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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 85

Tractate 85 (John 15:14-15)

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1. When the Lord Jesus had commended the love which He manifested toward us in dying for us, and had said, Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends, He added, You are my friends, if you do whatsoever I command you. What great condescension! When one cannot even be a good servant unless he do his lord's commandments; the very means, which only prove men to be good servants, He wished to be those whereby His friends should be known. But the condescension, as I have termed it, is this, that the Lord condescends to call those His friends whom He knows to be His servants. For, to let us know that it is the duty of servants to yield obedience to their master's commands, He actually in another place reproaches those who are servants, by saying, And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say? Luke 6:46 Accordingly, when you say Lord, prove what you say by doing my commandments. Is it not to the obedient servant that He is yet one day to say, Well done, good servant; because you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things: enter into the joy of your Lord? Matthew 25:21 One, therefore, who is a good servant, can be both servant and friend.

2. But let us mark what follows. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knows not what his lord does. How, then are we to understand the good servant to be both servant and friend, when He says, Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knows not what his lord does? He introduces the name of friend in such a way as to withdraw that of servant; not as if to include both in the one term, but in order that the one should succeed to the place vacated by the other. What does it mean? Is it this, that even in doing the Lord's commandments we shall not be servants? Or this, that then we shall cease to be servants, when we have been good servants? And yet who can contradict the Truth, when He says, Henceforth I call you not servants? and shows why He said so: For the servant, He adds, knows not what his lord does. Is it that a good and tried servant is not likewise entrusted by his master with his secrets? What does He mean, then, by saying, The servant knows not what his lord does? Be it that he knows not what he does, is he ignorant also of what he commands? For if he were so, how can he serve? Or how is he a servant who does no service? And yet the Lord speaks thus: You are my friends, if you do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants. Truly a marvellous statement! Seeing we cannot serve the Lord but by doing His commandments, how is it that in doing so we shall cease to be servants? If I be not a servant in doing His commandments, and yet cannot be in His service unless I so do, then, in my very service, I am no longer a servant.

3. Let us, brethren, let us understand, and may the Lord enable us to understand, and enable us also to do what we understand. And if we know this, we know of a truth what the Lord does; for it is only the Lord that so enables us, and by such means only do we attain to His friendship. For just as there are two kinds of fear, which produce two classes of fearers; so there are two kinds of service, which produce two classes of servants. There is a fear, which perfect love casts out; 1 John 4:18 and there is another fear, which is clean, and endures forever. The fear that lies not in love, the apostle pointed to when he said, For you have not received the spirit of service again to fear. Romans 8:15 But he referred to the clean fear when he said, Be not high-minded, but fear. Romans 11:20 In that fear which love casts out, there has also to be cast out the service along with it: for both were joined together by the apostle, that is, the service and the fear, when he said, For you have not received the spirit of service again to fear. And it was the servant connected with this kind of service that the Lord also had in His eye when He said, Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knows not what his lord does. Certainly not the servant characterized by the clean fear, to whom it is said, Well done, good servant: enter into the joy of your lord; but the servant who is characterized by the fear which love casts out, of whom He elsewhere says, The servant abides not in the house for ever, but the Son abides ever. Since, therefore, He has given us power to become the sons of God, let us not be servants, but sons: that, in some wonderful and indescribable but real way, we may as servants have the power not to be servants; servants, indeed, with that clean fear which distinguishes the servant that enters into the joy of his lord, but not servants with the fear that has to be cast out, and which marks him that abides not in the house forever. But let us bear in mind that it is the Lord that enables us to serve so as not to be servants. And this it is that is unknown to the servant, who knows not what his Lord does; and who, when he does any good thing, is lifted up as if he did it himself, and not his Lord; and so, glories not in the Lord, but in himself, thereby deceiving himself, because glorying, as if he had not received. 1 Corinthians 4:7 But let us, beloved, in order that we may be the friends of the Lord, know what our Lord does. For it is He who makes us not only men, but also righteous, and not we ourselves. And who but He is the doer, in leading us to such a knowledge? For we have received not the spirit of this world, but the Spirit which is of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 1 Corinthians 2:12 Whatever good there is, is freely given by Him. And so because this also is good, by Him who graciously imparts all good is this gift of knowing likewise bestowed; that, in respect of all good things whatever, he that glories may glory in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 1:31 But the words that follow, But I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you, are so profound, that we must by no means compress them within the limits of the present discourse, but leave them over till another.

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Source. Translated by John Gibb. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 7. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <>.

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