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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 93

Tractate 93 (John 16:1-4)

1. In the words preceding this chapter of the Gospel, the Lord strengthened His disciples to endure the hatred of their enemies, and prepared them also by His own example to become the more courageous in imitating Him: adding the promise, that the Holy Spirit should come to bear witness of Him, and also that they themselves could become His witnesses, through the effectual working of His Spirit in their hearts. For such is His meaning when He says, He shall bear witness of me, and you also shall bear witness. That is to say, because He shall bear witness, you also shall bear witness: He in your hearts, you in your voices; He by inspiration, you by utterance: that the words might be fulfilled, Their sound has gone forth into all the earth. For it would have been to little purpose to have exhorted them by His example, had He not also filled them with His Spirit. Just as we see that the Apostle Peter, after having heard His words, when He said, The servant is not greater than his lord: if they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; and seen that already fulfilled in Him, wherein, had example been sufficient, he ought to have imitated the patient endurance of his Lord, yet succumbed and fell into denial, as utterly unable to bear what He saw his Master enduring. But when he really received the gift of the Holy Spirit, he preached Him whom he had denied; and whom he had been afraid to confess, he had no fear now in openly proclaiming. Already, indeed, had he been sufficiently taught by example to know what was proper to be done; but not yet was he inspired with the power to do what he knew: he had got instruction to stand, but not the strength to keep him from falling. But after this was supplied by the Holy Spirit, he preached Christ even to the death, whom, in his fear of death, he had previously denied. And so the Lord in this succeeding chapter, on which we have now to address you, says, These things have I spoken unto you, that you should not be offended. As it is sung in the psalm, Great peace have they who love Your law, and nothing shall offend them. Properly enough, therefore, with the promise of the Holy Spirit, by whose operation in their hearts they should be made His witnesses, He added, These things have I spoken unto you, that you should not be offended. For when the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit given unto us, Romans 5:5 they have great peace who love God's law, so that nothing may offend them.

2. And then He expressly declares what they were to suffer: They shall put you out of the synagogues. But what harm was it for the apostles to be expelled from the Jewish synagogues, as if they were not to separate themselves therefrom, although no one expelled them? Doubtless He meant to announce with reprobation, that the Jews would refuse to receive Christ, from whom they as certainly would refuse to withdraw; and so it would come to pass that the latter, who could not exist without Him, would also be cast out along with Him by those who would not have Him as their place of abode. For certainly, as there was no other people of God than that seed of Abraham, they would, had they only acknowledged and received Christ, have remained as the natural branches in the olive tree; Romans 11:17 nor would the churches of Christ have been different from the synagogues of the Jews, for they would have been one and the same, had they also desired to abide in Him. But having refused, what remained but that, continuing themselves out of Christ, they put out of the synagogues those who would not abandon Christ? For having received the Holy Spirit, and so become His witnesses, they would certainly not belong to the class of whom it is said: Many of the chief rulers of the Jews believed on Him; but for fear of the Jews they dared not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. And so they believed on Him, but not in the way He wished them to believe when He said: How can you believe, who expect honor one of another, and seek not the honor that comes from God only? It is, therefore, with those disciples who so believe in Him, that, filled with the Holy Spirit, or, in other words, with the gift of divine grace, they no longer belong to those who, ignorant of the righteousness of God, and going about to establish their own, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God; Romans 10:3 nor to those of whom it is said, They loved the praise of men more than the praise of God: that the prophecy harmonizes, which finds its fulfillment in their own case: They shall walk, O Lord, in the light of Your countenance: and in Your name shall they rejoice all the day; and in Your righteousness shall they be exalted: for You are the glory of their strength. Rightly enough is it said to such, They shall cast you out of the synagogues; that is, they who have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge; because, ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own, Romans 10:2-3 they expel those who are exalted, not in their own righteousness, but in God's, and have no cause to be ashamed at being expelled by men, since He is the glory of their strength.

3. Finally, to what He had thus told them, He added the words: But the hour comes, that whosoever kills you will think that he does God service: and these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me. That is to say, they have not known the Father, nor His Son, to whom they think they will be doing service in slaying you. Words which the Lord added in the way of consolation to His own, who should be driven out of the Jewish synagogues. For it is in thus announcing beforehand what evils they would have to endure for their testimony in His behalf, that He said, They will put you out of the synagogues. Nor does He say, And the hour comes, that whosoever kills you will think that he does God service. What then? But the hour comes: just in the way He would have spoken, were He foretelling them of something good that would follow such evils. What, then, does He mean by the words, They will put you out of the synagogues: but the hour comes? As if He would have gone on to say this: They, indeed, will scatter you, but I will gather you; or, They shall, indeed, scatter you, but the hour of your joy comes. What, then, has the word which He uses, but the hour comes, to do here, as if He were going on to promise them comfort after their tribulation, when apparently He ought rather to have said, in the form of continuous narration, And the hour comes? But He said not, And it comes, although predicting the approach of one tribulation after another, instead of comfort after tribulation. Could it have been that such a separation from the synagogues would so discompose them, that they would prefer to die, rather than remain in this life apart from the Jewish assemblies? Far surely would those be from such discomposure, who were seeking, not the praise of men, but of God. What, then, of the words, They will put you out of the synagogues: but the hour comes; when apparently He ought rather to have said, And the hour comes, that whosoever kills you will think that he does God service? For it is not even said, But the hour comes that they shall kill you, as if implying that their comfort for such a separation would be found in the death that would befall them; but The hour comes, He says, that whosoever kills you will think that he does God service. On the whole, I do not think He wished to convey any further meaning than that they might understand and rejoice that they themselves would gain so many to Christ, by being driven out of the Jewish congregations, that it would be found insufficient to expel them, and they would not suffer them to live for fear of all being converted by their preaching to the name of Christ, and so turned away from the observance of Judaism, as if it were the very truth of God. For so ought we to understand the reference of His words to the Jews, when He said of them, They will put you out of the synagogues. For the witnesses, in other words, the martyrs of Christ, were likewise slain by the Gentiles: they, however, thought not that it was to the true God, but to their own false deities, that they were doing service when they so acted. But every Jew that slew the preachers of Christ reckoned that he was doing God serv ice; believing as he did that all who were converted to Christ were deserting the God of Israel. For it was also by the same reasoning that they were incited to the murder of Christ Himself: because their own words on this subject have also been put on record. You perceive that the whole world is gone after him: If we let him live, the Romans will come, and take away both our place and nation. And those of Caiaphas: It is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish. And accordingly in this address He sought by His own example to stimulate His disciples, to whom He had just been saying, If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; that as in slaying Him they thought they had done God a service, so also would it be in reference to them.

4. Such, then, is the meaning of these words: They will put you out of the synagogues; but have no fear of solitude: inasmuch as, when separated from their assembly, you will assemble so many in my name, that they, in very fear lest the temple, that was with them, and all the sacraments of the old law, should be deserted, will slay you: actually, in thus shedding your blood, full of the notion that they are doing God service. An illustration surely of the apostle's words, They have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge; Romans 10:2 when they imagine that they are doing God service in slaying His servants. Appalling mistake! Is it thus you would please God by striking down the God-pleaser; and is the living temple of God by your blows laid level with the ground, that God's temple of stone may not be deserted? Accursed blindness! But it is in part that it has happened to Israel, that the fullness of the Gentiles might come in: in part, I say, and not totally, has it happened. For not all, but only some of the branches have been broken off, that the wild olive might be ingrafted. For just at the time when the disciples of Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, were speaking in the tongues of all nations, and performing many divine miracles, and scattering divine utterances on every side, Christ, even though slain, was so beloved, that His disciples, when expelled from the congregations of the Jews, gathered into a congregation of their own a vast multitude of those very Jews, and had no fear of being left to solitude. Acts ii.-iv Whereupon, accordingly, the others, reprobate and blind, being inflamed with wrath, and having a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge, and believing that they were doing God service, put them to death. But He, who was slain for them, gathered those together; just as He had also, before He was slain, instructed them in what was to happen, lest their minds, left ignorant and unprepared, should be cast into trouble by evils, however transient, that were unexpected and unprovided for; but rather by knowing of them beforehand, and sustaining them with patience, might be led onward to everlasting blessing. For that such was the cause of His making these announcements to them beforehand, is shown also by His words that followed: But these things have I told you, that, when their time shall come, you may remember that I told you of them. Their hour was an hour of darkness, a midnight hour. But the Lord commanded His loving-kindness in the daytime, and made them sing of it in the night: when the Jewish night threw no confusion of darkness into the day of the Christians, separated as it was from themselves; and when that which could slay the flesh had no power to darken their faith.

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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/1701093.htm>.

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