Augustine of Hippo
ON THE WORDS OF THE GOSPEL, MATT. XIX. 21, "GO SELL THAT THOU HAST, AND GIVE TO THE POOR," ETC.
1. THE Gospel by the present lesson has reminded me to speak to you, Beloved, of the heavenly treasure. For our God hath not, as unbelieving covetous men suppose, wished us to lose what we have: if what hath been enjoined us be properly understood, and piously believed, and devoutly received; He hath not enjoined us to lose, but rather shown a place where we may lay up. For no man can help thinking of his treasure, and following his riches in a kind of journeying of the heart. If then they are buried in the earth, his heart will seek the lowest earth; but if they are reserved in heaven, his heart will be above. If Christians therefore have the will to do what they know that they also make open profession of (not that all who hear know this; and I would that they who have known it, knew it not in vain); if then they have the will to "lift up the heart" above, let them lay up there, what they love; and though yet in the flesh on earth, let them dwell with Christ in heart; and as her Head went before the Church, so let the heart of the Christian go before him. As the members are to go where Christ the Head hath gone before, so shall each man at his rising again go where his heart hath now gone before. Let us go hence then by that part of us which we may; our whole man will follow whither one part of us is gone before. Our earthly house must fall to ruin; our heavenly house is eternal. Let us move our goods beforehand, whither we are ourselves getting ready to come.
2. We have just heard a certain rich man seeking counsel from the "Good Master" as to the means of obtaining eternal life. Great was the thing he loved, and of little value was that he was unwilling to renounce. And so in perverseness of heart, on hearing Him whom he had but now called "Good Master," through the overpowering love of what was valueless, he lost the possession of what was of great price. If he had not wished to obtain eternal life, he would not have asked counsel how to obtain eternal life. How is it then, Brethren, that he rejected the words of Him whom he had called "Good Master," drawn out for him as they were from the doctrine of the faith? What? Is He a Good Master before He teacheth, and when He hath taught, a bad one? Before He taught, He was called "Good." He did not hear what he wished, but he did hear what was proper for him; he had come with longing, but he went away in sadness. What if He had told him, "Lose what thou hast "? when he went away sad, because it was said, "Keep what thou hast securely." "Go," saith He, "sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor." Art thou afraid, it may be, lest thou shouldest lose it. See what follows; "And thou shall have treasure in heaven." Before now it may be thou hast set some young slave to guard thy treasures; thy God will be the guardian of thy gold. He who gave them on earth, will Himself keep them in heaven. Perhaps he would not have hesitated to commit what he had to Christ, and was only sad because it was told him, "Give to the poor;" as though he would say in his heart, "Hadst Thou said, Give it to Me, I will keep it in heaven for thee; I would not hesitate to give it to my Lord, the 'Good Master;' but now thou hast said, 'Give to the poor.'"
3. Let no one fear to lay out upon the poor, let no one think that he is the receiver whose hand he sees. He receives it Who bade thee give it. And this I say not out of mine own l heart, or by any human conjecture; hear Him Himself, who at once exhorteth thee, and giveth thee a title of security. "I was an hungred," saith He, and ye gave Me meat." And when after the enumeration of all their kind offices, they answered, "When saw we Thee an hungred?" He answered, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these of Mine, ye have done it unto Me." It is the poor man who begs, but He that is Rich receives. Thou givest to one who will make away with it, He receiveth it Who will restore it. Nor will He restore only what He receiveth; He is pleased to borrow upon interest, He promiseth more than thou hast given. Give the rein now to thy avarice, imagine thyself an usurer. If thou wert an usurer indeed, thou wouldest be rebuked by the Church, confuted by the word of God, all thy brethren would execrate thee, as a cruel usurer, desiring to wring gain from other's tears. But now be an usurer, no one will hinder thee. Thou art willing to lend to a poor man, who whenever he may repay thee will do it with grief; but lend now to a debtor who is well able to pay, and who even exhorteth thee to receive what he promiseth.
4. Give to God, and press God for payment. Yea rather give to God, and thou wilt be pressed to receive payment. On earth indeed thou hadst to seek thy debtor; and he sought too, but only to find where he might hide himself from thy face. Thou hadst gone to the judge, and said, "Bid that my debtor be summoned;" and he on hearing this gets away, and cares not even to wish thee well, though to him perhaps in his need thou hadst given wealth by thy loan. Thou hast one then on whom thou mayest well lay out thy money. Give to Christ; He will of His own accord press thee to receive, whilst thou wilt even wonder that He hath received ought of thee. For to them who are placed on His right hand He will first say, "Come, ye blessed of My Father." "Come" whither? "Receive the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." For what? "For I was an hundred, and ye gave Me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took Me in; naked, and ye clothed Me; I was sick and in prison, and ye visited Me." And they will say, "Lord, when saw we Thee?" What doth this mean? The debtor presses to pay, and the creditors make excuses. But the trusty debtor will not let them suffer loss thereby. "Do ye hesitate to receive? I have received, and are ye ignorant of it?" and He makes answer how He has received; "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these of
Mine, ye have done it unto Me." "I received it not by Myself; but by Mine.
What was given to them came to Me; be secure, ye have not lost it. Ye looked to those who were little able to pay on earth; ye have One who is well able to pay in heaven. I," He saith, "have received, I will repay."
5. And what have I received, and what do I repay? "'I was an hungred,' He saith, 'and ye gave Me meat;' and the rest. I received earth, I will give heaven; I received temporal things, I will restore eternal; I received bread, I will give life." Yea, we may even say thus, "I have received bread, I will give Bread; I have received drink, I will give Drink; I have received houseroom, I will give a House; I was visited in sickness, I will give Health; I was visited in prison, I will give Liberty. The bread which ye gave to My poor is consumed; the Bread which I will give both recruiteth the failing and doth not fail." May He then give us Bread, He who is the living Bread which came down from heaven. When He shall give Bread, He will give Himself. For what didst thou intend when thou didst lend on usury? To give money, and to receive money; but to give a smaller sum, and to receive a larger. "I," saith God, "will give thee an exchange for the better for all that thou hast given Me. For if thou weft to give a pound of silver, and to receive a pound of gold, with how great joy wouldest thou be possessed? Examine and question avarice. "I have given a pound of silver, I receive a pound of gold!" What proportion is there between silver and gold! Much more then, what proportion is there between earth and heaven! And thy silver and gold thou wert to leave here below; whereas thou wilt not abide thyself for ever here. "And I will give thee something else, and I will give thee something more, and I will give thee something better; I will give thee even that which will last for ever." So then, Brethren, be our avarice restrained, that another, which is holy, may be enkindled. Evil altogether is her counsel, who hinders you from doing good. Ye are willing to serve an evil mistress, not owning a Good Lord. And sometimes two mistresses occupy the heart, and tear the slave asunder who deserves to be in slavery to such a double yoke.
6. Yes, sometimes two opposing mistresses have possession of a man, avarice and luxuriousness. Avarice says, "Keep;" luxuriousness, says, "Spend." Under two mistresses bidding d and exacting diverse things what canst thou do? They have both their mode of address. And when thou dost begin to be unwilling to obey them, and to take a step towards thy liberty; because they have no power to command, they use caresses. And their caresses are more to be n guarded against than their commands. What t, says avarice? "Keep for thyself, keep for thy children. If thou shouldest be in want, no one will give to thee. Live not for the time present only; consult for the future." On the other hand is luxuriousness. Live whilst thou mayest. Do good to thine own soul. Die thou must, and thou knowest not when; thou knowest not to whom thou shalt leave what thou hast, or who shall possess it. Thou art taking the bread out of thine own mouth, and perhaps after thy death thine heir will not so ranch as place a cup of wine upon thy tomb; or if so be he place a cup, he will drink himself drunk with it, not a drop will come down to thee. Do well therefore to thine own soul, when and whilst thou canst." Thus avarice did enjoin one thing; "Keep for thyself, consult for the future." Luxuriousness another, "Do well to thine own soul."
7. But O free man, called unto liberty, be weary, be weary of thy servitude to such mistresses as these. Acknowledge thy Redeemer. thy Deliverer. Serve Him, He enjoineth easier things, He enjoineth not things contrary one to another. I am bold further to say; avarice and luxuriousness did enjoin upon thee contrary things, so that thou couldest not obey them both; and one said, "Keep for thyself, and consult for the future;" the other said, "Spend freely, do well to thine own soul." Now let thy Lord and thy Redeemer come forth, and He shall say the same, and yet no contrary things. If thou wilt not, His house hath no need of an unwilling servant. Consider thy Redeemer, consider thy Ransom. He came to redeem thee, He shed His Blood. Dear He held thee whom He purchased at so dear a price. Thou dost acknowledge Him who bought thee, consider from what He redeemeth thee. I say nothing of the other sins which lord it proudly over thee; for thou wast serving innumerable masters. I speak only of these two, luxuriousness and avarice, giving thee contrary injunctions, hurrying thee into different things. Deliver thyself from them, come to thy God. If thou wast the servant of iniquity, be now the servant of righteousness. The words which they spake to thee, and the contrary injunctions they gave thee, the very same thou hearest now from thy Lord, yet are His injunctions not contrary. He doth not take away their words, but he taketh away their power. What did avarice say to thee? "Keep for thyself, consult for the future." The word is not changed, but the man is changed. Now, if thou wilt, compare the counsellors. The one is avarice, the other righteousness.
8. Examine these contrary injunctions. "Keep for thyself," says avarice. Suppose thou art willing to obey her, ask her where thou art to keep? Some well-defended place she will show thee, walled chamber, or iron chest. Well, use all precautions; yet peradventure some thief in the house will burst open the secret places; and whilst thou art taking precautions for thy money, thou wilt be in fear of thy life. It may be whilst thou art keeping up thy store, he whose mind is set to plunder them, has it even in his thoughts to kill thee. Lastly, even though by various precautions thou shouldest defend thy treasure and thy clothes against thieves; defend them still against the rust and moth. What canst thou do then? Here is no enemy without to take away thy goods, but one within consuming them.
9. No good counsel then has avarice given. See she has enjoined thee to keep, yet has not found a place where thou mayest keep. Let her give also her next advice, "Consult for the future." For what future? for a few and those uncertain days. She says, "Consult for the future," to a man who, it may be, will not live even till to-morrow. But suppose him to live as long as avarice thinks he will, not as long as she can prove, or assure him, or have any confidence about, but suppose him to live as long as she thinks, that he grow old and so come to his end: when he is even now bent double with old age, and leaning on his stick for support, still is he seeking gain, and hears avarice saying still, "Consult for the future." For what future? When he is even at his last breath she speaks. She says, "for thy children's sake." Would that at least we did not find the old men who had no children avaricious. Yet to these even, to such as these even, who cannot even excuse their iniquity by any empty show of natural affection, she ceases not to say, "Consult for the future." But it may be that these will soon blush for themselves; so let us look to those who have children, whether they are certain that their children will possess what they shall leave? Let them observe in their lifetime the children of other men, some losing what they had by the unjust violence of others, others by their own wickedness consuming what they possessed; and they remain in poor estate, who were the children of rich men. Cease then to be the home-born slaves of avarice. But a man will say, "My children will possess this." It is uncertain; I do not say, it is false, but at best, it is uncertain. But now suppose it to be certain, what dost thou wish to leave them? What thou hast gotten for thyself. Assuredly what thou hast gotten was not left thee, yet thou hast it. If thou hast been able to get possession of what was not left to thee, then will they also be able to get what thou shalt not leave to them.
10. Thus have the counsels of avarice been refuted; but now let the Lord say the same words, now let righteousness speak: the words will be the same, but not the same the meaning. "Keep for thyself," saith the Lord, "consult for the future." Now ask Him, "Where shall I keep?" "Thou shalt have treasure in heaven, where no thief approacheth, nor moth corrupteth." Against what an enduring future shalt thou keep it! "Come, ye blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." And of how many, days this kingdom is, the end of the passage shows. For after He had said of those on the left hand, "So these shall go away into everlasting burning;" of those on the right hand He saith, "but the righteous into life eternal." This is "consulting for the future." A future which has no future beyond it. Those days without an end are called both "days," and "a day." For one when he was speaking of those days, saith, "That I may dwell in the house of the Lord for length of days." And they are called a day, "This day have I begotten thee." Now those days are one day; because there is no time, in it; that day is neither preceded by a yesterday, nor succeeded by a to-morrow.
So then let us "consult for the future:" the words indeed which avarice said to thee are not different in terms from this, yet by them is avarice overthrown.
11. One thing may yet be said," But what am I to do about my children?" Hear on this point also the counsel of thy Lord. If thy Lord should say to thee, "The thoughts of them concern Me more who did create, than thee who didst beget them," peradventure thou couldest have nothing to say. Yet thou wilt look upon that rich man who went away sorrowful, and was rebuked in the Gospel, and wilt say to thyself perhaps, "That rich man did evil in not selling all and giving to the poor, because be had no children; but I have children; I have those for whom I should be keeping something. In this weakness too the Lord is ready to advise with thee. I would be bold to speak through His mercy; I would be bold to say something, not of mine own imagining, but of His pity. Keep then for thy children too, but hear me.
Suppose (such is man's condition) any one should lose one of his children; mark, Brethren, mark how that avarice has no excuse, either as respects this world or the world to come. Such, I say, is man's condition; for it is not that I wish it, but we see instances. Some Christian child has been lost: thou hast lost a Christian child; not that thou hast indeed lost him, but hast sent him before thee. For he is not gone quite away, but gone before. Ask thine own faith: surely thou too wilt go thither presently, where he hath gone before. It is but a short question I ask, which yet I suppose no one will answer. Does thy son live? Ask thy faith. If he live then, why is his portion seized upon by his brothers? But thou wilt say, What, will he return and possess it? Let it then be sent to him whither he is gone before; he cannot come to his goods, his goods can go to him. Consider only with Whom he is. If any son were serving at the Court, and became the Emperor's friend, and were to say to thee, "Sell my portion, which is there, and send it to me;" wouldest thou find what to answer him? Well, thy son is now with the Emperor of all emperors, with the King of all kings, with the Lord of all lords; send to Him. I do not say thy son is in need himself; but his Lord with whom he is, is in need upon the earth. He vouchsafes to receive here, what He gives in heaven. Do what some avaricious men are wont to do, make out a conveyance, bestow upon those who are in pilgrimage, what thou mayest receive in thine own country.
12. But now I am not speaking at all of thyself, but of thy child. Thou art hesitating to give what is thine own, yea, rather art hesitating to restore what is another's; surely thou art hereby convicted, that it was not for thy children that thou wast laying up. See, thou dost not give to thy children, seeing thou wilt even take away from thy children. From this child at all events wilt thou take away. Why is he unworthy to receive his part, because he is living with One worthier than all? There would be reason in it, if he with whom thy son is living, were unwilling to receive it. Rich shalt thou now be for thine house, but that the house of God. So far it is then from me to say to thee, "Give what thou hast;" that I am saying to thee," Pay that thou owest." But thou wilt say, "His brothers will have it." O evil maxim, which may teach thy children to wish for their brother's death. If they shall be enriched by the property of their deceased brother, take heed how they may watch for one another in thine house. What then will thou do? Wilt thou divide his patrimony, and so give lessons of parricide?
13. But I am unwilling to speak of the loss of a child, lest I seem to threaten calamities, which do befall men. Let us speak in some more happy and auspicious tone. I do not say then, thou wilt have one less; reckon rather that thou hast one more. Give Christ a place with thy children, be thy Lord added to thy family; be thy Creator added to thy offspring, be thy Brother added to the number of thy children. For though there is so great a distance, yet hath He condescended to be a Brother. And though He be the Father's Only Son, He hath vouchsafed to have coheirs. Lo, how bountifully hath He given! why wilt thou give in such barren sort? Thou hast two children; reckon Him a third: thou hast three, let Him be reckoned as a fourth: thou hast five, let Him be called a sixth; thou hast ten, let Him be the eleventh. I will say no more; keep the place of one child for thy Lord. For what thou shalt give to thy Lord, will profit both thee and thy children; whereas, what thou dost keep for thy children wrongly, will hurt both thee and them. Now thou wilt give one portion, which thou hast reckoned as one child's portion. Reckon that thou hast got one child more.
14. What great demand is this, my Brethren? I give you counsel only; do I use violence? As saith the Apostle, "This I speak for your own profit, not that I may cast a snare upon you." I imagine, Brethren, that it is a light and easy thought for a father of children to suppose that he has one child more, and thereby to procure such an inheritance as thou mayest possess for ever, both thou and thy children. Avarice can say nothing against it. Ye have cried out in acclamation at these words. Turn your words rather against her; let her not overcome you; let her not have greater Dower in your hearts, than your Redeemer. Let her not have greater power in your hearts, than He who exhorteth us to "lift up our hearts." And so now let us dismiss her.
15. What says luxuriousness? What? "Do well to thine own soul." See also the Lord says the same, "Do well to thine own soul." What luxuriousness was saying to thee, the same saith Righteousness to thee. But consider here again in what sense the words are used. If thou wouldest do well to thine own soul, consider that rich man who wished to do well to his soul, after the counsel of luxuriousness and avarice. His "ground brought forth plentifully, and he had no room where to bestow his fruits; and he said, What shall I do?" I have no room where to bestow my fruits; I have found out what to do; "I will pull down my" old "barns, and build new," and will fill them, "and say to my soul, Thou hast much goods; take thy pleasure." Hear the counsel against luxuriousness; "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee; and whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?" And whither must that soul which shall be required of him go? This night it shall be required, and shall go he knows not whither.
16. Consider that other luxurious, proud, rich man. He "feasted sumptuously every day, and was clothed in purple and fine linen;" and "the poor man laid at his gate full of sores, and desired" in vain "the crumbs from the rich man's table;" he fed the dogs with his sores, but he was not fed by the rich man. They both died; one of them was buried; of the other what is said? "He was carried by the Angels into Abraham's bosom." The rich man sees the poor man; yea rather it is now the poor man sees the rich; he longs for a drop of water on his tongue from his finger, from him who once longed for a crumb from his table. Indeed their lot was changed. The dead rich man asks for this in vain: O let not us who are alive hear it in vain, For he wished to return again to the world, and was not permitted; he wished one of the dead to be sent to his brethren, neither was this granted him. But what was said to him? "They have Moses and the Prophets;" and he said, "They will not hear except one go from the dead." Abraham said to him, "If they hear not Moses and the Prophets, neither will they believe though one go from the dead."
17. What luxuriousness then said in a perverted sense concerning the giving of alms, and procuring rest for our souls against the time to come, that so we may "do well to our souls," Moses also and the Prophets have spoken. Let us give ear while we are alive. Because there he will desire in vain to hear, who has despised these words when he heard them here. Are we expecting that one should rise even from the dead, and tell us to do well to our own souls? It has been done already: thy father hath not risen again, but thy Lord hath risen. Hear Him, and accept good counsel. Spare not thy treasures, spend as freely as thou canst. This was the voice of luxuriousness: it has become the Lord's Voice. Spend as freely as thou canst, do well to thy soul, lest this night thy soul be required. Here then ye have in Christ's Name a discourse as I think on the duty of almsgiving. This your voice now applauding, is then only well-pleasing to the Lord, if He see withal your hands active in works of mercy.