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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 58

Sermon 58 on the New Testament

[CVIII. Ben.]

On the words of the Gospel, Luke 12:35 , Let your loins be girded about, and your lamps burning; and be ye yourselves like, etc. And on the words of the 34th Psalm, v. 12 , what man is he that desires life, etc.

1. Our Lord Jesus Christ both came to men, and went away from men, and is to come to men. And yet He was here when He came, nor did He depart when He went away, and He is to come to them to whom He said, Lo, I am with you, even unto the end of the world. According to the form of a servant then, which He took for our sakes, was He born at a certain time, and was slain, and rose again, and now dies no more, neither shall death have any more dominion over Him; but according to His Divinity, wherein He was equal to the Father, was He already in this world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. On this point you have just heard the Gospel, what admonition it has given us, putting us on our guard, and wishing us to be unencumbered and prepared to await the end; that after these last things, which are to be feared in this world, that rest may succeed which has no end. Blessed are they who shall be partakers of it. For then shall they be in security, who are not in security now; and again then shall they fear, who will not fear now. Unto this waiting, and for this hope's sake, have we been made Christians. Is not our hope not of this world? Let us then not love the world. From the love of this world have we been called away, that we may hope for and love another. In this world ought we to abstain from all unlawful desires, to have, that is, our loins girded; and to be fervent and to shine in good works, that is, to have our lights burning. For the Lord Himself said to His disciples in another place of the Gospel, No man lights a candle and puts it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that it may give light unto all that are in the house. And to show of what He was speaking, He subjoined and said, Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

2. Therefore He would that our loins should be girded, and our lights burning. What is, our loins girded? Depart from evil. What is to burn? What is to have our lights burning? It is this, And do good. What is that which He said afterwards, And ye yourselves like men that wait for their Lord, when He will return from the wedding: except that which follows in that Psalm, Seek after peace, and ensue it? These three things, that is, abstaining from evil, and doing good, and the hope of everlasting reward, are recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, where it is written, that Paul taught them of temperance and righteousness, and the hope of eternal life. To temperance belongs, let your loins be girded. To righteousness, and your lights burning. To the hope of eternal life, the waiting for the Lord. So then, depart from evil, this is temperance, these are the loins girded: and do good, this is righteousness, these are the lights burning; seek peace, and ensue it, this is the waiting for the world to come: therefore, Be like men that wait for their Lord, when He will come from the wedding.

3. Having then these precepts and promises, why seek we on earth for good days, where we cannot find them? For I know that you do seek them, when you are either sick, or in any of the tribulations, which in this world abound. For when life draws towards its close, the old man is full of complaints, and with no joys. Amid all the tribulations by which mankind is worn away, men seek for nothing but good days, and wish for a long life, which here they cannot have. For even a man's long life is narrowed within so short a span to the wide extent of all ages, as if it were but one drop to the whole sea. What then is man's life, even that which is called a long one? They call that a long life, which even in this world's course is short; and as I have said, groans abound even unto the decrepitude of old age. This at the most is but brief, and of short duration; and yet how eagerly is it sought by men, with how great diligence, with how great toil, with how great carefulness, with how great watchfulness, with how great labour do men seek to live here for a long time, and to grow old. And yet this very living long, what is it but running to the end? You had yesterday, and you wish also to have tomorrow. But when this day and tomorrow are passed, you have them not. Therefore you wish for the day to break, that that may draw near to you whither you have no wish to come. You make some annual festival with your friends, and hear it there said to you by your well-wishers, May you live many years, you wish that what they have said, may come to pass. What? Do you wish that years and years may come, and the end of these years come not? Your wishes are contrary to one another; you wish to walk on, and do not wish to reach the end.

4. But if, as I have said, there is so great care in men, as to desire with daily, great and perpetual labours, to die somewhat later: with how great cause ought they to strive, that they may never die? Of this, no one will think. Day by day good days are sought for in this world, where they are not found; yet no one wishes so to live, that he may arrive there where they are found. Therefore the same Scripture admonishes us, and says, Who is the man that wishes for life, and loves to see good days? Scripture so asked the question, as that It knew well what answer would be given It; knowing that all men would seek for life and good days. In accordance with their desire It asked the question, as if the answer would be given It from the heart of all, I wish it; It said thus, Who is the man that wishes for life, and loves to see good days? Just as even at this very hour in which I am speaking to you, when you heard me say, Who is the man that wishes for life, and loves to see good days? ye all answered in your heart, I. For so do I too, who am speaking with you, wish for life and good days; what ye seek, that do I seek also.

5. Just as if gold were necessary for us all, and we all, I as well as you, were wishing to get at the gold, and there was some anywhere in a field of yours, in a place subject to your power, and I were to see you searching for it, and were to say to you, What are you searching for? you were to answer me, Gold. And I were to say to you, You are searching for gold, and I am searching for gold too: what you are searching for, I am searching for; but you are not searching for it where we can find it. Listen to me then, where we can find it; I am not taking it away from you, I am showing you the spot; yea, let us all follow Him, who knows where what we are seeking for, is. So now too seeing that you desire life and good days, we cannot say to you, Do not desire 'life and good days;' but this we say, Do not seek for 'life and good days' here in this world, where 'good days' cannot be. Is not this life itself like death? Now these days here hasten and pass away: for today has shut out yesterday; tomorrow only rises that it may shut out today. These days themselves have no abiding; wherefore would you abide with them? Your desire then whereby ye wish for life and good days, I not only do not repress, but I even more strongly inflame. By all means seek for life, seek for good days; but let them be sought there, where they can be found.

6. For would ye with me hear His counsel, who knows where good days and where life is? Hear it not from me, but together with me. For One says to us, Come, you children, hearken unto Me. And let us run together, and stand, and prick up our ears, and with our hearts understand the Father, who has said, Come, you children, hearken unto Me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord. And then follows what he would teach us, and to what end the fear of the Lord is useful. Who is the man that wishes life, and loves to see good days? We all answer, We wish it. Let us listen then to what follows, Refrain your tongue from evil, and your lips that they speak no guile. Now say, I wish it. Just now when I said, Who is the man that wishes for life, and loves to see good days? we all answered, I. Come then, let some one now answer I. So then, Refrain your tongue from evil, and your lips that they speak no guile. Now say, I. Would you then have good days and life, and would you not refrain your tongue from evil, and your lips that they speak no guile? Alert to the reward, slow to the work! And to whom if he does not work is the reward rendered? I would that in your house you would render the reward even to him that does work! For to him that works not, I am sure you do not render it. And why? Because you owe nothing to him that does not work! And God has a reward proposed. What reward? Life and good days, which life we all desire, and unto which days we all strive to come. The promised reward He will give us. What reward? Life and good days. And what are good days? Life without end, rest without labour.

7. Great is the reward He has set before us: in so great a reward as is set before us, let us see what He has commanded us. For enkindled by the reward of so great a promise, and by the love of the reward, let us make ready at once our strength, our sides, our arms, to do His bidding. Is it as if He were to command us to carry heavy burdens, to dig something it may be, or to raise up some machine? No, no such laborious thing has He enjoined you, but has enjoined you only to refrain that member which among all your members you move so quickly. Refrain your tongue from evil. It is no labour to erect a building, and is it a labour to hold in the tongue? Refrain your tongue from evil. Speak no lie, speak no revilings, speak no slanders, speak no false witnesses, speak no blasphemies. Refrain your tongue from evil. See how angry you are, if any one speaks evil of you. As you are angry with another, when he speaks evil of you; so be angry with yourself, when you speak evil of another. Let your lips speak no guile. What is in your heart within, be that spoken out. Let not your breast conceal one thing, and your tongue utter another. Depart from evil, and do good. For how should I say, Clothe the naked, to him who up to this time would strip him that is clothed? For he that oppresses his fellow-citizen, how can he take in the stranger? So then in proper order, first depart from evil, and do good; first gird up your loins, and then light the lamp. And when you have done this, wait in assured hope for life and good days. Seek peace, and ensue it; and then with a good face will you say unto the Lord, I have done what You have bidden, render me what You have promised.

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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/160358.htm>.

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