morally like Him, and as we advance we know Him in the sphere of His life; risen with Him we are outside and apart from everything here. And it is not merely that we are in correspondence with Him, but He instructs us as to His will and pleasure with relation to His own, with whom we are conversant; so that when we learn that we are united to Him who is in glory, we can come forth in the new man to express His beauty and grace here on the earth as His witnesses, able to stand against all the wiles of the devil. This is transformation of the highest order.
The Lord lead our hearts to apprehend the great contrast between the natural man, however reformed, and the new man growing up into the likeness of Christ.
February 2nd, 1897