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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 72

Tractate 72 (John 14:10-14)

1. It is no easy matter to comprehend what is meant by, or in what sense we are to receive, these words of the Lord, He that believes in me, the works that I do shall he do also: and then, to this great difficulty in the way of our understanding, He has added another still more difficult, And greater things than these shall he do. What are we to make of it? We have not found one who did such works as Christ did; and are we likely to find one who will do even greater? But we remarked in our last discourse, that it was a greater deed to heal the sick by the passing of their shadow, as was done by the disciples, than as the Lord Himself did by the touch of the hem of His garment; and that more believed on the apostles than on the Lord Himself, when preaching with His own lips; so that we might suppose works like these to be understood as greater: not that the disciple was to be greater than his Master, or the servant than his Lord, or the adopted son than the Only-begotten, or man than God, but that by them He Himself would condescend to do these greater works, while telling them in another passage, Without me you can do nothing. While He Himself, on the other hand, to say nothing of His other works, which are numberless, made them without any aid from themselves, and without them made this world; and because He Himself thought meet to become man, without them He made also Himself. But what have they [made or done] without Him, save sin? And last of all, He straightway also withdrew from the subject all that could cause us agitation; for after saying, He that believes in me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; He immediately went on to add, Because I go unto the Father; and whatsoever you shall ask in my name, that will I do. He who had said, He will do, afterwards said, I will do; as if He had said, Let not this appear to you impossible; for he that believes in me can never become greater than I am, but it is I who shall then be doing greater things than now; greater things by him that believes in me, than by myself apart from him; yet it is I myself apart from him, and I myself by him [that will do the works]: and as it is apart from him, it is not he that will do them; and as, on the other hand, it is by him, although not by his own self, it is he also that will do them. And besides, to do greater things by one than apart from one, is not a sign of deficiency, but of condescension. For what can servants render unto the Lord for all His benefits towards them? And sometimes He has condescended to number this also among His other benefits towards them, namely, to do greater works by them than apart from them. Did not that rich man go away sad from His presence, when seeking counsel about eternal life? He heard, and cast it away: and yet in after days the counsel that fell on his ears was followed, not by one, but by many, when the good Master was speaking by the disciples; He was an object of contempt to the rich man, when warned by Himself directly, and of love to those whom by means of poor men He transformed from rich into poor. Here, then, you see, He did greater works when preached by believers, than when speaking Himself to hearers.

2. But there is still something to excite thought in His doing such greater works by the apostles; for He said not, as if merely with reference to them, The works that I do shall you do also; and greater works than these shall you do: but wishing to be understood as speaking of all that belonged to His family, said, He that believes in me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do. If, then, he that believes shall do such works, he that shall do them not is certainly no believer: just as He that loves me, keeps my commandments, implies, of course, that he who keeps them not, loves not. In another place, also, He says, He that hears these sayings of mine and does them, I will liken him unto a wise man, who builds his house upon a rock; Matthew 7:24 and he, therefore, who is unlike this wise man, without doubt either hears these sayings and does them not, or fails even to hear them. He that believes in me, He says, though he die, yet shall he live; and he, therefore, that shall not live, is certainly no believer now. In a similar way, also, it is said here, He that believes in me shall do [such works]: he is, therefore, no believer who shall not do so. What have we here, then, brethren? Is it that one is not to be reckoned among believers in Christ, who shall not do greater works than Christ? It were hard, unreasonable, intolerable, to suppose so; that is, unless it be rightly understood. Let us listen, then, to the apostle, when he says, To him that believes in Him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Romans 4:5 This is the work in which we may be doing the works of Christ, for even our very believing in Christ is the work of Christ. It is this He works in us, not certainly without us. Hear now, then, and understand, He that believes in me, the works that I do shall he do also: I do them first, and he shall do them afterwards; for I do such works that he may do them also. And what are the works, but the making of a righteous man out of an ungodly one?

3. And greater works than these shall he do. Than what, pray? Shall we say that one is doing greater works than all that Christ did who is working out his own salvation with fear and trembling? Philippians 2:12 A work which Christ is certainly working in him, but not without him; and one which I might, without hesitation, call greater than the heavens and the earth, and all in both within the compass of our vision. For both heaven and earth shall pass away, Matthew 24:35 but the salvation and justi fication of those predestinated thereto, that is, of those whom He foreknows, shall continue forever. In the former there is only the working of God, but in the latter there is also His image. But there are also in the heavens, thrones, governments, principalities, powers, archangels, and angels, which are all of them the work of Christ; and is it, then, greater works also than these that he does, who, with Christ working in him, is a co-worker in his own eternal salvation and justification? I dare not call for any hurried decision on such a point: let him who can, understand, and let him who can, judge whether it is a greater work to create righteous beings than to make righteous the ungodly. For at least, if there is equal power employed in both, there is greater mercy in the latter. For this is the great mystery of godliness which was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. But when He said, Greater works than these shall he do, there is no necessity requiring us to suppose that all of Christ's works are to be understood. For He spoke, perhaps, only of these He was now doing; and the work He was doing at that time was uttering the words of faith, and of such works specially had He spoken just before when He said, The words that I speak unto you, I speak not of myself: but the Father, that dwells in me, He does the works. His words, accordingly, were His works. And it is assuredly something less to preach the words of righteousness, which He did apart from us, than to justify the ungodly, which He does in such a way in us that we also are doing it ourselves. It remains for us to inquire how the words are to be understood, Whatsoever you shall ask in my name, I will do it. Because of the many things His believing ones ask, and receive not, there is no small question claiming our attention; but as this discourse must now be concluded, we must allow at least a little delay for its consideration and discussion.

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Source. Translated by John Gibb. 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. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1701072.htm>.

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