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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 28

Sermon 28 on the New Testament

[LXXVIII. Ben.]

On the words of the Gospel, Matthew 17:1 , After six days Jesus takes with Him Peter, and James, and John his brother, etc.

1. We must now look into and treat of that vision which the Lord showed on the mount. For it is this of which He had said, Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here which shall not taste of death till they see the Son of Man in His Kingdom. Then began the passage which has just been read. When He had said this, after six days He took three disciples, Peter, and James, and John, and went up into a mountain. These three were those some, of whom He had said, There be some here which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man in His kingdom. There is no small difficulty here. For that mount was not the whole extent of His kingdom. What is a mountain to Him who possesses the heavens? Which we not only read He does, but in some sort see it with the eyes of the heart. He calls that His kingdom, which in many places He calls the kingdom of heaven. Now the kingdom of heaven is the kingdom of the saints. For the heavens declare the glory of God. And of these heavens it is immediately said in the Psalm, There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their sound is gone out through all the earth, and their words unto the end of the world. Whose words, but of the heavens? And of the Apostles, and all faithful preachers of the word of God. These heavens therefore shall reign together with Him who made the heavens. Now consider what was done, that this might be made manifest.

2. The Lord Jesus Himself shone bright as the sun; His raiment became white as the snow; and Moses and Elias talked with Him. Jesus Himself indeed shone as the sun, signifying that He is the light which lights every man that comes into the world. What this sun is to the eyes of the flesh, that is He to the eyes of the heart; and what that is to the flesh of men, that is He to their hearts. Now His raiment is His Church. For if the raiment be not held together by him who puts it on, it will fall off. Of this raiment, Paul was as it were a sort of last border. For he says himself, I am the least of the Apostles. And in another place, I am the last of the Apostles. Now in a garment the border is the last and least part. Wherefore as that woman which suffered from an issue of blood, when she had touched the Lord's border was made whole, so the Church which came from out of the Gentiles, was made whole by the preaching of Paul. What wonder if the Church is signified by white raiment, when you hear the Prophet Isaiah saying, Though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white as snow? Moses and Elias, that is, the Law and the Prophets, what avail they, except they converse with the Lord? Except they give witness to the Lord, who would read the Law or the Prophets? Mark how briefly the Apostle expresses this; For by the Law is the knowledge of sin; but now the righteousness of God without the Law is manifested: behold the sun; being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, behold the shining of the Sun.

3. Peter sees this, and as a man savouring the things of men says, Lord, it is good for us to be here. He had been wearied with the multitude, he had found now the mountain's solitude; there he had Christ the Bread of the soul. What! should he depart thence again to travail and pains, possessed of a holy love to Godward, and thereby of a good conversation? He wished well for himself; and so he added, If You will, let us make here three tabernacles; one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. To this the Lord made no answer; but notwithstanding Peter was answered. For while he yet spoke, a bright cloud came, and overshadowed them. He desired three tabernacles; the heavenly answer showed him that we have One, which human judgment desired to divide. Christ, the Word of God, the Word of God in the Law, the Word in the Prophets. Why, Peter, do you seek to divide them? It were more fitting for you to join them. You seek three; understand that they are but One.

4. As the cloud then overshadowed them, and in a way made one tabernacle for them, a voice also sounded out of the cloud, which said, This is My beloved Son. Moses was there; Elias was there; yet it was not said, These are My beloved sons. For the Only Son is one thing; adopted sons another. He was singled out in whom the Law and the prophets glorified. This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear Him! Because you have heard Him in the Prophets, and you have heard Him in the Law. And where have ye not heard Him? When they heard this, they fell to the earth. See then in the Church is exhibited to us the Kingdom of God. Here is the Lord, here the Law and the Prophets; but the Lord as the Lord; the Law in Moses, Prophecy in Elias; only they as servants and as ministers. They as vessels: He as the fountain: Moses and the Prophets spoke, and wrote; but when they poured out, they were filled from Him.

5. But the Lord stretched out His hand, and raised them as they lay. And then they saw no man, save Jesus only. What does this mean? When the Apostle was being read, you heard, For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face. And tongues shall cease, when that which we now hope for and believe shall come. In then that they fell to the earth, they signified that we die, for it was said to the flesh, Earth you are, and unto earth shall you return. But when the Lord raised them up, He signified the resurrection. After the resurrection, what is the Law to you? What Prophecy? Therefore neither Moses nor Elias is seen. He only remains to you, Who in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He remains to you, that God may be all in all. Moses will be there; but now no more the Law. We shall see Elias there too; but now no more the Prophet. For the Law and the Prophets have only given witness to Christ, that it behooved Him to suffer, and to rise again from the dead the third day, and to enter into His glory. And in this glory is fulfilled what He has promised to them that love Him, He that loves Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him. And as if it were said, What will You give him, seeing You will love him? And I will manifest Myself unto him. Great gift! great promise! God does not reserve for you as a reward anything of His own, but Himself. O you covetous one; why does not what Christ promises suffice you? Thou dost seem to yourself to be rich; yet if you have not God, what have you? Another is poor, yet if he has God, what has he not?

6. Come down, Peter: you were desiring to rest on the mount; come down, preach the word, be instant in season, out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. Endure, labour hard, bear your measure of torture; that you may possess what is meant by the white raiment of the Lord, through the brightness and the beauty of an upright labouring in charity. For when the Apostle was being read we heard in praise of charity, She seeks not her own. She seeks not her own; since she gives what she possesses. In another place there is more danger in the expression, if you do not understand it right. For the Apostle, charging the faithful members of Christ after this rule of charity, says, Let no man seek his own, but another's. For on hearing this, covetousness is ready with its deceits, that in a matter of business under pretence of seeking another's, it may defraud a man, and so, seek not his own, but another's. But let covetousness restrain itself, let justice come forth; so let us hear and understand. It is to charity that it is said, Let no man seek his own, but another's. Now, O you covetous one, if you will still resist, and twist the precept rather to this point, that you should covet what is another's; then lose what is your own. But as I know you well, you wish to have both your own and another's. You will commit fraud that you may have what is another's; submit then to robbery that you may lose your own. Thou dost not wish to seek your own, but then you take away what is another's. Now if you do this, you do not well. Hear and listen, you covetous one: the Apostle explains to you in another place more clearly this that he said, Let no man seek his own, but another's. He says of himself, Not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. This Peter understood not yet when he desired to live on the mount with Christ. He was reserving this for you, Peter, after death. But now He says Himself, Come down, to labour in the earth; in the earth to serve, to be despised, and crucified in the earth. The Life came down, that He might be slain; the Bread came down, that He might hunger; the Way came down, that life might be wearied in the way; the Fountain came down, that He might thirst; and do you refuse to labour? 'Seek not your own.' Have charity, preach the truth; so shall you come to eternity, where you shall find security.

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Source. Translated by R.G. MacMullen. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 6. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/160328.htm>.

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