No. 2

Luke 9:28
And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray.

There are four circumstances in this verse, which I proposed to consider – the time, the persons, the place and the design.  The two first I have noticed and am now to proceed.
3. The place to which he led his disciples
This was a high mountain.  What mountain or where situated is a point of more curiosity than use.  The reason of his choosing such a place seems obvious – it was doubtless for the opportunity of retirement.  When he would show them his glory he took them aside from the crowd.  He taught frequently in public in the temple and in the streets, but he revealed himself more intimately to his disciples when he had them apart from the world.  Hence we observe:
  3.1 The Lord withdraws his people from the hurries of the world to show them his goodness and his glory.  To this he calls them by his Word and Spirit and oftentimes by his providence.  Not that they are to forsake their stations and services in life – he will give them grace and wisdom for their public callings also – but they must not be engrossed with these.  They must have seasons of waiting upon him in the mountain apart, or they will deprive themselves of their best privileges.  Several things we may mention, that seem to answer to this mountain in my text, by which he takes occasion to reveal his glory to those who love him.
    3.1.1 The ordinances
These, though public in one sense as with regard to their outward administration, they are open to all, are in another private.  Many can tell what a retreat they find in them from the noise and cares of the world.  Therefore they are glad to go up to the house of the Lord, which is called the mountain of his holiness.  In their own houses they are in the midst of hurry and confusion, and they expect when they return to meet new trials at the very threshold of the door. [1]  But while they are in the mountain they are at peace – there for a little season they forget their distractions, they get balm for their wounds, and are renewed in strength for the warfare.  How sweet are Sabbaths and ordinances in this view!  They say with Peter, It is good to be here, [2] and here if it might be they would stay, and return to an ensnaring, troublesome world no more.
    3.1.2 Secret prayer
The exercise of secret prayer, is as a retired mountain where the Lord promises to meet and shine upon his people.  Satan knows that he cannot greatly prevail against those who are frequent and fervent in prayer, and therefore he bends his chief strength and subtlety to divert or discourage them from it.  And indeed, so to speak, this hill of prayer is steep.  It is pleasant when we can reach the top, but the ascent is wearisome to the flesh.  But there are happy seasons when the Lord as it were leads them by the hand; then they mount up as with eagle's wings – they get above the world, and he causes his goodness to pass before them.
    3.1.3 Afflictions
Sometimes afflictions answer the purpose of this mountain.  Perhaps a believer has insensibly given way to a worldly spirit, is hurried about many things, multiplying cares and burdens without necessity; another is seduced into wrong compliances, to mix with unprofitable company, and waste the time – that time that might be better employed.  When either of these is the case, the soul cannot thrive.  And as there is no medium, not to go forward is to go back.  There are some who need not be asked by those who know them, Why art thou lean from day to day? [3]  They are ensnared by easy besetting temptations, and mix their food with ashes. [4]  Many have suffered this way, and have reason to bless the Lord that he sent some affliction – perhaps a fit of sickness – which put a stop to their worldly pursuits, gave them leisure to consider their ways, and proved as a mountain to them where they sought and obtained a new blessing.
  3.2 The Lord affords his people seasons of refreshment which the world knows nothing of.  The scribes and Pharisees who despised Jesus could not but despise his followers.  They little thought of what passed upon this mountain.  Had they seen him transfigured they would not so much have wondered at the disciples' attachment to him.  It is thus still.  The world see that the Lord's people have their trials, dejections and infirmities, but they know nothing of their consolations.  Therefore they either pity or despise them and suppose they lead a poor, melancholy life.  They would not think so if they knew all.  His people have indeed their heart bitternesses, but a stranger intermeddleth not with their joys. [5]  One gracious visit from his presence makes them amends for many sufferings.  A day or an hour of communion with him is better than a thousand. [6]
  3.3 The experiences of different believers are very different at the same time.  While some are rejoicing, others are sorrowing.  These three were happy upon the mount – the rest had a sharp exercise of their faith in their master's absence (Luke 9:40). [7]
4. [The design]
The last circumstance mentioned in this verse is the design: he went up into the mountain to pray.  His purpose indeed was to be transfigured before them, but he does not appear to have told them this.  But while they were attending him in the way of duty, he afforded them this favour beyond what they could have expected.  We may note:
  4.1 The sweetest tokens believers obtain of the Lord's presence and goodness are usually in a time of prayer.  But this I shall have occasion to speak to more largely.
  4.2 It is our part to be found in duty, and to leave the issue in the Lord's hands.  No doubt the disciples would have gone with great eagerness had they expected to have seen their Lord transfigured.  But this was kept from them that their going might rather be an act of obedience to his will, than to gratify a selfish motive of their own.  We are often greatly blameable in this matter.  No complaints more frequent than of an unwillingness to pray, but why?  Chiefly because we look too much to our own pleasure.  If we were assured beforehand that we should see Jesus in his glory, that we should enjoy a very lively frame, and feel our hearts burn like fire, we should want little persuasion to pray.  But we are but half inclined to duty farther than we find it connected with comfort.  Hence we have sometimes said, To what purpose shall I pray, when I find myself not at all the better?  This is too much like the spirit of those who followed the Lord for the loaves and the fishes.  The difficulties and conflicts, the deadness and temptations we meet with in our attempts to pray, are not pleasant, yet to persevere in prayer in the midst of such discouragements, is one of the best proofs of our sincerity, and that we serve the Lord upon a right principle and for his own sake.  These things are the trials of faith, and we cannot be well assured that our faith is right, until it has stood trials.  A very hypocrite may continue to pray, so long as he finds it pleasant.
  4.3 The Lord always accepts his people that wait simply upon him, though visits resembling what is here recorded are vouchsafed but now and then.  The disciples were constantly with Jesus, and often attended him when praying, but they only saw him transfigured once.  He has many ways of doing us good, besides that of giving sensible comfort.
  4.4 A season of special consolation is often near at hand when least expected, and therefore while we are waiting in the use of means, we have cause to be expecting good from the Lord – for he has not said to any, Seek ye me in vain. [8]
For a close – they that live without prayer are out of the way of peace and comfort.  You must not charge the Lord foolishly; if you seek him you shall find him – if you neglect him, the fault is your own.  It is a dismal state – to be prayerless.  Why are you not afraid to close your eyes at night, or to go out of your houses in the morning? etc.

[1] On 16 October 1773 the Newtons were returning to Olney after a pleasant fortnight away visiting friends at Northampton, Warwick and Sandwell, when they ‘met an intimation upon the road which greatly alarmed us, never returned home under such anxiety of spirit. Had a startling account, but found the Lord had mercifully interposed. Yet our trial in our great friend [William Cowper, who was suicidal] far from being removed seems likely to increase, and he is rather worse than better.’
[2] Luke 9:33 And it came to pass, as they departed from him, Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias: not knowing what he said.
[3] 2 Samuel 13:4 And he said unto him, Why art thou, being the king's son, lean from day to day? wilt thou not tell me? And Amnon said unto him, I love Tamar, my brother Absalom's sister.
[4] Psalm 102:9 For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping.
[5] Proverbs 14:10 The heart knoweth his own bitterness; and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy.
[6] Psalm 84:10 For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.
[7] Luke 9:40 And I besought thy disciples to cast him out; and they could not.
[8] Isaiah 45:19 I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth: I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain: I the Lord speak righteousness, I declare things that are right.

Cowper & Newton Museum, 714(16), N40

Marylynn Rouse, 06/08/2020