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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 77

Sermon 77 on the New Testament

[CXXVII. Ben.]

On the words of the Gospel, John 5:25 ,Verily, verily, I say unto you, the hour comes, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the son of God; and they that hear shall live,etc.; and on the words of the apostle, things which eye saw not, etc., 1 Corinthians 2:9

1. Our hope, Brethren, is not of this present time, nor of this world, nor in that happiness whereby men are blinded that forget God. This ought we above all things to know, and in a Christian heart hold fast, that we were not made Christians for the good things of the present time, but for something else which God at once promises, and man does not yet comprehend. For of this good it is said, That eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for them that love Him. Because then this good, so great, so excellent, so ineffable, fell not in with man's understanding, it required God's promise. For what has been promised him, man blind of heart does not now comprehend; nor can it be shown to him at present, what he will one day be to whom the promise is given. For so an infant child, if he could understand the words of one speaking, when himself could neither speak, nor walk, nor do anything, but feeble as we see he is, unable to stand, requiring the assistance of others, were able only to understand him who should speak to him and tell him, Lo, as you see me walking, working, speaking, after a few years you shall be as I am; as he considered himself and the other, though he would see what was promised; yet considering his own feebleness, would not believe, and yet he would see what was promised. But with us infants, as it were, lying in this flesh and feebleness, that which is promised is at once great and is not seen; and so faith is aroused whereby we believe that we do not see that we may attain to see what we believe. Whosoever derides this faith, so as to think that he is not to believe in that he does not see; when that shall come which he believed not, is put to shame: being confounded is separated, being separated, is condemned. But whoso shall have believed, is put aside at the right hand, and shall stand with great confidence and joy among those to whom it shall be said, Come, blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom which has been prepared for you from the beginning of the world. But the Lord made an end when He spoke these words, thus, These shall go into everlasting burning, but the righteous into life eternal. This is the life eternal which is promised us.

2. Because men love to live on this earth, life is promised them; and because they exceedingly fear to die, eternal life is promised them. What do you love? To live. This shall you have. What do you fear? To die. You shall not suffer it. This seemed to be enough for human infirmity, that it should be said, You shall have eternal life. This the mind of man can comprehend, by its present condition it can in some sort comprehend what is to be. But by the imperfection of its present condition how far can it comprehend it? Because he lives, and does not wish to die; he loves eternal life, he wishes to live always, never to die. But they who shall be tormented in punishments, have even a wish to die, and cannot. It is no great thing then to live long, or to live for ever; but to live blessedly is a great thing. Let us love eternal life, and hereby may we know how greatly we ought to labour for eternal life, when we see men who love the present life, which lasts but for a time and must be brought to an end, labour so for it, that when the fear of death comes, they will do whatever they can, not to put away, but to put off death. How does a man labour, when death threatens, by flight, by concealment, by giving all he has, and redeeming himself, by toil, by endurance of torments and uneasinesses, by calling in physicians, and whatever else a man can do? See, how that after exhausting all his labour and his means, he is but able to contrive to live a little longer; to live always, he is not able. If then men strive with so great labour, with so great efforts, so great a cost, such earnestness, such watchfulness, such carefulness, that they may live a little longer; how should they strive that they may live for ever? And if they are called wise, who by all means strive to put off death, and live a few days, that they lose not a few days: how foolish are they who so live as to lose the day eternal!

3. This then only can be promised us, that this gift of God may in whatever measure be sweet to us, from this which we have at present; seeing that it is of His gift we have it, that we live, that we are in health. When then eternal life is promised, let us set before our eyes a life of such a kind, as to remove from it everything unpleasant which we suffer here. For it is easier for us to find what is not there, than what is there. Lo, here we live; we shall live there also. Here we are in health when we are not sick, and there is no pain in the body; there we shall be in health also. And when it is well with us in this life, we suffer no scourge; we shall suffer none there also. Suppose then a man here below living, in sound health, suffering no scourge; if any one were to grant him that he should be for ever so, and that this good estate should never cease, how greatly would he rejoice? How greatly be transported? How would he not contain himself in joy without pain, without torment, without end of life? If God had promised us this only, which I have mentioned, which I have just now in such words as I was able, described and set forth; at what a price ought it to be purchased if it were to be sold, how great a sum ought to be given to buy it? Would all that you had suffice, even though you should possess the whole world? And yet it is to be sold; buy it if you will. And be not much disquieted for a thing so great, because of the largeness of the price. Its price is no more than what you have. Now to procure any great and precious thing, you would get ready gold, or silver, or money, or any increase of cattle, or fruits, which might be produced in your possessions, to buy this I know not what great and excellent thing, whereby to live in this earth happily. Buy this too, if you will. Do not look for what you have, but for what you are. The price of this thing is yourself. Its price is what you are yourself. Give your own self, and you shall have it. Why are you troubled? Why disquieted? What? Are you going to seek for your own self, or to buy yourself? Lo, give your own self as you are, such as you are to that thing, and you shall have it. But you will say, I am wicked, and perhaps it will not accept me. By giving yourself to it, you will be good. The giving yourself to this faith and promise, this is to be good. And when you shall be good, you will be the price of this thing; and shall have, not only what I have mentioned, health, safety, life, and life without end; you shall not only have this, I will take away other things yet. There shall there be no weariness, and sleeping; there shall there be no hunger, and thirst; there shall there be no growing, and growing old; because there shall be no birth either where the numbers remain entire. The number that is there is entire; nor is there any need for it to be increased, seeing there is no chance of diminution there. Lo, how many things have I taken away, and I have not yet said what shall be there. Lo, already there is life, and safety; no scourge, no hunger, no thirst, no failing, none of these; and yet I have not said, what eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has ascended into the heart of man. For if I have said it, it is false that is written, Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it ascended into the heart of man. For whence should it ascend into my heart, that I should say that which has not ascended into the heart of man? It is believed, and not seen; not only not seen, but not even expressed. How then is it believed, if it is not expressed? Who believes what he does not hear? But if he hear it that he may believe, it is expressed; if expressed, it is thought of; if thought of and expressed, then it enters into the ears of men. And because it would not be expressed if it were not thought of, it has ascended also into the heart of man. Lo, already the mere proposing of so great a thing disturbs us, that we cannot put it forth clearly in words. Who then can explain the thing itself?

4. Let us attend to the Gospel; just now the Lord was speaking, and let us do what He said. He that believes in Me, says He, passes from death unto life, and comes not into judgment. Verily I say unto you, that the hour shall come, and now is, when the dead shall hear the Voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so has He given to the Son to have life in Himself. By begetting Him He gave it; in that He begot, He gave it. For the Son is of the Father, not the Father of the Son; but the Father is the Father of the Son, and the Son is the Son of the Father. I say the Son is begotten of the Father, not the Father of the Son; and the Son was always, always therefore begotten. Who can comprehend this always begotten? For when any man hears of one begotten, it occurs to him; Therefore there was a time, when he who was begotten was not. What say we then? Not so; there was no time before the Son, for that all things were made by Him. If all things were made by Him, times also were made by Him; how could times be before the Son, by whom times were made? Take away then all times, the Son was with the Father always. If the Son were with the Father always, and yet the Son, He was begotten always; if begotten always, He who was begotten was always with Him That begot Him.

5. You will say, This have I never seen, one begetting, and always with him whom he begot; but he that begot came first, and he that was begotten followed in time. You say well, I have never seen this; for this appertains to that which eye has not seen. Do you ask how it may be expressed? It cannot be expressed; For the ear has not heard, neither has it ascended unto the heart of man. Be it believed and adored, when we believe, we adore; when we adore, we grow; when we grow, we comprehend. For as yet while we are in this flesh, as long as we are absent from the Lord, we are, with respect to the Holy Angels who see these things, infants to be suckled by faith, hereafter to be fed by sight. For so says the Apostle, As long as we are in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We shall some day come to sight, which is thus promised us by John in his Epistle; Dearly beloved, we are the sons of God, and it has not yet appeared what we shall be. We are the sons of God now by grace, by faith, by the Sacrament, by the Blood of Christ, by the redemption of the Saviour; We are the sons of God, and it has not yet appeared what we shall be. We know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

6. Lo, unto the comprehending of what are we being nourished up; lo, unto the embracing and the feeding on what are we being nourished up; yet so as that that which is fed on is not diminished, and he that feeds is supported. For now food supports us by eating it; but the food which is eaten, is diminished; but when we shall begin to feed on Righteousness, to feed on Wisdom, to feed on that Food Immortal, we are at once supported, and That Food is not diminished. For if the eye knows how to feed on light, and yet does not diminish the light; for the light will be no less because it is seen by more; it feeds the eyes of more, and yet is as great as it was before: both they are fed, and it is not diminished; if God has granted this to the light which He has made for the eyes of the flesh, what is He Himself, the Light for the eyes of the heart? If then any choice food were praised to you, on which you were to dine, you would prepare the stomach; God is praised to you, prepare the heart.

7. Behold what your Lord says to you: The hour shall come, says He, and now is. The hour shall come, yea, that very hour, now is, when— what? when the dead shall hear the Voice of the Son of God, and they that shall hear shall live. They then that shall not hear, shall not live. What is, They that shall hear? They that shall obey. What is, They that shall hear? They that shall believe and obey, they shall live. So then before they believed and obeyed, they lay dead; they walked, and were dead. What availed it to them, that they walked, being dead? And yet if any among them were to die a bodily death, they would run, get ready the grave, wrap him up, carry him out, bury him, the dead, the dead; of whom it is said, Let the dead bury their dead. Such dead as these are in such wise raised by the Word of God, as to live in faith. They who were dead in unbelief, are aroused by the Word. Of this hour said the Lord, The hour shall come, and now is. For with His Own Word did He raise them that were dead in unbelief; of whom the Apostle says, Arise you that sleep, and rise up from the dead, and Christ shall give you light. This is the resurrection of hearts, this is the resurrection of the inner man, this is the resurrection of the soul.

8. But this is not the only resurrection, there remains a resurrection of the body also. Whoso rises again in soul, rises again in body to his blessedness. For in soul all do not rise again; in body all are to rise again. In soul, I say, all do not rise again; but they that believe and, obey; for, They that shall hear shall live. But as the Apostle says, All men have not faith. If then all men have not faith, all men do not rise again in soul. When your hour of the resurrection of the body shall come, all shall rise again; be they good or bad, all shall rise again. But whoso first rises again in soul, to his blessedness rises again in body; whoso does not first rise again in soul, rises again in body to his curse. Whoso rises again in soul, rises again in body unto life; whoso rises not again in soul, rises again in body unto punishment. Seeing then that the Lord has impressed upon us this resurrection of souls, unto which we ought all to hasten, and to labour that we may live therein, and living persevere even unto the end, it remained for Him to impress upon us the resurrection of bodies also, which is to be at the end of the world. Now hear how He has impressed this too.

9. When He had said, Verily I say unto you, The hour shall come, and now is, when the dead, that is, the unbelievers, shall hear the Voice of the Son of God, that is, the Gospel, and they that shall hear, that is, that shall obey, shall live, that is, shall be justified, and shall be unbelievers no longer; when, I say, He had said this, forasmuch as He saw that we had need to be instructed as to the resurrection of the flesh also, and were not to be left thus, He went on and said, For as the Father has life in Himself, so has He given to the Son to have life in Himself. This refers to the resurrection of souls, to the quickening of souls. Then He added, And has given Him power to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. This Son of God, is Son of Man. For if the Son of God had continued the Son of God, and had not been made the Son of Man, He would not have delivered the sons of men. He who had made man, was Himself made that which He made, that what He made might not perish. But He was in such wise made the Son of Man, as to continue the Son of God. For He was made Man by assuming that which He was not, not by losing That which He was; continuing God, He was made Man. He took you, He was not consumed in you. As such then came He to us, the Son of God, and Son of Man, the Maker and the Made, the Creator and the Created; the Creator of His mother, Created of His mother; such came He to us. In respect of His being the Son of God, He says, The hour shall come, and now is, when the dead shall hear the Voice of the Son of God. He did not say, Of the Son of Man; for He was impressing the truth, wherein He is equal to the Father. And they that shall hear shall live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so has He given to the Son to have life in Himself; not by participation, but in our God. But He, the Father, has life in Himself; and He begot such a Son as should have life in Himself; not be made a partaker of life, but Himself be Life, of which life we should be partakers; that is, should have life in Himself, and Himself be Life. But that He should be made the Son of Man, He took from us. Son of God in Himself; that He should be the Son of Man, He took from us. Son of God of That which is His Own, Son of Man of ours. That which is the less, took He from us; That which is the more, gave He to us. For thus He died in that He is the Son of Man, not in that He is the Son of God. Yet the Son of God died; but He died in respect to the flesh, not in respect to the Word which was made flesh, and dwelt among us. So then in that He died, He died of that which was ours; in that we live, we live of That which is His. He could not die of That which was His own, nor could we live of that which is our own. As God then, as the Only-Begotten, as equal with Him who begot Him, did the Lord Jesus impress this upon us, that if we hear, we shall live.

10. But, says He, He has given Him power to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. So then that Form is to come to judgment. The Form of Man is to come to judgment; therefore He said, He has given Him power to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. The Judge here shall be the Son of Man; here shall That Form judge which was judged. Hear and understand: the Prophet had said this already, They shall look on Him whom they pierced. That Very Form shall they see which they smote with a spear. He shall sit as Judge, Who stood at the judge's seat. He shall condemn the real criminals, Who was made a criminal falsely. He shall come Himself, That Form shall come. This you find in the Gospel too; when before the eyes of His disciples He was going into heaven, they stood and looked on, and the Angelic voice spoke, You men of Galilee, why stand ye, etc. This Jesus shall come in like manner as you see Him going into heaven. What is, shall come in like manner? Shall come in this Very Form. For He has given Him power to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Now see on what principle this was behooveful and right, that they who were to be judged might see the Judge. For they who were to be judged were both good and bad. But blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. It remained that in the Judgment the Form of the servant should be manifested both to good and bad, the Form of God be reserved for the good alone.

11. For what is it that the good are to receive? Behold I am now expressing that which I did not express a little above; and yet in expressing I do not express it. For I said that there we shall be in sound health, shall be safe, shall be living, shall be without scourges, without hunger and thirst, without failing, without loss of our eyes. All this I said; but what we shall have more, I said not. We shall see God. Now this will be so great, yea so great a thing will it be, that in comparison of it, all the rest is nothing. I said that we shall be living, that we shall be safe and sound, that we shall suffer no hunger and thirst, that we shall not fall into weariness, that sleep will not oppress us. All this, what is it to that happiness, whereby we shall see God? Because then God cannot be now manifested as He is, whom nevertheless we shall see; therefore, what eye has not seen, nor ear heard, this the good shall see, this shall the godly see, this the merciful shall see, this shall the faithful see, this shall they see who shall have a good lot in the resurrection of the body, for that they have had a good obedience in the resurrection of the heart.

12. Shall then the wicked man see God too? Of whom Isaiah says, Let the ungodly be taken away, that he see not the Glory of God. Both the ungodly and the godly then shall see that Form; and when the sentence, Let the ungodly be taken away that he see not the Glory of God, shall have been pronounced; it remains that as to the godly and the good, that be fulfilled which the Lord Himself promised, when He was here in the flesh, and seen not by the good only, but by the evil also. He spoke among the good and evil, and was seen of all, as God, hidden, as Man, manifested; as God ruling men, as Man appearing among men: He spoke, I say, among them, and said, Whoso loves Me, keeps My commandments; and he that loves Me, shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him. And as if it were said to Him, And what will You give him? And I will, He says, manifest Myself to him. When did He say this? When He was seen by men. When did He say this? When He was seen even by them, by whom He was not loved. How then was He to manifest Himself to them that loved Him, save in Such a Form, as they who loved Him then saw not? Therefore, seeing that the Form of God was being reserved, the Form of man manifested; by the Form of man, speaking to men, conspicuous and visible, He manifested Himself to all, both good and bad, He reserved Himself for them that loved Him.

13. When is He to manifest Himself to them that love Him? After the resurrection of the body, when the ungodly shall be taken away that he see not the Glory of God. For then when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. This is life eternal. For all that we said before is nothing to that life. That we live, what is it? That we are in health, what is it? That we shall see God, is a great thing. This is life eternal; this Himself has said, But this is life eternal, that they may know You the Only True God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. This is life eternal, that they may know, see, comprehend, acquaint themselves with what they had believed, may perceive that which they were not yet able to comprehend. Then may the mind see what eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it ascended into the heart of man; this shall be said to them at the end, Come, you blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom which has been prepared for you from the beginning of the world. Those wicked ones then shall go into everlasting burning. But the righteous, whither? Into life eternal? What is life eternal? This is life eternal, that they may know You, the Only True God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.

14. Speaking then of the future resurrection of the body, and not leaving us thus, He says, He has given Him power to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Marvel not at this, for the hour shall come. He did not add in this place, and now is; because this hour shall be hereafter, because this hour shall be at the end of the world, because this shall be the last hour, shall be at the last trump. Marvel not at this, because I have said, He has given Him power to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Marvel not. For this reason have I said this, because it behooves Him as Man to be judged by men. And what men shall He judge? Those whom He finds alive? Not only those, but what? The hour shall come, when they that are in the graves. How did He express those that are dead in the flesh? They who are in the graves, whose corpses lie buried, whose ashes are covered up, whose bones are dispersed, whose flesh is flesh no more, and yet is entire to God. The hour shall come, when all that are in the graves shall hear His Voice, and shall come forth. Be they good or bad, they shall hear the Voice, and shall come forth. All the bands of the grave shall be burst asunder; all that was lost, yea rather was thought to be lost shall be restored. For if God made man who was not, can He not re-fashion that which was?

15. I suppose when it is said, God shall raise the dead again, no incredible thing is said for it is of God, not of man, that it is said. It is a great thing which shall be done, yea, an incredible thing that shall be done. But let it not be incredible, for see, who It is That does it. He it is said shall raise you, Who created you. You were not, and you are; and once made, shall you not be? God forbid you should think so! God did something more marvellous when He made that which was not; and nevertheless He did make that which was not; and shall it be disbelieved that He is able to re-fashion that which was, by those very persons whom He made what they were not? Is this the return we make to God, we who were not, and were made? Is this the return we make Him, that we will not believe that He is able to raise again what He has made? Is this the return which His creature renders Him? Have I therefore, God says to you, made you, O man, before you were, that you should not believe Me, that you shall be what you were, who hast been able to be what you were not? But you will say, Lo, what I see in the tomb, is dust, ashes, bones; and shall this receive life again, skin, substance, flesh, and rise again? What? These ashes, these bones, which I see in the tomb? Well. At least you see ashes, you see bones in the tomb; in your mother's womb there was nothing. This you see, ashes at least there are, and bones; before that you were, there was neither ashes, nor bones; and yet you were made, when you were not at all; and do you not believe that these bones (for in whatever state, of whatever kind they are, yet they are), shall receive the form again which they had, when you have received what you had not? Believe; for if you shall believe this, then shall your soul be raised up. And your soul shall be raised up now; The hour shall come, and now is; then to your blessing shall your flesh rise again, when the hour shall come, that all that are in the graves shall hear His Voice, and shall come forth. For you must not at once rejoice, because you hear and come forth; hear what follows, They that have done good unto the resurrection of life; but they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation. Turning 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. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/160377.htm>.

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