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

St John Chrysostom’s Homiletic Commentary on Acts 2:34-41

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 27, 2016

The following is excerpted from St. Chrysostom’s 6th and 7th homilies on Acts of Apostles. The homilies can be read in full here.

Excerpt from Homily VI on Acts 4:34-36~Now if He be David’s Lord, much more shall they not disdain Him. “Sit thou on My right hand;” he has set the whole matter here; “until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool:” here also he has brought upon them a great terror, just as in the beginning he showed what He does to His friends, what to his enemies. And again, as to the act of subjugation, not to provoke unbelief, he ascribes it to the Father. Since then these are great things that he has uttered, he again brings his discourse down to lowly matters. “Let therefore,” he says, “the whole house of Israel know assuredly: i.e. question ye not, nor doubt ye: then also in the tone of command it follows; “that God hath made Him both Lord-” this he says from David- “and Christ,” (v. 36), this from the Psalm:14 For when it would have been rightly concluded, “Let therefore the whole house of Israel know assuredly that” He sitteth on the right hand of God, this, which would have been great, he forbears, and brings in a different matter which is much more humble, and the expression “Hath made;” i.e. hath ordained: so that there is nothing about (ousiwsij) communication of substance here, but the expression relates to this which has been mentioned. “Even this Jesus, Whom ye crucified.” He does well to end with this, thereby agitating their minds. For when he has shown how great it is, he has then exposed their daring deed, so as to show it to be greater, and to possess them with terror. For men are not so much attracted by benefits as they are chastened by fear.15

But the admirable and great ones, and beloved of God, need none of these motives: men, such as was Paul: not of the kingdom, not of hell, made he account. For this is indeed to love Christ, this to be no hireling, nor to reckon it a matter of trafficking and trading, but to be indeed virtuous, and to do all for the love of God. (Rom. ix. 3.) Then what tears does it not deserve, when, owing so large a measure, we do not even like traders seek the kingdom of heaven! He promises us so great things, and not even so is He worthy to be heard? What can come up to this enmity!16 And yet, they are mad after money-making, though it be with enemies, though it be with slaves, though it be with persons most hostile to them, that they come in contact, though it be with persons utterly evil, if only they expect that they shall be enabled by their means to make money, they will do everything, will flatter, and be obsequious, and make themselves slaves, and will esteem them more to be revered than all men, to get some advantage out of them: for the hope of money does not allow them to give a thought to any such considerations as these. But the Kingdom is not so powerful as money is; nay, rather, not in the smallest proportion as powerful. For17 it is no ordinary Being that promises: but this is greater than even the Kingdom itself that we receive it ‘from such a Giver! But now the case is the same as if a king, wishing, after ten thousand other benefits, to make us his heirs and coheirs with his son [should be despised]: while some captain of a band of robbers, who has done ten thousand wrongs to us and to our parents, and is himself fraught with ten thousand wickednesses, and has utterly marred our honor and our welfare, should, on presenting a single penny, receive our worship. God promises a Kingdom, and is despised: the Devil helps us to hell, and he is honored! Here God, there Devil. But let us see the difference of the tasks enjoined. For if there were none of these considerations in the case: if it were not, here God, there Devil; not, here one helping to a kingdom, there to a hell: the nature itself of the tasks enjoined were sufficient to induce us to comply with the former For what does each enjoin? The one,18 the things which make glorious; the other the things which put to shame: one, the things which involve in ten thousand calamities and disgraces; the other, the things which have with them abundant refreshment. For look: the one saith, “Learn ye of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” (Matt. xi. 29): the other saith, Be thou savage, and ungentle, and passionate, and wrathful, and more a wild beast than a man. Let us see which is more useful, which, I pray you, more profitable. “Speak not of this,” say you.19 * * * But consider that he is the devil: above all indeed, if that be shown: there is need also to undergo toils, and, on the other hand, the prize of victory will be greater. For not he that enjoins easy tasks is the kind (khdemwn) benefactor, but he that enjoins what is for our good. Since fathers also enjoin disagreeable tasks; but for this20 they are fathers: and so again do masters to slaves: but kidnappers and destroyers (lumewnej) on the other hand, do just the reverse. And21 yet that the commands of Christ are attended with a pleasure, is manifest from that saying. For to what sort do you take the passionate man to belong, and to what the forbearing and meek? Does not the soul of the (ekeinou) one22 seem to be in a kind of solitary retreat, enjoying exceeding quiet; while that of (toutou) the other is like a market-place and tumult and the midst of cities, where great is the clamor of those: going out, the noise of camels, mules, asses: of men shouting loud to those that meet them, that they may not be trodden under foot: and again, of silver-beaters, of braziers, of men thrusting and pushing this way and that and some overborne, some overbearing? But the soul of (toutou) the former is like some mountain-top, with its delicate air, its pure sunshine, its limpid gushing fountains, its multitude of charming flowers, while the vernal meads and gardens put on their plumage of shrubs and flowers, and glance with rifling waters: and if any sound is heard there, it is sweet, and calculated to affect the ear with a sense of much delight. For either the warbling birds perch on the outermost spray of the branching trees, and cicadas, nightingales and swallows, blended in one harmony, perform a kind of concerted music; or the zephyr gently stirring the leaves, draws whistling tones from pines and firs, resembling oft the notes of the swan: and roses, violets, and other flowers, gently swayed, and (kuanizonta) dark-dimpling, show like a sea just rippled over with gentle undulations. Nay, many are the images one might find. Thus, when one looks at the roses, one shall fancy that he beholds in them the rainbow; in the violets a waving sea; in the lilies, the sky. But23 not by the spectacle alone, and the beholding, does such an one then cause delight: but also in the very body of him that looks to the meadow, rather it refreshes him, and causes him to breathe freely, so that he thinks himself more in heaven than on earth. There is withal a sound of a different kind, when water from the mountain-steep, borne by its own force through ravines gently plashes over its pebbly bed with lulling noise, and so relaxes our frame with the pleasurable sensations, as quickly to draw over our eyes the soft languor of slumber. You have heard the description with pleasure: perhaps also it has made you enamored of solitude. But sweeter far than this solitude is the soul * * of the long-suffering. For it was not for the sake of describing a meadow, nor for the sake of making a display of language, that we have broached this similitude: but the object was, that, seeing how great is the delight of the long suffering, and how, by converse with a long suffering man, one would be far more both delighted and benefited, than by frequenting such spots, ye may follow after such men. For when not even a breath of violence proceeds from such a soul, but mild and engaging words, then indeed does that gentle softness of the zephyr find its counterpart: entreaties also, devoid of all arrogance, but forming the resemblance to those winged warblers,-how is not this far better? For not the body is fanned by the soft breeze of speech; no, it refreshes our souls24 heated and glowing. A physician, by ever so great attention, could not so speedily rid a man of the fever, as a patient man would cool, by the breath of his own words, a person who was passionate and burning with wrath. And why do I speak of a physician? Not even iron, made red-hot and dipped into water, so quickly parts with its heat, as does the passionate man when he comes in contact with the soul of the long-suffering. But as, if it chance that singing birds find their way into the market, they go for nothing there, just so is it with our precepts when they light upon souls addicted to wrathful passions. Assuredly, sweeter is gentleness than bitterness and frowardness. -Well, but the one was God’s bidding, the other the devil’s. Do you see that it was not for nothing that I said, even if there were no devil or God in the case, the things enjoined would be enough in themselves to (aposthsai) revolt us? For the one is both agreeable to himself, and serviceable to others, the other displeasing to himself, and hurtful to others. Nothing is more unpleasant than a man in a passion, nothing more noisome, more odious, more shocking, as also nothing more pleasing than one who knows not what it is to be in a passion. Better dwell with a wild beast than with a passionate man. For the beast, when once tamed, abides by its law; but the man, no matter how often you have tamed him, again turns wild, unless25 however he should of himself settle down into some such habit (of gentleness).

For as a bright sunny day and winter with all its gloom, so are the soul of the angry and that of the gentle. However, let us at present look not to the mischievous consequences resulting to others, but to those which affect the persons themselves: though indeed it is also no slight mischief (to one’s self) to cause ill to another, for the present, however, let that be the consideration. What executioner with his lash can so lacerate the ribs, what red-hot lancets (obeliskoi) ever so pierced the body, what madness can so dispossess a man of his natural reason, as anger and rage do,? I know many instances of persons engendering diseases by giving loose to anger: and the worst of fevers are precisely these. But if they so injure the body, think of the soul. For do not argue that you do not see the mischief, but rather consider, if that which is the recipient of the malignant passion is so hurt, what must be the hurt sustained by that which engenders it! Many have lost their eyes, many have fallen into most grievous disease. Yet he that bears bravely, shall endure all things easily. But, however, both such are the troublesome tasks the devil enjoins, and the wages he assigns us for these is hell. He is both devil and foe to our salvation, and we rather do his bidding than Christ’s, Saviour as He is, and Benefactor and Defender, and speaking as He does such words, which are both sweeter, and more reverend, and more profitable and beneficial, and are both to ourselves and to those who live in our company the greatest of blessings. Nothing worse than anger, my beloved, nothingworse than unseasonable wrath. It will not have any long delay; it is a quick, sharp passion. Many a time has a mere word been blurted out in anger, which needs for its curing a whole lifetime, and a deed been done which was the ruin of the man for life. For the worst of it is this, that in a little moment, and by one act, and by a single word, full oft has it cast us out from the possession of eternal good, and brought to nought a world of pains. Wherefore I beseech you to do all you can to curb this savage beast. Thus far, however, I have spoken concerning meekness and wrath; if one should take in hand to treat of other opposites, as covetousness and the mad passion for glory, contrasted with contempt of wealth and of glory; intemperance with sobriety; envy with benevolence; and to marshal them each against its opposite, then one would know how great the difference. Behold how from the very things enjoined it is plainly shown, that the one master is God, the other the devil! Why then, let us do God’s bidding, and not cast ourselves into bottomless pits; but while there is time, let us wash off all that defiles the soul, that we may attain unto the eternal blessings, through the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, with Whom to the Father and Holy Ghost together be glory, power, honor, now and ever, and world without end. Amen.

Excerpt from Homily VII on Acts 2:37-41~“Now when they heard these words (E. V. `this,’) they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the Apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

Do you see what a great thing gentleness is? More than any vehemence, it pricks our hearts, inflicts a keener wound. For as in the case of bodies which have become callous the man that strikes upon them does not affect the sense so powerfully, but if he first mollify them and make them tender, then he pierces them effectually; so in this instance also, it is necessary first to mollify. But that which softens, is not wrath, not vehement accusation, not personal abuse; it is gentleness. The former indeed rather aggravate the callousness, this last alone removes it. If then you are desirous to reprove any delinquent, approach him with all possible mildness. For see here; he gently reminds them of the outrages they have committed, adding no comment; he declares the gift of God, he goes on to speak of the grace which bore testimony to the event, and so draws out his discourse to a still greater length. So they stood in awe of the gentleness of Peter, in that he, speaking to men who had crucified his Master, and breathed murder against himself and his companions, discoursed to them in the character of an affectionate father and teacher. Not merely were they persuaded; they even condemned themselves, they came to a sense of their past behavior. For he gave no room for their anger to be roused, and darken their judgment, but by means of humility he dispersed, as it were, the mist and darkness of their indignation, and then pointed out to them the daring outrage they had committed. For so it is; when we say of ourselves that we are injured, the opposite party endeavor to prove that they have not done the injury; but when we say, we have not been injured, but have rather done the wrong, the others take the contrary line. If, therefore, you wish to place your enemy (eij agwna) in the wrong, beware of accusing him; nay (agwnisai), plead for him, he will be sure to find himself guilty. There is a natural spirit of opposition in man. Such was the conduct of Peter. He did not accuse them harshly; on the contrary, he almost endeavored to plead for them, as far as was possible. And this was the very reason that he penetrated into their souls. You will ask, where is the proof that they were pricked? In their own words; for what say they? “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Whom they had called deceivers, they call “brethren:” not that hereby they put themselves on an equality with them, but rather by way of attracting their brotherly affection and kindness: and besides,1 because the Apostles had deigned to call them by this title. And, say they, “What shall we do?” They did not straightway say, Well then, we repent; but they surrendered themselves to the disciples. Just as a person on the point of shipwreck, upon seeing the pilot, or in sickness the physician, would put all into his hands, and do his bidding in everything; so have these also confessed that they are in extreme peril, and destitute of all hope of salvation. They did not say, How shall we be saved? but, “What shall we do?” Here again Peter, though the question is put to all, is the man to answer. “Repent,” says he, “and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ.” (v. 38.) He does not yet say, Believe, but, “Be baptized every one of you.” For2 this they received in baptism. Then he speaks of the gain; “For the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” If you are to receive a gift, if baptism conveys remission, why delay? He next gives a persuasive turn to his address, adding, “For the promise is unto you” (v. 39): for he had spoken of a promise above. “And to your children,” he says: the gift is greater, when these are to be heirs of the blessings. “And to all,” he continues, “that are afar off:” if to those that are afar off, much more to you that are near: “even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Observe the time he takes for saying, “To those that are afar off.” It is when he finds them conciliated and self-accusing. For when the soul pronounces sentence against itself, no longer can it feel envy. “And with many other words did he testify, and exhort, saying.” (v. 40.) Observe how, throughout, the writer studies brevity, and how free he is from ambition and display. “He testified and exhorted, saying.” This is the perfection of teaching, comprising something of fear and something of love. “Save yourselves from this untoward generation.” He says nothing of the future, all is about the present, by which indeed men are chiefly swayed; he shows that the Gospel releases from present3 evils as well. “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized; and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” (v. 41.) Think you not this cheered the Apostles more than the miracle?

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