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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 84

Sermon 84 on the New Testament

[CXXXIV. Ben.]

On the words of the Gospel, John 8:31 , If you abide in my word, then are you truly my disciples, etc.

1. You know well, Beloved, that we all have One Master, and are fellow disciples under Him. Nor are we your masters, because we speak to you from this higher spot; but He is the Master of all, who dwells in us all. He just now spoke to us all in the Gospel, and said to us, what I also am saying to you; but He says it of us, as well of us as of you. If you shall continue in My word, not of course in my word who am now speaking to you; but in His who spoke just now out of the Gospel. If you shall continue in My word, says He, you are My disciples indeed. To be a disciple, it is not enough to come, but to continue. He does not therefore say, If you shall hear My word; or, If you shall come to My word; or, If you shall praise My word; but observe what He said, If you shall continue in My word, you are My disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall free you. What shall we say, Brethren? To continue in the word of God, is it toilsome, or is it not? If it be toilsome, look at the great reward; if it be not toilsome, you receive the reward for nought. Continue we then in Him who continues in us. We, if we continue not in Him, fall; but He if He continue not in us, has not on that account lost an habitation. For He skills to continue in Himself, who never leaves Himself. But for man, God forbid that he should continue in himself who has lost himself. So then we continue in Him through indigence; He continues in us through mercy.

2. Now then seeing it has been set forth what we ought to do, let us see what we are to receive. For He has appointed a work, and promised a reward. What is the work? If you shall continue in Me. A short work; short in description, great in execution. If you shall build on the Rock. O how great a thing is this, Brethren, to build on the Rock, how great is it! The floods came, the winds blew, the rain descended, and beat upon that house, and it fell not; for it was founded upon a rock. What then is to continue in the word of God, but not to yield to any temptations? The reward, what is it? You shall know the truth, and the truth shall free you. Bear with me, for you perceive that my voice is feeble; assist me by your calm attention. Glorious reward! You shall know the truth. Here one may haply say, And what does it profit me to know the truth? And the truth shall free you. If the truth have no charms for you, let freedom have its charms. In the usage of the Latin tongue, the expression, to be free, is used in two senses; and chiefly we are accustomed to hear this word in this sense, that whosoever is free may be understood to escape some danger, to be rid of some embarrassment. But the proper signification of to be free, is to be made free; just as to be saved, is to be made safe; to be healed, is, to be made whole; so to be freed, is to be made free. Therefore I said, If the truth have no charms for you, let freedom have its charms. This is expressed more evidently in the Greek language, nor can it be there understood in any other sense. And that you may know that in no other sense can it be understood; when the Lord spoke, the Jews answered, We were never in bondage to any man; how do you say the Truth shall free you? That is, the Truth shall make you free, how do you say to us, who were never in bondage to any man? How, say they, do You promise them freedom, who as You see never bare the hard yoke of bondage?

3. They heard what they ought; but they did not what they ought. What did they hear? Because I said, The truth shall free you; ye turned your thoughts upon yourselves, that you are not in bondage to man, and you said, We were never in bondage to any man. Every one, Jew and Greek, rich and poor, the man in authority and private station, the emperor and the beggar, Every one that commits sin is the servant of sin. Every one, says He, that commits sin is the servant of sin. If men but acknowledge their bondage, they will see from whence they may obtain freedom. Some free-born man has been taken captive by the barbarians, from a free man is made a slave; another hears, and pities him, considers how that he has money, becomes his ransomer, goes to the barbarians, gives money, ransoms the man. And he has indeed restored freedom, if he have taken away iniquity. But what man has ever taken away iniquity from another man? He who was in bondage with the barbarians, has been redeemed by his ransomer; and great difference there is between the ransomer and the ransomed; yet haply are they fellow-slaves under the lordship of iniquity. I ask him that was ransomed, Have you sin? I have, he says. I ask the ransomer, Have you sin? I have, he says. So then neither do you boast yourself that you have been ransomed, nor you uplift yourself that you are his ransomer; but fly both of you to the True Deliverer. It is but a small part of it, that they who are under sin, are called servants; they are even called dead; what a man is afraid of captivity bringing upon him, iniquity has brought on him already. For what? Because they seem to be alive, was He then mistaken who said, Let the dead bury their dead? So then all under sin are dead, dead servants, dead in their service, servants in their death.

4. Who then frees from death and from bondage, save He, who is Free among the dead? Who is Free among the dead, save He who among sinners is without sin? Lo, the prince of the world comes, says our Redeemer Himself, our Deliverer, Lo, the prince of the world comes, and shall find nothing in Me. He holds fast those whom he has deceived, whom he has seduced, whom he has persuaded to sin and death; in Me shall he find nothing. Come, Lord, Redeemer come, come; let the captive acknowledge you, him that leads captive flee you; be my Deliverer. Lost as I was, He has found me in Whom the devil finds nothing that comes of the flesh. The prince of this world finds in Him Flesh, he finds it but what kind of Flesh? A mortal Flesh, which he can seize, which he can crucify, which he can kill. You are mistaken, O deceiver, the Redeemer is not deceived; you are mistaken. You see in the Lord a mortal Flesh, it is not flesh of sin, it is the likeness of flesh of sin. For God sent His Son in the likeness of flesh of sin. True Flesh, mortal Flesh; but not flesh of sin. For God sent His Son in the likeness of flesh of sin, that by sin He might condemn sin in the Flesh. For God sent His Son in the likeness of flesh of sin; in Flesh, but not in flesh of sin; but in the likeness of flesh of sin. For what purpose? That by sin, of which assuredly there was none in Him, He might condemn sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

5. If then it was the likeness of flesh of sin, not flesh of sin, how, That by sin He might condemn sin in the flesh? So a likeness is wont to receive the name of that thing of which it is a likeness. The word man is used for a real man; but if you show a man painted on the wall, and enquire what it is, it is answered, A man. So then Flesh having the likeness of flesh of sin, that it might be a sacrifice for sin, is called sin. The same Apostle says in another place, He made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin. Him who knew no sin: Who is He who knew no sin, but He That said, Behold the prince of the world comes, and shall find nothing in me? Him who knew no sin, made He sin for us; even Christ Himself, who knew no sin, God made sin for us. What does this mean, Brethren? If it were said, He made sin upon Him, or, He made Him to have sin; it would seem intolerable; how do we tolerate what is said, He made Him sin, that Christ Himself should be sin? They who are acquainted with the Scriptures of the Old Testament recognise what I am saying. For it is not an expression once used, but repeatedly, very constantly, sacrifices for sins are called sins. A goat, for instance, was offered for sin, a ram, anything; the victim itself which was offered for sin was called sin. A sacrifice for sin then was called sin; so that in one place the Law says, That the Priests are to lay their hands upon the sin. Him then, who knew no sin, He made sin for us; that is, He was made a sacrifice for sin. Sin was offered, and sin was cancelled. The Blood of the Redeemer was shed, and the debtor's bond was cancelled. This is the Blood, That was shed for many for the remission of sins.

6. What means this then your senseless exultation, O you that held me captive, for that my Deliverer had mortal Flesh? See, if He had sin; if you have found anything of yours in Him, hold Him fast. The Word was made Flesh. The Word is the Creator, the Flesh His creature. What is there here of yours, O enemy? And the Word is God, and His Human Soul is His creature, and His Human Flesh His creature, and the Mortal Flesh of God is His creature. Seek for sin here. But what are you seeking? The Truth says, The prince of this world shall come, and shall find nothing in Me. He did not therefore not find Flesh, but nothing of his own, that is, no sin. You deceived the innocent, you made them guilty. You slew the Innocent; you destroyed Him from whom you had nothing due, render back what you held fast. Why then did you exult for a short hour, because you found in Christ mortal Flesh? It was your trap: whereupon you rejoiced, thereby have you been taken. Wherein you exulted that you had found something, therein you sorrow now that you have lost what you possessed. Therefore, brethren, let us who believe in Christ, continue in His word. For if we shall continue in His word, we are His disciples indeed. For not those twelve only, but all we who continue in His word are His disciples indeed. And we shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall free us; that is, Christ the Son of God who has said, I am the Truth, shall make you free, that is, shall free you, not from barbarians, but from the devil; not from the captivity of the body, but from the iniquity of the soul. It is He Only who frees in such wise. Let no one call himself free, lest he remain a slave. Our soul shall not remain in bondage, for that day by day our debts are forgiven.

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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/160384.htm>.

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