How wise and loving then was the Hand which at the fall at once shut Paradise to man, severing him from a communion with the spirit-world, for which, as fallen, he was unfit,–for there like can only reach to like,–and gave him instead at the gate of Eden cherubic forms (Genesis 3:24), “figures of the true” (Heb. 9:24), instead of purely spiritual communications; forbidding him, as fallen, that is in self-hood, to seek communion with the unseen, either by wizards, necromancers, or consulters with familiar spirits (Deuteronomy 18:9-12); because, as fallen, by laws which the old man little understands, in the spirit-world he could only reach spirits like himself, by whom he would be worse deceived; but which yet opens heaven again as soon as man is fitted in and by Christ to return to such communications. But even disciples have to learn how to use this communion, for like all good things it may be awfully abused. The peril may be judged from this, that, even when with the Master, His dearest disciples first come to opened heavens, the sight awakens thoughts and words which need correction. We need to be educated to behave ourselves in the new and glorious home to which our Father’s grace brings us.
Such are some of the openings of heaven vouchsafed to the Son of Man, in all which, as members of His body, we are called to share with Him. That at His baptism is, I trust, generally known: that at the Transfiguration is much less understood, only because few follow on by a daily death (1st Cor. 15: 31) to apprehend that for which they are apprehended. Lest, however, any should suppose that such visions are peculiar to the Head, Holy Scripture has recorded other like openings of heave, granted not to the Lord only, but to His disciples. To take all the instances recorded would fill a volume. Two vouchsafed to Peter and John, types, as the Church has long seen (Footnote: See below, on the twelfth “Verily, Verily,” John 21:18-22), of the active and contemplative life, may suffice as examples of the way God’s saints are led to this experience.
Let us look then at the vision granted to Peter (Acts 10:9-16), when “he saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it were a great sheet, knit at the four corners, and let down to earth, wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts of the earth, wherein were beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air;” all which were seen, not only “let down” out of heaven, but “received up again together”; which taught him, what he had not learnt, though he had followed Christ for years, and had received the promised Spirit and the tongue of fire,–the lesson we are all so slow to learn,–that we “should call no man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28). If few as yet have learnt this, it is only because few as yet have seen this vision, which only comes when such as have known Christ after the flesh are brought through the outpouring of the Spirit to know him in the spirit. This is an experience peculiar to the Book in which it is recorded, the purpose of which, (for each book of Scripture has its special aim,) is to show how those who have known Christ after the flesh may be led to know Him in the spirit, and so be brought from the Old into the New Covenant, from the letter to the spirit, from bondage to true liberty.
We do not find this experience in the Gospels. In them we have types of the experience of the disciples while as yet they know Christ only after the flesh; when, having left their nets or earthly callings at His word, they emerge from being mere Jews or John’s disciples to walk with and be followers of the Lord; while yet they still are “carnal, babes in Christ”; (1 Cor. 3:1); following Him indeed, but most unlike Him; still full of self; disputing who shall be greatest; striving while He is submitting; soon stumbled at His Cross; yet truly loving Him, and gifted and sent out by Him to preach His gospel, and to do some of His works; but all the while regarding Christ as separate form them, as One to be followed indeed, but not yet one with them and in them. This latter experience comes out in the book which we call The Acts of the Apostles, where we are shown how carnal disciples become spiritual, and learn and prove that Christ lives in them, by His indwelling Spirit.