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MATTHEW XVII. 1, 2.
“ And, after six days, Jesus taketh unto him Peter, and James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a mountain apart ; and he uras transfigured before them.”
The incident in our Saviour's life which is recorded in this day's gospel must be matter of consolation to every Christian. To see our blessed Lord, whose doctrines were listened to with avidity by the crowds ; upon whose miracles multitudes gazed with wonder and curiosity; but whose doctrines, alas, were so little followed; whose cause was espoused by so few; to see him, upon this occasion, removed (though but for a moment), into the chosen society of those few who really esteemed and honoured him; to see him receive the willing homage of his elect on earth, and of the spirits of the just made perfect in heaven; to see him receive that glory from the Father which his high dignity deserved, is surely some consolation to our feelings, and some compensation for the sympathies which we must feel with him who is neglected and despised.
But to us, my brethren, there are circumstances of far greater moment than those feelings connected with this soothing and consoling narrative. For observe, on the one hand, who these are who are selected to be the witnesses of this glorious scene. They are the most chosen of his apostles, the representatives, as it were, and deputies on this important occasion, of those who were to preach his doctrines with the most special authority, and to give the strongest sanctions to its truth.
James, who was to be the first of the twelve to seal his preaching of the doctrines of Christ with his blood; and John, who was destined to prolong the age of the apostles almost beyond its natural duration, by his protracted life; and thus, as it were, to dovetail their authority and evidence, into the teaching of those who succeeded them ;, and above all, Peter, who was expressly appointed, after his fall and conversion, to confirm his brethren.
Thus, therefore, we may easily imagine, with what awful strength and power those testimonies must have been presented to their minds, wbich were given them on this solemn occasion; and we find, that the apostles themselves considered, that it was still the most solemn sanction to the teaching of their Divine Master; for St. Peter expressly says, “ We have not followed cunningly-devised fables, when we made known to you the power and the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, having been eye-witnesses of his majesty; for God the Father gave bim glory and power.” These words being said to him from above, “ This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased myself; hear ye him: and these words we heard brought from heaven, when we were with him on the holy mount.” It is to the testimony, therefore, given on this occasion, that St. Peter particularly appeals, as some of the great ground-works whereupon he builds his authority to teach. And what were the testi. monies then given ? They were manifestly of a two-fold character ; for, in the first place, there appeared beside our Saviour, Moses and Elias, two of the most eminent and divinely-gifted men of the Old Testament, giving homage, and bearing testimony to him, resigning all the prerogatives and privileges of the law into his hand, who was come to perfect and complete it. For, my brethren, it is not merely by the words of the law that we are taught; but you all understand, that whatever happened to the fathers, happened to them in figures : so, that not merely in their writings, but in their very personages, in all their actions, we may find certain allusions, certain typical foreshowings of that which was hereafter to occur. And, besides this, there was another and still stronger testimony given in the voice of the Eternal Father, commanding the apostles to give implicit credence to all that they should hear from his mouth. Judge, therefore, my brethren, how solemnly the authority of our divine Saviour must have been impressed upon the minds of the apostles ; and if ever afterwards they heard bim transfer to them the authority which he on that occasion received; if they afterwards heard him say, that in the same manner, wherein he had been sent by his Father, he also had sent them; that he who heard them also heard him ; that he who despised them despised also him;
and not only so, but also bim that sent him-consider what a strong warrant, what a strong security they must have felt, that they also were sent forth to teach with authority, with the same authority precisely, as they had heard given on this occasion to his words.
Now, my brethren, it is to this new class of testimony, in favour of the authority to teach, not only as guaranteed to the apostles, but as perpetuated in his church, that I wish to call your attention this evening, by showing to you, in the first place, what assistance we receive from that which was taught of old ; and, in the second place, what the express words and injunctions of our blessed Saviour lead us to conceive regarding that rule and principle of faith which I endeavoured to explain to you at our last meeting, namely, the considering the church of Christ as the infallible depositary of his truth.
The plan which I have followed in these discourses—that is, the simple inductive form of argument which I prefer, as giving less room for cavil, and preventing the idea, that we first of all have made up the conclusion, and then merely sought for arguments to support it—renders it necessary that one discourse should be closely linked with the foregoing, and that my hearers should have an idea of the point where I interrupted my argument, that so they may see the influence of that which has gone before, upon that which follows; and also, the strong corroboration which is received from every succeeding link of the argument to that which has already been declared. It is, therefore, that even at the risk of perhaps being tedious, I will take the liberty of detaining you for a few moments, in laying before you one or two points upon which I dwelt, at full length, in my last discourse.
Two things particularly I beg to be remembered. In the first place, the explanation which I gave regarding the foundation of what we call church authority. You will remember, that I did not enter into any argument, but I contented myself with briefly laying before you, the whole system, showing the connection of one part with the other; and I endeavoured to account to you for every step in the process of reasoning which might be considered necessary to arrive at its full demonstration. I observed, therefore, that we considered the church of Christ to be a society, or a congregation, if I may so speak, formed by our Saviour immediately from the body of his own followers, to whom he guaranteed certain privileges, certain doctrines, certain laws; that those who received them were to be the depositaries, the inheritors of all that he gave them; and that among these was a promise, expressly given, of being himself a teacher in that body, or in that church-being himself the director of all its counsils ; and not only at that moment, but until the end of time: so that the Catholic believes, that the church consists of a body of the faithful united with their pastors, among whom Christ presides, through whom he teaches; so that it is impossible that the church can fall into error. And hence, as we admit at the same time no new revelation, no new manifestation of doctrine; we believe, also, consequently, that the power of the church consists in nothing more than in defining what has been, at all times, believed by all churches ;
and consequently, it is doubtlessly assisted by Christ in such a way, that we feel confident and secure, that we cannot possibly err by receiving her tradition. Such is the character, therefore, of the church, according to Catholic principles.
The second point to which I beg to call your attention is—though only incidentally mentioned-an important, I may say most important link to that which I am going just now to say, that is, I dwelt upon the fact of the old law having been expressly a written law, and that yet, at the same time, the most important doctrines – those which were found at the time of our Saviour existing among the Jews, and which form the very basis of his preaching to the Jews—had not been delivered in the law, nor even, many of them, in the prophets, but must, therefore, have been handed down by the secret channel of unwritten tradition ; and I alluded and referred to an immense stock of Jewish learning, completely demonstrating this position. I alluded and referred more particularly to the learned work of Molitor on this subject, in which he has an immense stock of Jewish learning, completely, I may say, demonstrating this position.
Now, then, it is a completion of that which was there simply hinted at, that I am going to attempt at present; that is to say, in the first place, to develop to you the system which God established of old for the preservation of the truth, to see what argument can be drawn towards deducing and establishing the system which he follows, at present, in his church.
I think, my brethren, that any one who will consider the order of God's dispensations, will agree with me in saying, that they may be well considered of a three-fold character. That God, as it were, appointed in the order of his providence, three different states whereby mankind were to be brought to the perfection whereof they were capable ; and it is impossible not to be struck with the very strong analogy between the respective characters and these three principal virtues, which have received their name from their being appointed as the means of bringing us most closely in relation to God.
The first dispensation was that which was given to the fathers of old, and well may be considered as the dispensation of hope, divided, as it is, into its triple era' of promise, and prophecy, and silent expectation. We may well say, that during that period, every other virtue was, as it were, comprehended and embraced in this one alone. For then faith, if we duly consider it, does appear rather to have been a disposition and readiness on their part, to receive, and to hear of that Teacher whom God had promised, should be given to them in the fulness of time, after whose manifestation, the saints of old panted, as the hart after the springs of water, rather than any clear apprehension of what were justly considered the mysteries of salvation. And hence it is, that St. Paul, explaining the character of these just men, and their peculiar difficulties, expressly tells us, that “ against hope, they believed in hope.”
And, in like manner, may we speak of their charity; that is, that it was rather a treasuring up of the affections, as it were, or a reservation of their feelings for a future outburst, when the sum of God's mercy on their behalf should be cast up; rather a longing after his manifestation in the flesh, that so they might stand in his blessed presence, than in any clear conception of his beauty or loveliness, they being rather dazzled and oppressed by his inscrutable brightness, than cheered and invited ; and hence it is, that we find all their rites, all their teaching were directed towards this day-spring and dawn of a more blessed period ; and hence it is, that we find all their religious forms are but in symbols, all their characters are but in types, all their teaching was in prophecy; and consequently, by a just analogy, all their righteousness was in hope.
Next came the new dispensation, wherein it is our happiness to live, and which may justly be called the dispensation of faith, in which much that was then future is now past, and that which was only hoped for, is now believed ; and every other good thing and perfect virtue, may be said to be exercised through this one alone, which is in itself the root and nourisher of them all. For, if a great portion of that which before was hope, bas doubtless been swallowed up in belief, we may well say, that what remains to us of the virtue itself, is no longer, as it was formerly, merely something consisting of dark, umbrageous, and mysterious images, but is presented to us definitely, though perhaps solely by faith, with a clearer sanction, and without the possibility of any farther brightness or distincter revelation.
But divine charity may be said also to be exercised by us through the same virtue; for, although the invisible things of God, as St. Paul teaches us, and his glories, are but manifested to us dimly in the glass of faith, yet has this glass, in our regard, a concentrating power, which gathers together all the rays, makes them converge into one point, and play into the innermost of our souls, with a warming, as well as a brightening influence; and hence our discoveries of it in regard to the revelation of a future state, in which God shall be the soul's entire possession, shineth to them, indeed, but as light in a dark place, towards which they are directing their course, but by which they can hardly guide their steps; whereas, it is to us, a lamp as well as a beacon—the cheerer as well as the aid of our earthly pilgrimage. And, although I shall not, at least on the present occasion, enter upon this subject; yet, to complete the view which I wish to present you, I will observe, that after these two, will come a final state of complete blessedness, in which both faith and hope shall be swallowed up in boundless and endless charity : when that life intellectual, which is full of love, shall, as it