2 Peter 1:16-20
For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…
I. THE MYTHICAL MODE. "In declaring the power and advent of the Lord Jesus, we were not as those who are familiar only with the popular myths which are deemed sufficient for the multitude; we were, rather, as the favoured few who are admitted to the secret mysteries, who are permitted to know the truths that underlie the fables and stories which fill the popular imagination." What, then, were these "myths," and what the "mysteries"? The myths, in their origin, were simply poetical conceptions of the processes and phenomena of Nature. Thus, for instance, the sun sinks, or seems to sink, every night into the sea; in the fervid East, moreover, it dries up the streams. But "sun," and "sea," and "streams" had, in the infancy of the world, masculine and feminine names, as, indeed, they still have in most of the languages spoken by men. These masculine and feminine names were soon turned into proper personal names by the vivid imagination of men to whom the world was fresh and wonderful; and hence, instead of saying "The sun sinks into the sea," they said, "The Sun-God sinks into the lap of the Sea-Goddess, and rests until their child, the Dawn, wakes him from his slumbers." Instead of saying "The sun dries up the stream," they told a pretty story of a certain River Nymph whom the Sun-God dearly loved, and who would give him no peace till he came to her in all the glory of his heavenly pomp, beholding which she was forthwith consumed. All the great and many of the lesser processes of Nature were thus mythicized, turned into poems and stories — the succession of day and night, the dependence of men and cattle on the shining of the sun, on the fruits of the earth, on the sweet, fresh water of the mountain streams. Still, under all these freaks of fancy there lay concealed the germs of many religious truths, as, for example, these: that the Powers which ruled in heaven cared for the earth and blessed it; that God, or the gods, might take human form and dwell among men; and that there was a fair spiritual world, larger, brighter, happier than the world of sense, into which even man might pass and rise. As years and centuries elapsed, these truths were forgotten out of mind, as were many of the ethical maxims deduced from them. In order that they might not altogether perish from the memory and life of man, certain "mysteries" were founded and ordained. To be "admitted," that is, to be initiated, into these mysteries, was an honour granted to comparatively few of the millions of antiquity; and it was granted only after they had passed through a probation which either was, or was affirmed to be, terrible to any but men of a brave and constant spirit. Their good faith was thus put to a severe preliminary test; tremendous oaths binding them to secrecy were administered to them; to divulge a mystery or to intrude upon it uncalled were offences punishable with death. Now, says St. Peter, when we made known to you the power and advent of our Lord Jesus Christ, we were telling you no pretty popular myth, no fable of a Divine person who came down and dwelt with men, such as you have often heard from your priests or rhapsodists, such as you may still hear from your heathen neighbours. We had been initiated into the very mysteries of truth; we had mastered their secrets, that we might divulge them to you. We spake of that which we ourselves had seen, and handled, and felt, of the Word of Life.
II. THE MIRACULOUS MODE. From the mythical St. Peter passes to the miraculous method of revelation. Where was that inner temple, that sacred and oracular shrine, in which, after their initiation, the apostles were admitted to the mysteries and stood to be eye-witnesses of the unclouded majesty of the Incarnate God? It was on "the holy mount," on which the Lord Jesus was transfigured before their eyes. But why does the apostle select this scene in our Lord's life — the Transfiguration — before all others? Simply, I suppose, because at that moment, in that scene, all that was most marvellous in the Lord Jesus Christ was shown forth in its most marvellous forms. The "advent" of Christ was a miracle; every word and deed that disclosed His Divine "power" was a miracle: but the miraculous element of His "advent and power" culminated in His Transfiguration.
III. THE PROPHETIC MODE. After describing the honour and glory done to Christ, and the voice which came to Him from the glory that shone around Him on the holy mount, the apostle adds: "But we have something surer still — the prophetic word, whereunto ye do well that ye give heed," etc. Why does he call it "something surer still"? First, because it is "as a lamp shining in a dark place." Now, as we all know, we can find our way even on the darkest night, if only we have "a lamp to our feet"; and, moreover, we can see to do any necessary work, if only we have a lamp shining over our head. In plain words, the apostle's argument is that miracles are not guides, or not safe guides; but that, on the contrary, we are under a guidance that is both good and safe when we follow the moral rules of the written Word. The Divine Word has another claim on our regard and preference. For this "lamp" which shines so helpfully on the activities of human life, has been lit and is fed by God Himself. "No prophecy of Scripture is of private interpretation." That is to say, the prophetic Word is not a mere logical deduction from the facts of life and Nature; nor is it a mere guess at things to come, based on a knowledge of what has taken place in the past. There was something higher than human wisdom in the prophetic utterances, something safer than the prognostics of human reason; for prophecy never came only from the will of man, but holy men, borne along by the Holy Ghost, as the ship is borne before the wind, spake the words that were given them from God. There is a Divine wisdom, therefore, an infallible wisdom; there is a Divine power, an almighty power, in the inspired Word, even when it is most human and imperfect in outward form. This was one contrast in the apostle's mind: and the other was that the prophecies of Scripture were superior to the oracles uttered by the ministrants of heathen shrines. When these oracles were consulted, they gave "private interpretations."
IV. But, finally, THE SPIRITUAL MODE of revelation is even safer and better than the prophetic mode, as much better as sunlight is better than lamplight. When Christ is once with us, and in us, what further proof can we require of His "advent" or of His "power" to quicken and redeem? With Christ to teach us what He would have us do, we can dispense with all other teachers, all other aids. Myths! We have been initiated into the very mysteries of the faith, and are joyful eye-witnesses of His majesty. Miracles! He has wrought the great miracle upon us, bringing a clean thing out of an unclean, opening our blind eyes, unstopping our deaf ears, quickening us from our death in trespasses and sins. Laws and hopes! When once we have personally laid hold on Christ, we are a law unto ourselves, and move in the freedom of a glad obedience to His will; we have a hope already fulfilling itself in us, and yet opening up into widening vistas of light the hope of eternal life and service and peace. The morning star has risen in our hearts; the day has dawned; the darkness is over and gone, and, with the darkness, all our need of the lamps and stars which once made night tolerable to us.
(S. Cox, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.