The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Archive for February, 2014

St John Chrysostom’s Homiletic Commentary on Matthew 6:28-34

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 26, 2014

Having spoken of our necessary food, and having signified that not even for this should we take thought, He passes on in what follows to that which is more easy. For raiment is not so necessary as food.

Why then did He not make use here also of the same example, that of the birds, neither mention to us the peacock, and the swan, and the sheep? for surely there were many such examples to take from thence. Because He would point out how very far the argument may be carried both ways:1 both from the vileness2 of the things that partake of such elegance, and from the munificence vouchsafed to the lilies, in respect of their adorning. For this cause, when He hath decked them out, He doth not so much as call them lilies any more, but “grass of the field.”3 And He is not satisfied even with this name, but again adds another circumstance of vileness, saying, “which to-day is.” And He said not, “and to-morrow is not,” but what is much baser yet, “is east into the oven.” And He said not, “clothe,” but “so clothe.”

Seest thou everywhere how He abounds in amplifications and intensities? And this He doth, that He may touch them home: and therefore He hath also added, “shall He not much more clothe you?” For this too hath much emphasis: the force of the word, “you,” being no other than to indicate covertly the great value set upon our race, and the concern shown for it; as though He had said, “you, to whom He gave a soul, for whom He fashioned a body, for whose sake He made all the things that are seen, for whose sake He sent prophets, and gave the law, and wrought those innumerable good works; for whose sake He gave up His only begotten Son.”

And not till He hath made His proof clear, doth He proceed also to rebuke them, saying, “O ye of little faith.” For this is the quality of an adviser: He doth not admonish only, but reproves also, that He may awaken men the more to the persuasive power of His words.

Hereby He teaches us not only to take no thought, but not even to be dazzled at the costliness of men’s apparel. Why, such comeliness is of grass, such beauty of the green herb: or rather, the grass is even more precious than such apparelling. Why then pride thyself on things, whereof the prize rests with the mere plant, with a great balance in its favor?

And see how from the beginning He signifies the injunction to be easy; by the contraries again, and by the things of which they were afraid, leading them away from these cares. Thus, when He had said, “Consider the lilies of the field,” He added, “they toil not:” so that in desire to set us free from toils, did He give these commands. In fact, the labor lies, not in taking no thought, but in taking thought for these things. And as in saying, “they sow not,” it was not the sowing that He did away with, but the anxious thought; so in saying, “they toil not, neither do they spin,” He put an end not to the work, but to the care.

But if Solomon was surpassed by their beauty, and that not once nor twice, but throughout all his reign:-for neither can one say, that at one time He was clothed with such apparel, but after that He was so no more; rather not so much as on one day did He array Himself so beautifully: for this Christ declared by saying, “in all his reign:” and if it was not that He was surpassed by this flower, but vied with that, but He gave place to all alike (wherefore He also said, “as one of these:” for such as between the truth and the counterfeit, so great is the interval between those robes and these flowers):-if then he acknowledged his inferiority, who was more glorious than all kings that ever were: when wilt thou be able to surpass, or rather to approach even faintly to such perfection of form?

After this He instructs us, not to aim at all at such ornament. See at least the end thereof; after its triumph “it is cast into the oven:” and if of things mean, and worthless, and of no great use, God hath displayed so great care, how shall He give up thee, of all living creatures the most important?

Wherefore then did He make them so beautiful? That He might display His own wisdom and the excellency of His power; that from everything we might learn His glory. For not “the Heavens only declare the glory of God,”4 but the earth too; and this David declared when he said, “Praise the Lord, ye fruitful trees, and all cedars.”5 For some by their fruits, some by their greatness, some by their beauty, send up praise to Him who made them: this too being a sign of great excellency of wisdom, when even upon things that are very vile (and what can be viler than that which to-day is, and to-morrow is not?) He pours out such great beauty. If then to the grass He hath given that which it needs not (for what doth the beauty thereof help to the feeding of the fire?) how shall He not give unto thee that which thou needest? If that which is the vilest of all things, He hath lavishly adorned, and that as doing it not for need, but for munificence, how much more will He honor thee, the most honorable of all things, in matters which are of necessity.

2. Now when, as you see, He had demonstrated the greatness of God’s providential care, and they were in what follows to be rebuked also, even in this He was sparing, laying to their charge not want, but poverty, of faith. Thus, “if God,” saith He, “so clothe the grass of the field, much more you, O ye of little faith.”6

And yet surely all these things He Himself works. For “all things were made by Him, and without Him was not so much as one thing made.”7 But yet He nowhere as yet makes mention of Himself: it being sufficient for the time, to indicate His full power, that He said at each of the commandments, “Ye have heard that it hath been said to them of old time, but I say unto you.”

Marvel not then, when in subsequent instances also He conceals Himself, or speaks something lowly of Himself: since for the present He had but one object, that His word might prove such as they would readily receive, and might in every way demonstrate that He was not a sort of adversary of God, but of one mind, and in agreement with the Father.

Which accordingly He doth here also; for through so many words as He hath spent He ceases not to set Him before us, admiring His wisdom, His providence, His tender care extending through all things, both great and small. Thus, both when He was speaking of Jerusalem, He called it “the city of the Great King;”8 and when He mentioned Heaven, He spake of it again as “God’s throne;”9 and when He was discoursing of His economy in the world, to Him again He attributes it all, saying, “He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”10 And in the prayer too He taught us to say, His “is the kingdom and the power and the: glory.” And here in discoursing of His providence, and signifying how even in little things He is the most excellent of artists, He saith, that “He clothes the grass of the field.” And nowhere doth He call Him His own Father, but theirs; in order that by the very honor He might reprove them, and that when He should call Him His Father, they might no more be displeased.

Now if for bare necessaries one is not to take thought, what pardon can we11 deserve, who take thought for things expensive? Or rather, what pardon can they deserved who do even without sleep, that they may take the things of others?

3. “Therefore take no thought, saying, what shall we eat? or, what shall we drink? or, wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the nations of the world seek.”12

Seest thou how again He hath both shamed them the more, and hath also shown by the way, that He had commanded nothing grievous nor burdensome? As therefore when He said, “If ye love them which love you,” it is nothing great which ye practise, for the very Gentiles do the same; by the mention of the Gentiles He was stirring them up to something greater: so now also He brings them forward to reprove us, and to signify that it is a necessary debt which He is requiring of us. For if we must show forth something more than the Scribes or Pharisees, what can we deserve, who so far from going beyond these, do even abide in the mean estate of the Gentiles, and emulate their littleness of soul?

He doth not however stop at the rebuke, but having by this reproved and roused them, and shamed them with all strength of expression, by another argument He also comforts them, saying, “For your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.” He said not, “God knoweth,” but, “your Father knoweth;” to lead them to a greater hope. For if He be a Father, and such a Father, He will not surely be able to overlook His children in extremity of evils; seeing that not even men, being fathers, bear to do so.

And He adds along with this yet another argument. Of what kind then is it? That “ye have need” of them. What He saith is like this. What! are these things superfluous, that He should disregard them? Yet not even in superfluities did He show Himself wanting in regard, in the instance of the grass: but now are these things even necessary. So that what thou considerest a cause for thy being anxious, this I say is sufficient to draw thee from such anxiety. I mean, if thou sayest, “Therefore I must needs take thought, because they are necessary;” on the contrary, I say, “Nay, for this self-same reason take no thought, because they are necessary.” Since were they superfluities, not even then ought we to despair, but to feel confident about the supply of them; but now that they are necessary, we must no longer be in doubt. For what kind of father is he, who can endure to fail in supplying to his children even necessaries? So that for this cause again God will most surely bestow them.

For indeed He is the artificer of our nature, and He knows perfectly the wants thereof. So that neither canst thou say, “He is indeed our Father, and the things we seek are necessary, but He knows not that we stand in need of them.” For He that knows our nature itself, and was the framer of it, and formed it such as it is; evidently He knows its need also better than thou, who art placed in want of them: it having been by His decree, that our nature is in such need. He will not therefore oppose Himself to what He hath willed, first subjecting it of necessity to so great want, and on the other hand again depriving it of what it wants, and of absolute necessaries

Let us not therefore be anxious, for we shall gain nothing by it, but tormenting ourselves. For whereas He gives both when we take thought, and when we do not, and more of the two, when we do not; what dost thou gain by thy anxiety, but to exact of thyself a superfluous penalty? Since one on the point of going to a plentiful feast, will not surely permit himself to take thought for food; nor is he that is walking to a fountain anxious about drink. Therefore seeing we have a supply more copious than either any fountain, or innumerable banquets made ready, the providence of God; let us not be beggars, nor little minded.

4. For together with what hath been said, He puts also yet another reason for feeling confidence about such things, saying,

“Seek ye the kingdom of Heaven, and all these things shall be added unto you.”13

Thus when He had set the soul free from anxiety, then He made mention also of Heaven. For indeed He came to do away with the old things, and to call us to a greater country. Therefore He doeth all, to deliver us from things unnecessary, and from our affection for the earth. For this cause He mentioned the heathens also, saying that “the Gentiles seek after these things;” they whose whole labor is for the present life, who have no regard for the things to come, nor any thought of Heaven. But to you not these present are the chief things,14 but other than these. For we were not born for this end, that we should eat and drink and be clothed, but that we might please God, and attain unto the good things to come. Therefore as things here are secondary in our labor, so also in our prayers let them be secondary. Therefore He also said, “Seek ye the kingdom of Heaven, and all these things shall be added unto you.”

And He said not, “shall be given,” but “shall be added,” that thou mightest learn, that the things present are no great part of His gifts, compared with the greatness of the things to come. Accordingly, He doth not bid us so much as ask for them, but while we ask for other things, to have confidence, as though these also were added to those. Seek then the things to come, and thou wilt receive the things present also; seek not the things that are seen, and thou shalt surely attain unto them. Yea, for it is unworthy of thee to approach thy Lord for such things. And thou, who oughtest to spend all thy zeal and thy care for those unspeakable blessings, dost greatly disgrace thyself by consuming it on the desire of transitory things.

“How then?” saith one, “did He not bid us ask for bread?” Nay, He added, “daily,” and to this again, “this day,” which same thing in fact He doth here also. For He said not, “Take no thought,” but, “Take no thought for the morrow,” at the same time both affording us liberty, and fastening our soul on those things that are more necessary to us.

For to this end also He bade us ask even those, not as though God needed reminding by us, but that we might learn that by His help we accomplish whatever we do accomplish, and that we might be made more His own by our continual prayer for these things.

Seest thou how by this again He would persuade them, that they shall surely receive the things present? For He that bestows the greater, much more will He give the less. “For not for this end,” saith He, “did I tell you not to take thought nor to ask, that ye should suffer distress, and go about naked, but in order that ye might be in abundance of these things also:” and this, you see, was suited above all things to attract them to Him. So that like as in almsgiving, when deterring them from making a display to men, he won upon them chiefly by promising to furnish them with it more liberally;-“for thy Father,” saith He, “who seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly;”15 -even so here also, in drawing them off from seeking these things, this is His persuasive topic, that He promises to bestow it on them, not seeking it, in greater abundance. Thus, to this end, saith He, do I bid thee not seek, not that thou mayest not receive, but that thou mayest receive plentifully; that thou mayest receive in the fashion16 that becomes thee, with the profit which thou oughtest to have; that thou mayest not, by taking thought, and distracting thyself in anxiety about these, render thyself unworthy both of these, and of the things spiritual; that thou mayest not undergo unnecessary distress, and again fall away from that which is set before thee.

5. “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof:” that is to say, the affliction, and the bruising thereof.17 Is it not enough for thee, to eat thy bread in the sweat of thy face? Why add the further affliction that comes of anxiety, when thou art on the point to be delivered henceforth even from the former toils?

By “evil” here He means, not wickedness, far from it, but affliction, and trouble, and calamities; much as in another place also He saith, “Is there evil in a city, which the Lord hath not done?”18 not meaning rapines, nor injuries,19 nor any thing like these, but the scourges which are borne from above. And again, “I,” saith He, “make peace, and create evils:”20 For neither in this place doth He speak of wickedness,21 but of famines, and pestilences, things accounted evil by most men: the generality being wont to call these things evil. Thus, for example, the priests and prophets of those five lordships, when having yoked the kine to the ark, they let them go without their calves,22 gave the name of “evil” to those heaven-sent plagues, and the dismay and anguish which thereby sprang up within them.

This then is His meaning here also, when He saith, “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” For nothing so pains the soul, as carefulness and anxiety. Thus did Paul also, when urging to celibacy, give counsel, saying, “I would have you without carefulness.”23

But when He saith, “the morrow shall take thought for itself,” He saith it not, as though the day took thought for these things, but forasmuch as He had to speak to a people somewhat imperfect, willing to make what He saith more expressive, He personifies the time, speaking unto them according to the custom of the generality.

And here indeed He advises, but as He proceeds, He even makes it a law, saying, “provide neither gold nor silver, nor scrip for your journey.”24 Thus, having shown it all forth in His actions, then after that He introduces the verbal enactment of it more determinately, the precept too having then become more easy of acceptance, confirmed as it had been previously by His own actions. Where then did He confirm it by His actions? Hear Him saying, “The Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.”25 Neither is He satisfied with this only, but in His disciples also He exhibits His full proof of these things, by fashioning them too in like manner, yet not suffering them to be in want of anything.

But mark His tender care also, how He surpasses the affection of any father. Thus, “This I command,” saith He, “for nothing else. but that I may deliver you from superfluous anxieties. For even if to-day thou hast taken thought for to-morrow, thou wilt also have to take thought again to-morrow. Why then what is over and above? Why force the day to receive more than the distress which is allotted to it, and together with its own troubles add to it also the burden of the following day; and this, when there is no chance of thy lightening the other by the addition so taking place, but thou art merely to exhibit thyself as coveting superfluous troubles?” Thus, that He may reprove them the more, He doth all but give life to the very time, and brings it in as one injured, and exclaiming against them for their causeless despite. Why, thou hast received the day, to care for the things thereof. Wherefore then add unto it the things of the other day also? Hath it not then burden enough in its own anxiety? Why now, I pray, dost thou make it yet heavier? Now when the Lawgiver saith these things, and He that is to pass judgment on us, consider the hopes that He suggests to us, how good they are; He Himself testifying, that this life is wretched and wearisome, so that the anxiety even of the one day is enough to hurt and afflict us.

6. Nevertheless, after so many and so grave words, we take thought for these things, but for the things in Heaven no longer: rather we have reversed His order, on either side fighting against His sayings. For mark; “Seek ye not the things, present,” saith He, “at all;” but we are seeking these things for ever: “seek the things in Heaven,” saith He; but those things we seek not so much as for a short hour, but according to the greatness of the anxiety we display about the things of the world, is the carelessness we entertain in things spiritual; or rather even much greater. But this doth not prosper for ever; neither can this be for ever. What if for ten days we think scorn? if for twenty? if for an hundred? must we not of absolute necessity depart, and fall into the hands of the Judge?

“But the delay hath comfort.” And what sort of comfort, to be every day looking for punishment and vengeance? Nay, if thou wouldest have some comfort from this delay, take it by gathering for thyself the fruit of amendment after repentance. Since if the mere delay of vengeance seem to thee a sort of refreshment, far more is it gain not to fall into the vengeance. Let us then make full use of this delay, in order to have a full deliverance from the dangers that press upon us. For none of the things enjoined is either burdensome or grievous, but all are so light and easy, that it we only bring a genuine purpose of heart, we may accomplish all, though we be chargeable with countless offenses. For so Manasses had perpetrated innumerable pollutions, having both stretched out his hands against the saints, and brought abominations into the temple, and filled the city with murders, and wrought many other things beyond excuse; yet nevertheless after so long and so great wickedness, he washed away from himself all these things.26 How and in what manner? By repentance, and consideration.

For there is not, yea, there is not any sin, that doth not yield and give way to the power of repentance, or rather to the grace of Christ. Since if we would but only change, we have Him to assist us. And if thou art desirous to become good, there is none to hinder us; or rather there is one to hinder us, the devil, yet hath he no power, so long as thou choosest what is best, and so attractest God to thine aid. But if thou art not thyself willing, but startest aside, how shall He protect thee? Since not of necessity or compulsion, but of thine own will, He wills thee to be saved. For if thou thyself, having a servant full of hatred and aversion for thee, and continually going off, and fleeing away from thee, wouldest not choose to keep him, and this though needing his services; much less will God, who doeth all things not for His own profit, but for thy salvation, choose to retain thee by compulsion; as on the other hand, if thou show forth a right intention only, He would not choose ever to give thee up, no, not whatever the devil may do. So that we are ourselves to blame for our own destruction. Because we do not approach, nor beseech, nor entreat Him, as we ought: but even if we do draw nigh, it is not as persons who have need to receive, neither is it with the proper faith, nor as making demand, but we do all in a gaping and listless way.

7. And yet God would have us demand things of Him, and for this accounts Himself greatly bound to thee.27 For He alone of all debtors, when the demand is made, counts it a favor, and gives what we have not lent Him. And if He should see him pressing earnestly that makes the demand, He pays down even what He hath not received of us; but if sluggishly, He too keeps on making delays; not through unwillingness to give, but because He is pleased to have the demand made upon Him by us. For this cause He told thee also the example of that friend, who came by night, and asked a loaf;28 and of the judge that feared not God, nor regarded men.29 And He stayed not at similitudes, but signified it also in His very actions, when He dismissed that Phoenician woman, having filled her with His great gift.30 For through her He signified, that He gives to them that ask earnestly, even the things that pertain not to them. “For it is not meet,” saith He, “to take the children’s bread, and to give31 it unto the dogs.” But for all that He gave, because she demanded of him earnestly. But by the Jews He showed, that to them that are careless, He gives not even their own. They accordingly received nothing, but lost what was their own. And while these, because they asked not, did not receive so much as their very own; she, because she assailed Him with earnestness, had power to obtain even what pertained to others, and the dog received what was the children’s. So great a good is importunity. For though thou be a dog, yet being importunate, thou shalt be preferred to the child being negligent: for what things affection accomplishes not, these, all of them, importunity did accomplish. Say not therefore, “God is an enemy to me, and will not hearken.” He doth straightway answer thee, continually troubling him, if not because thou art His friend, yet because of thine importunity. And neither the enmity, or the unseasonable time, nor anything else becomes an hindrance. Say not, “I am unworthy, and do not pray;” for such was the Syrophoenician woman too. Say not, “I have sinned much, and am not able to entreat Him whom I have angered;” for God looks not at the desert, but at the disposition. For if the ruler that feared not God, neither was ashamed of men, was overcome by the widow, much more will He that is good be won over by continual entreaty.

So that though thou be no friend, though thou be not demanding thy due, though thou hast devoured thy Father’s substance, and have been a long time out of sight, though without honor, though last of all, though thou approach Him angry, though much displeased; be willing only to pray, and to return, and thou shalt receive all, and shall quickly extinguish the wrath and the condemnation.

But, “behold, I pray,” saith one, “and there is no result.” Why, thou prayest not like those; such I mean as the Syrophoenician woman, the friend that came late at night, and the widow that is continually troubling the judge, and the son that consumed his father’s goods. For didst thou so pray, thou wouldest quickly obtain. For though despite have been done unto Him, yet is He a Father; and though He have been provoked to anger, yet is He fond of His children; and one thing only doth He seek, not to take vengeance for our affronts, but to see thee repenting and entreating Him. Would that we were warmed in like measure, as those bowels are moved to the love of us. But this fire seeks a beginning only, and if thou afford it a little spark, thou kindlest a full flame of beneficence. For not because He hath been insulted, is He sore vexed, but because it is thou who art insulting Him, and so becoming frenzied. For if we being evil, when our children molest32 us, grieve on their account; much more is God, who cannot so much as suffer insult, sore vexed on account of thee, who hast committed it. If we, who love by nature, much more He, who is kindly affectioned beyond nature. “For though,” saith He, “a woman should forget the fruits of her womb, yet will I not forget thee.”33

8. Let us therefore draw nigh unto Him, and say, “Truth, Lord; for even the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”34 Let us draw nigh “in season, out of season:” or rather, one can never draw nigh out of season, for it is unseasonable not to be continually approaching. For of Him who desires to give it is always seasonable to ask: yea, as breathing is never out of season, so neither is praying unseasonable, but rather not praying. Since as we need this breath, so do we also the help that comes from Him; and if we be willing, we shall easily draw Him to us. And the prophet, to manifest this, and to point out the constant readiness of His beneficence, said, “We shall find Him prepared as the morning.”35 For as often as we may draw nigh, we shall see Him awaiting our movements. And if we fail to draw from out of His ever-springing goodness, the blame is all ours. This, for example, was His complaint against certain Jews, when He said, “My mercy is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.”36 And His meaning is like this; “I indeed have supplied all my part, but ye, as a hot sun coming over scatters both the cloud and the dew, and makes them vanish, so have ye by your great wickedness restrained the unspeakable Beneficence.”

Which also itself again is an instance of providential care: that even when He sees us unworthy to receive good, He withholds His benefits, lest He render us careless. But if we change a little, even but so much as to know that we have sinned, He gushes out beyond the fountains, He is poured forth beyond the ocean; and the more thou receivest, so much the more doth He rejoice; and in this way is stirred up again to give us more. For indeed He accounts it as His own wealth, that we should be saved, and that He should give largely to them that ask. And this, it may seem, Paul was declaring when He said, that He is “rich unto all and over all that call upon Him.”37 Because when we pray not, then He is wroth; when we pray not, then doth He turn away from us. For this cause “He became poor, that He might make us rich;”38 for this cause He underwent all those sufferings, that He might incite us to ask.

Let us not therefore despair, but having so many motives and good hopes, though we sin every day, let us approach Him, entreating, beseeching, asking the forgiveness of our sins. For thus we shall be more backward to sin for the time to come; thus shall we drive away the devil, and shall call forth the lovingkindness of God, and attain unto the good things to come, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and might forever and ever. Amen.

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St John Chrysostom’s Homiletic Commentary on Matthew 6:24-27

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 26, 2014


“No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to one and despise the other.”

SEEST thou how by degrees He withdraws us from the things that now are, and at greater length introduces what He hath to say, touching voluntary poverty, and casts down the dominion of covetousness?

For He was not contented with His former sayings, many and great as they were, but He adds others also, more and more alarming.3

For what can be more alarming than what He now saith, if indeed we are for our riches to fall from the service of Christ? or what more to be desired, if indeed, by despising wealth, we shall have our affection towards Him and our charity perfect?4 For what I am continually repeating, the same do I now say likewise, namely, that by both kinds He presses the hearer to obey His sayings; both by the profitable, and by the hurtful; much like an excellent physician, pointing out both the disease which is the consequence of neglect, and the good health which results from obedience.

See, for instance, what kind of gain He signifies this to be, and how He establishes the advantage of it by their deliverance from the contrary things. Thus, “wealth,” saith He, “hurts you not in this only, that it arms robbers against you, nor in that it darkens your mind in the most intense degree, but also in that it casts you out of God’s service, making you captive of lifeless riches, and in both ways doing you harm, on the one hand, by causing you to be slaves of what you ought to command; on the other, by casting you out of God’s service, whom, above all things, it is indispensable for you to serve.” For just as in the other place, He signified the mischief to be twofold, in both laying up here, “where moth corrupteth,” and in not laying up there, where the watch kept is impregnable; so in this place, too, He shows the loss to be twofold, in that it both draws off from God, and makes us subject to mammon.

But He sets it not down directly, rather He establishes it first upon general considerations, saying thus; “No man can serve two masters:” meaning here two that are enjoining opposite things; since, unless this were the case, they would not even be two. For so, “the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul,”1 and yet were they divided into many bodies; their unanimity however made the many one.

Then, as adding to the force of it, He saith, “so far from serving, he will even hate and abhor:” “For either he will hate the one,” saith He, “and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other.” And it seems indeed as if the same thing were said twice over; He did not however choose this form without purpose, but in order to show that the change for the better is easy. I mean, lest thou shouldest say, “I am once for all made a slave; I am brought under the tyranny of wealth,” He signifies that it is possible to transfer one’s self, and that as from the first to the second, so also from the second one may pass over to the first.

2. Having thus, you see, spoken generally, that He might persuade the hearer to be an uncorrupt judge of His words, and to sentence according to the very nature of the things; when he hath made sure of his assent, then, and not till then, He discovers Himself. Thus He presently adds,

“Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”

Let us shudder to think what we have brought Christ to say; with the name of God, to put that of gold. But if this be shocking, its taking place in our deeds, our preferring the tyranny of gold to the fear of God, is much more shocking.

“What then? Was not this possible among the ancients?” By no means. “How then,” saith one, “did Abraham, how did Job obtain a good report?” Tell me not of them that are rich, but of them that serve riches. Since Job also was rich, but he served not mammon, but possessed it and ruled over it, and was a master, not a slave. Therefore he so possessed all those things, as if he had been the steward of another man’s goods; not only not extorting from others, but even giving up his own to them that were in need. And what is more, when he had them they were no joy to him: so he also declared, saying. “If I did so much as rejoice when my wealth waxed great:”2 wherefore neither did he grieve when it was gone. But they that are rich are not now such as he was, but are rather in a worse condition than any slave, paying as it were tribute to some grievous tyrant. Because their mind is as a kind of citadel occupied by the love of money, which from thence daily sends out unto them its commands full of all iniquity, and there is none to disobey. Be not therefore thus over subtle.3 Nay, for God hath once for all declared and pronounced it a thing impossible for the one service and the other to agree. Say not thou, then, “it is possible.” Why, when the one master is commanding thee to spoil by violence, the other to strip thyself of thy possessions; the one to be chaste, the other to commit fornication; the one to be drunken and luxurious, the other to keep the belly in subjection; the one again to despise the things that are, the other to be rivetted to the present; the one to admire marbles, and walls, and roofs, the other to contemn these, but to honor self-restraint: how is it possible that these should agree?

Now He calls mammon here “a master,” not because of its own nature, but on account of the wretchedness of them that bow themselves beneath it. So also He calls “the belly a god,”4 not from the dignity of such a mistress, but from the wretchedness of them that are enslaved: it being a thing worse than any punishment, and enough, before the punishment, in the way of vengeance on him who is involved in it. For what condemned criminals can be so wretched, as they who having God for their Lord, do from that mild rule desert to this grievous tyranny, and this when their act brings after it so much harm even here? For indeed their loss is unspeakable by so doing: there are suits, and molestations, and strifes, and toils, and a blinding of the soul; and what is more grievous than all, one falls away from the highest blessings; for such a blessing it is to be God’s servant.

3. Having now, as you see, in all ways taught the advantage of contemning riches, as well for the very preservation of the riches, as for the pleasure of the soul, and for acquiring self-command, and for the securing of godliness; He proceeds to establish the practicability of this command. For this especially pertains to the best legislation, not only to enjoin what is expedient, but also to make it possible. Therefore He also goes on to say,

“Take no thought5 for your life,6 what ye shall eat.”

That is, lest they should say, “What then? if we cast all away, how shall we be able to live?” At this objection, in what follows, He makes a stand, very seasonably. For as surely as if at the beginning He had said, “Take no thought,” the word would have seemed burdensome; so surely, now that He hath shown the mischief arising out of covetousness, His admonition coming after is made easy to receive. Wherefore neither did He now simply say, “Take no thought,” but He added the reason, and so enjoined this. After having said, “Ye cannot serve God and mammon,” He added, “therefore I say unto you, take no thought. Therefore;” for what? Because of the unspeakable loss. For the hurt you receive is not in riches only, rather the wound is in the most vital parts, and in that which is the overthrow of your salvation; casting you as it does out from God, who made you, and careth for you, and loveth you.

“Therefore I say unto you, take no thought.” Thus, after He hath shown the hurt to be unspeakable, then and not before He makes the commandment stricter; in that He not only bids us cast away what we have, but forbids to take thought even for our necessary food, saying, “Take no thought for your soul, what ye shall eat.” Not because the soul needs food, for it is incorporeal; but He spake according to the common custom. For though it needs not food, yet can it not endure to remain in the body, except that be fed. And in saying this, He puts it not simply so, but here also He brings up arguments, some from those things which we have already, and some from other examples.

From what we have already, thus saying:

“Is not the soul more than meat, and the body more than the raiment?”1

He therefore that hath given the greater, how shall He not give the less? He that hath fashioned the flesh that is fed, how shall He not bestow the food? Wherefore neither did He simply say, “Take no thought what ye shall eat,” or “wherewithal ye shall be clothed;” but, “for the body,” and, “for the soul:” forasmuch as from them He was to make His demonstrations, carrying on His discourse in the way of comparison. Now the soul He hath given once for all, and it abides such as it is; but the body increases every day. Therefore pointing out both these things, the immortality of the one, and the frailty of the other, He subjoins and says,

“Which of you can add one cubit unto his stature?”2

Thus, saying no more of the soul, since it receives not increase, He discoursed of the body only; hereby making manifest this point also, that not the food increases it, but the providence of God. Which Paul showing also in other ways, said, “So then, neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.”3

From what we have already, then, He urges us in this way: and from examples of other things, by saying, “Behold the fowls of the air.”4 Thus, lest any should say, “we do good by taking thought,” He dissuades them both by that which is greater, and by that which is less; by the greater, i.e. the soul and the body; by the less, i.e. the birds. For if of the things that are very inferior He hath so much regard, how shall He not give unto you? saith He. And to them on this wise, for as yet it was an ordinary5 multitude: but to the devil not thus; but how? “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”6 But here He makes mention of the birds, and this in a way greatly to abash them; which sort of thing is of very great value for the purpose of admonition.

4. However, some of the ungodly have come to so great a pitch of madness, as even to attack His illustration. Because, say they, it was not meet for one strengthening7 moral principle, to use natural advantages as incitements to that end. For to those animals, they add, this belongs by nature. What then shall we say to this? That even though it is theirs by nature, yet possibly we too may attain it by choice. For neither did He say, “behold how the birds fly,” which were a thing impossible to man; but that they are fed without taking thought, a kind of thing easy to be achieved by us also, if we will. And this they have proved, who have accomplished it in their actions.

Wherefore it were meet exceedingly to admire the consideration of our Lawgiver, in that, when He might bring forward His illustration from among men, and when He might have spoken of Moses and Elias and John, and others like them, who took no thought; that He might touch them more to the quick, He made mention of the irrational beings. For had He spoken of those righteous men, these would have been able to say, “We are not yet become like them.” But now by passing them over in silence, and bringing forward the fowls of the air, He hath cut off from them every excuse, imitating in this place also the old law. Yea, for the old covenant likewise sends to the bee, and to the ant,16 and to the turtle, and to the swallow.17 And neither is this a small sign of honor, when the same sort of things, which those animals possess by nature, those we are able to accomplish by an act of our choice. If then He take so great care of them which exist for our sakes, much more of us; if of the servants, much more of the master. Therefore He said, “Behold the fowls,” and He said not, “for they do not traffic, nor make merchandise,”18 for these were among the things that were earnestly forbidden. But what? “they sow not, neither do they reap.” “What then?” saith one, “must we not sow?” He said not, “we must not sow,” but “we must not take thought;” neither that one ought not to work, but not to be low-minded, nor to rack one’s self with cares. Since He bade us also be nourished, but not in “taking thought.”

Of this lesson David also lays the foundation from old time, saying enigmatically on this wise, “Thou openest Thine hand, and fillest every living thing with bounty;”19 and again, “To Him that giveth to the beasts their food, and to the young ravens that call upon Him.”20

“Who then,” it may be said, “have not taken thought”? Didst thou not hear how many of the righteous I adduced? Seest thou not with them Jacob, departing from his father’s house destitute of all things? Dost thou not hear him praying and saying, “If the Lord give me bread to eat and raiment to put on?”21 which was not the part of one taking thought, but of one seeking all of God. This the apostles also attained, who cast away all, and took no thought: also, the “five thousand,” and the “three thousand.”22

5. But if thou canst not bear, upon hearing so high words, to release thyself from these grievous bonds, consider the unprofitableness of the thing, and so put an end to thy care. For

“Which of you by taking thought” (saith He) “can add one cubit unto his stature.”23

Seest thou how by that which is evident, He hath manifested that also which is obscure? Thus, “As unto thy body,” saith He, “thou wilt not by taking thought be able to add, though it be ever so little; so neither to gather food; think as thou mayest otherwise.” Hence it is clear that not our diligence, but the providence of God, even where we seem to be active, effects all. So that, were He to forsake us, no care, nor anxiety, nor toil, nor any other such thing, will ever appear to come to anything, but all will utterly pass away,

Let us not therefore suppose His injunctions are impossible: for there are many who duly perform them, even as it is. And if thou knowest not of them, it is nothing marvellous, since Elias too supposed he was alone, but was told, “I have left unto myself seven thousand men.”24 Whence it is manifest that even now there are many who show forth the apostolical life; like as the “three thousand” then, and the “five thousand.”25 And if we believe not, it is not because there are none who do well, but because we are far from so doing. So that just as the drunkard would not easily believe, that there exists any man who doth not taste even water (and yet this hath been achieved by many solitaries in our time26 ); nor he who connects himself with numberless women, that it is easy to live in virginity; nor he that extorts other men’s goods, that one shall readily give up even his own: so neither will those, who daily melt themselves down with innumerable anxieties, easily receive this thing.

Now as to the fact, that there are many who have attained unto this, we might show it even from those, who have practised this self-denial even in our generation.

But for you, just now, it is enough to learn not to covet, and that almsgiving is a good thing; and to know that you must impart of what ye have. For these things if thou wilt duly perform, beloved, thou wilt speedily proceed to those others also.

6. For the present therefore let us lay aside our excessive sumptuousness, and let us endure moderation, and learn to acquire by honest labor all that we are to have: since even the blessed John, when he was discoursing with those that were employed upon the tribute, and with the soldiery, enjoined them “to be content with their wages.”27 Anxious though he were to lead them on to another, and a higher self-command, yet since they were still unfit for this, he speaks of the lesser things. Because, if he had mentioned what are higher than these, they would have failed to apply themselves to them, and would have fallen from the others.

For this very reason we too are practising you28 in the inferior duties. Yes, because as yet, we know, the burden of voluntary poverty is too great for you, and the heaven is not more distant from the earth, than such self-denial from you. Let us then lay hold, if it be only of the lowest commandments, for even this is no small encouragement. And yet some amongst the heathens have achieved even this, though not in a proper spirit, and have stripped themselves of all their possessions.29 However, we are contented in your case, if alms are bestowed abundantly by you; for we shall soon arrive at those other duties too, if we advance in this way. But if we do not so much as this, of what favor shall we be worthy, who are hidden to surpass those under the old law, and yet show ourselves inferior to the philosophers among the heathens? What shall we say, who when we ought to be angels and sons of God, do not even quite maintain our being as men? For to spoil and to covet comes not of the gentleness of men, but of the fierceness of wild beasts; nay, worse than wild beasts are the assailers of their neighbor’s goods. For to them this comes by nature, but we who are honored with reason, and yet are falling away unto that unnatural vileness, what indulgence shall we receive?

Let us then, considering the measures of that discipline which is set before us, press on at least to the middle station, that we may both be delivered from the punishment which is to come, and proceeding regularly, may arrive at the very summit of all good things; unto which may we all attain, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

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St Augustine’s Sermon on Matthew 6:19~”Lay Not Up For Yourself Treasures On Earth”

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 26, 2014

1. EVERY man who is in any trouble, and his own resources fail him, looks out for some prudent person from whom he may take counsel, and so know what to do. Let us suppose then the whole world to be as it were one single man. He seeks to escape evil, yet is slow in doing good; and as in this way tribulations thicken, and his own resources fail, whom can he find more prudent to receive counsel from than Christ? By all means, at least, let him find a better, and do what he will. But if he cannot find a better, let him come to Him whom he may find everywhere: let him consult, and take advice from Him, keep the good commandment, escape the great evil. For present temporal ills of which men are so sore afraid, under which they murmur exceedingly, and by their murmuring offend Him who is correcting them, so that they find not His saving Help;1 present ills I say without a doubt are but passing; either they pass through us, or we pass through them; either they pass away whilst we live, or they are left behind us when we die. Now that is not in the matter of tribulation great, which in duration is short. Whosoever thou art that art thinking of to-morrow, thou dost not recall the remembrance of yesterday. When the day after to-morrow comes, this to-morrow also will be yesterday; But now if men are so disquieted with anxiety to escape temporal tribulations which pass, or rather fly over, what thought ought they to take that they may escape those which abide and endure without end?

2. A hard condition is the life of man. What else is it to be born, but to enter on a life of toil? Of our toil that is to be, the infant’s very cry is witness. From this cup2 of sorrow no one may be excused. The cup that Adam hath pledged, must be drunk. We were made, it is true, by the hands of Truth, but because of sin we were cast forth upon days of vanity. “We were made after the image of God,”3 but we4 disfigured it by sinful transgression. Therefore does the Psalm remind us how we were made, and to what a state we have come. For it says, “Though a man walk in the image5 of God.” See, what he was made. Whither hath he come? Hearken to what follows, “Yet will he be disquieted in vain.”6 He walks in the image of truth, and will be disquieted in the counsel of vanity. Finally, see his disquiet, see it, and as it were in a glass, be displeased with thyself. “Though,” he says, “man walk in the image of God,” and therefore be something great, “yet will he be disquieted in vain;” and as though we might ask, How I pray thee, how is man disquieted in vain? “He heapeth up treasure,” saith he, “and knoweth not for whom he doth gather it.” See then, this man, that is the whole human race represented as one man, who is without resource in his own case, and hath lost counsel and wandered out of the way of a sound mind; “Heapeth up treasure, and knoweth not for whom he doth gather it.” What is more mad, what more unhappy? But surely he is doing it for himself? Not so. Why not for himself? Because he must die, because the life of man is short, because the treasure lasts, but he who gathereth it, quickly passeth away. As pitying therefore the man who “walketh in the image of God,” who confesseth things that are true, yet followeth after vain things, he saith, “He will be disquieted in vain.” I grieve for him; “he heapeth up treasure, and knoweth not for whom he doth gather it.” Doth he gather it for himself? No. Because the man dies whilst the treasure endures. For whom then? If thou hast any good counsel, give it to me. But counsel hast thou none to give me, and so thou hast none for thyself. Wherefore if we are both without it, let us both seek it, let us both receive it, and both consider the matter together. He is disquieted, he heapeth up treasure, he thinks, and toils, and is kept awake by anxiety. All day long art thou harassed by labour, all night agitated by fear. That thy coffer may be filled with money, thy soul is in a fever of anxiety.

3. I see it, I am grieved for thee; thou art disquieted, and as He who cannot deceive, assures us, “Thou art disquieted in vain.” For thou art heaping up treasures: supposing that all thy undertakings succeed, to say nothing of losses, of so great perils and deaths in the prosecution of every several kind of gain (I speak not of deaths of the body, but of evil thoughts, for that gold may come in, uprightness7 goeth out; that thou mayest be clothed outwardly, thou art made naked within), but to pass over these, and other such things in silence, to pass by all the things that are against thee, let us think only of the favourable circumstances. See, thou art laying up treasures, gains flow into thee from every quarter, and thy money runs like fountains; everywhere where want presseth, there doth abundance flow. Hast thou not heard, “If riches increase, set not your heart upon them?”8 Lo, thou art getting, thou art disquieted, not fruitlessly indeed, still in vain. “How,” thou wilt ask “am I disquieted in vain? I am filling my coffers, my walls will scarce hold what I get, how then am I disquieted in vain?” “Thou art heaping up treasure, and dost not know for whom thou gatherest it.” Or if thou dost know, I pray thee tell me. I will listen to thee. For whom is it? If thou art not disquieted in vain, tell me for whom thou art heaping up thy treasure? “For myself,” thou sayest. Dost thou dare say so, who must so soon die? “For my children.” Dost thou dare say this of them who must so soon die? It is a great duty of natural affection1 (it will be said) for a father to lay up for his sons; rather it is a great vanity, one who must soon die is laying up for those who must soon die also. If it is for thyself, why dost thou gather, seeing thou leavest all when thou diest. This is the case also with thy children; they will succeed thee, but not to abide long. I say nothing about what sort of children they may be, whether haply debauchery may not waste what covetousness hath amassed. So another by dissoluteness2 squanders what thou by much toil hast gathered together. But I pass over this. It may be they will be good children, they will not be dissolute, they will keep what thou hast left, will increase what thou hast kept, and will not dissipate what thou hast heaped together. Then will thy children be equally vain with thyself, if they do so, if in this they imitate thee their father. I would say to them what I said just now to thee. I would say to thy son, to him for whom thou art saving I would say, “Thou art heaping up treasure, and knowest not for whom thou dost gather it.” For as thou knewest not, so neither doth he know. If the vanity hath continued in him, hath the truth lost its power with respect to him?

4. I forbear to urge, that it may be even during thy life thou art but laying up for thieves. In one night may they come and find all ready the gathering of so many days and nights. It may be thou art laying up for a robber, or a highwayman. I will say no more on this, lest I call to mind and re-open the wound of past sufferings. How many things which an empty vanity hath heaped together, hath the cruelty of an enemy found ready to its hand. It is not my place to wish for this: but it is the concern of all to fear it. May God avert it! May His own scourges be sufficient. May He to whom we pray, spare us! But if He ask thee for whom are we laying by, what shall we answer? How then, O man, whosoever thou art, that are heaping up treasure in vain, how wilt thou answer me, as I handle this matter with thee, and with thee seek counsel in a common cause? For thou didst speak and make answer, “I am laying up for myself, for my children, for my posterity.” I have said already how many grounds of fear there are, even as to those children themselves. But I pass over the consideration, that thy children may so live as to be a curse3 to thee, and as thine enemy would wish them; grant that they live as the father himself would have them. Yet how many have fallen into those mischances, I have declared, and reminded you of already. Thou didst shudder at them, though thou didst not amend thyself. For what hast thou to answer but this, “Perhaps it may not be so”? Well, I said so too; perhaps I say thou art but laying up for the thief, or robber, or highwayman. I did not say certainly, but perhaps. Where there is a perhaps, there is a perhaps-not; so then thou knowest not what will be, and therefore thou “art disquieted in vain.” Thou seest now how truly spake the Truth, how vainly vanity is disquieted. Thou hast heard and at length learnt wisdom, because when thou sayest, “Perhaps it is for my children,” but dost not dare to say, “I am sure that it is for my children,” thou dost not in fact know for whom thou art gathering riches. So then, as I see, and have said already, thou art thyself without resource; thou findest nothing wherewith to answer me, nor can I to answer thee.

5. Let us both therefore seek and ask for counsel. We have opportunity of consulting not any wise man, but Wisdom Herself. Let us then both give ear to Jesus Christ, “to the Jews a stumbling stone, and to the Gentiles foolishness, but to them who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the Power of God and the Wisdom of God.”4 Why art thou preparing a strong defence for thy riches? Hear the Power of God, nothing is more strong than He. Why art thou preparing wise counsel5 to protect thy riches? Hear the Wisdom of God, nothing is more Wise than He. Peradventure when I say what I have to say, thou wilt be offended, and so thou wilt be a Jew, “because to the Jews is Christ an offence.” Or peradventure, when I have spoken, it will appear foolish to thee, and so wilt thou be a Gentile, “for to the Gentiles is Christ foolishness.” Yet thou art a Christian, thou hast been called. “But to them who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the Power of God and the Wisdom of God.” Be not sad then when I have said what I have to say; be not offended; mock not my folly, as you deem it, with an air of disdain.6 Let us give ear. For what I am about to say, Christ hath said. If thou despise the herald, yet fear the Judge. What shall I say then? The reader of the Gospel has but just now relieved me from this embarrassment. I will not read anything fresh, but will recall only to your recollection what has just been read. Thou wast seeking counsel, as failing in thine own resources; see then what the Fountain of right counsel saith, the Fountain from whose streams is no fear of poison, fill from It what thou mayest.

6. “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust doth destroy, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where no thief approacheth, nor moth corrupteth: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”1 What more dost thou wait for? The thing is plain. The counsel is open, but evil desire lies hid; nay, not so, but what is worse, it too lies open. For plunder does not cease its ravages; avarice does not cease to defraud; maliciousness does not cease to swear falsely. And all for what? that treasure may be heaped together. To be laid up where? In the earth, and rightly indeed, by earth for earth. For to the man who sinned and who pledged us, as I have said, our cup of toil, was it said, “Earth thou art, and to earth shalt thou return.”2 With good reason is the treasure in earth, because the heart is there. Where then is that, “we lift them up unto the Lord?” Sorrow for your case, ye who have understood me; and if ye sorrow truly, amend yourselves. How long will ye be applauding and not doing? What ye have heard is true, nothing truer. Let that then which is true be done. One God we praise, yet we change not, that we may not in this very praise be disquieted in vain.

7. Therefore, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth;” whether ye have found by experience how what is laid up in the earth is lost, or whether ye have not so experienced it, yet do ye too fear lest ye should do so. Let experience reform him whom words will not reform. One cannot rise up now, one cannot go out, but all together with one voice are crying, “Woe to us, the world is falling.”3 If it be falling, why dost thou not remove? If an architect were to tell thee, that thy house would soon fall, wouldest thou not remove before thou didst indulge in thy vain lamentations? The Builder of the world telleth thee the world will soon fall, and wilt thou not believe it? Hear the voice of Him who foretelleth it, hear the counsel of Him who giveth thee warning. The voice of prediction is, “Heaven and earth shall pass away.”4 The voice of warning is, “Lay not up for yourselves treasure on earth.”5 If then thou dost believe God in His prediction; if thou despise not His warning, let what He says be done. He who has given thee such counsel doth not deceive thee. Thou shalt not lose what thou hast given away, but shalt follow what thou hast only sent before thee. Therefore my counsel is, “Give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.”6 Thou shalt not remain without treasure; but what thou hast on earth with anxiety, thou shalt possess in heaven free from care. Transport thy goods then. I am giving thee counsel for keeping, not for losing. “Thou shalt have,” saith He, “treasure in heaven, and come, follow Me,” that I may bring thee to thy treasure. This is not a wasting, but a saving. Why do men keep silence? Let them hear, and having at last by experience found what to fear, let them do that which will give them no cause of fear, let them transport their goods to heaven. Thou puttest wheat in the low ground;7 and thy friend comes, who knows the nature of the corn and the land, and instructs thy unskilfulness, and says to thee, “What hast thou done?” Thou hast put the corn in the flat soil, in the lower land; the soil is moist; it will all rot, and thou wilt lose thy labour. Thou answerest, What then must I do? Remove it, he says, into the higher ground. Dost thou then give ear to a friend who gives thee counsel about thy corn, and despisest thou God who gives thee counsel about thine heart? Thou fearest to put thy corn in the low earth, and wilt thou lose thy heart in the earth? Behold the Lord thy God when He giveth thee counsel touching thine heart, saith, “Where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also.”8 Lift up, saith He, thine heart to heaven, that it rot not in the earth. It is His counsel, who wisheth to preserve thy heart, not to destroy it.

8. If then this be so, what must be their repentance who have not done thereafter? How must they now reproach themselves! We might have had in heaven what we have now lost in earth. The enemy has broken up our house; but could he break heaven open? He has killed the servant who was set to guard; but could he kill the Lord who would have kept them, “where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth.” How many now are saying, “There we might have had, and hid our treasures safe, where after a little while we might have followed them securely. Why have we not hearkened to our Lord? Why have we despised the admonitions of the Father, and so have experienced the invasion of the enemy?” If then this be good counsel, let us not be slow in taking heed to it; and if what we have must be transported, let us transfer it into that place, from whence we cannot lose it. What are the poor to whom we give, but our1 carriers,2 by whom we convey our goods from earth to heaven? Give then: thou art but giving to thy carrier, he carrieth what thou givest to heaven. How, sayest thou, does he carry it to heaven? For I see that he makes an end of it by eating. No doubt, he carries it, not by keeping it, but by making it his food. What? Hast thou forgotten, “Come, ye blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom; for I was an hungred, and ye gave Me meat:” and, “Inasmuch as ye did it to one of the least of Mine, ye did it to Me.”3 If thou hast not despised the beggar that standeth before thee, consider to Whom what thou gavest him hath come. “Inasmuch,” saith he, “as ye did it to one of the least of Mine, ye did it to Me.” He hath received it, who gave thee wherewith to give. He hath received it, who in the end will give His Own Self to thee.

9. For this have I at divers times called to your remembrance, Beloved, and I confess to you it astonishes me much in the Scriptures of God, and I ought repeatedly to call your attention to it. I pray you to think of what our Lord Jesus Christ Himself saith, that at the end of the world, when He shall come to judgment, He will gather together all nations before Him, and will divide men into two parts; that He will place some at His right hand, and others on His left; and will say to those on the right hand, “Come, ye blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” But to those on the left, “Depart ye into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Search out the reasons either for so great a reward, or so great a punishment. “Receive the kingdom,” and “Go into everlasting fire.” Why shall the first receive the kingdom? “For I was an hungred, and ye gave Me meat.” Why shall the other depart into everlasting fire? “For I was hungry, and ye gave Me no meat.” What meaneth this, I ask? I see touching those who are to receive the kingdom, that they gave as good and faithful Christians, not despising the words of the Lord, and with sure trust hoping for the promises they did accordingly; because had they not done so, this very barrenness would not surely have accorded with their good life. For it may be they were chaste, no cheats, nor drunkards, and kept themselves from evil works. Yet if they had not added good works, they would have remained barren. For they would have kept, “Depart from evil,” but they would not have kept, “and do good.”4 Notwithstanding, even to them He doth not say, “Come, receive the kingdom,” for ye have lived in chastity; ye have defrauded no man, ye have not oppressed any poor man, ye have invaded no one’s landmark, ye have deceived no one by oath. He said not this, but, “Receive the kingdom, because I was an hungred, and ye gave Me meat.” How excellent is this above all, when the Lord made no mention of the rest, but named this only! And again to the others, “Depart ye into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. How many things could He urge against the ungodly, were they to ask, “Why are we going into everlasting fire!” Why? Do ye ask, ye adulterers, menslayers, cheats, sacrilegious blasphemers, unbelievers. Yet none of these did He name, but, “Because I was hungry, and ye gave Me no meat.

10. I see that you are surprised as I am. And indeed it is a marvellous thing. But I gather as best I can the reason of this thing so strange, and I will not conceal it from you. It is written, “As water quencheth fire, so alms quencheth sin.”5 Again it is written, “Shut up alms in the heart of a poor man, and it shall make supplication for thee before the Lord.”6 Again it is written, “Hear, O king, my counsel, and redeem thy sins by alms.”7 And many other testimonies of the Divine oracles are there, whereby it is shown that alms avail much to the quenching and effacing of sins. Wherefore to those whom He is about to condemn, yea, rather to those whom He is about to crown, He will impute alms only, as though He would say, “It were a hard matter for me not to find occasion to condemn you, were I to examine and weigh you accurately and with much exactness to scrutinize your deeds; but, “Go into the kingdom, for I was hungry, and ye gave Me meat.” Ye shall therefore go into the kingdom, not because ye have not sinned, but because ye have redeemed your sins by alms. And again to the others, “Go ye into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” They too, guilty as they are, old in their sins, late in their fear for them, in what respect, when they turn their sins over in their mind, could they dare to say that they are undeservedly condemned, that this sentence is pronounced against them undeservedly by so righteous a Judge? In considering their consciences, and all the wounds of their souls, in what respect could they dare to say, We are unjustly condemned. Of whom it was said before in Wisdom, “Their own iniquities shall convince them to their face.”8 Without doubt they will see that they are justly condemned for their sins and wickednesses; yet it will be as though He said to them, “It is not in consequence of this that ye think, but ‘because I was hungry, and ye gave Me no meat.’ ” For if turning away from all these your deeds, and turning to Me, ye had redeemed all those crimes and sins by alms, those alms would now deliver you, and absolve you from the guilt of so great offences; for, “Blessed are the merciful, for to them shall be shown mercy.”1 But now go away into everlasting fire. “He shall have judgment without mercy, who hath showed no mercy.”2

11. O that I may have induced you, my brethren, to give away your earthly bread, and to knock for the heavenly! The Lord is that Bread. He saith, “I am the Bread of life.”3 But how shall He give to thee, who givest not to him that is in need? One is in need before thee, and thou art in need before Another, and since thou art in need before Another, and another is in need before thee, that other is in need before him who is in need himself. For He before whom thou art in need, needeth nothing. Do then to others as thou wouldest have done to thee. For it is not in this case as with those friends who are wont to upbraid in a way one another with their kindnesses; as, “I did this for thee,” and the other answers, “and I this for thee,” that He wishes us to do Him some good office, because He has first done such an office for us. He is in want of nothing, and therefore is He the very Lord. I said unto the Lord, “Thou art my God, for Thou needest not my goods.”4 Notwithstanding though He be the Lord, and the Very Lord, and needeth not our goods, yet that we might do something even for Him, hath He vouchsafed to be hungry in His poor. “I was hungry,” saith He, “and ye gave Me meat. Lord, when saw we Thee hungry? Forasmuch as ye did it to one of the least of Mine, ye did it to Me.”5 To be brief then, let men hear, and consider as they ought, how great a merit it is to have fed Christ when He hungereth, and how great a crime it is to have despised Christ when He hungereth.

12. Repentance for sins changes men, it is true, for the better; but it does not appear as if even it would profit ought, if it should be barren of works of mercy. This the Truth testifieth by the mouth of John, who said to them that came to him, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance; And say not we have Abraham to our father; for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. For now is the axe laid unto the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be cut down, and cast into the fire.”6 Touching this fruit he said above, “Bring fort fruits worthy of repentance.” Whoso then bringeth not forth these fruits, hath no cause to think that he shall attain7 pardon for his sins by a barren repentance. Now what these fruits are he showeth afterwards himself. For after these his words the multitude asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?” That is, what are these fruits, which thou exhortest us with such alarming force to bring forth? “But he answering said unto them, he that hath two coats, let him give to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.” My brethren, what is more plain, what more certain, or express than this? What other meaning then can that have which he said above, “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down, and cast into the fire;” but that same which they on the left shall hear, “Go ye into everlasting fire, for I was hungry, and ye gave Me no meat.” So then it is but a small matter to depart from sins, if thou shalt neglect to cure what is past, as it is written, “Son, thou hast sinned, do so no more.” And that he might not think to be secure by this only, he saith, “And for thy former sins pray that they may be forgiven thee.”8 But what will it profit thee to pray for forgiveness, if thou shalt not make thyself meet to be heard, by not bringing forth fruits meet for repentance, that thou shouldest be cut down as a barren tree, and be cast into the fire? If then ye will be heard when ye pray for pardon of your sins, “Forgive, and it shall be forgiven you; Give, and it shall be given you.”9

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Father Maas’ Commentary on Matthew 6:19-34

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 26, 2014

19 Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust, and moth consume, and where thieves break through, and steal.
20 But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven: where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through, nor steal.
21 For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also.
22 The light of thy body is thy eye. If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be lightsome.
23 But if thy eye be evil thy whole body shall be darksome. If then the light that is in thee, be darkness: the darkness itself how great shall it be!
24 No man can serve two masters. For either he will hate the one, and love the other: or he will sustain the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Private life in the kingdom (Mt 6:19-34) Bleek, Neander, Weiss, contend that the following section is a mere interpolation in the sermon on the mount, being wholly foreign to its theme announced in Mt. 5:17–20. De Wette moreover asserts that the section is not connected with its context; but Weiss-denies this position, since at least the evangelist must have intended some kind of a connection. Schanz, etc. see in the present passage an addition to the preceding: alms-deeds, prayer, and fasting, performed in the right way, procure us heavenly treasures, by far preferable to earthly riches; but they do not yet necessarily exclude a striving after earthly possessions. Our Lord warns us against this striving in the following section. Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euthymius, Cajetan, Jansenius, Barradas, Lapide, Knabenbauer etc. connect the present section with the preceding in a more simple manner: in the preceding we have a warning against vainglory, in the present an exhortation against avarice. This connection is more natural and more in keeping with the text than that proposed by other writers who see in the preceding section the principal sources of meriting heavenly treasures, and in the present a monition to prefer heavenly to earthly riches. In any case, vv. 19–24 warn against avarice, vv. 25–34 against excessive care for earthly necessities.

Warning against avarice. Our Lord assigns the following reasons for avoiding avarice: α. Earthly riches are perishable: the moth consumes our costly garments, the rust eats our crops and things of a similar nature, the thieves steal our gold and silver; if then riches are desired, we must acquire those of heaven where there are no agents that can corrupt our possessions.

The second reason for guarding against avarice is the fact that our heart stays with our treasure; it will remain, therefore, on earth, fixed on worldly goods, if we have our treasure on earth.

The third reason against avarice is based on the extreme importance of having our heart wholly fixed on heavenly goods. Since all our members, being of themselves blind to the light, must be directed by the eye, their proper direction depends on the healthy state of the eye,—“single” and “evil” in the text mean, according to the Greek text, “well” and “ill” respectively. Now our heart and mind [Chrysostom], or our intention [Augustine, Bede, Rabanus, Paschasius; cf. Eph. 1:18], is for our moral life what the eye is for our body; if, then, our intention be blinded by passion, what light can there be in our other acts, which of themselves may be the blind result of our passions? Cf. Coleridge, iv. 87 f.

The fourth reason against avarice answers a difficulty that might occur to the reader or hearer: why can we not seek the riches of both heaven and earth? No one can serve two masters, our Lord answers; for even prescinding from the fact that one’s powers are wholly exhausted by one service, and that probably the two masters will exact from us services contrary to one another, our feelings cannot be loyal to two superiors. We naturally love the one and hate the other, and consequently adhere [the Greek text reads “adhere” instead of “sustain”] to the former and despise the latter [Schanz, etc.]; or, whether we serve through love or self-interest, we cannot feel in the same way towards both masters [Schegg]; or, again, we either love God and hate mammon, or practically despise God and bear with mammon [Augustine, etc.]; in any case, the service of God and mammon cannot be combined in the same person.

The word “mammon” has been variously derived by different writers: some refer it back to the verb טָמַן [to conceal] or its derivative noun מַטְמו̇ן [store-room], so that it conveys the idea of something concealed [Gen. 43:23; Prov. 2:4; Job 3:21; Gesen. Lap. Meyer, etc.]; others derive the word from] אָמֵן [to trust], appealing to Ps. 36:3 and Is. 33:6, where the lxx render אֶמוּכָה, derived from the same verb, by πλοῦτος and θησαυροοζ respectively [Schegg Wilke, Keim, W. Grimm, etc.]. Though philologically considered this latter derivation appears preferable [מָמו̇כָא contracted out of מָאמוֹבָא as מֵמרָא is the contracted form of מֵאמְרָא], still there are serious difficulties against such an etymology. The lxx. rendering of Ps. 36:3 must be understood figuratively; the rendering of Is. 33:6 belongs probably to another noun [הֹסֶן], not to אֱמוּכָה; finally, the present context does not represent mammon as something trustworthy, but on the contrary as something vain and unreliable. It must also be noted in connection with the passage that our Lord does not pronounce it incompatible with the service of God to possess riches, but to serve them; some men have attained an eminent sanctity by the proper use of their riches.

25 Therefore I say to you, be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat, nor for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than the meat: and the body more than the raiment?
26 Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they?
27 And which of you by taking thought, can add to his stature one cubit?
28 And for raiment why are you solicitous? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they labour not, neither do they spin.
29 But I say to you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these.
30 And if the grass of the field, which is to day, and to morrow is cast into the oven, God doth so clothe: how much more you, O ye of little faith?
31 Be not solicitous therefore, saying: What shall we eat: or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed?
32 For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things.
33 Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.
34 Be not therefore solicitous for to morrow; for the morrow will be solicitous for itself. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.

Therefore I say to you.] b. Warning against excessive solicitude. Solicitude for food and clothing may appear excusable on account of the needs of our bodily life. But even here excess must be avoided; vv. 31, 32, 34 show that Jesus condemns not all care for these necessaries, but only excess of care. This warning is connected with the preceding, because excessive solicitude is part of the service of mammon. Jesus gives the following reasons for his warning: α. The first is an argument “a maiori ad minus”; since God has given us life and body, he will also give us what is less, food and raiment [cf. 1 Pet. 5:7].

In the second place, our Lord is concerned with food only, arguing, “a minori ad maius,” that we must not be over-anxious for it: if our Father nourishes the birds of the air, wholly careless though they be of their food, and wholly removed though they be from it, he will also care for our nourishment [cf. Lk. 12:24; Ps. 146:9].

The third argument of our Lord continues his instruction concerning the care for our daily food, showing that anxiety in this regard is perfectly useless. It proceeds somehow “a minori ad maius,” but the way in which it does has given rise to a number of opinions. [1] A first class of writers retain the rendering of the ancients, “add to his stature one cubit.” Hence they interpret: how can you expect to preserve your whole body by your care, if you cannot add even one cubit to it [op. imp.; cf. Mald. Lk. 12:26]? or, since you cannot add one cubit to your body, you evidently are not master of it; or again, if with all your care you cannot add one cubit to your body without God’s special providence, why should you worry about what does not belong to you [Chrysostom]? [2] Another class of writers understand the words as meaning, “add one span to his lifetime.” It is true that the patristic interpreters did not adopt this opinion; but the Greek noun means both stature and lifetime, and Cajetan, Lapide, Sylveira, Barradas, explain the passage already as signifying somehow the prolongation of one’s life. The recent commentators [Arnoldi, Schegg, Reischl, Schanz, Fillion, Keil, etc.] have rendered this explanation clearer by pointing to the figurative meaning of time, in which longitudinal measures of space are used in almost all languages [cf. Lat. French, Germ. Engl.]; in scriptural language this may be the more readily assumed, because Ps. 39:6 [Heb.] compares our lifetime to a palm [a measure of three inches]. Besides, a cubit is something inconsiderable in comparison with the length of our lifetime; on the other hand, it would be something really wonderful, were we able to increase our stature by one cubit through our solicitude.

In the fourth place, our Lord gives an argument directed against solicitude regarding our clothing; it proceeds again “a minori ad maius.” The beauty and strength of the argument are enhanced by reference to the charming Eastern lilies and to the splendor of the greatest Hebrew king at the height of his glory [cf. 2 Par. 9:15 ff.; Deut. 8:4]. Moreover, the reference to Solomon is calculated to remind one directly that his power and glory were the special results of God’s providence.

After this Jesus repeats his prohibition of solicitude, and then adds a fifth reason: it is a characteristic of the pagans to care thus for their temporal necessities. Christians ought to remember that they have a Father in God, who dwells in heaven and therefore knows their needs and is able to alleviate them. Our Lord then contrasts our necessary with our superfluous solicitude, a laudable care with an objectionable one. He alludes to the custom that small trifles are given us gratis, if we buy valuable goods. The word “first” cannot mean first in time, as if we could be solicitous about earthly necessities after we have made sure of our heavenly life; nor can it well signify “only,” so that Jesus would enjoin on us to seek only the kingdom of God and his justice [Paschasius, Cajetan, Schegg, Schanz]; but it means most probably “first in dignity,” just as in the Our Father we pray absolutely and primarily for our spiritual needs, secondarily and conditionally for our daily bread [cf. Augustine, Dionysius, Jansenius, Salmeron, Arnoldi, Bisping, Fillion, Knabenbauer etc.]. The justice we are bidden to seek is that justice which God has commanded us to acquire, which he alone can give and preserve. It has been explained in the previous pages wherein this justice precisely consists. It follows from the loving care of our heavenly Father that we are not to be solicitous for the morrow; Schanz sees in this a prohibition ‘of solicitude for the future in general, while Jerome, Augustine, Euthymius, Maldonado, Lapide, Arnoldi, Weiss adhere to the strict meaning of the words, and allow, therefore, a proper care for the present day. Our Lord’s prohibition is again full of lovingkindness for his followers; since every day has its sufficient burden of care, it would be too heavy a load to carry the care of the morrow together with that of to-day. Hereby Jesus does not wish to exclude all foresight for the future; the example of Joseph in Egypt during the years of plenty, and of our Lord who allowed one of the twelve to carry the purse, the solicitude of the apostles [Acts 11:29], and the warning of Solomon [Prov. 6:6 f.; 30:25] sufficiently show that a care for the future, which does not exclude the absolute and primary care for our spiritual safety, is not forbidden.

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Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 6:24-34

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 26, 2014

24 No man can serve two masters. For either he will hate the one, and love the other: or he will sustain the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

This is a further reason for not laying up for ourselves treasures on earth. The preceding reasons or arguments were grounded on the fleeting nature and instability of such treasures (19); on the total absorption of our affections by them (21); on their destroying the merits of our actions and withdrawing us from God (22, 23). Here, it is founded on the grievous slavery it entails. We become the slaves of this earthly treasure, on which our hearts are set. We cannot serve it and God at the same time.

“No man can serve two masters.” This is an adage generally received, and true in almost all cases; and from the reasoning which follows, “for, he will either hate the one,” &c., it is clear that our Redeemer refers to the service dictated by love and affection (and it is against the absorbing love of riches He here wishes to caution His followers). The adage, generally true in all cases of double service, where different orders are given, is particularly true where the two masters give opposite orders. There is an incompatibility in a servant, from the very nature of his position, having his love and faithful service distracted between both. If there be question of masters who, though different or distinct, are subordinate, one to the other, they may be regarded as one. Thus, one servant can serve the several members of a household, as subordinate, all to the head. By “master,” is understood everything, to which we are too much addicted, as if enslaved.

“For, either he will hate the one and love the other.” “One,” is by a well-known Hebrew idiom, put for “first;” “the other,” for “second.” The words may be thus illustrated: Suppose the masters to be Peter and Paul. He will either hate the first (that is, Peter), and love the second (Paul); or he will hold to the first (Peter), and serve him, and despise the other (Paul). The opposition in the disjunctive clauses is not between the persons, but between the love and the hatred in one and the same person. “Hating” and “loving” may be understood in a lesser or greater degree of intensity.

The Greek word for “sustain” (ανθεξεται) denotes the strongest attachment St. Augustine understands “sustains,” or, “hold to,” of riches or “mammon,” and translates it, patietar, he will endure or tolerate, as if to say, if he devote himself to the service of this tyrant, mammon, to the rejection and contempt of God, he can only endure or tolerate him, but love him he cannot. The former interpretation is more in accordance with the received meaning of the Greek word, ανθεξεται.

“You cannot serve God and mammon.” This is the application of the general adage quoted in the foregoing. “Mammon” is a Syriac word, signifying riches. In the Chaldaic Targum of Onkelos, it is used for money (Exod. 21:21); and of Jonathan (Jud. 18:30). St. Augustine tells us that in the Punic language, it means gain (De Ser. Dom. Lib. ii.) It is her personified; for, indeed, the avaricious man makes a god of his riches, just as some make “a god of their belly” (Phil. 3:19). Hence, St. Paul terms riches “the serving of idols” (Eph. 5:5). Our Redeemer does not say, “you CANNOT be rich and serve God;” because, a man may be rich, like the patriarchs of old, and many just men, without being inordinately attached to riches; without “serving” them as the treasures of their hearts. God and riches are antithetical. It is the service of both that is incompatible. The love of riches is generally one of the greatest obstacles to the salvation of the world. The desire of riches, or their abuse, if possessed, is one of the means most successfully employed by the devil for the ruin of man. “It is easier for a camel,” &c. (See also St. Paul, 1 Tim. 6) On this account, it is, our Redeemer commands all those who range themselves under His standard, to despise the riches of this earth, after His own example; or, to use them, only as means towards possessing and enjoying the riches of heaven.

25 Therefore I say to you, be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat, nor for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than the meat: and the body more than the raiment?

Since, then, we cannot serve God and mammon at the same time, and cannot have our hearts attached to the things of earth, if we wish to serve God; we must, therefore, in order to serve God, whom alone we should serve, not merely be content with avoiding the unnecessary amassing of riches, but we must divert ourselves of all anxious, corroding solicitude for the very necessaries of life; all distrustful forecasting of future provision as regards these necessaries. Such solicitude generally binds the soul to earth, and belongs to the service of mammon. In this, our Lord obviates a tacit objection, or rather pretext, for concealing avarice, which men would put forward in justification of their constant striving for the things of earth, viz., the plea of securing the necessaries of life. Our Redeemer knew well how deeply rooted such a feeling of solicitude is in the human heart; hence, He not only draws an argument from the foregoing against indulging in such solicitude; but, in the following, He proceeds to show, from several arguments, the utter folly and inutility of the anxiety He condemns in reference to these very necessaries, either as regard soul or body; for of both, soul and body, human nature is composed. “Solicitous,” the Greek word, μεριμνατε, signifies distracting care, corroding anxiety. In one or two passages of the New Testament, μεριμνα denotes laudable anxiety (2 Cor. 11; Philip. 2:20), but it is generally used to denote distracting, distrustful care. (When laudable solicitude is in question, the Greek word used is, σπουδη.) In employing the former word, our Redeemer shows He does not censure a prudent, thoughtful diligence in regard to the necessaries of life, as is sanctioned by right reason, and the example of all the saints. It is only the man that sows that can expect to reap, and reap fruit of the same kind as the seed sown. The Scripture itself praises the diligence of the laborious ant (Prov. 6:6). St. Paul laboured with his hands to procure an independent sustenance (Acts 20.; 1 Thess. 2); and, writing to the Ephesians (c. 4) he commands the idle to labour so as to furnish necessaries to the needy. He tells the idle among the Thessalouians, “not to eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). What our Lord, then, censures and warns us against is that anxious, fretful, anticipating solicitude, which implies a distrust in God’s providence, and also fixes the heart on earth and withdraws it from God.

“The life,” (anima) is understood by some to mean, the soul of man. It is opposed to the “body,” not that the soul needs food; but, food is necessary to keep the soul, which, is the principle of life, in the body. Others understand it to mean, in accordance with the Hebrew usage, life (Job 2:6; St. Augustine, Lib. ii. de Serm. Domini, c. 22). To the words, “what you shall eat,” are added in the Greek and Syriac, “nor what you shall drink.” St. Jerome rejects them.

“Is not the life more than the food?” &c. Our Redeemer adduces several reasons to dissuade us from indulging in these distracting anxieties. The first is given here. He, who gave what is greater and more valuable, will not refuse what is less valuable, and is, moreover, necessary for the preservation of His own more precious gifts. The soul or life given by God is more valuable than the aliments necessary to sustain it; and the body more valuable than the necessary covering. We must, therefore, trust that He, who gave the former, will not fail to provide the latter.

26 Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they?

A second reason to dissuade us from inordinate anxiety: If God takes such care of the birds of the air, “the (worthless) ravens” (Luke 12:24), as to provide them with food, without any solicitude on their part, how much greater care will He not take of men, for whose use and benefit the rest of creation was formed? (See also Psa. 9; Job 38:41)

“Of the air,” to show forth in a still clearer light, God’s providence, as the birds of the air are not fed by men, like domestic fowl. He instances “birds” beyond any others; because, they are the most insignificant of animals. They remind us of raising ourselves above the things of this earth. They also seem the most indifferent beings in creation, about providing themselves, save casually, with food.

“They neither sow,” &c. This by no means implies, that in contravention of the primeval decree, “in sudore vultus tui, &c.” (Gen. 3:19), we, like the birds of the air, should follow no industrial pursuit, nor labour for our support. It conveys merely this, that, since the Creator feeds these animals, who have no other occupation or direction, save the dictates of their animal instincts, we should be persuaded, that He who is not only our Creator, but our Father also, will not fail to provide the necessary means of subsistence for us. His children, while engaged in following His holy will and precepts. So that if our duties in life should engage us in occupations other than those necessary to provide sustenance, such as sowing and reaping, we need not fear that we shall be deprived of the necessary sustenance.

The force of the argument consists, not in the comparison of man, or his occupations, with the birds; but, in the difference of relations and dispositions of God in regard to both, indicated in the words, “your heavenly Father.” (Jansen. Gandav.) “Your Father.” He is only their Creator; but, He bears also the tender relation and natural solicitude of a parent for you. “Heavenly,” conveys that, while dwelling in the heavens, He does not disdain to regulate earthly and temporal concerns; since His providence extends to the very ravens; and surely He will do more for His children than for the worthless ravens of the air.

27 And which of you by taking thought, can add to his stature one cubit?

“And which of you by taking thought?” &c. This is a third reason for laying aside all distracting solicitude, derived from its utter folly and inefficacy. The words of St. Luke (12:25, 26) would seem to point to this as an argument, a minore ad majus. According to some commentators (among them Barradius), our Redeemer institutes no comparison whatsoever. These understand the words to mean, “If by anxious thought, you cannot add a single cubit to your stature, a very inconsiderable thing;” if you cannot do the least thing by it, why, then, employ anxious thought about anything else in regard to which such disquieting solicitude can be of no avail, unless God’s providence interposes? “Why are you solicitous for the rest?” (Luke 12:20). According to these interpreters, there is no comparison whatsoever instituted. Others understand the words as expressing a comparison, as is implied in St. Luke, and interpret them thus, in allusion to the necessaries of life: “If you cannot, by your solicitude, add to your stature a single cubit, how much less can you procure the necessaries of life, which is but a conservation in existence, a continued series of acts of creation of the entire man, requiring, therefore, more power than if required to add a single cubit to your stature?” When, therefore, all your solicitude will prove of no avail to you to do a comparatively trifling thing, why, then, indulge in such vain feelings of solicitude, in reference to greater, viz., food and the preservation of life, and not rather commit yourself to His providence who, without any anxiety on your part, has preserved you to the present time, conferred on you your present stature, and will, no doubt, provide for your continuance in existence. Others, understanding the Greek word for “stature” to mean, age, and “cubit,” a period of time, interpret the passage thus: “If you cannot add the shortest time to your age, how much less can you prolong life during the entire term of your existence?”

“By thinking.” The Greek word implies, distracting care, which shows what kind of solicitude our Redeemer warns us against here.

28 And for raiment why are you solicitous? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they labour not, neither do they spin.

A fourth reason to dissuade us from solicitude. From food—the more necessary means of subsistence—He proceeds to treat of raiment, which is less necessary, and also serves for ornament. He now employs an illustration, borrowed from the flowers of the field, as He had already done with regard to the birds of the air, to dissuade us from distracting solicitude.

“The lilies of the field” which, growing wild, unlike the flowers of the garden, tended by man, owe nothing to human care or culture.

“How the grow?” Their growth and expansion in leaves and foliage is their clothing. “They labour not,” to obtain clothing, as do men, “nor spin,” the occupation of women.

29 But I say to you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these.

“Solomon,” the most magnificent of monarchs, whose apparel was so costly, “in all his glory,” at the very height of all his glory and magnificence. Or, during the entire period of his glorious reign (St. Chrysostom).

“Was arrayed as one of these.” “What silken works, what royal purple, what woven picture, can be compared to flowers? What so blushing as the rose? What so white as the lily?” (St. Jerome.)

30 And if the grass of the field, which is to day, and to morrow is cast into the oven, God doth so clothe: how much more you, O ye of little faith?

What He calls above, “the lilies of the field,” He now calls “grass of the field,” to show how God can and does invest the most worthless thing with exquisite beauty. “Which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast,” &c., a thing of short-lived, passing existence. “God doth so clothe,” as to exceed the glory of Solomon, with how much greater care will He not provide the necessary clothing for His own children, and invest them with beauty, who are to exist not for a day; but, destined to live for eternity with Himself, as heirs of His kingdom, and who, now, for want of due faith and confidence, distrust His paternal providence? “O ye, of little faith.”

The words, “labour not,” &c., are not opposed to our labouring and earning our bread with the sweat of our brow, as has been already explained (v. 26). They are only meant to convey, that God will not be wanting to us any more than He is to the very flowers of the field, even though our occupations in life may not directly tend to our providing bodily sustenance, such as, sowing, reaping, spinning, &c., as is the case with those engaged in preaching the Gospel, &c. This passage conveys a wholesome lesson, and a well-merited reproof to those who display an excessive desire for the vanities of dress.

31 Be not solicitous therefore, saying: What shall we eat: or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed?

Having adduced proofs in the foregoing of the fatherly providence of God in our regard, and of the utter folly of anxious solicitude on our part, our Redeemer now concludes what He already proposed, and more clearly explains in what this solicitude consists, “What shall we eat?” &c. He shows that he has been censuring that timorous, anxious solicitude which betrays distrust in God’s providence.

32 For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things.

Such solicitude is heathen and not Christian; and as our love of our fellow-creatures should differ from that exhibited by the Pagans (c. 5:47), so also should our confidence in God’s fatherly providence; and, as we must surpass the Scribes and Pharisees, if we wish to enter into the kingdom of heaven; so must we surpass the unbelieving Pagans who know not God. In this is conveyed a fifth reason for avoiding undue anxiety.

“For, your Father knoweth,” &c. In this is conveyed a sixth reason, and from it we clearly see the nature of the solicitude condemned by our Redeemer. It arose from a want of faith in God’s power, omniscience, and fatherly providence. “Your Father,” shows God’s benevolence towards us, His will to assist us. His power is implied and expressed in the words, “Heavenly Father,” and more clearly still in the Greek (ὁ ουρανιος), “He who dwells in the heavens.” His omniscience and knowledge of our wants is clearly expressed, “knoweth,” &c. Why not, then, cast all our cares on Him? “for, He hath care of us” (1 Peter 5:7). Where is the father with a full knowledge of the wants of his children, that will refuse, when in his power, to succour them? And if this be true of earthly fathers, how much more so must it not be of the best of Fathers who is in heaven? As God, He knows our necessities; as a Father, He wishes to relieve them; as Heavenly Lord of all things, He can do so.

33 Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.

After the negative precept prohibiting excessive anxiety in regard to the necessaries of life, our Redeemer now proposes a positive or affirmative precept, showing how we are to differ from the Pagans, and how we are to obtain through God’s paternal providence, the necessaries of life, without any excessive solicitude on our part.

“Seek.” He does not say, “be solicitous.” For, even in reference to our spiritual wants, we should not indulge in distracting solicitude, “nihil soliciti sitis,” &c. (St. Paul, Phil. 4)

“Therefore.” The Greek is (δε, but) as if, in opposition to the conduct and thoughts of the heathens, He said, the Pagans seek after temporal matters; “but,” as for you who have God for Father, “seek first,” &c.

“First,” i.e., chiefly, in preference to anything else; “first,” in order, not of time, but, of appreciation.

“The kingdom of God,” i.e., the attainment of heavenly bliss, compared with which everything else is mere dross. This is the first and chief object to be sought for as regards ourselves. But, in reference to God, and absolutely speaking, God’s glory is the first thing to be sought for. Hence, in these words, there is no opposition to the order of petitions in the Lord’s Prayer. “Hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come;” which is ranged in the second place. For, even while labouring and seeking to obtain heavenly bliss, we must “first,” and absolutely, seek God’s glory.

“And His justice.” The justice of God—in contradistinction to that of the Scribes and Pharisees—which is grace, sanctification, the observance of God’s law, which are the necessary means for obtaining God’s kingdom.

Others, by “the kingdom of God,” understand, His grace, by which He reigns in our hearts; and these understand the words, “and His justice,” to be explanatory of the word, “kingdom,” so as to mean, “seek God’s kingdom,” that is to say, His justice, grace, and sanctity.

“And all these things,” i.e., temporal blessings, the necessaries of life, &c., “shall be added unto you.” This does not mean, that we are never allowed to seek for temporal things as subservient to our eternal interests; since, we are commanded to pray for them. “Give us this day our daily bread,” &c. The words mean, that if we devote our chief care and solicitude to the concerns of salvation, and propose its attainment, as our absolute final end in all things, God will provide all other things for us, as far as they may answer these ends. The words show that temporal interests are mere accessories of the affairs of salvation; mere secondary appendages, subservient to them. In this promise, is always implied the condition, viz., “provided the granting of those temporal blessings be not an obstacle to our salvation.” Similar is the promise, with a like implied condition, “inquirentes Dominum non deficient omni bono,” “non est inopia timentibus cum,” and although in the case of many just men “seeking the kingdom of God,” the necessaries of life are withheld; still, in their case, the promise is verified, as He gives them blessings of a higher order, in which “all these things” are eminently contained. If God give not these things specifically, He gives them in gifts of far higher value. And He, who rewards every man’s work according to merit, may, for the fuller and more perfect remuneration of the just man, subject him to poverty and want in this life, as a temporal punishment of some fault; lest, the eternal reward be retarded, or diminished—and moreover, He means to give him an opportunity of increasing his merit by patience and conformity to His adorable will.

34 Be not therefore solicitous for to morrow; for the morrow will be solicitous for itself. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.

“Solicitous.” The Greek word (μεριμνησητε) shows what the solicitude referred to is.

“Therefore,” shows this to be an inference from the foregoing. As the birds of the air are fed and their future provided for by God; as God will add the necessaries of life, if we seek the kingdom of heaven; we should, therefore, banish all distracting cares in regard to the future.

“To-morrow.” St. Augustine understands this word to mean, temporal things; as if to say, be not solicitous about temporal things. They shall be solicitous for themselves; they shall be at hand when wanted. It will be sufficient to take what necessity may require. St. Chrysostom understands it, of the superfluities of life. Be not concerned about whatever is above the necessary provision for each day’s subsistence. Superfluities will mind themselves, were you to amass ever so much of them, and enjoy them not; they will be always sure to find one who will use them. The labour and misery which you suffer for the necessaries of life are sufficient; do not, therefore, labour for superfluities, lest the labour be yours, and the fruition belong to others.

The most probable meaning of “to-morrow” is, the future time—the sense it bears (1 Kings 28:19)—“cras eris tu et filii tui,” &c.” (Josue 22:24); “cras dicent filii vestri,” &c. Put aside all anxious anticipations and distracting solicitude regarding the future. It is a proverb universally in use, “To-morrow will bring its own care” and so leave to to-morrow its own care. If you anticipate to-morrow’s care, you will only add to the care of to-day that of to-morrow, without lightening to-morrow’s, and your solicitude for to-day will still continue. You only accumulate cares, and submit to bear at once what God intended to be borne separately and in succession. By adding to-morrow’s care to that of to-day, you will only be accumulating cares, and aggravating those of to-day, without diminishing or lightening those of to-morrow.

“To-morrow will be solicitous for itself.” The Greek is, “It will be solicitous about the things of itself”—or, about the things that appertain to itself. Our Redeemer personifies to-morrow; and by this strong figure of speech, He means to convey that, independently of any action, or care, or provision, on our part, matter for solicitude will arise on each day, in a way peculiar to itself, whether we will it or no.

Our Redeemer does not, of course, prohibit here a prudent provision and preparation to meet future necessities. The necessary forecasting and provision for future days or years may be said to belong, not to to-morrow, but to to-day. He does not prevent necessary care and prudent forethought. The words, “to-morrow will be solicitous for itself” show, He does not mean to censure the solicitude and diligence necessarily accompanying human existence.

“Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.” “The evil,” i.e., the affliction, the care, solicitude, trouble, incident to it. Our Redeemer, by transferring to each day the trouble which men endure on it, conveys, that we do it a wrong when we charge or burden it with the trouble of the coming day. For each day its own trouble is enough. It is deserving of remark, that our Redeemer prohibits not labour, but solicitude. The former is enjoined on the entire human race, “in sudore vultus tui comedes panem tuum” (Gen. 3:19). The latter, in the sense already explained, is prohibited.

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Commentaries for Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 26, 2014


Readings from the New American Bible Revised Edition. Used in the USA. Time sensitive link.

Readings from the New Jerusalem Bible. Used in most English speaking countries.


Navarre Bible Commentary on Isaiah 49:14-15.

Word-Sunday Notes on Isaiah 49:14-15.


Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 62.

St Augustine’s Notes on Psalm 62.

Pope John Paul II’s Commentary on Psalm 62.

Word-Sunday Notes on Psalm 62.


St John Chrysostom on 1 Cor 4:1-5.

Bernardin de Piconio on 1 Cor 4:1-5.

Cornelius a Lapide on 1 Cor 4:1-5.

Bishop MacEvily on 1 Cor 4:1-5.

Pending: Father Callan’s Commentary on 1 Cor 4:1-5.

Word-Sunday Notes on 1 Cor 4:1-5.


Juan de Maldonado on Matt 6:24-34.

Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Matt 6:24-34.

Bishop Knecht’s Practical Commentary on Matt 6:24-34.

Bishop MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 6:24-34.

Father Maas’ Commentary on Matthew 6:24-34. On 19-34.

Word-Sunday Notes on Matthew 6:24-34.

St John Chrysostom’s Homiletic Commentaries on Matthew 6:24-34:

Homiletic Commentary on Matthew 6:24-27.

Homiletic Commentary on Matthew 6:28-34.

GENERAL RESOURCES: On one or more of the readings.

Update: The Sacred Page: Trust in God the Father Alone. Blog post commenting and reflecting upon the readings by Catholic biblical scholar Dr. John Bergsma.

St Charles Borromeo Parish’s Bible Study Notes. Historical background and brief notes on the readings.

Lector Notes. Historical and theological background on the readings.

Thoughts From the Early Church. Brief excerpt on the gospel from a homily by Pseudo-Macarius.

Scripture In Depth. Succinct notes on the readings.

Sacerdos. Give the theme of the readings, doctrinal message, pastoral application.

The Bible Workshop. Includes a guide to the gospel reading; a review of the readings in connection with one another, suggestions for a lesson (homily) and a couple of links to other relevant articles.

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Bishop MacEvilly’s Commentary on James 5:9-12

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 23, 2014

To see the bishop’s brief summary analysis of James chapter 5 see the post on 5:1-6. Text in red, if any, are my additions.

9 Grudge not, brethren, one against another, that you may not be judged. Behold the judge standeth before the door.

Do not fretfully indulge in murmurings and rash judgments against one another, lest you should be, in turn, condemned. For, the judge is near at hand, to pass sentence of condemnation upon you. Text in purple indicates the bishop’s paraphrase of the scripture he is commenting on.

“Grudge not, brethren, one against another.” St. James cautions them, while under afflictions and persecution, against murmuring in regard to one another, of fretfully misjudging, or envying one another, a state of feeling apt to spring from the pressure of persecution and misery. As a motive for avoiding this, and for practising the opposite virtue of patience, he proposes the fear of being condemned by God. “Behold the judge standeth before the door,” a form of expression frequently employed in Sacred Scripture, to intimate the near approach, or immediate presence of a person. Here, it is used with a view of cautioning them against incurring judgment and condemnation, on account of their murmurings and impatience; for, the judge is near to condemn them; or, perhaps, by it is meant to encourage them to overcome impatience, at the prospect of the rewards which the Judge, who is near, will render them. The phrase has the same meaning as the words in verse, 8, “for the coming of the Lord is nigh.” Some understand the words, of the approaching destruction of Jerusalem and the total dispersion of the Jews by the Romans. The former interpretation, which extends to all times, appears, however, far the more probable.

10 Take, my brethren, for example of suffering evil, of labour and patience, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

Take, my brethren, for examples to stimulate you to the patient and persevering suffering of evils and afflictions, the prophets, who have gone before you into bliss, who have not been freed from suffering, notwithstanding their high commission, of reclaiming sinners in the name and authority of the Lord, or of predicting future events.

St. James stimulates them to the patient endurance of evil by the example of the prophets, who preceded them; they could not reach heaven, without first passing through the ordeal of suffering, notwithstanding the high and exalted commission they received from God. “An example of suffering evil, of labour, and patience.” In the Greek there are only two primary words, της κακοπαθειας και της μακροθυμιας (tes kakopathias kai tes makrothymias) of suffering evil and patience, or, rather, long suffering. Hence, the word, “labour,” must have been inserted by some scribe, who, perhaps, finding in some copies, the Greek word translated, labour, in others, evil suffering, united both. This does not much affect the meaning of the passage. By “the prophets,” are meant the prophets of old, of whose sufferings mention is made in the Old Testament, and (Ep. ad Hebrews 11). “Who spoke in the name of the Lord,” which may either mean, that they spoke to reclaim sinners, or, to predict future events; “in the name of the Lord,” i.e., by divine commission and authority, Hence, as the prophets, whose lot they envy, did not reach heaven, except in passing through the ordeal of suffering, they are not to expect happiness on easier terms.

11 Behold, we account them blessed who have endured. You have heard of the patience of Job and you have seen the end of the Lord, that the Lord is merciful and compassionate.

 Behold, we account those blessed, we have regarded their lot as happy, who have suffered for the cause of righteousness. You have all been acquainted with the patience of Job; and you have seen the happy end, to which the Lord brought his sufferings, rewarding him, even in this life, an hundred fold. The Lord will bring your sufferings also, to a happy issue; for, of his own nature, he is full of the tenderest compassion, and inclined to exercise acts of mercy, at all times.

He proposes the example of Job, as a memorable instance of patience for the instruction of all ages. “The end of the Lord,” which is understood by some to refer to the death and sufferings of our Saviour—the most perfect pattern of patience. The same example is proposed by St. Paul (Hebrews, 12), after having counted up the heroic exploits of the saints of old (chap. 11). It is more likely that the words refer to the end to which the Lord happily brought the sufferings of Job, rewarding him an hundred-fold even in this life; and this interpretation is rendered probable by the following words: “that the Lord is merciful and compassionate,” as if he said, you have seen the happy end to which the Lord has brought the sufferings of Job, which is an effect of his merciful disposition to exercise acts of mercy at all times, and the same mercy, you have good grounds to hope, will one day be extended to you also. The word “merciful,” in Greek, πολυσπλαγχνος (polysplanchnos), means, full of interior, visceral mercy, and refers to the divine nature, of itself merciful. The other word “compassionate,” in Greek, οικτειρμων (oiktirmon), refers to acts of this mercy.

12 But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, nor by the earth, nor by any other oath. But let your speech be: Yea, Yea: No, No: that you fall not under judgment.

But above all vices of the tongue, you should avoid, with special care, the common vice of swearing, or invoking either the name of God, or heaven, earth or any other creatures, or employing any other form of oath, without sufficient cause, and without due conditions in swearing. All your assertions should be simple asseverations of truth, or “yes,” and all your denials, simple and bare negations, or “no,” without the interposition of an oath, lest, otherwise, you may incur condemnation on account of your profane irreverence towards God’s holy and adorable name.

St. James here proceeds to caution the converted Jews against a vice resulting from impatience, which vice being prevalent among the Jews of old, was, most likely, not wholly eradicated after their conversion; this was the abusive practice of indiscriminate swearing in common conversation. It appears from the Gospel, that there were erroneous doctrines taught by the Jewish doctors, and consequent abuses on two points, connected with the taking of an oath. The first was, that no matter how trivial or unnecessary the occasion of an oath might be, it was not sinful to invoke the name of God, provided it was done in truth; and hence, in the prohibition (Exodus, 20:7), “thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” they understood the words “in vain,” to mean, falsely, or in a lie—a signification which the original Hebrew word bears, but not exclusively, as they interpret it. Secondly, they held, that an oath by creatures, except in the cases favourable to their own avarice, “by the gold of the temple” (Matthew 23:17), was not binding. These erroneous and abusive teachings our divine Redeemer corrects in his Gospel (Matt. 5:34), and tells men “not to swear at all,” i.e., indiscriminately and in common conversation—even though their assertions should be true, in the sense, in which swearing was permitted by the Jewish teachers; and he also declares that swearing by heaven, or earth, was equally binding with the direct invocation of the name of God, since his attributes were reflected both in one and the other. Now, as St. James, the disciple, is to be supposed to have in view the same prohibition, which he heard from the lips of his Divine Master, his words; in this passage, are to be understood in the same meaning.

St. James, any more than our divine Redeemer, does not prohibit our resorting to an oath, when accompanied with the necessary dispositions of “judgment, justice, and truth” (Jeremias, 4:2); for, then, it is an act of homage in recognition of the supreme veracity of God, who knows all truth, and is incapable of sanctioning falsehood of any kind. But to be invoking God’s name on every occasion, is only insulting him, and profanely irreverencing his holy name. That it is sometimes lawful for Christians to swear, is a point of faith defined against the Anabaptists and Wicliffe, and clearly proved, from the example of God himself, “juravit Dominus et non pœnitebit eum,” from the examples of Moses, Abraham, St. Paul, &c. “Nor by any other oath,” i.e., by any other mode of invoking God’s veracity, as witness of truth. “But let your speech be, yea, yea; no, no;” in Greek, the word “speech” is not found, it is, ἤτω δε ὑμων το ναι, ναι, και το οὒ, οὔ; (eto de hymon to nai, nai, kai to ou, ou) but let your yea be yea; and your no be no; the word, “speech” was, most likely, introduced here from (Matthew, 5:37), as both passages referred, in the mind of the interpreter, to the same thing. “That you fall not under judgment.” In some Greek readings it is, that you fall not into hypocrisy. The reading adopted in our Vulgate is, however, the most probable. They would fall under judgment or condemnation, by swearing in violation of God’s law and prohibition.

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St Augustine’s Notes on Psalm 49:14-21

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 23, 2014

1. “Like sheep laid in hell, death is their shepherd” (ver. 14). Whose? Of those whose way is a stumbling-block to themselves. Whose? Of those who mind only things present, while they think not of things future: of those who think not of any life, but of that which must be called death. Not without cause, then, like sheep in hell, have they death to their shepherd. What meaneth, “they have death to their shepherd”? For is death either some thing or some power? Yea, death is either the separation of the soul from the body, or a separation of the soul from God,3 and that indeed which men fear is the separation of the soul from the body: but the real death, which men do not fear, is the separation of the soul from God. And ofttimes when men fear that which doth separate the soul from the body, they fall into that wherein the soul is separated from God. This then is death. But how is “death their shepherd”? If Christ is life, the devil is death. But we read in many places in Scripture, how that Christ is life. But the devil is death, not because he is himself death, but because through him is death. For whether that (death) wherein Adam fell was given man to drink by the persuasion of him: or whether that wherein the soul is separated from the body, still they have him for the author thereof, who first falling through pride envied him who stood, and overthrew him who stood with an invisible death, in order that he might have to pay4 the visible death. They who belong to him have death to their shepherd: but we who think of future immortality, and not without reason do wear the sign of the Cross of Christ on the forehead, have no shepherd but life. Of unbelievers death is the shepherd, of believers life is the shepherd. If then in hell are the sheep, whose shepherd is death, in heaven are the sheep, whose shepherd is life. What then? Are we now in heaven? In heaven we are by faith. For if not in heaven, where is the “Lift up your heart”? If not in heaven, whence with the Apostle Paul, “For our conversation is in heaven”?5 In body we walk on earth, in heart we dwell in heaven. We dwell there, if thither we send anything which holdeth us there. For no one dwelleth in heart, save where thought is: but there his thought is, where his treasure is. He hath treasured on earth, his heart doth not withdraw from earth: he hath treasured in heaven, his heart from heaven doth not come down: for the Lord saith plainly, “Where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also.”6

2. They, then, whose shepherd is death, seem to flourish for a time, and the righteous to labour: but why? Because it is yet night. What meaneth, it is night? The merits of the righteous appear not, and the felicity of the unrighteous hath, as it were, a name. So long as it is winter, grass appeareth more verdant than a tree. For grass flourisheth through the winter, a tree is as it were dry through the winter: when in summer time the sun hath come forth with greater heat, the tree, which seemed dry through the winter, is bursting with leaves, and putteth forth fruits, but the grass withereth: thou wilt see the honour of the tree, the grass is dried. So also now the righteous labour, before that summer cometh. There is life in the root, it doth not yet appear in the branches. But our root is love. And what saith the Apostle? That we ought to have our root above, in order that life may be our shepherd, because our dwelling ought not to quit heaven, because in this earth we ought to walk as if dead; so that living above, below we may be dead; not so as that being dead above, we may live below.… Our labour shall appear in the morning, and there shall be fruit in the morning: so that they that now labour shall hereafter reign, and they that now boast them and are proud, shall hereafter be brought under. For what followeth? “Like sheep laid in hell, death is their shepherd; and the righteous shall reign over them in the morning.”

3. Endure thou the night, yearn for the morning. Think not because the night hath life, the morning too hath not life. Doth then he that sleepeth live, and he that riseth live not? Is not he that sleepeth more like death?1 And who are they that sleep? They whom the Apostle Paul rouseth, if they choose but to awake. For to certain he saith, “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.”2 They then that are lightened by Christ watch now, but the fruit of their watchings appeareth not yet: in the morning it shall appear, that is, when doubtful things of this world shall have passed away. For these are very night: for do they not appear to thee like darkness?… But they on whom men have trampled, and who were ridiculed for believing, shall hear from Life Itself, whom they have for shepherd, “Come, ye blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom which was prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Therefore the righteous “shall reign over them,” not now, but “in the morning.” Let no one say, Wherefore am I a Christian? I rule no one,3 I would rule the wicked. Be not in haste, thou shalt reign, but “in the morning.” “And the help of them shall grow old in hell from their glory.” Now they have glory, in hell they shall grow old. What is “the help of them”? Help from money, help from friends, help from their own might. But when a man shall be dead, “in that day shall perish all his thoughts.”4 How great glory he seemed to have among men, while he lived, so great oldness and decay of punishments shall he have, when he shall be dead in hell.

4. “Nevertheless, God shall redeem my soul” (ver. 15). Behold the voice of one hoping in the future: “Nevertheless, God shall redeem my soul.”5 Perhaps it is the voice of one still wishing to be relieved from oppression. Some one is in prison, he saith, “God shall redeem my soul:” some one is in bond, “God shall redeem my soul:” some one is suffering peril by sea, is being tossed by waves and raging tempests, what saith he? “God shall redeem my soul.” They would be delivered for the sake of this life. Not such is the voice of this man. Hear what followeth: “God shall redeem my soul from the hand of hell, when He shall have received me.” He is speaking of this redemption, which Christ now showeth in Himself. For He hath descended into hell, and hath ascended into heaven. What we have seen in the Head we have found in the Body. For what we have believed in the Head, they that have seen, have themselves told us, and by themselves we have seen: “For we are” all “one body.”6 But are they better that hear, we worse to whom it hath been told? Not so saith The Life Itself, Our Shepherd Himself. For He rebuketh a certain disciple of His, doubting and desiring to handle His scars, and when he had handled the scars and had cried out, saying, “My Lord and my God,”7 seeing His disciple doubting, and looking to the whole world about to believe, “Because thou hast seen Me,” He saith, “thou hast believed: blessed are they that see not, and believe.” “But God shall redeem my soul from the land of hell, when He hath received me.” Here then what? Labour, oppression, tribulation, temptation: expect nothing else. Where joy? In future hope.…

5. … Perchance thy heart saith, Wretch that I am, I suppose to no purpose I have believed, God doth not regard things human. God therefore doth awaken us: and He saith what? “Fear not, though a man have become rich” (ver. 16). For why didst thou fear, because a man hath become rich? Thou didst fear that thou hadst believed to no purpose, that perchance thou shouldest have lost the labour for thy faith, and the hope of thy conversion: because perchance there hath come in thy way gain with guilt, and thou couldest have been rich, if thou hadst seized upon that same gain with the guilt, and neededst not have laboured; and thou, remembering what God hath threatened, hast refrained from guilt, and hast contemned the gain: thou seest another man that hath made gain by guilt, and hath suffered no harm; and thou fearest to be good. “Fear not,” saith the Spirit of God to thee, “though a man shall have become rich.” Wouldest thou not have eyes but for things present? Things future He hath promised, who hath risen again; peace in this world, and repose in this life, He hath not promised. Every man doth seek repose; a good thing he is seeking, but not in the proper region thereof he is seeking it. There is no peace in this life; in Heaven hath been promised that which on earth we are seeking: in the world to come hath been promised that which in this world we are seeking.

6. “Fear not, though a man be made rich, and though the glory of his house be multiplied.” Wherefore “fear not”? “For when he shall die, he shall not receive anything” (ver. 17). Thou seest him living, consider him dying. Thou markest what he hath here, mark what he taketh with him. What doth he take with him? He hath store of gold, he hath store of silver, numerous estates, slaves: he dieth, these remain, he knoweth not for whom. For though he leaveth them for whom he will, he keepeth them not for whom he will. For many have gained even what was not left them, and many have lost what was left them. All these things then remain, and he taketh with him what? Perhaps some one saith, He taketh that with him in which he is wound, and that which is expended upon him for a costly and marble tomb, to erect a monument, this he taketh with him. I say, not even this. For these things are presented to him without his feeling them. If thou deckest a man sleeping and not awake, he hath the decorations with him on the couch: perhaps the decorations are resting upon the body of him as he lieth, and perhaps he seeth himself in tatters during sleep. What he feeleth is more to him than what he feeleth not. Though even this when he shall have awaked will not be: yet to him sleeping, that which he saw in sleep was more than that which he felt not. Why then, brethren, should1 men say to themselves, Let money be spent at my death: why do I leave my heirs rich? Many things will they have of mine, let me too have something of my own for my body. What shall a dead body have? what shall rotting flesh have? what shall flesh not feeling have? If that rich man had anything, whose tongue was dry, then man hath something of his own. My brethren, do we read in the Gospel, that this rich man appeared in the fire with all-silken and fine-linen coverings? Was he of such sort in hell as he was in feastings at table? When he thirsted and desired a drop, all those things were not there. Therefore man carrieth not with him anything, nor doth the dead take with him that which the burial taketh. For where feeling is, there is the man; where is no feeling, the man is not. There lieth fallen the vessel which contained the man, the house which held the man. The body let us call the house, the spirit let us call the inhabitant of the house. The spirit is tormented in hell: what doth it profit him, that the body lieth in spices and perfumes, wound in costly linens? just as if the master of the house should be sent into banishment, and thou shouldest garnish the walls of his house. He in banishment is in need, and doth faint with hunger, he scarce findeth to himself one hovel where he may snatch a sleep, and thou sayest, “Happy is he, for his house hath been garnished.” Who would not judge that thou wast either jesting or wast mad? Thou dost garnish the body, the spirit is tormented. Give something to the spirit, and ye have given something to the dead man. But what wilt thou give him, when he desired one drop, and received not? For the man scorned to send before him anything. Wherefore scorned? “because this their way is a stumbling-block to them.”2 He minded not any but the present life, he thought not but how he might be buried, wound in costly vestments. His soul was taken from him, as the Lord saith: “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be taken from thee, and whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?”3 And that is fulfilled which this Psalm saith: “Fear not, though a man be made rich, and though the glory of his house be multiplied: for when he shall die he shall not receive anything, nor shall his glory descend together with him.”

7. Let your love observe: “For his soul shall be blessed in his life” (ver. 18). As long as he lived he did well for himself. This all men say, but say falsely. It is a blessing from the mind of the blesser, not from the truth itself. For what sayest thou? Because he ate and drank, because he did what he chose, because he feasted sumptuously, therefore he did well with himself. I say, he did ill for himself. Not I say, but Christ. He did ill for himself. For that rich man, when he feasted sumptuously every day, was supposed to do well with himself: but when he began to burn in hell, then that which was supposed to be well was found to be ill. For what he had eaten with men above,4 he digested in hell beneath. Unrighteousness I mean, brethren, on which he used to feast. He used to eat costly banquets with the mouth of flesh, with his heart’s mouth he used to eat unrighteousness. What he ate with his heart’s mouth with men above, this he digested amid those punishments in the places beneath. And verily he had eaten for a time, he digested ill for everlasting. Is then unrighteousness eaten? perhaps some one saith: what is it that he saith? Unrighteousness eaten? It is not I that say: hear the Scripture: “As a sour grape is vexation to the teeth, and smoke to the eyes, so is unrighteousness to them that use it.”5 For he that shall have eaten unrighteousness, that is, he that shall have had unrighteousness wilfully, shall not be able to eat righteousness. For righteousness is bread. Who is bread? “I am the living bread which came down from heaven.”6 Himself is the bread of our heart.… Is then even righteousness eaten? If it were not eaten, the Lord would not have said, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness.”7 Therefore “since his soul shall be blessed in life,” in life it “shall” be blessed, in death it shall be tormented.…

8. “He shall confess to Thee, when Thou shalt have done him good.” Be not of such sort, brethren: see ye how that to this end we say these words, to this end we sing, to this end we treat, to this end toil—do not these things. Your business doth prove you: sometimes in your business ye hear the truth, and ye blaspheme. The Church ye blaspheme. Wherefore? Because ye are Christians. “If so it be, I betake myself to Donatus’s party: I will be a heathen.”1 Wherefore? Because thou hast eaten bread, and the teeth are in pain. When thou sawest the bread itself, thou didst praise; thou beginnest to eat, and the teeth are in pain; that is, when thou wast hearing the Word of God thou didst praise: when it is said to thee, “Do this,” thou blasphemest: do not so ill: say this, “The bread is good, but I cannot eat it.” But now if thou seest with the eyes, thou praisest: when thou beginnest to close the teeth, thou sayest, “Bad is this bread, and like him that made it.” So it cometh to pass that thou confessest to God, when God doeth thee good: and thou liest when thou singest, “I will alway bless God, His praise is ever in my mouth.”2 How alway? If alway gain, alway He is blessed: if sometime there is loss, He is not blessed, but blasphemed. Forsooth thou blessest alway, forsooth His praise is ever in thy mouth! Thou wilt be such as just now he describeth: “He will confess to Thee, when Thou shalt have done him good.”

9. “He shall enter even unto the generations of his fathers” (ver. 19): that is, he shall imitate his fathers. For the unrighteous, that now are, have brothers, have fathers. Unrighteous men of old, are the fathers of the present; and they that are now unrighteous, are the fathers of unrighteous posterity: just as the fathers of the righteous, the righteous of old, are the fathers of the righteous that now are; and they that now are, are the fathers of them that are to be. The Holy Spirit hath willed to show that righteousness is not evil when men murmur against her: but these men have their father from the beginning, even to the generation of their fathers. Two men Adam begat, and in one was unrighteousness, in one was righteousness: unrighteousness in Cain, righteousness in Abel.3 Unrighteousness seemed to prevail over righteousness, because Cain unrighteous slew Abel righteous4 in the night. Is it so in the morning? Nay, “but the righteous shall reign over them in the morning.”5 The morning shall come, and it shall be seen where Abel is, and where Cain. So all men who are after Cain, and so all who are after Abel, even unto the end of the world. “He shall enter even unto the generations of his fathers: even to eternity he shall not see light.” Because even when he was here, he was in darkness, taking pleasure in false goods, and not loving real goods: even so he shall go hence into hell: from the darkness of his dreams the darkness of torments shall receive him. Therefore, “even to eternity he shall not see light.”

But wherefore this? What he hath written in the middle of the Psalm,6 the same also he hath writ at the end: “Man, though he was in honour, understood not, was compared to the beasts without sense, and was made like to them” (ver. 20). But ye, brethren, consider that ye be men made after the image and likeness of God. The image7 of God is within, is not in the body; is not in these ears which ye see, and eyes, and nostrils, and palate, and hands, and feet; but is made nevertheless:8 wherein is the intellect, wherein is the mind, wherein the power of discovering truth, wherein is faith, wherein is your hope, wherein your charity, there God hath His Image: there at least ye perceive and see that these things pass away; for so he hath said in another Psalm, “Though man walketh in an image, yet he is disquieted in vain: he heapeth up treasures, and knoweth not for whom he shall gather them.”9 Be not disquieted, for of whatsoever kind these things be, they are transitory, if ye are men who being in honour understand. For if being men in honour ye understand not, ye are compared to the beasts without sense, and are made like to them.

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St Augustine’s Notes on Psalm 49:1-13

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 23, 2014

1. … “Hear ye these things, all ye nations” (ver. 1). Not then you only who are here. For of what power is our voice so to cry out, as that all nations may hear? For Our Lord Jesus Christ hath proclaimed it through the Apostles, hath proclaimed it in so many tongues that He sent; and we see this Psalm, which before was only repeated in one nation, in the Synagogue of the Jews, now repeated throughout the whole world, throughout all Churches; and that fulfilled which is here spoken of, “Hear ye these words, all ye nations.” … Of whom ye are: “With ears ponder, all ye that dwell in the world.” This He seemeth to have repeated a second time, lest to have said “hear,” before, were too little. What I say, he saith, “hear, with ears ponder,” that is, hear not cursorily. What is, “with ears ponder”? It is what the Lord said, “he that hath ears to hear, let him hear:”2 for as all who were in His presence must have had ears, what ears did He require save those of the heart, when He said, “he that hath ears to hear, let him hear”? The same ears also this Psalm doth smite. “With ears ponder, all ye that dwell in the world.” Perhaps there is here some distinction. We ought not indeed to narrow our view, but there is no harm in explaining even this view of the sense. Perhaps there is some difference between the saying, “all nations,” and the saying, “all ye that dwell in the world.” For perchance he would have us understand the expression, “dwell in,” with a further meaning, so as to take all nations for all the wicked, but the dwellers of the world all the just. For he doth inhabit who is not held fast: but he that is occupied is inhabited, and doth not inhabit. Just as he doth possess whatever he hath, who is master of his property: but a master is one who is not held in the meshes of covetousness: while he that is held fast by covetousness is the possessed, and not the possessor.…

2. Therefore let even the ungodly hear: “Hear ye this, all ye nations.” Let the just also hear, who have not heard to no purpose, and who rather rule the world than are ruled by the world: “with ears ponder, all ye that dwell in the world.”

3. And again he saith, “both all ye earthborn, and sons of men” (ver. 2). The expression “earthborn” he doth refer to sinners; the expression “sons of men” to the faithful and righteous. Ye see then that this distinction is observed. Who are the “earthborn”? The children of the earth. Who are the children of the earth? They who desire earthly inheritances. Who are the “sons of men”? They who appertain to the Son of Man. We have already before explained this distinction to your Sanctity,3 and have concluded that Adam was a man, but not the son of man; that Christ was the Son of Man, but was God also. For whosoever pertain to Adam, are “earthborn:” whosoever pertain to Christ, are “sons of men.” Nevertheless, let all hear, I withhold my discourse from no one. If one is “earthborn,” let him hear, because of the judgment: another is a “son of man,” let him hear for the kingdom’s sake. “The rich and poor together.” Again, the same words are repeated. The expression “rich” refers to the “earthborn;” but the word “poor” to the “sons of men.” By the “rich” understand the proud, by the “poor” the humble.… He saith in another Psalm, “The poor shall eat and be satisfied.”4 How hath he commended the poor? “The poor shall eat and be satisfied.” What eat they? That Food which the faithful know. How shall they be satisfied? By imitating the Passion of their Lord, and not without cause receiving their recompense. “The poor shall eat and be satisfied, and they shall praise the Lord who seek Him.” What of the rich? Even they eat. But how eat they? “All the rich upon the earth have eaten and worshipped.”5 He said not, “Have eaten and are satisfied;” but, “have eaten and worshipped.” They worship God indeed, but they will not display brotherly humaneness. These eat and worship; those eat and are filled: yet both eat. Of the eater what he eateth is required: let him not be forbidden by the distributor to eat, but let him be admonished to fear him who doth require his account. Let these words then be heard by sinners and righteous, nations, and those who inhabit the world, “earthborn and sons of men, the rich and the poor together:” not divided, not separated. That is for the time of the harvest to do, the hand of the winnower will effect that6 Now together let rich and poor hear, let goats and sheep feed in the same pasture, until He come who shall separate the one on His right hand, the other on His left.7 Let them all hear together the teacher, lest separated from one another they hear the voice of the Judge.

4. And what is it they are now to hear? “My mouth shall speak of wisdom, and the meditation of my hear understanding” (ver. 3). And this repetition is perhaps made, lest perchance if he had said only “my mouth,” thou shouldest suppose that one spake to thee who had understanding but in his lips. For many have understanding in their lips, but have not in their heart, of whom the Scripture saith, “This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”1 What saith he then who speaketh to thee? when he hath said, “My mouth shall speak of wisdom,” in order that thou mayest know that what is poured forth from the mouth floweth from the bottom of the heart, he hath added, “And the meditation of my heart of understanding.”

5. “I will incline mine ear to the parable, I will show my proposition upon the harp” (ver. 4).… And why “to a parable”? Because “now we see through a glass darkly,”2 as saith the Apostle; “whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord.”3 For our vision is not yet that face to face, where there are no longer parables, where there no longer are riddles and comparisons. Whatever now we understand we behold through riddles. A riddle is a dark parable which it is hard to understand. Howsoever a man may cultivate his heart and apply himself to apprehend mysteries, so long as we see through the corruption of this flesh, we see but in part.… But as He was seen by those who believed, and by those who crucified Him, when He was judged; so will He be seen, when He shall have begun to be judge, both by those whom He shall condemn, and by those whom He shall crown. But that vision of divinity, which He hath promised to them that love Him, when He saith, “He that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and he that loveth Me keepeth My commandments, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him:”4 this the ungodly shall not see. This manifestation is in a certain way familiar: He keepeth it for His own, He will not show it to the ungodly. Of what sort is the vision itself? Of what sort is Christ? Equal to the Father. Of what sort is Christ? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”5 For this vision we sigh now, and groan so long as we sojourn here; to this vision we shall be brought home at the last, this vision now we see but darkly. If then we see now darkly, let us “incline our ear to the parable,” and then let us “show our proposition upon the harp:”6 let us hear what we say, do what we enjoin.

6. And what hath he said? “And wherefore shall I fear in the evil day? The iniquity of my heel shall compass me” (ver. 5). He beginneth something obscurely. Therefore he ought the rather to fear if the iniquity of his heel shall compass him. Nay, for let not man fear, he saith, who hath not power to escape. For example, he who feareth death, what shall he do to escape death? Let him tell me how he is to escape what Adam oweth, he who is born of Adam. But let him consider that he is born of Adam, and hath followed Christ, and ought to pay what Adam oweth, and obtain what Christ hath promised. Therefore, he who feareth death can no wise escape: but he who feareth the damnation which the ungodly shall hear, “Go ye into everlasting fire,”7 hath an escape. Let him not fear then. For why should he fear? Will the iniquity of his heel compass him? If then he avoid “the iniquity of his heel,” and walk in the ways of God, he shall not come to the evil day: the evil day, the last day, shall not be evil to him.… Now while they live, let them take heed to themselves, let them put away iniquity from their heel: let them walk in that way, let them walk in the way of which He saith Himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life:”8 and let them not fear in the evil day, for He giveth them safety who became “The Way.” Therefore let them avoid the iniquity of their heel. With the heel a man slippeth. Let your Love observe. What was said by God to the Serpent? “She shall mark thy head, and thou shalt mark her heel.”9 The devil marketh thy heel, in order that when thou slippest he may overthrow thee. He marketh thy heel, do thou mark his head. What is his head? The beginning of an evil suggestion. When he beginneth to suggest evil thoughts, then do thou thrust him away before pleasure ariseth, and consent followeth; and so shalt thou avoid his head, and he shall not grasp thy heel. But wherefore said He this to Eve? Because through the flesh man doth slip. Our flesh is an Eve within us. “He that loveth his wife,” he saith, “loveth himself.” What meaneth “himself”? He continueth, and saith, “For no man ever yet hath hated his own flesh.”10 Because then the devil would make us slip through the flesh, just as he made that man Adam to slip, through Eve; Eve is bidden to mark the head of the devil, because the devil marketh her heel.11 “If then the iniquity of our heel shall compass us, why fear we in the evil day,” since being converted to Christ we are able not to do iniquity; and there will be nothing to compass us, and we shall joy and not sorrow in the last day?

7. But who are they whom the “iniquity of their heel shall compass”? “They who trust in their virtue,12 and in the abundance of their riches do glory” (ver. 6). Therefore such sins will I avoid, and the “iniquity of my heel” shall never compass me. What is avoiding such sins? Let us not trust in our own virtue, let us not glory in the abundance of our own riches, but let us glory in Him who hath promised to us, being humble, exaltation, and hath threatened condemnation to men exalted; and then iniquity of our heel shall never compass us.

8. There are some who rely on their friends, others rely on their virtue, others on their riches. This is the presumption of mankind which relieth not on God. He hath spoken of virtue, he hath spoken of riches, he speaketh of friends. “Brother redeemeth not,1 shall man redeem?” (ver. 7). Dost thou expect that man shall redeem thee from the wrath to come? If brother redeem thee not, shall man redeem thee? Who is the brother, who if He hath not redeemed thee, no man will redeem? It is He who said after His resurrection, “Go, tell My brethren.”2 Our Brother He hath willed to be: and when we say to God, “Our Father,” this is manifested in us. For he that saith to God, “Our Father;” saith to Christ, “Brother.”3 Therefore let him that hath God for his Father and Christ for his Brother, not fear in the evil day. “For the iniquity of his heel shall not compass him;” for he relieth not on his virtue, nor glorieth in the abundance of his riches, nor vaunteth himself of his powerful friends. Let him rely on Him who died for him, that he might not die eternally: who for his sake was humbled, in order that he might be exalted; who sought him ungodly, in order that He might be sought by him faithful. Therefore if He redeem not, shall man redeem? Shall any man redeem, if the Son of man redeem not? If Christ redeem not, shall Adam redeem? “Brother redeemeth not, shall man redeem?”4

9. “He shall not give to God his propitiation, and the price of the redemption of his soul” (ver. 8). He trusteth in his virtue, and in the abundance of his riches doth glory, who “shall not give to God his propitiation:” that is, satisfaction whereby he may prevail with God for his sins: “nor the price of the redemption of his soul,” who relieth on his virtue, and on his friends, and on his riches. But who are they that give the price of the redemption of their souls? They to whom the Lord saith, “Make to yourselves friends of the Mammon of unrighteousness, that they may receive you into everlasting habitations.”5 They give the price of the redemption of their soul who cease not to do almsdeeds. So those whom the Apostle chargeth by Timothy he would not have to be proud, lest they should glory in the abundance of their riches. Lastly, what they possessed he would not have to grow old in their hands: but that something should be made of it to be for the price of the redemption of their souls. For he saith, “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded: nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy.”6 And as if they had said, “What shall we then make of our riches?” he continueth, “Let them be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate,”7 and they will not lose that. How know we? Hear what followeth. “Let them lay up for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on the true life.”8 So shall they give the price of the redemption of their soul. And our Lord counselleth this: “Make for yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not where thief approacheth not, neither moth corrupteth.”9 God would not have thee lose thy wealth, but He hath given thee counsel to change the place thereof. Let your love understand. Suppose thy friend were just now to enter thy house, and find thou hadst placed thy store of grain in a damp place, and he knew the natural proneness of grain to decay, which thou perchance knewest not, he would give thee counsel of this sort, saying, “Brother, thou art losing what with great toil thou hast gathered, thou hast placed it in a damp place, in a few days this grain will decay.” “And what am I to do, brother?” “Raise it into a higher place.” Thou wouldest hearken to thy friend suggesting that thou shouldest raise grain from a lower to a higher chamber, and dost thou not hearken to Christ charging thee to lift thy treasure from earth to heaven, where not what thou keepest in store may be paid to thee, but that thou mayest keep in store earth, mayest receive heaven, mayest keep in store things mortal, mayest receive things everlasting, that while thou lendest Christ to receive at thy hands but a small loan upon earth, He may repay thee a great recompense in Heaven? Nevertheless, they whom “the iniquity of their heel shall compass,” because they trust in their virtue, and in the abundance of their riches do glory, and rely on human friends who are able to help them in nothing, “shall not give to God their propitiation, and the price of the redemption of their souls.”

10. And what hath he said of such a man? “Yea, he hath laboured for ever, and shall live till the end” (ver. 9). His labour shall be without end, his life shall have an end. Wherefore saith he, “He shall live till the end”? Because such men think life to be nought but daily enjoyments. So when many poor and needy men of our times, unstable, and not looking to what God doth promise them for their labours, see rich men in daily feastings, in the splendour and glitter of gold and of silver, they say what? “These are the only people;1 they really live!” This is a saying, be it said no longer: we both warn you, and it remains to warn you, that it be said by fewer persons than it would be said, if we had not warned you. For we do not presume to say that we so say these words, as that it be not said, but that it be said by fewer persons: for it will be said even unto the end of the world. It is too little that he saith, “he liveth;” he addeth and saith, he thundereth, thinkest thou that he alone liveth? Let him live! his life will be ended: because he giveth not the price of the redemption of his soul, his life will end, his labour will not end. “He laboured for ever, and shall live till the end.” How shall he live till the end? As he lived that was “clothed with purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day,”2 who, being proud and puffed up, spurned the man full of sores lying before his gate, whose sores the dogs licked, and who longed for the crumbs which fell from his table. What did those riches profit him? Both changed places: the one was borne from the rich man’s gate into Abraham’s bosom, the other from his rich feasts was cast into the fire; the one was in peace, the other burned; the one was sated, the other thirsted; the one had laboured till the end, but he lived for ever; the other had lived till the end, but he laboured for ever. And what did it profit the rich man, who asked, while lying in torments in hell, that a drop of water should be poured upon his tongue from the finger of Lazarus, saying, “For I am burning here in this flame,”3 and it was not granted to him? One longed for the drop from the finger, as the other had for the crumbs from the rich man’s table; but the labour of the one is ended, and the life of the other is ended: the labour of this is for ever, the life of that is for ever. We who labour perchance here on the earth, have not our life here: and shall not be so placed hereafter, for our life shall be Christ for ever: while they who “will” have their life here, shall labour for ever and live till the end.

11. “For he shall not see death, though he shall have seen wise men dying” (ver. 10). The man who laboured for ever and shall live till the end, “shall not see death, though he shall have seen wise men dying.” What is this? He shall not comprehend what death is, whenever he shall have seen wise men dying. For he saith to himself, “this fellow, for all he was wise and dwelled with wisdom and worshipped God with piety, is he not dead? Therefore I will enjoy myself while I live; for if they that are wise in other respects, could do anything, they would not have died.” Just as the Jews saw Christ hanging on the Cross and despised Him, saying, “If this Man were the Son of God, He would come down from the Cross:”4 not seeing what death is. If they had seen what death is; if they had seen, I say.5 He died for a time, that He might live again for ever: they lived for a time, that they might die for ever. But because they saw Him dying, they saw not death, that is to say, they understood not what was very death. What say they even in Wisdom? “Let us condemn Him with a most shameful death, for by His own sayings He shall be respected;”6 for if he is indeed the Son of God, He will deliver Him from the hands of His adversaries: He will not suffer His Son to die, if He is truly His Son. But when they saw themselves insulting Him upon the Cross, and Him not descending from the Cross, they said, He was indeed but a Man. Thus was it spoken: and surely He could have come down froth the Cross, He that could rise again from the tomb: but He taught us to bear with those who insult us; He taught us to be patient of the tongues of men, to drink now the cup of bitterness, and afterwards to receive everlasting salvation.…

12. “The imprudent and unwise shall perish together.” Who is “the imprudent”? He that looketh not out for himself for the future. Who is “the unwise”? He that perceiveth not in what evil case he is. But do thou perceive in what evil case thou art now, and look out that thou be in a good case for the future. By perceiving in what evil case thou art, thou wilt not be unwise: by looking out for thyself for the future, thou wilt not be imprudent. Who is he that looketh out for himself? That servant to whom his master gave what he should expend, and afterwards said to him, “Thou canst not be my steward, give an account of thy stewardship;” and who answered, “What shall I do? I cannot dig, to beg I am ashamed;”7 had, nevertheless, by even his master’s goods made to himself friends, who might receive him when he was put out of his stewardship. Now he cheated his master in order that he might get to himself friends to receive him: fear not thou lest thou be cheating, the Lord Himself exhorteth thee to do so: He saith Himself to thee, “Make to thyself friends of the mammon of unrighteousness.”8 Perhaps what thou hast got, thou hast gotten of unrighteousness: or perhaps this very thing is unrighteousness, that thou hast and another hath not, thou aboundest and another needeth. Of this mammon of unrighteousness, of these riches which the unrighteous call riches, make to thyself friends, and thou shalt be prudent: thou art gaining for thyself, and art not cheating. For now thou seemest to lose it. Wilt thou lose it if thou place it in a treasury? For boys, my brethren, no sooner find some money, wherewith to buy something, than they put it in a money-box,1 which they open not until afterwards: do they, because they see not what they have got, on that account lose it? Fear not: boys put in a money-box, and are secure: dost thou place it in the hand of Christ, and fear? Be prudent, and provide for thyself against the future in Heaven. Be therefore prudent, copy the ant, as saith the Scripture:2 “Store in summer, lest thou hunger in winter;” the winter is the last day, the day of tribulation; the winter is the day of offences and of bitterness: gather what may be there for thee for the future: but if thou doest not so, thou wilt perish both imprudent and unwise.

13. But that rich man3 too died, and a like funeral was made for him. See to what men have brought themselves: they regard not what a wicked life he led while he lived, but what pomp followed him when he died! O happy he, whom so many lament! But the other lived in such sort, that few lament. For all ought to lament a man living so sadly. But there is the funeral train; he is received in a costly tomb, he is wound in costly robes, he is buried in perfumes and spices. Secondly, what a monument he hath! How marbled! Doth he live in that same monument? He is therein dead. Men deeming these to be good things, have strayed from God, and have not sought the true good things, and have been deceived with the false. To this end see what followeth. He who gave not the price of the redemption of his soul, who understood not death, because he saw wise men dying, he became imprudent and unwise, in order that he might die with them. And how shall they perish, who “shall leave their riches to aliens”?…

14. But do those same aliens indeed serve them who are called their own? Hear in what they serve them, observe how they are ridiculed: why hath he said, “to strangers”? Because they can do them no good. Nevertheless, wherein do they seem to themselves to do good? “And their tombs shall be their house for ever” (ver. 11). Now because these tombs are erected, the tombs are a house. For often thou hearest a rich man saying, I have a house of marble which I must quit, and I think not for myself of an eternal house, where I shall alway be. When he thinketh to make for himself a monument of marble or of sculpture, he is deeming as it were of an eternal house: as if therein this rich man would abide! If he would abide there, he would not burn in hell. We must consider that the place where the spirit of an evil doer abideth, is not where the mortal body is laid: but “their tombs shall be their house for ever. Their dwelling places are from generation to generation.” “Dwelling places” are wherein they abode for a season: “house” is wherein they will abide as it were for ever, that is to say, their tombs. Thus they leave their dwelling places, where they abode while they lived, to their families, and they pass as it were to everlasting houses, to their tombs. What profit to them are “their dwelling places, from generation to generation”? Now suppose a generation and generation are sons, grandsons there will be, and great grandsons; what do their dwelling places, what do they profit them? What? Hear: “they shall invoke their names in their lands.” What is this? They shall take bread and wine to their tombs, and there they shall invoke the names of the dead. Dost thou consider how loudly was invoked the name of the rich man after his death, when men drank them drunk at his monument, and there came down not one drop upon his own burning tongue? Men minister to their own belly, not to the ghosts of their friends. The souls of the dead nothing doth reach, but what they have done of themselves while alive: but if they have done nought of themselves while alive, nothing doth reach them dead. But what do the survivors? They will but “invoke their names in their lands.”

15. “And man though he was in honour perceived not, he was compared to the beasts without sense, and was made like to them” (ver. 12).… They ought, on the contrary, to have made ready for themselves an eternal house in good works, to have made ready for themselves everlasting life, to have sent before them expenditure, to have followed their works, to have ministered to a needy companion, to have given to him with whom they were walking, not to have despised Christ covered with sores before their gate, who hath said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.”4 However, “man being in honour hath not understood.” What is, “being in honour”? Being made after the image and likeness of God, man is preferred to beasts. For God hath not so made man as He made a beast: but God hath made man for beasts to minister to: is it to his strength then, and not to his understanding? Nay. But he “understood not;” and he who was made after the image of God, “is compared to the beasts without sense, and is made like unto them.” Whence it is said elsewhere, “Be ye not like to horse and mule, in which there is no understanding.”1

16. “This their own way is an offence to them” (ver. 13). Be it an offence to them, not to thee. But when will it be so to thee too? If thou thinkest such men to be blessed. If thou perceivest that they be not blessed, their own way will be an offence to themselves; not to Christ, not to His Body, not to His members. “And afterwards they shall bless with their mouth.” What meaneth, “Afterwards they shall bless with their mouth”? Though they have become such, that they seek nothing but temporal goods, yet they become hypocrites: and when they bless God, with lips they bless, and not with heart. Christians like these, when to them eternal life is commended, and they are told, that in the name of Christ they ought to be despisers2 of riches, do make grimaces in their hearts: and if they dare not do it with open face, lest they blush, or lest they should be rebuked by men, yet they do it in heart, and scorn; and there remaineth in their mouth blessing, and in their heart cursing.

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Bishop MacEvilly’s Commentary on James 4:13-17

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 23, 2014

For the Bishop’s brief analysis of James chapter 4 see the post on 4:1-10.

13 But who art thou that judgest thy neighbour? Behold, now you that say: To-day or to-morrow we will go into such a city, and there we will spend a year and will traffic and make our gain. Some translations place the question that opens this verse at the end of the preceding verse.

 But who art thou, what right, or authority or control hast thou over any other, thus to presume to sit in judgment on him? Come on, now, and see how foolish and irreligious is your conduct, in another matter, viz., when relying on your own strength, and without a proper acknowledgment of your dependence on God’s holy will and Providence, you say: to-day or to-morrow we shall go into such a city, and remain there, for a year, in traffic and in pursuit of gain. Text in purple indicates the bishop’s paraphrasing of the scripture he is commenting on.

“But who art thou?” &c. “But,” is not in some Greek copies. It is found in the Vatican MS. “Thy neighbour;” in some Greek copies, another: πλησιον (plesion), neighbour, is the reading of the Vatican and Alexandrian MSS. As if he said, wretched worm of the earth, who art thyself one day to be judged, what right or control hast thou over thy fellow-creatures?—who is it authorized thee, thus to sit in judgment on him? “For his own master will he stand or fall.”—Rom. 16:14.

“Behold now you that say,” &c. For “behold” it is the Greek, αγε (age), go to, or come on, as in chap. 5 verse 1. It is merely a form soliciting attention. Some Commentators endeavour to trace a connexion between these words and the foregoing, thus:—Who art thou to judge thy neighbour? you who are so foolish, in the ordinary language of life, as altogether to renounce practically your dependence on divine providence, although your weakness and frail dependence be such as not to be able to promise yourselves a moment’s continuance in existence. This connexion is warranted, in a certain sense, by the division of the verses in the Vulgate. The more probable opinion, however, appears to be (as in Paraphrase), that St. James is censuring another vice of the tongue, then so common among worldly-minded persons, who relied too confidently on their own strength, in the execution of their designs and purposes, and seemed altogether to forget their dependence on God’s adorable providence. Such persons propose to themselves to traffic for years, and to execute other purposes at some future time with a degree of certainty and security, that would imply their independence of God’s providence. It is the irreligious sentiments expressed by such language that St. James here condemns, as appears from verse 1, their “rejoicing in their arrogancies.” In some Greek copies, instead of “we will go, will spend,” &c., it is, let us go, let us spend, &c. But the Vulgate translator has better expressed the sense of St. James, by employing the future Indicative, which more clearly conveys their foolish resolves in regard to the future. Moreover, the future is the reading of the Codex Vaticanus.

14 Whereas you know not what shall be on the morrow.

 (Although you are wholly ignorant of what may happen on the morrow.)

Such foolish men may experience the fate of the rich glutton in the Gospel, who gave up his soul, in the very execution of his projects of self-aggrandizement.—(Luke, 12:20).

15 For what is your life? It is a vapour which appeareth for a little while and afterwards shall vanish away. For that you should say: If the Lord will, and, If we shall live, we will do this or that.

For what is human life on which you thus confidently calculate? (What is it but a thin vapour, which appears for a short time, and afterwards is dissipated and vanishes from our sight)? Instead of such irreligious conduct and language, you should always express, or, at least, imply the following conditions before proposing to yourselves the execution of any purpose: “if the Lord will,” and, “if we shall live.”

The words of the preceding verse (14) and of this, as far as “For that you should say,” are to be read parenthetically. “What is your life?” “It is a vapour,” &c. The Greek has, “γαρ,” (gar) for, it is a vapour, &c. It is like the morning dew, which ascends in thin vapour, and immediately after disappears altogether from our eyes. We frequently meet in sacred Scripture with beautiful comparisons of the same kind “Remember,” (says Job. 7:7), “that my life is but wind … as a cloud is consumed and passeth away,” &c. (Psalm, 143). The conclusion is, that as human life is thus fleeting, precarious, and uncertain, it is the excess of folly, and the height of presumption in them, thus to calculate for certain, on the success and enjoyment of their future projects. “For that you should say.” These words are to be immediately connected with the words, verse 13: “You say, to-day or to-morrow, we shall go into such a city,” &c. “For that you should say,” i.e., instead of which mode of speaking, you should say, “if the Lord wills,” and “if we shall live.” These two conditions should be always expressed, or at least implied, whenever we propose to ourselves the accomplishment of any future project. The example of St. Paul alone shows us how much these forms of expression, recommended by St. James, were at the time in use.—Acts, 18; 1 Cor. 4 and 16; Hebrews, 6; Rom. 1; Philipp. 2 Even among the Pagans, viz., Socrates, Cicero, Cato, &c., such forms were in use.

16 But now you rejoice in your arrogancies. All such rejoicing is wicked.

But now, while employing the language I have censured, you boast and glory in the expression of your arrogant and proud rejection of God’s adorable Providence; all boasting of this sort is wicked and sinful.

In this verse, the Apostle shows that he is condemning dispositions of mind, the opposite of the Christian and religious forms of speech, which he is recommending. He is censuring such persons as attributed the merit of their success to themselves, without a due regard to God’s Providence and assistance. Such conduct on their part is “arrogance,” or pride, since, of themselves, they can do nothing. “All such rejoicing is wicked,” such haughty, presumptuous reliance on our powers is, in every case, evil, because it is a practical lie, and a lie, too, injurious to God’s supreme dominion over his creatures. St. James by no means condemns a prudent provision for futurity, dependent on God’s will and Providence.

17 To him therefore who knoweth to do good and doth it not, to him it is sin.

Of course, as Christians, you must be fully aware of your dependence on God’s Providence; this knowledge, however, only serves to aggravate the sinfulness of your conduct; since the man who knows good and does it not, or acts against it, sins the more, by reason of his knowledge.

The connexion adopted in Paraphrase is: You know, as Christians, all that I am saying: you know your dependence on Providence and the uncertainty of life; now, this knowledge will only aggravate the sinfulness of your impious and unchristian mode of expressing your future resolves. Or, the words of this verse may be only a conclusion drawn from the two foregoing chapters, wherein St. James instructs them in several points of Christian morality; and now, he tells them, that if they hereafter sin in any of the particular points in which he instructed them, the instruction and knowledge imparted will only aggravate their sin; for, sins committed with knowledge are more grievous, than if they were committed in ignorance.


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