St Augustine on 1 John 3:11-21
Posted by Dim Bulb on December 3, 2016
This post is compiled from two sermons. Paragraphs 8-13 of his 5th Homily are on 1 Jn 3:11-18. Paragraphs 1-4 of his 6th homily deal with 1 Jn 3:19-21.
8. “Whosoever is not righteous is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.” “For this is the message:” mark how he confirms it: “For this is the message which we heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” He has made it manifest to us that it is of this he speaks; whoso acts against this commandment, is in that accursed sin, into which those fall who are not born of God. “Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.” Therefore, where envy is, brotherly love cannot be. Mark, my beloved. He that envieth, loveth not. The sin of the devil is in that man; because the devil through envy cast man down. For he fell, and envied him that stood. He did not wish to cast man down that he himself might stand, but only that he might not fall alone. Hold fast in your mind from this that he has subjoined, that envy cannot exist in charity. Thou hast it openly, when charity was praised, “Charity envieth not.” There was no charity in Cain; and had there been no charity in Abel, God would not have accepted his sacrifice. For when they had both offered, the one of the fruits of the earth, the other of the offspring of the flock; what think ye, brethren, that God slighted the fruits of the earth, and loved the offspring of the flock? God had not regard to the hands, but saw in the heart: and whom He saw offer with charity, to his sacrifice He had respect; whom He saw offer with envy, from his sacrifice He turned away His eyes. By the good works, then, of Abel, he means only charity: by the evil works of Cain he means only his hatred of his brother. It was not enough that he hated his brother and envied his good works; because he would not imitate, he would kill. And hence it appeared that he was a child of the devil, and hence also that the other was God’s righteous one. Hence then are men discerned, my brethren. Let no man mark the tongue, but the deeds and the heart. If any do not good for his brethren, he shews what he has in him. By temptations are men proved.
9. “Marvel not, brethren, if the world hate us.” Must one often be telling you what “the world” means? Not the heaven, not the earth, nor these visible works which God made; but lovers of the world. By often saying these things, to some I am burdensome: but I am so far from saying it without a cause, that some may be questioned whether I said it, and they cannot answer. Let then, even by thrusting it upon them, something stick fast in the hearts of them that hear. What is “the world”? The world, when put in a bad sense, is, lovers of the world: the world, when the word is used in praise, is heaven and earth, and the works of God that are in them; whence it is said, “And the world was made by Him.” Also, the world is the fullness of the earth, as John himself hath said, “Not only for our sins is He the propitiator, but (for the sins) of the whole world:” he means, “of the world,” of all the faithful scattered throughout the whole earth. But the world in a bad sense, is, lovers of the world. They that love the world, cannot love their brother.
10. “If the world hate us: we know”—What do we know?—“that we have passed from death unto life”—How do we know? “Because we love the brethren.” Let none ask man: let each return to his own heart: if he find there brotherly love, let him set his mind at rest, because he is “passed from death unto life.” Already he is on the right hand: let him not regard that at present his glory is hidden: when the Lord shall come, then shall he appear in glory. For he has life in him, but as yet in winter; the root is alive, but the branches, so to say, are dry: within is the substance that has the life in it, within are the leaves of trees, within are the fruits: but they wait for the summer. Well then, “we know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not, abideth in death.” Lest ye should think it a light matter, brethren, to hate, or, not to love, hear what follows: “Every one that hateth his brother, is a murderer.” How now, if any made light of hating his brother, will he also in his heart make light of murder? He does not stir his hands to kill a man; yet he is already held by God a murderer; the other lives, and yet this man is already judged as his slayer! “Every one that hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.”
11. “In this know we love:” he means, perfection of love, that perfection which we have bidden you lay to heart: “In this know we love, that He laid down His life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” Lo here, whence that came: “Peter, lovest thou me? Feed My sheep.” For, that ye may know that He would have His sheep to be so fed by him, as that he should lay down his life for the sheep, straightway said He this to him: “When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake He,” saith the evangelist, “signifying by what death he should glorify God;” so that to whom He had said, “Feed my sheep,” the same He might teach to lay down his life for His sheep.
12. Whence beginneth charity, brethren? Attend a little: to what it is perfected, ye have heard; the very end of it, and the very measure of it is what the Lord hath put before us in the Gospel: “Greater love hath no man,” saith He, “than that one lay down his life for his friends.” Its perfection, therefore, He hath put before us in the Gospel, and here also it is its perfection that is put before us: but ye ask yourselves, and say to yourselves, When shall it be possible for us to have “this” charity? Do not too soon despair of thyself. Haply, it is born and is not yet perfect; nourish it, that it be not choked. But thou wilt say to me, And by what am I to know it? For to what it is perfected, we have heard; whence it begins, let us hear. He goes on to say: “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have hunger, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how can the love of God dwell in him?” Lo, whence charity begins withal! If thou art not yet equal to the dying for thy brother, be thou even now equal to the giving of thy means to thy brother. Even now let charity smite thy bowels, that not of vainglory thou shouldest do it, but of the innermost marrow of mercy; that thou consider him, now in want. For if thy superfluities thou canst not give to thy brother, canst thou lay down thy life for thy brother? There lies thy money in thy bosom, which thieves may take from thee; and though thieves do not take it, by dying thou wilt leave it, even if it leave not thee while living: what wilt thou do with it? Thy brother hungers, he is in necessity: be-like he is in suspense, is distressed by his creditor: he is thy brother, alike ye are bought, one is the price paid for you, ye are both redeemed by the blood of Christ: see whether thou have mercy, if thou have this world’s means. Perchance thou sayest, “What concerns it me? Am I to give my money, that he may not suffer trouble?” If this to be the answer thy heart makes to thee, the love of the Father abideth not in thee. If the love of the Father abide not in thee, thou art not born of God. How boastest thou to be a Christian? Thou hast the name, and hast not the deeds. But if the work shall follow the name, let any call thee pagan, show thou by deeds that thou art a Christian. For if by deeds thou dost not show thyself a Christian, all men may call thee a Christian yet; what doth the name profit thee where the thing is not forthcoming? “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how can the love of God dwell in him?” And then he goes on: “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue but in deed and in truth.”
13. I suppose the thing is now made manifest to you my brethren: this great and most concerning secret and mystery. What is the force of charity, all Scripture doth set forth; but I know not whether any where it be more largely set forth than in this Epistle. We pray you and beseech you in the Lord, that both what ye have heard ye will keep in memory, and to that which is yet to be said, until the epistle be finished, will come with earnestness, and with earnestness hear the same. But open ye your heart for the good seed: root out the thorns, that that which we are sowing in you be not choked, but rather that the harvest may grow, and that the Husbandman may rejoice and make ready the barn for you as for grain, not the fire as for the chaff. Here ends the 5th homily. St Augustine’s treatment of today’s reading continues below.
1. If ye remember, brethren, yesterday we closed our sermon at this sentence, which without doubt behooved and does behoove to abide in your heart, seeing it was the last ye heard. “My little children, let us not love only in word and in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” Then he goes on: “And herein we know that we are of the truth, and assure our hearts before Him.” “For if our heart think ill of us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” He had said, “Let us not love only in word and in tongue, but in work and in truth:” we are asked, In what work, or in what truth, is he known that loveth God, or loveth his brother? Above he had said up to what point charity is perfected: what the Lord saith in the Gospel, “Greater love than this hath no man, that one lay down his life for his friends,” this same had the apostle also said: “As He laid down His life for us, we ought also to lay down our lives for the brethren.” This is the perfection of charity, and greater can not at all be found. But because it is not perfect in all, and that man ought not to despair in whom it is not perfect, if that be already born which may be perfected: and of course if born, it must be nourished, and by certain nourishments of its own must be brought unto its proper perfection: therefore, we have asked concerning the commencement of charity, where it begins, and there have straightway found: “But whoso hath this world’s goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of the Father in him?” Here then hath this charity, my brethren, its beginning: to give of one’s superfluities to him that hath need to him that is in any distress; of one’s temporal abundance to deliver his brother from temporal tribulation. Here is the first rise of charity. This, being thus begun, if thou shalt nourish with the word of God and hope of the life to come, thou wilt come at last unto that perfection, that thou shalt be ready to lay down thy life for thy brethren.
2. But, because many such things are done by men who seek other objects, and who love not the brethren; let us come back to the testimony of conscience. How do we prove that many such things are done by men who love not the brethren? How many in heresies and schisms call themselves martyrs! They seem to themselves to lay down their lives for their brethren. If for the brethren they laid down their lives, they would not separate themselves from the whole brotherhood. Again, how many there are who for the sake of vainglory bestow much, give much, and seek therein but the praise of men and popular glory, which is full of windiness, and possesses no stability! Seeing, then, there are such, where shall be the proof of brotherly charity? Seeing he wished it to be proved, and hath said by way of admonition, “My little children, let us not love only in word and in tongue; but in deed and in truth;” we ask, in what work, in what truth? Can there be a more manifest work than to give to the poor? Many do this of vainglory, not of love. Can there be a greater work than to die for the brethren? This also, many would fain be thought to do, who do it of vainglory to get a name, not from bowels of love. It remains, that that man loves his brother, who before God, where God alone seeth, assures his own heart, and questions his. heart whether he does this indeed for love of the brethren; and his witness is that eye which penetrates the heart, where man cannot look. Therefore Paul the Apostle, because he was ready to die for the brethren, and said, “I will myself be spent for your souls,” yet, because God only saw this in his heart, not the mortal men to whom he spake, he saith to them, “But to me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you or at man’s bar.” And the same apostle shows also in a certain place, that these things are oft done of empty vainglory, not upon the solid ground of love: for speaking of the praises of charity he saith, “If I distribute all my goods to the poor. and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” Is it possible for a man to do this without charity? It is. For they that have divided unity, are persons that have not charity. Seek there, and ye shall see many giving much to the poor; shall see others prepared to welcome death, insomuch that where there is no persecutor they cast themselves headlong: these doubtless without charity do this. Let us come back then to conscience, of which the apostle saith: “For our glorying is this, the testimony of our conscience.” Let us come back to conscience, of which the same saith, “But let each prove his own work, and then he shall have glorying in himself and not in another.” Therefore, let each one of us “prove his own work,” whether it flow forth from the vein of charity, whether it be from charity as the root that his good works sprout forth as branches. “But let each prove his own work, and then he shall have glorying in himself and not in another,” not when another’s tongue bears witness to him, but when his own conscience bears it.
3. This it is then that he enforces here. “In this we know that we are of the truth, when in deed and in truth” we love, “not only in words and in tongue: and assure our heart before Him.” What meaneth, “before Him?” Where He seeth. Whence the Lord Himself in the Gospel saith: “Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward with your Father which is in heaven.” And what meaneth, “Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:” except that the right hand means a pure conscience, the left hand the lust of the world? Many through lust of the world do many wonderful things: the left hand worketh, not the right. The right hand ought to work, and without knowledge of the left hand, so that lust of the world may not even mix itself therewith when by love we work aught that is good. And where do we get to know this? Thou art before God: question thine heart, see what thou hast done, and what therein was thine aim; thy salvation, or the windy praise of men. Look within, for man cannot judge whom he cannot see. If “we assure our heart,” let it be “before Him.” Because “if our heart think ill of us,” i.e. accuse us within, that we do not the thing with that mind it ought to be done withal, “greater is God than our heart, and knoweth all things.” Thou hidest thine heart from man: hide it from God if thou canst! How shalt thou hide it from Him, to whom it is said by a sinner, fearing and confessing, “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? and from Thy face whither shall I flee?” He sought a way to flee, to escape the judgment of God, and found none. For where is God not? “If I shall ascend,” saith he, “into heaven, Thou art there: if I shall descend into hell, Thou art there.” Whither wilt thou go? whither wilt thou flee? Wilt thou hear counsel? If thou wouldest flee from Him, flee to Him. Flee to Him by confessing, not from Him by hiding: hide thou canst not, but confess thou canst. Say unto Him, “Thou art my place to flee unto;” and let love be nourished in thee, which alone leadeth unto life. Let thy conscience bear thee witness that thy love is of God. If it be of God, do not wish to display it before men; because neither men’s praises lift thee unto heaven, nor their censures put thee down from thence. Let Him see, who crowneth thee: be He thy witness, by whom as judge thou art crowned. “Greater is God than our heart, and knoweth all things.”
4. “Beloved, if our heart think not ill of us, we have confidence towards God:”—What meaneth, “If our heart think not ill”? If it make true answer to us, that we love and that there is genuine love in us: not feigned but sincere; seeking a brother’s salvation, expecting no emolument from a brother, but only his salvation—“we have confidence toward God: and whatsoever we ask, we shall receive of Him, because we keep His commandments.”—Therefore, not in the sight of men, but where God Himself seeth, in the heart—“we have confidence,” then, “towards God: and whatsoever we ask, we shall receive of Him:” howbeit, because we keep His commandments. What are “His commandments”? Must we be always repeating? “A new commandment give I unto you, that ye love one another.” It is charity itself that he speaks of, it is this that he enforces. Whoso then shall have brotherly charity, and have it before God, where God seeth, and his heart being interrogated under righteous examination make him none other answer than that the genuine root of charity is there for good fruits to come from; that man hath confidence with God, and whatsoever he shall ask, he shall receive of Him, because he keepeth His commandments.