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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 17

Sermon 17 on the New Testament

[LXVII. Ben.]

On the words of the Gospel, Matthew 11:25 , I thank you, O Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth, that you hid these things from the wise and understanding, etc.

1. When the Holy Gospel was being read, we heard that the Lord Jesus exulted in Spirit, and said, I confess to You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for that You have hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Thus much to begin with, we find before we pass on further, if we consider the words of the Lord with due attention, with diligence, and above all with piety, that we ought not invariably to understand when we read of confession in the Scriptures, the confession of a sinner. Now special need there was of saying this, and of reminding you, Beloved, of this, because as soon as this word was uttered by the reader's voice, there followed upon it the sound of the beating of your breasts, when you had heard, I mean, what the Lord said, I confess to You, O Father. At the uttering of these words, I confess, ye beat your breasts. Now what means this beating of the breast, but to show that which lies hid within the breast, and to chastise by the visible beating the secret sin? And why did ye this, but because ye heard, I confess to You, O Father. You heard the words I confess, but you did not consider, who it is that confesses. But consider now. If Christ, from whom all sin is far removed, said, I confess: confession does not belong to the sinner only, but sometimes to him also that praises God. We confess then, whether in praising God, or accusing ourselves. In either case it is a godly confession, either when you blame yourself, who art not without sin, or when you praise Him who can have no sin.

2. But if we consider it well: your own blame is His praise. For why is it that you now confess in accusing yourself for your sin? In accusing yourself why do you confess? But because you have become alive from the dead? For the Scripture says, Confession perishes from the dead, as from one that is not. If confession perishes from the dead, he who confesses must be alive; and if he confesses sin he has undoubtedly risen again from death. Now if he that confesses sin has risen again from the dead, who has raised him? No dead man can raise himself. He only was able to raise Himself, who though His Body was dead, was not dead. For He raised up that which was dead. He raised up Himself, who in Himself was alive, but in His Body that was to be raised was dead. For not the Father only, of whom it was said by the Apostle, Wherefore God also has exalted Him, raised the Son, but the Lord also raised Himself, that is, His Body. Whence He said, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it again. But the sinner is dead, especially he whom the load of sinful habit presses down, who is buried as it were like Lazarus. For he was not merely dead, he was buried also. Whosoever then is oppressed by the load of evil habit, of a wicked life, of earthly lusts, I mean, so that that in his case is true which is piteously described in a certain Psalm, The fool has said in his heart, There is no God, he is such an one, of whom it is said, Confession perishes from the dead, as from one that is not. And who shall raise him up, but He who when the stone was removed, cried out, and said, Lazarus, Come forth? Now what is to come forth, but to bring forth what was hidden? He then who confesses comes forth. Come forth he could not were he not alive; he could not be alive, had he not been raised again. And therefore in confession the accusing of one's self, is the praise of God.

3. Now one may say, what profit then is the Church, if he that confesses comes forth, at once raised to life again by the voice of the Lord? What profit to Him that confesses, is the Church, to which the Lord said, Whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven. Consider this very case of Lazarus: he comes forth, but with his bands. He was alive already through confession, but he did not yet walk free, entangled as he was in his bands. What then does the Church to which it was said, Whatsoever you shall loose, shall be loosed; but what the Lord said immediately to His disciples, Loose him, and let him go?

4. Whether then we accuse ourselves, or directly praise God, in both ways do we praise God. If with a pious intention we accuse ourselves, by so doing we praise God. When we praise God directly, we do as it were celebrate His Holiness, who is without sin: but when we accuse ourselves, we give Him glory, by whom we have risen again. This if you shall do, the enemy will find none occasion whereby to overreach you before the judge. For when you shall be your own accuser, and the Lord your Deliverer, what shall he be but a mere calumniator? With good reason has the Christian hereby provided protection for himself against his enemies, not those that may be seen, flesh and blood, to be pitied, rather than to be feared, but against those against whom the Apostle exhorts us to arm ourselves: We wrestle not against flesh and blood; that is, against men whom you see raging against you. They are but vessels, which another uses, they are but instruments which another handles. The devil, says the Scripture, entered into the heart of Judas, that he should betray the Lord. One may say then, what have I done? Hear the Apostle, Give not place to the devil. You have given him place by an evil will: he entered, and possessed, and now uses you. He had not possessed you, had you not given him place.

5. Therefore does he warn and say, We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers. Any one might suppose this meant against the kings of the earth, against the powers of this world. How so? Are they not flesh and blood? And once for all it is said, not against flesh and blood. Turn your attention from all men. What enemies then remain? Against principalities and powers of spiritual wickedness, the rulers of the world. It might seem as though he gave the devil and his angels more than they have. It is so, he has called them the rulers of the world. But to prevent misunderstanding, he explains what this world is, of which they are the rulers. The rulers of the world, of this darkness. What is, of the world, of this darkness? The world is full of those who love it, and of unbelievers, over whom he is ruler. This the Apostle calls darkness. This darkness the devil and his angels are the rulers of. This is not the natural, and unchangeable darkness: this darkness changes, and becomes light; it believes, and by believing is enlightened. When this takes place in it, it will hear the words, For you were sometimes darkness, but now are you light in the Lord. For when you were darkness, you were not in the Lord: again, when you are light, you are light not in yourselves, but in the Lord. For what have you which you have not received? Inasmuch then as they are invisible enemies, by invisible means must they be subdued. A visible enemy indeed you may overcome by blows; your invisible enemy you conquer by belief. A man is a visible enemy; to strike a blow is visible also. The devil is an invisible enemy; to believe is invisible also. Against invisible enemies then there is an invisible fight.

6. From these enemies how can any man say that he is safe? For this I had begun to speak of, but I thought it necessary to treat of these enemies at some little length. But now that we know our enemies, let us see to our defence against them. In praising I will call upon the Lord, so shall I be safe from mine enemies. You see what you have to do. In praising call; that is, in praising the Lord, call. For you will not be safe from your enemies, if you praise yourself. In praising call upon the Lord, and you shall be safe from your enemies. For what does the Lord Himself say? The sacrifice of praise shall glorify Me, and there is the way, in which I will show him My salvation. Where is the way? In the sacrifice of praise. Let not your foot then wander out of this way. Keep in the way; depart not from it; from the praise of the Lord depart not a foot, nay, not a nail's breadth. For if you will deviate from this way, and praise yourself instead of the Lord, you will not be safe from your enemies; for it is said of them, They have laid stumbling-blocks for me by the way. Therefore in whatever measure you think that you have good of your own self, you have deviated from the praise of God. Why do you marvel then, if your enemy seduces you, when you are your own seducer? Hear the Apostle, For if a man think himself to be something when he is nothing, he seduces himself.

7. Give heed then to the Lord confessing; I confess to You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth. I confess to You, that is, I praise You. I praise You, not I accuse myself. Now as far as the taking of very man is concerned, all is grace, singular and perfect grace. What merit had that man who is Christ, if you take away the grace, even that so pre-eminent grace, whereby it behooved that there should be One Christ, and that He whom we acknowledge should be He? Take away this grace, and what is Christ but a mere man? What but the same as you are yourself? He took a Soul, He took a Body, He took a perfect Man; He unites him to Himself, the Lord makes one Person with the servant. What pre-eminent grace is this! Christ in heaven, Christ on earth; Christ at once both in heaven and earth; not two Christs, but the same Christ, both in heaven and earth. Christ with the Father, Christ in the Virgin's womb; Christ on the Cross, Christ succouring some souls in hell; and on the self-same day Christ in paradise with the robber who confessed. And how did the robber attain to this blessedness, but because he held on that way, in which He shows His salvation? That way, from which let not your foot wander. For in that he accused himself, he praised God, and made his own life blessed. He looked in hope for this from the Lord, and said to Him, Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom. For he considered his own wicked deeds, and thought it much, if mercy should be shown him even at the last. But the Lord immediately after He had said, Remember me— when? when You come into Your kingdom, says, Verily I say unto you, Today shall you be with Me in paradise. Mercy offered at once, what misery deferred.

8. Hear then the Lord confessing; I confess to You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth. What do I confess? Wherein do I praise you? For this confession, as I have said before, signifies praise. Because You have hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. What is this, Brethren? Understand by that which is opposed to them. You have hid these things, says he, from the wise and prudent; and he did not say, you have revealed them to the foolish and imprudent, but You have hid these things indeed from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. To these wise and prudent, who are really objects of derision, to the arrogant who in false pretence are great, yet in truth are only swollen up, he opposed not the foolish, nor the imprudent, but babes. Who are babes? The humble. Therefore You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent. Under the name of the wise and prudent, He has Himself explained that the proud are understood, when He said, You have revealed them unto babes. Therefore from those who are not babes You have hidden them. What is from those who are not babes? From those who are not humble. And who are they but the proud? O way of the Lord! Either there was none, or it lay hid, that it might be revealed to us. Why did the Lord exult? Because it was revealed unto babes. We must be little babes; for if we would wish to be great, wise and prudent as it were, it is not revealed unto us. Who are these great ones? The wise and prudent. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. Here then you have a remedy suggested from its opposite. For if by professing yourself wise, you have become a fool; profess yourself a fool, and you will be wise. But profess it in truth, profess it from the heart, for it is really so as you profess. If you profess it, do not profess it before men, and forbear to profess it before God. As to yourself, and all that is yours, you are altogether dark. For what else is it to be a fool, but to be dark in heart? He says of them at last, Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. Before they professed this, what do we find? And their foolish heart was darkened. Acknowledge then that you are not to yourself a light. At best you are but an eye, you are not the light. And what good is even an open and a sound eye, if the light be wanting? Acknowledge therefore that of your own self you are no light to yourself; and cry out as it is written, You, Lord, wilt light my candle: You will enlighten, O Lord, my darkness with Your Light. For myself I was all darkness; but You are the Light that scatters the darkness, and enlightens me; of myself I am no light to myself, yea I have no portion of light but in You.

9. So John also, the friend of the Bridegroom, was thought to be the Christ, was thought to be the Light. He was not that Light, but that he might bear witness of the Light. But what was the Light? It was the true Light. What is the true Light? That which lightens every man. If that be the true Light which lightens every man, then it lightened John also, who professed and confessed rightly, Of His fullness have all we received. See if he said ought else, but You, O Lord, shall lighten my candle. Finally, being now enlightened, He gave His testimony. For the benefit of the blind the lamp gave witness to the Day. See how that He is a lamp; You sent, He said, unto John, and you were willing for a season to rejoice in his light; he was a burning and a shining lamp. He, the lamp, that is, a thing enlightened, was lighted that it might shine. That which can be lighted can be extinguished also. Now that it may not be extinguished, let it not expose itself to the wind of pride. Therefore, I confess to You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hid these things from the wise and prudent, from those who thought themselves to be light, and were darkness; and who because they were darkness, and thought themselves to be light, could not even be enlightened. But they who were darkness, and confessed that they were darkness, were little babes, not great; were humble, not proud. Rightly therefore did they say, O Lord, You will lighten my candle. They knew themselves, they praised the Lord. They did not stray from the way of salvation; They in praise called upon the Lord, and they were saved from their enemies.

10. Turning then to the Lord our God, the Father Almighty, in purity of heart, let us render unto Him, as our frailty best can, our highest and abundant thanks, with our whole mind praying His singular goodness, that in His good pleasure He would vouchsafe to hear our prayers, that by His Power He would drive out the enemy from our deeds and thoughts, would enlarge our faith, direct our minds, grant us spiritual thoughts, and bring us safe to His endless blessedness, through His Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

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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/160317.htm>.

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