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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 59

Sermon 59 on the New Testament

[CIX. Ben.]

On the words of the Gospel, Luke 12:56-58 , You know how to interpret the face of the Earth and the Heaven, etc.; and of the words, for as you are going with your adversary before the magistrate, on the way give diligence to be quit of him, etc.

1. We have heard the Gospel, and in it the Lord reproving those who knew how to discern the face of the sky, and know not how to discover the time of faith, the kingdom of heaven which is at hand. Now this He said to the Jews; but His words reach even unto us. Now the Lord Jesus Christ Himself began the preaching of His Gospel in this way; Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. In like manner too John the Baptist and His forerunner began thus; Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. And now the Lord rebukes those who would not repent, when the kingdom of heaven was at hand. The kingdom of heaven, as He says Himself, will not come with observation. And again He says, The kingdom of heaven is within you. Let every one then wisely receive the admonitions of the Master, that he may not lose the season of the mercy of the Saviour, which is now being dealt out, as long as the human race is spared. For to this end is man spared, that he may be converted, and that he may not be to be condemned. God only knows when the end of the world shall come: nevertheless now is the time of faith. Whether the end of the world shall find any of us here, I know not; and perhaps it will not find us. Our time is very near to each one of us, seeing we are mortal. We walk in the midst of chances. If we were made of glass, we should have to fear chances less than we have. What is more fragile than a vessel of glass? And yet it is kept, and lasts for ages. For though the chances of a fall are feared for the vessel of glass, yet there is no fear of fever or old age for it. We then are more fragile and more infirm; because all the chances which are incessant in human things, we doubtless through our frailness are in daily dread of; and if these chances come not, yet time goes on; a man avoids this stroke, can he avoid his end? He avoids accidents which happen from without, can that which is born within be driven away? Again, now the entrails engender worms, now some other disease attacks on a sudden; lastly, let a man be spared ever so long, at last when old age comes, there is no way of putting off that.

2. Wherefore let us give ear to the Lord, let us do within ourselves what He has enjoined. Let us see who that adversary is, of whom He has put us in fear, saying, If you go with your adversary to the magistrate, give diligence in the way to be delivered from him; lest haply he deliver you to the magistrate, and the magistrate to the officer, and you be cast into prison, from whence you shall not come out, till you pay the very last farthing. Who is this adversary? If the devil; we have been delivered from him already. What a price was given for us that we might be redeemed from him! Of which the Apostle says, speaking of this our redemption, Who has delivered us from the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love. We have been redeemed, we have renounced the devil; how shall we give diligence to be delivered from him, that he make us not, as sinners, his captives again? But this is not the adversary of whom the Lord gives us warning. For in another place another Evangelist has so expressed it, that if we join both expressions together, and compare both expressions of the two Evangelists with each other, we shall soon understand who this adversary is. For see, what did Luke say here? When you go with your adversary to the magistrate, give diligence in the way to be delivered from him. But the other Evangelist has expressed this same thing thus: Agree with your adversary quickly, whiles you are in the way with him. All the rest is alike: Lest haply the adversary deliver you to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the officer, and you be cast into prison. Both Evangelists have explained this alike. One said, Give diligence in the way to be delivered from him; the other said, Agree with him. For you will not be able to be delivered from him, unless you agree with him. Would you be delivered from him? Agree with him. But what? Is it the devil with whom the Christian ought to agree?

3. Let us then seek out this adversary, with whom we ought to agree, lest he deliver us to the judge, and the judge to the officer; let us seek him out, and agree with him. If you sin, the word of God is your adversary. For example, it is a delight to you perchance to be drunken; it says to you, Do it not. It is a delight to you to frequent the spectacles, and such triflings; it says to you, Do it not. It is a delight to you to commit adultery; the word of God says to you, Do it not. In what sins soever you would do your own will, it says to you, Do it not. It is the adversary of your will, till it become the author of your salvation. O how goodly, how useful an adversary! It does not seek our will, but our advantage. It is our adversary, as long as we are our own adversaries. As long as you are your own enemy, you have the word of God your enemy; be your own friend, and you are in agreement with it. You shall do no murder; give ear, and you have agreed with it. You shall not steal; give ear, and you have agreed with it. You shall not commit adultery; give ear, and you have agreed with it. You shall not give false witness; give ear, and you have agreed with it. You shall not covet your neighbour's wife; give ear, and you have agreed with it. You shall not covet your neighbour's goods; give ear, and you have agreed with it. In all these things you have agreed with this your adversary, and what have you lost to yourself? Not only have you lost nothing; but you have even found yourself, who had been lost. The way, is this life; if we shall agree with the adversary, if we shall come to terms with him; when the way is ended, we shall not fear the judge, the officer, the prison.

4. When is the way ended? It is not ended at the same hour to all. Each several man has his hour when he shall end his way. This life is called the way; when you have ended this life, you have ended the way. We are going on, and the very living is advancing. Unless perhaps ye imagine that time advances, and we stand still! It cannot be. As time advances, we too advance; and years do not come to us, but rather go away. Greatly are men mistaken when they say, This boy has little good sense yet, but years will come on him, and he will be wise. Consider what you say, Will come on him, you have said; I will show that they go away, whereas you say, they come on. And hear how easily I prove it. Let us suppose that we have known the number of his years from his birth; for instance (that we may wish him well) he has to live fourscore years, he is to arrive at old age. Write down fourscore years. One year he has lived; how many have you in the total? How many have you down? Fourscore! Deduct one. He has lived ten; seventy remain. He has lived twenty; sixty remain. Yet surely, it will be said, they did come; what can this mean? Our years come that they may depart; they come, I say that they may go. For they do not come, that they may abide with us, but as they pass through us, they wear us out, and make us less and less strong. Such is the way into which we have come. What then have we to do with that adversary, that is, with the word of God? Agree with him. For you know not when the way may be ended. When the way is ended, there remain the judge, and the officer, and the prison. But if you maintain a good will to your adversary, and agree with him; instead of a judge, shall you find a father, instead of a cruel officer, an Angel taking you away into Abraham's bosom, instead of a prison, paradise. How rapidly have you changed all things in the way, because you have agreed with your adversary!

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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/160359.htm>.

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