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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 41

Sermon 41 on the New Testament

[XCI. Ben.]

On the words of the Gospel, Matthew 22:42 , where the Lord asks the Jews whose son they said David was.

1. When the Jews were asked (as we have just now heard out of the Gospel when it was being read), how our Lord Jesus Christ, whom David himself called his Lord was David's Son, they were not able to answer. For what they saw in the Lord, that they knew. For He appeared to them as the Son of man; but as the Son of God He was hidden. Hence it was, that they believed that He could be overcome, and that they derided Him as He hung upon the Tree, saying, If He be the Son of God, let Him come down from the Cross, and we will believe in Him. They saw one part of what He was, they knew not the other, For had they known Him, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. Yet they knew that the Christ was to be the Son of David. For even now they hope that He will come. They know not that He has come already, but this their ignorance is voluntary. For even if they did not acknowledge Him on the tree, they ought not to have failed to acknowledge Him on His Throne. For in whose Name are all nations called and blessed, but in His whom they think not to have been the Christ? For this Son of David, that is, of the seed of David according to the flesh, is the Son of Abraham. Now if it was said to Abraham, In your seed shall all nations be blessed; and they see now that in our Christ are all nations blessed, why wait they for what is already come, and fear not that which is yet to come? For our Lord Jesus Christ, making use of a prophetic testimony to assert His authority, called Himself the Stone. Yea such a stone, that whosoever shall stumble against it shall be shaken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it shall grind him to powder. For when this stone is stumbled against, it lies low; by lying low, it shakes him that stumbles against it; being lifted on high, by its coming down it grinds the proud to powder. Already therefore are the Jews shaken by that stumbling; it yet remains that by His Glorious Advent they should be ground to powder also, unless perhaps while they are yet alive, they acknowledge Him that they die not. For God is patient, and invites them day by day to the Faith.

2. But when the Jews could not answer the Lord proposing a question, and asking whose Son they said Christ was; and they answered, the Son of David; He goes on with the further question put to them, How then does David in spirit call Him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit on My right hand till I make Your enemies My footstool. If David then, He says, in spirit call Him Lord, how is He his Son? He did not say, He is not his Son, but how is He his son? When he says How, it is a word not of negation, but of enquiry; as though He should say to them, You say well indeed that Christ is David's Son, but David himself does call Him Lord; whom he then calls Lord, how is He his Son? Had the Jews been instructed in the Christian faith, which we hold; had they not closed their hearts against the Gospel, had they wished to have spiritual life in them, they would, as instructed in the faith of the Church, have made answer to this question and said, Because in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God: see how He is David's Lord. But because The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us; see how He is David's Son. But as being ignorant, they were silent, nor when they shut their mouths did they open their ears, that what they could not answer when questioned, they might after instruction know.

3. But seeing that is a great thing to know the mystery how He is David's Son and David's Lord: how one Person is both Man and God; how in the form of Man He is less than the Father, in the form of God equal with the Father; how again He says, on the one hand, The Father is greater than I; and on the other, I and My Father are one; seeing this is a great mystery, our conduct must be fashioned, that it may be comprehended. For to the unworthy is it closed up, it is opened to those who are meet for it. It is not with stones, or clubs, or the fist, or the heel, that we knock unto the Lord. It is the life which knocks, it is to the life that it is opened. The seeking is with the heart, the asking is with the heart, the knocking is with the heart, the opening is to the heart. Now that heart which asks rightly, and knocks and seeks rightly, must be godly. Must first love God for His Own sake (for this is godliness); and not propose to itself any reward which it looks for from Him other than God Himself. For than Him is there nothing better. And what precious thing can he ask of God, in whose sight God Himself is lightly esteemed? He gives earth, and you rejoice, you lover of the earth, who art yourself become earth. If when He gives earthly goods, you rejoice, how much more ought you to rejoice when He gives you Himself, who made heaven and earth? So then God must be loved for His own sake. For the Devil not knowing what was passing in the heart of holy Job, brought this as a great charge against him, saying, Does Job worship God for His Own sake.

4. So then if the adversary brought this charge, we ought to fear lest it be brought against us. For with a very slanderous accuser have we to deal. If he seek to invent what is not, how much more will he seek to object what really is. Nevertheless let us rejoice, that ours is such a Judge, as cannot be deceived by our accuser. For if we had a man for our judge, the enemy might invent for him what he would. For none is more subtle in invention than the devil. For he it is who at this time also invents all false accusations against the saints. He knows his accusations can have no avail with God, and so He scatters them among men. Yet what does this profit him, seeing the Apostle says, Our glorying is this, the testimony of our conscience? Yet think ye that he does not invent these false charges with anything of subtlety? Yes, well he knows what evil he shall work thereby, if the watchfulness of faith resist him not. For for this reason scatters he his evil charges against the good, that the weak may think that there are no good, and so may give themselves up to be hurried along, and made a prey of by their lusts, while they say within themselves, For who is there that keeps the commandments of God, or who is there that preserves chastity? and while he thinks that no one does, he himself becomes that no one. This then is the devil's art. But such a man was Job, that he could not invent any such charge against him; for his life was too well known and manifest. But because he had great riches, he brought that against him, which if it had any existence, might lie in the heart, and not appear in the conduct. He worshipped God, he gave alms; and with what heart he did this none knew, no not the Devil himself; but God had known. God gives His testimony to His own servant; the Devil calumniates the servant of God. He is allowed to be tried, Job is proved, the Devil is confounded. Job is found to worship God for His Own sake, to love Him for His Own sake; not because He gave him ought, but because He did not take away Himself. For he said, The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away; as it seemed good to the Lord, so is it done, blessed be the Name of the Lord. The fire of temptation approached him; but it found him gold, not stubble; it cleared away the dross from it, but did not reduce it to ashes.

5. Because then, in order to understand the mystery of God, how Christ is both man and God, the heart must be cleansed: and it is cleansed by a good conversation, by a pure life, by chastity, and sanctity, and love, and by faith, which works by love (now all this that I am speaking of, is, as it were, the tree which has its root in the heart; for it is only from the root of the heart that actions proceed; in which if you plant desire, thorns spring forth; if you plant charity, good fruit): the Lord, after that question which He had proposed to the Jews, when they were not able to answer it, immediately went on to speak of good actions, that He might show why they were unworthy to understand what He asked them. For when those proud and wretched men were not able to answer, they ought of course to have said, we do not know; Master, tell us. But no: they were speechless at the proposing of the question, and they opened not their mouth to seek instruction. And so the Lord in reference to their pride said immediately, Beware of the Scribes which love the chief seats in the synagogues, and the first rooms at feasts. Not because they hold them, but because they love them. For in these words he accused their heart. Now none can accuse the heart, but He who can inspect it. For meet it is that to the servant of God, who holds some post of honour in the Church, the first place should be assigned; because if it were not given him, it were evil for him who refuses to give it; but yet it is no good to him to whom it is given. It is meet and right then that in the congregation of Christians their Prelates should sit in eminent place, that by their very seat they may be distinguished, and that their office may be duly marked; yet not so that they should be puffed up for their seat; but that they should esteem it a burden, for which they are to render an account. But who knows whether they love this, or do not love it? This is a matter of the heart, it can have no other judge but God. Now the Lord Himself warned His disciples, that they should not fall into this leaven; as He calls it in another place, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. And when they supposed that He said this to them because they had brought no bread; He answered them, Have ye forgotten how many thousands were filled with the five loaves? Then understood they, it is said, that He called their doctrine leaven. For these present temporal good things they loved, but they neither feared the evil things eternal, nor loved the good things eternal. And so their hearts being closed, they could not understand what the Lord asked them.

6. But what then has the Church of God to do, that it may be able to understand what it has first obtained grace to believe? It must make the mind capacious for receiving what shall be given it. And that this may be done, that the mind, that is, may be capacious, our Lord God suspends His promises, He has not taken them away. Therefore does He suspend them, that we may stretch out ourselves; and therefore do we stretch ourselves out, that we may grow; and therefore do we grow, that we may reach them. Behold the Apostle Paul stretching himself out unto these suspended promises: Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do; forgetting those things which are behind, and stretching forth unto those things which are before, I press earnestly toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. He was running on the earth; the prize hung suspended from heaven. He ran then on the earth; but in spirit he ascended. Behold him thus stretching himself out, behold him hanging forth after the suspended prize. I press on, he says, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

7. We must journey on then, yet for this no need of anointing the feet, or looking out for beasts, or providing a vessel. Run with the heart's affection, journey on with love, ascend by charity. Why do you seek for the way? Cleave unto Christ, who by Descending and Ascending has made Himself the Way. Do you wish to ascend? Hold fast to Him that ascends. For by your own self you can not rise. For no man has ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man which is in heaven. If no one ascends but He that descended, that is, the Son of Man, our Lord Jesus, do you wish to ascend also? Be then a member of Him who Only has ascended. For He the Head, with all the members, is but One Man. And since no one can ascend, but he who in His Body is made a member of Him; that is fulfilled, that no man has ascended, but He that descended. For you can not say, Lo, why has Peter, for instance, ascended, why has Paul ascended, why have the Apostles ascended, if no one has ascended, but He that descended? The answer to this is, What do Peter, and Paul, and the rest of the Apostles, and all the faithful, what do they hear from the Apostle? 'Now you are the Body of Christ, and members in particular.' If then the Body of Christ and His members belong to One, do not make two of them. For He left 'father and mother, and clave to his wife, that two might be one flesh.' He left His Father, in that here He did not show Himself as equal with the Father; but 'emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant.' He left His mother also, the synagogue of which He was born after the flesh. He clave to His Wife, that is, to His Church. Now in the place where Christ Himself brought forward this testimony, He showed that the marriage bond might not be dissolved: 'Have ye not read,' said He, 'that God which made them at the beginning, made them male and female; and said, They two shall be in one flesh? What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.' And what is the meaning of 'They two shall be in one flesh'? He goes on to say; 'Wherefore they are no more two but one flesh.' Thus 'no man has ascended, but He that descended.'

8. For that you may know, that the Bridegroom and the Bride are One according to the Flesh of Christ, not according to His Divinity (for according to His Divinity we cannot be what He is; seeing that He is the Creator, we the creature; He the Maker, we His work; He the Framer, we framed by Him; but in order that we might be one with Him in Him, He vouchsafed to be our Head, by taking of us flesh wherein to die for us); that you may know then that this whole is One Christ, He said by Isaiah, He has bound a mitre on me as a bridegroom, and clothed me with ornaments as a bride. He is then at once the Bridegroom and the Bride. That is, the Bridegroom in Himself as the Head, the Bride in the body. For they two, says He, shall be in one flesh; so now they are no more two, but one flesh.

9. Seeing then that we are of His members, in order that we may understand this mystery as I have said, Brethren, let us live holily, let us love God for His Own sake. Now He who shows to us while in our pilgrimage the form of a servant, reserves for those that reach their country the form of God. With the form of a servant has He laid down the way, with the form of God He has prepared the home. Seeing then that it is a hard matter for us to comprehend this, but no hard matter to believe it; for Isaiah says, Unless ye believe you shall not understand; let us walk by faith as long as we are in pilgrimage from the Lord, till we come to sight where we shall see face to face. As walking by faith, let us do good works. In these good works, let there be a free love of God for His Own sake, and an active love of our neighbour. For we have nothing we can do for God; but because we have something we may do for our neighbour, we shall by our good offices to the needy, gain His favour who is the source of all abundance. Let every one then do what he can for others; let him freely bestow upon the needy of his superfluity. One has money; let him feed the poor, let him clothe the naked, let him build a church, let him do with his money all the good he can. Another has good counsel; let him guide his neighbour, let him by the light of holiness drive away the darkness of doubting. Another has learning; let him draw out of this store of the Lord, let him minister food to his fellow-servants, strengthen the faithful, recall the wandering, seek the lost, do all the good he can. Something there is, which even the poor may deal out to one another; let one lend feet to the lame, another give his own eyes to guide the blind; another visit the sick, another bury the dead. These are things which all may do, so that in a word it would be hard to find one who has not some means of doing good to others. And last of all comes that important duty which the Apostle speaks of; Bear ye one another's burdens, and so shall you fulfil the law of Christ.

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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/160341.htm>.

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