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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 56

Sermon 56 on the New Testament

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[CVI. Ben.]

On the words of the Gospel, Luke 11:39 , Now do ye Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and the platter, etc.

1. You have heard the holy Gospel, how the Lord Jesus in that which He said to the Pharisees, conveyed doubtless a lesson to His own disciples, that they should not think that righteousness consists in the cleansing of the body. For every day did the Pharisees wash themselves in water before they dined; as if a daily washing could be a cleansing of the heart. Then He showed what sort of persons they were. He told them who saw them; for He saw not their faces only but their inward parts. For that you may know this, that Pharisee, to whom Christ made answer, thought within himself, he uttered nothing aloud, yet the Lord heard him. For within himself he blamed the Lord Christ, because He had so come to his feast without having washed. He was thinking, the Lord heard, therefore He answered. What then did He answer? Now do ye Pharisees wash the outside of the platter; but within you are full of guile and ravening. What! Is this to come to a feast! How did He not spare the man by whom He had been invited? Yea rather by rebuking He did spare him, that being reformed He might spare him in the judgment. And what is it that He shows to us? That Baptism also which is conferred once for all, cleanses by faith. Now faith is within, not without. Wherefore it is said and read in the Acts of the Apostles, Cleansing their hearts by faith. And the Apostle Peter thus speaks in his Epistle; So too has He given you a similitude from Noah's ark, how that eight souls were saved by water. And then he added, So also in a like figure will baptism save us, not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience. This answer of a good conscience did the Pharisees despise, and washed that which was without; within they continued full of pollution.

2. And what did He say to them after this? But rather give alms, and behold all things are clean unto you. See the praise of alms, do, and prove it. But mark awhile; this was said to the Pharisees. These Pharisees were Jews, the choice men as it were of the Jews. For those of most consideration and learning were then called Pharisees. They had not been washed by Christ's Baptism; they had not yet believed on Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God, who walked among them, yet was not acknowledged by them. How then does He say to them, Give alms, and behold all things are clean unto you? If the Pharisees had paid heed to Him, and given alms, at once according to His word all things would have been clean to them; what need then was there for them to believe in Him? But if they could not be cleansed, except by believing on Him, who cleanses the heart by faith; what means, Give alms, and behold all things are clean unto you? Let us carefully consider this, and perhaps He Himself explains it.

3. When He had spoken thus, doubtless they thought that they did give alms. And how did they give them? They tithed all they had, they took away a tenth of all their produce, and gave it. It is no easy matter to find a Christian who does as much. See what the Jews did. Not wheat only, but wine, and oil; nor this only, but even the most trifling things, cummin, rue, mint, and anise, in obedience to God's precept, they tithed all; put aside, that is, a tenth part, and gave alms of it. I suppose then that they recalled this to mind, and thought that the Lord Christ was speaking to no purpose, as if to those who did not give alms; whereas they knew their own doings, how that they tithed, and gave alms of the minutest and most trifling of their produce. They mocked Him within themselves as He spoke thus, as if to men who did not give alms. The Lord knowing this, immediately subjoined, But woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, who tithe mint, and cummin, and rue, and all herbs. That ye may know, I am aware of your alms. Doubtless these tithes are your alms; yea even the minutest and most trifling of your fruits do ye tithe; Yet ye leave the weightier matters of the law, judgment and charity. Mark. You have left judgment and charity, and you tithe herbs. This is not to do alms. These, says He, ought ye to do, and not to leave the other undone. Do what? Judgment and charity, justice and mercy; and not to leave the other undone. Do these; but give the preference to the others.

4. If this be so, why did He say to them, Do alms, and behold all things are clean unto you? What is, Do alms? Do mercy. What is, Do mercy? If you understand, begin with your own self. For how should you be merciful to another, if you are cruel to yourself? Give alms, and all things are clean unto you. Do true alms. What is alms? Mercy. Hear the Scripture; Have mercy on your own soul, pleasing God. Do alms, Have mercy on your own soul, pleasing God. Your own soul is a beggar before you, return to your conscience. Whosoever you are, who art living in wickedness or unbelief, return to your conscience; and there you find your soul in beggary, you find it needy, you find it poor, you find it in sorrow, nay perhaps you do not find it in need, but dumb through its neediness. For if it beg, it hungers after righteousness. Now when you find your soul in such a state (all this is within, in your heart), first do alms, give it bread. What bread? If the Pharisee had asked this question, the Lord would have said to him, Give alms to your own soul. For this He did say to him; but he did not understand it, when He enumerated to them the alms which they were used to do, and which they thought were unknown to Christ; and He says to them, I know that you do this, 'ye tithe mint and anise, cummin and rue;' but I am speaking of other alms; ye despise 'judgment and charity.' In judgment and charity give alms to your own soul. What is in judgment? Look back, and discover yourself; mislike yourself, pronounce a judgment against yourself. And what is charity? Love the Lord God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind; love your neighbour as yourself: and you have done alms first to your own soul, within your conscience. Whereas if you neglect this alms, give what you will, give how much you will; reserve of your goods not a tenth, but a half; give nine parts, and leave but one for your own self: you do nothing, when you do not alms to your own soul, and art poor in yourself. Let your soul have its food, that it perish not by famine. Give her bread. What bread, you will say? He speaks with you Himself. If you would hear, and understand, and believe the Lord, He would say to you Himself, I am the Living Bread which came down from heaven. Would you not first give this Bread to your own soul, and do alms unto it? If then you believe, you ought so to do, that you may first feed your own soul. Believe in Christ, and the things which are within shall be cleansed; and what is without shall be clean also. Let us turn 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. <>.

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