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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 51

Sermon 51 on the New Testament

[CI. Ben.]

On the words of the Gospel, Luke 10:2 , The harvest truly is plenteous, etc.

1. By the lesson of the Gospel which has just been read, we are reminded to search what that harvest is of which the Lord says, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few. Pray ye the Lord of the harvest, that He would send forth labourers into His harvest. Then to His twelve disciples, whom He also named Apostles, He added other seventy-two, and sent them all, as appears from His words, to the harvest then ready. What then was that harvest? For that harvest was not among these Gentiles, among whom there had been nothing sown. It remains therefore that we understand that this harvest was among the people of the Jews. It was to that harvest that the Lord of the harvest came, to that harvest He sent reapers; but to the Gentiles He sent not reapers, but sowers. Understand we then that it was harvest among the people of the Jews, sowing time among the peoples of the Gentiles. For out of that harvest were the Apostles chosen, where now that the harvest was, the grain was already ripe; for there had the Prophets sown. Delightful it is to take a view of God's husbandry, and to feel delight in His gifts, and the labourers in His field. For in this husbandry did he labour, who said, I laboured more than they all. But the strength to labour was given him by the Lord of the harvest. Therefore he added, Yet it is not I, but the grace of God which is with me. For that he was employed in this husbandry he clearly enough shows, where he says, I have planted, Apollos watered. But this Apostle, from Saul, becoming Paul, that is, from being proud, the least of all (for the name of Saul is derived from Saul; but Paul is little; whence in a way interpreting his own name, he says, I am the least of the Apostles : this Paul I say, the little, and the least, sent unto the Gentiles, says that he was sent particularly to the Gentiles. He himself so writes, we read, believe, preach it. He then in his Epistle to the Galatians says, that having been now called by the Lord Jesus, he came to Jerusalem, and communicated the Gospel unto the Apostles, that their right hands were given to him, the sign of harmony, the sign of agreement, that what they had learned from him differed in no respect from them. Afterwards he says that it was agreed between him and them, that he should go to the Gentiles, and they unto the circumcision, he as a sower, they as reapers. So also with good reason, though they knew it not, did the Athenians give him his name. For as they heard the word from him, they said, Who is this sower of words?

2. Attend then and be it your delight with me to take a view of the husbandry of God and the two harvests in it, the one already past, the other yet to come; the one already past among the people of the Jews, the one yet to come among the peoples of the Gentiles. Let us prove this; and whereby, but by the Scripture of God, the Lord of the harvest? See we have it said there in this present lesson, The harvest is great, but the labourers are few. Pray ye the Lord of the harvest, that He would send forth labourers into His harvest. But because in that harvest there were to be gainsaying and persecuting Jews, He says, Behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves. Let us show something clearer still touching this harvest in the Gospel according to John, where the Lord sat as He was wearied at the well, great mysteries indeed were transacted, but the time is too short to treat of them all. But give ye ear to that which relates to the present subject. For we have undertaken to show a harvest among the people, among whom the Prophets preached; for therefore were they sowers, that the Apostles might be reapers. A woman of Samaria talks with the Lord Jesus, and when the Lord among other things had told her how God ought to be worshipped, she says, We know that Messias comes who is called Christ, and He will teach us all things. And the Lord says to her, I that speak with you am He. Believe what you hear; why do you make search for what you see? I that speak with you am He. But as to what she had said, We know that the Messias will come, whom Moses and the Prophets have announced, who is called Christ. The harvest was already in the ear. When it had yet to grow it had received the Prophets as sowers, now that it had come to ripeness it waited for the Apostles as reapers. Presently as she heard this she believed and left her water-pot, and ran in haste, and began to announce the Lord. The disciples at that time had gone to buy bread; who on their return found the Lord talking with the woman, and they marvelled. Yet did they not dare to say to Him, What or why talkest Thou with her? They had astonishment in themselves, they repressed their boldness in their heart. To this Samaritan woman then the Name of Christ was nothing new, she was already waiting for His coming, already did she believe that He would come. Whence had she believed it, if Moses had not sown? But hear this more expressly noted. The Lord then said to His disciples, You say that the summer is yet far distant, lift up your eyes, and see the fields white already to harvest And then He adds, Others have laboured, and you are entered into their labours. Abraham laboured, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, the Prophets laboured in sowing; at the Lord's coming the harvest was found ripe. The reapers sent with the scythe of the Gospel, carried the sheaves into the Lord's floor, where Stephen was to be threshed.

3. But here comes in that Paul, and he is sent to the Gentiles. And this he does not conceal in setting forth the grace, which he had specially and peculiarly received. For he says in his Scriptures, that he was sent to preach the Gospel where Christ had not been named. But because that first harvest was past already, and all the Jews who remained are no harvest, let us consider that harvest which we ourselves are. For it has been sown by Apostles and Prophets. The Lord Himself sowed it. For He was in the Apostles, seeing that Christ also Himself reaped it. For they are nothing without Him; He is perfect without them. For He says Himself to them, For without Me, you can do nothing. What then does Christ from henceforth sowing among the Gentiles say? A sower went out to sow. There are reapers sent out to reap, here an unwearied sower went out to sow. For what fear did it cause him, that some seed fell on the way side, and some on rocky places, and some among thorns? If he had been afraid of these unmanageable grounds, he would never have got to the good ground. What is it to us, what affair of ours is it to be disputing now of the Jews, and talking of the chaff? This only concerns us, that we be not the way side, nor the rock, nor the thorns, but the good ground. Be our heart well-prepared, that from it may come the thirty, or the sixty fold, or the thousand, and the hundred fold; some more, some less; but all is wheat. Let it not be the way side, where the enemy as a bird may take away the seed trodden down by the passers by. Let it not be the rock, where the shallow soil makes it spring up immediately, so that it cannot bear the sun. Let it not be the thorns, the lusts of this world, the anxieties of an ill-ordered life. For what is worse than that anxiety of life, which does not suffer one to attain unto Life? What more miserable, than by caring for life, to lose Life? What more unhappy, than by fearing death, to fall into death? Let the thorns be rooted up, the field prepared, the seeds put in, let them grow unto the harvest, let the barn be longed for, not the fire feared.

4. My place accordingly it is, whom with all my unworthiness the Lord has appointed to be a labourer in His field, to say these things to you, to sow, to plant, to water, yea to dig round about some trees, and to apply the basket of dung; belongs it to me to do these things faithfully; to you to receive them faithfully; to the Lord to aid me in my labour, and you in your belief, all of us labouring, but in Him overcoming the world. What then belongs to your place I have already said; now I wish to say what belongs to ours. But perhaps it seems to some of you, that it is something superfluous which I have declared that I wish to say, and speaking within themselves they are saying in thought, O that he would now let us go! He has said already what belongs to our place, as to that which belongs to his, what is that to us? I think it is better that in a reciprocal and mutual love, we should belong to you. You are now indeed of one family, we of the same family are dispensers, it is true, but we all belong to one Lord. Nor what I give, do I give of my own; but of His from whom I also receive. For if I should give of my own, I shall give a lie. For he that speaks a lie, speaks of his own. So then ye ought to give ear to that which belongs to the duty of the dispenser, whether it be that you may have joy in yourselves, if you find yourselves to be such, or whether it be that you may be even in this very thing instructed. For how many are there among this people who shall some day be dispensers! I too was once where ye now are; and I who am seen now to be measuring out to my fellowservants their food from this higher place, a few years since in a lower place was receiving food with my fellow-servants. I am speaking now a Bishop to lay-men; but I know that in speaking to them I am speaking to many who will some day be bishops also.

5. Let us see then how we must understand what the Lord enjoined on them whom He sent to preach the Gospel, and let us consider in our mind this prepared harvest. Carry, He says, neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes; and salute no man by the way. And into whatsoever house ye enter, say, Peace be to this house. If the Son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it; if not, it shall return to you again. If it has rested, has the other lost it? This be far from the mind of Saints! So then this is not to be taken in a carnal sense; and hence it may be neither are the purse, nor shoes, nor scrip; nor above all that, where if we take it simply without examination, pride seems to be enjoined us, that we salute no man by the way.

6. Let us give heed to our Lord, our True Example and Succour. Let us prove that He is our Succour; Without Me ye can do nothing. Let us prove that He is our Example; Christ, says Peter, suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow His steps. Our Lord Himself had bags in the way, and these bags He entrusted to Judas. It is true He suffered from the thief; but I as desiring to learn of my Lord say, O Lord, You suffered from the thief, whence had Thou that of which he could take away? Me, a wretched and infirm man You have admonished not even to carry a purse; You carried bags, and had that in which You could suffer from the thief. If You had not carried them, neither could he have found anything to take away. What remains, but that he here says to me, Understand what that you hear, 'Carry no purse,' means? What is a purse? Money shut up, that is, concealed wisdom. What is, 'Carry no purse? Be not wise within your own selves only. Receive the Holy Ghost.' It should be a fountain in you, not a purse; from whence distribution is made to others, not where it is itself shut in. And the scrip is the same as the purse.

7. What are the shoes? The shoes which we use, are the skins of dead beasts, the coverings of our feet. By this then are we bidden to renounce dead works. This Moses was admonished of in a figure, when the Lord speaking to him said, Loose your shoes from off your feet; for the place wherein you stand is holy ground. What ground is so holy as the Church of God? In it therefore let us stand, let us loose our shoes, let us, that is, renounce dead works. For as touching these shoes, wherewith we walk, the same my Lord again assures me. For if He had not been shod Himself, John would not have said of Him, I am not worthy to unloose the latchet of His shoes. Be there obedience then, let not a haughty severity steal over us. I, says one, fulfil the Gospel, because I walk with naked feet. Well, you can do it, I cannot. But let us both keep that which we both receive together. How? Let us glow with charity, let us love one another; and so it shall be, that I will love your strength, and you shall bear my weakness.

8. But what do you think, who dost not choose to understand in what sense these words are used, and who art forced by your perverse interpretation to slander even the Lord Himself as to the bags and shoes; what do you think? Does it please you then, that as we meet our friends in the way, we should neither pay them our salutations if they are our betters, nor return the salutations of our inferiors? What, do you fulfil the Gospel, because you are saluted, and art silent? But thus you will not be like to the traveller going on the way, but to the milestone pointing out the way. Let us then lay aside this coarse interpretation, and understand aright the words of the Lord, and salute no man by the way. For it is not without a cause that we are enjoined this, nor would He mislike us to do what He enjoined. What then is, Salute no man by the way? It might indeed be even simply taken thus, that He has commanded us to do what He enjoins with all speed; and that His words Salute no man by the way, are as though He had said, Put all other things by, till ye accomplish what has been enjoined you; according to that style of speaking by which expressions are wont to be exaggerated in the custom of conversation. Nor need we go far; in the same discourse a little while afterwards He says, And you, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shall be thrust down to hell. What is, exalted to heaven? Did the walls of that city touch the clouds, or reach to the stars? But what is exalted to heaven? Thou seemest yourself to be surpassing happy, surpassing powerful, you are exceeding proud. As then for the sake of exaggeration this was said, You are exalted unto heaven to that city, which was not exalted, nor rose up unto heaven; so to express haste hyperbolically was it said, So run, so do what I have enjoined you, that travellers by the way may not in the least retard you; but disregarding all things else, hasten to the end set before you.

9. But there is another more recondite meaning in these words which it is not difficult to understand, which respects more particularly myself and all dispensers, and you too who are hearers. He that salutes, wishes salvation. For so the ancients in their letters wrote thus, Such a one sends salvation to another. Salutation derives its name from this salvation. What then is, Salute no man by the way? They who salute by the way, do so by occasion. I see that you have quickly understood me, yet for all that I must not finish yet. For you have not all understood so quickly. I have seen that some understand by their voice, I see more asking for something further by their silence. But seeing that we are talking of the way, let us walk as it were in the way: ye quick ones, wait for the slow, and walk evenly. What then did I say, He who salutes by the way, salutes only by occasion? He was not going to him whom he salutes. He was about one thing, another came in his way; he was seeking one thing, he found across his path some other thing to do. What then is it to salute by occasion? By occasion to announce salvation. Now what else is it to announce salvation, but to preach the Gospel? If then you preach, do it by love, and not by occasion. There are men then, who though they seek their own things, yet preach no other Gospel; of whom the Apostle says with sighing, For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's. And these saluted, that is announced salvation, they preached the Gospel; but they sought some other thing, and therefore they saluted only by occasion. And what is this? If you are such an one, whosoever you are, you do it; nay not all of you who do it are such, but it may be that some of you who do it are. But if you are such, it is not that you do it, but it is done by you.

10. For such as these did the Apostle suffer; yet did he not enjoin them so to be. And these do something, or something is done by them; they seek something else, yet they preach the word. Care not what the preacher seeks after; be it your will to hold fast what he preaches; but let his intention be no concern of yours. Hear the word of salvation from his mouth, from his mouth hold fast this salvation. Be not the judge of his heart. If you see that he is seeking after other things, what is that to you? Hear Him who is Salvation; What they say, do. He has given you assurance who has said, What they say, do. Do they evil? Do not what they do. Do they good. They do not salute by the way, they do not preach the Gospel by occasion; be ye followers of them, even as they also are of Christ. A good man preaches to you; pluck the grape from the vine. A bad man preaches to you, pluck the grape as it hangs in the hedge. The cluster has grown on the vine-branch entangled among the thorns, but it has not grown from the thorns. By all means when you see any such thing as this and art hungry, be careful as you pluck it, lest when you put forth your hand to the grape, you be torn by the thorns. This is what I say; in such wise hear what is good, as that you imitate not the evil of the character. Let him preach by occasion, salute by the way; it will injure him because he has not given ear to the precept of Christ, Salute no man by the way; it will not injure you, who, whether you hear of salvation from a passer by, or from one who comes direct to you, dost hold fast that salvation. Hear the Apostle, who as I have said already gives us to understand this. What then? So that in every way, whether by occasion or in truth, Christ is preached; and herein I do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer.

11. Let then such as these, the Apostles of Christ, the preachers of the Gospel, who salute not by the way, that is, who do not seek or do any other thing, but who in genuine charity preach the Gospel, let them come into the house, and say, Peace to this house. They speak not with the mouth only; they pour out that of which they are full; they preach peace, and they have peace. They are not as those of whom it was said, Peace, Peace, and there is no peace. What is, Peace, Peace, and there is no peace? They preach it, but they have it not; they praise it and they love it not; they say, and do not. But yet do you receive the peace, whether by occasion or in truth Christ be preached. Whoso then is full of peace, and salutes, saying, Peace to this house, if the son of peace be there, his peace shall rest upon him; if not, for perhaps there is no one of peace there, yet he who saluted has lost nothing, it shall return, says he, to you again. It shall return to you, though it never departed from you. For this He would mean to say, It profits you that you have declared it, it has not profited him at all who has not received it; you have not lost your reward, because he has remained empty; it is rendered you for your good will, it is rendered you for the charity which you have bestowed, He will render it to you who has given you assurance of it by that Angelic voice, Peace on earth to men of good will.

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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. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/160351.htm>.

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