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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 95

Sermon 95 on the New Testament

[CXLV. Ben.]

On the words of the Gospel, John 16:24 , Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name; and on the words of Luke 10:17 , Lord, even the demons are subject unto us in your name.

1. When the Holy Gospel was being read, we heard what in truth ought at once to put every earnest soul in motion to seek, not to faint. For whoso is not moved, is not changed. But there is a dangerous movement, of which it is written, Suffer not my feet to be moved. But there is another movement of him who seeks, knocks, asks. What then has been read we have all heard; but I suppose we have not all understood. It makes mention of that which together with me ye should seek, with me ask, for the receiving of which you should with me knock. For as I hope the grace of the Lord will be with us, that whereas I wish to minister to you, I too may be thought worthy to receive. What is it, I pray you, that we have just heard that the Lord said to His disciples? Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My Name. Is He not speaking to those disciples, who, after He had sent them, having given them power to preach the Gospel, and to do mighty works, returned with joy, and said to Him, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through Your Name? You recognise, you recollect this which I have quoted from the Gospel, which in every passage and every sentence speaks truth, nowhere false, nowhere deceives. How then is it true, Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My Name? And, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through Your name? Of a surety this puts the mind in motion to ascertain the secret of this difficulty. Therefore ask we, seek, knock. Be there in us faithful godliness, not a restlessness of the flesh, but a submission of the mind, that He who sees us knocking may open unto us.

2. What the Lord then may give to be ministered unto you, do ye with earnest attention, that is, with hunger, receive; and when I shall have spoken it, you will doubtless with sound taste approve what is placed before you out of the Lord's store. The Lord Jesus knew whereby the soul of man, that is, the rational mind, made after the image of God, could be satisfied: only, that is, by Himself. This He knew, and knew that it was as yet without that fullness. He knew that He was manifest, and He knew that He was hidden. He knew what in Him was exhibited, what concealed. He knew all this. How great, says the Psalm, is the multitude of Your sweetness, O Lord, which You have hidden to them that fear You; which You have wrought for them that hope in You! Your sweetness both great and manifold have You hidden to them that fear You. If you hide it to them that fear You, to whom dost Thou open it? You have wrought it for them that hope in You. A twofold question has arisen, but either is solved by the other. If any one inquires after the other, what is this, You have hidden it to them that fear You; wrought it for them that hope in You? Are they that fear, and they that hope, different? Do not the very same who fear God, hope in God? Who hopes on Him who does not fear Him? Who in a godly sort fears Him, and has not hope in Him? Let this then first be solved. Somewhat would I say concerning those who hope and those who fear.

3. The Law has fear, Grace hope. But what difference is there between the Law and Grace, since the Giver both of the Law and Grace is One? The Law alarms him who relies on himself, Grace assists him who trusts in God. The Law, I say, alarms; do not make light of this because it is brief; weigh it well, and it is considerable. Look well at what I have said, take what we minister, prove wherefrom we take it. The Law alarms him who relies on himself, Grace assists him who trusts in God. What says the Law? Many things: and who can enumerate them? I bring forward one small and short precept from it which the Apostle has brought forward, a very small one; let us see who is sufficient for it. You shall not lust. What is this, Brethren? We have heard the Law; if there be no grace, you have heard your punishment. Why do you boast to me whosoever you are that hearing this dost rely upon yourself, why do you boast to me of innocence? Why do you flatter yourself thereupon? You can say, I have not plundered the goods of others; I hear, I believe, perhaps I even see it, you do not plunder the goods of others. You have heard, You shall not lust. I do not go in to another man's wife; this again I hear, believe, see. You have heard, You shall not lust. Why do you inspect yourself all round without, and dost not inspect within? Look in, and you will see another law in your members. Look in, why do you pass over yourself? Descend into your own self. You will see another law in your members resisting the law of your mind, and bringing you into captivity in the law of sin which is in your members. With good reason then is the sweetness of God hidden to you. The law placed in your members, resisting the law of your mind, brings you into captivity. Of that sweetness which to you is hidden, the holy Angels drink; you can not drink and taste that sweetness, captive as you are. You had not known concupiscence, unless the Law had said, You shall not lust. You heard, feared, tried to fight, could not overcome. For sin taking occasion by the commandment wrought death. Surely ye recognise them, they are the Apostle's words. Sin taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. Why did you vaunt yourself in your pride? Lo, with your own arms has the enemy conquered you. Thou verily, looked for a commandment as a defence: and, lo, by the commandment the enemy has found an occasion of entering in. For sin taking occasion by the commandment, he says, deceived me, and by it slew me. What means what I said, With your own arms has the enemy conquered you? Hear the same Apostle going on, and saying; Wherefore the Law indeed is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Make answer now to the revilers of the Law: make answer on the Apostle's authority, The commandment is holy, the Law holy, the commandment just and good. Was then that which is good, made death unto me? God forbid! But sin that it might appear sin, by that which is good wrought death in me. Why is this but because on receiving the commandment you feared, not love? You feared punishment, you did not love righteousness. Whoso fears punishment, wishes, if it were possible, to do what pleases him, and not to have what he fears. God forbids adultery, you have coveted another's wife, you do not go in unto her, you do not do so, opportunity is given you, you have time, a favourable place is open, witnesses are absent, yet you do not do it, wherefore? Because you fear the punishment. But no one will know it. Will not God know it? So it is clear, because God knows what you are about to do, you do it not; but here you fear the threatenings of God, not lovest His commandments. Why do you not do it? Because if you do, you will be cast into hell fire. It is the fire you fear. O if you loved chastity, you would not do it, even though you might be altogether unpunished. If God were to say to you, Lo, do it, I will not condemn you, I will not condemn you to hell fire, but I will withhold My Face from you. If you did it not because of this threat, it would be from the love of God that you did not do it, not from the fear of judgment. But you would do it, perhaps I mean you would do so; for it is not my place to judge. If you do it not on this principle because you abhor the contamination of adultery, because you love His precepts, that you may obtain His promises, and not because you fear His condemnation, it is the grace which makes saints that aids you; it is all of grace, ascribe it not to your own self, attribute it not to your own strength. Thou actest from delight in it, well; you act in charity, well; I assent, I agree. Charity works by you, when you act with your will. At once do you taste sweetness, if you hope in the Lord.

4. But whence have you this charity, if yet you have it? For I am afraid lest even yet it is through fear you do it not, and lest you seem great in your own eyes. Now if it is through charity that you do it not, you are truly great. Have you charity? I have, you say. Whence? From myself. Far are you from sweetness, if you have it from your own self. You will love your own self, because you will love that from which you have it. But I will convict you that you have it not. For in that you think that you have so great a thing from your own self, by that very fact I do not believe you have it. For if you had, you would know from whence you had it. Have you charity from yourself, as if it were some light, some little thing? If you should speak with the tongues of men and Angels, but have not charity, you would be a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. If you should know all mysteries, and have all knowledge, and all prophecy, and all faith so that you could remove mountains, but not have charity, these things could not profit you. If you should distribute all your goods to the poor, and deliver up your body to be burned, but not have charity, you would be nothing. How great is this charity, which if it be wanting, all things profit nothing! Compare it not to your faith, not to your knowledge, not to your gift of tongues, to lesser things, to the eye of your body, the hand, the foot, the belly, to any one lowest member compare charity, are these least things to be in any way compared to charity? So then the eye and nose you have from God, and have you charity from your own self? If you have given yourself charity which surpasses all things, you have made God of light account with you. What more can God give you? Whatever He may have given, is less. Charity which you have given yourself, surpasses all things. But if you have it, you have not given it to yourself. For what have you which you have not received? Who gave to me, who gave to you? God. Acknowledge Him in His gifts, that you feel not His condemnation. By believing the Scriptures, God has given you charity, a great boon, charity, which surpasses all things. God gave it you, because the charity of God has been shed abroad in our hearts; by your own self, perhaps? God forbid; by the Holy Ghost, who has been given us.

5. Return with me to that captive, return with me to my proposition. The Law alarms him that relies on himself, grace assists him who trusts in God. For look at that captive. He sees another law in his members resisting the law of his mind, and leading him captive in the law of sin, which is in his members. Lo, he is bound, lo, he is dragged along, lo, he is led captive, lo, he is subjected. What has that profited him, You shall not lust? He has heard, You shall not lust; that he might know his enemy, not that he might overcome him. For he had not known concupiscence, that is, his enemy, unless the Law had said, You shall not lust. Now you have seen the enemy, fight, deliver yourself, make good your liberty, let the suggestions of pleasure be kept down, unlawful delight be utterly destroyed. Arm yourself, you have the Law, march on, conquer if you can. For what good is it that through the little portion of God's grace you have already, you delight in the Law of God after the inward man? But you see another law in your members resisting the law of your mind; not resisting yet powerless for anything, but leading you captive in the law of sin. Behold, whence to you who fearest that plentifulness of sweetness is hidden! to him that fears it is hidden, how is it wrought out for him that trusts? Cry out under your enemy, for that you have an assailant, you have an Helper too, who looks upon you as you fight, who helps you in difficulty; but only if He find you trusting; for the proud He hates. What then will you cry under this enemy? Wretched man that I am! You see it already, for you have cried out. Be this your cry, when haply you are distressed under the enemy, say ye, in your inmost heart say, in sound faith say, Wretched man that I am! Wretched that I am! Therefore wretched, because I. Wretched man that I am, both because I, and because man. For he is disquieted in vain. For though man walks in the Image; yet, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? Wilt you yourself? Where is your strength, where is your confidence? Of a surety you both cry out, and are silent; silent, that is, from extolling yourself, not from calling upon God. Be silent, and cry out. For God Himself too is both silent, and cries aloud; He is silent from judgment, He is not silent from precept; so be too silent from elation, not from invocation; lest God say to you, I have been silent, shall I be silent always? Cry out therefore, O wretched man that I am! Acknowledge yourself conquered, put your own strength to shame, and say, Wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? What did I say above? The Law alarms him that relies upon himself. Behold, man relied upon himself, he attempted to fight, he could not get the better, he was conquered, prostrated, subjugated, led captive. He learned to rely upon God, and it remains that him whom the Law alarmed while he relied upon himself, grace should assist now that he trusts in God. In this confidence he says, Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? The grace of God by Jesus Christ our Lord. Now see the sweetness, taste it, relish it; hear the Psalm, Taste and see that the Lord is sweet. He has become sweet to you, for that He has delivered you. You were bitter to your own self, when you relied upon yourself. Drink sweetness, receive the earnest of so great abundance.

6. The disciples then of the Lord Jesus Christ while yet under the Law had to be cleansed still, to be nourished still, to be corrected still, to be directed still. For they still had concupiscence; whereas the Law says, You shall not lust. Without offense to those holy rams, the leaders of the flock, without offense to them I would say it, for I say the truth: the Gospel relates, that they contended which of them should be the greatest, and while the Lord was yet on earth, they were agitated by a dissension about pre-eminence. Whence was this, but from the old leaven? Whence, but from the law in the members, resisting the law of the mind? They sought for eminence; yea, they desired it; they thought which should be the greatest; therefore is their pride put to shame by a little child. Jesus calls unto him the age of humility to tame the swelling desire. With good reason then when they returned too, and said, Lord, behold even the devils are subject unto us through Your Name. (It was for a nothing that they rejoiced; of what importance was it compared to that which God promised?) The Lord, the Good Master, quieting fear, and building up a firm support, said to them, In this rejoice not that the devils are subject unto you. Why so? Because many will come in My Name, saying, Behold, in Your Name we have cast out devils; and I will say to them, I know you not. In this rejoice not, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven. You cannot yet be there, yet notwithstanding you are already written there. Therefore rejoice. So that place again, Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My Name. For what you have asked, in comparison with that which I am willing to give, is nothing. For what have ye asked in My Name? That the devils should be subject unto you? In this rejoice not, that is, what you have asked is nothing; for if it were anything, He would bid them rejoice. So then it was not absolutely nothing, but that it was little in comparison of that greatness of God's rewards. For the Apostle Paul was not really not anything; and yet in comparison of God, Neither is he that plants anything, neither he that waters. And so I say to you, and I say to myself, both to myself and you I say, when we ask in Christ's Name for these temporal things. For you have asked undoubtedly. For who does not ask? One asks for health, if he is sick; another asks for deliverance, if he is in prison; another asks for the port, if he is tossed about at sea; another asks for victory, if he is in conflict with an enemy; and in the Name of Christ he asks all, and what he asks is nothing. What then must be asked for? Ask in My Name. And He said not what, but by the very words we understand what we ought to ask. Ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full. Ask, and you shall receive, in My Name. But what? Not nothing; but what? That your joy may be full; that is, ask what may suffice you. For when you ask for temporal things, you ask for nothing. Whoso shall drink of this water, shall thirst again. He lets down the watering pot of desire into the well, he takes up whereof to drink, only that he may thirst again. Ask, that your joy may be full; that is, that you may be satisfied, not feel delight only for a time. Ask what may suffice you; speak Philip's language, Lord, show us the Father, and it suffices us. The Lord says to you, Have I been so long time with you, and have ye not known Me? Philip, he that sees Me, sees the Father also. Render then thanks to Christ, made weak for you that are weak, and make ready your desires for Christ's Divinity, to be satisfied therewith. Turn we 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/160395.htm>.

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