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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 64

Sermon 64 on the New Testament

[CXIV. Ben.]

On the words of the Gospel, Luke 17:3 , If your brother sin, rebuke him, etc., touching the remission of sins.

Delivered at the Table of St. Cyprian, in the presence of Count Boniface.

1. The Holy Gospel which we heard just now as it was being read, has admonished touching the remission of sins. And on this subject must ye be admonished now by my discourse. For we are ministers of the word, not our own word, but the word of our God and Lord, whom no one serves without glory, whom no one despises without punishment. He then the Lord our God, who abiding with the Father made us, and having been made for us, re-made us, He the Lord our God Jesus Christ Himself says to us what we have heard just now in the Gospel. If, He says, your brother shall sin against you, rebuke him, and if he shall repent, forgive him; and if he shall sin against time seven times in a day, and shall come and say, I repent, forgive him. He would not have seven times in a day otherwise understood than as often as may be, lest haply he sin eight times, and you be unwilling to forgive. What then is seven times? Always, as often as he shall sin and repent. For this, Seven times in a day will I praise you, is the same as in another Psalm, His praise shall always be in my mouth. And there is the strongest reason why seven times should be put for that which is always: for the whole course of time revolves in a circle of seven coming and returning days.

2. Whosoever then you are that hast your thoughts on Christ, and desirest to receive what He has promised, be not slow to do that which He has enjoined. Now what has He promised? Eternal life. And what has He enjoined? That pardon be given to your brother. As if He had said to you, O man, give pardon to a man, so that I, who am God, may come unto you. But that I may pass over, or rather pass by for a while, those more exalted divine promises in which our Creator engages to make us equal with His Angels, that we may with Him, and in Him, and by Him, live without end; not to speak of this just now, do you not wish to receive of your God this very thing, which you are commanded to give your brother? This very thing, I say, which you are commanded to give your brother, do you not wish to receive from your Lord? Tell me if you wish it not; and so give it not. What is this, but that you should forgive him that asks you, if you require to be forgiven? But if you have nothing to be forgiven you, I dare to say, be unwilling to forgive. Though I ought not even to say this. Though you have nothing to be forgiven you, forgive.

3. You are just on the point of saying to me, But I am not God, I am a man, a sinner. God be thanked that you confess that you have sins. Forgive then, that they may be forgiven you. Yet the Lord Himself our God exhorts us to imitate Him. In the first place God Himself, Christ, exhorts us, of whom the Apostle Peter said, Christ has suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow His steps, who did no sin, neither was guile, found in His mouth. He then verily had no sin, yet did He die for our sins, and shed His Blood for the remission of sins. He took upon Him for our sakes what was not His due, that He might deliver us from what was due to us. Death was not due to Him, nor life to us. Why? Because we were sinners. Death was not due to Him, nor life to us; He received what was not due to Him, He gave what was not due to us. But since we are speaking of the remission of sins, lest ye should think it too high a thing to imitate Christ, hear the Apostle saying, Forgiving one another, even as God in Christ has forgiven you. Be therefore imitators of God. They are the Apostle's words, not mine. Is it indeed a proud thing to imitate God? Hear the Apostle, Be imitators of God as dearly beloved children. You are called a child: if you refuse to imitate Him, why do you seek His inheritance?

4. This would I say even if you had no sin which you might desire to be forgiven you. But as it is, whosoever you are, you are a man; though you be righteous, you are a man; whether you are a layman, or monk, or clerk, or Bishop, or Apostle, you are a man. Hear the Apostle's voice, If we shall say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. He, that famous John and an Evangelist, he whom the Lord Christ loved beyond all the rest, who lay on His breast, he says, If we shall say. He did not say, If you shall say that you have no sin, but if we shall say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. He joined himself in the guilt, that he might be joined in the pardon also. If we shall say. Consider who it is that says, If we shall say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we shall confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all iniquity. How does He cleanse? By forgiving, not as though He found nothing to punish, but as finding something to forgive. So then, Brethren, if we have sins, let us forgive them that ask us. Let us not retain enmities in our heart against another. For the retaining of enmities more than anything corrupts this heart of ours.

5. I would then that you should forgive, seeing that I find you asking forgiveness. You are asked, forgive: you are asked, and you will ask yourself; you are asked, forgive; you will ask to be forgiven; for, lo, the time of prayer will come: I have you fast in the words you will have to speak. You will say, Our Father, which art in heaven. For you will not be in the number of children, if you shall not say, Our Father. So then you will say, Our Father, which art in heaven. Follow on; Hallowed be Your Name. Say on, Your kingdom come. Follow still on, Your will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. See what you add next, Give us this day our daily bread. Where are your riches? So you are a beggar. Nevertheless in the mean while (it is the point I am speaking of), say what is next after, Give us this day our daily bread. Say what follows this: Forgive us our debts. Now you have come to my words, Forgive us our debts. By what right? By what covenant? On what condition? On what express stipulation? As we also forgive our debtors. It is but a small thing that you do not forgive; yea you do more, you lie unto God. The condition is laid down, the law fixed. Forgive as I forgive. Therefore He does not forgive, unless you forgive. Forgive as I forgive. You wish to be forgiven when you ask; forgive him that asks of you. He that is skilled in heaven's laws has dictated these prayers: He does not deceive you; ask according to the tenor of His heavenly voice: say, Forgive us, as we also forgive, and do what you say. He that lies in his prayers, loses the benefit he seeks: he that lies in his prayers, both loses his cause, and finds his punishment. And if any one lies to the emperor, he is convicted of his lie at his coming: but when you lie in prayer, you by your very prayer are convicted. For God does not seek for witness as regards you to convict you. He who dictated the prayers to you, is your Advocate: if you lie, He is a witness against you: if you do not amend yourself, He will be your Judge. So then both say it, and do. For if you say it not, you will not obtain making your requests contrary to the law; but if you say it and do it not, you will be further guilty of lying. There is no means of evading that verse, save by fulfilling what we say. Can we blot this verse out of our prayer? Would ye that clause, Forgive us our debts, should be there, and that we should blot out what follows, As we also forgive our debtors? You shall not blot it out, lest you be first blotted out yourself. So then in this prayer you say, Give, and you say, Forgive: that you may receive what you have not, and may be forgiven what you have done amiss. So then you wish to receive, give; you wish to be forgiven, forgive. It is a brief summary. Hear Christ Himself in another place, Forgive, and you shall be forgiven. What will you forgive? What others have sinned against you. What shall you be forgiven? What you have sinned yourselves. Forgive. Give, and there shall be given you what ye desire, eternal life. Support the temporal life of the poor man, sustain the poor man's present life, and for this so small and earthly seed you shall receive for harvest life eternal. 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/160364.htm>.

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