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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 79

Sermon 79 on the New Testament

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[CXXIX. Ben.]

On the words of the Gospel, John 5:39 , You search the Scriptures, because ye think that in them you have eternal life, etc. Against the Donatists.

1. Give heed, Beloved, to the lesson of the Gospel which has just sounded in our ears, while I speak a few words as God shall vouchsafe to me. The Lord Jesus was speaking to the Jews, and said to them, Search the Scriptures, in which you think you have eternal life, they testify of me. Then a little after He said, I have come in My Father's Name, and you have not received Me; if another shall come in his own name, him you will receive. Then a little after; How can you believe, who look for glory one from another, and seek not the glory which is of God only? At last He says, I do not accuse you to the Father; there is one that accuses you, Moses, in whom you trust. For had ye believed Moses, you would haply believe Me also, for he wrote of Me. But seeing ye believe not his words, how can you believe Me? At these sayings which have been set before us from divine inspiration, out of the reader's mouth, but by the Saviour's ministry, give ear to a few words, not to be estimated by their number, but to be duly weighed.

2. For all these things it is easy to understand as touching the Jews. But we must beware, lest, when we give too much attention to them, we withdraw our eyes from ourselves. For the Lord was speaking to His disciples; and assuredly what He spoke to them, He spoke to us too their posterity. Nor to them only does what He said, Lo, I am with you always even unto the end of the world, apply, but even to all Christians that should be after them, and succeed them even unto the end of the world. Speaking then to them He said, Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. They at that time thought that the Lord had said this, because they had brought no bread; they did not understand that Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees meant, beware of the doctrine of the Pharisees. What was the doctrine of the Pharisees, but that which you have now heard? Seeking glory one of another, looking for glory one from another, and not seeking the glory which is of God only. Of these the Apostle Paul thus speaks; I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. They have, he says, a zeal of God; I know it, I am sure of it; I was once among them, I was such as they. They have, he says, a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. What is this, O Apostle, not according to knowledge? Explain to us what the knowledge is you set forth, which you grieve is not in them, and would should be in us? He went on and subjoined and developed what he had set forth closed. What is, They have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge? For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and wishing to establish their own, have not submitted themselves into the righteousness of God. To be ignorant then of God's righteousness, and to wish to establish one's own, this is to look for glory one from another, and not to seek the glory which is of God only. This is the leaven of the Pharisees. Of this the Lord bids beware. If it is servants that He bids, and the Lord that bids, let us beware; lest we hear, Why say ye to Me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?

3. Let us then leave a while the Jews to whom the Lord was then speaking. They are without, they will not listen to us, they hate the Gospel itself, they procured false witness against the Lord, that they might condemn Him when alive; other witness they bought with money against Him when dead. When we say to them, Believe in Jesus, they answer us, Are we to believe in a dead man? But when we add, But He rose again; they answer, Not at all; His disciples stole Him away from the sepulchre. The Jewish buyers love falsehood and despise the truth of the Lord, the Redeemer. What you are saying, O Jew, your parents bought for money; and this which they bought has continued in you. Give heed rather to Him That bought you, not to him who bought a lie for you.

4. But as I have said, let us leave these, and attend rather to these our brethren, with whom we have to do. For Christ is the Head of the Body. The Head is in Heaven, the Body is on earth; the Head is the Lord, the Body His Church. But ye remember it is said, They shall be two in one flesh. This is a great mystery, says the Apostle, but I speak in Christ and in the Church. If then they are two in one flesh, they are two in one voice. Our Head the Lord Christ spoke to the Jews these things which we heard, when the Gospel was being read, The Head to His enemies; let the Body too, that is, the Church, speak to its enemies. You know to whom it should speak. What has it to say? It is not of myself that I have said, that the voice is one; because the flesh is one, the voice is one. Let us then say this to them; I am speaking with the voice of the Church. O Brethren, dispersed children, wandering sheep, branches cut off, why do ye calumniate me? Why do ye not acknowledge me? Search the Scriptures, in which you think you have eternal life, they testify of me; to the Jews our Head says, what the Body says to you; You shall seek me, and shall not find me. Why? Because ye do not search the Scriptures, which testify of me.

5. A testimony for the Head; To Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He says not, And to seeds, as of many, but as of one, And to your seed, which is Christ. A testimony for the body unto Abraham, which the Apostle has brought forward. To Abraham were the promises made. As I live, says the Lord, I swear by Myself, because you have obeyed My Voice, and hast not spared your own beloved son for Me, that in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand of the sea, and in your seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed. You have here a testimony for the Head, and one for the Body. Hear another, short, and almost in one sentence including a testimony for the Head and for the Body. The Psalm was speaking of the Resurrection of Christ; Be Thou exalted, O God, above the heavens. And immediately for the Body; And Your glory above all the earth. Hear a testimony for the Head; They dug My Hands and My Feet, they numbered all My Bones; and they looked and stared upon Me; they divided My garments among them, and cast lots upon My vesture. Hear immediately a testimony for the Body, a few words after, All the ends of the world shall remember themselves and be turned unto the Lord, and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship in His sight; for the kingdom is the Lord's, and He shall have dominion over the nations. Hear for the Head; And He is as a bridegroom coming forth out of His bride-chamber. And in this same Psalm hear for the Body; Their sound went out into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.

6. These passages are for the Jews, and for these of our own brethren. Why so? Because these Scriptures of the Old Testament both the Jews receive, and these our brethren receive. But Christ Himself, whom the others do not receive, let us see if these last receive. Let Him speak Himself, speak both for Himself who is the Head, and for His Body which is the Church; for so in us the head speaks for the body. Hear for the Head; He was risen from the dead, He found the disciples hesitating, doubting, not believing for joy; He opened their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures, and said to them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead the third day. Thus for the Head; let Him speak for the Body too; And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His Name throughout all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. Let the Church then speak to her enemies, let her speak. She does speak clearly, she is not silent: only let them give ear. Brethren, you have heard the testimonies, now acknowledge me. Search the Scriptures, in which you hope you have eternal life: they testify of me. What I have said is not of my own, but of my Lord's; and notwithstanding, you still turn away, still turn your backs. How can you believe me, who look for glory one from another, and seek not the glory which is of God only? For being ignorant of God's righteousness, you have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For being ignorant of God's righteousness, and wishing to establish your own, you have not submitted yourselves to the righteousness of God. What else is it to be ignorant of God's righteousness, and to wish to establish your own, but to say, It is I who sanctify, it is I who justify; what I may have given is holy? Leave to God what is God's; recognise, O man, what is man's. You are ignorant of God's righteousness, and wishest to establish your own. You wish to justify me; it is enough for you that you be justified with me.

7. It is said of Antichrist, and all understand of him what the Lord said, I have come in My Father's Name, and you have not received Me; if another shall come in his own name, him you will receive. But let us hear John too; You have heard that Antichrist comes, and even now are there many Antichrists. What is it in Antichrist that we are in horror of, but that he is to honour his own name, and to despise the Name of the Lord? What else does he that says, It is I that justify? We answer him, I came to Christ, not with my feet, but with my heart I came; where I heard the Gospel, there did I believe, there was I baptized; because I believed on Christ, I believed on God. Yet says he, You are not clean. Why? Because I was not there. Tell me why am not I cleansed, a man who was baptized in Jerusalem, who was baptized, for instance, among the Ephesians, to whom an Epistle you read was written, and whose peace you despise? Lo, to the Ephesians the Apostle wrote; a Church was founded, and remains even to this day; yea, remains in greater fruitfulness, remains in greater numbers, holds fast that which it received of the Apostle, 'If any man preach ought to you than that you have received, let him be accursed.' What now? What do you say to me? Am I not clean? There was I baptized, am I not clean? No, even you are not. Why? Because I was not there. But He who is everywhere was there. He who is everywhere was there, in whose Name I believed. Thou coming I know not whence, yea, rather not coming, but wishing that I should come to you, fixed in this place, sayest to me, 'You were not baptized duly, seeing I was not there.' Consider who was there. What was said to John? 'Upon whom you shall see the Spirit descending like a dove, this is He which baptizes.' Him have you seeking for you; nay, for that you have grudged me who was baptized by Him, you have lost Him rather.

8. Understand then, my Brethren, our language and theirs, and look which you would choose. This is what we say; Be we holy, God knows it; be we unrighteous, this again He knows better; place not your hope in us, whatsoever we be. If we be good, do as is written, 'Be imitators of me, as I also am of Christ.' But if we be bad, not even thus are you abandoned, not even thus have ye remained without counsel: give ear to Him, saying, 'Do what they say; but do not what they do.' Whereas they on the contrary say, If we were not good, you were lost. Lo, here is another that shall come in his own name. Shall my life then depend on you, and my salvation be tied up in you? Have I so forgotten my foundation? Was not Christ the Rock? Is it not that he that builds upon the rock, neither the wind nor the floods overthrow him? Come then, if you will, with me upon the Rock, and do not wish to be to me for the rock.

9. Let the Church then say those last words also, If you had believed Moses, you would believe me also; for he wrote of me; for that I am His body of whom he wrote. And of the Church did Moses write. For I have quoted the words of Moses In your seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed. Moses wrote this in the first book. If you believed Moses, you would also believe Christ. Because ye despise Moses' words, it must needs be that you despise the words of Christ. They have there, says He, Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them. Nay, father Abraham, but if one went unto them from the dead, him they will hear. And He said, If they hear not Moses and the Prophets, neither will they believe, if one rise again from the dead. This was said of the Jews: was it therefore not said of heretics? He had risen from the dead, who said, It behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead the third day. This I believe. I believe it, he says. Do you believe? Wherefore do you not believe what follows? In that you believe, It behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead the third day; this was spoken of the Head; believe also that which follows concerning the Church, That repentance and remission of sins should be preached throughout all nations. Wherefore do you believe as touching the Head, and believest not as touching the Body? What has the Church done to you, that you would so to say behead her? You would take away the Church's Head, and believe the Head, leave the Body as it were a lifeless trunk. It is all to no purpose that you caress the Head, like any devoted servant. He that would take off the head, does his best to kill both the head and the body. They are ashamed to deny Christ, yet are they not ashamed to deny Christ's words. Christ neither we nor you have seen with our eyes. The Jews saw, and slew Him. We have not seen Him, and believe; His words are with us. Compare yourselves with the Jews: they despised Him hanging upon the Tree, you despise Him sitting in heaven; at their suggestion Christ's title was set up, by your setting yourselves up, Christ's Baptism is effaced. But what remains, Brethren, but that we pray even for the proud, that we pray even for the puffed up, who so extol themselves? Let us say to God on their behalf, Let them know that the Lord is Your Name; and not that men, but Thou Only art the Most High over all the earth. 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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