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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 75

Sermon 75 on the New Testament

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[CXXV. Ben.]

Again in John 5:2 , etc., on the five porches, where lay a great multitude of impotent folk, and of the pool of Siloa.

1. Subjects strange neither to your ears nor hearts are now repeated: yet do they revive the affections of the hearer, and by repetition in some sort renew us: nor is it wearisome to hear what is well known already, for the words of the Lord are always sweet. The exposition of the sacred Scriptures is as the sacred Scriptures themselves: though they be well known, yet are they read to impress the remembrance of them. And so the exposition of them, though it be well known, is nevertheless to be repeated, that they who have forgotten it may be reminded, or they who chanced not to hear it may hear; and that with those who do retain what they are used to hear, it may by the repetition be brought to pass that they shall not be able to forget it. For I remember that I have already spoken to you, Beloved, on this lesson of the Gospel. Yet to repeat the same explanation to you is not wearisome, even as it was not wearisome to repeat the same Lesson to you. The Apostle Paul says in a certain Epistle, To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not wearisome, but for you it is necessary. So too with myself to say the same things to you, to me is not wearisome, but for you it is safe.

2. The five porches in which the infirm folk lay signify the Law, which was first given to the Jews and to the people of Israel by Moses the servant of God. For this Moses the minister of the Law wrote five books. In relation therefore to the number of the books which he wrote, the five porches figured the Law. But because the Law was not given to heal the infirm, but to discover and to manifest them; for so says the Apostle, For if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the Law; But the Scripture has concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe; therefore in those porches the sick folk lay, but were not cured. For what says he? If there had been a law given which could have given life. Therefore those porches which figured the Law could not cure the sick. Some one will say to me, Why then was it given? The Apostle Paul has himself explained: Scripture, says he, has concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. For these folk who were sick, thought themselves to be whole. They received the Law, which they were not able to fulfil; they learned in what disease they were, and they implored the Physician's aid; they wished to be cured because they came to know they were in distress, which they would not have known if they had not been unable to fulfil the Law which had been given. For man thought himself innocent, and from this very pride of false innocence became more mad. To tame this pride then and to lay it bare, the Law was given; not to deliver the sick, but to convince the proud. Attend then, Beloved; to this end was the Law given, to discover diseases, not to take them away. And so then those sick folk who might have been sick in their own houses with greater privacy, if those five porches had not existed, were in those porches set forth to the eyes of all men, but were not by the porches cured. The Law therefore was useful to discover sins, because that man being made more abundantly guilty by the transgression of the Law, might, having tamed his pride, implore the help of Him That pities. Attend to the Apostle; The Law entered that sin might abound; but where sin abounded, grace has much more abounded. What is, The Law entered that sin might abound? As in another place he says, For where there is no law, there is no transgression. Man may be called a sinner before the Law, a transgressor he cannot. But when he has sinned, after that he has received the Law, he is found not only a sinner, but a transgressor. Forasmuch then as to sin is added transgression, therefore has sin abounded. And when sin abounds, human pride learns at length to submit itself, and to confess to God, and to say I am weak. To say to those words of the Psalm which none but the humbled soul says, I said, Lord, be merciful unto me; heal my soul, for I have sinned against you. Let the weak soul then say this that is at least convinced by transgression, and not cured, but manifested by the Law. Hear too Paul himself showing you, both that the Law is good, and yet that nothing but the grace of Christ delivers from sin. For the Law can prohibit and command; apply the medicine, that that which does not allow a man to fulfil the Law, may be cured, it cannot, but grace only does that. For the Apostle says, For I delight in the Law of God after the inner man. That is, I see now that what the Law blames is evil, and what the Law commands is good. For I delight in the Law of God after the inner man. I see another law in my members resisting the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity in the law of sin. This derived from the punishment of sin, from the propagation of death, from the condemnation of Adam, resists the law of the mind, and brings it into captivity in the law of sin which is in the members. He was convinced; he received the Law, that he might be convinced: see now what profit it was to him that he was convinced. Hear the following words, Wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? The grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

3. Give heed then. Those five porches were significative of the Law, bearing the sick, not healing them; discovering, not curing them. But who did cure the sick? He that descended into the pool. And when did the sick man descend into the pool? When the Angel gave the sign by the moving of the water. For thus was that pool sanctified, for that the Angel came down and moved the water. Men saw the water; and from the motion of the troubled water they understood the presence of the Angel. If any one then went down, he was cured. Why then was not that sick man cured? Let us consider his own words; I have no man, he says, when the water is moved, to put me into the pool, but while I am coming, another steps down. Could not you then step down afterwards, if another step down before you? Here it is shown us, that only one was cured at the moving of the water. Whosoever stepped down first, he alone was cured: but whoever stepped down afterwards, at that moving of the water was not cured, but waited till it was moved again. What then does this mystery mean? For it is not without a meaning. Attend, Beloved. Waters are put in the Apocalypse for a figure of peoples. For when in the Apocalypse John saw many waters, he asked what it meant, and it was told him that they were peoples. The water then of the pool signified the people of the Jews. For as that people was held in by the five books of Moses in the Law, so that water too was enclosed by five porches. When was the water troubled? When the people of the Jews was troubled. And when was the people of the Jews troubled, but when the Lord Jesus Christ came? The Lord's Passion was the troubling of the water. For the Jews were troubled when the Lord suffered. See, what was just now read had relation to this troubling. The Jews wished to kill Him, not only because He did these things on the sabbaths, but because He called Himself the Son of God, making Himself equal with God. For Christ called Himself the Son after one manner, in another was it said to men, I said, You are Gods, and you are all children of the Most High. For if He had made Himself the Son of God in such sort as any man whatever may be called the son of God (for by the grace of God men are called sons of God); the Jews would not have been enraged. But because they understand Him to call Himself the Son of God in another way, according to that, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; and according to what the Apostle says, Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; they saw a man, and they were enraged, because He made Himself equal with God. But He well knew that He was equal, but wherein they saw not. For that which they saw they wished to crucify; by That which they saw not, they were judged. What did the Jews see? What the Apostles also saw, when Philip said, Show us the Father, and it suffices us. But what did the Jews not see? What not even the Apostles saw, when the Lord answered, Have I been so long time with you, and yet have ye not known Me? He that sees Me, sees the Father also. Because then the Jews were not able to see This in Him, they held Him for a proud and ungodly man, making Himself equal with God. Here was a troubling, the water was troubled, the Angel had come. For the Lord is called also the Angel of the Great Counsel, in that He is the messenger of the Father's will. For Angel in Greek is in Latin messenger. So you have the Lord saying that He announces to us the kingdom of Heaven. He then had come, the Angel of the Great Counsel, but the Lord of all the Angels. Angel on this account, because He took Flesh; the Lord of Angels, in that by Him all things were made, and without Him was nothing made. For if all things, Angels too. And therefore Himself was not made, because by Him all things were made. Now what was made, was not made without the operation of the Word. But the flesh which became the mother of Christ, could not have been born, if it had not been created by the Word, which was afterwards born of it.

4. The Jews then were troubled. What is this? Why does He these things on the sabbath days? And especially at those words of the Lord, My Father works hitherto, and I work. Their carnal understanding of this, that God rested on the seventh day from all His works, troubled them. For this is written in Genesis, and most excellently written it is, and on the best reasons. But they thinking that God as it were rested from fatigue on the seventh day after all, and that He therefore blessed it, because on it He was refreshed from His weariness, did not in their foolishness understand, that He who made all things by the Word, could not be wearied. Let them read, and tell me how could God be wearied, who said, Let it be made, and it was made. Today if a man could so do, as God did, how would he be wearied? He said, Let there be light, and the light was made. Again, Let there be a firmament, and it was made: if indeed He said, and it was not done, He was wearied. In another place briefly, He spoke, and they were made; He commanded, and they were created. He then who works thus, how does He labour? But if He labour not, how does He rest? But in that sabbath, in which it is said that God rested from all His works, in the Rest of God our rest was signified; because the sabbath of this world shall be, when the six ages shall have passed away. The six days as it were of the world are passing away. One day has passed away, from Adam unto Noe; another from the deluge unto Abraham; the third from Abraham unto David; the fourth from David unto the carrying away into Babylon; the fifth from the carrying away into Babylon unto the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now the sixth day is in passing. We are in the sixth age, in the sixth day. Let us then be reformed after the image of God, because that on the sixth day man was made after the image of God. What formation did then, let reformation do in us, and what creation did there, let creating-anew do in us. After this day in which we now are, after this age, the rest which is promised to the saints and prefigured in those days, shall come. Because in very truth too, after all things which He made in the world, He has made nothing new in creation afterwards. The creatures themselves shall be transformed and changed. For since the creatures were fashioned, nothing more has been added. But nevertheless, if He who made did not rule the world, what is made would fall to ruin: He cannot but administer that which He has made. Because then nothing has been added to the creation, He is said to have rested from all His works; but because He does not cease to govern what He made, rightly did the Lord say, My Father works even hitherto. Attend, Beloved. He finished, He is said to have rested; for He finished His works, and has added no more. He governs what He has made; therefore He does not cease to work. But with the same facility that He made, with the same does He govern. For do not suppose, brethren, that when He created He did not labour, and that He labours in that He governs: as in a ship, they labour who build the ship, and they who manage it labour too; for they are men. For with the same facility wherewith He spoke and they were made, with the same facility and judgment does He govern all things by the Word.

5. Let us not, because human affairs seem to be in disorder, fancy that there is no governance of human affairs. For all men are ordered in their proper places; but to every man it seems as though they have no order. Look only to what you would wish to be; for as you shall wish to be, the Master knows where to place you. Look at a painter. Before him are placed various colors, and he knows where to set each color on. Questionless the sinner has chosen to be the black color; does not then the Artist know where to place him? How many parts does the painter finish off with the color of black? How many ornaments does he make of it? With it he makes the hair, the beard, the eye-brows; he makes the face of white only. Look then to that which you would wish to be; take no care where He may order you who cannot err, He knows where to place you. For so we see it happen by the common laws of the world. Some man, for instance, has chosen to be a house-breaker: the law of the judge knows that he has acted contrary to the law: the law of the judge knows where to place him; and orders him most properly. He indeed has lived evilly; but not evilly has the law ordered him. From a house-breaker he will be sentenced to the mines; from the labour of such how great works are constructed? That condemned man's punishment is the city's ornament. So then God knows where to place you. Do not think that you are disturbing the counsel of God, if you are minded to be disorderly. Does not He who knew how to create, know how to order you? Good were it for you to strive for this, to be set in a good place. What was said of Judas by the Apostle? He went unto his own place. By the operation of course of Divine Providence, because by an evil will he chose to be evil, but God did not by ordering evil make it. But because that evil man himself chose to be a sinner, he did what he would, and suffered what he would not. In that he did what he would, his sin is discovered; in that he suffered what he would not, the order of God is praised.

6. Wherefore have I said all this? That ye, brethren, may understand what was most excellently said by the Lord Jesus Christ, My Father works even hitherto. In that He does not abandon the creature which He made. And He said, As He works, so do I also work. In this He at once signified that He was equal with God. My Father, says He, works hitherto, and I work. Their carnal sense touching the rest was troubled. For they thought that the Lord being wearied rested, that He should work no more. They hear, My Father works even hitherto: they are troubled. And I work: He has made Himself equal with God: they are troubled. But be not alarmed. The water is troubled, now the sick man is to be cured. What means this? Therefore are they troubled, that the Lord may suffer. The Lord does suffer, the precious Blood is shed, the sinner is redeemed, grace is given to the sinner, to him that says, Wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? The grace of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. But how is he cured? If he step down. For that pool was so made, that men should go down, and not come up to it. For there might be pools of such a kind, so constructed, that men must go up to them. But why was this made in such a way that men must go down to it? Because the Lord's Passion searches for the humble. Let the humble go down, let him not be proud, if he wishes to be cured. But why was it but one? Because the Church is only One throughout the world, unity is saved. When then one is made whole, unity is signified. By one understand unity. Depart not then from unity, if you would not be without a part in this saving cure.

7. What then does it mean that the man was in infirmity thirty-eight years? I know, brethren, that I have spoken of this already; but even those who read forget, how much more they who hear but seldom? Attend therefore for a little while, Beloved. In the number forty, the accomplishment of righteousness is figured. The accomplishment of righteousness, in that we live here in labour, in toil, in self-restraint, in fastings, in watchings, in tribulations; this is the exercise of righteousness, to bear this present time, and to fast as it were from this world; not from the food of the body, which we do but seldom; but from the love of the world, which we ought to do always. He then fulfils the law who abstains from this world. For he cannot love that which is eternal, unless he shall cease to love that which is temporal. Consider a man's love: think of it as, so to say, the hand of the soul. If it is holding anything, it cannot hold anything else. But that it may be able to hold what is given to it, it must leave go what it holds already. This I say, see how expressly I say it; Whoever loves the world cannot love God; he has his hand engaged. God says to him, Hold what I give. He will not leave go what he was holding; he cannot receive what is offered. Have I said a man should not possess ought? If he is able, if perfection require this of him, let him not possess. If hindered by any necessity he is not able, let him possess, not be possessed; let him hold, not be held; let him be the lord of his possessions, not the slave; as says the Apostle However, brethren, the time is short; it remains that both they that have wives, be as though they had not; and they who buy, as though they possessed not; and they who rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they who weep, as though they wept not; and they who use this world, as though they used it not; for the fashion of this world passes away. I would have you be without carefulness. What is, Do not love what you possess in this world? Let it not hold your hand fast, by which God must be held. Let not your love be engaged, whereby you can make your way to God, and cleave to Him who created you.

8. You will say and make answer to me, Yea, God knows that I possess innocently what I have. Temptation proves you. There is a troubling of your possessions, and you blaspheme. It is but lately we were in such a case. There is a troubling of your possessions, and you are not found what you were, and dost show that there is one thing in your mouth today, and another in your mouth yesterday. And I would that you would only defend your own even with vehemence; and not try to usurp with audacity another's; and what is worse, to escape reprehension, maintain that what is another's is your own. But why need I say more? This I advise, this I say, Brethren, and as a brother advise; God bids, and I admonish because I am admonished. He alarms me, who does not allow me to keep silence. He exacts of me what He has given. For He has given it to be laid out, not to be kept up. And if I should keep it and hide it, He says to me, Thou wicked and slothful servant, why did you give not My money to the exchangers, that at My coming I might require it with usury? And what will it profit me that I have lost nothing of that which I received? That is not enough for my Lord, He is covetous; but God's covetousness is our salvation. He is covetous, He looks for His own money, He gathers in His Own image. You should have given, says He, the money to the exchangers, that at My coming I might require it with usury. And if by any chance forgetfulness should make me fail of admonishing you, the temptations and tribulations at least which we are suffering, would be an admonition to you. You have heard at least the word of God. Blessed be the Lord and His glory. For you are here gathered together, and are hanging on the word of God's minister. Turn not your attention to our flesh, by which the word is given out to you; for hungry men regard not the meanness of the dish, but the preciousness of the food. God is proving you. You are gathered together, you praise the word of God; temptation will prove in what manner ye hear it: ye will have the active business of life whereby your true character will be shown. For so he who today is shouting with railings, was yesterday a ready listener. Therefore I forewarn; therefore I tell you, therefore I do not withhold it, my Brethren, that the time of questioning will come. For the Lord makes question of the righteous and of the ungodly. This you know you have sung, this have we sung together; The Lord makes question of the righteous and the ungodly. And what follows? But he that loves iniquity, hates his own soul. And in another place, Into the thoughts of the ungodly there shall be questioning made. God does not make question of you there, where I question you. I question your tongue, God questions your thoughts. For He knows how you hear, and He knows how to require, Who orders me to give. He has wished me to be a dispenser, the requiring He has reserved to Himself. To admonish, to teach, to rebuke, is ours; but to save, and to crown, or to condemn, and to cast into hell, is not ours; But the Judge shall deliver to the officer, and the officer to the prison. Verily I say unto you, you shall not go out thence, till you pay the last farthing.

9. Let us then return to our subject. The perfection of righteousness is shown by the number forty. What is it to fulfil the number forty? To restrain one's self from the love of this world. Restraint from temporal things, that they be not loved to our destruction, is, as it were, fasting from this world. Therefore the Lord fasted forty days, and Moses, and Elias. He then who gave His servants the power to fast forty days, could He not fast eighty or a hundred? Why then did He not will to fast more than He had given His servants to do, but because in this number forty is the mystery of fasting, the restraint from this world? What is this to say? What the Apostle says; The world is crucified to me, and I to the world. He then fulfils the number forty. And what does the Lord show? That because Moses did this, this Elias, this Christ, that this both the Law, and the Prophets, and the Gospel, teach; that you may not think that there is one thing in the Law, another in the Prophets, another in the Gospel. All Scripture teaches you nothing else, but restraint from the love of the world, that your love may speed on to God. As a figure that the Law teaches this, Moses fasted forty days. As a figure that the Prophets teach it, Elias fasted forty days. As a figure that the Gospel teaches it, the Lord fasted forty days. And therefore in the mount too these three appeared, the Lord in the middle, Moses and Elias at the sides. Wherefore? Because the Gospel itself receives testimony from the Law and the Prophets. But why in the number forty is the perfection of righteousness? In the Psalter it is said, O God, I will sing a new song unto You, upon a psaltery of ten strings will I sing praises unto You. Which signifies the ten precepts of the Law, which the Lord came not to destroy, but to fulfil. And the Law itself throughout the whole world, it is evident, has four quarters, the East, and West, South, and North, as the Scripture says. And hence the vessel which bare all the emblematic animals, which was exhibited to Peter, when he was told, Kill and eat, that it might be shown that the Gentiles should believe and enter into the body of the Church, just as what we eat enters into our body, and which was let down from heaven by four corners (these are the four quarters of the world), showed that the whole world should believe. Therefore in the number forty is restraint from the world. This is the fulfilling of the Law: now the fulfilling of the Law is charity. And therefore before the Pasch we fast forty days. For this time before the Pasch is the sign of this our toilsome life, wherein, in toils, and cares, and continence, we fulfil the Law. But afterwards we celebrate the Pasch, that is, the days of the Lord's resurrection signifying our own resurrection. Therefore fifty days are celebrated; because the reward of the denarius is added to the forty, and it becomes fifty. Why is the reward a denarius? Have ye not read, how that they who were hired into the vineyard, whether at the first, or sixth, or the last hour, could only receive the denarius? When to our righteousness shall be added its reward, we shall be in the number fifty. Yea, and then shall we have none other occupation, save to praise God. And therefore throughout those days we say, Hallelujah. For Halleluiah is the praise of God. In this frail estate of mortality, in this fortieth number here, as though before the resurrection, let us groan in prayers, that we may sing praises then. Now is the time of longing, then will be the time of embracing and enjoying. Let us not faint in the time of forty, that we may joy in the time of fifty.

10. Now who is he that fulfills the Law, but he that has charity? Ask the Apostle, Charity is the fulfilling of the Law. For all the Law is fulfilled in one word, in that which is written, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. But the commandment of charity is twofold; You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great commandment. The other is like it; You shall love your neighbour as yourself. They are the words of the Lord in the Gospel: On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. Without this twofold love the Law cannot be fulfilled. As long as the Law is not fulfilled, there is infirmity. Therefore he had two short, who was infirm thirty and eight years. What means, had two short? He did not fulfil these two commandments. What does it profit that the rest is fulfilled, if those are not fulfilled? Have you thirty-eight? If you have not those two, the rest will profit you nothing. You have two short, without which the rest avail not, if you have not the two commandments which conduct unto salvation. If I speak with the tongues of men and angels, and have not charity, I have become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And if I know all mysteries, and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And if I distribute all my substance, and if I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profits me nothing. They are the Apostle's words. All those things therefore which he mentioned are as it were the thirty-eight years; but because charity was not there, there was infirmity. From that infirmity who then shall make whole, but He who came to give charity? A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another. And because He came to give charity, and charity fulfills the Law, with good reason said He, I came not to destroy the Law, but to fulfil. He cured the sick man, and told him to carry his couch, and go unto his house. And so too He said to the sick of the palsy whom He cured. What is it to carry our couch? The pleasure of our flesh. Where we lie in infirmity, is as it were our bed. But they who are cured master and carry it, are not by this flesh mastered. So then, you whole one, master the frailness of your flesh, that in the sign of the forty days' fast from this world, you may fulfill the number forty, for that He has made that sick man whole, Who came not to destroy the Law, but to fulfil.

11. Having heard this, direct your heart to Godward. Do not deceive yourselves. Ask yourselves then when it is well with you in the world; then ask yourselves, whether ye love the world, or whether ye love it not; learn to let it go before you are let go yourselves. What is to let it go? Not heartily to love it. Whilst there is yet something with you which you must one day lose, and either in life or death let it go, it cannot be with you always; while I say it is yet with you, loosen your love; be prepared for the will of God, hang upon God. Hold you fast to Him, whom you can not lose against your will, that if it chance you to lose these temporal things, you may say, The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away, as it has pleased the Lord, so is it done, blessed be the Name of the Lord. But if it chance, and God so wills it, that the things you have be with you even to the last: for your detachment from this life you receive the denarius, the fifty, and the perfection of blessedness comes to pass in you, when you shall sing Hallelujah. Having these things which I have now brought forward in your memory, may they avail to overthrowing your love of the world. Evil is its friendship, deceitful, it makes a man the enemy of God. Soon, in one single temptation, a man offends God, and becomes His enemy. Nay not then becomes His enemy; but is then discovered to have been His enemy. For when he was loving and praising Him, he was an enemy; but he neither knew it himself, nor did others. Temptation came, the pulse is touched, and the fever discovered. So then brethren, the love of the world, and the friendship of the world, make men the enemies of God. And it does not make good what it promises, it is a liar, and deceives. Therefore men never cease hoping in this world, and who attains to all he hopes for? But whereunto soever he attains, what he has attained to is immediately disesteemed by him. Other things begin to be desired, other fond things are hoped for; and when they come, whatsoever it is that comes to you, is disesteemed. Hold you fast then to God, for He can never be of light esteem, for nothing is more beautiful than He. For for this cause are these things disesteemed, because they cannot stand, because they are not what He is. For nought, O soul, suffices you, save He who created you. Whatsoever else you apprehend is wretched; for He Alone can suffice you who made you after His Own likeness. Thus it was expressly said, Lord, show us the Father, and it suffices us. There only can there be security; and where security can be, there in a certain sort will be insatiable satiety. For you will neither be so satiated, as to wish to depart; nor will anything be wanting, as though you could suffer want.

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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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