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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 10

Sermon 10 on the New Testament

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[LX. Ben.]

On the words of the Gospel, Matthew 6:19 , Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, etc. An exhortation to almsdeeds.

1. Every man who is in any trouble, and his own resources fail him, looks out for some prudent person from whom he may take counsel, and so know what to do. Let us suppose then the whole world to be as it were one single man. He seeks to escape evil, yet is slow in doing good; and as in this way tribulations thicken, and his own resources fail, whom can he find more prudent to receive counsel from than Christ? By all means, at least, let him find a better, and do what he will. But if he cannot find a better, let him come to Him whom he may find everywhere: let him consult, and take advice from Him, keep the good commandment, escape the great evil. For present temporal ills of which men are so sore afraid, under which they murmur exceedingly, and by their murmuring offend Him who is correcting them, so that they find not His saving Help; present ills I say without a doubt are but passing; either they pass through us, or we pass through them; either they pass away while we live, or they are left behind us when we die. Now that is not in the matter of tribulation great, which in duration is short. Whosoever you are that art thinking of tomorrow, you do not recall the remembrance of yesterday. When the day after tomorrow comes, this tomorrow also will be yesterday. But now if men are so disquieted with anxiety to escape temporal tribulations which pass, or rather fly over, what thought ought they to take that they may escape those which abide and endure without end?

2. A hard condition is the life of man. What else is it to be born, but to enter on a life of toil? Of our toil that is to be, the infant's very cry is witness. From this cup of sorrow no one may be excused. The cup that Adam has pledged, must be drunk. We were made, it is true, by the hands of Truth, but because of sin we were cast forth upon days of vanity. We were made after the image of God, but we disfigured it by sinful transgression. Therefore does the Psalm remind us how we were made, and to what a state we have come. For it says, Though a man walk in the image of God. See, what he was made. Whither has he come? Hearken to what follows, Yet will he be disquieted in vain. He walks in the image of truth, and will be disquieted in the counsel of vanity. Finally, see his disquiet, see it, and as it were in a glass, be displeased with yourself. Though, he says, man walk in the image of God, and therefore be something great, yet will he be disquieted in vain; and as though we might ask, How I pray you, how is man disquieted in vain? He heaps up treasure, says he, and knows not for whom he does gather it. See then, this man, that is the whole human race represented as one man, who is without resource in his own case, and has lost counsel and wandered out of the way of a sound mind; Heaps up treasure, and knows not for whom he does gather it. What is more mad, what more unhappy? But surely he is doing it for himself? Not so. Why not for himself? Because he must die, because the life of man is short, because the treasure lasts, but he who gathers it, quickly passes away. As pitying therefore the man who walks in the image of God, who confesses things that are true, yet follows after vain things, he says, He will be disquieted in vain. I grieve for him; he heaps up treasure, and knows not for whom he does gather it. Does he gather it for himself? No. Because the man dies while the treasure endures. For whom then? If you have any good counsel, give it to me. But counsel have you none to give me, and so you have none for yourself. Wherefore if we are both without it, let us both seek it, let us both receive it, and both consider the matter together. He is disquieted, he heaps up treasure, he thinks, and toils, and is kept awake by anxiety. All day long are you harassed by labour, all night agitated by fear. That your coffer may be filled with money, your soul is in a fever of anxiety.

3. I see it, I am grieved for you; you are disquieted, and as He who cannot deceive, assures us, You are disquieted in vain. For you are heaping up treasures: supposing that all your undertakings succeed, to say nothing of losses, of so great perils and deaths in the prosecution of every several kind of gain (I speak not of deaths of the body, but of evil thoughts, for that gold may come in, uprightness goes out; that you may be clothed outwardly, you are made naked within), but to pass over these, and other such things in silence, to pass by all the things that are against you, let us think only of the favourable circumstances. See, you are laying up treasures, gains flow into you from every quarter, and your money runs like fountains; everywhere where want presses, there does abundance flow. Have you not heard, If riches increase, set not your heart upon them? Lo, you are getting, you are disquieted, not fruitlessly indeed, still in vain. How, you will ask am I disquieted in vain? I am filling my coffers, my walls will scarce hold what I get, how then am I disquieted in vain? You are heaping up treasure, and dost not know for whom you gather it. Or if you know, I pray you tell me. I will listen to you. For whom is it? If you are not disquieted in vain, tell me for whom you are heaping up your treasure? For myself, you say, Do you dare say so, who must so soon die? For my children. Do you dare say this of them who must so soon die? It is a great duty of natural affection (it will be said) for a father to lay up for his sons; rather it is a great vanity, one who must soon die is laying up for those who must soon die also. If it is for yourself, why do you gather, seeing you leave all when you diest. This is the case also with your children; they will succeed you, but not to abide long. I say nothing about what sort of children they may be, whether haply debauchery may not waste what covetousness has amassed. So another by dissoluteness squanders what you by much toil hast gathered together. But I pass over this. It may be they will be good children, they will not be dissolute, they will keep what you have left, will increase what you have kept, and will not dissipate what you have heaped together. Then will your children be equally vain with yourself, if they do so, if in this they imitate you their father. I would say to them what I said just now to you. I would say to your son, to him for whom you are saving I would say, You are heaping up treasure, and know not for whom you gather it. For as you knew not, so neither does he know. If the vanity has continued in him, has the truth lost its power with respect to him?

4. I forbear to urge, that it may be even during your life you are but laying up for thieves. In one night may they come and find all ready the gathering of so many days and nights. It may be you are laying up for a robber, or a highwayman. I will say no more on this, lest I call to mind and re-open the wound of past sufferings. How many things which an empty vanity has heaped together, has the cruelty of an enemy found ready to its hand. It is not my place to wish for this: but it is the concern of all to fear it. May God avert it! May His own scourges be sufficient. May He to whom we pray, spare us! But if He ask you for whom are we laying by, what shall we answer? How then, O man, whosoever you are, that are heaping up treasure in vain, how will you answer me, as I handle this matter with you, and with you seek counsel in a common cause? For you spoke and make answer, I am laying up for myself, for my children, for my posterity. I have said already how many grounds of fear there are, even as to those children themselves. But I pass over the consideration, that your children may so live as to be a curse to you, and as your enemy would wish them; grant that they live as the father himself would have them. Yet how many have fallen into those mischances, I have declared, and reminded you of already. You shuddered at them, though you did not amend yourself. For what have you to answer but this, Perhaps it may not be so? Well, I said so too; perhaps I say you are but laying up for the thief, or robber, or highwayman. I did not say certainly, but perhaps. Where there is a perhaps, there is a perhaps-not; so then you know not what will be, and therefore you are disquieted in vain. You see now how truly spoke the Truth, how vainly vanity is disquieted. You have heard and at length learned wisdom, because when you say, Perhaps it is for my children, but dost not dare to say, I am sure that it is for my children, you do not in fact know for whom you are gathering riches. So then, as I see, and have said already, you are yourself without resource; you find nothing wherewith to answer me, nor can I to answer you.

5. Let us both therefore seek and ask for counsel. We have opportunity of consulting not any wise man, but Wisdom Herself. Let us then both give ear to Jesus Christ, to the Jews a stumbling stone, and to the Gentiles foolishness, but to them who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the Power of God and the Wisdom of God. Why are you preparing a strong defense for your riches? Hear the Power of God, nothing is more strong than He. Why are you preparing wise counsel to protect your riches? Hear the Wisdom of God, nothing is more Wise than He. Peradventure when I say what I have to say, you will be offended, and so you will be a Jew, because to the Jews is Christ an offense. Or perhaps, when I have spoken, it will appear foolish to you, and so will you be a Gentile, for to the Gentiles is Christ foolishness. Yet you are a Christian, you have been called. But to them who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the Power of God and the Wisdom of God. Be not sad then when I have said what I have to say; be not offended; mock not my folly, as you deem it, with an air of disdain. Let us give ear. For what I am about to say, Christ has said. If you despise the herald, yet fear the Judge. What shall I say then? The reader of the Gospel has but just now relieved me from this embarrassment. I will not read anything fresh, but will recall only to your recollection what has just been read. You were seeking counsel, as failing in your own resources; see then what the Fountain of right counsel says, the Fountain from whose streams is no fear of poison, fill from It what you may.

6. Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust does destroy, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where no thief approaches, nor moth corrupts: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. What more do you wait for? The thing is plain. The counsel is open, but evil desire lies hid; nay, not so, but what is worse, it too lies open. For plunder does not cease its ravages; avarice does not cease to defraud; maliciousness does not cease to swear falsely. And all for what? That treasure may be heaped together. To be laid up where? In the earth, and rightly indeed, by earth for earth. For to the man who sinned and who pledged us, as I have said, our cup of toil, was it said, Earth you are, and to earth shall you return. With good reason is the treasure in earth, because the heart is there. Where then is that, we lift them up unto the Lord? Sorrow for your case, you who have understood me; and if you sorrow truly, amend yourselves. How long will you be applauding and not doing? What you have heard is true, nothing truer. Let that then which is true be done. One God we praise, yet we change not, that we may not in this very praise be disquieted in vain.

7. Therefore, Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth; whether you have found by experience how what is laid up in the earth is lost, or whether you have not so experienced it, yet do ye too fear lest ye should do so. Let experience reform him whom words will not reform. One cannot rise up now, one cannot go out, but all together with one voice are crying, Woe to us, the world is falling. If it be falling, why do you not remove? If an architect were to tell you, that your house would soon fall, would you not remove before you indulged in your vain lamentations? The Builder of the world tells you the world will soon fall, and will you not believe it? Hear the voice of Him who foretells it, hear the counsel of Him who gives you warning. The voice of prediction is, Heaven and earth shall pass away. The voice of warning is, Lay not up for yourselves treasure on earth. If then you believe God in His prediction; if you despise not His warning, let what He says be done. He who has given you such counsel does not deceive you. You shall not lose what you have given away, but shall follow what you have only sent before you. Therefore my counsel is, Give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven. You shall not remain without treasure; but what you have on earth with anxiety, you shall possess in heaven free from care. Transport your goods then. I am giving you counsel for keeping, not for losing. You shall have, says He, treasure in heaven, and come, follow Me, that I may bring you to your treasure. This is not a wasting, but a saving. Why do men keep silence? Let them hear, and having at last by experience found what to fear, let them do that which will give them no cause of fear, let them transport their goods to heaven. You put wheat in the low ground; and your friend comes, who knows the nature of the grain and the land, and instructs your unskilfulness, and says to you, What have you done? You have put the grain in the flat soil, in the lower land; the soil is moist; it will all rot, and you will lose your labour. You answer, What then must I do? Remove it, he says, into the higher ground. Do you then give ear to a friend who gives you counsel about your grain, and do you despise God who gives you counsel about your heart? Thou fearest to put your grain in the low earth, and will you lose your heart in the earth? Behold the Lord your God when He gives you counsel touching your heart, says, Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Lift up, says He, your heart to heaven, that it rot not in the earth. It is His counsel, who wishes to preserve your heart, not to destroy it.

8. If then this be so, what must be their repentance who have not done thereafter? How must they now reproach themselves! We might have had in heaven what we have now lost in earth. The enemy has broken up our house; but could he break heaven open? He has killed the servant who was set to guard; but could he kill the Lord who would have kept them, where no thief approaches, neither moth corrupts. How many now are saying, There we might have had, and hid our treasures safe, where after a little while we might have followed them securely. Why have we not hearkened to our Lord? Why have we despised the admonitions of the Father, and so have experienced the invasion of the enemy? If then this be good counsel, let us not be slow in taking heed to it; and if what we have must be transported, let us transfer it into that place, from whence we cannot lose it. What are the poor to whom we give, but our carriers, by whom we convey our goods from earth to heaven? Give then: you are but giving to your carrier, he carries what you give to heaven. How, do you say, does he carry it to heaven? For I see that he makes an end of it by eating. No doubt, he carries it, not by keeping it, but by making it his food. What? Have you forgotten, Come, you blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom; for I was an hungred, and you gave Me meat: and, Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of Mine, you did it to Me. If you have not despised the beggar that stands before you, consider to Whom what you gave him has come. Inasmuch, says he, as you did it to one of the least of Mine, you did it to Me. He has received it, who gave you wherewith to give. He has received it, who in the end will give His Own Self to you.

9. For this have I at various times called to your remembrance, Beloved, and I confess to you it astonishes me much in the Scriptures of God, and I ought repeatedly to call your attention to it. I pray you to think of what our Lord Jesus Christ Himself says, that at the end of the world, when He shall come to judgment, He will gather together all nations before Him, and will divide men into two parts; that He will place some at His right hand, and others on His left; and will say to those on the right hand, Come, you blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. But to those on the left, Depart ye into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. Search out the reasons either for so great a reward, or so great a punishment. Receive the kingdom, and Go into everlasting fire. Why shall the first receive the kingdom? For I was an hungred, and you gave Me meat. Why shall the other depart into everlasting fire? For I was hungry, and you gave Me no meat. What means this, I ask? I see touching those who are to receive the kingdom, that they gave as good and faithful Christians, not despising the words of the Lord, and with sure trust hoping for the promises they did accordingly; because had they not done so, this very barrenness would not surely have accorded with their good life. For it may be they were chaste, no cheats, nor drunkards, and kept themselves from evil works. Yet if they had not added good works, they would have remained barren. For they would have kept, Depart from evil, but they would not have kept, and do good. Notwithstanding, even to them He does not say, Come, receive the kingdom, for you have lived in chastity; you have defrauded no man, you have not oppressed any poor man, you have invaded no one's landmark, you have deceived no one by oath. He said not this, but, Receive the kingdom, because I was an hungred, and you gave Me meat. How excellent is this above all, when the Lord made no mention of the rest, but named this only! And again to the others, Depart ye into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. How many things could He urge against the ungodly, were they to ask, Why are we going into everlasting fire! Why? Do ye ask, you adulterers, menslayers, cheats, sacrilegious blasphemers, unbelievers. Yet none of these did He name, but, Because I was hungry, and you gave Me no meat.

10. I see that you are surprised as I am. And indeed it is a marvellous thing. But I gather as best I can the reason of this thing so strange, and I will not conceal it from you. It is written, As water quenches fire, so alms quenches sin. Again it is written, Shut up alms in the heart of a poor man, and it shall make supplication for you before the Lord. Again it is written, Hear, O king, my counsel, and redeem your sins by alms. And many other testimonies of the Divine oracles are there, whereby it is shown that alms avail much to the quenching and effacing of sins. Wherefore to those whom He is about to condemn, yea, rather to those whom He is about to crown, He will impute alms only, as though He would say, It were a hard matter for me not to find occasion to condemn you, were I to examine and weigh you accurately and with much exactness to scrutinize your deeds; but, Go into the kingdom, for I was hungry, and you gave Me meat. You shall therefore go into the kingdom, not because you have not sinned, but because you have redeemed your sins by alms. And again to the others, Go into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. They too, guilty as they are, old in their sins, late in their fear for them, in what respect, when they turn their sins over in their mind, could they dare to say that they are undeservedly condemned, that this sentence is pronounced against them undeservedly by so righteous a Judge? In considering their consciences, and all the wounds of their souls, in what respect could they dare to say, We are unjustly condemned. Of whom it was said before in Wisdom, Their own iniquities shall convince them to their face. Without doubt they will see that they are justly condemned for their sins and wickednesses; yet it will be as though He said to them, It is not in consequence of this that you think, but 'because I was hungry, and you gave Me no meat.' For if turning away from all these your deeds, and turning to Me, you had redeemed all those crimes and sins by alms, those alms would now deliver you, and absolve you from the guilt of so great offenses; for, Blessed are the merciful, for to them shall be shown mercy. But now go away into everlasting fire. He shall have judgment without mercy, who has showed no mercy.

11. O that I may have induced you, my brethren, to give away your earthly bread, and to knock for the heavenly! The Lord is that Bread. He says, I am the Bread of life. But how shall He give to you, who givest not to him that is in need? One is in need before you, and you are in need before Another, and since you are in need before Another, and another is in need before you, that other is in need before him who is in need himself. For He before whom you are in need, needs nothing. Do then to others as you would have done to you. For it is not in this case as with those friends who are wont to upbraid in a way one another with their kindnesses; as, I did this for you, and the other answers, and I this for you, that He wishes us to do Him some good office, because He has first done such an office for us. He is in want of nothing, and therefore is He the very Lord. I said to the Lord, You are my God, for Thou needest not my goods. Notwithstanding though He be the Lord, and the Very Lord, and needs not our goods, yet that we might do something even for Him, has He vouchsafed to be hungry in His poor. I was hungry, says He, and you gave Me meat. Lord, when saw we You hungry? Forasmuch as you did it to one of the least of Mine, you did it to Me. To be brief then, let men hear, and consider as they ought, how great a merit it is to have fed Christ when He hungers, and how great a crime it is to have despised Christ when He hungers.

12. Repentance for sins changes men, it is true, for the better; but it does not appear as if even it would profit ought, if it should be barren of works of mercy. This the Truth testifies by the mouth of John, who said to them that came to him, O generation of vipers, who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance; And say not we have Abraham to our father; for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. For now is the axe laid unto the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that brings not forth good fruit shall be cut down, and cast into the fire. Touching this fruit he said above, Bring forth fruits worthy of repentance. Whoever then brings not forth these fruits, has no cause to think that he shall attain pardon for his sins by a barren repentance. Now what these fruits are, he shows afterwards himself. For after these his words the multitude asked him, saying, What shall we do then? That is, what are these fruits, which you exhort us with such alarming force to bring forth? But he answering said to them, he that has two coats, let him give to him that has none; and he that has meat, let him do likewise. My brethren, what is more plain, what more certain, or express than this? What other meaning then can that have which he said above, Every tree that brings not forth good fruit, shall be cut down, and cast into the fire; but that same which they on the left shall hear, Go into everlasting fire, for I was hungry, and you gave Me no meat. So then it is but a small matter to depart from sins, if you shall neglect to cure what is past, as it is written, Son, you have sinned, do so no more. And that he might not think to be secure by this only, he says, And for your former sins pray that they may be forgiven you. But what will it profit you to pray for forgiveness, if you shall not make yourself fit to be heard, by not bringing forth fruits fit for repentance, that you should be cut down as a barren tree, and be cast into the fire? So if you want to be heard when you pray for pardon of your sins, Forgive, and it shall be forgiven you; Give, and it shall be given you.

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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. <>.

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