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Home > Fathers of the Church > Homilies on First John (Augustine) > Homily 9

Homily 9 on the First Epistle of John

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1 John 4:17-21

Herein is love made perfect in us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment. He that fears is not made perfect in love. Let us love Him, because He first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar: for he that loves not his brother whom he sees, how can he love God whom he sees not? And this commandment have we from Him, That he who loves God love his brother also.

1. You remember, beloved, that of the epistles of John the apostle the last past remains to be handled by us and expounded to you, as the Lord vouchsafes. Of this debt then we are mindful: and you ought to be mindful of your claim. For indeed this same charity, which in this epistle is chiefly and almost alone commended, at once makes us most faithful in paying our debts, and you most sweet in exacting your rights. I have said, most sweet in exacting, because where charity is not, he that exacts is bitter: but where charity is, both he that exacts is sweet, and he of whom it is exacted, although he undertakes some labor, yet charity makes the very labor to be almost no labor, and light. Do we not see how, even in dumb and irrational animals, where the love is not spiritual but carnal and natural, with great affection the mother yields herself to her young ones when they will have the milk which is their right: and however impetuously the suckling rushes at the teats, yet that is better for the mother than that it should not suck nor exact that which of love is due? Often we see great calves driving their heads at the cow's udders with a force that almost lifts up the mother's body, yet does she not kick them off; nay, if the young one be not there to suck, the lowing of the dam calls for it to come to the teats. If then there be in us that spiritual charity of which the apostle says, I became small in the midst of you even as a nurse cherishing her young ones; 1 Thessalonians 2:7 we love you the more when you are exacting. We like not the sluggish, because for the languid ones we are afraid. We have been obliged, however, to intermit the continuous reading of this epistle, because of certain stated lessons coming between, which must needs be read on their holy days, and the same preached upon. Let us now come back to the order which was interrupted; and what remains, holy brethren, receive ye with all attention. I know not whether charity could be more magnificently commended to us, than that it should be said, Charity is God. 1 John 4:16 Brief praise, yet mighty praise: brief in utterance, mighty in meaning! How soon is it said, Love is God! This also is short: if you count it, it is one: if you weigh it, how great is it! Love is God, and he that dwells, says he, in love, dwells in God, and God dwells in him. Let God be your house, and be a house of God; dwell in God, and let God dwell in you. God dwells in you, that He may hold you: you dwell in God, that you may not fall; for thus says the apostle of this same charity, Charity never falls. How should He fall whom God holds?

2. Herein is our love made perfect in us that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as He is, so are we in this world. 1 John 4:17 He tells how each may prove himself, what progress charity has made in him or rather what progress he has made in charity. For if charity is God, God is capable neither of proficiency nor of deficiency: that charity is said to be making proficiency in you, means only that you make proficiency in it. Ask therefore what proficiency you have made in charity, and what your heart will answer you, that you may know the measure of your profiting. For he has promised to show us in what we may know Him, and has said, In this is love made perfect in us. Ask, in what? That we have boldness in the day of judgment. Whoever has boldness in the day of judgment, in that man is charity made perfect. What is it to have boldness in the day of judgment? Not to fear lest the day of judgment should come. There are men who do not believe in a day of judgment; these cannot have boldness in a day which they do not believe will come. Let us pass these: may God awaken them, that they may live; why speak we of the dead? They do not believe that there will be a day of judgment; they neither fear nor desire what they do not believe. Some man has begun to believe in a day of judgment: if he has begun to believe, he has also begun to fear. But because he fears as yet, because he has not yet boldness in the day of judgment, not yet is charity in that man made perfect. But for all that, is one to despair? In whom you see the beginning, why do you despair of the end? What beginning do I see? (do you say.) That very fear. Hear the Scripture: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Well then, he has begun to fear the day of judgment: by fearing let him correct himself, let him watch against his enemies, i.e. his sins; let him begin to come to life again inwardly, and to mortify his members which are upon the earth, as the apostle says, Mortify your members which are upon the earth. Colossians 3:5 By the members upon earth he means spiritual wickedness: for he goes on to expound it, Covetousness, uncleanness, Ephesians 6:12 and the rest which he there follows out. Now in proportion as this man who has begun to fear the day of judgment, mortifies his members which are upon the earth, in that proportion the heavenly members rise up and are strengthened. But the heavenly members are all good works. As the heavenly members rise up, he begins to desire that which once he feared. Once he feared lest Christ should come and find in him the impious whom He must condemn; now he longs for Him to come, because He shall find the pious man whom He may crown. Having now begun to desire Christ's coming, the chaste soul which desires the embrace of the Bridegroom renounces the adulterer, becomes a virgin within by faith, hope, and charity. Now has the man boldness in the day of judgment: he fights not against himself when he prays, Your kingdom come. Matthew 6:10 For he that fears lest the kingdom of God should come, fears lest his prayer be heard. How can he be said to pray, who fears lest his prayer be heard? But he that prays with boldness of charity, wishes now that He may come. Of this same desire said one in the Psalm, And you, Lord, how long? Turn, Lord, and deliver my soul. He groaned at being so put off. For there are men who with patience submit to die; but there are some perfect who with patience endure to live. What do I mean? When a person still desires this life, that person, when the day of death comes, patiently endures death: he struggles against himself that he may follow the will of God, and in his mind desires that which God chooses, not what man's will chooses: from desire of the present life there comes a reluctance against death, but yet he takes to him patience and fortitude, that he may with an even mind meet death; he dies patiently. But when a man desires, as the apostle says, to be dissolved and to be with Christ, Philippians 1:23-24 that person, not patiently dies, but patiently lives, delightedly dies. See the apostle patiently living, i.e. how with patience he here, not loves life, but endures it. To be dissolved, says he, and to be with Christ, is far better: but to continue in the flesh is necessary for your sakes. Therefore, brethren, do your endeavor, settle it inwardly with yourselves to make this your concern, that you may desire the day of judgment. No otherwise is charity proved to be perfect, but only when one has begun to desire that day. But that man desires it, who has boldness in it, whose conscience feels no alarm in perfect and sincere charity.

3. In this is His love perfected in us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment. Why shall we have boldness? Because as He is are we also in this world. You have heard the ground of your boldness: Because as He is, says the apostle, are we also in this world. Does he not seem to have said something impossible? For is it possible for man to be as God? I have already expounded to you that as is not always said of equality, but is said of a certain resemblance. For how do you say, As I have ears, so has my image? Is it quite so? And yet you say so, as. If then we were made after God's image, why are we not so as God? Not unto equality, but relatively to our measure. Whence then are we given boldness in the day of judgment? Because as He is, are we also in this world. We must refer this to the same charity, and understand what is meant. The Lord in the Gospel says, If you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? Do not the publicans this? Matthew 5:44-46 Then what would He have us do? But I say unto you, Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you. If then He bids us love our enemies, whence brings He an example to set before us? From God Himself: for He says, That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven. How does God this? He loves His enemies, Who makes His sun to rise upon the good and the bad, and rains upon the just and the unjust. If this then be the perfection unto which God invites us, that we love our enemies as He loved His; this is our boldness in the day of judgment, that as He is, so are we also in this world: because, as He loves His enemies in making His sun to rise upon good and bad, and in sending rain upon the just and unjust, so we, since we cannot bestow upon them sun and rain, bestow upon them our tears when we pray for them.

4. Now therefore concerning this same boldness, let us see what he says. Whence do we understand that charity is perfect? There is no fear in charity. 1 John 4:18 Then what say we of him that has begun to fear the day of judgment? If charity in him were perfect, he would not fear. For perfect charity would make perfect righteousness, and he would have nothing to fear: nay rather he would have something to desire; that iniquity may pass away, and God's kingdom come. So then, there is no fear in charity. But in what charity? Not in charity begun: in what then? But perfect charity, says he, casts out fear. Then let fear make the beginning, because the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Fear, so to say, prepares a place for charity. But when once charity has begun to inhabit, the fear which prepared the place for it is cast out. For in proportion as this increases, that decreases: and the more this comes to be within, is the fear cast out. Greater charity, less fear; less charity, greater fear. But if no fear, there is no way for charity to come in. As we see in sewing, the thread is introduced by means of the bristle; the bristle first enters, but except it come out the thread does not come into its place: so fear first occupies the mind, but the fear does not remain there, because it enters only in order to introduce charity. When once there is the sense of security in the mind, what joy have we both in this world and in the world to come! Even in this world, who shall hurt us, being full of charity? See how the apostle exults concerning this very charity: Who shall separate us from the charity of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Romans 8:35 And Peter says: And who is he that will harm you, if you be followers of that which is good?— There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment. 1 Peter 3:13 The consciousness of sins torments the heart: justification has not yet taken place. There is that in it which itches, which pricks. Accordingly in the Psalm what says he concerning this same perfection of righteousness? You have turned for me my mourning into joy: You have put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness; to the end that my glory may sing to you, and that I be not pricked. What is this, That I be not pricked? That there be not that which shall goad my conscience. Fear does goad: but fear not: charity enters in, and she heals the wound that fear inflicts. The fear of God so wounds as does the leech's knife; it takes away the rottenness, and seems to make the wound greater. Behold, when the rottenness was in the body, the wound was less, but perilous: then comes the knife; the wound smarted less than it smarts now while the leech is cutting it. It smarts more while he is operating upon it than it would if it were not operated upon; it smarts more under the healing operation, but only that it may never smart when the healing is effected. Then let fear occupy your heart, that it may bring in charity; let the cicatrice succeed to the leech's knife. He is such an Healer, that the cicatrices do not even appear: only put yourself under His hand. For if you be without fear, you can not be justified. It is a sentence pronounced by the Scriptures; For he that is without fear, cannot be justified. Sirach 1:28 Needs then must fear first enter in, that by it charity may come. Fear is the healing operation: charity, the sound condition. But he that fears is not made perfect in love. Why? Because fear has torment; just as the cutting of the surgeon's knife has torment.

5. But there is another sentence, which seems contrary to this if it have not one that understands. Namely, it is said in a certain place of the Psalms, The fear of the Lord is chaste, enduring forever. He shows us an eternal fear, but a chaste. But if he there shows us an eternal fear, does this epistle perchance contradict him, when it says, There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear? Let us interrogate both utterances of God. One is the Spirit, though the books two, though the mouths two, though the tongues two. For this is said by the mouth of John, that by the mouth of David: but think not that the Spirit is more than one. If one breath fills two pipes [of the double-flute], cannot one Spirit fill two hearts, move two tongues? But if two pipes filled by one breathing sound in unison, can two tongues filled with the Spirit or Breathing of God make a dissonance? There is then an unison there, there is a harmony, only it requires one that can hear. Behold, this Spirit of God has breathed into and filled two hearts, has moved two tongues: and we have heard from the one tongue, There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear; we have heard from the other, The fear of the Lord is chaste, enduring forever. How is this? The notes seem to jar. Not so: rouse your ears: mark the melody. It is not without cause that in the one place there is added that word, chaste, in the other it is not added: but because there is one fear which is called chaste, and there is another fear which is not called chaste. Let us mark the difference between these two fears, and so understand the harmony of the flutes. How are we to understand, or how to distinguish? Mark, my beloved. There are men who fear God, lest they be cast into hell, lest haply they burn with the devil in everlasting fire. This is the fear which introduces charity: but it comes that it may depart. For if you as yet fear God because of punishments, not yet do you love Him whom you in such sort fear. You do not desire the good things, but are afraid of the evil things. Yet because you are afraid of the evil things, you correct yourself and beginnest to desire the good things. When once you have begun to desire the good, there shall be in you the chaste fear. What is the chaste fear? The fear lest you lose the good things themselves. Mark! It is one thing to fear God lest He cast you into hell with the devil, and another thing to fear God lest He forsake you. The fear by which you fear lest you be cast into hell with the devil, is not yet chaste; for it comes not from the love of God, but from the fear of punishment: but when you fear God lest His presence forsake you, you embrace Him, you long to enjoy God Himself.

6. One cannot better explain the difference between these two fears, the one which charity casts out, the other chaste, which endures for ever, than by putting the case of two married women, one of whom, you may suppose, is willing to commit adultery, delights in wickedness, only fears lest she be condemned by her husband. She fears her husband: but because she yet loves wickedness, that is the reason why she fears her husband. To this woman, the presence of her husband is not grateful but burdensome; and if it chance she live wickedly, she fears her husband, lest he should come. Such are they that fear the coming of the day of judgment. Put the case that the other loves her husband, that she feels that she owes him chaste embraces, that she stains herself with no uncleanness of adultery; she wishes for the presence of her husband. And how are these two fears distinguished? The one woman fears, the other also fears. Question them: they seem to make one answer: question the one, Do you fear your husband? She answers, I do. Question the other, whether she fears her husband; she answers, I do fear him. The voice is one, the mind diverse. Now then let them be questioned, Why? The one says, I fear my husband, lest he should come: the other says, I fear my husband, lest he depart from me. The one says, I fear to be condemned: the other, I fear to be forsaken. Let the like have place in the mind of Christians, and you find a fear which love casts out, and another fear, chaste, enduring forever.

7. Let us speak then first to these who fear God, just in the manner of that woman who delights in wickedness; namely, she fears her husband lest he condemn her; to such let us first speak. O soul, which fearest God lest He condemn you, just as the woman fears, who delights in wickedness: fears her husband, lest she be condemned by her husband: as you are displeased at this woman, so be displeased at yourself. If perchance you have a wife, would you have your wife fear you thus, that she be not condemned by you? That delighting in wickedness, she should be repressed only by the weight of the fear of you, not by the condemnation of her iniquity? You would have her chaste, that she may love you, not that she may fear you. Show yourself such to God, as you would have your wife be to you. And if you have not yet a wife, and wishest to have one, you would have her such. And yet what are we saying, brethren? That woman, whose fear of her husband is to be condemned by her husband, perhaps does not commit adultery, lest by some means or other it come to her husband's knowledge, and he deprive her of this temporal light of life: now the husband can be deceived and kept in ignorance; for he is but human, as she is who can deceive him. She fears him, from whose eyes she can be hid: and do you not fear the face ever upon you of your Husband? The countenance of the Lord is against them that do evil. She catches at her husband's absence, and haply is incited by the delight of adultery; and yet she says to herself, I will not do it: he indeed is absent, but it is hard to keep it from coming in some way to his knowledge. She restrains herself, lest it come to the knowledge of a mortal man, one who, it is also possible, may never know it, who, it is also possible, may be deceived, so that he shall esteem a bad woman to be good, esteem her to be chaste who is an adulteress: and do you not fear the eyes of Him whom no man can deceive? Do you not fear the presence of Him who cannot be turned away from you? Pray God to look upon you, and to turn His face away from your sins; Turn away Your face from my sins. But whereby do you merit that He should turn away His face from your sins, if you turn not away your own face from your sins? For the same voice says in the Psalm: For I acknowledge my iniquity, and my sin is ever before me. Acknowledge, and He forgives.

8. We have addressed that soul which has as yet the fear which endures not for ever, but which love shuts out and casts forth: let us address that also which has now the fear which is chaste, enduring forever. Shall we find that soul, think you, that we may address it? Think you, is it here in this congregation? Is it, think you, here in this chancel? think you, is it here on earth? It cannot but be, only it is hidden. Now is the winter: within is the greenness in the root. Haply we may get at the ears of that soul. But wherever that soul is, oh that I could find it, and instead of its giving ear to me, might myself give ear to it! It should teach me something, rather than learn of me! An holy soul, a soul of fire, and longing for the kingdom of God: that soul, not I address, but God Himself does address, and thus consoles while patiently it endures to live here on earth: You would that I should even now come, and I know that you wish I should even now come: I know what you are, such that without fear you may wait for my advent; I know that is a trouble to you: but do you even longer wait, endure; I come, and come quickly. But to the loving soul the time moves slowly. Hear her singing, like a lily as she is from amid the thorns; hear her sighing and saying, I will sing, and will understand in a faultless way: when will you come unto me? But in a faultless way well may she not fear; because perfect love casts out fear. And when He has come to her embrace, still she fears, but in the manner of one that feels secure. What does she fear? She will beware and take heed to herself against her own iniquity, that she sin not again: not lest she be cast into the fire, but lest she be forsaken by Him. And there shall be in in her — what? The chaste fear, enduring forever. We have heard the two flutes sounding in unison. That speaks of fear, and this speaks of fear: but that, of the fear with which the soul fears lest she be condemned; this, of the fear with which the soul fears lest she be forsaken. That is the fear which charity casts out: this, the fear that endures forever.

9. Let us love, because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19 For how should we love, except He had first loved us? By loving we became friends: but He loved us as enemies, that we might be made friends. He first loved us, and gave us the gift of loving Him. We did not yet love Him: by loving we are made beautiful. If a man deformed and ill-featured love a beautiful woman, what shall he do? Or what shall a woman do, if, being deformed and ill-featured and black-complexioned, she love a beautiful man? By loving can she become beautiful? Can he by loving become handsome? He loves a beautiful woman, and when he sees himself in a mirror, he is ashamed to lift up his face to her his lovely one of whom he is enamored. What shall he do that he may be beautiful? Does he wait for good looks to come? Nay rather, by waiting old age is added to him, and makes him uglier. There is nothing then to do, there is no way to advise him, but only that he should restrain himself, and not presume to love unequally: or if perchance he does love her, and wishes to take her to wife, in her let him love chastity, not the face of flesh. But our soul, my brethren, is unlovely by reason of iniquity: by loving God it becomes lovely. What a love must that be that makes the lover beautiful! But God is always lovely, never unlovely, never changeable. Who is always lovely first loved us; and what were we when He loved us but foul and unlovely? But not to leave us foul; no, but to change us, and of unlovely make us lovely. How shall we become lovely? By loving Him who is always lovely. As the love increases in you, so the loveliness increases: for love is itself the beauty of the soul. Let us love, because He first loved us. Hear the apostle Paul: But God showed His love in us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us: Romans 5:8-9 the just for the unjust, the beautiful for the foul. How find we Jesus beautiful? You are beauteous in loveliness surpassing the sons of men; grace is poured upon your lips. Why so? Again see why it is that He is fair; Beauteous in loveliness surpassing the sons of men: because In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1 But in that He took flesh, He took upon Him, as it were, your foulness, i.e. your mortality, that He might adapt Himself to you, and become suited to you, and stir you up to the love of the beauteousness within. Where then in Scripture do we find Jesus uncomely and deformed, as we have found Him comely and beauteous in loveliness surpassing the sons of men? where find we Him also deformed? Ask Esaias: And we saw Him, and He had no form nor comeliness. Isaiah 53:2 There now are two flutes which seem to make discordant sounds: howbeit one Spirit breathes into both. By this it is said, Beauteous in loveliness surpassing the sons of men: by that it is said in Esaias, We saw Him, and He had no form nor comeliness. By one Spirit are both flutes filled, they make no dissonance. Turn not away your ears, apply the understanding. Let us ask the apostle Paul, and let him expound to us the unison of the two flutes. Let him sound to us the note, Beauteous in loveliness surpassing the sons of men. — Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God. Philippians 2:6-7 Let him sound to us also the note, We saw Him, and He had no form nor comeliness.— He made Himself of no reputation, taking upon Him the form of a servant, made in the likeness of men, and in fashion found as man. He had no form nor comeliness, that He might give you form and comeliness. What form? What comeliness? The love which is in charity: that loving, you may run; Song of Songs 1:4 running, may love. You are fair now: but stay not your regard upon yourself, lest you lose what you have received; let your regards terminate in Him by whom you were made fair. Be fair only to the end He may love you. But do you direct your whole aim to Him, run to Him, seek His embraces, fear to depart from Him; that there may be in you the chaste fear, which endures forever. Let us love, because He first loved us.

10. If any man say, I love God. 1 John 4:20 What God? wherefore love we? Because He first loved us, and gave us to love. He loved us ungodly, to make us godly; loved us unrighteous, to make us righteous; loved us sick, to make us whole. Ask each several man; let him tell you if he love God. He cries out, he confesses: I love, God knows. There is another question to be asked. If any man say, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar. By what do you prove that he is a liar? Hear. For he that loves not his brother whom he sees, how can he love God whom he sees not? What then? Does he that loves a brother, love God also? He must of necessity love God, must of necessity love Him that is Love itself. Can one love his brother, and not love Love? Of necessity he must love Love. What then? Because he loves Love, does it follow that he loves God? Certainly it does follow. In loving Love, he loves God. Or have you forgotten what you said a little while ago, Love is God? 1 John 4:8, 16 If Love is God, whoever loves Love, loves God. Love then your brother, and feel yourself assured. You can not say, I love my brother, but I do not love God. As you lie, if you say, I love God, when you love not your brother, so you are deceived when you say, I love my brother, if you think that you love not God. Of necessity must you who lovest your brother, love Love itself: but Love is God: therefore of necessity must he love God, whoever loves his brother. But if you love not the brother whom you see, how can you love God whom you see not? Why does he not see God? Because he has not Love itself. That he does not see God, is, because he has not love: that he has not love, is, because he loves not his brother. The reason then why he does not see God, is, that he has not Love. For if he have Love, he sees God, for Love is God: and that eye is becoming more and more purged by love, to see that Unchangeable Substance, in the presence of which he shall always rejoice, which he shall enjoy to everlasting, when he is joined with the angels. Only, let him run now, that he may at last have gladness in his own country. Let him not love his pilgrimage, not love the way: let all be bitter save Him that calls us, until we hold Him fast, and say what is said in the Psalm: You have destroyed all that go a-whoring from You — and who are they that go a-whoring? They that go away and love the world: but what shall you do? He goes on and says:— but for me it is good to cleave to God. All my good is, to cling unto God, freely. For if you question him and say, For what do you cling to Him? And he should say, That He may give me — Give you what? It is He that made the heaven, He that made the earth: what shall He give you? Already you are cleaving to Him: find something better, and He shall give it you.

11. For he that loves not his brother whom he sees, how can he love God whom he sees not? And this commandment have we from Him, that he who loves God love his brother also. 1 John 4:20-21 Marvellous fine talk it was, that you said, I love God, and hate your brother! O murderer, how do you love God? Have you not heard above in this very epistle, He that hates his brother is a murderer? 1 John 3:15 Yea, but I do verily love God, however I hate my brother. You verily do not love God, if you hate your brother. And now I make it good by another proof. This same apostle has said, He gave us commandment that we should love one another. How can you be said to love Him whose commandment you hate? Who shall say, I love the emperor, but I hate his laws? In this the emperor understands whether you love him, that his laws be observed throughout the provinces. Our Emperor's law, what is it? A new commandment give I unto you, that you love one another. John 13:34 You say then, that you love Christ: keep His commandment, and love your brother. But if you love not your brother, how can you be said to love Him whose commandment you despise? Brethren, I am never satiated in speaking of charity in the name of the Lord. In what proportion you have an insatiable desire of this thing, in that proportion we hope the thing itself is growing in you, and casting out fear, that so there may remain that chaste fear which is for ever permanent. Let us endure the world, endure tribulations, endure the stumbling-blocks of temptations. Let us not depart from the way; let us hold the unity of the Church, hold Christ, hold charity. Let us not be plucked away from the members of His Spouse, not be plucked away from faith, that we may glory in His coming: and we shall securely abide in Him, now by faith, then by sight, of whom we have so great earnest, even the gift of the Holy Spirit.

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Source. Translated by H. Browne. 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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