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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 19

Sermon 19 on the New Testament

[LXIX. Ben.]

On the words of the Gospel, Matthew 19:28 , Come unto me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, etc.

1. We heard in the Gospel that the Lord, rejoicing greatly in Spirit, said unto God the Father, I confess to You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Your sight. All things are delivered unto Me of My Father: and no man knows the Son, but the Father; neither knows any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him. I have labour in talking, you in hearing: let us then both give ear to Him who goes on to say, Come unto Me, all you that labour. For why do we labour all, except that we are mortal men, frail creatures and infirm, bearing about vessels of clay which crowd and straiten one another. But if these vessels of flesh are straitened, let the open expanse of charity be enlarged. What then does He mean by, Come unto Me, all you that labour, but that you may labour no more? In a word, His promise is clear enough; forasmuch as He called those who were in labour, they might perchance enquire, for what profit they were called: and, says He, I will refresh you.

2. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; not to raise the fabric of the world, not to create all things visible and invisible, not in the world so created to work miracles and raise the dead; but, that I am meek and lowly in heart. You wish to be great, begin from the least. You are thinking to construct some mighty fabric in height; first think of the foundation of humility. And how great soever a mass of building one may wish and design to place above it, the greater the building is to be, the deeper does he dig his foundation. The building in the course of its erection, rises up on high, but he who digs its foundation, must first go down very low. So then you see even a building is low before it is high, and the top is raised only after humiliation.

3. What is the top in the erection of that building which we are constructing? Whither will the highest point of this building reach? I say at once, even to the Vision of God. You see how high, how great a thing it is to see God. Whoso longs after it, understands both what I say and what he hears. The Vision of God is promised to us, of the very God, the Supreme God. For this is good, to see Him who sees. For they who worship false gods, see them easily; but they see them who have eyes and see not. But to us is promised the Vision of the Living and the Seeing God, that we may desire eagerly to see that God of whom Scripture says, He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, does he not consider? Does He then not hear, who has made for you that whereby you hear, and does not He see, who has created that whereby you see? Well therefore in the foregoing words of this very Psalm does He say, Understand therefore ye unwise among the people, and you fools at length be wise. For many men commit evil deeds while they think they are not seen by God. And it is difficult indeed for them to believe that He cannot see them; but they think that He will not. Few are found of such great impiety, that that should be fulfilled in them which is written, The fool has said in his heart, There is no God. This is but the madness of a few. For as great piety belongs but to the few, no less also does great impiety. But the multitude of men speak thus: What! Is God thinking now upon this, that He should know what I am doing in my house, and does God care for what I may choose to do upon my bed? Who says this? Understand, you unwise among the people, and you fools at length be wise. Because as being a man, it is a labour for you to know all that takes place in your house, and for all the doings and words of your servants to reach you; do you think that it is a like labour for God to observe you, who did not labour to create you? Does not He fix His eye upon you, who made your eye? You were not, and He created you and gave you being; and does not He care for you now that you are, who calls those things which be not as though they were? Do not then promise yourself this. Whether you will or no, He sees you, and there is no place whither you can hide yourself from His eyes. For if you go up into heaven, He is there; if you go down into hell, He is there also. Great is your labour, while unwilling to depart from evil deeds: yet wishest not to be seen by God. Hard labour truly! Daily are you wishing to do evil, and do you suspect that you are not seen? Hear the Scripture which says, He that planted the ear, shall He not hear? He that formed the eye, does not He consider? Where can you hide your evil deeds from the eyes of God? If you will not depart from them, your labour is great indeed.

4. Hear Him then who says, Come unto Me, all you that labour. You can not end your labour by flying. Do you choose to fly from Him, and not rather to Him? Find out then whither you can escape, and so fly. But if you can not fly from Him, for that He is everywhere present; fly (it is quite near ) to God, who is present where you are standing. Fly. Lo in your flight you have passed the heavens, He is there; you have descended into hell, He is there; whatever deserts of the earth you shall choose, there is He, who has said, I fill heaven and earth. If then He fills heaven and earth, and there is no place whither you can fly from Him; cease this your labour, and fly to His presence, lest you feel His coming. Take courage from the hope that you shall by well-living see Him, by whom even in your evil living you are seen. For in evil living you can be seen, you can not see; but by well-living you are both seen and see. For with how much more tender nearness will He who crowns the worthy look on you, who in His pity saw you that He might call you when unworthy? Nathanael said to the Lord whom as yet he did not know, How did you know? The Lord said unto him, When you were under the fig-tree I saw you. Christ saw you in your own shade; and will He not see you in His Light? For what is, When you were under the fig-tree I saw you? What does it mean? Call to mind the original sin of Adam, in whom we all die. When he first sinned, he made himself aprons of fig-leaves, signifying by these leaves the irritations of lust to which he had been reduced by sinning. Hence are we born; in this condition are we born; born in sinful flesh, which the likeness of sinful flesh alone can cure. Therefore God sent His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. He came of this flesh, but He came not as other men. For the Virgin conceived Him not by lust, but by faith. He came into the Virgin, who was before the Virgin. He made choice of her whom He created, He created her whom He designed to choose. He brought to the Virgin fruitfulness: He took not away her unimpaired purity. He then who came to you without the irritation of the leaves of the fig-tree, when you were under the fig-tree, saw you. Make ready then to see Him in His height of glory, by whom in His pity you were seen. But because the top is high, think of the foundation. What foundation? Do you say? Learn of Him, for He is meek and lowly in heart. Dig this foundation of lowliness deep in you, and so will you attain to the crowning top of charity. Turning to the Lord, etc.

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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/160319.htm>.

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