Augustine of Hippo
ON THE WORDS OF THE GOSPEL, MATT. VI. 19, "LAY NOT UP FOR YOURSELVES TREASURES UPON EARTH," ETC.AN EXHORTATION TO ALMSDEEDS.
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; 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 cup 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," but we 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 image of God." See, what he was made. Whither hath he come? Hearken to what follows, "Yet will he be disquieted in vain." 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, uprightness 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?" 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 affection (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 dissoluteness 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 curse 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." 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 counsels 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. 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." 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." 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." 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." The voice of warning is, "Lay not up for yourselves treasure on earth." 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." Thou shalt not remain without treasure; but what thou hast on earth with anxiety, thou shall possess in heaven free from care. Transport thy goods then. I am giving thee counsel for keeping, not for losing. "Thou shall 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; 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." 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 our carriers, 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." 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." 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 ever lasting 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." Again it is written, "Shut up alms in the heart of a poor man, and it shall make supplication for thee before the Lord." Again it is written, "Hear, O king, my counsel, and redeem thy sins by alms." 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." 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 conse quence 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." But now go away into everlasting fire. "He shall have judgment without mercy, who hath showed no mercy."
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." 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." 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." 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." Touching this fruit he said above, "Bring forth fruits worthy of repentance." Whoso then bringeth not forth these fruits, hath no cause to think that he shall attain 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." But what will it profit thee to pray for forgiveness, if thou shall 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."