Augustine on NT 78


Sermon XXVIII. £[LXXVII. Ben.]

On the words of the gospel, Mt 17,1 “After six days Jesus taketh 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.”1 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.”2 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.3 What is a mountain to Him who possesseth the heavens? Which we not only read He doth, but in some sort see it with the eyes of the heart. He calleth that His kingdom, which in many places He calleth the “kingdom of heaven.” Now the kingdom of heaven is the kingdom of the saints. “For the heavens declare the glory of God.”4 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.”5 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.6 Jesus Himself indeed shone as the sun, signifying that “He is the light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”7 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.”8 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,9 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”?10 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? Marc 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,”11 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.”12 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 Thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.” To this the Lord made no answer; but notwithstanding Peter was answered. “For while he yet spake, a bright cloud came, and overshadowed them.”13 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, dost thou seek to divide them? It were more fitting for thee to join them. Thou seekest 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 out14 in whom the Law and the prophets glorified. “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear Him!” Because ye have heard Him in the Prophets, and ye 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 spake, 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.”15 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.”16 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 thou art, and unto earth shalt thou return.”17 But when the Lord raised them up, He signified the resurrection. After the resurrection, what is the Law to thee? what Prophecy? Therefore neither Moses nor Elias is seen. He only remaineth to thee, “Who in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”18 He remaineth to thee, “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 behoved 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 hath promised to them that love Him, “He that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him.”19 And as if it were said, What wilt Thou give him, seeing Thou wilt love him? “And I will manifest Myself unto him.” Great gift! great promise! God doth not reserve for thee as a reward anything of His own, but Himself. O thou covetous one; why doth not what Christ promiseth suffice thee? Thou dost seem to thyself to be rich; yet if thou have not God, what hast thou? Another is poor, yet if he hath God, what hath he not?

6. Come down, Peter: thou wast 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.”20 Endure, labour hard, bear thy measure of torture; that thou mayest 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 seeketh not her own.21 She seeketh 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.”22 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 thou covetous one, if thou wilt still resist, and twist the precept rather to this point, that thou shouldest covet what is another’s; then lose what is thine own. But as I know thee weIl, thou dost wish to have both thine own and another’s. Thou wilt commit fraud that thou mayest have what is another’s; submit then to robbery that thou mayest lose thine own. Thou dost not wish to seek thine own, but then thou takest away what is another’s. Now this if thou do, thou doest not well. Hear and listen, thou covetous one: the Apostle explains to thee in another place more clearly this that he said, “Let no man seek his own, but another’s.” He says of himself, “Not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.”23 This Peter understood not yet when he desired to live on the mount with Christ. He was reserving this for thee, Peter, after death. But now He saith 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 dost thou refuse to labour? ‘Seek not thine own.’ Have charity, preach the truth; so shall thou come to eternity, where thou shalt find security.”

1 (Mt 16,28
2 (Mt 17,1 Lc 9,28
3 Reguum comprehensum.
4 (Ps 19,1
5 (Ps 19,3-4.
6 (Mt 17,2-3.
7 (Jn 1,9
8 (1Co 15,9
9 (Mc 5,34
10 (Is 1,18
11 (Rm 3,20-21.
12 (Mt 17,4
13 (Mt 17,5).
14 Commendabatur.
15 (Mt 17,7-8.
16 (1Co 13,12
17 (Gn 3,19 Sept.
18 (Jn 1,1
19 (Jn 14,21
20 (2Tm 4,2
21 (1Co 13,5
22 (1Co 10,24
23 (1Co 10,33).


Sermon XXIX. [LXXIX. Ben.]

Again on the words of the gospel, Mt 17 Where Jesus showed Himself on the mount to His three disciples.

1). We heard when the Holy Gospel was being read of the great vision on the mount, in which Jesus showed Himself to the three disciples, Peter, James, and John. “His face did shine as the sun:” this is a figure of the shining of the Gospel. “His raiment was white as the snow:”1 this is a figure of the purity of the Church, to which it was said by the Prophet, “Though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white as snow.”2 Elias and Moses were talking with Him; because the grace of the Gospel receives witness from the Law and the Prophets. The Law is represented in Moses, the Prophets in Elias; to speak briefly. For there are the mercies of God vouchsafed through a holy Martyr to be rehearsed. Let us give ear Peter desired three tabernacles to be made, one for Moses, one for Elias, and one for Christ. The solitude of the mountain had charms for him; he had been wearied with the tumult of the world’s business. But why sought be three tabernacles, but because he knew not as yet the unity of the Law, and of Prophecy, and of the Gospel? Lastly, he was corrected by the cloud, “While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them.” Lo, the cloud hath made one tabernacle; wherefore didst thou seek for three? “And a voice came out of the cloud, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, hear ye Him.”3 Elias speaketh; but “hear Him; “Moses speaketh; but “hear Him.” The Prophets speak, the Law speaketh; but “hear Him,” who is the voice of the Law, and the tongue of the Prophets. He spake in them, and when He vouchsafed so to do, He appeared in His own person. “Hear ye Him:” let us then hear Him. When the Gospel spake, think it was the cloud: from thence hath the voice sounded out to us. Let us hear/Him; that is, let us do what He saith, let us hope for what He hath promised.


Sermon XXX. [LXXX. Ben.]

On the words of the gospel, Mt 17,19 “Why could not we cast it out”? Etc., And on prayer.

1). Our Lord Jesus Christ reproved unbelief even in His own disciples, as we heard just now when the Gospel was being read. For when they had said, “Why could not we cast him out?” He answered, “Because of your unbelief.”1 If the Apostles were unbelievers, who is a believer? What must the lambs do, if the rams totter? Yet the mercy of the Lord did not disdain them in their unbelief; but reproved, nourished, perfected, crowned them. For they themselves, as mindful of their own weakness, said to Him, as we read in a certain place in the Gospel, “Lord, increase our faith.2 Lord,” say they, “increase our faith.” The knowing that they had a deficiency, was the first advantage; a greater happiness still, to know who it was of whom they were asking. “Lord,” say they, “increase our faith.” See, if they did not bring their hearts as it were to the fountain, and knocked that that might be opened to them, out of which they might fill them. For He would that men should knock at Him, not that He might repel those that knock, but that He might exercise those who long.

2. For do you think, Brethren, that God doth not know what is needful for you? He knoweth and preventeth our desires, who knoweth our want. And so when He taught His disciples to pray, and warned them not to use many words in prayer, He saith, “Use not many words; for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask Him.”3 Now the Lord saith something different from this. What is this? Because He misliked that we should use many words in prayer, He said to us, “When ye pray, use not many words; for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask Him.” If our “Father knoweth what things we have need of before we ask Him,” why do we use even few words? What is the use of prayer at all, if “our Father knoweth” already “what things we have need of”? He saith to one, Do not make thy prayer to Me at great length; for I know what is needful for thee. If so, Lord, why should I so much as pray at all? Thou wouldest not that I should use long prayers, yea rather Thou dost even bid me to use near none at all. And then what meaneth that precept in another place? For He who saith, “Use not many words in prayer,” saith in another place, “Ask, and it shall be given you.”4 And that thou mightest not think that this first precept to ask was given cursorily, He added, “Seek, and ye shall find.” And that thou mightest not think that this too was cursorily given, see what He added further, see with what He finished. “Knock, and it shall be opened unto you:” see what He added. He would have thee ask that thou mayest receive, and seek that thou mayest find, and knock that thou mayest enter in. Seeing then that our Father knoweth already what is needful for us, how and why do we ask? why seek? why knock? why weary ourselves in asking, and seeking, and knocking, to instruct Him who knoweth already? And in another place the words of the Lord are, “Men ought always to pray, and not to faint.”5 If men “ought always to pray,” how doth He say, “Use not many words”? How can I always pray, if I so quickly make an end? Here Thou biddest me to finish quickly; there “always to pray and not to faint:” what doth this mean? Now that thou mayest understand this, “ask, seek, knock.” For for this cause is it closed, not to shut thee out, but to exercise thee. Therefore, brethren, ought we to exhort to prayer, both ourselves and you. For other hope have we none amid the manifold evils of this present world, than to knock in prayer, to believe and to maintain the belief firm in the heart, that thy Father only doth not give thee what He knoweth is not expedient for thee. For thou knowest what thou dost desire; He knoweth what is good for thee. Imagine thyself under a physician, and in weak health, as is the very truth; for all this life of ours is a weakness; and a long life is nothing else but a prolonged weakness. Imagine thyself then to be sick under the physician’s hand. Thou hast a desire to ask thy physician leave to drink a draught of fresh wine. Thou art not prohibited from asking, for it may chance to do thee no harm, or even good to receive it. Do not then hesitate to ask; ask, hesitate not; but if thou receive not, do not take it to heart. Now if thou wouldest act thus in the hands of a man, the physician of the body, how much more in the hands of God, who is the Physician, the Creator, and Restorer, both of thy body and soul?

3. Wherefore, see how the Lord in this passage exhorted His disciples to prayer, when He said, “Ye could not cast out this devil because of your unbelief.”6 For then exhorting them to prayer He ended thus; “this kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting.” If a man must pray, to cast out devils from another, how much more to cast out his own covetousness? how much more to cast out his own drunkenness? how much more to cast out his own luxuriousness? how much more to cast out his own uncleanness? How many things in a man are there, which if they are persevered in, allow of no admission into the kingdom of heaven! Consider, Brethren, how a physician is entreated for the preservation of temporal health, how, if any one is desperately ill, is he ashamed or slow to throw himself at a man’s feet? to bathe in tears the footsteps of any very able chief physician? And what if the physician say to him, “Thou canst not else be cured, except I bind thee, and use the fire and knife”? He will answer,” Do what thou wilt, only cure me.” With what eagerness does he long for the health of a few days, fleeting as a vapour, that for it he is content to be bound, and submit to the fire, and knife, and to be watched, that he neither eat nor drink what, or when, he pleases!All this he will endure, that he may die a little later; and yet he will not endure ever so little, that he may never die. If God, who is the Heavenly Physician over us, saith to thee, “Wilt thou be cured?” What wouldest thou say but “Yes.” Or it may be thou wouldest not say so, because thou fanciest thyself to be in health, that is, because thou art more grievously sick.

4. For if we suppose two sick persons, one who implores the physician with tears, the other, who in his sickness with infatuation derides him; he will hold out hope to the one that weeps, and will deplore the case of the other that laughs. Why? but because the sounder in health he thinks himself, the more dangerous his sickness is! This was the case with the Jews. Christ came to them that were sick; He found them all sick. Let no one then flatter himself on his healthful state, test the physician give him up.7 He found all sick; it is the Apostle’s judgment, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”8 Though He found them all sick, yet were there two sorts of sick folk. The one came to the Physician, clave to Christ, heard, honoured, followed Him, were converted. He received all without disdaining any, for to heal them, who healed of free favour, who cured by Almighty power. When then He received them, and joined them to Himself to be healed, they rejoiced. But there was another sort of sick, who had already become infatuated through the sickness of iniquity, and did not know themselves to be sick; they mocked Him, because He received the sick, and said to His disciples, “Lo, what manner of man is your Master, who eateth with publicans and sinners.” And He who knew what and who they were answered them, “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” And He showed them who the “whole” were, and who the “sick.” “I am not come,” He saith, “to call the righteous, but sinners.”9 If sinners, He would say, do not come to Me, wherefore am I come? for whose sake am I come? If all are whole, wherefore hath so great a Physician come down from heaven? why hath He prepared for us a medicine not out of His stores,10 but of His own blood? That sort of sick then who had a milder sickness, who felt themselves to be sick, clave to the Physician, that they might be healed. But they whose sickness was more dangerous mocked the Physician, and abused the sick. Whither did their frenzy proceed at last? To seize the Physician, bind, scourge, crown Him with thorns, hang Him upon a Tree, kill Him on the Cross! Why dost thou marvel? The sick slew the Physician; but the Physician by being slain healed the frantic patient.

5. For first, not forgetting on the Cross His own character,11 and manifesting forth His patience to us, and giving us an example of love to our enemies; as He saw them raging round Him, who had known their disease, seeing He was the Physician, who had known the frenzy by which they had become infatuated, He said at once to the Father, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”12 Now suppose ye that those Jews were not malignant, cruel, bloody, turbulent, and enemies of the Son of God? Suppose ye that that cry, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” was ineffectual and in vain? He saw them all, but He knew amongst them those that should one day be His. In a word, He died, because it was so expedient, that by His Death He might kill death. God died, that an exchange might be effected by a kind of heavenly contract, that man might not see death. For Christ is God, but He died not in that Nature in which He is God. For the same Person is God and man; for God and man is one Christ. The human nature13 was assumed, that we might be changed for the better; He did not degrade the Divine14 Nature down to the lower. For He assumed that which He was not, He did not lose that which He was. Forasmuch then as He is both God and man, being pleased that we should live by that which was His, He died in that which was ours. For He had nothing Himself, whereby He could die; nor had we anything whereby we could live. For what was He who had nothing whereby He could die? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”15 If thou seek for anything in God whereby He may die, thou wilt not find it. But we all die, who are flesh; men bearing about sinful flesh. Seek out for that whereby sin may live; it hath it not. So then neither could He have death in that which was His own, nor we life in that which was our own; but we have life from that which is His, He death from what is ours. What an exchange! What hath He given, and what received? Men who trade enter into commercial intercourse for exchange of things. For ancient commerce was only an exchange of things. A man gave what he had, and received what he had not. For example, he had wheat, but had no barley; another had barley, but no wheat; the former gave the wheat which he had, and received the barley which he had not. How16 simple it was that the larger quantity should make up for the cheaper sort! So then another man gives barley, to receive wheat; lastly, another gives lead, to receive silver, only he gives much lead against a little silver; another gives wool, to receive a ready-made garment. And who can enumerate all these exchanges? But no one gives life to receive death. Not in vain then was the voice of the. Physician as He hung upon the tree. For in order that He might die for us because the Word could not die, “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”17 He hung upon the Cross, but in the flesh. There was the meanness,18 which the Jews despised; there the dearness,19 by which the Jews were delivered. For for them was it said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”20 And that voice was not in vain. He died, was buried, rose again, having passed forty days with His disciples, He ascended into heaven, He sent the Holy Ghost on them, who waited for the promise. They were filled with the Holy Ghost, whom they had received, and began to speak with the tongues of all nations. Then the Jews who were present, amazed that unlearned and ignorant men, whom they had known as brought up among them with one tongue, should in the Name of Christ speak in all tongues, were in astonishment, and learnt from Peter’s words whence this gift came. He gave it, who hung upon the tree. He gave it, who was derided as He hung upon the tree, that from His seat in heaven He might give the Holy Spirit. They of whom He had said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” heard, believed. They believed, were baptized, and their conversion was effected. What conversion? In faith they drank the Blood of Christ, which in fury they had shed.

6. Therefore, to finish this discourse with that with which we began it, let us pray, and let us rely on God; let us live as He enjoineth; and when we totter in this life, let us call upon Him as the disciples called, saying, “Lord, increase our faith.”21 Peter both put his trust in Him, and tottered; but notwithstanding he was not disregarded and left to sink, but was lifted up and raised. For his trust whence was it? Not from anything of his own; but from what was the Lord’s. How? “Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water.” For on the water was the Lord walking. “If it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water.” For I know that if it be Thou, Thou biddest, and it is done. “And He saith, Come.” He went down at His bidding, but in his own weakness he was afraid. Never the less when he was afraid, he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Then the Lord took him by the hand, and said, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”22 He first invited him, He delivered him, as he tottered, and stumbled; that it might be fulfilled which was said in the Psalm, “If I said my foot hath slipped, Thy mercy, O Lord, aided me.”23

7. There are then two kinds of blessings, temporal and eternal. Temporal blessings are health, substance, honour, friends, a home, children, a wife, and the other things of this life in which we are sojourners. Put we up then in the hostelry of this life as travellers passing on, and not as owners intending to remain. But eternal blessings are, first, eternal life itself, the incorruption and immortality of body and soul, the society of Angels, the heavenly city, glory24 unfailing, Father and father-land, the former without death, the latter without a foe. These blessings let us desire with all eagerness, let us ask with all perseverance, not with length of words, but with the witness of groans. Longing desire prayeth always, though the tongue be silent. If thou art ever longing, thou art ever praying. When sleepeth prayer? When desire groweth cold. So then let us beg for these eternal blessings with all eager desire, let us seek for those good things with an entire earnestness, let us ask for those good things with all assurance. For those good things do profit him that hath them, they cannot harm him. But those other temporal good things sometimes profit, and sometimes harm. Poverty hath profited many, and wealth hath harmed many; a private life hath profited many, and exalted honour hath harmed many. And again, money hath profiled some, honourable distinction hath profited some; profiled them who use them well; but from those who use them ill, the not withdrawing them hath harmed them more. And so, Brethren, let us ask for those temporal blessings too, but in moderation, being sure that if we do receive them, He giveth them, who knoweth what is expedient for us. Thou hast asked, and what thou hast asked, hath not been given thee? Trust thy Father, who would giveit thee, were it expedient for thee. Lo! judge in this case by thine own self. For such as thy son who knows not the ways of men is in regard to thee, such in regard to the Lord art thou thyself, who knowest not the things of God. Lo, thy son cries a whole day before thee, that thou wouldest give him a knife, or a sword; thou dost refuse to give it him, thou wilt not give it, thou disregardest his tears, lest thou shouldest have to bewail his death. Let him cry, and beat himself, or throw himself upon the ground, that thou mayest set him on horseback; thou wilt not do it, because he does not know how to govern the horse, he may throw and kill him. To whom thou refusest a part, thou art reserving the whole. But that he may grow up, and possess the whole in safety, thou givest him not that little thing which is full of peril to him.

8. And so, Brethren, we say, pray as much as ye are able. Evils abound, and God hath willed that evils should abound. Would that evil men did not abound, and then evils would not abound. Bad times! troublesome times! this men are saying. Let our lives be good; and the times are good. We make our times; such as we are, such are the times. But what can we do? We cannot, it may be, convert the mass of men to a good life. But let the few who do give ear live well; let the few who live well endure the many who live ill. They are the corn, they are in the floor in the floor the can have the chaff with them, they will not have them in the barn. Let them endure what they would not, that they may come to what they would. Wherefore are wesad, and blame we God? Evils abound in the world, in order that the world may not engage our love. Great men, faithful saints were they who have despised the world with all its attractions;25 we are not able to despise it even disfigured as it is. The world is evil, lo, it is evil, and yet it is loved as though it were good. But what is this evil world? For the heavens and the earth, and the waters, and the things that are therein, the fish, and birds, and trees, are not evil. All these are good: but it is evil men who make this evil world. Yet as we cannot be without evil men, let us, as I have said, whilst we live pour out our groans before the Lord our God, and endure the evils, that we may attain to the things that are good. Let us not find fault with the Master of the household; for He is loving to us. He beareth us, and not we him. He knoweth how to govern what He made; do what He hath hidden, and hope for what He hath promised.

1 (Mt 17,2
2 (Is 1,18
3 (Mt 17,5
1 (Mt 17,19-20.
2 (Lc 17,5
3 (Mt 6,7-8.
4 (Mt 7,7).
5 (Lc 18,1
6 (Mt 17,19-20.
7 Renuntiet ad illum.
8 (Rm 3,23
9 (Mt 9,11 etc.
10 Armario suo).
11 Personam suam.
12 (Lc 23,34
13 Homo.
14 Deum.
15 (Jn 1,1
16 Quanti erat.
17 (Jn 1,14
18 Vilitas.
19 Caritas.
20 (Lc 23,34
21 (Lc 17,5).
22 (Mt 14,28 etc.
23 (Ps 94,18
24 Dignitas.
25 Speciosum).


Sermon XXXI. [LXXXI. Ben.]

On the words of the gospel, Mt 18,7 Where we are admonished to beware of the offences of the world.

1). The divine lessons, which we have just heard as they were being read, warn us to gather in a stock of virtues, to fortify a Christian heart, against the offences which were predicted to come, and this from the mercy of the Lord. “For what is man,” saith Scripture, “saving that Thou art mindful of him? “1 “Woe unto the world because of offences,”2 saith the Lord; the Truth says so; He alarmeth and warneth us, He would not have us to be off our guard; for surely He would not make us desperate. Against this “woe,” against this evil, that is, which is to be feared, and dreaded, and guarded against, Scripture counsels, and exhorts, and instructs us in that place, where it is said, “Great praise have they who love Thy law, and nothing is an offence to them.”3 He hath shown us an enemy to be guarded against, but He hath not omitted to show us also a wall of defence. Thou wast thinking, as thou heardest, “Woe unto the world because of offences,” whither thou mightest go beyond the world, that thou mightest not be exposed to offences. Therefore to avoid offences, whither wilt thou go beyond the world, unless thou fly to Him who made the world? And how shall we be able to fly to Him who made the world, unless we give ear to His law which is preached everywhere? And to give ear to it is but a small matter, unless we love it. For divine Scripture in making thee secure against offences doth not say, “Great peace have they who” hear “Thy law. For not the hearers of the law are just before God.4 But” because” the doers of the law shall be justified,” and, “faith worketh by love: “5 it saith, “Great peace have they who love Thy law, and nothing is an offence to them.” To this sentiment also agrees the passage which we have chanted in course; “But the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.”6 Because, “great peace have they who love Thy law.” For these” meek “ones are they who “love the law of God.” For, “Blessed is the man whom Thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of Thy law, that Thou mayest give him rest from the days of adversity, until the pit be digged for the sinner.”7 How diverse seem those words of Scripture, yet into one meaning do they so flow and meet together, that whatsoever out of that most rich fountain thou canst hear, so that thou acquiesce therein, and art in loving harmony with the truth, thou will be at once filled with peace; glowing with love, and fortified against offences.

2. It is our place then to see, or seek, or learn, how we must be “meek;” and we are guided by that which I have just brought forward out of the Scriptures, to find what we are in quest of. Be attentive then, Beloved, for a little while; it is a weighty matter that is in hand, that we may be meek; a necessary thing in the adversities of life. But it is not the adverse circumstances of this life which are called offences; but mark what “offences” are. A man, for instance, under some hard necessity is weighed down by a press of trouble. That he is weighed down with a press of trouble, is no offence. By such pressure were even Martyrs pressed, but not oppressed. Of an offence beware, but of a press of trouble not so much. The last presseth thee, an offence oppresseth thee. What then is the difference between the two? In the press of trouble thou didst make ready to maintain patience, to hold fast constancy, not to abandon faith, not to consent to sin. This if thou maintain, or shall have maintained, the trouble that presseth thee shall not be thy fall; but that press of trouble shall avail to the same end as in the oil press, not to destroy the olive, but to extract the oil. In a word, if in this trouble that presseth thee thou ascribe praise unto God, how useful will the press be to thee, whereby such oil is pressed out! Under such a press the Apostles sat in chains, and in that press they sang a hymn to God. What precious oil was this that was pressed and forced out! Beneath a heavy press did Jb sit on the dunghill, without resource, without help, without substance, without children; full, but of worms only, as far, that is, as concerned the outward man, but because he too was full of God within, he praised God, and that press was no “offence” to him. Where then was the “offence “? When his wife came to him and said, “Speak a word against God, and die.”8 When all had been taken from him by the devil, an Eve was reserved for the exercised sufferer, not to console but to tempt her husband. See then where the offence was. She exaggerated his miseries, and her miseries too with his, and began to persuade him to blaspheme. But he who was “meek,” because “God had taught him out of His law, and given him rest from the days of adversity;” had “great peace” in his heart as “loving the law of God, and nothing was an offence to him.” She was an offence, but not to him. In a word, behold the meek man, behold one taught in the law of God, the eternal law of God I mean. For that law on tables was not yet given to the Jews in the time of Job, but in the hearts of the godly there remained still the eternal law, from which that which was given to the people was copied. Because then by the law of God he had “rest given him from the days of adversity,” and “had great peace as loving the law of God,” behold how “meek” he is, and what he answers. Learn hereby what I propose to enquire; who are the meek. “Thou speakest,” he says, “as one of the foolish women speaketh. If we have received good from the hand of the Lord, shall we not bear the evil?”9

3. We have heard by an example who the meek are: let us, if we can, define them in words. The meek are they, to whom in all their good deeds, in all the things they do well, nothing is pleasing but God; to whom in all the evils they suffer, God is not displeasing. Now, Brethren, attend to this rule, to this pattern; let us stretch ourselves out to it, let us seek for increase, that we may fill it. For what does it profit, that we plant, and water, except God shall give the increase? “For neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.”10 Give ear, whosoever thou art, that wouldest be “meek,” who wouldest have “rest from the days of adversity, who lovest the law of God,” that there may be “no offence unto thee,” and that thou mayest “have great peace,” that thou mayest “possess the earth, and delight in the multitude of peace;” give ear, whosoever thou art that wouldest be “meek.” Whatsoever good thou doest, be not pleased with thyself. “For God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.”11 So then whatever good thou doest, let nought but God be pleasing to thee; whatever evil thou sufferest, let not God be displeasing to thee. What needest thou more? Do this, and thou shalt live. The days of adversity shall not overwhelm thee; thou shall escape that which is said, “Woe unto the world because of offences.” For to what world is there woe because of offences, but to that of which it is said, “And the world knew Him not?”12 Not to that world of which it is said, “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.”13 There is an evil world, and there is a good world; the evil world, are all the evil men in this world; and the good world, all the good in this world. As we observe frequently with a field. This field is full: of what? Of wheat. Yet we say also, and say truly too, This field is full of chaff. So with a tree, it is full of fruit. Another says, it is full of leaves. And both he who says it is full of fruit, says true; and he who says it is full of leaves, says true. Neither has the full display of leaves taken away the room for the fruit, nor the full display of the fruit driven off the abundance of leaves. It is full of both; but the one the wind searcheth out, the other the husbandman gathereth in. So therefore when thou dost hear, “Woe unto the world because of offences,” be not afraid; “love the law of God, nothing shall be an offence to thee.”

4. But thy wife comes to thee advising thee to some evil thing. Thou dost love her as a wife should be loved; she is one of thy members. “But if thine eye offend thee, if thine hand offend thee, if thy foot offend thee,” thou hast just heard the Gospel, “cut them off, and cast them from thee.”14 Whosoever he be that is dear to thee, whosoever he be that is held in high estimation by thee, let him be so long of high esteem with thee, so long thy beloved member, as he shall not begin to offend time, that is, to advise thee to any evil. Hear now how that this is the meaning of “offence.” I have brought forward the example of Jb and his wife; but there the word “offence” did not occur. Hear the Gospel: when the Lord prophesied of His Passion, Peter began to persuade him not to suffer. “Get thee behind Me, Satan, thou art an offence to Me.”15 Here undoubtedly the Lord who hath given thee an example of life, hath taught thee both what an “offence” is, and how an offence is to be avoided. Him to whom He had a little while before said, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona;”16 He had shown to be His member. But when he begins to be an offence, He cuts off the member; only He restored the member, and put it into its place again. He then will be an “offence” to thee, who shall begin to persuade thee to any evil thing. And here, Beloved, take heed; this takes place for the most part not through any evil will, but through a mistaken good will. Thy friend who loves thee, and is loved by thee again, thy father, thy brother, thy child, thy wife, sees thee in an evil case, and would have thee do what is evil. What do I mean by “sees thee in an evil case”? Sees thee in some press of trouble. This pressure it may be thou art suffering for righteousness’ sake; art suffering it because thou will not give false witness. I would speak merely by way of illustration. Examples abound; for “woe to the world, because of offences.” See, for instance, some powerful person, to cover his rapine and plunder, asks of you the service of a false witness. You refuse: refuse the false oath, lest thou shouldest deny Him that is true. That I may not dwell long on this, he is angry, he is powerful, he oppresses thee: a friend comes who would not have thee in this press of trouble, in this evil case; “I pray thee, do what is told thee; what great matter is it?” And then perhaps as Satan with the Lord, “It is written of Thee, He shall give His Angels charge concerning Thee, that Thou dash not Thy foot against a stone.”17 Perhaps too this friend of thine, because he sees thou art a Christian, wishes to persuade thee out of the Law to do what he thinks you ought to do. “Do what the other tells.” “What? Do what the other wishes.” “But it is a lie, it is false.” “Well, have you not read, ‘All men are liars’?”18 Now is he an “offence.” He is a friend, what will you do? He is an eye, he is a hand: “Cut it off, and cast it from thee.” What is, “cut it off, and cast it from thee”? Consent not to him. For members in our body make up unity by consent, by consent they live, by consent are joined together one with the other. Where there is dissent, there is disease, or a sore. He is then one of thy members; thou wilt love him. But he is an offence to thee; “Cut him off, and cast him from thee.” Consent not to him; drive him off from thine ears, it may be he will return amended.

5. And how wilt thou do this that I say, “Cut him off, and cast him from thee,” and so, it may be, amend him? answer me, how thou art going to do it? He wished to persuade thee out of the Law to tell a lie. For he said, “speak.” And perhaps he did not dare to say, “speak a lie;” but thus, “speak what the other wishes.” Thou sayest, “But it is a lie.” And he to excuse it, says, “All men are liars.” Then do thou, my brother, say against this, “The mouth that lieth slayeth the soul.”19 Mark, it is no light thing thou hast heard, “The mouth that lieth slayeth the soul.” What can that powerful enemy, who oppresseth me, do to me, that thou pitiest me, and my condition, and wouldest not have me be in this evil case; whereas thou wouldest that I should be evil? What can that powerful man do to me, and what can he oppress? The flesh. He can oppress thy body, thou wilt say: I grant he may oppress it to destruction.20 Still how much more mildly does he deal with me, than I should with myself were I to lie! He kills my flesh; I kill my soul. He in his power and anger slays the body; “the mouth that lieth slayeth the soul.” He slays the body; and die it must, though it should not be slain; but the soul which iniquity slayeth not, the truth receiveth for ever. Preserve then what thou canst preserve; and let that perish which must perish sometime or other. Thou hast given an answer then, but thou hast not solved the “All men are liars.” Make answer to him to this too, that he may not fancy that he has said anything to persuade to lying, in bringing a testimony out of the Law; so urging thee out of the Law against the Law. For it is written in the Law, “Thou shalt not bear false witness;”21 and it is written in the Law, “All men are liars.” Recur then to that which I just lately suggested, when I defined in words as best I could the “meek” man. He is “meek” to whom in all things that he does well, nothing but God is pleasing, and in all the evils which he suffers, God is not displeasing. Make answer then to him who says, Lie, for it is written, “All men are liars:” I will not lie, for it is written, “The mouth that lieth slayeth the soul.” I will not lie, because it is written, “Thou shalt destroy them that speak lying.”22 I will not lie, because it is written, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” Though he whom I displease by the truth harass my body with oppressions, I will give ear to my Lord, “Fear not them which kill the body.”23

6. “How then are all men liars? What! Thou art not a man, I suppose?” Answer quickly and truly. “And O that I may not be a man, that so I may not be a liar.” For see; “God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are all together become unprofitable: there is none that doeth good, no not even one.”24 Why? Because they wished to be sons of men. But in order that he might deliver them from these iniquities, cure, heal, change, the sons of men; “he gave them power to become the sons of God.”25 What marvel then! Ye were men, if we were the sons of men; ye were all men, and were liars, for, “All men are liars.” The grace of God came to you, and “gave you power to become the sons of God.” Hear the voice of My Father saying, “I have said, Ye are gods; and ye are all the children of the Most High.”26 Since then they are men, and the sons of men, if they are not the children of the Most High, they are liars, for, “all men are liars.” If they are the sons of God, if they have been redeemed by the Saviour’s grace, if purchased with His precious Blood, if born again of water and of the Spirit, if predestinated to the inheritance of heaven, thenindeed are they children of God. And so thereby are gods. What then would a lie have to do with thee? For Adam was a mere man, Christ, man and God; God, the Creator of all creation. Adam a mere man, the Man Christ, the Mediator with God, the Only Son of the Father, the God-man. Lo, thou, O man, art far from God, and God is far above man; between them the God-man placed Himself. Acknowledge Christ, and by Him as Man ascend up to God.

7. Being then now reformed, and, if my words have been so blessed, “meek,” let us “hold fast our profession without wavering.” Let us love the law of God, that we may escape that which is written, “Woe unto the world because of offences.” Now I would say a few words about “offences,” of which the world is full, and how it is that offences thicken, pressing troubles abound. The world27 is laid waste, the winepress is trodden. Ah! Christians, heavenly shoot, ye strangers on the earth, who seek a city in heaven, who long to be associated with the holy Angels; understand that ye have come here on this condition only, that ye should soon depart. Ye are passing on through the world, endeavouring to reach Him who created it. Let not the lovers of the world, who wish to remain in the world, and yet, whether they will or no, are compelled to move from it; let them not disturb you, let them not deceive nor seduce you. These pressing troubles are not offences. Be ye righteous, and they will be only exercises. Tribulation comes; it will be as ye choose it, either an exercise, or a condemnation. Such as it shall find you to be, will it be. Tribulation is a fire; does it find thee gold? it takes away the filth: does it find thee chaff? it turns it into ashes. The pressing troubles then which abound are not” offences.” But what are “offences”? Those expressions, those words in which we are thus addressed. “See what Christian times bring about;” lo, these are the true offences. For this is said to thee, to this end, that if thou love the world, thou mayest blaspheme Christ. And this he saith to thee who is thy friend, and counsellor; and so “thine eye.” This he saith to thee who ministereth to thee, and shareth thy labours, and so “thine hand.” This he saith to thee it may be who supporteth thee, who lifteth thee up from a low earthly state; and so “thy foot.” Cast them all aside, cut them off, throw them all away from thee; consent not unto them. Answer such men, as he who was advised to give false witness answered. So do thou answer too say to the man who saith to thee, “See, it is in Christian times that there are such pressing troubles; that the whole world is laid waste;” answer him, “And this Christ foretold me, before it came to pass.”

8. For wherefore art thou disturbed? Thine heart is disturbed by the pressing troubles of the world, as that ship was, in which Christ was asleep. Lo! what is the cause, stout-hearted man, that thy heart is disturbed? That ship in which Christ is asleep,28 is the heart in which faith is asleep. For what new thing, what new thing, I ask, is told thee, Christian? “In Christian times is the world laid waste, the world is failing.” Did not thy Lord tell thee, the world shall be laid waste? Did not thy Lord tell thee, the world shall fail? Why when the promise was made, didst thou believe, and art disturbed now, when it is being completed? So then the tempest beats furiously against thine heart; beware of shipwreck, awake up Christ. The Apostle says, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.”29 Christ dwelleth in thee by faith. Present faith, is Christ present; waking faith, is Christ awake; slumbering30 faith, is Christ asleep. Arise and stir thyself; say, “Lord, we perish.” See what the Heathen say to us; and what is, worse, what evil Christians say! Awake up, O Lord, we perish. Let thy faith awake, and Christ begins to speak to thee. “‘Why art thou troubled?’ I told thee beforehand of all these things. I foretold them, that when evils came, thou mightest hope for good things, that thou mightest not faint in the evil.” Wonderest thou that the world is failing? Wonder that the world is grown old. It is as a man who is born, and grows up, and waxes old. There are many complaints in old age; the cough, the rheum, the weakness of the eyes, fretfulness, and weariness. So then as when a man is old; he is full of complaints; so is the world old; and is full of troubles. Is it a little thing that God hath done for thee, in that in the world’s old age, He hath sent Christ unto thee, that He may renewthee then, when all is failing? Dost thou not I know that He notified this in the seed of Abraham? “The seed of Abraham,” says the Apostle, “which is Christ. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of One, And to thy seed, which is Christ.”31 Therefore was there a son born to Abraham in his old age, because in the old age of this world was Christ to come. He came when all things were growing old, and made them new. As a made, created, perishing thing, the world was now declining to its fall. It could not but be that it should abound in troubles; He came both to console thee in the midst of present troubles, and to promise thee everlasting rest. Choose not then to cleave to this aged world, and to be unwilling to grow young in Christ, who telleth thee, “The world is perishing, the world is waxing old, the world is failing; is distressed by the heavy breathing of old age. But do not fear, “Thy youth shall be renewed as the eagle’s.”32

9. See, they say, in Christian times it is that Rome perishes. Perhaps Rome is not perishing; perhaps she is only scourged, not utterly destroyed; perhaps she is chastened, not brought to nought. It may be so; Rome will not perish, if the Romans do not perish. And perish they will not if they praise God; perish they will if they blaspheme Him. For what is Rome, but the Romans? For the question is not of her wood and stones, of her lofty insulated33 palaces, and all her spacious walls. All this was made only on this condition that it should fall some other day. When man built it, he laid stone on stone; and when man destroyed it, he removed stone from stone. Man made it, man destroyed it. Is any injury done to Rome, because it is said, “She is falling”? No, not to Rome, but to her builder perhaps. Do we then its builder any injury, because we say, Rome is falling, which Romulus built? This world itself will be burnt with fire, which God built. But neither does what man has made fall to ruin, except when God wills it; nor what God has made, except when He wills. For if the work of man fall not without God’s will, how can God’s work fall by the will of man? Yet God both made the world that was one day to fall for thee; and therefore made He thee as one who was one day to die. Man himself, the city’s ornament, man himself, the city’s inhabitant, ruler, governor, comes on this condition that he may go, is born on this condition that he may die, entered into the world on this condition that he may pass away; “Heaven and earth shall pass away:”34 what wonder then if some time or other there should be an end of a single city? And yet peradventure the city’s end is not come now; yet some time or other come it will. But why does Rome perish amid the sacrifices of Christians? Why was her mother Troy burnt amid the sacrifices of Heathens? The gods in whom the Romans have placed all their hope, yea the Roman gods in whom the Heathen Romans placed their hope, removed from the flames of Troy to found Rome. These very gods of Rome were originally the gods of Troy. Troy was burnt, and Aeneas took the fugitive gods; yea rather himself a fugitive he took away these senseless gods. For they could be carried by the fugitive; but they could not flee away themselves. And coming with these gods into Italy, with these false gods, he founded Rome. It is too long to go through the whole story; yet would I briefly mention what their own writings contain. An author of theirs well known to all speaks thus; “As I have received the account, the Trojans who under the guidance of Aeneas were wandering about as fugitives without any settled abode, originally built and inhabited Rome.”35 So they had their gods with them, they builded Rome in Latium, and there they placed the gods to be worshipped, which before were worshipped in Troy. Juno is introduced by their poet, incensed against Aeneas and the fugitive Trojans, saying,

“A race of wandering slaves abhorred by me,
With prosperous passage cuts the Tuscan sea,
To fruitful Italy their course they steer,
And for their vanquished gods, design new temples there.”36

Now when these vanquished gods were carried into Italy, was it as a protecting deity, or37 as a presage38 of their future fall? “Love” therefore “the law of God, and nothing shall be an offence to you.” We pray you, we beseech you, we exhort you; be meek, sympathize with the suffering, bear the weak; and on this occasion of the concourse of so many strangers, and needy, and suffering people, let your hospitality and your good works abound. Let but Christians do what Christ enjoineth, and so will the Heathen blaspheme only to their own hurt.

1 (Ps 8,4
2 (Mt 18,7
3 (Ps 119,165
4 (Rm 2,13
5 (Ga 5,6
6 (Ps 37,11
7 (Ps 94,12-13.
8 (Jb 2,9 Sept.
9 (Jb 2,10), Sept).
10 (1Co 3,7
11 (Jc 4,6
12 (Jn 1,10
13 (2Co 5,19
14 (Mt 18,8-9.
15 (Mt 16,23
16 (Mt 16,17
17 (Mt 4,6
18 (Ps 116,11).
19 (Sg 1,11
20 Corpus, dicis tu, premit: *ico ego, perimit.
21 (Dt 5,20
22 (Ps 5,6
23 (Mt 10,28
24 (Ps 14,2-3.
25 (Jn 1,12
26 (Ps 82,6
27 By the inundation of the Goths, Serm. lv. (cv. Ben).).
28 (Mt 8,24
29 (Ep 3,17
30 Oblita.
31 (Ga 3,16
32 (Ps 103,5
33 Insulis).
34 (Mt 24,35
35 Sallust in Catil. 6.
36 Aen. 1,71, 2.
37 De Civit. Dei, lib. 1,c. 3). Immo vero victos deos tanquam praesides ac defensores colere, quid est aliud quam tenere non numina bona sed omina mala?
38 Numen erat, an omen).

Augustine on NT 78