« PreviousContinue »
tabernacles, not of our own making, but of clay; and such as wherein we are witnesses of Christ, not transfigured in glory, but blemished with dishonour, dishonoured with oaths and blasphemies, recrucified with our sins; witnesses of God's saints, not shining in Tabor, but mourning in darkness, and, instead of that heavenly brightness, clothed with sackcloth and ashes. Then and there, we shall have tabernacles not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, where we shall see how sweet the Lord is: we shall see the triumphs of Christ; we shall hear and sing the hallelujahs of saints.
Quæ nunc nos angit vesania, vitiorum sitire absinthium, &c. saith that devout Father. O how hath our corruption bewitched us, to thirst for this wormwood, to affect the shipwrecks of this world, to dote upon the misery of this fading life; and not rather to fly up to the felicity of saints, to the society of angels, to that blessed contemplation wherein we shall see God in himself, God in us, ourselves in him!
There shall be no sorrow, no pain, no complaint, no fear, no death. There is no malice to rise against us; no misery to afflict us; no hunger, thirst, weariness, temptation to disquiet us. There, O there, one day is better than a thousand; there is rest from our labours, peace from our enemies, freedom from our sins. How many clouds of discontentment darken the sunshine of our joy, while we are here below: Væ nobis, qui vivimus plangere qua pertulimus, dolere quæ sentimus, timere quæ expectamus! Complaint of evils past, sense of present, fear of future, have shared our lives amongst them. Then shall we be semper læti, semper satiati, "always joyful, always satisfied," with the vision of that God, in whose presence there is fulness of joy, and at whose right hand are pleasures for evermore.
Shall we see that heathen Cleombrotus abandoning his life, and casting himself down from the rock, upon an uncertain noise of immortality; and shall not we Christians abandon the wicked superfluities of life, the pleasures of sin, for that life, which we know more certainly than this? What stick we at, my beloved? Is there a Heaven, or is there none? Have we a Saviour there, or have we none? We know there is a Heaven, as sure as that there is an earth below us: we know we have a Saviour there, as sure as there are men that we converse with upon earth; we know there is happiness, as sure as we know there is misery and mutability upon earth. Oh our miserable sottishness and infidelity, if we do not contemn the best offers of the world, and lifting up our eyes and hearts to heaven, say, Bonum est esse hic!
Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly. To Him, that hath purchased and prepared this glory for us, together with the Father and Blessed Spirit, one Incomprehensible God, be all praise for ever. Amen.
CONTEMPLATION XIV. THE PROSECUTION OF THE TRANSFIGURATION.
MATTHEW XVII.; MARK IX.; LUKE IX.
BEFORE, the disciples' eyes were dazzled with glory; now, the brightness of that glory is shaded with a cloud. Frail and feeble eyes of mortality cannot look upon a heavenly lustre.
That cloud imports both Majesty and Obscuration :
Majesty; for it was the testimony of God's presence of old : the cloud covered the mountain, the tabernacle, the oracle. He, that makes the clouds his chariot, was in a cloud carried up into heaven. Where have we mention of any divine representation, but a cloud is one part of it? What comes nearer to heaven, either in place or resemblance?
Obscuration; for as it shewed there was a majesty, and that divine; so it shewed them, that the view of that majesty was not for bodily eyes. Like as when some great prince walks under a canopy, that veil shews there is a great person under it, but withal restrains the eye from a free sight of his person. And if the cloud were clear, yet it shaded them. Why then was this cloud interposed betwixt that glorious vision and them, but for a check of their bold eyes?
Had they too long gazed upon this resplendent spectacle, as their eyes had been blinded, so their hearts had perhaps grown to an over-bold familiarity with that heavenly object. How seasonably doth the cloud intercept it! The wise God knows our need of these vicissitudes and allays. If we have a light, we must have a cloud if a light to cheer us, we must have a cloud to humble us. It was so in Sinai, it was so in Sion, it was so in Olivet; it shall never be but so. The natural day and night do not more duly interchange, than this light and cloud. Above, we shall have the light, without the cloud; a clear vision and fruition of God, without all dim and sad interpositions: below, we cannot be free from these mists and clouds of sorrow and misapprehension.
But this was a bright cloud. There is a difference betwixt the cloud in Tabor, and that in Sinai: this was clear: that, darksome. There is darkness in the Law; there is light in the grace of the Gospel. Moses was there spoken to in darkness; here, he was spoken with in light. In that dark cloud, there was terror; in this, there was comfort. Though it were a cloud then, yet it was bright; and though it were bright, yet it was a cloud. With much light, there was some shade. God would not speak to them concerning Christ, out of darkness; neither yet would he manifest himself to them, in an absolute brightness. All his appearances have this mixture. What need I other in
stance, than in these two saints? Moses spake oft to God, mouth to mouth; yet not so immediately, but that there was ever somewhat drawn as a curtain betwixt God and him; either fire in Horeb, or smoke in Sinai: so as his face was not more veiled from the people, than God's from him. Elias shall be spoken to by God, but in a rock, and under a mantle. In vain shall we hope for any revelation from God, but in a cloud. Worldly hearts are in utter darkness: they see not so much as the least glimpse of these divine beams; not a beam of that inaccessible light. The best of his saints see him here, but in a cloud, or in a glass. Happy are we, if God have honoured us with these divine representations of himself. Once, in his light we shall see light.
I can easily think, with what amazedness these three disciples stood compassed in that bright cloud, expecting some miraculous event of so heavenly a vision; when suddenly, they might hear a voice sounding out of that cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, hear him. They need not be told, whose that voice was; the place, the matter evinced it. No angel in heaven could, or durst have said so. How gladly doth Peter afterwards recount it! For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, &c.
It was only the ear, that was here taught; not the eye. As of Horeb, so of Sinai, so of Tabor, might God say, Ye saw no shape nor image in that day, that the Lord spake unto you. He, that knows our proneness to idolatry, avoids those occasions, which we might take to abuse our own fancies.
Twice, hath God spoken these words to his own Son from heaven once, in his baptism; and now again, in his transfiguration. Here, not without some oppositive comparison; not Moses, not Elias, but This. Moses and Elias were servants; This, a Son; Moses and Elias were sons, but of grace and choice; This is that Son, the Son by nature. Other sons are beloved, as of favour and free election; this is The beloved, as in the unity of his essence. Others are so beloved, that he is pleased with themselves; this so beloved, that in and for him he is pleased with mankind. As the relation betwixt the Father and the Son is infinite, so is the love. We measure the intention of love by the extension: the love, that rests in the person affected alone, is but strait; true love descends, like Aaron's ointment, from the head to the skirts; to children, friends, allies. O incomprehensibly large love of God the Father to the Son, that for his sake he is pleased with the world! O perfect and happy complacence! Out of Christ, there is nothing but enmity betwixt God and the soul; in him, there can be nothing but peace. When the beams are met in one centre, they do not only heat, but burn. Our weak love is diffused to many;
God hath some, the world more; and therein wives, children, friends but this infinite love of God hath all the beams of it united in one only object, the Son of his Love. Neither doth he love any thing but in the participation of his love, in the derivation from it. O God, let me be found in Christ, and how canst thou but be pleased with me?
This one voice proclaims Christ, at once the Son of God, the Reconciler of the World, the Doctor and Lawgiver of his Church. As the Son of God, he is essentially interested in his love; as he is the Reconciler of the World in whom God is well pleased, he doth most justly challenge our love and adherence; as he is the Doctor and Lawgiver, he doth justly challenge our audience, our obedience. Even so, Lord teach us to hear and obey thee, as our Teacher; to love thee and believe in thee, as our Reconciler; and, as the eternal Son of thy Father, to adore thee.
The light caused wonder in the disciples; but the voice, astonishment. They are all fallen down upon their faces. Who can blame a mortal man, to be thus affected with the voice of his Maker? Yet this word was but plausible and hortatory. O God, how shall flesh and blood be other than swallowed up, with the horror of thy dreadful sentence of death? The lion shall roar, who shall not be afraid? How shall those, that have slighted the sweet voice of thine invitations, call to the rocks to hide them from the terror of thy judgments.
The God of Mercies pities our infirmities. I do not hear our Saviour say, 66 Ye lay sleeping, one while, upon the earth; now, ye lie astonished ye could neither wake to see, nor stand to hear; now, lie still and tremble." But he graciously touches and comforts them; Arise, fear not. That voice, which shall once raise them up out of the earth, might well raise them up from it. That hand, which, by the least touch, restored sight, limbs, life, might well restore the spirits of the dismayed. O Saviour, let that sovereign hand of thine touch us, when we lie in the trances of our griefs, in the bed of our securities, in the grave of our sins, and we shall arise.
They, looking up, saw no man, save Jesus alone; and that, doubtless, in his wonted form. All was now gone; Moses, Elias, the cloud, the voice, the glory: Tabor itself cannot be long blessed with that Divine light and those shining guests. Heaven will not allow to earth any long continuance of glory. Only above is constant happiness to be looked for and enjoyed; where we shall ever see our Saviour in his unchangeable brightness; where the light shall never be either clouded or varied.
Moses and Elias are gone; only Christ is left. The glory of the Law and the Prophets was but temporary, yea momentary; that only Christ may remain to us entire and conspicuous. They came but to give testimony to Christ: when that is done, they are vanished.
Neither could these raised disciples find any miss of Moses and Elias, when they had Christ still with them. Had Jesus been gone, and left either Moses or Elias, or both, in the mount with his disciples, that presence, though glorious, could not have comforted them now that they are gone, and he is left, they cannot be capable of discomfort. O Saviour, it matters not who is away, while thou art with us. Thou art God All-sufficient: what can we want, when we want not thee? Thy presence shall make Tabor itself a heaven; yea, hell itself cannot make us miserable with the fruition of thee.
CONTEMPLATION XV.-THE WOMAN TAKEN IN ADULTERY.
WHAT a busy life was this of Christ's? He spent the night in the Mount of Olives; the day, in the Temple: whereas, the night is for a retired repose; the day, for company. His retiredness was for prayer; his companionableness was for preaching: all night, he watches in the Mount; all the morning, he preaches in the Temple. It was not for pleasure, that he was here upon earth his whole time was penal and toilsome. How do we resemble him, if his life were all pain and labour, ours all pastime?
He found no such fair success, the day before: The multitude was divided in their opinion of him; messengers were sent and suborned to apprehend him: yet, he returns to the temple. It is for the sluggard or the coward, to plead a lion in the way: upon the calling of God, we must overlook and contemn all the spite and opposition of men. Even after an ill harvest, we must sow; and after denials, we must woo for God.
This Sun of Righteousness prevents that other; and shines early, with wholesome doctrines upon the souls of his hearers.
The auditory is both thronged and attentive: yet not all with the same intentions. If the people came to learn, the Scribes and Pharisees came to cavil and carp at his teaching.
With what a pretence of zeal and justice yet do they put themselves into Christ's presence! As lovers of chastity and sanctimony, and haters of uncleanness, They bring to him a woman taken in the flagrance of her adultery.
And why the woman, rather? since the man's offence was equal, if not more; because he should have had more strength of resistance, more grace not to tempt. Was it out of necessity? Perhaps, the man, knowing his danger, made use of his strength to shift away, and violently brake from his apprehenders.