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.
And St. Peter, when he thus said he knew not what, was in the mount with Jesus, Moses, and Elias, and saw their glory. One cannot blame him for crying out, it was good being, good building there; though somewhat there was in it that was amiss, it seems, when S. Luke tells us "he knew not what he said." But methinks the words would sound nothing amiss at all, if they had been taken up by us upon our late being with Christ in the holy mount, at the holy table, or if used still in reference to that good meeting, "Master, it is good for us to be here," in thy holy presence; let us build taber-nacles, tarry here, go down no more henceforward in our affections to earth or earthly things; let us build here taber-nacles for thee, for Moses, and Elias, that neither thy gospel, law, nor prophets may go from us, never henceforth depart out of our hearts and mouths. Sure there is no error in such a speech of ours, whatever was in S. Peter's.
Indeed somewhat there was faulty in S. Peter's, as there is commonly in the most of our best words and actions, [318/319] somewhat more or less, at least, than should be in rigour, if God should enter into judgment with them. The sudden apprehension of unexpected or extraordinary joy or happi-ness, be it spiritual or be it temporal, makes many affections and expressions arise in the best of us somewhat irregular sometimes. Our business at this time, and upon these words, is to rectify them, by considering what was here short or over in S. Peter's, what to be left, and what followed in them, that we may learn how to bear our happiness, the great favours of the Almighty, the extraordinary dignations and discoveries of Christ, and besides also all temporal felicities, how to proportion them to others' benefit as well as our own, how so to regulate our judgments, counsels, expressions and affections upon any such occasions, come they when they will upon us, that we may safely say with S. Peter here in any of them, "Master, it is good for us to be here," let us now build tabernacles; this condition is good we now are in, let us still be here; and yet not incur S. Luke's censure, that we know not what we say.
The sum, then, both of the test and sermon will be but this: S. Peter's and our common judgments, advice, affec-tions, and expressions, in any kind of extraordinary con-tent and happiness, spiritual or temporal, what they are; usually they are we "know not what;" and are, therefore, so branded here by the Evangelist, that we may henceforth consider and know what judgments, counsels, affections, and expressions, pass from us in any such conditions, before we pass them. So that our work is to be this, to examine all these in S. Peter's speech, and show you how far it may be said by any of us, and how it must not, and that in these particulars:-
1. How far his judgment may pass, that "good it is to be here;" how we may say, "It is good for us to be here," think and say so, and how we may not.
2. How far his advice is good to build tabernacles, how we may say, "Let us build three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias," and how far it is not good to say so, wherein we may not say so.
3. How far his affections to his own, or his Master's ease and safety and present glory may be allowed; how we are [319/320] to relish Moses and Elias their departing, or desire their staying, and how we may not; "as they departed," Peter said unto Jesus, as if he would needs be staying them, that he might stay where now he was.
4. Hw far expressions, sudden and unwary, such as for haste or passion and amazement slip sometimes from us, as this did here from S. Peter, may be borne with, how far we may he tolerated to say sometimes we know not what, and when we may not be allowed it; "Not," &c.
By this limiting and dividing the particulars of the speech and text, and giving the several ways and senses it may he spoken in, we shall neither wrong S. Peter nor S. Luke, but give both their due, S. Peter's saying and S. Luke's censure his saying, "Master, it is good for us to be here, let us build," &c., and that S. Peter's speech was not altogether to be disapproved; and that yet notwithstanding some fault there was in it, and that therefore S. Luke's censure just, and S. Luke's saying upon it, that "he knew not what he said." Say with S. Peter, and say with S. Luke both, and yet say well with both, when we know what they both said, and in what sense to say it. S. Peter's authority will not in this point bear us out against S. Luke's; but if we say it as S. Peter did, with all the circumstances, S. Luke will say of us what he said of him, that we know not what we say: but if we say the words as they may be said, he will not say so. Begin we then to sift the saying, and the first part first Master, "it is good for ns to be here." S. Peter's judgment of the condition he was in, and how we may judge and say so.
And it may be good to be so and good to say so; good really in several senses; a right judgment and a right saying.
For, first, this here was in the "mount," a place of solitude and retirement, "apart by themselves," says S. Mark. And it is good sometimes to retire ourselves from the world and worldly business, to think and meditate upon heaven and heavenly things, especially having lately tasted of those dainties, that we may chew and relish them; nothing so good and convenient then presently as some retirement, to sit down a little and bethink ourselves of the sweetness we [320/321] have so lately tasted, the covenant we have so lately renewed, the resolutions we have so lately taken up, and the ways to perform them.
2. It was "a high mountain" too, says S. Matthew. Nothing henceforth should serve our turn but high thoughts and resolutions; we must do nothing mean after so high favours and dignations: fix our thoughts, "set our affections" now henceforward "upon things above;" "good to be here."
3. It was "the holy mountain" too, so styled ever since from the authority of S. Peter. And it is good to be holy, better than to be high. High contemplations of God and heaven are not so good as holy conversations. It is good indeed, very good, to be also in the "holy mount," in holy places, at holy work, where Christ is to be seen or heard in beauty and glory, in the Church, at his word and sacraments.
4. For "into a mountain to pray," says our Evangelist. So, "to be here," is to be here praying; Christ went up to that purpose, as he tells us there,--often went up to that purpose, as we find it,--so it must needs be good; nothing does us so much good at heart as praying. It fills it with joy and gladness, fills our mouths with good things, fills our hands and our barns and our coffers; all our filling comes from thus opening of our mouths. Be we in sickness, or be we in health; be we in prosperity, or be we in adversity; be we full, or be we empty, nothing does us so much good in any of those conditions as our prayers. Prayer--why? in sickness it cheers us, in health it strengthens us, in prosperity it fastens us, in adversity it comforts us, in our fulness it keeps us from oppression, in emptiness from fainting, in all it does us some good or other. It is good indeed to be here, that is, to he praying, especially to give ourselves to it, to go aside on purpose for it, to ascend the mountain in it, to go to it with raised thoughts and elevated attentions; take good how you will, for honest, profitable, or pleasant,--prayer is all of them. To be with Abraham in the mount, entitles us to be called with him for it, the friends of God: and there is honestum, honest, even in the honourable sense. To be with Moses in the mount is profitable against Amalek, to beat down our enemies. To be here with S. Peter in the [321/322] mount gives us the most pleasant prospect that mortal eyes ever beheld or saw; gives us a prospect of heavenly glory. Bonum est esse hic, it is every way good thus being here.
5. To be here is to be with Christ, and Moses, and Elias, with the Gospel, Law, and Prophets in our hands, reading and comparing them, mediating as well as praying. And it is good being so, good spending our time in such employ-ments. "Search the Scriptures, for in them ye think right too" "to have eternal life;"
"Profitable they are," says S. Paul--and that is good,--"for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works," thoroughly good that serves to make a man so thoroughly good: good to be thus in the mountain here, upon the tops of our houses, in our closets and highest rooms, where we have most leisure, less avocations, that we may the better attend so holy a work, especially since our late holy work; good to keep the scent and relish of those heavenly dainties in our souls.
6. To be here is to be with Christ, and Moses, and Elias, S. James, and S. John, and S. Peter; to be in good company. Nothing better to make or keep us good. Oh, how good, yea, and joyful or pleasant a thing it is to be together with such! Nothing drives away sad and heavy thoughts like such good company, where the discourse is heaven, where the entertainment is heavenly, where we eat and drink with Christ, where there is nothing but sweetness and meekness, and goodness to be learnt; where there is nothing harsh or horrid, or unseemly; where the news we talk of is what is done in heaven, where our meat and drink is ''to do the will of our Father which is in heaven," where our talk is not the vain talk of the new fashions of men and women of the world, but the fashions of angels and saints, and martyrs of all ages; where we talk not of other men's lives, but mend our own; where our music is the praises of our God, and our whole business salvation; where we shall hear no idle words, see no unseemly gestures, meet no distempers or distastes, but those things only which become law and order, Prophets and Apostles, or scholars and disciples of so good a Master; good it is to be here, to be with such.
7. But above all, it is good being with Christ. S. Paul would fain be dissolved and gone to be with him; would die when you would, to be with him. "Far better," says he, it is; far better than to be anywhere or with any body else. Nothing comparable to it, be it in life or death, be it upon the mount with him, (1) in a place of safety--it is, no doubt, good being there with him; or, be it with him (2) talking with Moses and Elias about his passion, about "his decease, that he should accomplish at Jerusalem," as S. Luke relates him, in the saddest discourse of his sufferings, or the saddest sufferings themselves, it is good being with him still; or, be it with him (3) "in shining and glistering garments," in a condition of glory; either when his face shines, the heavenly light of his countenance shines out upon us, when eternal glory encompasses him and us; or (4) when only "the fashion of his countenance is" only "altered "towards us, when spiritual contentments flow upon us; or (5) when "his raiments" only "are white and glister," when outward blessings glister about us, it is at every turn good being with him. Yet more particularly:--
It is good for us (1) to be with Christ in safety and security, if we may so, as S. Peter thought he now was here, that we may serve the Lord without distraction. Good to "lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty," says S. Paul.
It is good (2) again for us to be with him also in his passion; to suffer with him; good to be with Moses and Elias ever and anon, thinking and speaking of the death and passion of our Master, all his bitter sufferings, affronts, reproaches, whips and scourges, sweats and faintings, nails and thorns, and spear and scoffs, and tears and sighs and exclamations, and giving up the ghost; good to be made partakers, too, of his sufferings with him, to "fill up what is behind of the afflictions of Christ in our flesh," as the Apostle speaks. "It is good for me," says holy David, "that I have been in trouble;" good above what David thought, to be with Christ in trouble, to be troubled for him, to suffer persecution for his name. Blessed are they that do so, and that is good to be blessed; and they that are not yet arrived to that, to suffer and be troubled for him, it is good they in [323/324] the meantime be troubled with him, troubled that he should be so troubled and afflicted for them. It is good to be with Christ in either of these conditions.
It is good (3) to be with him in his glory; that to be sure needs no proving, the only good, the only true and perfect happiness to see his face in glory; all good is concentred here, no good beyond it.
And yet (4) it is good, too, to be with him, so as to enjoy some glimmerings of that eternal light in the meantime whilst we are here, to enjoy the happiness of his gracious presence in our souls, to have him shine comfortably into our hearts. "This is eternal life," one ray of it, "to know Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent;" to be sensible of those inexpressible comforts which he oftentimes vouchsafes to give us; to be partakers of those sensible delights of piety which he sometimes allows us. It is good, the sweetest good this life can yield us, to feel the sense and sweetness of his presence, and walk in it; good to be in grace, and good sometimes to see the glory of this grace, to feel the joy and comfort of it; so "good to be here," that it is not good to be anywhere else, if we may be so.
Nay, and (5) "it is good" sometimes to have our raiments white and glistering with him, to enjoy outward satisfaction and prosperities from him. They are not always the portion of the wicked; they are often happy instruments of grace and glory, and when they are so it is good to have them. "It is good" so also "to be here," to be under some of the fringes of these shining garments, when God pleases that we shall.
But, last of all, "It is good to be here," be that "here where it will, so it be where God would have us; "it is good to be here," because God would have us here. So this "here" is anywhere with God and Christ; good for David to be in trouble; good for S. Paul to be under the thorn and buffeted; good for Manasses to be in fetters; good for some to be in clouds and sorrows, as good as for others to he in safety and ease, plenty and prosperity, continual light or gladness. But, above all, in all these "it is good to hold me fast by God," says David, to cling close to Christ; good so to be here, to be, to hold so here, and everywhere, in all conditions, not to stir born him, to keep always by him, in [324/325] his ways, under his protection. And yet, as good as it is, and as we may say, it is, we had best know what we say. For we must know sometimes, for all this, it is not good to be here, nor good to say so. ''Not knowing what he said," says S. Luke of S. Peter, for saying thus. Let us therefore now know why he said so; when it is we say amiss, when we say, with S. Peter, even upon the mount, in Christ's company, and the presence of his glory too, that ''it is good to be here."
1. We know not what we say when we say, "It is good to be here," that is, in the mount only and no more, in honour and high places. They may prove the worst places we can be in. Summos feriunt fulmina montes; when the lightnings are flashing and the thunders roaring, they are nearer the stern! and danger than the low valleys.
2. Nay, even the mountain of righteousness, high specu-lations are not always good to be in; we must be sometimes in the plains of action as well as in the mount of contem-plation. Nay, and even our own righteousness proves too often an offence; when it is at the height, we are in con-tinual fear of falling, fear of being proud of our graces and goodness; as good as it is to be highly righteous, it is not always safe; it is good at least to come down a little out of the mountain, to humble ourselves a little to the practice of ordinary and common virtue now and then, lest we grow proud of some extraordinary performances.
3. And more than so. It is not good always, in all senses, that Christ be with us, or that we know it. "It is expedient for you," says he himself, "that I go away;" and expedient is always good, and both it is that he should sometimes withdraw his presence, the heavenly gusts and ravishments, lest we should grow proud, and slack, and negligent. It is not good always to be here in perpetual and uninterrupted sensible heavenly comforts. It is good that Christ, and Moses, and Elias, all should draw sometimes behind the cloud; good the sweetness of Law, and Prophets, and Gospel too, should be curtained up from us for a while, that we might see our wants, increase our longings, advance our endeavours, and grow more earnest to seek, more careful to pursue after them.
[325/326] 4. But it is not always good to be in continually bright shining garments, in the region of joy and glory, in daily hourly happiness. It will make us forget Christ when we are just by him, and not know what we say though the eternal Word stand by us, scarce know how to look or speak. Such things too often do so.
5. But especially it is not good, because it is not fitting whilst others are all in sadness, others all in the vale of tears, for us to be then in the mount of joy, all afloat in mirth and pleasure. Fit it is, and therefore good, to have some fellow-feeling of Joseph's irons, of others' miseries, infirmities, and calamities, not good to he here without such compassions.
6. It is not good, however, to cry out bonum est, though we be in such a condition, either of goodness or greatness, grace or happiness, above our fellows; it is not good to hug and please ourselves in either of them, but especially not in temporal successes; no good crying it up, or ourselves for it.
7. Not good, to be sure, to cry it up as the only good, to be in any worldly glory or security. The Transfiguration will not always last. Christ's face will not always shine like the sun upon us, nor his garments glister beyond what are fuller of the earth can give them; he himself will back again ere lone to lower ground, and have less splendid clothing. Yet should this continue, it were not yet the only good that we should cry out nothing but Bonum est esse hic; this very being here is enough to allay the goodness, to tell you it is not all, nor will be so for ever.
It is good (1) neither to be in honour, nor prosperity; nor alone, (2,) nor with others; neither in high contemplations, (3,) nor sensible consolations; neither in high mountains, (4,) nor high company,--swallowed up in any of them, or so taken with any of them, to conceit any one of them is the only good, nothing good but that, no good being but being there. To say so of any of these is merely to say we know not what--an ignorant judgment and sentence upon it.
II. And, secondly, to advise to make tabernacles for Christ, and Moses, and Elias here, is to advise we know not what. Yet, to give the great Apostle but his due, see we [326/327] first in our propounded method how we may be allowed to say it or go about it.
(1.) It is no ill advice to take or give, to raise us such tabernacles as our Saviour tells us are to be raised with "unrighteous mamnon;"--"habitations" or "tabernacles--for the word is the same, skhu¶j, both here and there- that will not fail us when all others do; it is good making everlasting habitations, eternal tabernacles with temporal goods, with good works and alms deeds; rearing tabernacles, by building alms-houses or endowing them.
(2.) It is no ill counsel neither to make tabernacles here, so they be but tabernacles, so we place not our minds and dwellings here; if we make them but tabernacles, not houses; tabernacles to lodge in for a night, or stay in for a shift by the way, have our abiding city somewhere else, have that above, look for that to come; if we only build us inns or shelters as for strangers, make all our buildings, all our contrivenments, only to help and shelter us in our way. Then it is good.
Especially (3) if we make them here, that is, upon the "mount," not in the low and dirty galleys. If, in the midst of all our projects, building and making fortunes, fortresses, and securities we place them not in human confidences, in worldly strength and riches, in that thick muddy soil; if our refuges be in the "mount," as near heaven as we can come, upon Christ, according to Moses and Elias, as the Law allows us, and the true Prophets teach us, we may make tabernacles here, and do well in doing it.
If (4) we build them here, here where there, is such good company to live with, Christ, and Moses, and Elias, good rulers, and good priests and prophets, good government, and true religion, upon such grounds we may have leave to fix our habitations, and desire to stay and dwell among then. So we pitch not our tabernacles among "the tents of Kedar," nor choose to dwell in "Mesech," if we can keep out of the streets of Gath and Askelon, our stay a while upon earth may be desirable.
And (5) "three tabernacles" we may make also in particular: one for Christ,--make all the provision we can for Christ to stay with us, use all the ways and means we can [327/328] imagine to keep him among us, his presence, his grace, his Gospel, his sacraments, his administrations, his ministers, his religion, his worship still among us; good advice it is, and a good thing it is to build tabernacles and houses, churches and chapels, that Christ and his may tarry with us.
Nay, and (6) "one for Moses" too; some room we must make for works as well as faith; the obedience of faith is the only faith of the Gospel, to live according to God's precepts and commandments; this part of Moses' law." Christ came not to destroy," or dissolve, "but to fulfil" himself and to give a new command, and grace to us also to fulfil it.
So, lastly, "One for Elias" too. The Prophets must not b shut out of doors; a "chamber, a bed, and a candlestick" for them, as the noble woman of Shunem provided for Elisha, that as they pass by they may enter in and bless us. A place for the old prophets that we may confirm our faith out of their writings; a place for the prophets of the Gospel, that we may increase it by their preachings; a place, too, in all our houses for Elias' zeal for God's worship and service, that that may be restored and advanced in all our families and dwellings, in all out habitations, a tabernacle at least in our hearts for the zeal for God's glory to reside in, provided that it be not so heady that it speak it knows not what.
Thus it is no ill, but good counsel to say, "Let us build here three tabernacles," if (1) they be only prepared for here, but raised in heaven; it (2) they be only for inns and shelters here, and not for mansion houses; if (3) they be set upon high ground; if (4) among good neighbours; if (5) made for Christ, and (6) Moses, and (7) Elias, for to keep Christ and his religion, faith, good works, zeal and piety among us. Let us make such tabernacles as fast and as much as we will or can, we need not fear S. Luke censuring them for the sacrifices of fools, or the actions of men that know not what they do.
Yet now, secondly, there is a making "tabernacles," and a counselling to do so, that secondly deserve that censure, several such making "tabernacles."
1. When we would make the everlasting tabernacles to be here, when we raise them no higher than Mount Tabor, seek heaven upon the earth, living as if there were no other [328/329] world, building our hopes and fortunes here, as if we were to continue here for ever, then we know not what we do.
2. When we will have nothing here but tabernacles to shelter us, when we think much to descend out of the mount to suffer with our Saviour, would not willingly part with any point of honour, safety, or advantage, for him, would have Christ glorified before he is crucified, contrary to his Father's decree upon him and us, that we should both first suffer, and then enter into glory; when we thus shun the cross, and will have nothing but the comfort; all for Mount Tabor or Mount Olivet--peace, and quiet, and glory, and triumph: nothing for Mount Calvary, any kind of suffering; all for being "clothed upon," not being unclothed or disrobed at all,-would avoid even death itself, which we cannot avoid; when we can brook no article of the faith but the ascension into glory,--then "you know not what you ask," as Christ said to the sons of Zebedee at another time; you know not what yon would have, ye know not what you say.
3. When we speak of making tabernacles only for our own interests, that we may be in them, and consider not our brethren; when we will be engrossing Christ only to our-selves, shut all others out, or pass by them, or at least never think of them, or care what becomes of them, so we be safe, we then also speak we know not what. Christ came to redeem the world, and not that little pittance of it in the mount, Moses, Elias, S. Peter, and his two fellows; not any only pittance in any mount, a few particular elected mountaineers, and leave all the rest in Adam's dirty mass. He was to be an universal Saviour, and pay a general ransom; to preach not only in the mountains of Judaea, but in the Cabul, the dirty vale of Galilee; to be "the God of the valleys" as well as of "the hills," of those that sate "in the vale of time shadow of death," Gentiles and sinners, as well as those that dwelt in the hill countries," in the land of light, the Jews and other righteous. S. Peter knew not what he said, nor know they that say thus after him, that would be keeping him always in the mount, make tabernacles, bars, and fences, to keep him from doing his office to all the world besides. To talk of such tabernacles, so cooping up Christ to our own sect and company, is to talk we know-not what.
[329/330] 4. When we speak of making tabernacles to retire ourselves from doing our own office too, from performing those duties we owe our brethren, which God has designed us to, and requires of us, we talk not wisely. Quid dicis sancte Petre says S. Augustine, Mundus perit, et tu secretum quæris? "What sayest thou, blessed Peter?" The world is ready to perish, and dost thou withdraw from helping to uphold it?" Dost thou, that art to feed Christ's sheep upon the plains, and defend them from the wolves, seek only to keep thyself secure in the mountains? Nor pastor nor people must so retreat into any tabernacles to desert the charge that lies upon them of their brothers' souls. "Shall your brethren go to war," says Moses to the children of Gad and Reuben, "and shall ye sit here?" No, surely, we must down among them, and not think of tabernacle for ourselves till we have also made some for them. If our retirement hinder us not in our Christian duty, we may retreat into our tents; if they do, we say and do we know not what, to pitch upon any tabernacles, solitudes, or retreats.
5. If we think of making tabernacles several for Christ, and Moses, and Elias; one for Christ, one for Moses, and another for Elias; think of severing the Gospel, Law, and Prophets, it is we know not what; they all dwell in one together, all say the same thing, will not be severed. Unum est tabernaculum evangeli in quo lex et prophetæ recapitula sunt,says S. Jerome; "there is but one tabernacle for all those, all agree in one together, all preach Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world, though each in his proper way and fashion.
6. No talking of "three tabernacles," at any hand. There is but "one sheepfold" and "one Shepherd." The sheep that were "led by the hands of Moses and Aaron;" the sheep that were seen in a vision by Micaiah, "scattered upon the mountains;" the sheep which the prophets led, or fed, in any of their times, as pastors sent by God; the sheep and lambs that S. Peter and all the pastors of the Church are to feed, from time to time, are all to make up but "one fold," under "one Shepherd," all to come into one Catholic Church, to be [329/330] gathered all into one mountain, into the same everlasting tabernacles at the last. No tabernacle against tabernacle, no altar against altar, no Church against Church, no schism to be made in the "mount of God."
7. To place the beatifical vision in Christ's corporal presence, or think that the blessed want tabernacles and tents to dwell in, with S. Peter; or, which is the same, in fine, to place Christ's kingdom upon earth, and dream of the millennary's happiness, Christ's reigning with his saints in all temporal pleasures and satisfactions upon the earth for a thousand years, is mere talking in our dreams. Let us make no such tabernacles in our brains--they are mere castles in the air, raised in the mount of our own fancies and vain imaginations; if we say so, we know not what we say.
No building our thoughts then upon (1) worldly confidences; (2,) no making tabernacles to shelter us from all storms, even from suffering for our Master; (3,) no building then only for ourselves; (4,) no raising them to keep us from our Christian duty; (5,) no making them to separate between Law and Gospel; (6,) no making them to divide the sheepfold, to set up schism in the Church of Christ; (7,) no making them to anticipate heavenly happiness, to keep Christ upon the mountains of the earth, as if our business were wholly here, or wholly for ourselves, or our affections carnal and earthly still. Let us make no such tabernacles, preach no such fancies, believe no such imaginations; for if we do, S. Luke will tell us, were we as good as S. Peter, we say and believe and advise we know not what.
III. Now that we may know whence it is that the same words have thus different senses, why they may be spoke it well or ill, we are in the next place to examine the divers affections with which they may or might be spoken; either out of fear or out of joy; out of fear for his Master and himself, of future sufferings, which he heard them talking of, and a desire to avoid them, or out of joy in the con-templation of his present enjoyment, and a desire to continue it.
Consider the words spoken, as proceeding out of fear of death and suffering, and a desire to avoid it, to disturb the method of redemption by a new kind of Propitius esto libi, [331/332] a subtle new device to persuade Christ to favour himself and his followers, Non ita fiet tibi, to turn off the cross, to keep with Moses and Elias in the mount; or at least, if he would, keep them from departing, keep them however with him,--Moses with his wonder-working rod, Elias with his commanding fire to defend him. Consider them thus, and he and his fellows may well be answered with a Nescitis enjus spiritus, "Ye know not what spirit ye are of;" what you are to look for in the service of your Master; Christ's cross the chief lesson they were to learn.
Consider then, secondly, as words issuing out of excess of delight and joy, either in the present glory, as the all he wished for; in Christ's corporal presence, as the whole he expected; in temporal felicities, as the sum of his desires; or in sensible consolations, as the only pieces of devotion: so also he is but nesciens quid diceret, he says he knows not what.
But consider them now again, (1,) as arising out of a mo-derate delight in spirit or temporal contentments, with S. Matthew's si vis, submitting all to his will and pleasure: "It is good to be here," Master, "if thou wilt;" and "let us make tabernacles here," Master, "if thou wilt;" if thou thinkest it good, if thou knowest it fit, (for so S. Matthew relates S. Peter's words, and) then they may pass without reproof; they are the words of knowledge, of "truth, and soberness."
Or, (2,) consider them as spoken in the very rapture of joy and high delight in the contemplation of heavenly glory, of God's glory and his Master's, and great hopes of his own desiring what he can to promote and advance it, the words are the expressions of much love and piety, not the speech of a "mad fellow," as John's captains styled the prophet; he knows what he says, and what he desires; or, if through the excess of joy--he said he knew not what, more than he could well express, there was no fault, but that which such heavenly joys necessarily cause in human language by their inexpressible greatness, that if we say anything, we must needs say more than we are able to express, they are so great that we know not what to say; and so S. M ark, S. Peter's disciple, tells the story: "For he wist not what to say, for they were sore afraid,"--almost stupefied and amazed.
[332/33] And if now, lastly, that be the passion too to be added to the other two, and S. Matthew says the same, there will be least an excuse for any indiscretion in S. Peter's speech; though withal a caution to us for ours, that we speak no more than we understand; that we meddle not to settle conditions, to pitch places, to erect buildings, to give counsels, or pass our judgments in things we have no knowledge of, lest S. Luke tell us we are to blame, we say we know not what.
IV. Yet now, in the last place, we are to see how for sudden and hasty expressions may be borne with, and when they may not, without rebuke.
I. If they rise out of any sinful passion, sinful they are, and have no allowance.
2. If they rise out of any wilful heedlessness and indis-cretion, they are sins of indiscretion, and the words of folly, foolish words.
3. If they proceed out of natural infirmity and shortness of wit, they are at the best but to be excused; faulty they are; for why do they venture on what they do not under-stand?
But (4) if they proceed merely out of the excess of holy joy, or any passion unblamable, they are no sins; we may well bear with them, seeing we know not how to better them. There is a kind of spiritual and heavenly drunkenness, when ravished and overgone with the sweetness of some inward, spiritual, and heavenly joy,--made drunk with the spouse's "flagons" of wine in the holy Canticles, with "the drink of thy pleasures," says the Psalmist, "as out of the rivers;" overborne with the strength of this celestial liquor, we say we know not what, do things beyond the ordinary course of action, seem mad though we be sober, as the prophets did sometimes-when the Spirit came upon them--lay down naked; use strange gesture, or speak words, with Caiaphas, which at the time we understand not; run like madmen with some martyrs into flames and fires, to blocks and halters, upon the sudden, powerful, and miraculous motion of God's Spirit or grace within us. These, for all that, not to be looked for now.
Yet, it is ever to be noted here, that how strange soever the expressions of some holy saints have been in such ex-cesses, though they have not understood themselves, yet [333/334] others have; they never spoke nonsense by the Spirit, never blasphemy, never contradictions to holy Scripture, never anything against Christian patience and obedience. We have heard of late of the pattern in the mount, a Church tallied of to be formed according to that pattern. Indeed, it seems to have somewhat of S. Peter's bonum est, of his desire to be with Christ without the cross, to build tabernacles here for him, a new kingdom upon earth, to set up King Jesus, a phrase much canted; but to this S. Luke gives his dash; it is a nesciens quid diceret, that neither he nor they know what they say, what they would have; it is mere fear of I know not what, "a fear where no fear is," a mere stupor, as S. Mark, and a desiring what is not to be desired, an expec-tation of what is not to be expected, of nothing but ease, and pleasure, and glory in Christ's service. Their present condition and successes make them say and wish they know not what.
For, if we truly examine it, we shall find this saying what comes next--we heed not what--comes from present contentments and successes; when all things succeed to our mind, then we begin to forget ourselves, or not to know ourselves. Worldly felicities commonly so transport us, that we know not, care not, what we say or do; our greatness, we think, shall bear us out. "We say in our haste" too, with David, "we shall never be removed;" so care not what we say, how we behave ourselves to God and man, only bonum est esse hic, we set ourselves to enjoy our pleasures, and build houses for them that shall come after.
Yet it is worth the noting, that whilst we are thus speaking, we speak often against ourselves when we do not intend it. We call all our great buildings, all our great hopes, but taber-nacles, with S. Peter; so, as it were, presaging their remove, that they are of no long continuance and abiding. How many have we heard of in their times who have, by some sudden word, some unexpected expression, been the presages of their own ruin, and by time slip of some unlucky syllable or two, doomed the period, and foretold the shortness, of this moun-tain of glory! Of so unhappy speech are we, when we begin to talk of any glory or continuance upon the high places of the earth, we pitch a word instead of a tabernacle, that takes away all our bonum est esse hic on a sudden, even whilst we [334/335] mean no such matter, whilst we know not what we say'. And as no holy company, Moses, nor Elias, nor Christ's own, can keep us from all indiscretion in our speech no inure than they did S. Peter, so neither do they keep us from undoing our-selves often with our own language. We in a passion say we know-not what; enough to throw down all our tabernacles, remove all our bonum est, all our goods. The more we need them, with the Psalmist, of "setting a watch before our lips," and "a guard before our mouths, that we offend not in our tongues;" that we consider what we say--before we say-it; that we learn to speak before we speak it; that we keep our mouths "even from good words," as the same holy prophet has it; that we do not take up every--word that seems good and godly, but weigh and ponder it in "the balance of the sanctuary," by Christ's rule and precept, before we utter it.
And so doing and so speaking, we may, in all conditions, high and low, in glory and ignominy, in prosperity and adversity, in all companies, in all places, say merrily and cheerfully, without danger, "Master, it is good for us to be here," and "make tabernacles" here, for Christ, and Moses, and Elias, to keep them with us; we may build in the mountain or in the valley, without fear of this censure--not know- in what we do. All will be good unto us, all will work for good, if we temper our words and speak them soberly, and place them rightly, and direct them every one to his hic et nunc, to his proper object and circumstances; and Christ will tarry with us, and Moses not forsake us, and Elias not depart away out of the mountain from us, till we come to the "everlasting hills," to "eternal mansions," "houses not made with hands, eternal in the heavens," to dwell with Christ, and Moses, and Elias, and all the patriarchs and prophets, see them "face to face," be transfigured, and "clothed in bright shining garments," and "shine like stars for ever and ever."