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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 50

Sermon 50 on the New Testament

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[C. Ben.]

On the words of the Gospel, Luke 9:57 , etc., where the case of the three persons is treated of, of whom one said, I will follow you wherever you go, and was disallowed: another did not dare to offer himself, and was aroused; the third wished to delay, and was blamed.

1. Give ye ear to that which the Lord has given me to speak on the lesson of the Gospel. For we have read, that the Lord Jesus acted differently, when one man offered himself to follow Him, and was disallowed; another did not dare this, and was aroused; a third put off, and was blamed. For the words, Lord, I will follow You wherever You go, what is so prompt, what so active, what so ready, and what so fitly disposed to so great a good, as this following the Lord wherever He should go? You wonder at this, saying, How is this, that one so ready found no favour with the Good Master and Lord Jesus Christ, though He was inviting disciples to give them the kingdom of Heaven? But inasmuch as He was such a Master as could see beforehand things to come, we understand, Brethren, that this man, if he had followed Christ, would have been sure to seek his own things, not the things which are Jesus Christ's. For He has said Himself, Not every one that says unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. And of such was this man, nor did he know himself so well as the Physician knew him. For if he saw himself to be a dissembler now, if he had known himself at this time to be full of duplicity and guile, then he did not know with Whom he was speaking. For He it is of whom the Evangelist says, He had no need that any one should testify to Him of man, for He Himself knew what was in man. What then did He answer? Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has not where to lay His Head. But where has He not? In your faith. For in your heart foxes have holes, you are full of guile; in your heart birds of the air have nests; you are lifted up. Full of guile and self-elation as you are, you shall not follow Me. How can a guileful man follow Simplicity?

2. And then immediately to another who was silent, and said nothing, and promised nothing, He says, Follow Me! As much evil as He saw in the other, so much good saw He in this man. Follow Me, You say to one who has no wish for it. Lo, here is a man quite ready, I will follow You wherever You go; and yet You say to another who has no such wish, Follow Me. The first, says He, I decline, because I see in him holes, I see nests. But then why dost Thou press this other, whom Thou dost challenge to follow You, and he makes excuses? Lo, Thou dost even force him, and he does not come; Thou dost exhort him, and he does not follow. For what does he say? 'I will go first to bury my father.' The faith of his heart showed itself to the Lord; but his dutiful affection made him delay. But the Lord Christ when He is preparing men for the Gospel, will have no excuse from this carnal and temporal affection interfere. It is true that both the law of God prescribes these duties, and the Lord Himself reproves the Jews, because they destroyed this very commandment of God. And the Apostle Paul has in his Epistle laid it down, and said, This is the first commandment with promise. What? Honour your father and your mother. God of a surety spoke it. This young man then wished to obey God, and to bury his father; but it is place, and time, and circumstance, which is in this case to give way to place, and time, and circumstance. A father must be honoured, but God must be obeyed. He that begot us must be loved, but He that created us must be preferred. I am calling you, says He, to My Gospel; I have need of you for another work: this is a greater work than that which you wish to be doing. 'Let the dead bury their dead.' Your father is dead: there are other dead men to bury the dead. Who are the dead who bury the dead? Can a dead man be buried by dead men? How can they lay him out, if they are dead? How can they carry him, if they are dead? How can they bewail him, if they are dead? Yet they do lay him out, and carry, and bewail him, and they are dead; because they are unbelievers. That which is written in the Song of Songs is a lesson to us, when the Church says, Set in order love in me. What is, Set in order love in me? Make the proper degrees, and render to each what is his due. Do not put what should come before, below that which should come after it. Love your parents, but prefer God to them. Mark the mother of the Maccabees, 'My sons, I know not how ye appeared in my womb.' Conceive you I could, give you birth I could; but 'form you I could not:' hear Him therefore, prefer Him to me: trouble not yourselves, that I must remain here without you. Thus she commanded them, and they followed her. What this mother taught her children, did the Lord Jesus Christ teach him to whom He said, Follow Me.

3. See now how another disciple presented himself, to whom no one said anything: he said, Lord, I will follow You, but I will first go to bid them farewell which are at my house. I suppose this is his meaning, Let me tell my friends, lest haply they seek me as usual. And the Lord said, No man putting his hand on the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God. The East calls you, and you are looking toward the west. In this lesson we learn this, that the Lord chooses whom He will. But He chooses them, as the Apostle says, both according to His Own grace, and according to their righteousness. For such are the words of the Apostle; Attend, he says, to what Elias says: Lord, they have killed Your Prophets, they have overthrown Your altars, and I am left alone, and they seek my life. But what says the answer of God to him? I have reserved to Myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee before Baal. You think that you are the only servant who is working faithfully: there are others too who fear Me, and they not few. For I have seven thousand there. And then he added, Even so then at this present time also. For some Jews believed, though the most were reprobate; like him who carried holes for foxes in his heart. Even so then, says he, at this present time also, there is a remnant saved through the election of grace: that is, there is the same Christ even now, as then, who also then said to that Elias, I have reserved to Myself. What is, I have reserved to Myself? I have chosen them, because I saw their hearts that they trusted in Me, and not in themselves, nor in Baal. They are not changed, they are as they were made by Me. And you who are speaking, unless you had placed your trust in Me, where would you be? Unless you were replenished by My grace, would not you too be bowing the knee before Baal? But you are replenished by My grace; because you have not put your trust at all in your own strength, but wholly in My grace. Do not therefore glory in this, as to suppose you have no fellow-servants in your service; there are others whom I have chosen, as I have chosen you, those, namely, who put their trust in Me; as the Apostle says, Even now also a remnant is saved through the election of grace.

4. Beware, O Christian, beware of pride. For though you are a follower of the saints, ascribe it always wholly to grace; for that there should be any remnant in you, the grace of God has brought to pass, not your own deserts. For the Prophet Isaiah again having this remnant in view, had said already, Except the Lord of Hosts had left us a seed, we should have become as Sodom, and should have been like Gomorrha. So then, says the Apostle, at this present time also a remnant is saved through the election of grace. But if by grace, says he, then is it no more of works (that is, be now no more lifted up upon your own deserts); otherwise grace is no more grace. For if you build on your own work; then is a reward rendered unto you, not grace freely bestowed. But if it be grace, it is gratuitously given. I ask you then, O sinner, Do you believe in Christ? You say, I do believe. What do you believe? That all your sins may be forgiven you freely through Him? Then have you what you have believed. O grace gratuitously given! And you, righteous man, what do you believe, that you can not keep your righteousness without God? That you are righteous then, impute it wholly to His mercy; but that you are a sinner, ascribe it to your own iniquity. Be your own accuser, and He will be your gracious Deliverer. For every crime, wickedness, or sin comes of our own negligence, and all virtue and holiness come of God's gracious goodness. Let us turn to the Lord.

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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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