Augustine of Hippo
ON THE WORDS OF THE GOSPEL, MATT. XVIII. 15, "IF THY BROTHER SIN AGAINST THEE, GO, SHEW HIM HIS FAULT BETWEEN THEE AND HIM ALONE;" AND OF THE WORDS OF SOLOMON, HE THAT WINKETH WITH THE EYES DECEITFULLY, HEAPETH SORROW UPON MEN; BUT HE THAT REPROVETH OPENLY, MAKETH PEACE.
1. OUR Lord warns us not to neglect one another's sins, not by searching out what to find fault with, but by looking out for what to amend. For He said that his eye is sharp to cast out a mote out of his brother's eye, who has not a beam in his own eye. Now what this means, I will briefly convey to you, Beloved. A mote in the eye is anger; a beam in the eye is hatred. When therefore one who has hatred finds fault with one who is angry, he wishes to take a mote out of his brother's eye, but is hindered by the beam which he carries in his own eye. A mote is the beginning of a beam. For a beam in the course of its growth, is first a mote. By watering the mote, you bring it to a beam; by nourishing anger with evil suspicions, you bring it on to hatred.
2. Now there is a great difference between the sin of one who is angry, and the cruelty of one who holds another in hatred. For even with our children are we angry; but who is ever found to hate his children? Among the very cattle too, the cow in a sort of weariness will sometimes in anger drive away her sucking calf; but anon she embraces it with all the affection of a mother. She is in a way disgusted with it, when she butts at it; yet when she misses it, she will seek after it. Nor do we discipline our children otherwise, than with a degree of anger and indignation; yet we should not discipline them at all, but in love to them. So far then is every one who is angry from hating; that sometimes one would be rather convicted of hating, if he were not angry. For suppose a child wishes to play in some river's stream, by whose force he would be like to perish; if you see this, and patiently suffer it, this would be hating; your patient suffering him, is his death. How far better is it to be angry and correct him, than by not being angry to suffer him to perish! Above all things then is hatred to be avoided, and the beam to be cast out of the eye. Great is the difference indeed between one's exceeding due limits in some words through anger, which he afterwards wipes off by repenting of it; and the keeping an insidious purpose shut up in the heart. Great, lastly, the difference between these words of Scripture; "Mine eye is disordered because of anger." Whereas of the other it is said, "Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer." Great is the difference between an eye disordered, and clean put out. A mote disorders, a beam puts clean out.
3. In order then that we may be able well to do and to fulfil what we have been admonished of to-day, let us first persuade ourselves to this, above all things to have no hate. For when there is no beam in thine own eye, thou seest rightly whatever may be in thy brother's eye; and art uneasy, till thou cast out of thy brother's eye what thou seest to hurt it. The light that is in thee, doth not allow thee to neglect thy brother's light. Whereas if thou hate, and wouldest correct him, how dost thou improve his light, when thou hast lost thine own light? For the same Scripture, where it is written, "Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer," hath expressly told us this also. "He that hateth his brother is in darkness even until now." Hatred then is darkness. Now it cannot but be, that he who hateth another, should first injure himself. For him he endeavours to hurt outwardly, he lays himself waste inwardly. Now in proportion as our soul is of more value than our body, so much the more ought we to provide for it, that it be not hurt. But he that hateth another, doth hurt his own soul. And what would he do to him whom he hateth? What would he do? He takes away his money, can he take his faith away? he wounds his good fame, can he wound his conscience? Whatever injury he does, is but external; now observe what his injury to himself is? For he who hateth another is an enemy to himself within. But because he is not sensible of what harm he is doing to himself, he is violent against another, and that the more dangerously. that he is not sensible of the evil he is doing to himself; because by this very violence he has lost the power of perception. Thou art violent against thine enemy; by this violence of thine he is spoiled, and thou art wicked. Great is the difference between the two. He hath lost his money, thou thine innocence. Ask which hath suffered the heavier loss? He hath lost a thing that was sure to perish, and thou art become one who must now perish thyself.
4. Therefore ought we to rebuke in love; not with any eager desire to injure, but with an earnest care to amend. If we be so minded, most excellently do we practise that which we have been recommended to-day; "If thy brother shall sin against thee, rebuke him between thee and him alone." Why dost thou rebuke him? Because thou art grieved, that he should have sinned against thee? God forbid. If from love of thyself thou do it, thou doest nothing. If from love to him thou do it, thou doest excellently. In fact, observe in these words themselves, for the love of whom thou oughtest to do it, whether of thyself or him. "If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother." Do it for his sake then, that thou mayest "gain" him. If by so doing thou "gain" him, hadst thou not done it, he would have been lost. How is it then that most men disregard these sins, and say, "What great thing have I done? I have only sinned against man." Disregard them not. Thou hast sinned against man; but wouldest thou know that in sinning against man thou art lost. If he, against whom thou hast sinned, have "rebuked thee between thee and him alone," and thou hast listened to him, he hath "gained" thee. What can "hath gained thee," mean; but that thou hadst been lost, if he had not gained thee. For if thou wouldest not have been lost, how hath he gained thee? Let no man then disregard it, when he sins against a brother. For the Apostle saith in a certain place, "But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ;" for this reason, because we have been all made members of Christ. How dost thou not sin against Christ, who sinnest against a member of Christ?
5. Let no one therefore say, "I have not sinned against God, but against a brother. I have sinned against a man, it is a trifling sin, or no sin at all."
It may be, thou sayest it is a trifling sin, because it is soon cured. Thou hast sinned against a brother; give him satisfaction, and thou art made whole.
Thou didst a deadly thing quickly, but quickly too hast thou found a remedy.
Who of us, my Brethren, can hope for the kingdom of heaven, when the Gospel says," Whosoever shall say to his brother, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire?" Exceeding terror! but behold in the same place the remedy:
"If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar." God is not angry that thou deferrest to lay thy gift upon the Altar. It is thee that God seeketh more than thy gift. For if thou come with a gift to thy God, bearing an evil mind against thy brother, He will answer thee, "Thou art lost, what hast thou brought Me? Thou bringest thy gift, and thou art thyself no proper gift for God. Christ seeketh him whom He hath redeemed with His Blood, more than what thou hast found in thy barn." So then, "Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way, first be reconciled to thy brother, and so thou shall come and offer thy gift." Lo that "danger of hell fire," how quickly dissolved it is! When thou wast not yet reconciled, thou wast "in danger of hell fire;" once reconciled, thou offerest thy gift before the altar in all security.
6. But men are easy and ready enough to inflict injuries, and hard to seek for reconciliation. Ask pardon, says one, of him whom thou hast offended, of him whom thou hast injured. He answers, "I will not so humble myself." But now if thou despise thy brother, at least give ear to thy God. "He that humbleth himself shall be exalted." Wilt thou refuse to humble thyself, who hast already fallen? Great is the difference between one who humbleth himself, and one who lieth on the ground. Already dost thou lie on the ground, and wilt thou then not humble thyself? Thou mightest well say, I will not descend; if thou hadst first been unwilling to fall.
7. This then ought one to do who hath done an injury. And he who hath suffered one, what ought he to do? What we have heard to-day, "If thy brother shall sin against thee, rebuke him between thee and him alone." If thou shall neglect this, thou art worse than he. He hath done an injury, and by doing an injury, hath stricken himself with a grievous wound; wilt thou disregard thy brother's wound? Wilt thou see him perishing, or already lost, and disregard his case? Thou art worse in keeping silence, than he in his reviling. Therefore when any one sins against us, let us take great care, not for ourselves, for it is a glorious thing to forget injuries; only forget thine own injury, not thy brother's wound. Therefore "rebuke him between thee and him alone," intent upon his amendment, but sparing his shame. For it may be that through shame-facedness he will begin to defend his sin, and so thou wilt make him whom thou desirest to amend, still worse. "Rebuke him" therefore "between him and thee alone. If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother;" because he would have been lost, hadst thou not done it. But "if he: will not hear thee," that is, if he will defend his sin as if it were a just action, "take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established; and if he will not hear them, refer it to the Church; but if he will not hear the Church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican." Reckon him no more amongst the number of thy brethren. But yet neither is his salvation on that account to be neglected. For the very heathen, that is, the Gentiles and Pagans, we do not reckon among the number of brethren; but yet are we ever seeking their salvation. This then have we heard the Lord so advising, and with such great carefulness enjoining, that He even added this immediately, "Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven." Thou hast begun to hold thy brother for a publican; "thou bindest him on earth;" but see that thou bind him justly. For unjust bonds justice doth burst asunder. But when thou hast corrected, and been "reconciled to thy brother," thou hast "loosed him on earth." And when "thou shalt have loosed him on earth, he shall be loosed in heaven also." Thus thou doest a great thing, not for thyself, but for him; for a great injury had he done, not to thee, but to himself.
8. But since this is so, what is that which Solomon says, and which we heard first to-day out of another lesson, "He that winketh with the eyes deceitfully, heapeth sorrow upon men; but he that reproveth openly, maketh peace"? If then "he that reproveth openly, maketh peace;" how "rebuke him between him and thee alone"? We must fear, lest the divine precepts should be contrary to one another. But no: let us understand that there is the most perfect agreement in them, let us not follow the conceits of certain vain ones, who in their error think that the two Testaments in the Old and New Books are contrary to each other; that so we should think that there is any contradiction here, because one is in the book of Solomon, and the other in the Gospel. For if any one unskilful in, and a reviler of the divine Scriptures, were to say, "See where the two Testaments contradict each other. The Lord saith, 'Rebuke him between him and thee alone.' Solomon saith, 'He that reproveth openly maketh peace.'" Doth not the Lord then know what He hath commanded? Solomon would have the sinners' hard forehead bruised: Christ spareth his shame who blushes for his sins. For in the one place it is written, "He that reproveth openly maketh peace;" but in the other, "Rebuke him between him and thee alone;" not "openly," but apart and secretly. But wouldest thou know, whosoever thou art that thinkest such things, that the two Testaments are not opposed to each other, because the first of these passages is found in the book of Solomon, and the other in the Gospel? Hear the Apostle. And surely the Apostle is a Minister of the New Testament. Hear the Apostle Paul then, charging Timothy, and saying, "Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear." So then not the book of
Solomon, but an Epistle of Paul the Apostle seems to be at issue with the Gospel. Let us then without any' prejudice to his honour lay aside Solomon for a while; let us hear the Lord Christ and His servant Paul. What sayest Thou, O Lord? "If thy brother sin against thee, rebuke him between him and thee alone." What sayest thou, O Apostle? "Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear." What are we about? Are we listening to this controversy as judges? That be far from us. Yea, rather as those whose place is under the Judge, let us knock, that we may obtain, that it be opened to us; let us fly beneath the wings of our Lord God. For He did not speak in contradiction to His Apostle, seeing that He Himself spoke "in" him also, as he says, "Would ye receive a proof of Christ, who speaketh in me?" Christ in the Gospel, Christ in the Apostle: Christ therefore spake both; one by His own Mouth, the other by the mouth of His herald. For when the herald pronounces anything from the tribunal, it is not written in the records, "the herald said it;" but he is written as having said it, who commanded the herald what to say.
9. Let us then so give ear to these two precepts, Brethren, as that we may understand them, and let us settle ourselves in peace between them both. Let us but be in agreement with our own heart, and Holy Scripture will in no part disagree with itself. It is entirely true, both precepts are true; but we must make a distinction, that sometimes the one, sometimes the other must be done; that sometimes a brother must be "reproved between him and thee alone," sometimes a brother "must be reproved before all, that others also may fear." If we do sometimes the one, and sometimes the other, we shall hold fast the harmony of the Scriptures, and shall not err in fulfilling and obeying them. But a man will say to me, "When am I to do this one, and when the other? lest I 'reprove between me and him alone,' when I ought to 'reprove before all;' or 'reprove before all,' when I ought to reprove in secret."
10. You will soon see, Beloved, what we ought to do, and when; only I would we may not be slow to practise it. Attend and see: "If thy brother sin against thee, rebuke him between him and thee alone." Why? Because it is against thee that he hath sinned. What is that, "hath sinned against thee"?
Thou knowest that he hath sinned. For because it was secret when he sinned against thee, seek for secresy, when thou dost correct his sin. For if thou only know that he hath sinned against thee, and thou wouldest "rebuke him before all," thou art not a reprover, but a betrayer. Consider how that "just man" Joseph spared his wife with such exceeding kindness, in so great a crime as he had suspected her of, before he knew by whom she had conceived; because he perceived that she was with child, and he knew that he had not come in unto her. There remained then an unavoidable suspicion of adultery, and yet because he only had perceived, he only knew it, what does the Gospel say of him? "Then Joseph being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example." The husband's grief sought no revenge; he wished to profit, not to punish the sinner. "And not willing to make her a public example, he was minded to put her away privily." But while he thought on these things, "behold, the Angel of the Lord appeared unto him," in sleep; and told him how it was, that she had not defiled her husband's bed, but that she had conceived of the Holy Ghost the Lord of them both. Thy brother then hath sinned against thee; if thou alone know it, then hath he really sinned against thee alone. For if in the hearing of many he hath done thee an injury, he hath sinned against them also whom he hath made witnesses of his iniquity. For I tell you, my dearly beloved Brethren, what you can yourselves recognise in your own case. When any one does my brother an injury in my hearing, God forbid that I should think that injury unconnected with myself. Certainly he has done it to me also; yea to me the rather, to whom he thought what he did was pleasing. Therefore those sins are to be reproved before all, which are committed before all; they are to be reproved with more secresy, which are committed more secretly. Distinguish times, and Scripture is in harmony with itself.
II. So let us act; and so must we act not only when the sin is committed against ourselves, but when the sin is so committed by any one as that it is unknown by the other. In secret ought we to rebuke, in secret to reprove him; lest if we would reprove him publicly, we should betray the man. We wish to rebuke and reform him; but what if his enemy is looking out to hear something that he may punish? For example, a Bishop knows of some one who has killed another, and no one else knows of him. I wish to reprove him publicly; but thou art seeking to prosecute him. Decidedly then I will neither betray him, nor neglect him; I will reprove him in secret; I will set the judgment of God before his eyes; I will alarm his bloodstained conscience; I will persuade him to repentance. With this charity ought we to be endued. And hence men sometimes find fault with us, as if we do not reprove; or they think that we know what we do not know, or that we hush up what we know. And it may be that what thou knowest, I know also i but I will not reprove in thy presence I because I wish to cure, not to act informer. There are men who commit adultery in their own houses, they sin in secret, sometimes they are discovered to us by their own wives, generally through jealousy, sometimes as seeking their husband's salvation; in such cases we do not betray them openly, but reprove them in secret. Where the evil has happened, there let the evil die. Yet do we not neglect that wound; above all things showing the man who is in such a sinful state, and bears such a wounded conscience, that that is a deadly wound which they who suffer from, sometimes by an unaccountable perverseness despise; and seek out testimonies in their favour, I know not whence, null certainly and void, saying, "God careth not for sins of the flesh." Where is that then which we have heard to-day, "Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge"? Lo! whosoever thou art that labourest under such a disease attend. Hear what God saith; not what thine own mind, in indulgence to thine own sins, may say, or what thy friend, thine enemy rather and his own too, bound in the same bond of iniquity with thee may say. Hear then what the Apostle saith; "Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled. But whoremongers and adulterers God will judge."
12. Come then, Brother, be reformed. Thou art afraid lest thine enemy should prosecute thee; and art thou not afraid lest God should judge thee? Where is thy faith? Fear whilst there is the time for fear. Far off indeed is the day of judgment; but every man's last day cannot be far off; for life is short. And since this shortness is ever uncertain, thou knowest not when thy last day may be. Reform thyself today, because of to-morrow. Let the reproof in secret be of service to thee now. For I am speaking openly, yet do I reprove in secret. I knock at the ears of all; but I accost the consciences of some. If I were to say, "Thou adulterer, reform thyself;" perhaps in the first place I might say what I had no knowledge of; perhaps suspect on a rash hearsay report. I do not then say, "Thou adulterer, reform thyself;" but "whosoever thou art among this people who art an adulterer, reform thyself." So the reproof is public; the reformation secret. This I know, that whoso feareth, will reform himself.
13. Let no one say in his heart, "God careth not for sins of the flesh." "Know ye not," saith the Apostle, "that ye are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him will God destroy." "Let no man deceive himself." But perhaps a man will say, "My soul is the temple of God, not my body," and will add this testimony also, "All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass." s Unhappy interpretation! conceit meet for punishment! The flesh is called grass, because it dies; but take thou heed that that which dies for a time, rise not again with guilt. Wouldest thou ascertain a plain judgment on this point also? "Know ye not," says the same Apostle, "that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God?" Do not then any longer disregard sins of the body; seeing that your "bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God." If thou didst disregard a sin of the body, wilt thou disregard a sin which thou committest against a temple? Thy very body is a temple of the Spirit of God within thee. Now take heed what thou doest with the temple of God. If thou weft to choose to commit adultery in the Church within these walls, what wickedness could be greater? But now thou art thyself the temple of God. In thy going out, in thy coming in, as thou abidest in thy house, as thou risest up, in all thou art a temple. Take heed then what thou doest, take heed that thou offend not the Indweller of the temple, lest He forsake thee, and thou fall into ruins. "Know ye not," he says, "that your bodies" (and this the Apostle spake touching fornication, that they might not think lightly of sins of the body) "are the temples of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?" For "ye have been bought with a great price." If thou think so lightly of thine own body, have some consideration for thy price.
14. I know, and as I do every one knows, who has used a little more than ordinary consideration, that no man who has any fear of God omits to reform himself in obedience to His words, but he who thinks that he has longer time to live. This it is which kills so many, while they are saying, "To-morrow, To-morrow;" and suddenly the door is shut. He remains outside with the raven's croak, because he had not the moaning of the dove. "To-morrow, To-morrow;" is the raven's croak. Moan plaintively as the dove, and beat thy breast; but whilst thou art inflicting blows on thy breast, be the better for the beating; lest thou seem not to beat thy conscience, but rather with blows to harden it, and make an evil conscience more unyielding instead of better. Moan with no fruitless moaning. For it may be thou art saying to thyself, "God hath promised me forgiveness, whenever I reform myself I am secure; I read the divine Scripture, "In the day that the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness, and doeth that which is lawful and right, I will forget all his iniquities."' I am secure then, whenever I reform myself, God will give me pardon for my evil deeds." What can I say to this? Shall I lift up my voice against God? Shall I say to God, Do not give him pardon? Shall I say, This is not written, God hath not promised this? If I should say ought of this, I should say falsely. Thou speakest well and truly; God hath promised pardon on thy amendment, I cannot deny it; but tell me, I pray thee; see, I consent, I grant, I acknowledge that God hath promised time pardon, but who hath promised thee a to-morrow? Where thou dost read to me that thou shalt receive pardon, if thou reform thyself; there read to me how long thou hast to live. Thou dost confess, "I cannot read it there." Thou knowest not then how long thou hast to live. Reform thyself, and so be always ready. Be not afraid of the last day, as a thief, who will break up thy house as thou sleepest; but awake and reform thyself to-day. Why dost thou put it off till to-morrow? If thy life is to be a long one, let it be both long and good. No one puts off a good dinner, because it is to be a long one, and dost thou wish to have a long evil life? Surely if it is to be long, it will be all the better if it be good; if it is to be short, it is well that its good be as long as possible. But men neglect their life to such a degree, as that they are unwilling to have anything bad except it. You buy a farm, and you look out for a good one; you wish to marry a wife, you choose a good one; you wish for the birth of children, and you long for good ones; you bargain for shoes, and you do not wish for bad ones; and yet a bad life you do love. How hath thy life offended thee, that thou art willing to have it only bad; that amid all thy good things thou shouldest thyself alone be evil?
15. So then, my Brethren, if I should wish to reprove any of you individually in secret, perhaps he would listen to me. I reprove many of you now in public; all praise me; may some give attentive heed to me! I have no love for him who praises me with his voice, and with his heart despises me.
For when thou dost praise, and not reform thyself, thou art a witness against thyself. If thou art evil, and thou art pleased with what I say, be displeased with thyself; because if thou art displeased with thyself as being evil, when thou dost reform, thou wilt be well pleased with thyself, which if I mistake not I said the day before yesterday. In all my words I set a mirror before you. Nor are they my words, but I speak at the bidding of the Lord, by whose terrors I refrain from keeping silence. For who would not rather choose to keep silence, and not to give account for you? But now I have undertaken the burden, and I cannot, and I ought not to shake it off my shoulders. When the Epistle to the Hebrews was being read, my Brethren, ye heard, "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief; for that is unprofitable for you." When do we it with joy? When we see man making progress in the words of God. When does the labourer in the field work with joy? When he looks at the tree, and sees the fruit; when he looks at the crop, and sees the prospect of abundance of corn in the floor; when he sees that he has not laboured in vain, has not bowed his back, and bruised his hands, and endured the cold and heat in vain. This is what he says, "That they may do it with joy, and not with grief; for that is unprofitable for you." Did he say, "unprofitable for them "? No. He said, "unprofitable for you." For when those who are set over yon are saddened at your evil deeds, it is profitable for them; their very sadness is profitable for them; but it is unprofitable for you. But we do not wish that anything should be profitable for us, which for you is unprofitable. Let us then, Brethren, do good together in the Lord's field; that at the reward we may rejoice together.