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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 92

Sermon 92 on the New Testament

[CXLII. Ben.]

On the same words of the Gospel, John 14:6 , I am the way, etc.

1. The divine lessons raise us up, that we be not broken by despair; and terrify us again, that we be not tossed to and fro by pride. But to hold the middle, the true, the strait way, as it were between the left hand of despair, and the right hand of presumption, would be most difficult for us, had not Christ said, I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. As if He had said, By what way would you go? 'I am the Way'. Whither would you go? 'I am the Truth.' Where would you abide? 'I am the Life.' Let us then walk with all assurance in the Way; but let us fear snares by the way side. The enemy does not dare to lay his snares in the way; because Christ is the Way; but most certainly by the way side he ceases not to do so. Whence too it is said in the Psalm, They have laid stumblingblocks for me by the way side. And another Scripture says, Remember that you walk in the midst of snares. These snares among which we walk are not in the way; but yet they are by the way side. What do you fear, what are you alarmed at, so you walk in the Way? Fear then, if you forsake the Way. For for this reason is the enemy even permitted to lay snares by the way side, lest through the security of exultation the Way be forsaken, and you fall into the snares.

2. Christ Humbled is the Way; Christ the Truth and the Life, Christ Highly Exalted and God. If you walk in the Humbled, you shall attain to the Exalted. If infirm as you are, you despise not the Humbled, you shall abide exceeding strong in the Exalted. For what cause was there of Christ's Humiliation, save your infirmity? For solely and irremediably did your infirmity press you in, and this circumstance it was that made so great a Physician come to you. For if your sickness had been even such, that you could have gone to the Physician, this infirmity might have seemed endurable. But because you could not go to Him, He came to you. He came teaching humility, whereby we might return; for that pride allowed us not to return to life; yea had even made us depart from life. For the heart of man being lifted up against God, and neglecting in its sound state His saving precepts, the soul fell away into infirmity; let her in her infirmity learn to hear Him whom in her strength she despised. Let her hear Him that she may rise, whom she despised, that she might fall. Let her at length, taught by experience, give ear to what she had no mind, when taught by precept, to obtain. For her misery has taught her, how evil a thing it is to go a whoring from the Lord. For to fall away from that Simple and Singular Good, into this multitude of pleasures, into the love of the world, and earthly corruption, is to go a whoring from the Lord. And He has addressed her as in a sense a harlot, to warn her to return: very often by the Prophets does He reproach her as a harlot, but yet not despaired of, for that He who reproaches the harlot has in His Hands the cleansing of the harlot too.

3. For He does not so reproach as to insult her; but He would bring her to confusion of face to heal her. Vehement are the exclamations of Scripture, nor does it deal softly by flattery with those whom it would by healing recover. You adulterers, do you not know that the friend of this world is constituted the enemy of God? The love of the world makes the soul adulterous, the love of the Framer of the world makes the soul chaste; but unless she blush for her corruption, she has no desire to return to that chaste embrace. Be she confounded that she may return, who was vaunting herself that she should not return. It was pride then that hindered the soul's return. But whoso reproaches does not cause the sin, but shows the sin. What the soul was loth to see, is placed before her eyes; and what she desired to have behind her back, is brought before her face. See yourself in yourself. Why do you see the mote in your brother's eye, but perceivest not the beam in your own eye? The soul which went away from herself, is recalled to herself. As she had gone away from herself, so went she away from her Lord. For she had respect to herself, and pleased herself, and became enamoured of her own power. She withdrew from him, and abode not in herself; and from her own self she is repelled, and from herself shut out, and she falls away unto things without her. She loves the world, loves the things of time, loves earthly things; who if she but loved herself to the neglect of Him by whom she was made, would at once be less, at once fail by loving that which is less. For she is less than God; yea less by far, and by so much less as the thing made is less than the Maker. It was God then That ought to have been loved, yea in such wise ought God to be loved, that if it might be so, we should forget ourselves. What then is this change? The soul has forgotten herself but by loving the world; let her now forget herself but by loving the world's Maker. Driven away even from herself, I say, she has in a manner lost herself, and has not skilled to see her own actions, she justifies her iniquities; she is puffed up, and prides herself in insolence, in voluptuousness, in honours, in posts of authority, in riches, in the power of vanity. She is reproved, rebuked, is shown to herself, mislikes herself, confesses her deformity, longs for her first beauty, and she who went away in profusion returns in confusion.

4. Seems he to pray against her, or for her, who says, Fill their faces with shame? It seems to be an adversary, it seems an enemy. Hear what follows, and see whether a friend can offer this prayer. Fill, says he, their faces with shame, and they shall seek Your Name, O Lord. Did he hate them whose faces he desired to be filled with shame? See how he loves them whom he would have seek the Name of the Lord. Does he love only, or hate only? Or does he both hate, and love? Yea, he both hates, and loves. He hates what is yours, he loves you. What is, He hates what is yours, he loves you? He hates what you have made, he loves what God has made. For what are your own things but sins? And what are you but what God made you, a man after His Own image and likeness? Thou dost neglect what you were made, love what you have made. Thou dost love your own works without you, dost neglect the work of God within you. Deservedly do you go away, deservedly fall off, yea, deservedly even from your own self depart; deservedly hear the words, A spirit that goes and returns not. Hear rather Him That calls and says, Turn to Me, and I will turn to you. For God does not really turn away, and turn again; Abiding the Same He rebukes, Unchangeable He rebukes. He has turned away, in that you have turned yourself away. You have fallen from Him, He has not fallen away from you. Hear Him then saying to you, Turn to Me, and I will turn to you. For this is, I turn unto you, in that you turn unto Me. He follows on the back of him that flies, He enlightens the face of him that returns. For whither will you fly in flying from God? Whither will you fly in flying from Him who is contained in no place, and is nowhere absent? He That delivers him that turns to him, punishes him that turns away. You have a Judge by flying; have a Father by returning.

5. But he had been swollen up by pride, and by this swelling could not return by the strait way. He who became the Way, cries out, Enter in by the strait gate. He tries to enter in, the swelling impedes him; and his trying is so much the more hurtful, in proportion as the swelling is a greater impediment. For the straitness irritates his swelling; and being irritated he will swell the more; and swelling more, when will he enter in? So then let him bring down the swelling. And how? Let him take the medicine of humility; let him against the swelling drink the bitter but wholesome cup; drink the cup of humility. Why does he squeeze himself? The bulk, not for its size, but for its swelling, does not allow him. For size has solidity, swelling inflation. Let not him that is swollen fancy himself of great size; that he may be great, and substantial, and solid, let him bring down his swelling. Let him not long after these present things, let him not glory in this pomp of things failing and corruptible; let him hearken to Him who said, Enter in by the strait gate, saying also, I am the Way. For as if some swollen one had asked, How shall I enter in? He says, 'I am the Way.' Enter in by Me; Thou walkest only by Me, to enter in by the door. For as He said, I am the Way; so also, I am the Door. Why do you seek whereby to return, whither to return, whereby to enter in? Lest you should in any respect go astray, He became all for you. Therefore in brief He says, Be humble, be meek. Let us hear Him saying this most plainly, that you may see whereby is the way, what is the way, whither is the way. Whither would you come? But perhaps in covetousness you would possess all things. All things are delivered unto Me of My Father, says He. It may be you will say, They were delivered to Christ: but are they to me? Hear the Apostle speak; hear, as I said some time ago, lest you be broken by despair; hear how you were loved when you had nothing to be loved for, hear how you were loved when unsightly, deformed, before there was ought in you which was meet to be loved. You were first loved, that you might be made meet to be loved. For Christ, as the Apostle says, died for the ungodly. What! will you say that the ungodly deserved to be loved? I ask, what did the ungodly deserve? To be damned. Here you will answer, Yet, Christ died for the ungodly. Lo, what was done for you when ungodly; what is reserved for you now godly? Christ died for the ungodly. You desired to possess all things; desire it not through covetousness, seek it through piety, seek it through humility. For if you seek thus, you shall possess. For you shall have Him by whom all things were made, and with Him shall possess all things.

6. I do not say this as though the result of reasoning. Hear the Apostle himself saying, He that spared not His Own Son, but delivered Him up for us all; how has He also not with Him given us all things? Lo, covetous one, you have all things. All things that you love, despise, that you be not kept back from Christ, and hold to Him in whom you may possess all things. The Physician Himself then needing no such medicine, yet that He might encourage the sick, drank what He had no need of; addressing him as it were refusing it, and raising him up in his fear, He drank first. The Cup, says He, which I shall drink of; I who have nothing in Me to be cured by that Cup, am yet to drink it, that you who needest to drink it, may not disdain to drink. Now consider, Brethren, ought the human race to be any longer sick after having received such a medicine? God has been now Humbled, and is man still proud? Let him hear, let him learn. All things, says He, have been delivered unto Me of My Father. If you desire all things, you shall have them with Me; if you desire the Father, by Me and in Me you shall have Him. No man knows the Father but the Son. Do not despair; come to the Son. Hear what follows, And he to whom the Son will reveal Him. Thou said, I am not able. You call me through a strait way; I am not able to enter in by a strait way. Come, says He, unto Me, all you that labour and are heavy laden. Your burden is your swelling. Come unto Me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me.

7. The Master of the Angels cries out, the Word of God, by whom all reasonable souls are without failing fed, the Food That refreshes, and abides Entire, cries out and says, Learn of Me. Let the people hear Him, saying, Learn of Me. Let them make answer, What do we learn of You? For we must be going to hear I know not what from the Great Artificer, when He says, Learn of Me. Who is it that says, Learn of Me? He who formed the earth, who divided the sea and the dry land, who created the fowls, who created the animals of the earth, who created all things that swim, who set the stars in the heaven, who distinguished the day and the night, who established the firmament, who separated the light from the darkness, He it is who says, Learn of Me. Is He haply about to tell us this, that we should do these things with Him? Who can do this? God Only does them. Fear not, He says, I am not laying any burden on you. 'Learn of Me,' this which for your sake I was made. 'Learn of Me,' says He, not to form the creature which by Me was made. Neither do I tell you indeed, to learn those things which I have granted to some, to whom I would, not to all, to raise the dead, to give sight to the blind, to open the ears of the deaf; nor to wish as for some great thing to learn these things of Me. The disciples returned with joy and exultation, saying, Lo, even the devils are subject unto us through Your Name. And the Lord said to them, In this rejoice not, that the devils are subject unto you; rejoice rather, because your names are written in heaven. To whom He would, He gave the power to cast out devils, to whom He would, He gave the power to raise the dead. Such miracles were done even before the Incarnation of the Lord; the dead were raised, lepers were cleansed; we read of these things. And who did them then, but He who in after time was the Man-Christ after David, but God-Christ before Abraham? He gave the power for all these things, He did them Himself by men; yet gave He not that power to all. Ought they to whom He gave it not to despair, and say that they have no part in Him because they have not been thought worthy to receive these gifts? In the body are various members: this member can do one thing, that another. God has compacted the body together, He has not given to the ear to see, nor to the eye to hear, nor to the forehead to smell, nor to the hand to taste; He has not given them these functions; but to all the members has He given soundness, has given union, has given unity, has by His Spirit quickened and united all alike. And so here He has not given to some to raise the dead, to others He has not given the power of disputation; yet to all what has He given? Learn of Me, that I am meek and lowly in heart. Forasmuch as we have heard Him say, I am meek and lowly in heart; here, my Brethren, is our whole remedy, Learn of Me, that I am meek and lowly in heart. What does it profit a man if he do miracles, and is proud, is not meek and lowly in heart? Will he not be reckoned in the number of those who shall come at the last day, and say, Have we not prophesied in Your Name, and in Your Name have done many mighty works? But what shall they hear? I know you not, Depart from Me, all you that work iniquity.

8. What then does it profit us to learn? That I am meek, says He, and lowly in heart. He engrafts charity, and that most genuine charity, without confusion, without inflation, without elation, without deceit; this does He engraft, who says, Learn of Me, that I am meek and lowly in heart. How can one proud and puffed up have any genuine charity? He must needs be envious. And perhaps one who is envious, loves, and we are mistaken? God forbid that any one should be so mistaken, as to say that an envious man has charity. And so what says the Apostle? Charity envies not. Why does it not envy? It is not puffed up; he immediately annexed the cause for which he took away envying from charity. Because it is not puffed up, it envies not. It is true, he said first, Charity envies not; but as though you asked, Why does it not envy? he added, It is not puffed up. If then it envies because it is puffed up; if it be not puffed up, it envies not. If charity is not puffed up, and therefore envies not; then does He engraft charity who says, Learn of Me, that I am meek and lowly in heart.

9. Let any man have then what he will, let him boast himself of what he will. If I speak with the tongues of men and of Angels, but, have not charity, I have become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. What is more sublime than the gift of various tongues? It is brass, it is a tinkling cymbal, if you take charity away. Hear other gifts; If I should know all mysteries. What more excellent? What more magnificent? Hear yet another; if I should have all prophecy, and all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not charity, I am nothing. He comes to still greater things, Brethren. What else has he said? If I should distribute all my goods to the poor. What more perfect thing can be done? When indeed the Lord commanded the rich man this for perfection's sake, saying, If you will be perfect, go, sell all that you have, and give to the poor. Was he then at once perfect, because he sold all his goods and gave them to the poor? No; and therefore He added, And come, follow Me. Sell all, says He, give to the poor, and come, follow Me. Why should I follow You? Now that I have sold all, and distributed to the poor, am I not perfect? What need is there that I should follow You? Follow Me, that you may learn that I am meek and lowly in heart. For what? Can any man sell all he has, and give to the poor, who is not yet meek, not yet lowly in heart? Assuredly he can. For if I should distribute all my goods to the poor. And hear still further. For some, who had left all they had and had already followed the Lord, but not yet followed Him perfectly (for to follow Him perfectly is to imitate Him), could not bear the trial of suffering. Peter, Brethren, was already one of those who had left all and followed the Lord. For as that rich man went away in sadness, when the disciples bring troubled, asked how then any one could be perfect, and the Lord consoled them, they said to the Lord, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed You; what shall we have therefore? And the Lord told them what He would give them here, what He would reserve for them hereafter. Now Peter was already of the number of those who had so done. But when it came to the crisis of suffering, at the voice of a maid-servant he denied Him thrice with whom he had promised that he was ready to die.

10. Take good heed then, Beloved: Go, says He, sell all that you have, give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven, and come, follow Me. Peter is perfect, now that the Lord sits in heaven at the right Hand of the Father, then did he attain perfection and maturity. For when he followed the Lord to His Passion, he was not perfect; but when there began to be no one on earth for him to follow, then was he perfected. But you truly have always One before you to follow; the Lord has set up an example on earth, when He left the Gospel with you, in the Gospel He is with you. For He did not speak falsely when He said, Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Therefore follow the Lord. What is, Follow the Lord? Imitate the Lord. What is, Imitate the Lord? Learn of Me, that I am meek and lowly in heart. Because if I should distribute all my goods to the poor, and give up my body to be burned, but not have charity, it profits me nothing. To this charity then I exhort your Charity; now I should not exhort to charity, but with some charity. I exhort then that what is commenced may be filled up; and pray that what is begun may be perfected. And I beg that you would offer this prayer for me, that what I advise may be perfected in me also. For we are all now imperfect, and there shall we be perfected, where all things are perfect. The Apostle Paul says, Brethren, I do not reckon myself to have apprehended. He says, Not that I have already attained, either am already perfect. And shall any man dare to vaunt himself on perfection? Yea rather let us acknowledge our imperfection, that we may attain perfection.

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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/160392.htm>.

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