And all that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.
There is a natural effect of the states of the spirit upon the countenance, which gradually progresses, and which amounts in a lifetime to a transfiguration. The infant has no expression in its face of good or evil, because it feels no good or evil. As it grows into childhood, there is little to be read there, save sometimes an inherited grossness of feature moulded by ancestral brutishness, or some lines of spiritual or intellectual expression that come down from the father and the father's father. Otherwise all is blank — the unspotted sheet on which many characters of exquisite beauty or unseemly blots may be thereafter marked. But as life progresses every deed seems to be written on the face. See how it is —
I. IS A LIFE OF VICE.
1. Evil passions and deeds trace the handwriting of sin; and every crime deepens the lines, and every bad thought extends them further. Beastliness of habit makes a beastly face. Hatred and revenge ossify the features to their own hardness. Drunkenness puffs up the drunkard's bloated face. The young have not written these characters on themselves so plainly as yet — they are hardly legible; — but age has imprinted them as indelibly as if they were carved in the rock. And this is the transfiguration of vice.
2. It is so perfect that there need be no other book of record for men than that which they write themselves upon themselves. Did Cain bear a mark on his forehead? It was the type or prediction of the thousands of marked brows which at the judgment shall require no testimony, and no sentence of the Judge, but shall, to all beholders, proclaim the sinfulness and the punishment.
3. Do we often enough think of this, that it requires not great crimes to debase the features of the form Divine, but that what we call little sins are just as surely day by day leaving their imprint? We suffer anger to possess us, and think that when it has passed we shall be the same. We cherish impure thoughts, supposing that they will in no way permanently affect us. We deceive our fellows without a thought that "hypocrite" will be written in our faces. How often are these said to be little things which will be like stains upon the hands, easily washed away! But there is truth in the thought that blood of murder will not wash from the palm, and an equal truth that our so-called little faults, too, do daily stain or mould our countenances. Take care, then, of the inward impurity, that it may not come to it; that not only God, who reads the heart, but men also who read the face, may see the wrong of a wrong life by its marks.
II. IN THE LIFE OF VIRTUE.
1. This also is a change which may progress from the earliest age at which moral character can exist. And we have often seen the good man's goodness written upon his outward appearance, and his purity of heart, like a subtle ether, penetrating through until it has surrounded him with a kind of atmosphere, and sat upon his head like a halo. Have you not seen it? — gentleness on the brow; calmness and purpose in the eye; purity of heart on the lips; temperance stamped on the features; the love of man in every gesture; and love and faith toward God in the air and expression. It is seen more in the aged, for it is a change which grows through long years. It grows sooner in such as have borne pain and sorrow, since they are the native soil of virtue. But it is, more or less, in all who live good lives. It is the mark by which God marks His beloved. It is the transfiguration of virtue.
2. This, too, is an evident preparation for the judgment or life to come. For it is written by ourselves — our own handwriting on the white page in which we come to this world clothed; our own signature which we shall carry when we go hence. And shall we fail to write this lovely record as we live here? — by faith marking on ourselves the graceful letters of faith; by brotherly kindness writing it on our face; by excellent and passionless emotions smoothing our brows; by holy love illuminating the beauteous margin of the whole manuscript; by patience and pain providing the border of glory which shall appear in the white hairs which are, in the good, a crown of glory. Ah! it is ours to rise at the last day with God's seal of baptism made a visible stamp on every feature by our daily fulfilment of baptismal vows. Conclusion: How does all this impress on us the folly of the thought that we can safely put off a holy life until near the end of life. Surely, if vice and virtue do thus stamp themselves upon the features, a man cannot for long years let avarice pinch his features and passions deform them, and then in a short time expect God's Spirit to paint upon them the beauty of goodness. The evil spirits against which we strive are slowly to be killed and drawn forth; and the good that shall he unto life will be slowly planted and nourished. Begin early. For it were better for the saint even to die young and have the glow of heaven on his face, and see his Lord on the right hand of God, and say in rapture, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit," than a long life would have been, even crowned with all worldly prosperity.
(Bp. Phillips Brooks.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.