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Sermon 97

Augustine of Hippo
Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament

SERMON V.

ON THE WORDS OF THE GOSPEL, MATT. V. 22, "WHOSOEVER SHALL SAY TO HIS BROTHER, THOU FOOL, SHALL BE IN DANGER OF THE HELL OF FIRE."

1. THE section of the Holy Gospel which we just now heard when it was read, must have sorely alarmed us, if we have faith; but those who have not faith, it alarmed not. And because it does not alarm them, they are minded to continue in their false security, as knowing not how to divide and distinguish the proper times of security and fear. Let him then who is leading now that life which has an end, fear, that in that life which is without end, he may have security. Therefore were we alarmed. For who would not fear Him who speaketh the truth, and saith, "Whosoever shall say to his brother, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." Yet "the tongue can no man tame." Man tames the wild beast, yet he tames not his tongue; he tames the lion, yet he bridles not his own speech; he tames all else, yet he tames not himself; he tames what he was afraid of, and what he ought to be afraid of, in order that he may tame himself, that he does not fear. But how is this? It is a true sentence, and came forth from an oracle of truth, "But the tongue can no man tame."

2. What shall we do then, my brethren? I see that I am speaking indeed to a large assembly, yet, seeing that we are one in Christ, let us take counsel as it were in secret. No stranger heareth us, we are all one, because we are all united in one. What shall we do then? "Whosoever saith to his brother, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire: But the tongue can no man tame." Shall all men go into hell fire? God forbid! "Lord, Thou art our refuge from generation to generation:" Thy wrath is just: Thou sendest no man into hell unjustly. "Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit?" and whither shall I flee from Thee, but to Thee? Let us then understand, Dearly beloved, that if no man can tame the tongue, we must have recourse to God, that He may tame it. For if thou shouldest wish to tame it, thou canst not, because thou art a man. "The tongue can no man tame." Observe a like instance to this in the case of those beasts which we do tame. The horse does not tame himself; the camel does not tame himself; the elephant does not tame himself; the viper does not tame himself; the lion does not tame himself; and so also man does not tame himself. But that the horse, and ox, and camel, and elephant, and lion, and viper, may be tamed, man is sought for. Therefore let God be sought to, that man may be tamed.

3. Therefore, "O Lord, art Thou become our refuge." To Thee do we betake ourselves, and with Thy help it will be well with us. For ill is it with us by ourselves. Because we have left Thee. Thou hast left us to ourselves. Be we then found in Thee, for in ourselves were we lost. "Lord, Thou art become our refuge." Why then, brethren, should we doubt that the Lord will make us gentle, if we give up ourselves to be tamed by him? Thou hast tamed the lion which thou madest not; shall not He tame thee, who made thee? For from whence didst thou get the power to tame such savage beasts? Art thou their equal in bodily strength? By what power then hast thou been able to tame great beasts? The very beasts of burden, as they are called, are by their nature wild. For in their untamed state they are unserviceable. But because custom has never known them except as in the hands and under the bridle and power of men, dost thou imagine that they could have been born in this tame state? But now at all events mark the beasts which are unquestionably of savage kind. "The lion roareth, who doth not fear?" And yet wherein is it that thou dost find thyself to be stronger than he? Not in strength of body, but in the interior reason of the mind. Thou art stronger than the lion, in that wherein thou wast made after the image of God. What! Shall the image of God tame a wild beast; and shall not God tame His own image? 4. In Him is our hope; let us submit ourselves to Him, and entreat His mercy. In Him let us place our hope, and until we are tamed, and tamed thoroughly, that is, are perfected, let us bear our Tamer. For oftentimes does our Tamer bring forth His scourge too. For if thou dost bring forth the whip to tame thy beasts, shall not God do so to tame His beasts (which we are), who of His beasts will make us His sons? Thou tamest thine horse; and what wilt thou give thy horse, when he shall have begun to carry thee gently, to bear thy discipline, to obey thy rule, to be thy faithful, useful beast? How dost thou repay him, who wilt not so much as bury him when he is dead, but cast him forth to be torn by the birds of prey? Whereas when thou art tamed, God reserveth for thee an inheritance, which is God Himself, and though dead for a little time, He will raise thee to life again. He will restore to thee thy body, even to the full number of thy hairs; and will set thee with the Angels for ever, where thou wilt need no more His taming hand, but only to be possessed by His exceeding mercy. For God will then be "all in all;" neither will there be any unhappiness to exercise us, but happiness alone to feed us. Our God will be Himself our Shepherd; our God will be Himself our Cup; our God will be Himself our glory; our God will be Himself our wealth. What multiplicity of things soever thou seekest here, He alone will be Himself all these things to thee.

5. Unto this hope is man tamed, and shall his Tamer then be deemed intolerable? Unto this hope is man tamed, and shall he murmur against his beneficent Tamer, if He chance to use the scourge? Ye have heard the exhortation of the Apostle, "If ye are without chasten ing, ye are bastards, and not sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? Furthermore," he says, "we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence; shall we not much rather be in subjection to the Father of spirits, and live?" For what could thy father do for thee, that he corrected and chastised thee, brought out the scourge and beat thee? Could he make thee live for ever? What he could not do for himself, how should he do for thee? For some paltry sum of money which he had gathered together by usury and travail, did he discipline thee by the scourge, that the fruit of his labour when left to thee might not be squandered by thy evil living. Yes, he beats his son, as fearing lest his labours should be lost; forasmuch as he left to thee what he could neither retain here, nor carry away. For he did not leave thee anything here which could be his own; he went off, that so thou mightest come on. But thy God, thy Redeemer, thy Tamer, thy Chastiser, thy Father, instructeth thee. To what end? That thou mayest receive an inheritance, when thou shalt not have to carry thy father to his grave, but shall have thy Father Himself for thine inheritance. Unto this hope art thou instructed, and dost thou murmur? and if any sad chance befall thee, dost thou (it may be) blaspheme? Whither wilt thou go from His Spirit? But now He letteth thee alone, and doth not scourge thee; or He abandoneth thee in thy blaspheming; shalt thou not experience His judgment? Is it not better that He should scourge thee and receive thee, than that He should spare thee and abandon thee?

6. Let us say then to the Lord our God, "Lord, Thou art become our refuge from generation to generation." In the first and second generations Thou art become our refuge. Thou wast our refuge, that we might be born, who before were not. Thou wast our refuge, that we might be born anew, who were evil. Thou wast a refuge to feed those that forsake Thee. Thou art a refuge to raise up and direct Thy children. "Thou art become our refuge." We will not go back from Thee, when Thou hast delivered us from all our evils, and filled us with Thine own good things. Thou givest good things now, Thou dealest softly with us, that we be not wearied in the way; Thou dost correct, and chastise, and smite, and direct us, that we may not wander from the way. Whether therefore Thou dealest softly with us, that we be not wearied in the way, or chastisest us, that we wander not from the way, "Thou art become our refuge, O Lord."